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

MOHANI AND THE HINDU LEFT AT KANPUR

Islamic Communism 

One of the many curious events in the history of communism in India was that the credit for organising the historic conference which united the scattered communist groups into one Party goes to a Hindu nationalist journalist named Satyabhakta, who deserted this very Party — the CPI — within days after foundation. Satyabhakta, born as Chakhan Lal in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, announced the foundation of the ICP (Indian Communist Party) in Kanpur just a few months after the judgments in the conspiracy case had been delivered. He envisaged the Party as a domestic affair without affiliation with the Comintern and dismissed violent revolution.

Satyabhakta was a former member of a patriotic-terrorist group in UP. After the withdrawal of the non-cooperation movement, a disillusioned disciple of Gandhi got interested in Soviet Russia and communism. According to his own claim, he set up an open “Indian Communist Party” in mid-1924 with a membership of 78 persons, which grew to 150 by 1925. He felt emboldened to form the Party openly when in May 1924, the public prosecutor in the Kanpur Conspiracy Case made a statement to the effect that the accused was being prosecuted not because they held or propagated communist views but because they conspired to overthrow the government. From this, Satyabhakta inferred that a communist party that is open and above board and fully and manifestly Indian, i.e., having no connection with Bolshevism or the Comintern, would not perhaps incur the wrath of the authorities.

Mohani (left) with Ambedkar

The existing communist groups did not take this Party seriously (nor did Cecil Kaye, the British intelligence chief, though Satyabhakta was closely watched), but when he announced the decision to organise what he called the “First Indian Communist Conference” in Kanpur on December 26-28, 1925, they took notice and sat up. Already in jail, there was a discussion among them on the propriety or otherwise of holding an open conference to set up the Communist Party on an all-India basis utilising the prosecutor’s statement in the Kanpur case. The idea was Dange’s, so the Bombay group (Dange and Shoukat Usmani were in jail) co-operated with Satyabhakta and participated in the conference. Muzafar Ahmad was against the idea but, released from prison just three months before the meeting on the grounds of severe tuberculosis, he also attended.

In September 1924, Satyabhakta issued a call for a conference of all Indian communists. The meeting was attended by 300 delegates according to the February 1926 number of Kirti, a communist-sponsored Punjabi magazine. The British communist MP Shapurji Saklatvala had sent a short message to the “Congress which I hope will be the beginning of a large and stable Communist movement in India“.

Saklatvala (1874 – 1936), with an Indian Parsi heritage, is notable for being the first person of Indian origin to become a British Member of Parliament (MP) for the UK Labor Party and was also among the few members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) to serve as an MP. He was born in Mumbai, the son of a merchant, Dorabji Saklatvala, and his wife, Jerbai, a sister of Jamsetji (aka J.N.) Tata, the owner of India’s largest commercial and industrial empire. After graduation at St. Xavier’s College, he worked briefly as an iron and coal prospector for Tata, successfully unearthing iron ore and coal deposits in Bihar and Odisha. Affliction with malaria led to his moving to England in 1905 to convalesce and run Tata’s Manchester office. He later joined Lincoln’s Inn, although he left before qualifying as a barrister.

At 7 pm on December 26 at Kanpur, the opening session was addressed by M Singaravelu Chettiar and Hasrat Mohani. The second session met in the same evening. It adopted the resolutions by a resolutions committee comprising S V Ghate, Satyabhakta, KN Joglekar, JP Bagerhatta, S Hassan (Lahore) and Krishnaswamy Iyengar. There was no debate in the conference, but there was a sharp controversy earlier in the committee itself. While all others, following the Comintern norm, were for naming the Party as “Communist Party of India”, Satyabhakta smelt a Bolshevik flavour in it and stuck to the name of his own Party. He was alone and therefore defeated, but within a few days, he founded a new party and to stress his point more conspicuously, he named it the “National Communist Party”! (1)

The third session on 27th adopted the constitution and elected the Central Executive Committee. The CEC consisted of 30 persons, but only 16 were elected, leaving the rest for co-option from different provinces. The next day the CEC met in President Singaravelu’s camp and elected the office-bearers.

A paradigmatic example of the extremist strand of communism, Fazl-ul Hasan (1875–1951), alias Hasrat Mohani, who had been a staunch supporter of the Mappila revolt, had been a prominent member of the Party since its inception and was chairman of the conference’s reception committee. Mohani was an Urdu poet from the UP and an “extremist nationalist leader.” (2)  He earned fame by being the first with Swami Kumaranand to publicly call for complete independence at the 1921 Ahmedabad session. He coined the unique slogan Inquilab Zindabad (Long live the revolution) in 1921.

He was born in Mohan, a town in the Unnao district of United Provinces in British India. Hasrat was the pen name he used in Urdu poetry, whereas Mohani refers to Mohan, his birthplace. His ancestors migrated from Nishapur in Iran.

He received his primary education at his school in Fatehpur Haswah, near Kanpur. He completed his BA in 1903 at Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, which later became Aligarh Muslim University. He had been expelled from the college on three occasions for his criticism of the British government. Some of his colleagues at Aligarh were the Ali brothers, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali.

He became a member of the Constituent Assembly of India who drafted the Indian Constitution. He saw hypocrisy towards Muslim minorities in the constitution. So he never signed it. He stayed in mosques and used to go to the Parliament in a shared tonga.

His house in Kanpur was the centre of preparations for the first all India Communist conference of December 1925. The Documents of the History of the Communist Movement describe him as a “left Congressman who was undoubtedly influenced by the October Revolution.” (3)

Mohani had been an ardent khilafat activist and, at the time of his Ahmedabad speech on December 30,1921, was president of the All-India Muslim League. At a khilafat conference in May 1920, he had exhorted Muslims to take direct action to preserve the caliphate’s territorial integrity. If this were not secured, it would be the religious duty of Muslims to rid India of British rule. In 1921, he had endorsed the fundamentalist Mappila rebellion of Malabar because of the insurgents’ commitment to their faith, notwithstanding outrages against the Hindu population. This prompted Gandhi to comment that Mohani had “amazingly crude views about religion” (4)

In the notorious Ahmedabad speech, he said: (5)

The Hindus have a lurking suspicion that given an opportunity, the Musalmans will either invite their co¬ religionists from outside to invade India or will, at least help them in case they invaded to plunder and devastate Hindustan. These misunderstandings are so deep-rooted and widespread that, so far as my knowledge goes, no Indian statesman has escaped in, except the late Lokamanya Tilak. On the other hand, the Musalmans suspect that on the achievement of ‘Self-Government’, the Hindus will acquire greater political powers and will use their numerical superiority to crush the Musalmans. The liberation of Hindustan is as much a political duty of Musalmans as that of a Hindu. Owing to the question of Khilafat, it has become a Musalman’s religious duty also…..

The Mappila rebellion was staged at Malabar with brutal force while he spoke at Ahmedabad. He endorsed the rebellion: (6)

You are probably aware that Hindu India has an open and direct complaint against the Moplas and an indirect complaint against all of us that the Moplasare plundering and spoiling! their innocent Hindu neighbours, but probably, you are not aware that the Moplas justify their action on the ground that at such a critical juncture when they are engaged in a war against the English, their neighbours not only do not help them or observe neutrality but aid and assist the English in every possible way. They can, no doubt, contend that, while they are fighting a defensive war for the sake of their religion and have left their houses, property and belongings and taken refuge in hills and jungles, it is unfair to characterise as plunder their commandeering of money, provisions and other necessaries for their troops from the English or their supporters. Both are right in their complaints, but so far as my investigation goes, the cause of this mutual recrimination can be traced to the interference of the third party. It happens thus, whenever any English detachment suddenly appears in the locality and kills or captures the Moplas inhabitants of the place, rumour somehow spreads in the neighbourhood that the Hindu inhabitants of the place had invited the English army for their protection, with the result that after the departure of the English troops the Moplas of their neighbours do not hesitate to retaliate and consider the money and other belongings of the Hindus as lawful spoils of war taken from those who have aided and abetted the enemy. 

Mohani also presided over the All-India Khilafat Committee’s 1925 session, in which he reiterated that the already abolished Turkey caliphate was essential to Islam. (7)

Satyabhakta

Opening the Kanpur conference, Mohani said, communism had unjustly been described as an anti-religious movement. Mohani’s vision allowed for “the largest possible latitude and toleration” in matters of religion. He invoked Islam, whose alleged inherent resistance to capitalism surpassed even “the Communistic conception.” For example, Zakat, the duty of charity in Islam, opposed to capitalist economics, and already the first caliph had called for jihad against the uncharitable. Also, he likened the ban on interest in Islam to communism: “The usurer profits by his capital alone without doing any actual labour and this is against the principles of Islam just as it is against Communism.” (8) Already. In 1920, Mohani had likened Islam and Bolshevism to each other based on their typical “great principles” of freedom and equality. (9)

Communism appealed to Mohani as a variety of Islam, the true anti-capitalist force. Striving for a “firm foundation […] and a new synthesis of political culture,” as S. M. Habibuddin put it, national independence and applying Islam’s economic tenets were the two pillars of Mohani’s communism. (10) Commenting on the lack of dissent among the delegates at the conference, Ansari noted that the “close identity of views between the communists and radical Pan-Islamists […] was very much in evidence.” (11) His grounding of communism in Islam reflected the religion extending to communism.

M Singaravelu Chettiar, the conference president whose family owned a temple, integrated communism into religious eschatology. His speech opened concerning Tilak as a “beacon of light for all true lovers of freedom”. Just as Kalachakra, the wheel of time, kept on turning eternally, the suffering was undergone by the “world reformers” would inspire others to take the burden upon themselves until they became objects of the world’s admiration. Such had been the history of mankind since its inception. In this spiritualist rephrasing of historical materialist determinism, communism would inevitably heal mankind “of almost all the ills of life.” (12)

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

References –

1. Documents of the History of CPI vol 2 1923-1925 edited by G Adhikari, Peoples Publishing House 1974, p 606-609.

2. Kaye, Communism in India, 3693. Surjeet, March of the Communist, 27 (quote); CPI(M), History of the Communist Movement 1:88–9. See also NAI-KCC File II, 356–7.

4. Young India, January 26, 1922, Fortnightly Reports, Home/Poll/1920 Nr. 94 July, 37

5. Appendix, Sir C Sankaran Nair, Gandhi and Anarchy

6. Ibid

7. Indian Annual Register 1925/2:342

8. ibid., 367–8.

9. Fortnightly Reports, Home/Poll/1920 Nr. 94 July, 37

10. S. M. Habibuddin, “Radical Nationalism of Hasrat Mohani and India’s Quest for Freedom,” Quarterly Review of Historical Studies 4 (1988): 61.

11. Ansari, The Emergence of Socialist Thought, 70

12. Mitra, Indian Annual Register, vol. 7/2, 1925 (Shibpur: Annual Register Office 1925), 368

13. Ibid., 368–70.

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