Out of Congress
The Fiftieth (50th) Session of the Indian National Congress was held on 27 and 28 December 1936 at Faizpur, a village on the outskirts of Yawal Taluka of Jalgaon District of Bombay Presidency (Maharashtra). It was, here, for the first time that Congress held its Annual Session in a backward rural setting. A large number of peasants participated in the session. The Faizpur Session was important for the Congress which had been raising demands for the welfare of the peasants and struggled for them. The Faizpur Session was also important because it was presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru who was at his peak of influence in the Congress.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s Presidential address delivered on December 26th, 1936 began with greetings to the Comrades in prison: “To our comrades in prison or in detention we send greetings. Their travail continues and it grows, and only recently we have heard with horror of the suicide of three detenues who found life intolerable for them in the fair province of Bengal whose young men and women in such large numbers live in internment without end. We have an analogy elsewhere, in Nazi Germany, where concentration camps flourish and suicides are not uncommon.”
Then welcoming M N Roy into the Congress Party, greeted him as ‘Comrade Roy ‘as one of the bravest and ablest sons of the present generation’: … one who, though young, is an old and well-tried soldier in India’s fight for freedom. Comrade M.N. Roy has just come to us after a long and most distressing period in prison, but though shaken up in body, he comes with a fresh mind and heart, eager to take part in that old struggle that knows no end till it ends in success.
Roy in response called upon all sections and segments of the political a forces including Communists , trade unions, Kisan Sabhas and youth organizations to join Congress and build it up into a strong United Front against imperialism and for attaining India’s independence. He also spoke about his idea of a Constituent Assembly of India with a view to ultimately capture of power.
A new period in Roy’s political life began with his joining the Indian National Congress in 1936. It was during this period that he directly tried to radicalise the Congress. He set aside his earlier idea of infiltration through proxy groups. He also was against the separatist tendencies of the CSP, the Kisan Sabhas, labour unions and Student Organizations. He wanted all those to come under the banner of Congress, sharing a common platform and presenting an United Front.
But, Roy wanted to the Congress not to be completely swayed away by the influence of Gandhi and of the bourgeois .The Congress, according to him, was a mass nationalist movement. It was not the party of any particular class.
He resisted attempts of the Left-forces to create an organization of the working class and revolutionary elements independent of the Congress. It would have weakened the Congress and gone against the ideology of an United Front.
Roy also opposed the formation of the Socialist Party within the Congress, because that would prevent the Socialist Party from accepting alternatives and would have to necessarily toe Gandhi’s rightist national policies. By remaining within the Congress he argued the Socialist would lose their independence; and also would cease to be effective. And, in case they attempt to oppose Gandhi rather too strongly, they would be thrown out of Congress. That would bring about a divide between the Congress and supporters Socialism, and eventually weaken Congress.
But, Roy’s attempts to unify and to radicalise the Congress did not succeed much because of the disunity among the radical elements. In addition, Gandhi wielded a very strong influence over the majority in congress; and Nehru despite his socialist leaning would always, eventually, abide by Gandhi. Roy could never achieve a break through. The right-wing followers of Gandhi did not relish Roy’s remarks about Gandhi’s leadership; and continued to distrust and looked at him with suspicion.
During the period of four years in Congress, Roy looked forward to Nehru for stepping up the process of radicalization in the Congress. Roy had to initiate and carry out his programs through Nehru. Roy and Nehru were perhaps two prominent political leaders who imbibed western values. And, Roy therefore was more comfortable in communicating with Nehru.
Nehru had certain advantages which Roy did not have. Nehru had charismatic personality and had a charming way of dealing with people. He was the top and up-coming leader of the Party. And, it was common knowledge that he was very close to Gandhi and enjoyed his confidence. And, Nehru was gifted with political sense, acumen and pragmatism.
Gandhi, Nehru and Jayaprakash Narayan and other leaders because of their popularity among the masses were able to capture the imagination of the people.
Unlike Nehru, Roy was not a thoroughbred politician. Roy usually went by logic and stated his conclusions to which the arguments led him, without mincing words. Philip Spratt said: Roy undoubtedly was a very astute political thinker; even his opponents recognized that merit of his. However, Spratt felt that Roy wrote for a limited circle which understood his style of thought and his background of ideas, and did not seem concerned about communicating more widely.
For instance; Roy looked at India and more particularly the Indian economy in the context of the world situation. The Right-wing Congress believed that Indian is unique and that foreign and western ideas do not apply to India. Roy had been saying even as early as in 1924, after the effects of the First War became evident, when the British exports to India had fallen to zero level, that in due course a peaceful transfer of political power to Indian hands would take place—not through the magic of ‘soul force’, nor out of the democratic convictions of the British ruling class, but by virtue of a shift of economic power.
He saw a similar situation emerging before and during the Second World War when Churchill became Prime Minister. Roy therefore advised that it would be in India’s interest to adopt a ‘responsible attitude towards War’. Roy felt that the Congress opposition to the war was not principled opposition but was assort of ‘hedging’, trying to be safe in the event of Nazi victory. Roy argued that fascism was most dangerous; and it would be in India’s interest to support British war-efforts.
Roy exhorted his colleagues to prepare for the economic and political reconstruction of independent India. He brought out two documents: ‘People’s plan for reconstruction of independent India’, and ‘A draft Constitution for free India’. Then he predicted that in spite of the pact between Hitler and Soviet Russia, the latter would be drawn into the war. And, it will have its consequences in India.
These and such other ideas of Roy were not palatable to majority in Congress, who looked at him with mistrust.
Dislike of Roy in Congress was also rooted in factors other than ideas.
There was a general belief that there was no future for him in the Congress since he disagreed with Gandhi on certain fundamental issues. And, the rumour that Gandhi had asked the right-wing members to ignore Roy politically was going round as a part of the Party gossip. The majority in Congress loved to believe that Gandhi could never make a mistake; and that Roy could never be correct in his criticism of Gandhi and Gandhism. Perhaps, the truth was somewhere in between.
Further, Roy was alienated not only by the Congress leaders but also by the Left wing Socialist group of CSP and by the followers of Bose. As regards the communists, they were openly hostile to Roy. And, therefore, Roy in Congress was rather lonely.
During his later years, Roy’s isolation in Congress became more acute. Roy somehow always seemed to be championing unpopular and rather ‘heretic’ causes. He came to be branded as a dissenter from established ‘Congress principles’. Roy because of his views that ran counter to the current popular opinions had to face endless humiliation. Identified with British War efforts, Roy’s anti-Fascism was seen as a treachery by the national leaders and also by the middle –class educated who had strong anti-British feelings. Subhas Bose became a Hero when he led the Indian National Army (INA). But, Roy had to eventually leave Congress, in disillusionment.
Even otherwise, Roy did not have much support from the Congress Organization as such. For Instance:
Anxious to resume political activities and to re-organize his followers, Roy decided to bring out a weekly journal called The Independent India , which was to be an organ of the ‘radical democratic national thought’. In his eagerness to promote the cause of national freedom, Roy felt the urgency of ‘democratising the Congress’ in order to broaden and deepen the social basis of the Congress as a national organization. The key note of his ideal was national freedom which could be attained ‘only through a democratic revolution’
This, of course, could not be a popular idea with the majority right-wing members of Congress.
To make it worse for right-wing, Roy added the idea that Cultural Revolution should precede a political revolution. Thus, his political program included an element which was designed to teach the people that essence of freedom was transformation of the Indian society which would quicken the ‘play of economic and cultural forces and thereby mark the renaissance of India’.
Roy wrote to several Congress leaders seeking financial help for his weekly journal. Gandhi, who obviously was against the ideal of Roy’s proposed journal, refused help. Instead, advised Roy not to take up such an activity for the present. He asked Roy to go around the country and to study it for some time; the reason being that Roy had still much to learn. Roy didn’t quite like the suggestion. But, Nehru too lent a similar advice asking Roy not to dig himself into any particular region, but to remain as an All-India figure. But Roy had decided to concentrate on United Provinces as his field of intensive work.
In April 1937, his weekly Independent India finally appeared and was welcomed by progressive leaders like Bose and Nehru. But, Gandhi, of course, didn’t like it at all. And, the Indian Communists accused Roy of deviation.
Around this time, Ellen Gottschalk the devoted friend and lover of Roy joined Roy in India; and, soon thereafter they were married. Roy and Ellen settled down in their house at No 13, Mohini Road, Dehra Dun. Ellen lived in that house even after the passing away of Roy (1954) till her last days in 1960. She also became a member of the Indian National Congress.
With her arrival and with her support, Roy renewed his efforts to establish direct contact with the trade unions; and, to motivate the student groups to develop a rational scientific outlook. Roy was one among the few, in those days, to stress upon the need for philosophical revolution. During this period, he published number of books , including his Fascism; Historical Role of Islam; Our Problems ; and, Letters to CSP.
Despite his disadvantaged position, Roy did try to put through his ideas, mainly through Nehru.
: – Nehru, under the influence of Roy, opposed collective affiliation of the workers and peasants organizations as proposed by the socialists. This was in line with Roy’s argument that there was no need for class organizations inside the Congress and the leftists should enter the Congress party only as individual members.
: – At the Faizpur Session of the Congress (1936) Roy suggested through Nehru a large number of resolutions for the welfare of peasants. These included demands for: fifty-percent reduction in land revenue; deferment of recovery of agricultural loans; fixing of adequate minimum wages for agricultural labor; and no new taxes in agriculture.
:- Roy tried to introduce a new method of turning Congress into a Constituent Assembly, following the pattern of French Revolution , and ultimately developing the Congress as a state within a state in order to capture power. After the Faizapur Congress (1936) where Roy had elaborated the idea, it gradually percolated to the ranks of the Congress to a limited extent. The Congress launched the Election campaign and in its manifesto the top thing was “A demand for the Constituent Assembly“. It is believed that the idea gained ground during the August Movement when the Congress leaders were in Jail. But it lost all reality when the communal riots broke out.
Eventually, the demand for Constituent Assembly was accepted by the British in August 1940. On 8 August 1940, a statement was made by Viceroy Lord Linlithgow about the expansion of the Governor-General’s Executive Council and the establishment of a War Advisory Council. This offer, known as the August Offer, included provisions for giving full weight to minority opinions and for allowing Indians to draft their own constitution.
[ In due course, the Constituent Assembly came into being in 1946. Its members, who were elected by the provincial assemblies, took up the task of drafting India’ new Constitution. By then Roy was out of active politics. Yet; he sent to the Indian Constituent Assembly his views favoring decentralization, a federal basis to state power, direct election of the state Governors and the recognition of the rights of the minority communities and the regions.]
The parting of ways came when the Second World War broke out. The Working Committee of the Congress, in September 1939, stated its policy on the Second World War. The Congress declared a policy of opposing imperialism, Nazism and Fascism. It also declared that India would not take part in the war from the side of England. It emphasized that England had denied freedom to her Indian possession in contradiction to her claim that it was fighting for the freedom of the democratic nations. Therefore, the Congress announced that it would not fight for England
With the clouds of War hanging around heavily, Roy understood the great danger of fascism and warned India against it. He even warned the Comintern. However, the Communists in Russia failed to recognize this danger and made a temporary pact with Hitler in August 1939. Roy opposed it. Then he predicted that despite its pact with Hitler, the Soviet Russia would eventually be sucked into the war.
The dreaded War eventually broke out, with Great Britain declaring war against Germany on 03 September 1939. Initially, it was a war among the imperialist powers – Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on one side, and the imperialist England and France on the other. The complexion of the War changed altogether with Germany attacking Russia in June 1941. With that, the Communists in India who till then crying hoarse for mounting pressure on England now started rooting in support of England.
With the declaration of War – close to Sri Aurobindo’s position** – Roy, in his statement of 06 September 1939, condemned the rising totalitarian Germany and Italy; he supported England and France in their fight against fascism. At that time, Roy’s view was that the war against the Axis powers temporarily took priority over the independence struggle. According to Roy, a victory for Germany and the Axis powers would result in the end of democracy worldwide and India would never be independent. He predicted that after the war the Britishers would leave the country. In his view India could win her freedom only in a free world.
At that time, the general feeling in the Congress that the war was neither its making nor did it concern India. But, the initial reaction of Gandhi and Nehru was to lend support to England in her war against Nazi Germany. Later, after a series of discussions and much circumspection, the Congress revised its initial move. It resisted Viceroy’s action of involving India in the War without consulting the Central Legislative Assembly. Ignoring Roy’s plea, the Congress began withdrawing from the Provinces, allowing walk-over to Muslim League, which at that time was an insignificant force. By the middle of November 1939, all the Congress ministers had resigned. The Muslim League lost no time to fill in the vacuum, just as the Government, pressed by the exigencies of the War, was looking for popular support.
[ ** Both Gandhi and Sri Aurobindo regarded the Bhagavad-Gita as a fundamental text; and, studied it diligently . But, on the question of lending support to the British in the war against the Nazis, their interpretations of the Gita differed vastly and led them to opposite positions. Gandhi opposed the invitation from the British Government to the leaders of the Indian National movement to fight for the Allies in exchange for Indian Independence after the War. Among other things, he cited his principle of non-violence as the reason for not agreeing to go for a War. Further, in a highly controversial letter addressed to Martin Buber during the gruesome period of the holocaust of the Jews, he advised that it would be better in the long term if the Jews practiced non-violence in response to their exterminators.
In contrast, Sri Aurobindo viewed Nazis as agents of ’negative spiritual forces’ in the world working against the evolution of humanity towards freedom and dignity. He called upon Indian people to support the war efforts of the British in their just fight against the Nazis.
I am not sure which of these two positions – of Gandhi or of Sri Aurobindo- is nearer to the true teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita..! ]
Roy advised the Congress to rise above national prejudices and to work for the success of the forces ranged against Fascism. But his cry was in vain. When the Congress decided not to continue the ministerial offices in protest against the British War policy , it was Roy who alone insisted on retaining the office on the plea of wielding the strategic position within the State machinery.
Roy’s line was clearly different from that of the mainstream of the national liberation movement; and, he became highly unpopular with the nationalists. In order to convince his critics, including his own associates, Roy prepared a thesis explaining how it was not a war among imperialists; but was a war to defeat Fascism – the most dangerous and destructive.
During May 1940, Roy organized a study–camp for his group- League for Radical Congressmen- at his residence in Dehra Dun , clarifying his views on the war from various perspectives ; and outlining the approach to be taken by the League at the Congress sessions and meetings.
In the mean time, during March 1940, Roy contested for the post of the President of the Indian National Congress. He was aware his chances of winning the election were next to nothing. Yet, he did so in order to assert the right of the dissidents to contest for the highest post in the Party; and, to press for the change in the leadership. The campaign, he thought, would also provide him a platform to publicize his views on war and such other issues. The majority of the left-groups too didn’t support Roy. He managed to pool about ten-percent of the votes cast. But, by then he had drifted away from the main stream of Congress.
As the war entered into its second year, Roy was deeply distressed by the prospect of Europe descending into barbarism with the Nazi invasion. Roy during this period wrote poignant articles bemoaning the fate that had befallen Europe and France in particular. Those articles were later put together in his book whither Europe?
Deeply distressed by attack on France, Roy suggested to Congress to observe 14 July, the French Revolution Day, to demonstrate India’s sympathy and solidarity with France under attack from the Nazis. The suggestion was rejected as inappropriate. Thereafter, when AICC met in Poona, Roy submitted a resolution calling for active participation in the struggle against Fascism. And, that resolution was also turned down.
It was at this AICC session on 27-28 July 1940 in Poona presided over by Maulana Azad that Congress made what came to be known as ‘Poona Offer’ , offering conditional support for the British war efforts, provided the British Government promised to give freedom to India after the War. The object of Congress was to put pressure on British and devise ways of negotiations with its Governments in India and in England. The principle of no-violence and its ethics did not figure much at Poona session.
The ‘Poona Offer’ of the Congress was countered by the ‘August Offer’ 8 August 1940 of the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow, which stated two conditions: the British obligations must be fulfilled; and the minority opinions must not be overrun. The Congress was unable to decide.
The League of Radical Congressmen – (which Roy had started in 1939 following expulsion of Bose from Congress) – decided to organize anti-fascist demonstration on 1 September 1940 as the anniversary of the declaration of war. The Congress prohibited the demonstration; and, ordered Roy and his followers to stop any further move in that direction. Despite the UP Congress directive, the League of Radical Congressmen went ahead with its demonstration, as programmed. The UP Congress charged all demonstrators on grounds of indiscipline for violating party –order. Then, disciplinary action was instituted against the demonstrators by suspending them. The UP Congress Committee expelled their leader Roy. The expulsion was later withdrawn; and Roy was allowed to resign from the Congress. Roy resigned from Congress in October 1940. That brought to an end the association of Roy and the Radical group with the Indian National Congress.
After coming out of the Indian National Congress , Roy converted his group – the League of Radical Congressmen into his own new party, the Radical Democratic Party (RDP) , in December 1940.
By the end of 1941, the World War had extended to the East. Japanese had reached up to the Eastern borders of India after conquering Singapore. Burma fell to Japanese on 7 March 1942. India’s position became alarmingly vulnerable.
Roy argued that the defense of the country was the duty and responsibility of its citizens. The foreign government might or might not fight the aggressor or it might abandon and just go away. But, the citizen and their leaders cannot be so callous. We have to fight invader; and fight alongside with the British-Indian forces.
At this juncture, the President of USA, Franklin D. Roosevelt asked England to enlist the support of Indians in it’s the war efforts. With the threat of the Japanese looming large and with Roosevelt’s pressure, England tried to solicit the support of the Indians in her war efforts. Thereafter, the British Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at the War Cabinet, on 11 March 1942, agreed to send Sir Stafford Cripps to India with a ‘reasonable and practical’ plan.
Sir Stafford Cripps (a senior left-wing politician and government minister in the War Cabinet of Prime Minister Churchill) arrived in India in late March 1942 with a promise to give dominion status after the war, as well as elections to be held after the war, in exchange for Indian cooperation and support for British efforts in World War. He discussed his proposal with the majority Nationalist leaders as also with the minority Muslims led by M A Jinnah. Cripps’s proposal, it is said, was too radical for the British Government; and too conservative for the Indians. No middle was found. Both the parties in India rejected Cripps proposal. Gandhi had called Cripps’s proposal as “post dated cheque on a crumbling bank”.
After the failure of the Cripps’s mission, Congress launched the Quit India movement on 09 August 1942, refusing to cooperate in the war effort and demanding an end to British Rule of India. There was an anticipation that the failure of the Cripps mission coming coupled with the Japanese intrusion would render the British vulnerable to pressure of the Quit India movement , and they might succumb to it.
The British responded by imprisoning practically the entire Congress leadership for the duration of the war. Jinnah was pleased to see that the right to opt out of a future Union was included in the negotiations. He exploited it later. The British had the support of the Viceroy’s Council (which had a majority of Indians), of the All India Muslim League, the Communist Party, the princely states, the Indian Imperial Police, the British Indian Army and the Indian Civil Service. Many Indian businessmen profiting from heavy wartime spending did not support Quit India.
The only outside support came from the Americans, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt pressured Prime Minister Winston Churchill to give in to some of the Indian demands. The Quit India campaign was effectively crushed. The British refused to grant immediate independence, saying it could happen only after the war against the Axis powers had ended.
Roy, of course, approved neither the Congress stand nor the call for Quit India movement.
Early in December 1942, Roy made a forecast the ‘end of the war is in sight’. As per his analysis, as a consequence of the war the imperialism as a system exploiting the backward countries would cease; and , political power would be transferred to Indians soon after the war was over.
Sensing India’s freedom to be a post-War reality following the defeat of the Axis powers and the weakening of British Imperialism, Roy wrote a series of articles in Independent India on the economic and political structures of new India. He drafted a concrete Ten-Year Plan, a People’s Plan of Economic Development (1943) in which primacy was given to employment generation through improvement in agriculture and developments of small-scale industry. He also presented a Draft Constitution of Free India (1944), a road-map for decentralized and participatory democracy.
India had always prominently figured in Roy’s programs, right from his early revolutionary years, and while he was in Comitern and even after he was out of it. While he was in Comintern, Roy built, and monitored from distance the Communist Party of India ; set up and guided groups of Workers and Peasants. And, as regards the Congress, he was regularly sending his economic programs to the Annual Sessions of the Indian National Congress. Soon after was expelled from Comintern, Roy took the risk of coming to India, fully aware of the dangers it involved. His direct influence on Congress policies was visible in the Karachi session of 1931 which carried out the resolution on Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy, though his original draft-resolution was somewhat compromised
His efforts to organize Peoples Party in India failed; and he finally abandoned the plan when he saw several positive radical changes taking place within the Congress leadership from 1929 onwards. Thereafter, he sought to strengthen the hands of the radical elements in order to indirectly capture the leadership of the Congress. To him, the Congress, at that time, appeared to be platform of all classes, but dominated by upper middle class bourgeois. Hence, he tried to build an ‘alternative leadership’, by himself entering the Congress in 1936.
As a member of the Congress, Roy did work very hard , despite the odds and hostilities he had to face, to radicalize Congress programs and to develop the Congress into an United Front for all parties, segments and groups to come together to fight for Indian independence and to ensure economic freedom for its masses. Roy, sadly, did not succeed in any of those ventures. When he was eventually turned out of Congress, Roy was disillusioned with the whole political process.
The period leading up to the end of war was one of disintegration, in Indian politics.
Within the Congress party there were several groups such as the right-wing Gandhi followers; the left oriented admirers of Jawaharlal Nehru; the followers of Subash Bose who tried to make a synthesis of Socialism, Fascism and Nationalism; the bemused Congress Socialist Party led by Jayaprakash Narayan; the Communists of various shades; the trade unions some owing allegiance to Congress and some to Communist party; and there was Roy’s own group called League of Radical Congressmen. By the end of the War, the majority right-wing followers of Gandhi systematically expelled all other groups professing various shades of other ideologies. Eventually, Congress turned into a right-wing bourgeois organization under the hegemony an all-powerful high command.
It was everything that Roy dreaded.
Outside of the Congress also, the Left wing parties could not unite. The Left–wing was in total disarray during the Second World War, and hopelessly failed to influence the Indian politics. The Communists, the Left-wing parties and Socialists all further broke into splinter groups. The Socialists Parties created their own wilderness. And, the Communist Party suffered from excessive external controls and conflicting policy directions from Comintern. The question of nationalism was never really resolved. The Communist in India broke into sects each hating the other.
And, Roy who pioneered communist movement in India and who was intimately involved in building communist groups and guiding their policies and methods, was sidelined by communists, the socialists and the congress alike. Roy was not a successful person in the ordinary sense of the term, as Samaren Roy writes, by the time he died in January 1954, he was a forgotten man.
Roy is said to have remarked: I am not quite satisfied any longer with political activities. I can now do other work according to my inclinations…I feel my leaving the party will be good for me and to the party.
M N Roy the person who always looked ahead did not fail to foresee his own bleak future. He had admitted long before that he was practically doomed to fail, because he was ‘politically’ isolated in India. ’He had, however, the conviction that his isolation was indeed the isolation of pioneers, which might not be pleasant but ‘historically necessary’. Roy exhorted his followers to have ‘the courage of pioneering’. Like Sri Aurobindo who was an extremist in politics and later chose to be a philosopher; Roy too seemed to have lost interest in traditional politics; and with the dawn of Independence he emerged wholly as a political philosopher.
Let’s talk of Roy’s thoughts on political philosophy and other subjects such as Radical Humanism, in the next part.
Sources and References
M N Roy by V B Karnik
M.N. Roy: A Political Biography by Samaren Roy
Leftism in India Ch.9-11 by S M Ganguli
Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt
Elites in south Asia Indian Political Thought: Themes and Thinkers Edited by Mahendra Prasad Singh, Himanshu Roy
Sources of Indian Tradition: Modern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh by Rachel Fell McDermott
The Mahatma and the Ism by E. M. S. Namboodiripad
Elections after Government of India Act 1935
M.N. Roy – Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism: by Kris Manjapra
Pictures are from Internet