MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 14
Continued from Part 013
Back to Berlin and Back to India
After attending a few sessions of the Ninth Plenum of the ECCI, Roy left (escaped) from Moscow on the grounds of illness in March 1928. His quiet exit from Moscow was made possible by the help from Bukharin and Borodin, both of whom were later arrested and executed by Stalin .
Roy stayed in Berlin under his assumed name Roberto Alleny Villa Gracia ; and was holding the Mexican diplomatic passport that was provided to him by the Mexican President Carranza during November 1919, to enable Roy and Evelyn to travel safely to Berlin and then on to Moscow.
Soon after he reached Berlin, Roy found a place to stay with help from Wilhelm “Willi” Münzenberg, a communist political activist.
[By 1928, Roy and Evelyn Trent had been separated over some serious differences that developed between them. Roy was living alone during his early days in Berlin. During those lonely days, Roy developed relations with a few women communists. It is said, Roy had been close to Clara Zetkin, the German Communist. Thereafter, it is said, Roy had live-in relation with a German woman Louise Geissler (1899-1973), whom he knew from his earlier Comintern days. Roy had in the mean time developed friendship with another German communist woman Ellen Gottschalk (1903-1960). With Ellen, Roy truly grew very intimate. We shall talk about Ellen Gottschalk, separately, in the coming parts of this series. ]
In Berlin, Roy gradually aligned himself with August Thalheimer, a journalist and theoretician; and, with Heinrich Brandler a Communist trade-union politician.
August Thalheimer (1884 to 1948), was initially a member of the Social Democratic Party before the First World War. And later he formed the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). However, during 1928, he and Brandler were expelled from the KPD. Thereafter, Brandler, along with Thalheimer, set up a faction within German Communist Party named the Communist Party of Germany Opposition (KPO).
The KPO initially conceived of itself as a factional influence group, attempting to change the political line of the Communist Party of Germany rather than as a new party in competition with it.
The KPO, in its new Communist Opposition journal, Gegen den Storm (Against the Storm) edited by August Thalheimer , started publishing articles criticizing the foreign policy of the Soviet Union; which meant criticism of Stalin. The Comitern was properly annoyed with Brandler and his organization – the KPO.
During 1928 and till September 1929, Roy was still a member of the ECCI of the Comintern. Although he had fallen from grace, Roy had not yet been formally expelled from Comintern. He continued to write articles for the Comintern journals. Roy did not dare criticize Stalin’s new Ultra-Left policy. For about one year after his return to Berlin, Roy did not ‘openly utter a single word against the line of the Comintern’.
The German Communist Party (KPD) which was then the best organized Communist Party in Europe was facing a crisis. It was losing ground to the emerging Social Democratic Party; and internally it had to contend with the opposition faction, KPO.
On the occasion of the May Day of 1929, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) gave a call to its members to get more aggressive and militant to assert their Party’s position. That resulted in an armed insurrection, which proved to be abortive.
Following KPD’s failed attempt to up rise, Roy wrote an article in the German Communist Opposition (KPO) journal Gegen den Storm, entitled ‘The crisis in the Communist International’ criticizing the German Communist Party’s (KPD), for its violent actions on the May Day. The article, inter alia, criticized the policy of the Comintern too.
Comintern was already angry with the Opposition splinter group (KPO) within the German Communist Party (KPD); and was totally displeased with Brandler and his faction. Roy, especially after the Ninth Plenum, had been steadily losing ground in the ECCI mainly because of his failure in China and his suspect theory of ‘decolonization’ (though he kept insisting it was really not his own theory). Roy was openly accused of being a ‘lackey of imperialism’ and ‘father of the decolonization theory’.
Another problem that the Comintern had to deal with during 1928-9 was the question of fascism that was raising its hood in Germany. The German Opposition Communists August Thalheimer and Heinrich Brandler advocated joining hands with the German Social Democrats to defeat fascism. Roy also expressed his support to such joint action to bring down fascism; and wrote articles in that regard. But, the Sixth Congress was strongly against any collaboration with the Social Democrats, even for defeating the worst form of fascism – the Nazis. Roy who supported the proposal of the German Opposition was branded and clubbed with the ‘Brandlerite Opposition’ .This together with the controversy over ‘decolonization’ contributed to making Roy’s position in Comintern highly insecure.
But, it was Roy’s article in Brandler’s KPO‘s journal Gegen den Storm following the May Day incident in Germany that really angered the Comintern. It indeed was a red-rag. The Comintern was annoyed that Roy while being a member of its ECCI should align himself with Brandler’s splinter group within the official Communist Party (KPD); and, worse still contribute articles criticizing the Comintern and the KPD. The ECCI clearly pointed out; ‘’In accordance with the resolution of the Plenum of the ECCI and the decision of the Presidium of the ECCI of 19 December 1928, adherents of the Brandler organization cannot be members of the Communist International.’ The Tenth Plenum which met in June 1929, therefore, condemned Roy as a ‘renegade’. Comintern could no longer tolerate Roy’s betrayal; and, decided to expel him from the Party. Roy’s expulsion from the Communist International followed thereafter in September 1929.
But, for some reason, the announcement of the action taken against Roy was delayed for while. The delay was, perhaps, meant to give Roy time and opportunity to recant, apologize and to return to the Party’s official line. Since no helpful reaction appeared from Roy, the fact of Roy’s expulsion from Comintern was published in Inprecor of 13 December 1929, almost simultaneously with Bukharin’s fall from grace
The notice published in Inprecor of 13 December 1929 mentioned the cause of Roy’s expulsion as: “contributing to the Brandler press and supporting the Brandler organizations.”…”The Presidium declares that Roy, by contributing to the Brandler press and by supporting Brandler Organization, has placed himself outside the ranks of the Communist International, and is to be considered as expelled from the Communist International.”
Immediately after his expulsion from the Comintern, Roy addressed an open letter titled ‘My Crime’ to the members of the Comintern. In that open-letter, Roy defended his position against the charges made by Kuusinen in the Sixth Congress. He rejected the allegation of deviation attributed to him as contradictory.
Roy, in fact, during the Sixth Congress had taken the stand that the Indian Communists must ‘take the initiative in organizing the broadest possible United Front of all social elements under the hegemony of the proletariat to fight simultaneously against imperialism and native bourgeoisie’.
The Sixth Congress had not rejected the principle of United Front; but had asked the Indian communists not to enter into multi-class party alliances.
There was thus no glaring contradiction, as such. But, there was a mis-match when it came to personalities. The Sixth Congress had characterized the Indian National Congress as a party of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie; and had asked the Indian communist to denounce the Congress leaders. Roy, on the contrary, regarded Nehru and Bose as leaning towards the Left and needed to be cultivated. He had also argued that INC was ‘a coalition of the classes’ which meant that it was bound to be dominated by one class or the other.
Roy engaged himself writing the Book –Revolution and Counter revolution in China ( in German)- which was published in Germany soon after his departure from Germany in 1930.The Book had a good response with over 100,000 copies being sold within an year of its publication.
Berlin in those days was littered with Communists who had been expelled or were followers of either Bukharin or Trotsky, in hiding. In 1928-9, there were series of expulsions from the Comintern. The more noticeable of those were the expulsions of the Brandler group in Germany ( before 1929); Jay Lovestone and his group in America ( in June 1929); Tom Bell and Andrew Rothstein of Britain (November 1929) ; and M N Roy (in September 1929). Berlin was thus a sort of un-official gathering of Opposition Communist groups. Similar groups also existed in other major European cities, especially in France, Switzerland and Sweden.
The first gathering of the Opposition Communists was held in Berlin during March 17–19, 1930. It was attended by the Opposition groups of Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Sweden and by M. N. Roy. The meeting decided to set up an information centre in Berlin to co-ordinate international activities and publish a bulletin, INKOPP (International Information of the Communist Opposition), with Roy and Thalheimer as editors. It was to function as the organ for the new centre. Roy continued to write for the journals of the opposition till about 1937 in spite of being behind bars in India during 1931-37. (However, the opposition group withered away after Bukharin’s arrest and fall in 1937)
Roy during the latter period of his stay in Berlin was very active within the German Communist Opposition (KPO) fraction. Yet, he insisted that the Opposition should not convert itself into a rival International Organization. He did not want to emulate Trotsky who after his expulsion formed the Fourth International. (Roy is said to have remarked – only the monumental egoism of Trotsky could conceive of such a thing today.) He even argued, if the situation warrants, it would not be a bad idea to liquidate the Brandlerite Opposition, the KPO.
Roy kept repeating that message even in his letters from prison in India during 1931-1936.
It seems that though he had been expelled from the Comintern, Roy nurtured a hope that someday the Communist party would return to its Leninist –tactical line; and, he would be asked back. He wanted the Communist ideology to be kept alive by extending it to the rank and file of the Party, eventually aiming to changing the policy of the Party. He abhorred the idea of creating a parallel Communist Party either at the International level or at the national level.
[Despite Roy’s protestations that the KPO did not constitute an independent political party, it was not long before it had entered the political arena with its own candidates for office. It ran its own candidates in the December 7, 1929 provincial election in Thuringia, one of the organization’s strongholds, although these garnered only 12,000 votes. In other elections, it supported the slate of candidates of the official Communist Party of Germany (KPD) , including the candidacy of Ernst Thiemann for President in the election of March 1932.]
Roy had close association with August Thalheimer and Heinrich Brandler. In the letters he sent from prison to Ellen Gottschalk, he very often fondly enquired about his two friends and associates. He wrote: “I am eagerly looking out for the day when we shall celebrate a grand reunion, which let’s pray will be all inclusive (24 February 1934)”..” I eagerly wait to hear about them. I am keenly concerned about their affairs (24 April 1935)”.
By about 1933, Hitler had come to power and Roys friends in the KPO had to quit Germany and seek shelter elsewhere; and, most flocked to Paris. Roy kept enquiring about his old friend ‘on the run’ – ‘How are the wandering Jews of the twentieth century?’
Thereafter, it was virtually the end of Camelot’
After 1935, the things went from bad to worse. The series of trials and executions in Russia created acute panic among the Communists. The Comintern too lost much of its importance. All powers now vested in Stalin, the dictator. The Communist Opposition leaders in other European countries also came under severe threat. They sought asylum wherever they could. Most went to France first; and when it got hot there, they moved on to Cuba. Following that immigration route, both August Thalheimer and Heinrich Brandler sought shelter in Cuba in December 1941. Thalheimer died in Cuba in 1948. After Thalheimer’s death, Brandler returned to Europe at the end of the War; and then moved on to England. Brandler came back to West Germany during 1949 and became involved in a new radical opposition organization called the Labor Politics Group and served as its president and editor of its journal, Gruppe Arbeiterpolitik (Labor Policy Group), until 1956 . He eventually died in Germany, in 1967, at the ripe old age of eighty-six.
Roy, after much debate within himself and with Ellen Gottschalk, finally decided to return to India, because he thought that direct involvement with the Indian Congress and the Indian Communists was the only way of hastening mass revolution. At the same time, he was also aware of the enormous risk he was taking by entering British India.
He had also consulted with associates who approved his move. He sent four of his associates -Tayab Ali Shaik; Sundar Kabadi, Brojesh Singh and Dr. Anandi Bhaduri – to be in India prior to his own arrival there.
Dr. Bhaduri was the first to land in India in November 1930 along with his German wife. Sundar Kabadi reached Bombay by March 1930. Tayab Shaik and Brojesh Singh followed thereafter in about a week’s time. Tayab stayed in Bombay, while Brojesh went to Lucknow.
Travelling via Istanbul, Roy arrived in Karachi on December 11, 1930 , with a forged passport in the name of Banerjee. He reached Bombay on 17 December 1930 and assumed the name of Dr. Mahmood.
Roy had timed his arrival in India to be able to attend the Annual Session of the Indian National Congress scheduled to commence at Karachi in March 1931. It appears, Roy did that at Nehru’s suggestion. Care was taken to ensure that his visit to Karachi was not made known and kept a secret, because a special cell of the police set up to catch Roy was on his look out.
When Roy arrived in India towards the end of 1930, the Communist-movement in the country was at its lowest ebb. It had lost momentum; and was virtually collapsing on itself, particularly after Comintern’s disastrous ultra-left directive of 1929. Most of the active communist leaders in India including SA Dange along with thirty-two others had been rounded up and arrested on or by about 20 March 1929. All the accused were not communists; but the majority of those arrested belonged to Roy’s group. The accused were charged and tried under what came to be known as the Meerut Conspiracy Case. The Case dragged on for about four and a half years, from 1929 to 1933. Out of the accused, twenty-seven were convicted with various durations of ‘transportation’.
The Indian National Congress too was passing through a depression. Its attempt to compromise with the British through the Gandhi-Irvin pact spread distress and disappointment among the youth of the Congress.
During the first month of his stay in Bombay, Roy (Dr. Mahmood) met a number of prominent leaders including Sardar Patel, Bhulabhai Desai, Dr. B R Ambedkar and N M Joshi.
While Dr. Mahmood (Roy) was in Bombay, his followers set up an organization called Independence of India League, and secured support of some Congressmen. But, it could not make much impression in the provincial Congress Committees.
These meetings and activities of a stranger attracted attention of the police. By about this time, the police in India leant about Roy’s disappearance from Germany. It did not take much time before the police figured out that Dr. Mahmood might very well be the Roy that was on their watch-list..
Roy quickly shifted to Lucknow UP, where Brojesh Singh provided him shelter. Brojesh also arranged for Roy’s meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru at Allahabad. During this period, Roy met Nehru before and after the Karachi session and toured the towns and villages in UP. He was happy to see political activities taking place in the backdrop of ‘severe agricultural crisis’ and driving the farmers to the point of revolt.
Roy sent Kabadi to Meerut to meet Dange and other prisoners of the Meerut Conspiracy Case to ascertain the political stance of the communists in India.
Roy (now under his assumed name Banerjee) toured UP, fairly extensively for about two months and tried to activate peasant movement. While in UP, Roy managed to circulate copies of his former publication The Masses of India. He also wrote fresh articles but ‘couched in moderate terms and phrase, so as not to frighten moderate trade union and peasant leaders.
Between his arrival in India by the end of December 1930 and his arrest on 21 July 1931, Roy devoted those seven months in touring Bombay and United Provinces regions to build groups of his followers. He was also trying to organize groups to work within the Indian National Congress as a replacement for those rounded up under the Meerut case. He seems to have avoided entering Bengal because of the greater risk it involved.
In the initial stages until the character of the group changed totally, the participants in the group were not aware that Dr. Mahmood was in fact M N Roy. The discussions in the groups centered around political issues , principles and practices of Marxism, class relations in Indian society, nature of the revolution to be brought about and the role of the Congress in the context of struggle against imperialism.
The groups responded enthusiastically to revolutionary ideas, because by then discontent had spread among the youth. The reasons for their distress included: Gandhi-Irvin pact of March 1931; execution of patriots Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru on 23 March 1931; and laxity of Gandhi to fight for saving those martyrs; and disappointment with Gandhian methods and tactics.
By the end of 1932, Roy Groups had been set up in Bombay, UP and Bengal; and they were functioning effectively. The groups came to be known as Roy Group, because they had accepted Roy’s program and were influenced by his person and achievements. The young and enthusiastic youth in the Group came from Congress, the Trade Unions and other youth –movements. The Roy Groups got active and started distributing leaflets and pamphlets in English, Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati; and wrote articles in newspapers aiming to arouse the public into action . A Marathi weekly Kamgarancha Lal Batva (Red call to the workers) was launched at Bombay by Kabadi. And, another journal called The People (1931-32) came into being later, printing articles written by Roy, smuggled out of the jail.
The spread of socialist/communist-like ideas in UP was very visible.
The UP Governor Hailey was alarmed at the infiltration of communist ideology among the rural folks. He charged Nehru and his followers for trying to create ‘soviet-like’ situation by abolishing the landlords. Haley, in a way was proved right. Owing to the fall in prices of agricultural commodities, the farmers were in a distress. They found it very difficult to pay rent to the landlords. The UP Congress Committee took initiative to launch the ‘no-rent’ campaign in Rae Bareilly under inspiration from Nehru. The landlords were urged to stop revenue payments to the Government; and, the tenants were asked to withhold payments of enhanced rents. The farmers in Barabanki, Rae Bareli and parts of Lucknow, thereafter, refused to pay rent/taxes to the landlords.
Initially, the no-rent agitation was a political movement, which was started in October 1930 as part of the Civil Disobedience Movement. But in the meantime, the economic situation of the peasantry worsened drastically. Now, the two movements merged, strengthening each other. The movement engulfed the entire ‘doab’ districts from Meerut to Allahabad; and spread to the poorer and backward districts in Southern and Eastern Oudh. The agitation soon acquired the character of a mass-movement.
At that juncture, the local UP Congress party stepped in to function as parallel government in Mathura and Barabanki. Congress leaders in UP asked the farmers to withhold rent and revenue until a significant reduction was made in it by the government. Congress workers in the Central Peasants League asked the farmers not to pay rent more than the rate approved by the Local Congress Party. Their efforts succeeded considerably.
Gandhi disapproved the no-rent campaign and opposed formation of parallel governments and to act as intermediary between farmers and the established government. Gandhi advised all the parties to the dispute to negotiate peacefully and resolve the conflict.
But what really angered the Up Congress, the Roy Groups and the farmers was Gandhi’s ‘Manifesto to the Farmers of UP’ which came to be viewed as pro-Zamindari. In that manifesto, Gandhi advised the peasants not to withhold rents from landlords; and to stop their agitation. At the same time, Gandhi assured the landlords that ‘Congressmen will on their part see to it that ‘the farmers scrupulously fulfill their obligations to the Zamindars… And, that ‘we do not seek to injure the Zamindars. We aim not at destruction of property. We aim only at its lawful use’.
And, in the meanwhile, the government joined hands with the landlords and crushed the congress workers. In police firing at Allahabad many farmers and congress workers were killed. And, in retaliation sporadic attacks were made on landlords and their hirelings.
The UP Congress Committee, on its own, set up an Enquiry Committee which brought out a well documented Report “Agrarian Distress in the United Provinces.” This report highlighted distress of the peasantry and the atrocities that were being perpetrated by the police and the Zamindars’ goondas on the peasantry in general and in particular on such peasants who had participated in the ‘no-rent-no-tax’ campaign in 1930.
Roy who at that time was touring UP, placed himself at the disposal of Nehru and the Provincial Congress. He along the Nehru and Congress worker visited many villages and talked to the badly affected groups of farmers.
During this period, the approach of Nehru, and the tone and tenor of his speeches had also changed quite noticeably. Nehru, in contrast to Gandhi, encouraged militant attitude of the congress in UP. He called on the farmers to unite and ‘present a fight that would be last fight’. Some of his speeches were quite radical. He thundered ‘if Swaraj means that the Britishers should leave India, if landlords, capitalists and Rajas come in their place, the lot of the peasant class will never improve. You should take up the campaign for true Swaraj in your hands’.
Gandhi though sympathized with the farmers’ plight advised them again to pay rent ‘within their individual capacity’; but in any case not less than fifty percent of the rates fixed for statutory and non-occupancy tenants and not less than seventy-five percent for occupancy tenants. Sardar Patel then stepped in and re-interpreted the rates suggested by Gandhi as Maximum and was not to be taken as minimum.
In the meanwhile, the government decided to allow remission of rent and taxes as agreed upon in the Gandhi- Irvin Pact of March 1931. The Civil Disobedience Movement was discontinued and the ‘no-rent’ campaign in UP was also suspended.
However, the no-rent movement did not abate, entirely. Since, the Government failed to give adequate relief to the distress-hit peasants of UP; and also since the government continued with massive repression of peasants, the UP Congress Committee decided to resume the agitation.
And this time, the mass agitation was carried out on a new basis. Earlier, the agitation was a part of the political protest against foreign rule; now, it was to be based on the issue of the fall in agricultural prices. The Congress argued that the signing of the Delhi Pact was for suspension of Civil Disobedience as a part of the ongoing political process; but , that did not mean that the farmers were debarred from seeking remission in rent and taxes in accordance with the Land Revenue rules , in the event of economic distress caused by fall in prices of agricultural commodities.
The Congress workers controlled by Roy Group started distributing pamphlets, asking farmers not to pay rent or taxes. It asked tenants to send application to the Congress office; and the Congress workers would talk to the zamindars, talukdars and Deputy Commissioners and try to get the rent suspended, remitted or reduced.
Thus, even after the Delhi Pact, the Congress in Up had not changed its no-rent stand. What had changed was its tactics.
The government realized that the Congress was not sincere about the Gandhi–Irvin Agreement, which specifically provided for the effective discontinuance of the civil disobedience movement as a condition for remission of land revenue and rent. And, the Congress, it realized, was looking for pretexts to continue the Civil Disobedience movement.
The Government Agency which investigated into the farmers’ agitation reported that it was M N Roy who had instigated Nehru to take an agitational path. It also found that the Central Peasants League was controlled by the Groups set up by Roy. The government took the pamphlets of Congress asking the farmers to withhold rent and taxes as a breach of the Pact. It then refused to negotiate further with the Congress.
The government finally promulgated an Emergency Powers Ordinance, and arrested peasant leaders including some from Roy’s groups by the end of December 1931. Jawaharlal Nehru was arrested on 26 December when he was on his way to Bombay to receive Gandhi. His arrest was made very quietly by stopping his train at a wayside suburban railway station.
Just as Roy–Groups had entered into Congress and into farmers’ village level organizations, they entered the trade union movement through Congress Labor Committee. While the communists talked only in terms of revolution and revolt, the Roy groups started working on the day-to-day problems and demands of the workers. Several labor unions therefore came into the fold of the Roy-groups.
Thus, during the seven months he was at large in India, Roy had stirred much activity. His groups had made considerable advance in Bombay and UP regions; and, later that spread to Bengal. He made serious attempts and succeeded in putting through his Socialist ideas into the resolutions of the Karachi Session of the INC through Nehru. He also disagreed with disastrous ultra-left policy of the Comintern, much to the relief of the Congress and the Indian Trade Unions.
The Comintern was however irked by the attempts of the ‘renegade Roy’ to build a parallel organization. It was in no mood let him succeed. During his seven months in India during 1930-31, the Communist Party of India (CPI) was hostile to him and to his work. It vilified Roy’ fake communist’ ,’pretender’ and ‘ Congress Agent’ , ‘camp follower’ etc; and , denigrated Roy Groups as ‘ the most dangerous outposts of the bourgeois ‘, ‘ counter-revolutionary puppets’ etc.
[Some believe, it was the CPI that virtually ‘handed over ‘Roy to police at Bombay in July 1931.]
However, after the Seventh Congress revised its policy, the CPI and the Roy groups came closer, in theory. But, they continued to differ in their approach. For instance; the Roy Groups were for a multi-class body with proletariat leadership, but the CPI insisted on a pure-working class , anti-imperialist body; next, Roy Groups preferred to place a democratic program before the masses, but the CPI said only the pure-working-class program should be followed; and, Roy Groups looked upon Indian National Congress as the organization of masses in the national revolutionary struggle, but , CPI strongly refuted that and said that INC is relevant so long as it is in league with Trade Union s, Kisan Sabhas, Communist Youth leagues etc. The two – Roy Groups and the CPI- kept quarreling and trading abuses till the coming of Independence.
Some of the events that we talked about happened after the Karachi session. Let’s now go back to the Karachi session.
The forty-fifth Session of the Indian National Congress was held at Karachi on 29 and 30 March 1931, with Sardar Vallabhai Patel as its President. The Karachi Congress meet was preceded by rather strained circumstances. The Congress was disappointed with the Gandhi-Irvin pact of 5 March 1931; the nation was under shock at the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru; there was also an impression that Gandhi had not fought hard enough to defend them (when Gandhi was on the way to attend the Karachi session, on the route, he was greeted with the Black flags); and, there was the overhanging confusion all around. The Great Depression that began soon after the stock market crash in October 1929, had in some measure impacted the Indian economy with falling prices driving the farmers to desperation..
The period 1930-31 was also stressful for Nehru. In October 1930 he had just been released after six months in prison. But, after a brief interlude of two weeks he was back again in the goal with a sentence of two years and four months. That was his fifth prison sentence. It was during this period that Nehru started writing letters to his daughter on history. The collection of those letters was later published as The Glimpses of World History, which earned great acclaim.
Nehru did not, however, have to serve his fifth sentence in full. In an attempt to secure co-operation of the Congress for the Round Table Conference, the Government decided to release all the members of the Congress Working Committee on 26 January 1931. Nehru was released a few hours before the scheduled time because of his father’s serious health condition. After about ten days, on 6 February 1931, Motilal Nehru passed away. Jawaharlal had a strong emotional bond with his father, though he had some policy differences; and was deeply distressed.
While Jawaharlal was still mourning and recovering from his anguish, Gandhi started negotiations with the Viceroy Lord Irvin on 17 February (within ten days of Motilal passing away). And on the morning of 5 March 1931, Gandhi entered into an agreement with the Viceroy. It was an anti climax to the whole series of events that had preceded. In that pact with Gandhi, Viceroy had not conceded to any of the points raised by Congress. The few concession he had made included release of political prisoners, other than those involved in violence; remission of certain fines imposed on recalcitrant farmers and return of their lands. Gandhi in return had agreed to discontinue the Civil Disobedience movement. He had also assured to maintain the Federal character of India. Nehru who was fighting for complete Independence was aghast and totally disliked the agreement. He knew that Gandhi’s move would demoralize the entire national movement. Yet; Nehru somehow could not resist Gandhi, as it would have meant a vertical split of the Congress Party. Congress that met at Karachi on 29 and 30 March 1931 endorsed the Delhi pact. (It was mentioned, aside, that the Truce was meant to be a breather; not a final settlement.)
After spending a couple of months in organizing his groups, travelling extensively in UP, Bombay and other areas, Roy reached Karachi , from Lucknow , to attend the Annual session of the Indian National Congress, evading British police. Here, he met subhas Bose (perhaps for the first time) ; and, had extensive discussions with him. Roy also discussed with Nehru before, during and after the Karachi session.
Roy arrived at the Congress session, clad in white pajama, Kurta, dark jacket and a white Gandhi-cap. He was lost in the crowd of thousands of similarly dressed congress delegates who thronged the session. The police knew very well that Roy would appear in the Congress Session; but, could not spot him amidst ‘the sea of penguins’, as they said. He merged into the vast crowd; and for all purposes was lost, even as he sat on the dais amidst the row of congress men, all similarly dressed.
The Karachi session, at the end of March 1931 , was significant not because it endorsed the Delhi Pact, but because it for the first time ‘took a step, a very short step’ in the socialist direction, as Nehru said. Karachi Congress Session assumed historical importance in the national movement because of the Socialist direction it lent to the movement; and also because it tried to define ’Swaraj’ in economic terms, instead of merely echoing the slogan of ‘Independence’. Its ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Program’ listed important rights of the workers and peasants.
At Karachi session, Roy was able to influence the left-oriented congress leaders, particularly Nehru, to propose ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Program’ resolution. Members of the Roy group led by Shaikh and Kabadi distributed leaflets at the Karachi session of the Congress, outlining the new program of Roy.
It is believed that even before the commencement of the Karachi session, Roy had discussed with Nehru, while in UP, the draft-resolution he had prepared on ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Program’. During the course of the Session, it is said, Nehru visited Roy’s hut where’ discussions went on for over two hours’. Roy had similar discussions with Subash Bose.
Nehru’s original draft-resolution (partly based on Roy’s draft), was considered by some Congress leaders as being too radical. Gandhi, in turn, came up with his ten-point program for attaining national freedom. Nehru wanted a more radical oriented program advocating nationalization of services and key industries and a more dynamic socialist economic program. It is quite likely he discussed Gandhi’s program with Roy.
It is believed that Nehru and Gandhi worked out their own programs based on the Roy’s program circulated at the Karachi session. But, each – Gandhi and Nehru- developed his list, thereafter, according to his own priorities.
Of the thirty-point Fundamental Rights and Economic and Social Program in the revised draft prepared by Nehru, fifteen were from Roy’s nineteen- point manifesto circulated at the session. The four points which were dropped were those calling for a single chamber federal republic; abolition of Native States and landlords; confiscation of their lands and without compensation; and nationalization of agricultural banks to loans at a cheaper rate. Gandhi would never have approved the first three of those points.
Karachi Session also brought together Jawaharlal Nehru and Subash Bose .They together defended the Socialist content of the resolution against the conservative section led by Gandhi and Patel. The resolution with some amendments was eventually approved. Some commentators point out that Gandhi agreed to the resolution plausibly to placate the Left-Wing over their dissatisfaction with the Gandhi-Irvin pact. In any case, the Socialist tinged resolution would have effect, if any, only after India gains political freedom. At the time of Karachi Session 1931 it would cost nothing to Gandhi or to the conservative group.
Karachi resolution was the first instance when Nehru’s economic program was accepted, though partly. As the movement developed, Nehru’s influence in Party grew. He could not have done any of that had he broken away from Gandhi over the irksome question of Delhi-Pact; and, had he also had decided to form a separate party or a group of his own. With the endorsement by Karachi Congress , the Delhi pact was treated as fully approved. But Nehru was not fully happy because the major demand for full freedom had not been addressed unconditionally.
The resolution on the ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Program’, in its preamble, stated ‘political freedom must include real economic freedom of the starving masses’. Thereafter it listed Fundamental rights and other rights which may be provided in the future Constitution of India.
Some important aspects of these resolutions were: Free speech and press; Freedom to form associations, assemblies; guaranteed equal legal rights to all, adult franchise, compulsory primary education; and, Protection of women and protection of cultural heritage of minorities.
The resolution on National Economic Program included:
Relief from agrarian indebtedness, reduction in rent and revenue; abolition of all intermediaries between cultivators and the State; Better conditions for work, living wages, limited hours work; Right to form Trade Unions (peasants and workers); and, Nationalization of key industries and services , such as mines, transport etc .
The ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Program’ resolution as endorsed by the Karachi session was, thus, a product of compromise. Roy, needless to say, was not happy with the outcome. He later described the resolution as ‘a confused petty bourgeois reformation; and there is not much Socialism in it’. He later again called the Karachi resolution as ‘an illusion of socialism sprinkled among the Left-Wing elements to dissuade them for taking the revolutionary path’.
Yet; historically, the Karachi resolution was a significant step. The Congress which till then had no significant economic program, now became armed with a very impressive social and economic agenda. It could be said that resolution marked a positive departure from the traditional way of dealing with social and economic issues. The resolution did try to address some of the demands of the workers and peasants. The ideas of ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Program’, as put forth in the Karachi-resolution, formed the basis of the political program of the Indian National Congress for the next many years to come.
The Karachi-resolution also provided a political frame work for the framers of the Indian Constitution in 1950, for the reconstruction of Indian society, to enshrine Fundamental Rights and Objectives; and to guide the social and economic policy of the Indian Republic.
[It is said; in the later years , while the Indian Constituent Assembly was busy drafting the Indian Constitution, Roy sent suggestions in favor of decentralization, a federal basis to state power, and the recognition of the rights of the minority communities and the regions etc.. Roy had , by that time, moved beyond Marxism; and, called himself a radical humanist and sketched out a social activist position from the political center.]
And even before that, the Government of India Act, 1935 did try to include some points of the Karachi resolution, such as : lifting ban of farmers and workers unions; agrarian reforms like legislations on land reforms, fee, arrears of rent , land tenures, debt etc ., despite resistance from by zamindars and lack of adequate powers.
In the post-independent period, the Union Government headed by Nehru took important measures of agrarian reforms by abolition of Zamindary system, tenancy reforms, reducing tax on peasants etc. The First Five Year Plan (FFYP) also laid stress on rural and agricultural development.
After his return to Bombay from Karachi in April 1931, Roy stayed at different places. For some days he was the guest of Jamnadas Mehta, a trade union leader . He was scheduled to leave for Poona and then on to South India to meet political and trade union leaders in the Madras region.
But that did not happen, because he was arrested in Bombay a chawl on 21 July 1931, on an arrest warrant, issued in 1924 under the Cawnpore Conspiracy Case, where he was tried in absentia.
VB Karnik and Maniben kara with Roy
Before we move on to life events and thoughts of Roy while in prison and thereafter, it is time , I reckon , we talk of the Western Women who were ardently involved in Indian National Movement and in the Leftist movement.
Sources and References
Chapter – III farmer’s movement in Uttar Pradesh
Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt
Leftism in India; M N Roy and Indian Politics 1920-1948 by S. M. Ganguly
Indian Political Thought: Themes and Thinkers – Edited by Mahendra Prasad Singh, Himanshu Roy
Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt
Leftism in India; M N Roy and Indian Politics 1920-1948 by S. M. Ganguly
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the Peasant Movement by Ravindra Kumar
Pictures are from Internet