The Meerut Conspiracy Case

The year 1928 presented the British government with a series of nightmares : the grand resurgence in workers’ movement, their increased involvement in national politics and the very prominent role of communists in both these development; the rapid spread of WPPs and their consolidation at the national level; the revival of mass anti-imperialist movement provoked by the Simon Commission; the revolutionary activities of Bhagat Singh and his comrades; the last but not the least, the coming closer of communists and a section of the nationalist leadership. In 1929 the Raj struck back. Its first target was naturally the communists working through the WPPs, for they were rapidly becoming the most powerful mass stream of the national liberation movement. Thus was launched the famous Meerut Conspiracy Case, actually the most important link in a chain of repressive measures : the Public Safety Bill and Trade Disputes Bill, the prosecution of and death sentences to Bhagat Singh and his comrades and so on.

The attack was planned at the highest level. A secret telegram from Governor-general Irwin to Home Secretary for India in London states, “Indian political situation had appreciably taken a leftward shift and we apprehend a large-scale disturbance in near future.” (Secret Tel. No. 2555,19 January F/N. No. 184/29, India Office Library, London, quoted and translated from Goutam Chattopadhya’s Peshawar to Meerut, op. cit., p 75.). So, on 20 March, 1929 the sweeping round-up of 31 labour leaders (see list below) from Calcutta, Bombay, UP and Punjab took place. And they were brought to Meerut for the Meerut Conspiracy Case. Three Englishmen, Bradley, Philip Spratt and Lester Hutchinson who were active in the working class movement and as many as eight members of the AICC were among the arrested. In comprehensive search operations throughout the country, a good deal of published and unpublished documents, letters, magazines, leaflets etc. were seized and presented as evidence along with intercepted correspondence. Meerut was chosen for the conspiracy trial since the British “could not … take the chance of submitting the case to the Jury.” (Home member HG Haig, confidential note, 20 February ’29).

But this time the British aim proved counter-productive at least in one respect. Whereas Kanpur, the venue of the previous anti-communist trial, had become the birth place of the CPI, Meerut became a spectacular platform for communist propaganda. The accused communists were better organised to make use of the court room for the spread of the communist ideology, their programmes, amis and objectives. The British move to drive a wedge between communists and nationalist leaders also proved futile. Nehru, Gandhi and many others visited the Meerut jail while the accused communists also sent messages to the satyagrahis in different jails supporting their just struggles for political status. The accused communists also tried to shift the case to one of the metropolitan cities but this appeal was turned down by the sessions court. Also their attempt to utilise the witnesses from abroad and the arrangement of a lawyerfrbm England by the National Meerut Prisoners’ Defence Committee for the defence of the case and the help of comrade JR Campbell of CPGB as political adviser were turned down by the British government. The conspiracy trial under section 121 A of the Indian Penal Code (offences involving treason) was proceeded in the Meerut Sessions Court of RL Yorke. Two Defence lawyers, KF Nariman and MC Chagla appeared on behalf of the accused. Beside giving individual statements in their defence, a general statement of 18 communist accused was given during the magistrate and sessions court trials. This general statement vigorously exposed the bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the British rule in India and their ‘civilised’ legal system and put forward the communist programme and policies (See Text VI-25 for short excerpts.) After four long years of sham trial, the verdict was given on 16 Jan. 1933. This was as follows:

1. Muzaffar Ahmad ——- Transportation for life.

2. SADange ————— Transportation for a period of twelve years.

3. Philip Spratt ———– -do-

4. SVGhate —————- -do-

5. KNJoglekar ———— -do-

6. RSNimbkar ———— -do-

7. Benjamin Francis —— Transportation for Bradley ten years.

8. SS Mirajkar ———— -do-

9. Shaukat Usmani ——- -do-

10. Mir Abdul Majid —– Transportation of seven years.

11. Sohan Singh Josh ———————- -do-

12. Dharanikanta Goswami —————- -do-

13. Ajodhya Prasad ———————– Transportation of five years.

14. G. Adhikari —————————- -do-

15. PC Joshi ——————————- -do-

16. MG Desai ——————————- -do-

17. Gopen Chakraborty ——————- Four years’ RI.

18. Gopal Chandra Basak ——————- -do-

19. HL Hutchinson ————————- -do-

20. Radha Raman Mitra ——————— -do-

21. Shivavakash Hormarji Jhabwala ———- -do-

22. Kedar Nath Sehgal ———————– -do-

23. ShamsulHuda —————————– Three years’ RI

24. Arjun Atmaram Alve ———————– -do-

25. Gobinda Ramchandra Kasle ————— -do-

26. Gouri Shankar —————————- -do-

27. Lakshman Rao Kadam ———————– -do-

28. DR Thengdi ——————————– Passed away while the judgement was written.

29. Biswanath Mukherjee ———————- Acquitted of Gorakhpur

30. Sibnath Banerjee ————————– -do-

31. Kishorilal Ghose ————————– -do-

After the sessions trial was over, the accused communists appealed to the High Court. In the High court, Dr. Kailas Nath Katju and two junior advocates, Shyam Kumari Nehru, and Ranjit Sitaram Pandit appeared as defence lawyers. After eight working days of sitting, the High Court judge delivered their judgement as follows:

A) 1. MG Desai, 2. HL Hutchinson, 3. SH Jhabwala, 4. Radha Raman Mitra, 5. Kedarnath Sehgal, 6. Gobinda Kasle, 7. Gouri Shankar, 8. Laksman Rao Kadam, 9. Arjun Atmaram Alve — All acquitted.

B) 1. Ajodhya Prasad, 2. PC Joshi, 3. Gopal Basak, 4. Dr. G Adhikari, 5. Shamsul Huda — the court upheld the sentences under 121A of the IPC by the sessions court, but due to punishment already received, they were all released.

C) i) Gopen Chakrabarty Seven months’ RI

ii) SVGhate One years’ RI.

iii) KN Joglekar -do-

iv) RS Nimbkar -do-

v) BF Bradley -do-

vi) SS Mirajkar -do-

vii) SS Josh -do-

viii) Dharanikanta Goswami -do-

ix) Mir Abdul Majid -do-

D) i) Muzaffar Ahmad Three years’ RI.

ii) SA Dange -do-

iii) Shaukat Usmani -do-

E) i) Philip Spratt Two years’ RI.

“The sentences were reduced later (by the High Court) under pressure of the British Trade Union Congress and others” wrote Prof. Michael Brecher of Canada (Nehru : A political Biography, p 136). Not only did workers all over the world launch agitations against the trial and conviction, even men like Ro.main Rolland and Prof. Albert Einstein raised their voices in protest against the case. Harold Laski wrote:
“The Meerut trial belongs to the class of cases of which the Mooney trial and the Sacco-Vangetti trial in America, the Dreyfus trial in France, the Reichstag fire trial in Germany, are the supreme instances.”[1]

The Meerut trial[2] projected the communists as the foremost fighters for freedom who bore the brunt of imperialist attack. This earned them truly national support — even men like Gandhi felt compelled to voice their sympathy and respect. But the CPI failed to reap any harvest; for in the first place, the internment of practically all leaders, precisely at the moment when the Party was planning to consolidate itself, made any national-level planning and work impossible. Secondly, the new leadership that gradually emerged from the grassroots proved to be more loyal than the King in following the new Comintern line, which in its turn shifted more to the left just after the Sixth World Congress. The story of this new period we will now study in Part IV of the volume.

Notes :

1. H. Laski’s “Preface” to Hutchinson’s Conspiracy at Meerut, p 8.

2. A large number of books with details on this case are easily available, such as : The Great Attack by Sohan Singh Josh, PBH (New Delhi,1979); Meerut Conspiracy Case and The Left Wing in India by Pramita Ghosh, Paoyrus (Calcutta, 1978). So we limit ourselves to a brief general comment.