Placards of foolishness
Snapshot
  • - Communist party founders and stalwarts never considered India an organic entity. They supported Partition and actively worked to foment ethnic chauvinism.

    - What you see in JNU today is but a continuation of the communist legacy, not a new radical eruption.

    - Their stranglehold over academia and their sway over the national discourse remain an impediment to India’s development


The rampant secessionist environment in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has come as a shock to many people. In reality, Indian communists have long advocated disunion. Communist party founders and stalwarts never considered India an organic entity. They supported Partition and actively worked to foment ethnic chauvinism. They never reconciled themselves to the remarkable resilience of the Indian union. What you see in JNU today is but a continuation of the communist legacy, not a new radical eruption. Sixty years ago, communists had widespread grassroots support and powerful international backers. They posed a clear and present danger to the union. Today, communists are electorally emasculated and their support base has dwindled. Still, their stranglehold over academia and their sway over the national discourse remain an impediment to India’s development, even if it does not pose an existential threat.

History of Communist Advocacy of Breaking India

While people are aware of specific instances of communist perfidy and betrayal—the Quit India Movement or the India-China War—few are aware that Indian communists have hated the concept of Indian nationhood and opposed it right from the beginning.

The rational kernel in the Pakistan demand is that wherever people of the Muslim faith living together in a territorial unit form an nationality . . . they certainly have the right to autonomous state existence just like other nationalities in India such as Andhras, Karnatakis, Marathis, and Bengalis.
G. Adhikari, Indian Communist theoretician, 1942

In that, they share the sentiments of Winston Churchill.

“India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the Equator.”
Winston Churchill

It is, therefore, not surprising, that they sided with the British in opposing freedom. It is also not surprising that they advocated partition along communal lines! It is indeed Orwellian when they claim to speak against communalism, intolerance, and division along religious lines.

The sad part about Indian communists is that they showed little originality or independence in their thinking. The idea that India has no underlying unity was an old colonial construct to justify British rule and deny Independence. Subsequently, this framing was adopted by the Soviets, who became the patrons of Indian communists.

Now, India is talked about as one entity. But there can hardly be any doubt that in the case of a revolutionary upheaval in India, many hitherto unknown nationalities, each with its own language and own distinctive culture, will emerge on the scene.
Stalin

Indian communists were initially surprised to “learn” that India was not a nation, but they quickly and eagerly adopted the Moscow perspective. Those who demurred were either ostracized or forced to toe the party line, which knowing the history of communism is not at all surprising.

Apart from the support for Pakistan, Indian communists hoped for and worked towards the balkanization of the rest of India in the run up to and after freedom.

Full and real sovereignty shall reside in the national constituent assemblies [meaning fourteen regional constituent assemblies] which will enjoy the unfettered right to negotiate, formulate, and finally to decide their mutual relations within an independent India on the basis of complete equality.
P.C. Joshi, he first general secretary of the Communist Party of India from 1935–47.

Nehru, who was generally sympathetic to communism, nonetheless saw through the implications of the communist agenda, stating that he was, “greatly surprised at the treacherous attitude of the Indian Communists, who want to create a dozen or perhaps more divisions of India.”

Once freedom was achieved communists decried it as “yeh azaadi jhoota hai” (this freedom is false). They—along with their Soviet patrons—never believed that the Indian nation-state would long survive.

They worked assiduously to incite and heighten regional chauvinism hoping that it would tear the nation asunder.

Communist advocacy of the linguistic redistribution of States differs somewhat from that of other parties and is in a way much more far-reaching. The communist theory is that each linguistic unit constitutes a separate nationality and that India is in fact a multi- lingual and multi-national State. The communists therefore demand not merely a re-adjustment of boundaries, but also that each State should be given the right of self- determination and even of secession, as they claim is the case in the USSR. It was on the basis of this theory that the CPI had throughout supported the Muslim League demand for a separate State, culminating in the vivisection of the country.
M. R. Masani

Kerala was thus going through the same process of national unification, the setting up of the Nation-State, etc., as was witnessed in the European countries in the same period... On the soil of the national market was rising the national State and national culture. Kerala has thus acquired all the main characteristics of a nation.
E. M. S. Namboodiripad

The astute Minoo Masani clearly saw behind the communist support for linguistic division as support for secession, whereas non-communist linguistic demands were hardly for secessionism (perhaps, the Dravidian parties were an exception). Masani’s assessment was backed up by Namboodiripad’s assertion that Kerala was a nation! Today, leftists are vociferous in the denouncement of nationalism on the grounds that it is jingoistic and sharpens differences. In reality, leftists have promoted the worst kind of regional chauvinism, worked sedulously to worsen the cleavages in society, and pushed ethnic hatred. Regional units of the communist party—in Kerala, Andhra, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and other places—strongly identified themselves with the respective regional sentiments and often against “outsiders.” They succeeded on Kerala and Bengal, but were trumped by the Dravidian regionalists in Tamil Nadu.

Leftists Today—Carrying on the Torch

The collapse and discrediting of communism worldwide, the remarkable resilience of the Indian state, the utter failure of linguistic divisions to cleave the nation have not changed the left’s fundamental assumptions that India is not a civilizational union, nor has it dimmed the left’s fervor for seeking the disintegration of India. Here is JNU professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy advocating self-determination, which is nothing but a constitutional right to secede.

“India’s constitution has been much admired, including by scholars like Granville Austin. But there is an inadequate emphasis on democratic rights ranging from self determination to other civil and political rights.”
Kamal Mitra Chenoy

Not surprisingly, Chenoy has been at the forefront of agitating for “azaadi” for Kashmir.

Meanwhile, leftist thinkers continue to draw inspiration from old colonialist trope:

This debate takes us back to the ghost of John Strachey, a British colonial administrator who wrote a primer in 1888 called India. The “first and the most essential thing to learn about India”, he advised his colonial masters, is that “there is not, and never was an India, or even any country of India, possessing, according to European ideas, any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious.... That men of the Punjab, Bengal, the North Western Provinces, and Madras, should ever feel they belong to one great nation is impossible.” This bald characterisation has continued to haunt Indians. It does so because Strachey was right in one sense.
Yogendra Yadav

Unlike Chenoy, Yadav is careful to camouflage his agenda with warning:

In any case, the disintegration of the former USSR and Yugoslavia serves to remind us that we cannot take our continued existence as a political unit for granted. The civil war in Sri Lanka and the slow disintegration of Pakistan serve as a reminder of what India could have faced if it followed the European-style nation-state.

Essentially, he is saying that disintegration is likely unless India accepts de facto separatism in the form of consociational democracy.

The JNU affair has brought the leftist support for India’s balkanization to the fore. Although leftists have enormous sway disproportional to their miniscule political support, I believe that this is the last gasp of a dying movement. The huge ratings generated by Arnab Goswami, who has taken a strong nationalist stance in the JNU fracas, and the plunge in ratings of other TV channels, seen as more sympathetic to the agitating JNU students, is a sign that the silent majority is not buying the leftist propaganda and is voting with its feet. Nevertheless, the capacity for leftists to exploit social divisions should not be underestimated.

References

1. As quoted in “India: The Most Dangerous decades, Selig Harrison, 1960, Princeton University Press.

2. Ibid.

3. For the Final Bid to power—Freedom Program of the Indian Communists, People’s Publishing House, Bombay, 1946.

4. National herald, March 9, 1946. Yes, the same National Herald, which is the center of the case against the Gandhis today.

5. Communism in India. Gene Overstreet and Marshall Windmiller. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1959.

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6. The Communist Party of India: A short History. M.R. Masani, Popular Book Depot, Bombay, 1954

7. The National Question Kerala. E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Bombay, 1952.

8. 8th International Conference on EU, Turkey and the Kurds, European Parliament, Brussels, 7-8 Dec, 2011. Panel  on: Towards a Democratic Constitution: history and past as well as current lessons of constitutions in countries in transition.

9. India is a State-Nation, Not a Nation-State: Yogendra Yadav

10. From Wiki: Political scientists define a consociational state as a state which has major internal divisions along ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines, with none of the divisions large enough to form a majority group, yet nonetheless manages to remain stable, due to consultation among the elites of each of its major social groups. Consociational states are often contrasted with states with majoritarian electoral systems.

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