CPI And the Congress : 1937-39

Having already studied the experience of Congress ministries, we can now take up the important CPI documents on this score and on relations with the Congress in general. The general approach adopted by the CPI, as laid out in the “Draft Thesis on Congress Ministries and Our Tasks” (Text VII-14), was to put popular pressure on the ministries (from both outside and inside the legislatures, mainly the former) for fulfilling the election promises in letter and spirit. The repressive measures were to be actively repulsed by utilising “the anti-police and anti- bureaucracy sentiments of the Congress-minded public, and always enlisting the sympathy of the Congress rank and file …”. As an editorial note in New Age of January 1938 reaffirmed, the CPI “joined the Congress [not] as a matter of grace but as apart of our policy to develop it into the United National Front of the Indian people.” (see Text VI-30).

The Haripura Congress session (February 1938), to which the CPI issued a manifesto upholding the role of workers’ and peasants’ struggles in the UNF and criticising pro-zamindar, pro-capitalist tendencies in the Congress, saw Bose smoothly succeed Nehru as the Congress president for 1938. The next month New Age came out with the lead article : “Haripura — A Step Forward”. “It was an instance of the entire national ranks, from the extreme right to the extreme Left, closing together in the face of the onslaught of British imperialism.” — the article observed. But this unity was only skin-deep. When in January next year Bose recontested for the post, he came up against stiff opposition from the rightist lobby which put up Pattabhi Sitaramayya. There was a tough contest in the AICC voting held in Calcutta. Bose was re-elected by 1580 votes against 1377, with CSP and CPI members voting en bloc for him. Gandhi made his oft-quoted remark that Sitaramayya’s defeat was “more mine than his”, and the rightisl backlash began with 12 leaders like Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel etc. resigning from the working committee chosen by Bose. The crisis came to a head at the Tripuri session of the Congress held on 8-12 march 1939. The CPI published a series of articles prior to and just after Tripuri, clarifying its stand on the strife within the Congress in the context of the current national and international situation. “Tripuri Must Sound the War Drum”, declared the New Age in February. The article supported Bose while highlighting the need for unity (see Text VI-31). The support continued in the article “The Congress Must Decide”, written by BF Bradley just on the eve of the session but published in the March issue of New Age which came out just after the session. “There is no time for delay”, Bradley warned, “Tripuri maybe the last Congress session before the war breaks out.” And he added : “Chamberlain is walking hand in hand with Hitler to defeat democracy wherever it exists. And one of his first steps will be to smash the movement in India that, by electing Subhas Bose, is laying such urgent claim to democracy in India.”

At the Tripuri session itself, communists were faced with a very difficult situation. The communist members of the AICC placed a draft resolution stressing “Unity And Struggle” (see Text VI-33), but this had only propaganda value. Govindaballav Panth, acting on behalf of the consolidated rightist lobby, moved a resolution which reaffirmed faith in Gandhian policies and asked Bose to nominate the Working Committee “in accordance with the wishes of Gandhiji”. The resolution was passed without opposition from CSP and CPI members. Bose continued his effort, which he was making since January, to win Gandhi’s confidence but in vain. A president without a working committee, he was forced to resign in late April. On May 3 he formed the Forward Bloc and carried on the struggle for a more militant line of action against British imperialism from within the Congress. This led to his ouster from the mother organisation in August 1939.

Why did the communists not throw in then- lot with Bose at Tripuri and after it? Because they were not prepared to sacrifice the long-term unity in the UNF for the sake of a showdown that was destined, given the actual balance of power-blocs within the Congress, to result in a split and reduce the not-very-consolidated left bloc to a splinter group. Later developments bore out the correctness of this position. Bose with his Forward Bloc really became an adventurist splinter group. At the moment, however, there was much confusion and dissension in the ranks of CPI and other militant forces and the Party had to explain its position in a number of articles, from which we reproduce a few excerpts in Texts VII-15 and 16. From these excerpts it would be evident that with the utmost emphasis placed on unity, the struggle against Gandhian leadership reached on all-time low. This was best theorised by SG Sardesai when he wrote in National Front (April 30, 1939) : “They [the Leftists] have exposed the shortcomings of Gandhism sufficiently in the past. With the new strength at their command the tune and opportunity have come for them to weld even Gandhism with the new nationalism …” (Text VII-17)

So this is where the UF line came to in 1939. The general approach was evident also in the specific policies on worker’s and peasant’s fronts : the AITUC and the AIKS were asked to operate strictly within the limits of inviolable unity with the Congress (see documents like IV A-12 and IV B-6).