On 15th August, 1958, when the mouthpiece of Congress, A.I.C.C Economic Review, carried an article written by Jawaharlal Nehru severely criticising the Communism and Communist ideology, Western political analysts hailed it as ‘a welcome departure’ from the pro-Communist policies being carried out by Nehru. In this article, The Basic Approach, Nehru argued that Communism had taken birth in the wake of disillusionment from the religion and orthodox social norms but it, owing to its own rigidity, had ignored the essential moral and spiritual needs of humans. On the one hand Communism talked about the contradictions within a Capitalist society but on the other it suppressed individual freedom through violence.
In the article Nehru blamed the U.S.S.R for using violence and thus giving us a tainted idea of the World order. He admitted that the charges on Capitalism were entirely true but with the democratic struggles across the World its character had changed considerably and the process was in continuation. Interestingly, Nehru, in the article claimed that the 1956, anti-Communist Hungarian Revolution was a national movement and the people had every right to choose a popular national government. It was in fact ‘a departure’ from his earlier position when in 1956 his government lobbied along with the U.S.S.R in the United Nations (UN) when the matter was put under vote. Moreover, he told the Parliament that ‘the West is exaggerating the Hungarian situation to divert attention from Egypt.’ He further warned, “the wrong means will not lead to right results”.
Nehru while comparing Communism with Fascism, in the article, wrote, “Communism has definitely allied itself to the approach of violence. Even if it does not indulge normally in physical violence, its language is of violence, its thought is violent and it does not seek to change by persuasion or peaceful democratic pressures, but by coercion and indeed by destruction and extermination. Fascism has all these evil aspects of violence and extermination in their grossest forms and, at the same time has no acceptable idea.” In his view this violent approach was in direct conflict of Gandhi’s philosophy, unscientific and unreasonable.
Nehru, who until then had openly professed his inclination towards the Marxist ideology went on to claim that the Marxist economics had outdated. Need of spirituality along with material prosperity was stressed upon. Society needed to go back to the “Vedantic ideals of life forms which are the inner base of everything that exists.”
The Western commentators were partly correct that it was the first time that Nehru openly criticized the Marxist ideology, Communism and U.S.S.R, but they had completely missed out that he had openly displayed his disliking for any Communist movement in India and ruthlessly suppressed them.
The Nehru led government launched a crackdown against the Communist as soon as the power was transferred to it by the British. The Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI), a break away group, were banned in West Bengal in April, 1948. The communists were charged with waging a war against the state and attempting to sabotage the national reconstruction.
Somewhere else in Telangana, CPI was leading an armed peasant struggle against the Nizam’s regime. The communists had almost swept away the forces of Nizam and took control of over 15,000 square miles installing their own People’s Government. Land from more than a thousand landlords, including Nizam himself, was distributed among landless peasants. Under these circumstances when the Indian forces entered Hyderabad in September, 1948, pro-Communist foreign media, like Workers Star, cried foul and claimed that army action by the Nehru government was to check the communist advance. The fact that CPI headquarters in Delhi were also raided the day invasion of Hyderabad happened strengthened the argument of the communists. Moreover, after the surrender of Nizam special tribunals were constituted by the Military Governor of Hyderabad, appointed by Nizam, to try the ‘war criminals’. These tribunals sentenced a number of ‘communists’, who were waging war against the Nizam, for death and imprisonment. In May, 1949, newspapers raised the issue of communists in Telangana being targeted as several were sentenced to death. It led Nehru to write to J.N Chaudhury that such reports should be checked and ‘these people’ must be referred to as ‘terrorists’ since the communists in other countries were different. Nehru had expressed this opinion multiple times, where he had called the Indian communists ‘anti-Indian, anti-people and anti-country’ while Chinese and Russian communists were nationalists, in his opinion.
In February, 1949, PM Nehru told the parliament that the communists were almost in an open revolt against the Indian government. They were trying to create a famine-like situation by stalling the railway lines and cutting the food supply lines and the government had arrested 870 ‘communists’ in the last ten days. In view of the communist threat security cover had been provided to the government officials since government buildings and installation were being bombed. He also told the parliament that at different places, in West Bengal, police had to resort to firing and large catchment of arms and ammunition had been recovered.
Meanwhile, in West Bengal people were hitting the streets in support of the communists. On 27th April, 1949, police fired upon a procession, in Calcutta, killing seven people, four were women. It created a public as well as international outrage which forced Nehru to write to B.C Roy. Nehru noted that the communists were using women as shields while hurling hand grenades. He wrote that even though he understood the threat of ‘terrorism of communists’ and very well knew that police was forced to fire upon the mob but an inquiry had to be set up because of international pressure. He also feared the international outcry that India is ruthlessly suppressing trade unionism and intellectuals would be harmful since in many countries the communist governments were functioning.
Though, Nehru did not agree on having an all India ban on CPI but in letters to B.C Roy and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel but he noted the challenges due to ‘terrorism’ it was unleashing. In his opinion there was no need to ban the communists, outside West Bengal, since almost all of them were already in prison or underground and complete ban could give them sympathy.
In July, 1949, Nehru was in Calcutta. The Communists had called for a boycott. Bombs were hurled at the ground where his meeting had to take place, two died and forty injured. Another man was arrested, from the road Nehru had to take, after a gun battle. Nehru once again blamed the communists and asked Indians to face the communist threat in order to save the nation.
For an observer, who had studied Nehru’s handling of communist movements, the 1958 article did not come as ‘a welcome departure’. Surely, not after listening to him calling communists ‘the stupidest party in the world’, terrorists, anti-Indian, anti-people or anti-country.
(Author is a well known historian)
- Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, edited by Sarvepalli Gopal
- Kalgoorlie Miner, Barrier Miner, Mercury, Tribune, Northern Star, Canberra Times, Workers Star, Daily Telegraph, Townsville Daily Bulletin (Archives of all these dailies)
- A.I.C.C Economic Review, 15th August, 1958
- Supreme Court Judgement, Janardan Reddy and others vs the state of Hyderabad, 16th March, 1951