The previous articles to the series “How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists?” are as follows –

 

Part 1 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists?

Part 2 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists? Part 2

Part 3 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists? Part 3

Part 4 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists? Part 4

Part 5 – How the Indian Communists embraced Islamists? Part 5

Part 6 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 6

Part 7 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 7

Part 8 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 8

Part 9 – How The Indian Communists Embraced Islamists? – Part 9

MOHANI AND THE HINDU LEFT AT KANPUR

Islamic Communism 

According to Singaravelu, who had endorsed the Mappila revolt, though Marx had been the first to systematise communist thought, Plato, Buddha, and Christ were its actual ancestors and originators. Singaravelu was sceptical of the implications of Bolshevism. Although he was convinced that “in the course of ages, there can be no doubt that the work begun by this man in Russia [Lenin] will ultimately […] shower happiness and contentment upon the human race,” he questioned the suitability of Bolshevism for India. This was because it constituted the “doctrine of the majority.” (13) Singaravelu’s speech consisted of an attempt to liken communism directly to its environment by framing it in religious but non-sectarian idioms.

Satyabhakta’s book Samyavad

In line with this, he also displayed a sense of the problematic dimensions of empirical religiosity for an enlightened conception of society. Castes and creeds in their current strata had become “nightmares”:

The communal and religious differences which seem to destroy the harmony which once obtained among all political parties in the country during the hay day [sic] of [the non-cooperation movement] may overtake us also, for […] we Indians are so religiously minded and caste-ridden [.…] religion and caste have been the demons which have been swallowing our political unity from historical times. […] The leaders who flaunt these fripperies before us are traitors to our country and to our cause. The Hindu Sabhas, Sangathans, Shuddhees are mere bourgeois tactics of the leisured class. Let us, therefore, leave religion, caste, and creed to each individual tastes and fancies, and let us pursue our peaceful course towards Swaraj, free from these nightmares. (14)

Singaravelu’s own communist vision necessitated peculiar conditioning of religion to retain it in the revolutionary fold. The most crucial step was to outsource its divisiveness: Those who spread vile disruption on religious grounds formed a clearly identifiable stratum. Consequently, only the “leaders” who propagated communalism or advocated ‘hostile proselytisation’ were dubbed “traitors,” not their mass following. (15)

Today’s CPI acknowledges the Kanpur conference as its founding point; to the CPI(M), it was an important organisational step and the first assertion of an independent domestic brand of communism. Most contemporaries were less sympathetic. Roy soon chastised the ICP both for its “national communism” and its commitment to non-violence. He considered an affiliation with the Comintern essential to any serious communist setup. Also, Mohani’s speech had been of “a rather dubious nature” because the way to achieve a Soviet republic remained unclear.” (16) Two months later, when Roy’s attitude towards Satyabhakta had deteriorated sharply, he attacked both Mohani for “Islamic communism” and Singaravelu for “the Biblical variety”. He abused them for their “extremely confused [and] childish” notions of communism. (17)

Muzafar Ahmad termed the Kanpur conference a “farce staged by Satyabhakta.” However, this didn’t deter him from taking over the new Party’s Bengal section. (18) Significantly, the passages in Mohani’s and Singaravelu addresses the relationship of the Party’s agenda to Islamic welfare concepts and universal religiosity, respectively, figure neither in Ahmad’s nor in other retrospectives. The party application form rather than Singaravelu’s criticism of communalism serves as the most important exhibit to innocent left historians like Irfan Habib. It states—twice—the fundamental incompatibility of party membership and membership of any “communal organisation.” The Party finally expelled Mohani in 1927 for his membership in the Muslim League!

When asked about Mohani’s presence at Kanpur despite him being a member of the Muslim League, V S Ghate later portrayed the issue as an accident: “At that time not much distinction was made as to who was coming and who was not coming […] it was just making a beginning and anybody could come.” (19) Still, it is hard to believe that just “anybody” could have attained the degree of eminence in the new Party that Mohani did. His roots in Muslim politics had deserved communal stigma at the beginning. Nevertheless, cooperation between Mohani and the communists resumed in the late 1930s.

Disagreements at the founding conference, mainly over international affiliation, soon led to the demise of the ICP. Outvoted on the question, Satyabhakta, Singaravelu, and most of the members from the UP soon left the ICP. In addition, a majority vote had renamed it as the CPI and set it on a course of international affiliation. Satyabhakta henceforth remained outside the spotlight. A 1926 letter of Satyabhakta to Radha Mohan Gokul of the Widow Marriage Association raises doubts on his stance on religious matters- it was characterised by a lack of aversion to communal identity formation. Announcing his resignation from the ICP, he expressed his hope to meet Gokul soon at a conference of the Hindu Mahasabha, participation in which he recommended. (20)

Together with Satyabhakta, Singaravelu disappeared from the stage of communism. Despite continuing in trade union work, he never again rose to an important role in left politics, which is probably the reason why his presidential address at the conference has more or less sunk into oblivion. His metaphysical frame of mind remained unshaken: An indignant Singaravelu countered Roy’s post-Kanpur doubts about the sincerity of his communist commitment by referring to Buddhism, which counts doubt (vichikitsa) among the most heinous crimes. Later in the 1920s, a police report mentioned that he had “as usual” referred to revolutionary Russia as the “land of the blessed.” (21). Shortly before his death, he regretted that neither democracy nor “even religion” had proven capable of ameliorating the living conditions of the broad population. (22)

Kanpur conference elected M. Singaravelu as chairman and S. V. Ghate and J. P. Bagerhatta as general secretaries of CPI. The C P I central secretariat met on August 19, 1959, having Ajoy Ghosh, B T Ranadive, P C Joshi, M Basavapunnaiah, Z A Ahmad, Dange, A K Gopalan took a unanimous decision about foundation date as 1925.

The conference suffered an initial setback when Congress ( INC) refused permission to hold the meeting in the pandal set up for the session of Congress. Then the conference was held on a plot of land belonging to peasants on the other side of the road outside Congress Nagar. According to Ghate’s report, it was entirely a childish affair. All sorts of people- one could hardly follow who they were attended it. On December 26, 1925, Satyabhkta could not be traced anywhere when the conference was in session. The man who was translating Singaravelu’s speech was making repeated mistakes. Jalib, the editor of Urdu daily Humdum, got up and solved. (23)

From the memoirs of Muzafar Ahmad: (24)

I received a letter from Satyabhakta asking me to attend without fail a communist conference being held in Kanpur. He also sent Rs 30 by money order.

Those whom I met in Kanpur were Shamsuddin Hassan of Lahore, S V Ghate, K N Joglekar and R S Nimbhkar of Bombay, Janakiprasad Bagerhatta of Bikaner, Ayodhyaprasad of Jhansi and C Krishnaswami Iyengar of Madras. Ayodhyaprasad of Jhansi told me that Krishnaswami was the nephew of Rajagopalachari, which was afterwards confirmed by Krishnaswami himself. Besides meeting Hasrat Mohani and Singaravelu Chettiar, I met Arjunlal Sethi and Kumarananda. I met another person, old man Radha Mohan Gokulji…

I did not know any of them personally…It was Ghate whom I saw labour very hard. He did typing and other jobs. Joglekar and Nimbkar were members of the Congress committee- Janaki Prasad also.

Satyabhakta (1897 – 1985), a prolific author in Hindi, is distinct from his namesake Swami Satyabhakta, the founder of Satya Samaj, who also flourished during the early 20th century.

Satyabhakta became a nationalist after reading Bankim Chandra’s novel Ananda Math and a book on the rise of Japan. He translated Gandhi’s books “Sarvodaya” and “Experiences of prison” to Hindi. He wrote numerous biographies starting with Dhondo Keshav Karve in 1916. He attempted to create a communist periodical called Samyavadi (1926), but its issues were confiscated by the British government. In 1941, he joined the Akhand Jyoti Ashram of Shriram Sharma and died there in 1985.

The basic purpose of communism is to establish Ram Rajya [the righteous reign of Ram] on earth” -This quote by Satyabhakta exemplifies the inscription of a Hindu communist. (25) Moving away from an atheist Marxist enlightenment, in Satyabhakta’s rendering a pralay (catastrophe, end of the world) was soon to be expected, an apocalyptic warning of an end to both colonialism and capitalism, at the same time presaging the coming of a utopian communist enclave, a romanticised notion of Ram Rajya. Satyabhakta exemplified a quintessential figure of the lost ‘Hindu Left’.

Satyabhakta, from his early years, was exposed to the weekly Bharat Mitra, Radhamohan Gokul’s Satya Sanatan Dharm and Pratap. He avidly read books like Desh ki Baat, Anandmath, Japan ka Uday, and later, Underground Russia and Nihilist Rahasya. At the same time, his grandfather often narrated tales of ghosts and Hindu mythology to him (26). He became well versed in the Puranas, particularly Bhagavata Purana and Garuda Purana, and was deeply attracted towards Ramcharitmanas, considering its impact as widespread as the Bible. (27)

Synthesising two systems of beliefs and values, Satyabhakta saw a congruence between Hinduism and Communism, spiritualism and materialism. Introducing basic Marxist ideas in accessible language, he wrote Samyavad Ke Siddhant (Principles of Communism) in 1934. Interestingly, ‘Om‘ was written just above the main title on the cover. He felt that the message of communism would be enthusiastically received by people through a framework of Hindu ethics. He stated: “While working for the promotion of communism, I kept in mind the specificities and specialities of Indianness and characteristics of Indian culture…. If the Indian public is interested in spirituality, then it is not a mistake to keep this feature in the propagation of communism.”

Satyabhakta in final days

Recollecting how communism was relatively new for Indians in the 1920s, Satyabhakta began his book Bharat Mein Samyavad (Communism in India): “As such, in our culture, since ancient times, there was a feeling of unity and harmony, which developed and reached the idea that “all people are spiritual”, but it was mostly confined to the metaphysical-ideological field.” Stressing social and humane concerns of Hindu religion, rather than its theological and metaphysical dimensions, Satyabhakta draped communist social equality in the attire of Hindu morality and traditions and used it to respond critically and constructively to contemporary political issues.

In an attempt to unify his political and religious beliefs, Satyabhakta represented his communism as an epitome of Indianness as well as Hinduness: “Listen to the essence of religion and practice it in your life. What you do not like yourself, do not do with others. What more could be the principle of communism than this?”

Satyabhakta’s beliefs threw the “secular universalism of Marxism into repeated crisis“. Embodying a ‘Left Hinduism‘, he selectively took elements of ancient Hindu beliefs and sentiments as models of inspiration and attempted to reclaim their ethical, humane heritage for communism. Satyabhakta’s conceptualisation of Ram Rajya is open to ‘appropriation by both power-wielding elites and disenfranchised lower orders“. Satyabhakta’s utopia – new humanity that connected communist ideas of equality and a non-exploitative world to Ram Rajya’s model of happiness – admired both visions, which made communism intelligible and more acceptable to a Hindu audience. Writing in 1924, his book Agle Sat Sal listed as the 40th wonder the coming of ‘Ram Rajya or communist rule on earth for a thousand years, where he even gave an exact date of its commencement – May 2, 1929, or April 9, 1931!

The chapter was accompanied with the following note:

It is written in the Bible that after these seven years, Jesus himself will govern and at that time the lion and the cow will graze together, which cannot mean anything other than communist rule…. These things mean that the rich and cunning men, like the lion of the present time, who fill their stomachs by beating the poor, will…like the poor, have to fill their In his article ‘Ram Rajya ki Adhunik Kalpana‘ (‘Modern Imagination of Ram Rajya’), he reinterpreted Ram Rajya by connecting it directly to Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia and extending it to an egalitarian communist dream. stomachs through hard work…. The basic purpose of communism is to establish Ram Rajya on earth.”

While Satyabhakta sensitively addressed issues of caste and Muslims in some of his overtly communist writings, he floundered in seeing its contradictions in his works on the Hindu faith. Yet, distinctly different from many Brahmin leaders of the communist movement, Satyabhakta married a Dalit woman and faced severe social ostracism as a result. (28)

References –

14. National Archives of India, Satyabhakta Papers, Acc no 287

15. Ibid.

16. What is a Communist Party?,” Masses of India, January 1926.

17. The Indian Communists and the Communist International,” Masses of India, March 1926

18. Ahmad, Myself and the Communist Party, 407–9

19. Ghate (interviewee), 32–4; Petrie, Communism in India, 64

20 Petrie, Communism in India, 166–8.

21. Home/Poll/1928 Nr. 1/28 May; NAI-KCC File IV, 66

22. Vasanthakumaran, Godfather of Indian Labor, 11

23. Documents pages 321- 322

24. Quoted in the Documents of the Communist Movement In India vol 1 1917-1928

25. Charu Gupta, Hindu Communism’: Satyabhakta, Apocalypses and Utopian Ram Rajya, The Indian Economic and Social History Review (Vol 58, Issue 2), SAGE journals.

26. Satyabhakta, Marne ke Baad, p. 5

27. Satyabhakta, Sapt Dwip, p. 37

28. Karmendu Shishir, Satyabhakta aur Samyavadi Party, p. 29

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