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Nigel Harris

India: A First Approximation II

(Autumn 1964)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.18, Autumn 1964, pp.19-21.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

1. Middle Class Politics

In the first part of this article it was suggested that public politics in India is almost entirely concerned with the middle class – the dialogue is between the tiny and insecure ruling class at national level and the only comparably articulate and educated group of people, the middle class. When the dialogue is interrupted by wider challenges, the intervention is rarely consistent and sustained so it makes little impact. Since politics is the politics of the middle class, its main concern is étatiste nationalism, tentatively ascribed in the preceding article partly to the psychological concomitants of industrialisation (the shift from rural to urban) and the schismatic strains of the new ‘nation’, and partly to the complete dependence of the educated middle class on the State. Great poverty and deprivation breed intolerant and violent politics, founded upon theologies: there are levels of misery which induce forms of virtual self-destruction, much as medieval society bred the Flagellantes. Marginally, this further generates a belief in ‘spiritual’ pursuits and the power of saints [1] like Gandhi or Vinobe Bhave.

But this use of the term ‘middle-class’ covers up much of the complexity. In fifty years, India’s social structure has shifted decisively, and the localised peasant castes that have risen to power have destroyed the Brahmin monopoly. The Brahmins at least fitted into an all-India scheme of things, Sanskritic Hinduism or British imperial rule, but the new rising castes are pre-eminently local and speak no language comprehensible throughout India. Some inherit crucial political rivalries. For example, in the former greater State of Madras, there was traditional rivalry between the northern Telugu-speaking Brahmins and the southern Tamil-speaking Brahmins, but they held together as a united elite. The rising peasant castes, Tamils in the south and Telugus in the north, inherited this rivalry once they had defeated their local Brahmins, but had no common uniting factors and, as soon as each had achieved dominance, split the State into two new ones, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnad.

Thus, the term ‘middle class’ described both groups more nationalistic than anyone else and groups more intensely loyal to a local State – both those in favour of a strong centralised India, and those who wish to preserve their own power in a decentralised federal structure of autonomous States. The agitation for the formation of States which would correspond to linguistic areas (a key political issue for all parties in the fifties) represented the assertion of the real power of local rulers that run India proper:

‘It is the middle class job hunter and place hunter and the mostly middle class politician who are benefited by the establishment of a linguistic State, which creates for them an exclusive preserve of jobs, offices and places by shutting out, in the name of the promotion of culture, all outside competitors.’ [2]

This process of ‘localisation’ (and ‘indigenisation’) makes certain apparently irrelevant issues of key significance – the boundary dispute between different States, the issue of what language should be used throughout India (Hindi of the North, of the national capital, and associated with Aryan Brahmin rule, imperialist English or a local language), whether the Civil Service should be made a local responsibility, so destroying one of the key institutions holding the country together, or the issue of Kashmir and whether it should be permitted the right to settle its own future. In addition, all radical politics is shot through by the clash of local and all-India capital, making a united front between Left and local Right against, for example, the Marwari, a permanent temptation: Tridib Kumar Chaud-huri mocked the ‘sudden anxiety displayed by the Bengal provincial committee (of the CPI), criticising the politburo about the ruin of Bengali banks and Bengali trade and industries in the “unequal competition” with the Birlas (the leading Marwaris, NH) ... The stalwarts of the Bengal national chamber of commerce ranged in revolutionary array with the workers and peasants against the Gujerati-Marwari collaborators of imperialism!’ [3] The significance of Maoism with its stress on a popular front against imperialism alone rather than class struggle at home should not be missed.

Indigenisation means that all State politics (the really important level of politics in India) have to be about local issues before wider ones. Thus, although, the terminology may sound familiar, an operative political dispute is almost certain to be about something much more localised than it seems on the surface – the Congress may battle for ‘democracy’ when it means the Syrian Christian merchants of Kerala; the CPI may be for ‘socialism’ when it means the victory of the Kamma peasant caste of Andhra in its battle with the Reddi caste. The gap between explicit ideology and actual practical issues exists in all class societies, but in India it is peculiarly great, especially where political positions are treated as theological ones and few people describe what is really happening – which is a further aspect of mystification and fetishism. Political issues become multi-dimensional; for example, in Orissa in the fifties, a party of former princely rulers (Ganatantra) achieved striking success, but at every level of its operation, its significance was slightly different:

‘the Ganatantra-Congress conflict at State level appears in the guise of rival policies (or, in another form, of regional rivalries – Hill against Coast); in the constituencies of Kalahandi district, it appeared as a dynastic dispute; in Bisipara (a village in Kalahandi – NH), it was translated into caste conflict.’ [4]

Thus there can be no straight reading of the political temperature from election results or what parties say. Parties are only successful at the local level insofar as they mesh with local issues which may run completely contrary to the explicit party programme; in 1952, one of the main CPI leaders (A.K. Gopalan, currently the Maoist leader) alleged that creating linguistic states was ‘India’s most important problem, the Communist number one goal.’ [5] Any party which caught that intensely local linguistic tide, whatever its explicit aims, flowed on to fortune in the urban centres. The rural majority present a different sort of problem. Where politics consists in the struggle between rising economic groups and no more, where there is immense poverty and ignorance and the world of the majority is abruptly curtailed by the edge of the village, then the politics of the States themselves is the concern of only a very small minority. At the village level, politics is ferocious – numbers die regularly during village elections – but the villagers’ main regard for the world beyond the village is fear, sustained by an almost total lack of knowledge [6] which is rooted in the lack of any need to know what happens outside. Fear is the point on which politicians latch, offering protection for all and marginal advantages to a minority. The middle-class man from the town accordingly can become the key link between isolated villages and the dangerous town, he can become what Bailey calls a ‘broker’, commanding vote banks, votes offered for some small service or promise of future protection. With one foot in the urban administration and one in the village, vote banks can be building-blocked into a majority for a politician, that is, provided the broker gets his payoff also. The broker ‘finds jobs, he allocates contracts, relief money and licences, or, to put it more correctly, people believe they are allocated on his advice.’ [7] The considerable finances attached to the rural development programme strengthen the hand of political bosses, and are filtered through the traditional village leaders or faction leaders in order to cement the urban politician’s position. [8] Professional bosses build round themselves machines which are their own property, personal rather than political – accordingly, the psychological roots for individual authoritarianism are that much strengthened. The politician’s task is to find enough perks to keep his bosses happy, for, if he cannot, they will move to a higher bidder, carrying with them their vote banks: which suggests something of the volatile loyalties of Indian politics; men change sides with great speed, carrying loyal ranks of supporters with them, parties are splintered and united with astonishing speed, since the issues concern little more than a small group of leaders falling out and making up.

The organisation at the bottom inevitably spreads upwards, so that State parties become dominated by the toughest bosses. The Independence movement involved a much more orthodox political commitment, a moral ethic, although when it became important among peasants, the ethic was very much tempered by self-interest which on occasions threatened to run away with the movement in a riot of anti-landlordism, illegal crop-cutting and rent boycotts. But since Independence, the moral ethic has all but disappeared in the rural areas, and concomitant with the rise of new rich peasant castes has been the rise of their representatives, the powerful political bosses who command particular States and can thereby defeat opponents at the national level who have no local base – Nehru, for example, along with much of his Cabinet, had little organised local backing, but the new post-Nehru Cabinet is dominated by the local men even if they do not necessarily fill the front row.

Thus, elections cannot be said to validate the aims of any particular party, nor provide material for straight interpretation. The Communist win in Kerala has a very different meaning in the Kerala context to its significance in the Cold War; in any case, with many small splinter parties competing in a simple majority system, the number of seats won may mean little more than electoral quirks (in 1957 Kerala, Congress won 38.2 per cent of the vote, and the CPI which formed the Government, 36.5 per cent). However, the urban areas are less susceptible to the rigging possible in rural areas, although not at all immune from boss politics of a sort. Urban bosses however rely more on leading agitations to build up a somewhat unstable machine, but agitation involves some political commitment by the led if not by the leaders, and means more than simple protection or bribery. In the towns, the CPI has got some sort of proletariat to work on, even if it restricts its attention on communal lines (in Calcutta factories, the CPI aims to secure Bengali support, leaving Congress to build on the ‘foreign’ majority, mainly from neighbouring Bihar State) – not, as in the country, having to focus on the caste divisions of middle and rich peasants which provide a more stable base than poor peasants, labourers or the lowest castes. Thus, the towns remain the most promising arena for future action – here, the opposition can operate on terms of greater equality with the rich Congress. If the ‘ruralisation’ of Congress continues, Congress might well find it necessary to dispense with the democratic forms to hold the rebellious cities down since it is from here alone that the creative trends originate – thus, the Emergency, which is not needed to chain the peasant to the land.

2. The State of the Parties

Despite the overwhelming domination of Congress in terms of seats, it has never achieved a majority of votes cast. In 1952, with 45 per cent of the vote for the national parliament (Lok Sabha) it won 357 of the 489 seats. In 1957, this broad percentage of the vote was held (although where it came from shifted), and in 1962, it won about 45 per cent again (anging from 33 per cent in Kerala to 52 per cent in Orissa), a figure which brought it about 70 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats. In the Lok Sabha, some 267 seats go to the largest States (Uttar Pradesh [UP], Bihar, Tamilnad, Andhra Pradesh [AP]) and in 1957, Congress won 201 of these, a base that makes it almost impregnable. The poll in the last election was just over 50 per cent, a three per cent increase on 1957, and ranging from 24.7 per cent in Orissa to 70.6 in Kerala (the one is among the most backward States; the other has the highest educational level). For the opposition, the CPI won about 10 per cent of the vote, Swatantra about 7 per cent, followed by the ranks of smaller parties, both national (like Praja Socialists or Jan Sangh) and local.

State-wise, the breakdown of the vote was as follows in the main States: [9]









Soc. P.

Andhra P.













































Madhya P.






















































Uttar P.









West Bengal









Over the 1957 election, Congress declined somewhat in its share of the poll. The CPI improved its support in Andhra, Bihar, UP and West Bengal, maintained its position in Madhya Pradesh, Tamilnad, Mysore and Orissa, but lost some support in Bombay, Punjab, Rajasthan and Kerala. The main CPI strength remains in Andhra, Kerala and West Bengal, with lesser pockets in Assam, Bihar and Tamilnad. The Praja Socialist strength is restricted to Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Mysore, Orissa, with some pockets in UP – all States which are reckoned to be fairly backward. The main rival of the Praja and a breakaway from it, the Socialist Party, is mainly concentrated in UP, with bits in Bihar, Assam and Madhya Pradesh. On the right, the Jan Sangh is solidly North Indian (Hindi-speaking and maximally Hindu), in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, UP, with some following in Rajasthan. Finally, the new Liberal party, Swatantra, in its first general election, achieved substantial strength in Andhra, Bihar, Gujerat, Tamilnad and Rajasthan, with a pocket in Mysore. Two severely local parties, not included in the table above, the DMK in Tamilnad and the Akali Dal (representing the Sikh religious community) in Punjab made good running.

3. Congress

Congress is less an orthodox political party, and more an umbrella for the widely different sections which compose India’s embryonic ruling class: embryonic less by reason of its members, more by the fact that as yet its different elements hardly recognise a common interest that spans all of India and yet is rooted in particular States. The National Congress in Delhi only imperfectly reflects its real power centres in the States, which have been transformed by the changed social structure in the States. Under Nehru, the nature of the national government became increasingly at variance with that of the States, and the changes that should have taken place in Delhi were held up until his death. As a result, Delhi seemed much more ‘westernised’, and therefore much more remote from India proper. However, the impact of the new men from the States was steadily encroaching and forcing Nehru to conform – the sorrow that the westernised urban upper middle class feels at Nehru’s death partly reflects an awareness that one of the last bulwarks of ‘westernism’ in India has gone, and that Indians who looked more to Europe than India must give place everywhere to a ‘nouveau riche’ of political rajahs that care little for Europe and despise those Indians more European than Indian.

The dam that held back the tide of real power at the national level did not exist at the local State level. There the survival of Congress rests upon its capturing every rising caste and permitting the battles of different ruling groups to be waged inside itself rather than between different parties. Wherever it fails to capture the rising caste, it is likely to be defeated or identified with old Brahmin rule or, in the South, with North Indian Hindi imperialism. Alternatively, where the drive to Independence entailed the total alienation of traditional rulers, from Rajas to landowners and old Zemindaris, it has been necessary for Congress to reabsorb these elements if they continue to be powerful (as they usually do) – if it does not, again a powerful political opposition might have been created. Consider again Orissa where the Rajas in the early fifties formed a separate party, Ganatantra, and made severe inroads on Congress strength, coming close to forming the first non-Congress government. In 1952, Bailey found that 17 Assembly candidates were from princely families, and thirteen were elected; in 1957, of 30, 22 were elected, and of the eight defeated, five were by other members of princely families. Which party the Raja chose was in fact more important in determining which party would win the election than the party campaign or programme – and the Raja might choose one party merely because of a traditional rivalry with another Raja who had already chosen a different party. [10] Congress overcame the challenge of Ganatantra by relaxing its old rule that the former pro-British ruling groups of Rajas could not be admitted to Congress – they seeped back in the fifties, with predictable results for Congress radicalism and, in particular, its land reform programme.

The amorphousness of Congress makes it impossible to characterise it in a clear formula applicable in every State and nationally. Generally, since Independence, it has absorbed both rich peasant castes and landowners, as well as some of local capital, but this does not prevent it nationally exhibiting both radical land reform and anti-capitalist tendencies. Sometimes, the State split between two dominant castes may be reflected in a faction fight within the State Congress or between Congress and another party without this having any political significance outside the State or at the all-India level. Again, where one powerful boss has subdued his State Congress the views expressed by that Congress outside the State may only express the boss’s views or the views he finds it tactical to express, given the all-India balance of factions. Some of the best known bosses, Atulya Ghosh of West Bengal, Bijou Patnaik of Orissa, Sanjeeva Reddi of Andhra, Kamraj of Tamilnad, S.K. Paul of Maharashtra, and Shastri of UP (the present Prime Minister), have in recent years organised a strong all-India group, nicknamed the ‘junta’, which can at present effectively control the national party. They represent no very clear political locus except to retain their own position ana Dalance between the urban middle class étatisme (best represented by Krishna Menon and K.D. Malaviya) and the national capitalist sector – neither local capital nor the big landowners are effectively organised in an all-India Congress faction (language is one barrier outside the Hindi areas, the localised loyalties and focus of these groups another, and the sheer size of India a third). The balancing takes for granted the Nehruite legacy of planning and the public sector, but it is fairly certain that over time the right-ward pressure from capital will steadily overcome the étatiste one and make increasing inroads on that legacy.

Last year, the Emergency and Himalayan defeat in conjunction with the Plan failures, and disastrous harvests resulting in inflationary food prices, imposed such pressure on the urban middle class (the only group to feel some of these issues intensely) that Nehru was forced to make some dramatic gesture of reform. This took the form of despatching five prominent Cabinet and six State Chief Ministers back to the Party to ‘work for the movement’ rather than hold high office. This spoof was probably engineered in the background by the junta whose members might benefit from a return to the organisation, but whose nearest rivals for power at the centre would not since they were in the main dependent on Nehru, not a local base, for their power. A little later, the junta with great skill engineered the election for the Congress Presidency (a post previously of little significance) so that one of their number, Kamraj, won it and kept out the former Finance Minister, Morarji Desai, a man now with little local roots but notorious for his authoritarianism. Desai, second in the Cabinet last summer and first in line of succession after the ailing Nehru, was thus destroyed first by being sacked and second by being kept out of the organisation. Since the urban middle class were hit hard by his Budget last year, politically it might favour his destruction, but in fact, in the leadership contest after Nehru’s death, Menon and Maiaviya supported Desai against Shastri, presumably because they reasoned that a strong man with no local base (even if more right-wing) was more susceptible to their pressure than men who represented the peasant States. When the final leadership contest came Desai stood relatively little chance even though he collected a list of distinguished backers – Kamraj was arbiter, and Atulya Ghosh consultant: Shastri was King before the old man was dead.

But this inner knifing did not relieve urban middle class pressure, making the cost of living the key political question of the moment. There was a general strike in Bombay in August, another in Calcutta in September, a CPI petition to Parliament with vast collections of names and so on. When the All India Congress Committee (AICC, the supreme general body of Congress) met in November at Jaipur, that pressure had focus-sed on the demand for the nationalisation of banks, State trading in essential commodities and in exports and imports, and rendering the consumer trade co-operative. The leadership tacked skilfully, promising ever greater heights of radicalism, but recommending that the matter be considered by the Congress Working Committee, a small inner cabal of the leadership. It further recommended that primary party members be denied party voting rights, to prevent election candidates buying them up (it costs about 4½d a year to be a primary member; there are 9½ million, largely paper, belonging to the ambitious). Active members (yearly donation of about 18s, plus enrol 50 primary members), all 138,518 of them, would then alone have the right to vote – a reform that might lower rampant corruption, but would also effectively disenfranchise the poor in the Party.

The Working Committee drew up a compendious resolution, full of much sound, but specifically urging more control over the banks, State operation of the rice mills, a limit on incomes and property; in addition, it offered as the new aim of Congress ‘democratic socialism’. [11] It is administratively impossible to take over the rice mills (they are small and widely scattered and the Indian Civil Service limited), but it was offered as a sop although the middle class did not seem excited. At the Bhubaneshwar annual session of Congress, the resolution was considered. The extent of irritation was visible in the 64 amendments and the comments of some State Congress committees– Malaviya put down a separate counter-resolution with much more radical aims. In addition, the debate was sharp, with much heckling for the solitary speaker opposed to bank nationalisation; Patnaik of Orissa, a left-sounding opportunist, expended much energy in lashing the failings of the banks and all other capitalists, and admitted accepting Rs 4 lakhs (about £31,000) from rice mill-owners as Party donations. However, all efforts were futile since, following similar ‘reassurances from the leadership’, all amendments were withdrawn except one, suggesting innocently a ceiling on the property of Congressmen: such is the hold of the leadership, the amendment received only one vote in favour, that of its sponsor. The junta was in evidence during the elections for seven places to the Working Committee (21 members, 13 nominated by the Congress President), and through intensive canvassing, secured the election of its ‘official panel’ by a wide margin (of 430 votes cast, the lowest elected received 268, and the highest non-elected 109). All told, at very considerable cost, the jamboree was more circus than bread, and much pious talk of everybody having enough to eat in the 1970s.

The junta operations help to show that the small group of committees that effectively control Congress at the national level are themselves tightly controlled by an even smaller group of leaders. But no matter how concentrated the central power, it cannot control the States. Faction fights are endemic in UP, Punjab (where the Chief Minister has at long last resigned after years of hair-raising stories of his corruption), Gujerat and Kerala, and the centre is constantly despatching leaders to the States to try and sort out recalcitrant factions, usually with no success. The scramble for perks and status cannot be straight-jacketed– in February, for 11 Rajya Sabha (Upper House) seats in UP, there were 300 Congress candidates scrambling over each other; Congress renominated the sitting members for fear of upsetting the delicate balance of caste and community. The ‘ideological’ debate continues – at Bombay in May, the AICC was still mulling over the Bhubaneshwar resolution, having received the report of a committee set up at Bhubaneshwar to make recommendations. But all this is just pious acting to try and keep the urban middle class quiet (although the inflation continues with terrible effects) – the rural purveyor of the vote is the ballast that keeps the ship upright. Grocers and rice millers are currently on strike in Calcutta in protest not at the inflation of the supply price of their goods but the control placed on their selling prices – the Government will soon relax price controls, probably, but a strike by the Poujadists is indicative of the state of mind. Nor is the Plan looking much healthier. The result is letters in the English language press promising that ‘the common people’ will not wait till the next election to show their disapproval. Since the urban middle class vote does not matter very much to Congress, the frustration is immense.

Generally, then, national Congress represents an unstable alliance between the bureaucracy (and its staff, the all-India urban middle class) and the, at this level, relatively powerful sector of national capital. At the State level, land and the peasant is married to the much smaller and less significant local capital and local bureaucracy. Since explicit public politics is more concerned with the urban sector (where the press is, where the demonstrations and strikes are, etc), the relative weakness of local capital and the urban middle class is compensated by their command of the towns. But this sort of static description of this basic contradiction in India politics at the moment is not necessarily the whole story, since, within the limits prescribed, Indian politics are very volatile.

4. The Communist Party of India

The CPI is the major focus of the left opposition, but like all other parties, it is only successful where it has strong local roots, where it can champion the rights of one side in a local rivalry. Necessarily then, its efforts in the all important rural areas must concentrate on capturing the leadership of some rising rich or middle peasant caste in its struggle with either another rising caste or the existing authorities – the CPI [12] has not rooted itself with any consistency either in the poor peasantry or tenant farmers or agricultural labourers or untouchables, the very lowest stratum of society; all four groups are the most difficult to organise and the least politically aware. Despite the destruction of its theoretical position by Soviet support for Nehru and non-alignment, the CPI has nevertheless been able to establish bases in three States, and obtain, through judicial but wildly opportunistic alliances, footholds elswhere – its alliances with the two purely communal parties, the DMK in Tamilnad and the Akali Dal in Punjab, gave it a foothold in those two States. The three main States, Kerala, Andhra and West Bengal, have little in common except that all three are outside the North Indian Hindi-speaking heartlands, and all three have greater or lesser hostility to Northern (and Brahmin) rule – but so has Maharashtra where the CPI is weak but commanded by Brahmins. West Bengal and Kerala are small densely populated States, with very high literacy rates and the highest rates of educated unemployed – West Bengal, the main centre of British imperial rule and subsequently British capital and Marwari capital, was the base for the bureaucratic administration of all India but has in the past fifty years been so partitioned that it is now only a shadow of its former glory; it had a wealthy and cultured aristocracy and, its companion in certain conditions, a strong terrorist tradition. Kerala has also a well organised local capital base in the Syrian Christian community. Andhra, by contrast, is heavily rural, including the very fertile Krishna-Godivari delta; it is relatively densely populated, but has rich peasant castes; it also has a strong Muslim tradition, being in part the former preserve of the richest Indian potentate, the Nizam of Hyderabad.

In the old State of Madras (which covered part of modern Andhra and modern Tamilnad) and that part of the old Hyderabad State which is in modern Andhra, the CPI had roots in both the tenant farmers (Telengana, Hyderabad) and the rich Kamma caste peasants of the delta. When, in Telengana in 1947, the CPI led a peasant revolt against both landlordism and the rule of the Nizam, it was that section of the Madras CPI dominated by the rich Kamma caste which protested against efforts to spread the revolt outside Hyderabad State – the Kammas argued for a Moaist alliance between rich, middle and poor peasants, for which error, the ultra-left General Secretary of the national party, B.T. Ranadive, reprimanded them. The national government utilised the pretext of the revolt to invade Hyderabad State in order to depose the Nizam – leaving the Hyderabad CPI to ally with ... the Nizam in defence of autonomous State rule (this, of course, broke the back of peasant support). The failure discredited the tactics involved – Ranadive was replaced at national level by the Kammas under Rajeshwar Rao. The new State of Andhra removed many of the checks and balances of the old State structure, and brought the united Kamma caste face to face with its traditional rivals, the Reddi peasant caste (the two live broadly in different but adjacent areas) immediately the Brahmins, the traditional enemies of both castes, were destroyed. It was the Reddis who tackled that destruction, and while the Kammas were still attacking Congress as a Brahmin front, the Reddis were infiltrating it. The CPI, founded by young Kammas in the thirties, thus faced a unique opportunity to represent Kamma opposition – it became, in the early fifties, the political expression of the Kammas and made striking successes against Congress in the 1952 elections. Congress became even more Reddi dominated and ejected its few Kamma leaders, notably N.G. Ranga. For the 1957 election however, the national Congress intervened to prevent disaster– it brought N.G. Ranga back and made him chief of Congress, it matched every CPI Kamma candidate in the Kamma areas with a Congress Kamma candidate, and it carefully angled its campaign to demonstrate to the rich Kamma peasants and landlords the overt dangers of a CPI victory – it also reprinted Soviet statements praising Nehru. The tactic was very successful, and the CPI Legislative Assembly seats were cut from 31 to 11. This was certainly not the end of Andhra CPI, but it demonstrates both the effectiveness of CPI opportunism and the relative ease with which it was checked when the real class alignment of Congress could be demonstrated to what should have been its natural supporters. After the election, the Reddis again ousted N.G. Ranga (putting in one of the earlier mentioned bosses, Sanjeeva Reddi) who wandered, eventually becoming one of the founder members of Swatantra. [13] In Kerala, the CPI rooted itself in the numerically powerful and rising Ezhavas caste which, in 1957, in alliance with one of the wealthiest and most powerfully organised castes in India, the Nayars, succeeded in winning 61 seats in the Assembly (the 61 included 23 Nayars and 21 Ezhavas). The alliance, solidly Hindu, succeeded in isolating the substantial Syrian Christian community, and helped to identify Congress as a Christian front. This could hardly last long since the Nayars had too much to lose, no matter how mildly the CPI Government executed its land reform programme. However, an education bill which ordered private schools (of which the Nayars have some 3,000) to seek teachers only from Civil Service prepared lists was the immediate pretext for dissolution of the alliance. In a State notorious for its educated unemployed, the Nayars and Christians presumed that they would be forced by an Ezhavas-dominated Government to accept Ezhavas teachers in their private communal schools. This incentive, added to the usual scandal, talk of Ministerial corruption and Chief Minister Namboodiripad’s efforts to secure North Indian capital (Birla) for the State, helped to precipitate the alliance of outs which brought the CPI Cabinet down. However, again, as in Andhra, the background of local, communal or caste issues, which is the real reason for the breakthrough of ‘progressive forces’, is clearly evident.

In West Bengal, the CPI is a union between the old aristocratic terrorist tradition, certain rising rural groups (middle peasants, rural traders) and prosperous and very well-educated members of the urban middle class. The urban intellectuals who early organised Calcutta University students, urban workers and middle class groups, tended to dominate the Party and shape its course during its growth period and subsequently. However, in the fifties, as elsewhere in India, West Bengal witnessed substantial peasant castes breaking the surface of State-wide power either directly or through their sons, given higher education but no rooting in an urban context or encompassing occupation. Up until 1959, the Secretary of the CPI State Council was a wealthy and highly educated barrister, Jyoti Basu, and the other key figure, Bhupesh Gupta, was also a barrister and an ex-terrorist. From 1959, the Party has been run and controlled tightly by the son of a peasant, Harekrishna Konar, who reorganised the executive committee so that he had a stable majority and put into the Secretaryship, Promode Das Gupta. The transformation, from a Calcutta-based Party to one based in the rural areas, paralleled a similar shift in Congress when its current strong man, Atulya Ghosh, basing himself on the increasing rural power of the Party, secretly took the Party over behind the back of the urban intellectual and Chief Minister, B.C. Roy. [14]

This background of the three key areas is necessary for what follows on the present state of the CPI. Historically, the party has never been monolithic – the national party is at best a balance of factions; when one faction seizes control it purges the Party apparatus, only later itself to be purged when the line has changed. But the centre is not so important as the States for the operation of the Party – the CPI centre cannot control its units nor discipline them effectively, nor, as often as not, can it secure the consistent loyalty of the State leaders. The overall membership of the Party, officially claimed to be 230,000 in 1958, and currently between 140,000 and 170,000, is heavily dominated by apparatus employees (2,600 in 1958) and, in the past, urban middle class membership, and, even more so, leadership, often linked by close ties with prominent Congressmen (to take only two from many examples: Rajekhara Rao, one time Secretary of Andhra CPI, was the younger brother of the Andhra Congress Chief Minister; Mrs. Renu Chakrovorty, a Bengali Lok Sabha CPI member and now deputy leader of the Right CPI faction, is the niece of West Bengal’s former Chief Minister, B.C. Roy). At an average Party Congress, a majority of delegates might be full-time party workers, and about two-thirds would be from classes other than the peasantry or proletariat, with an even larger proportion having had a college education. [15]

5. Sino-Soviets in the CPI

The outbreak of open hostilities with China in October was only the final blow to the most recent bout of schisms in the CPI – precipitating the Right into even closer collaboration with Congress (in obedience to the demands of Soviet foreign policy) and the Left into public opposition. What the Right gained from the chauvinism of its middle class supporters by being ‘patriotic’ and worshipping Nehru, it lost in failing to focus the sharp criticism of Congress and losing its key mass bases in the three States mentioned. The consistent discrimination by the Government against left wing leaders (they were, in the main, gaoled) dissipated what was left of the mirage of unity. Dange was well in advance of Moscow in his censure of China, which only speeded polarisation.

In West Bengal, the opposition rapidly became clearest, helped by the gaoling of a majority of the pre-Emergency State Council. The CPI centre formally dissolved the Council and set up a right-wing organising committee which quite failed to gain the operative loyalty of the 17,000 State members. Actual loyalty went to the unofficial left organisation, the Democratic Convention which was formed round the demand to release the CPI detenues. Last October, against the directives of the central Executive, A.K. Gopalan (Kerala, leader of the Lok Sabha Opposition and Lok Sabha CPI group) attended a Democratic Convention rally in Calcutta, and at the National Council meeting later in the month was publicly reprimanded along with E.M.S. Namboodiripad (Kerala, CPI General Secretary until mid-1962, a distinguished centrist, Leader of the Kerala Assembly Opposition and ex-Chief Minister of the Kerala CPI Government) for deploring any disciplinary action against Gopalan and two other Left leaders, Sundarayya (Andhra, Leader of the Assembly Opposition) and Ramamurthi (Tamilnad, MP). The Right, recognising the vulnerability of their position despite an overwhelming majority in the National Council and most of the organisation, refrained from expelling Gopalan, depriving him of his seat on the CPI central Executive or his Lok Sabha leadership, but a Control Commission was created to examine ‘discipline’.

This was the signal for the first phase of public hostilities to begin – both sides consistently used the national press, whatever its political position, to libel their rivals. In late October, Gopalan was given a hero’s welcome in Kerala and Dange’s offer to come and help a current campaign in the State rudely rejected. On a quick trip to Calcutta, Dange was publicly howled down by Party members.

In December, Namboodiripad leaked to the press a 72-page report he had written for inner party discussion nine months earlier, Revisionism and Dogmatism, in which he stigmatised the CPI stand on the border dispute as indistinguishable from the Rightish parties, concluding:

‘Behind the bourgeois nationalist approach to the question of the border dispute between India and China, behind the whipping up of war hysteria by a large number of our comrades, and particularly after the National Council resolution (of October 1962), lies a fully worked out ideological political line–the line of attuning the working-class and peasant movements to the requirements of the bourgeoisie.’ [16]

However, this apparent shift by a centrist, was matched by a statement from the West Bengal Centrist, Jyoti Basu and 20 CPI intellectuals all in gaol, warning the Left that while the line of the leadership was wrong, Party unity was the first consideration.

The relatively stable Right domination was overturned by the release, through December, of many of the detenus, including the revered Muzaffar Ahmed, a founder member of the CPI, who immediately placed himself at the disposal of the Democratic Convention. The detenus quickly organised as de facto leaders of West Bengal CPI and began pressing for the restoration of the old State Council and the leadership existing in October 1962, and the withdrawal of disciplinary charges against some fifty members since that time. In late December, the first Left faction meeting met in Delhi, being sponsored by Gopalan, Ramamurthi, Basavapunniah (Andhra), Jyoti Basu, Konar, Sundarayya, two Punjab leaders and a CPI peasant organiser; Bhupesh Gupta, a right centrist, leader of the Rajya Sabha CPI and a man worried over the future of his nomination from Left-controlled West Bengal, was kept in communication. The line up seemed to suggest that on the 31 man Executive of the CPI, the Left would command 11 votes. The faction meeting denounced the Tamilnad CPFs decision to ally with Congress in the forthcoming municipal elections (Ramamurthi has resigned from the Tamilnad Executive in protest), and decided that since Nehru had flirted with the idea of permitting Voice of America broadcasts from Indian soil, has initiated four-power air exercises with the West and hardly protested at the entry of the Seventh Fleet into the Indian Ocean, ‘the true character of the Indian bourgeoisie and the Right deviationism of the CPI’s Right wing leadership’ had been revealed – thus continuing the CP policy of defining the nature of the domestic class structure on the basis of its foreign policy alone. For the rest, the tactics for winning the Party and operating in the central Executive meeting occupied attention. At the executive meeting in January, while the Left was being strongly urged by Aidit and the PKI (themselves busily adulating Sukarno much as the Right CPI adored Nehru) to split forthwith, the Right greeted the Congress spoof at Bubanesh-war as a new victory for the ‘Indian progressive forces’. The Executive, however, did agree to restore the West Bengal State Council provided it adhered to Party decisions, and set the date for the Party Congress (originally scheduled for April 1963, but successively postponed by the leadership, no doubt for fear of a Left majority) – for next October. Basu, Ramamurthi and Basavapunniah refused to serve on the Congress drafting committee, despite subsequent Left demands for full preparation rights for the Congress. The voting was fairly consistently 12 to 16.

When the West Bengal State Council did reassemble, the Left, in control of the organisation, immediately began a purge, and 17 Rightists walked out of the Council. Within the Left-Centre alliance, the Left also encroached – Konar began to replace Jyoti Basu as main Assembly speaker for the Party, and almost all Rightists were excluded; however, the Left was too weak to prevent a Right-Centrist alliance renominating Bhupesh Gupta to his Rajya Sabha seat.

Dange made some attempt to demonstrate that he was not wholly unmilitant in the face of the rising cost-of-living in the main cities. Last August, he was pressed by his own trade union militants at the last minute to back the one-day General Strike in Bombay (organised by the Socialist Party trade unions). At the CPI trade unions (AITUC) annual session in December, he went further in breaking his promises to the Government not to lead or provoke industrial unrest during the Emergency, and drew up a programme of (mainly symbolic) agitation against price inflation, for pay increases and more nationalisation. National hunger strikes were planned for February, and, loyally, a small number of trade unionists, mainly in Dange’s stronghold of Bombay, duly starved themselves to achieve bank nationalisation, a striking tactic which caused remarkably little inconvenience to anyone except the participants.

In March, the Left stepped up its vicious campaign to discredit Dange, opening up on two entirely non-political issues (as opposed to ‘personal integrity’ issues) which seemed to excite more devotion than the politics had – the Left circulated and later leaked to a notorious red-baiting paper a series of letters said to have been written by Dange in the twenties offering his services to the British Imperial Government; second, Dange was also accused of lending on his own personal account Rs 30,000 in exchange for shares in an English language non-Communist newspaper group, Patriot-Link. Much self-righteous dust was stirred, and the Left fastened firmly on the demand for Dange’s resignation. Forgeries or not, Dange sued no-one for libel, but the Right resistance stiffened, even though there were right-wingers visibly pleased with an opportunity to bash Dange on purely personal grounds (P.C. Joshi and Bhupesh Gupta both refused to pronounce the letters forgeries without a prior enquiry). Dange replied with much familiar talk about ‘agents of the Chinese’ and ‘foreign spies’, and the Secretariat hastily summoned an emergency National Council meeting to denounce the Left, a move no doubt supported by the publication of Suslov’s 14th February speech to the CPSU Central Committee, announcing the resumption of polemics against Peking.

At the beginning of April, the central Executive decided to ask the National Council tor the heads of the Seven Left leaders (Gopalan, Ramamurthi, Basavapunniah, Sundarayya, Promode Das Gupta, Konar and a Punjab leader), a move calculated to try to split Centrists away, but Namboodiripad and Basu countered by demanding that the issue of Dange’s wild oats be considered before that of discipline – to prevent this being voted upon, the two plus another ten walked out of the Executive meeting. This procedural issue was in fact the main consideration when the Council itself met, neither side wishing to be seen to precipitate a split. In the end, 32 from the Left and Centre walked out of the Council, claiming to be the real CPI, and laying it down as their first aim to fight against Dange and the ‘wreckers’. Of the 66 remaining, some ten centrists stayed on to try and find some cushion between the factions – this took the form of defeating the expulsion move, and instead suspending the 32.

While the Left was obviously all set for a split and chafing at the delay – the West Bengal Secretary alleged that his State CPI no longer owed allegiance to the central CPI, and the semi-official paper, Desh Hitaishi (16 April) called for a new Party and Party Congress in July – the centrists continued to drag their feet. The attack now included the demand for the restoration of the 1960 membership rolls as the basis for selecting delegates for the October Congress, since allegedly Dange had gerrymandered 50,000 members off the rolls since the 1960 Congress and introduced many merely Dange men. The Left also attacked the CPSU letter of 14 July 1963, (which had criticised the leftists in the Party) as ‘unwarranted interference’ by a foreign party: ‘It is for the secretariat (of the CPI) to explain whether it is acting under the orders of some outside party to split the Indian party.’ [17] It made no reference to the Aidit statement of January, nor the denunciations of Dange published in the Peking People’s Daily and Red Flag on 4 February, let alone the notorious ‘Mirror for Revisionists’ of the People’s Daily even earlier (9 March 1963). The Right quickly countered by saying the Left was in favour of a plebiscite in India – unfortunately, a touchstone issue of loyalty in India.

Both sides now set about counting heads in the States. In Dange’s stronghold, Maharashtra, despite the continued internment of the famous old Leftist, Ranadive, and four others, the Left organised a ‘Marxist Study Group’ which circulated Calcutta material, including reprints of Chinese documents and defences of Stalin. [18] After the 32 suspensions, 2 in Bombay were suspended and 12 walked out of the Bombay Council in protest, claiming 25 per cent of the 2,100 Bombay members and some eight of the 42 branches. In Thana district, however, a rural area densely populated by tribal people, the Left claimed 80 per cent of the 1,500 members and control of 16 of the 21 village councils in the area. Andhra Pradesh faced a more difficult situation – the CPI Rajya Sabha nominations were fiercely contested by the two factions, and the CPI front organisation to campaign in the village council elections was virtually paralysed, the Right fearing to press on lest the Left provoke the villagers into starting a rent boycott or open violence on the landlords – what the CPI lost, Congress recouped. When the State Council met, it rushed through Party business with only half the Council present – removing the CPI Legislative Assembly leader (Sundarayya) and deputy from office, expelling 11 of the 25 CPI Executive members (including 4 Assembly members and one MP), suspending 42 Council members and dissolving 4 district and one town CPI councils. Most recently, the two factions have had an open pitched battle which led to extensive fires in Vijayawada.

In West Bengal, the Party refused to meet two emissaries from the centre, who promptly set about trying to create an official organisation, while the central Secretariat ordered the disbandment of the West Bengal unit and a boycott by the membership of that unit. Assam expelled two, and in Bihar nine walked out of the Council, although not before, despite the opposition of the Dangeite strongman of the Party, having put through a motion censuring Dange on the letters issue and asking for a full statement of his finances. In UP, 37 were expelled and five suspended; some 80 set up a new Left organisation. In Rajasthan, the Left claimed a majority on the State Council, trade union and peasant organisation: the Secretary was suspended, and a new one with a new three man Secretariat created. In Gujerat, the Centrist position came out strongly (as it did in Mysore), urging a withdrawal by the leadership of the suspensions and the creation of a collective leadership under Dange, Namboodiripad and Jyoti Basu.

In Kerala, facing a General Election next February, the confusion was at a maximum – with the Left accusing the Kerala Secretary of using his office to make money, but the trade unions falling in solidly behind Dange. Apart from Namboodiripad and three or four others, the Assembly group also backed Dange, but the Left claimed to control a majority of the districts in the State as well as the peasant organisations. As a postscript, the incident of the Party paper, Desabhimani, has its own charm; allegedly, the paper is registered in the name of Namboodiripad as proprietor, but was in fact run by Rightists, who were only removed by the physical assault of Gopalan and a bunch of Left toughs: both sides have now appealed to the local magistrate to establish the rightful ownership of the paper. When two Communists appeal to the bourgeois state to establish their private property rights, things have come to a merry pass.

At the national level, both Rajya and Lok Sabha CPI groups are severely split, with both factions trying to ally with other parties (Right or Left) to defeat the other in the elections for Parliamentary Committees. The biennial elections to the Rajya Sabh reduced the united CPI from 13 to 11 seats, so the Swatantra with 13 became the official opposition. In the Lok Sabha, after much dithering, the Right voted to inform the Speaker that Hiren Mukherjee would lead the Opposition instead of A.K. Gopalan – whereupon both sides appealed to the Speaker to uphold their rival claims. The issue seems to be important to some comrades, but given the split, the Swatantra 29 seats will probably now become the official opposition in the Lok Sabha too.

Rival party centres are now fully operative, and the Centrist hope of a compromise along the Gujerat-Mysore axis, and in conformity with that put forward by Jyoti Basu’s base, Calcutta City, seems doomed. The death of Nehru temporarily stilled the din of knifing, giving both sides time to weep and Dange the chance to say that now Nehru had died, the Left should gather round again: if the rival party organisations were disbanded, the suspensions would be withdrawn. Neither side budged further. At the June National Council meeting, the Right decided to draw up a new party programme for alliance with Congress on the basis of ‘national democracy’ (versus the Left’s ‘People’s Democracy’), wept more for the departed, warmly welcomed Shastri as Prime Minister, and offered full participation to the Left in the preparations for the Party Congress if they dissolved their organisation. To no avail: the horse had left only its smell in the stable. The Left formally rejected the overtures, and pressed on to prepare for its first full conference at Vijayawada in July.

The lack of overt politics in the debate, the personalised clash, suggest something of the theoretical level involved and how closely the CPI split conforms to Indian rather than Marxist conditions. If the perspective of Indian politics was an indefinite prolongation of its present broad pattern, it could see over time a radical realignment – a Right group involving what is most powerful in Congress along with the Swatantra and Jan Sangh; a middle group, merging the Congress Left, the Dangeites, and, possibly, the Socialist rumps (both Left and Right CPI are currently wooing them from different directions), and a peasant revolutionary Left. So far as one can see, industrial workers would be, if anywhere, in the middle group. The split between Right and Left CPI has been strongly governed by the rural/urban split – the militant, crude and entirely untheoretical peasant cadres have opted for the Left and a party of vanguard militants, while the urban middle class City parties and trade unions have generally voted for Dange. In West Bengal, for example, despite the solid Left command of the rural areas, Calcutta City has remained at best centrist; the same pattern can be seen in Maharashtra – heavily rural and backward Thana is Left, while the solid middle class Bombay City party is broadly Right. The Left has risen to its present strength as a result of the shift in emphasis from urban to rural, of indigenisation – the Sino-Soviet split, as it were, was merely the immediate factor in a much longer-term process. Thus, industrial cadres are not significant in this context, since Indian industrial workers cannot hope to defeat the vast peasant majority – the Left is voting for the majority and power, leaving the Right to champion the old ‘out-dated’ Western conception of a proletarian revolution. The logic of Maoism fits India better than many countries.

6. The Socialists

The Praja Socialists and its breakaway, the Socialist Party, do not require much treatment since they have been of declining significance both institutionally and politically, with certain sporadic exceptions like the recent Praja-sponsored agitation for an exchange of minorities between Pakistan and India, or the Socialist-sponsored Bombay General Strike of last August. The Praja emerged from the 1952 election as a union of three parties, clustered around the old Congress Socialist group. Its raison d’etre was to provide a left opposition to Congress, but the simultaneous ‘leftward’ drift of Congress and rightward drift of Praja, partly nudged along by CPI successes, rapidly reduced any formal rationale it might have, and it was held together by little more than the association of its leaders. As early as 1953 Narayan, a Praja leader, had talks with Nehru on remerging Praja with Congress, and in 1955 Asoka Mehta, another Praja leader, coined the by now heavily overworked phrase, ‘the political compulsions of a backward economy’ to suggest the growing identity of formal political aims with Congress. All this was angrily rejected by the Praja left and, in particular, Rammohan Lohia, as much on personal as political grounds – he led his followers out to form the Socialist Party, which campaigned with much intensified militancy against Congress. Programmatically, little changed – a sort of vague left opportunism which Praja interpreted in a more fiercely anti-Communist fashion, and the Socialist Party a more anti-Congress style. Last year, the process of Praja disintegration lurched a further stage when Asoka Mehta accepted an offer from Nehru to become both Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and a member of India’s UN delegation. The Party asked him to resign (7 for, 5 against, 5 abstentions) but he refused, and forced the Party to expel him formally, all with traumatic effects on his wide following. The Mehtaites, about nine hundred strong from 11 States, gathered at Lucknow in mid-June and there, welcome by Nanda (the Home Minister) and Kamraj, poured gratefully back into Congress – not before passing a resolution deploring the failure of Praja to recognise the transformation taking place in Congress.

Meanwhile, Lohia, fresh from his victory over a prominent Congressman in a by-election last year, and bearing the laurels of having stopped Bombay City for one day last August (despite the imprisonment of his most prominent trade union boss, and the opposition of Dange and the Communist unions up until the last minute), flirted with various plans to unite the left opposition – in November, he had talks with the CPI Left, and put feelers out to the Revolutionary Socialist Party, the Forward Block and the Maharashtrian Peasants and Workers Party, the moves acknowledging that the Socialist Party was not expanding as predicted. The removal of Mehta opened up the way for reconciliation with Praja, and the new entity, the Samyukta Socialist Party (inaugurated at the beginning of June) was joined by the Peasants and Workers Party. Again, feelers were put out to the CPI Left. The Mehtaite departure however robs the new union of much of its strength, particularly in terms of Assembly seats – in UP, the SSP claims 62 seats (Jan Sangh: 50) but, of these, the Mehtaites claim 15; in Madhya Pradesh, the SSP has 45 (Jan Sangh: 41), but seven of these were at Lucknow; in Bihar, the opposition is Swatantra (50), but the SSP claims 36, of which the Mehtaites claim 14. Only in Mysore can the SSP claim to be firmly ensconced as the main opposition with 21 seats (Swatantra 9), of which only three were at Lucknow.

However, Assembly strength is only a very imperfect index of strength, and, even here, is restricted to relatively backward States. The SSP’s trade union strength turns as always in India not on the commitment of workers to the SSP, but on the energy and ruthlessness of certain political leaders drafted into the trade union field in order to agitate for support to strengthen the party’s onslaught on the Government – thus, while workers may strike for one thing, the middle class leadership may be concerned with an entirely different strategy. The old Socialist Party was able to stop Bombay last summer, but it has no electoral strength in Maharashtra State that is very serious. Thus, as the saying goes, ought oughts are still ought, and unless the SSP can link up with the other forces on the Indian left and temper its muddled opportunism with some coherence, discipline and responsibility to the people it is supposed to represent, the new merger (if it lasts) augurs little different in the future from the past record.

7. The Right – Jan Sangh, Swatantra, DMK

The Jan Sangh is, in practice, a straight communal party, the voice of Hindu nationalism whose raison d’etre subsists in the continued existence of non-Hindu communities in India and on its borders – notably, the Muslims. As such, its appeal is restricted very much to the Hindu North, and, in particular, to areas which are both backward and where Muslims are or have been important. Apart from this, it can make sporadic appeal during communal clashes, and has some thin trade union organisation for action in the urban centres at such times. More active and secretive is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a ‘non-political’ para-military organisation. This rarely emerges into public prominence so its significance is difficult to assess, but during the recent wave of communal violence in Orissa and Bihar, Golwalkar, the RSS leader, and followers were said to be active in the villages and towns inciting Hindus to expel the Muslims. The political expression of the RSS used to be the Hindu Mahasabha, but the Jan Sangh was formed to stress nationalist (and non-communal) politics as opposed to the Mahasabha’s pure communalism (in addition, two members of the RSS were involved in the murder of Gandhi which made both the RSS and Mahasabha unpopular}, but, as with the CPI, the Jan Sangh is successful not insofar as it purifies a modern Western ideology like nationalism but rather to the extent which it meshes with the political drives of the existing social structure – communalism. Accordingly, the Jan Sangh’s support fluctuates with such exogenous factors as Indo-Pakistan relations. It attained some popularity in the North for its vociferous advocacy of Hindi as India’s national language, and has also led the wave of chauvinism against the Chinese and those who are even mildly critical of the proposition that Kashmir is ‘part of’ India. Thus, its main strength is in the relatively backward and rural areas of the Hindi-speaking States–Madhya Pradesh, UP, Punjab and Rajasthan. In Punjab, the Jan Sangh probably represents the orthodox Hindu element against the Sikh non-conformist brand of Hinduism expressed through the party of the Sikh community, the Akali Dal. In Maharashtra, it probably represents some northern immigrants to Bombay’s industry. There is no evidence that the wave of the future rests with the Jan Sangh which is as localised as its communal brothers.

The Swatantra Party is a quite different proposition. It was created in 1959 by a group of disgruntled or displaced Congressmen– most notably, Rajagopalachari, former Brahmin leader of a Brahmin Congress in Madras until ousted by Kamraj and the Tamils; Ranga, as explained above, a Kamma and displaced by the Reddis from Andhra Congress; and Minoo Masani, an ex-Congress Socialist and a polished Congress for Cultural Freedom intellectual. Although the immediate pretext was resentment, the formation of the Party reflected the unease of some conservative Congressmen and private businessmen at the increasing étatisme of Congress in the middle and late fifties. Its programme is straight Tory Liberalism, with much stress on the necessary ‘freedom’ of ‘enterprise’ and the need to align India with the United States etc. It is known that while the Birlas primarily finance a wide variety of individuals (including, it is said, 50 Congress MPs and a selection of CPI MPs), Tatas, the Parsi group, stumps up cash for Swatantra as well as Congress.

Practically, Swatantra has aimed to marry the disaffected elements of the old aristocracy, business and the big landlords in defence against Congress land reforms and the encroachments and controls of the State. Since big business profits lavishly, as always and everywhere, from the structure of ‘democratic planning’, the appeal tends to be restricted to the small businessmen who cannot break into the charmed circle of large scale licenced production, importing and contracting. Again, the landowners are not averse to local Congress parties as suggested earlier, even though national Congress tends to bear the distinctive urban middle class stamp of anti-land and anti-capitalism. Thus, in Orissa where Congress has assimilated many of its princely opponents, although Swatantra has merged with Ganatantra it has not succeeded in emulating the performance of Ganatantra in the early fifties. However, overall, Swatantra has succeeded in tapping one form of anti-Congress feeling and has been remarkably successful. Yet, that growth depends crucially on Congress not undercutting Swatantra’s critique of what it likes to call ‘State Capitalism’ by shifting rightwards. Again, ultimately, the alliance of rich peasant and small urban businessmen is uneasy – held together only by their common hostility to national Congress. For some time, Swatantra has aimed to unite the ‘non-Communist’ opposition parties to repair some of these deficiencies but so far big frogs have preferred their little ponds. For the record, Swatantra can cite that now, through judicial if opportunistic mergers and alliances, it has now become the official opposition in Bihar, Rajasthan, Orissa and Gujerat.

It would be incomplete not to mention at least one of the localised communal parties, even if only briefly. The Dravida Munnetra Kazaghab (DMK) of Madras is a radical Tamil party, not unlike – say, the Welsh Nationalists – but vastly more successful. It has been created by the strong anti-Brahmin and anti-North Indian capitalist feeling in Tamilnad, so that it is a classical united front party that links both wealthy landowners, local capital and the broad strata of the poor as well. Its programme (which included until very recently a demand that Tamilnad should separate from India) represents these embryonic elements of a crypto-fascism, and the party has gained steadily on the Tamilnad Congress despite that Party’s efforts to focus even more clearly as a Tamil Party. The existence of DMK rules out the CPI latching on to the sort of communal forces that have made it strong elsewhere – it has both rendered the Tamilnad CPI weak and driven it into continuous and dangerous alliance with Congress. Whatever the future shape of India, it will be a long time before the roots for a DMK party in the South have been removed.

8. Perspective

The Indian situation is so full of volatile tensions that it is hazardous to predict – commentators have been predicting the collapse of Indian ‘democracy’ at least since it was created. However, as suggested, the nature of that ‘democracy’ is, even at best, suspect – the natural social forces that have been asserting themselves in the period since British evacuation cannot of their nature have much to do with democracy, even of the straight bourgeois Parliamentary kind. Democracy in India means roughly the right of the urban middle class to oppose the Government and seek both peasant and proletariat support for that opposition. That is, at best – that is, without taking into account the Preventive Detention Act, the 1962 Emergency and the Defence of India Rules, the pervasive corruption and communalism inherent in the very core of Indian society. The continued Emergency has no immediate justification whatsoever – there is no war, and never has been, only a relatively marginal border dispute, and no-one seriously supposes the Chinese intend to try and conquer even part of India proper (it is militarily and economically beyond China’s capacity at the moment and for a very long time to come). Yet despite open criticism and the RSP’s recent Lok Sabha resolution to end the Emergency, it continues and now promises to become part of the normal peacetime administration of India. Its only function is to impress the United States with India’s anti-communist fervour so that economic aid and military supplies keep flowing in, to impress the Russians with India’s anti-Chinese passion and again keep the aid rolling in, and, finally, as a marginal addition to the already overwhelming powers of the police to crush all opposition, repress strikes and demonstrations, and keep militants in gaol for any length of time without trial. That India’s rulers need to crush opposition by violence betokens growing unease, intensified insecurity – which again suggests that the failure of the Plan, the slowness of urban advance, the continued greed and ostentatious wealth of India’s rich, all are in too striking contrast to the claimed aims and nature of Congress. The urban middle class alienation from the status quo is at a maximum – a Public Opinion Poll in Bombay last December showed that whereas the overwhelming majority of the poor and rich thought the Congress the best Government at the moment, only a small proportion of the middle classes did; put in another way, 30 per cent of the educated supported Congress, and over 60 per cent of the uneducated. Given the bigoted presumption of the educated in India that they have a rightful place in the sun before everybody else, given the educated unemployment, the pressure is immense, and a pressure towards the authoritarian dictatorship of the educated but poor. The terrifying advance of the cost of living is eroding living standards and adding the edge of hunger and deprivation to the pursuit of status – whereas industrial workers have the power to paralyse the urban centres, and in any case are somewhat protected from inflation by the nature of their pay structure, the system of price controlled company stores in large factories and the retention by many workers of a rural base and some land, the middle classes are fully exposed to the blast of rising food prices, and feel, rightly or wrongly, that inflation is the result of merchant fiddling or Government corruption or incompetence, rather than genuine scarcity.

The analysis suggested here explains the striking contradiction between the left public image of Congress and its consistent right practice – the national stage of public articulate politics is tilted far to the left by the predominant interests of the urban middle class, while the actual majority class structure of India proper and the actual policies pursued is tilted to the right. The urban middle class, with nothing but their labour to sell and inordinate pretensions to sustain, face the rural middle classes who control the land, the food and the overwhelming majority of the people. India’s revolution was more unfinished than many – it broke the British, but it did not generate enough force to turn Congress against its former allies, the rich peasants – the rural ruling class has now steadily restored itself to its rightful place of command. The failure of the land reform programme is adequate commentary on that restoration. Because of the unique position of Nehru, the expression of the pre-Independence urban middle class, the national expression of what was happening at the real power level, the State, was held up for much longer than might have been expected – the terminology of étatiste nationalism has concealed the drift, and made Krishna Menon the symbol of India, rather than Kamraj or Atulya Ghosh. Now, however, accounts can be settled – and Menon is nowhere, without legions, without voice.

Thus, if three rough prototypes of the pattern of politics in underdeveloped countries can be taken as Nasser, Mao and Ayub Khan (there are of course qualifications to this schematisation, and many ‘mixes’), India at the moment naturally veers towards the Ayub Khan model. For a time, given the rhetoric of the Congress left, it seemed Nasser might be the forward pattern, but Nasser rules one small country, necessarily integrated round the Nile, an area one army can run with relative ease. Ayub Khan does not – he must control two isolated chunks more than 1,000 miles apart (both ethnically if not religiously different), and therefore his rule is conditional on two basic factors: the foreign threat from India which protects Pakistan unity, and the willingness of East Pakistan rulers to accept voluntarily his leadership. That voluntary element is the same requirement in India, and is one of the factors that has helped to sustain parliamentary institutions this far; India is too big to take a radical and ruthless dictatorship founded upon the Army; it could only do so if there were dedicated cadres willing and able to sacrifice themselves in holding the country together. In China, with size factors somewhat similar to the Indian, Mao functions only on the basis of twenty million militants, trained in long years of war, and India would be lucky if, at the moment, it could find half a million. So the ruling classes must hang together voluntarily – they cannot yet be straight-jacketed into obedience to a common interest. Which means the States and the rich peasants must dominate the national stage as well as the local, and the national centre can execute designs only in conformity with the demands of the States. Thus, it can be expected that the pattern of the States will slowly become the pattern of the centre – and for this to be possible, the centre will have successively to deny the counter-aspirations of the urban middle class. To keep the loyalty of local capital, it may even have to go so far as knocking occasional sparks off national capital, but probably some deal can be made here to achieve a modus vivendi of mutual advantage to both: national capital, after all, has to earn most of the export earnings, and India will find it impossible to survive within the present status quo without those, even if American aid is increased indefinitely (which at the moment seems unlikely).

The étatiste element in étatiste nationalism will then probably be successively weakened, and, to ensure State loyalty, the urban middle class ‘disciplined’ – which in turn suggests that what is left of ‘democracy’ will be further amended and qualified until it is hardly meaningful any longer. This final change might permit many of the limitations on the full expansion of private capital (placed to buy urban loyalty) to be removed, and, given that an extensive infra-structure of services to private capital has now been created, might permit some more dramatic progress in industrialisation to be possible – which in its turn might create the jobs and income calculated to reconcile the urban middle class to its political silence. There are many ‘ifs’ here, one of the most important being the nature and outcome of the ultimate confrontation between land and capital that will have to be settled in capital’s favour if India is to develop. Again, it is unclear how far the present concentration of Indian capital will prevent it maximising its growth rate and intensify social tension.

The establishment of some right-wing authoritarianism on Ayub Khan lines that will ratify the existing status quo, would be one of the right conditions for the development of a properly Maoist opposition, generated partly by the central instability of right authoritarianism (producing periodic coups and purges) and rooted in the poor and middle peasants or even landless labour. At the moment, the spongy nature of Indian politics tends to absorb this type of opposition and emasculate it – the Left CPI still attends the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies, although the ultimate logic of its case suggests that it should take to the land to establish armed enclaves in remote rural areas. The termination of the Lok Sabha might permit just this urban evacuation, although the full establishment of peasant authority in the States would erode the basis which the Left CPI would need to root itself in. In any case, the key conditions in China – namely, a very long period of virtual Civil War that ravaged the land and ripped the peasantry out of its traditional social structure – show no sign of being repeated in India at the moment.

Whether the shift to the right will be sudden or a process of slow erosion (as it has to date) is unclear. The pretext of the border dispute was used with alacrity, which suggests further pretexts might be used in the same manner to truncheon out of the way the Lok Sabha and press criticism which both focuses and intensifies middle class hardships: a sudden harvest failure, the sudden loss of certain aid expectations, the needs of Indian capital to focus further funds to be taxed out of the urban centres, a foreign threat (or something that can be interpreted as a threat) could be the immediate pretext for some sort of martial law.

The aim for socialists is less trying to annihilate their strained and sparse resources in competing for urban middle class support in order to stop this trend by establishing a properly Stalinist regime, but rather seeking to conserve and garner their cadres against the coming storm. Keeping alive socialism at the roots of the scattered and disorganised working-class movement, building disciplined and educated organisations of workers, is the first priority. In the interstices of the political federations of the trade unions, in the work of the smaller parties like the Revolutionary Socialist Party, small but responsible, is the seedbed of future action. The ideological consciousness involved is not and cannot be high, and the formal policy decisions often wrong – the RSP is no more preserved from the prevailing atmosphere of middle class chauvinism than any other Indian party – but it is here that a start can be made in the immense task of building the sort of oganisation that can both protect workers during the violent clash between capital, State and the land, and provide a context in which workers can develop consciousness. For Indian socialist aspirations, these are bleak, Economist words, but for responsible Socialists, the future in India when there is an industrial proletariat which can be a significant national force and assert a decisive role is of more importance than the immediate middle class gains of riding the current factions in the hope that if only power can be seized, socialism can be forced on society by a small clique. At the outside, within a national context, Nasser and Mao might be possible, but socialism is not.


1. ‘Saintliness, with its sophisms, rhetoric and morose delectation repels me. It has only one use at the present time: to enable dishonest men to reason unsoundly.’ Saint Genet, J.-P. Sartre, Allen & Unwin, 1963.

2. Reorganisation of Indian States, K. Mukherji, Popular, Bombay, 1955, p.31.

3. The Swing Back, Revolutionary Socialist Party, Calcutta, 1949, p.125.

4. Politics and Social Change, Orissa in 1959, F.G. Bailey, Oxford 1963, p.232.

5. Times of India, 26 May 1952, Bombay.

6. Q: Who is Nehru? A: The ‘head of some German Rajyam’ (kingdom). For further examples of the extent of peasant knowledge, of Villagers and the News, an exploratory study by the Journalism Dept. of Osmania University, Hyderabad 1964.

7. Op. cit., Bailey, p.146.

8. For more on this, cf. Rural Leaders and the Indian General Election, A.C. Mayer, Asian Survey, 1/8, October 1961.

9. Extracted from a table compiled from 477 of the elections for 494 Lok Sabha seats, Elections to the Lok Sabha, R.M. Ramchandra, Economic Weekly, 31 March 1962, p.546.

10. Op. cit., Bailey, pp.114-6.

11. Congress is particularly given to resolutionary fervour – in 1955 its aim was ‘a socialistic pattern of society’, in 1957 ‘a socialist cooperative commonwealth’. In none of the changes so far have its policies shown much commensurate change.

12. For the formal CPI history, cf Communism in India, G.D. Overstreet & M. Windmiller, California, 1959; Moscow and the CPI, J.H. Kautsky, Wiley, 1956; The CPI, M.R. Masani, Democratic Research Centre (Bombay), 1954. For a CPI critique, cf The Communist Party of India and its Formation Abroad, M. Ahmad, National Book Agency (Calcutta), 1962, and CPI, Years of Formation, M. Ahmad, NBA, 1959; also Splitters’ Arsenal of Falsehoods, S.A. Dange, New Age (Delhi), 17 May 1964.

13. For the full account of the Reddi-Kamma struggle, see the excellent chapter in India, The Most Dangerous Decades, S.S. Harrison, Princeton, 1960.

14. cf. Ashok Mitra, Seminar (Delhi), November 1963.

15. At least, this was true: the drift to ruralism, as much suggested by the focus of Party activities as the rise of Maoism, will have to be checked against the composition of the delegates to the Party Congress this autumn and the delegates to the first Left Conference in early July to see how far the current split corresponds to the clash between urban middle classes and peasant communists. For the 1958 Amritsar Congress, cf. New Age, 27 April 1958, p.6; and op. cit., Overstreet and Windmiller.

16. Amrita Patrika Bazar (Calcutta), 2 December 1963.

17. Times of India (Bombay), 17 April 1964.

18. cf. for example Kruschev’s Role Before and After Stalin’s Death, ‘By a rank and file Marxist’, Current, 1961, or On the Question of Stalin (Chinese documents), International, n.d., but circa October 1963, both Calcutta.

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