Source : Labour Monthly April 1938, No. 4.
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML : Salil Sen
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2010). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.
The Indian National Congress held its 51st session during last month at Haripura in the District of Bardoli. Under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, who has held office as President for more than eighteen months, the Congress has grown by leaps and bounds. The actual membership was shown to have increased since the last session which was held at Faizpur, from 600,000 to 3,100,000. This growth of support to the Congress was reflected at the Haripura session.
Haripura is an Indian village which was transformed into a new town for the purpose of holding the Congress. Well over 200,000 people attended the Congress Session representing every Province and District in British India, and many Indian States, and in this vast concourse was expressed the voice of the 350,000,000 Indian people in their intense desire to be freed from foreign domination.
Mammoth crowds, estimated at more than half a million people, witnessed the procession and paid homage to the President-Elect, Subhas Chandra Bose, who was conveyed along the four mile route from Haripura to Vithalnagar in a chariot drawn by 51 bulls to the opening of the Congress Session.
This Congress Session was being held under the shadow of a conŽstitutional crisis, a crisis which had been precipitated by the Governor-General in his unwarranted interference with the functions of the Ministers of Bihar and the United Provinces. This challenge of the Viceroy was accepted and the Ministers of these two Provinces resigned. The tense atmosphere created by this crisis did not, however, have the effect upon the Haripura Session which might have been expected. While all the features were there which may have given rise to an extremely serious situation, actually the character of the Haripura Session was milder than any Session held since the Civil Disobedience Movement was called off.
Subhas Chandra Bose in his Presidential address reminded the delegates of the latest authoritative pronouncement made by the All-India Congress Committee at its meeting in Calcutta last October declaring its policy regarding minorities, and of the Congress ResoluŽtion on Fundamental Rights, and said "the objective of the Congress is an independent and United India where no class or group or majority or minority may exploit another to its own advantage, and where all the elements in the nation may co-operate together for the common good and the advancement of the people of India." Whilst one of the main features of British Imperialist policy in India is that of "divide and rule," setting one community against another, the Congress is increasing its strength and influence among all sections.
"Regarding reconstruction" Subhas Bose said, "our principal problem will be how to eradicate poverty from our country. That will require a radical reform of our land system, including the abolition of landlordism." In order to deal with the industrial problem he said "To solve the economic problem agricultural improvement will not be enough. A comprehensive scheme of industrial development under State ownership and State control will be indispensable. A new industrial system will have to be built up in place of the old one which has collapsed as a result of mass production abroad and alien rule at home."
In dealing with the Federal scheme, Subhas Bose was of the opinion that one of the most objectionable features of the proposed Federation was the commercial and financial safeguards, through which the Viceroy on behalf of British capitalism would exercise a stranglehold, thus preventing any industrial development. Under the new Constitution it would never be possible for a popular Government to exercise control over expenditure.
He gave a very striking reference to show how the Central GovernŽment at present operates. According to the budget of the Central Government for the year 1937-1938, the army expenditure comes to 44.61 crores of rupees (Ģ33.46 millions) out of a total expenditure of 77.90 crores of rupees (Ģ58.42 millions) -- that is, roughly, 57 per cent. of the total expenditure of the Central Government. By an overŽwhelming majority in the Central Legislative Assembly this expendiŽture was rejected. The Viceroy, however, ignores this adverse vote and certifies the expenditure. Under the Federal Government, which will be controlled by the Viceroy, he will handle 80 per cent. of the Federal expenditure.
Subhas Bose called for closer co-operation between the Congress and the Trade Union Congress and Peasant organisations. On the question of affiliation he said: "Personally, I hold the view that the day will came when we shall have to grant this affiliation in order to bring all progressive and anti-imperialist organisations under the influence and control of the Congress."
Referring to his recent visit to England Subhas Chandra Bose said: "I am greatly encouraged by the attitude of the leaders of the British Communist Party, whose general policy with regard to India seems to me to be in keeping with the Indian National Congress."
Subhas Bose gave a good lead to the Congress on all important issues: the attitude towards the Federation and the economic struggles of the workers and peasants, and their role in the national struggle, were well presented, as were the questions of the Indian States, release of political prisoners and so on. But he still pins his faith to "peaceful means" as the weapon of struggle against the Federation and the new Constitution -- he visualises the possibility of having to resort to mass civil disobedience which he says "is the ultimate sanction which we have in our hands."
From a perusal of the reported discussions around the main resoluŽtions one is struck by what can only be described as the remarkable restraint of the left wing in the face of strong provocation. An example of such provocation was the attitude of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in his reply to the discussion on the resolution relating to the ministerial crisis. Several amendments had been tabled to this resolution, but all had been withdrawn with the exception of one which proposed to delete the portions of the resolution disapproving of hunger strikes for the release by political prisoners.
This resolution relating to the ministerial crisis became the main resolution of the Congress. It will be recalled that the circumstances under which the Ministers of United Provinces and Bihar resigned was because of the interference of the Governor-General with their decision to release the remaining political prisoners. The matter was referred by the Provincial Governors to the Governor-General, who refused to sanction the release.
Speaking on the resolution in the Subjects Committee, Vallabhbhai Patel said that the Governor-General had no right to interfere in this question -- "This is not Provincial autonomy, but inter-Provincial restrictions" -- but he proceeded to show that the Congress Ministers were quite as efficient in operating repressive measures as the British Government. He said, "Did not the Congress Ministers promulgate Section 144 in Cawnpore and Sholapur to tackle the situation there? Whenever there was need for firm action, Congress Governments had not hesitated, and during the last six months they had ruled effectively." The reference here is to the use of repressive measures against the textile strikers of Cawnpore and the textile strikers and peasant movement of Sholapur.
While Jawarahlal Nehru opposed the amendment, he nevertheless struck the right note when he said: "We gave a pledge to secure the release of our political prisoners, I am glad we have unflinchingly striven to honour our pledges."
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, replying to the debate, appeared to be deliberately provocative. He said that those who moved the amendŽments did not realise the implications of direct action and added that they had no programme except calling strikes. This brought protests from several parts of the house. Mr. Dutta Majumdar, member Bengal Legislative Assembly, pointed out that the Congress Socialist Party had decided not to move any amendments in order to show a united front. Whereupon Mr. Patel retorted: "Bring any number of resoŽlutions; we are ready to face them. Don't you try your direct action here. Let me make it clear we have tolerated you for two years, but the time has come when we shall no longer tolerate you. We shall now pay you back in your own coin." This drew angry shouts from the Congress Socialists and others present.
The main point in the resolution, whilst supporting the action of the Ministers of United Provinces and Bihar, was to confine the crisis to these two Provinces. The resolution was passed in the open session. The constitutional crisis ended on February 25 in the United Provinces, where Congress Ministers resumed their portfolios after an agreement on the question of the release of political prisoners was reached between Sir Harry Haig, the Governor, and Pandit Govind Balabh Pant, the Premier. Similarly in Bihar an agreement was reached on February 27 between Sir Maurice Hallett, the Governor and Babu Shri Krishna Sinha. Both Congress Ministries resumed office on the understanding that the Governors will accept their advice on the release of political prisoners provided each case is examined separately.
The Indian States Peoples' Resolution provided the basis for one of the most interesting and important debates of the Congress Session. In relation to the proposed Federation under the new Constitution this question was considered of the utmost importance and occupied the Subjects Committee for five hours in heated discussion. The concern of the delegates was not merely actuated by the importance of the Indian States in relation to the Federation, but at the Calcutta Session last October of All-India Congress Committee a resolution was adopted condemning repression in Mysore State and supporting the heroic struggle of the people in that State.
Subsequently doubt was raised as to the validity of this resolution. There was opposition in the All-Indian Congress Committee to the resolution and certain Congress leaders, including M.K. Gandhi stated that the Congress had no right to interfere in the affair of Indian States, and was of the opinion that this resolution constituted an interference. It was to clear this up that the question was discussed at Haripura.
The delegates representing various Congress Committees from the Indian States felt and spoke very strongly for the closer relationship between the people struggling in Indian States and those struggling in British India. The Left Wing and Socialist Section of the Congress delegates were of the opinion that the mass struggle, in order to win basic civil liberties and responsible Government, was growing in the States. Further close co-operation was essential between the States people and the people of British India in order to fight the Federation. It was also the duty of the Congress not merely to sympathise with the struggle of the States people, but to fraternise with them and give active assistance in the fight against the autocracy of the Princes.
The original resolution moved by Abul Kalam Azad sought to relieve the Congress of responsibility in connection with the present struggle of the Indian States' people. This was covered by the following point in the resolution:
The Congress, therefore, directs for the present that no Congress Committee be established in Indian States, and that internal struggles of the people of the States be not undertaken in the name of the Congress.
Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking in favour of the resolution, said that the resolution did not go back on the Congress attitude towards the States people. "But the question that had become vital was that they had to face realities and march independently towards their common goal."
Speeches were made by all sections of the delegates strongly condemning this resolution. From the delegates coming themselves from Indian States a fervent appeal was made to the Congress not to refuse the States' people help in their hard fight against feudal lords and despotic rulers. One Congress delegate Jayanarian Vyas from Ajmer-Merwara asked the Congress High Command, "Would you take away from us what even autocratic rulers or bureaucratic imperialism has not dared to take away, namely, our right to be in the Congress?"
Dr. Pattabi, in a fighting speech, exposed the dangers of the Congress adopting the policy which must follow from the resolution of isolating Indian States, and was allowed to move an agreed amendment accepted by Abul Kalam Azad. The amendment deleted the clause opposing the formation of Congress Committees in Indian States, and instead stated:
The Congress, therefore, directs that for the present Congress Committees in States shall function only under the direction and control of the Working Committee, and shall not engage in direct action in the name or under the auspices of the Congress nor undertakes internal struggles of the peoples of the State in the name of the Congress. For this purpose, independent organisations should be started and continued where they exist already within the States.
Dr. Pattabi suggested on the basis of this formula all other amendments should be withdrawn. On this proposition, 11 out of 13 amendments were withdrawn.
The motion on relations between the Congress and Indian States' people was then put and carried.
This resolution represents a retrogressive step; particularly at this juncture, when British Imperialism is making its final plans to introduce the Federal side of the new Constitution, under which one third of the total seats in the Federal Government will be reserved for the despotic Princes, while democratic rights are completely denied the States' subjects. It is just at this stage that full support should have been given to the struggle of the people in the Indian States for democratic rights and civil liberties, and to carry this through effectively to have planned ways and means of strengthening Congress organisations in the States. The 70 million people in the Indian States must be drawn into the Congress as allies of the Indian people in a common struggle for liberation against British Imperialism and its allies the despotic Princes.
A striking incident which took place during the Congress was a huge demonstration of peasants which marched through Vithalnagar shouting their peasant slogans, and a great rally was held which was addressed by the peasant leaders. This demonstration was timed to take place just at the moment when the Subjects Committee were to consider the resolution on Peasant Organisation (Kisan Sabhas).
This resolution stated that in view of certain difficulties that had arisen in regard to Kisan Sabhas and other organisations in some parts of India, the Congress desires to clarify the position and state its attitude towards them. The Congress has already fully recognised the right of Kisans to organise themselves in Peasant Unions.
The resolution goes on to state that "while recognising the right of peasants to organise Kisan Sabhas, the Congress cannot associate itself with any activities which are incompatible with the basic principles of the Congress and will not countenance any activities of those Congressmen who, as members of Kisan Sabhas, help in creating an atmosphere hostile to Congress principles and policy." It then calls upon Provincial Congress Committees to bear this in mind and to take suitable action wherever necessary.
This resolution was put forward because of the apparent fear of the growth of the peasant movement during the past two years. In Bihar alone the peasant movement has a membership of over 600,000 members. The huge peasant demonstrations in each Province has been a prominent feature lately, demonstrations of 20,000 to 50,000 peasants, marching to the centres where the Legislative Assemblies meet demandŽing a reduction of taxation and debt moratorium. There has been no question at all of those connected with the Kisan Sabhas creating an atmosphere hostile to Congress principles and policy as the resolution suggests. On the other hand phenomenal growth of the peasant movement has resulted in a definite strengthening of the Congress and the increase in membership can be directly attributed to this.
Very little discussion was allowed on this resolution and when the closure was moved there was considerable disappointment shown by the supporters of the Kisan Sabhas who had come prepared for a stiff fight on this question.
On the question of Burma the attitude of the Congress was re-attested and is defined in a new clause added to the Congress ConŽstitution which was approved by the Subjects Committee. The new clause removes Burma from the Congress Provinces and creates a new "Burma Committee" working for the freedom of the people of Burma. It reads:
There shall be a Congress Committee with power to organise subordinate Committees in accordance with the rules formed by it and approved by the Working Committee. The Burma Congress ComŽmittee stands for the freedom of the people of Burma.
Mr. Bose pointed out that the Congress had always recognised Burma as a part of India, and the same policy would be continued.
A message of greetings signed by fourteen Indian Communists to the Haripura Session, was broadcast among the delegates at the Congress. It gave a clear and decisive lead on all the important questions which the Congress had to face. It pointed out that the imposition of the Federal scheme on India was an integral part of Britain's war preparations.
It stated that the victory of the Congress at the polls in the teeth of the machinations of the bureaucracy and the opposition of the reactionaries of all shades, marks the beginning of a new period. The elections were transformed into one gigantic demonstration of national solidarity against imperialism. Under the initiative of the left -- of socialists and communists -- a movement is developing for creating real mass sanctions behind the Ministers to enable them to implement the Congress programme.
It said, "the session must further definitely take its stand against the tendency to compromise with landlords and capitalists on the issue of peasant and labour legislation, behind the back and against the will of the masses. The attack on the Kisans must be stopped and they must be supported in United Provinces and Bihar and elsewhere."
On the issue of the struggle of the States' people, the decision of the Calcutta A.I.C.C. must be rehabilitated. Without a decisive bid for the leadership of the struggle in the States, the fight against the Federation cannot succeed. "We have decided to combat the Federation by all means in our power. We shall stand for the overthrow of the Constitution, the convening of a Constituent Assembly with the participation of the representatives of the States' people to determine the Constitution of the free and united India; the freedom of all political prisoners; and a charter of the basic economic and political demands of the people, worked out in agreement with the labour and States people's organisations and the representatives of the national minorities."
The main call in the greeting was for the building of a mighty united national front.
The greeting concluded as follows:
"In the National Congress the masses see the mighty front of struggle against their main enemies -- the foreign imperialists and the anti-national capitalists and zamindars. They see in it the organiser and leader of their fights. On the delegates assembled at Haripura rests the heavy responsibility of fulfilling these expectations -- of putting a stop to the back-sliding and the retreat of the least year, of shaping the decisions which will be a clarion call to the united forces of our National Front to fall in for the decisive battle."
Acharya Narendra Deo, a veteran Congress Socialist Party leader, member of the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress for the past two years, a member of the Legislative Assembly for the United Provinces and President of the United Provinces Congress Committee sums up the results of the Haripura Session.
This veteran Congress leader considers that one of the most outstanding features of the Haripura Session was the admirable restraint which the left forces within the Congress displayed despite provocation. "The left forces," he said, "permeated by the spirit of the united front, gathered around the Congress in a moment of crisis; saw the need to close its ranks, to demonstrate their unity in action with the present leadership of the Congress."
"The left is more conscious," he says, "of the necessity of the united front in action to meet the crisis."
"But whilst the constitutional crisis has now been resolved, we must not forget that constitutional conflicts are bound to arise again and one of these conflicts may become irreconcilable and develop into a first-class struggle.... It is the duty of the left to prepare the nation for that eventuality. The left wing in the Congress has gained enormously in strength and influence in the course of the last two years but does not fully utilise its new opportunities. The immediate task before the left is to consolidate its forces and establish unity in its ranks on the basis of a plan of united action so that when the call comes we may be able to lead the masses to the decisive battle."