Labour Monthly

Indian Nationalism After Tripuri

BY Bill Bradley

Source : Labour Monthly  May, 1939, No.5.
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.

Tripuri, a village in Central Provinces, sprang into fame when the Indian National Congress decided to hold its 52nd Session there in March last. Despite the fact that certain issues and serious conflicts overshadowed the eve of this Congress Session, the delegates who attended were able to overcome these conflicts and register very remarkable and important decisions. The Resolution on the "National Demand" must be considered a definite political advance. This resoŽlution calls for a "nation-wide struggle," and demands that the Congress organisations and also the Congress Governments should take steps to prepare for this.

The possibilities of carrying this resolution into effect can be better understood when we measure the struggle of the Congress. Within three years the Indian National Congress has increased its membership from six hundred thousand to a figure which stands now at over four millions. This phenomenal growth of the Congress membership has reflected the increasingly strong and representative character of the Congress as the united organisation of the national movement with the overwhelming election victories of 1937, the achievements of the Congress Ministries in the Provinces and the accompanying mass awakening. The growth of Congress membership has helped to transŽform the character of the Congress, raising to a high level the popular struggle against Imperialism, and is one of the most important features in the situation in India.

Coupled with this there has been the unprecedented development of the struggle of the workers and peasants. On the workers' side the most significant event was the achievement of unity of the Trade Union movement at Nagpur last year which was quickly followed by the fusion of a number of parallel unions. In the strike struggles the workers have shown remarkable determination. The textile workers of Cawnpore, after a long struggle, won a victory forcing the mill-owners to implement the recommendations of the Congress Inquiry Committee, and while cementing Congress-Labour unity, have built a powerful union of 18,000 strong.

Powerful strike movements were also conducted in places as far apart as Kandesh, Sholapur, Calcutta, Madras and Bihar; while one of the most important events of the year was the great one-day Protest Strike of the Bombay workers on November 7 against the Trades Dispute Bill.

At the same time there has been a tremendous development of peasant struggle and organisation. By huge demonstrations and marches and daily struggles against the Zamindars, they are developing their movement against oppression and terrorism. The third Session of the All-India Kisan Sabha which met at Comilla represented the organised strength of 550,000 paying members. The fourth session which has just concluded at Gaya records a membership of over 800,000.

In unity with the growth of the mass movement in what is known as British India, the people of the Indian States, forced hitherto to exist under the despotic rule of the Rajahs and Princes, have moved into action demanding democratic rights and civil liberties. Throughout the States, in Orissa, Rajputana, Rajkot, Gujerat and Deccan, people have been drawn into this struggle. Extreme terror and the shooting down of people has characterised the struggle in Mysore, Travancore, Dhenkanal, Talcher, Ranpur and other States. The people in the States organised themselves into Praja Mandals (States' People's Party) in order to achieve democratic rights and relief from their economic burdens.

These mighty mass struggles of the workers, peasants and States people during 1938, the building of their independent working-class organisations, and the rapid increase in the membership of the Indian National Congress indicated a political awakening of vast new sections of the Indian people. These newly-awakened sections provided a dynamic force within the National movement, demanding the fulfilŽment of the Congress election pledges and the development of Congress activity towards the utilisation of the mass force as a weapon to challenge Imperialism.

The Congress has been functioning in office as Ministries for two years in nine Provinces out of the eleven in British India. We must recognise the restricted possibilities imposed by financial limitations under the Constitution, for carrying through legislation. Despite this, the Congress Ministries in these Provinces have gone some way towards redeeming their election pledges in the face of these extreme difficulties.

While the workers have been pressing their demands for decent wages and conditions and for factory legislation, and the peasants have been demanding relief from indebtedness, reduction of rent, revision of Tenancy Laws and more expenditure for social and cultural amenities, there has been a growing feeling that the Congress MinisŽtries have not moved quickly enough.

Jawaharlal Nehru has indicated this in his statement, "Where Are We?" as follows:

The machinery of Government was working in much the same way as of old, although various reforms had been introduced. In Madras especially the Congress Government functioned in some ways perilously like the old Government.

This tremendous mass awakening was not merely expressing itself in the demand that the Congress Ministries fulfil their election pledges more speedily, but that the Congress organisation be adapted to methods of struggle more fitted to the conditions of a mass party; they demanded that the struggle against the Federation be conducted, not only within the Parliamentary sphere, but also outside.

The question of Federation became the centre-point of these gatherŽing issues within the movement. The Congress stood committed to a policy of resisting and preventing the introduction of the Federal Constitution, which would represent, not in any sense even a limited constitutional advance, but a strengthening of reaction and of the grip of imperialism in India. The acceptance of office in the Provinces was clearly understood and stated in all official documents to represent not an acceptance of constitutionalism, but a stage of preparation for future mass struggle to win complete independence on the basis of a Constitution framed by a freely elected Constituent Assembly.

Imperialism, on the other hand, was determined to impose the Federal plan at as early a date as possible, saw in the formation of the Provincial Ministries a step to a policy of collaboration, and openly expressed the hope that, despite the official decisions to the contrary, in practice it would be able to secure, when the time came, the co-operaŽtion of moderate elements in the leadership of the Congress. Various conversations took place between prominent representatives of imperiŽalism and individual Congress leaders, and rumours began to be spread that a compromise was in prospect. There was no basis in any official declarations for such rumours. It was true, however, that individual moderate leaders had made statements which implied a possible compromise on the basis of a modified Federal Constitution; and many left wing elements, already alarmed at the "drift to constiŽtutionalism," and knowing that the right wing was dominant in the "High Command," feared that, despite brave words, a surrender would follow.

In reality the deeper issue behind these controversies lay in the question of the mass basis of the Congress and its relation to the developing mass struggle of the workers and peasants. Only in proportion as the Congress deepened and strengthened its mass basis and its organic relation to the mass struggle could it develop the strength to be capable of defeating Federation and imposing its own terms on imperialism. The fears expressed by the moderate elements of the leadership with regard to the rapid advance of the workers' and peasants' movement, the deprecation of class struggle as a violation of "non-violence," and increasing readiness to use or defend police coercive measures against strikes and unrest, meant inevitably that, whatever their subjective intentions, objectively they were travelling along a path which led to increasing compromise with imperialism. This danger, however, was not to be met by shrilly reiterated negative declarations or denunciations of the right wing, but only by a positive constructive programme and work for strengthening the mass basis of the Congress, increasing its responsiveness to mass demands, building up workers' and peasants' organisation, enlightening the membership on the issues and working to influence the policy of the Ministries accordingly. This was the task which the Socialists and Communists, who were winning increasing influence within the left wing, tried to accomplish.

It was in this situation that Subhas Chandra Bose, who had been nominated President the previous year without a contest, decided to contest the Congress Presidential election this year for re-election, on the basis of posing the political issue of launching a nation-wide struggle against Federation and resisting the tendencies, which he described as existing in the right wing leadership, towards compromise. For the first time the presidential election was contested. The key importance of the contest lay in the fact that the Working Committee, or ruling organ of the Congress, is not elected, but nominated by the President; thus the election of the President is the constitutional opportunity for the voice of the membership to be expressed with regard to the character of the leadership of the Congress. The opposing candidate to Bose was supported by Gandhi and the majority of the members of the old Working Committee. Bose was supported by the Communists, Socialists and Left Nationalists. In the event Bose was elected by 1575 to 1376 votes.

The election of Bose, in the face of the opposition of the official machine, led to a sharp inner crisis. In fact the result of the personal election of a President, while having its importance as a barometer of feelings among the rank and file, could by no means be regarded as a definitive political judgment or indication of a left majority in the membership. The subsequent proceedings at Tripuri were to prove this. But the interpretations that were at first placed on the result, both among many on the right and on the left, were such as to raise dangers of sharp division imperilling the unity of the Congress.

M.K. Gandhi, in a public statement, interpreted the result as a personal defeat for himself and his policies, and threatened the possiŽbility of a secession of right wing from the Congress. Twelve of the fifteen members of the Working Committee resigned, in order, as they explained, to leave a free field for Bose, and also on the grounds that they felt that in his election campaign he had cast aspersions on their bona fides. Jawaharlal Nehru also resigned from the Working Committee, though with a separate statement explaining his special viewpoint (this will be found more fully explained in the booklet issued by him in connection with the crisis, entitled "Where Are We?"). The imperialist press loudly announced a "split" of the Congress. The controversy, as it developed, was in danger of moving from a political to a personal plane.

While the Right Wing viewed with alarm the re-election of S.C. Bose and the consolidation of Left forces around him as being a challenge to their leadership, certain disruptive elements on the left began pressing for the "seizure of power" and the formation of an entirely new Working Committee around S.C. Bose. Since the left wing is still a minority in the Congress, as the results of Tripuri showed, this would have meant an attempt to impose a minority leadership on the Congress and thus invite a split.

When the Tripuri Congress met, there was thus a dangerous crisis requiring to be solved. Both on the right and on the left there were tendencies which were ready to press forward the issue to a split. Those sections, including the Socialists and Communists, who were concerned to maintain a united leadership representing and balancing the relation of forces in the National Front so as to preserve a united front for the coming fight against imperialism, were faced with an extremely difficult task. Nevertheless, it can be stated with confidence that the results of the Tripuri Session, even though not fully satisfactory in all respects, show that all efforts at disrupting the United National Front and the Congress, from whatever quarters, were frustrated for the time being and that the final decisions mark an advance in the national struggle for India's freedom.

Our task now is to examine the decisions of Tripuri and to find out how they can be effectively used as weapons to further strengthen the Congress, increasing its mass basis, and carrying forward the struggle.

It was clear that the first task facing the delegates at Tripuri, before policy or programme could be considered, was the need to clear the atmosphere. In this connection it was the Right which took the initiative by moving a resolution of confidence in Mahatma Gandhi. The resoŽlution was a bid to restore the status quo in leadership around the personality of M.K. Gandhi, but at the same time dragging in a ques-tion of alleged aspersions cast against former members of the Working Committee and laying down that the new Working Committee must be nominated in accordance with the wishes of Gandhi. There was considerable opposition to the later part of this resolution. The ComŽmunists and Socialists stressed the need for a united leadership including members of the old Working Committee, at the same time calling for a policy of advance. While this resolution was passed (by 218 to 135 in the Subjects Committee) it left a considerable amount of heartburn among the delegates.

The main resolution of the Session was on the "National Demand." The resolution stated that the Congress has for more than half-a-century striven for the advancement of the people of India and that it had carried the Nation a long way towards Independence. The resolution traces the steps in pursuance of its objective and reiterates the Congress declaration of uncompromising opposition to the Federal part of the Government of India Act, and determination to resist its imposition. We will quote the rest of the resolution:

The Congress declares afresh its solemn resolve to achieve inde-pendence for the nation, and to have a constitution framed for a free India through a Constituent Assembly elected by the people and without any interference by a foreign authority. No other Constitution or attempted solutions of the problem can be accepted by the Indian people. The Congress is of the opinion that, in view of the situation in India, the organised strength of the National Movement, the remarkable growth of the consciousness of the masses, the new awakening among the people of the Indian States, as well as the rapid development of the world situation, the time has come for full application of the principle of self-determination to India, so that the people of India might establish an independent democratic State by means of a ConŽstituent Assembly. Not only the inherent rights and the dignity of the people demand this full freedom, but also the economic and other problems which press insistently on the masses cannot find a solution, nor can India get rid of her poverty and keep pace with modern progress unless the people have full opportunities of self-government and growth, which Independence alone can give. Provincial Autonomy affords no such scope for development, and its capacity for good is being rapidly exhausted; the proposed Federation strangles India still further, and will not be accepted. The Congress therefore is strongly of the opinion that the whole of the Government of India Act must give place to the Constitution for a free India made by the people themselves.

An independent and Democratic India will face the solution of our great problems rapidly and effectively, and will line herself with the progressive peoples of the world, and thus aid the cause of Democracy and freedom.

With a view to the speedy realisation of the Congress objective and in order to face effectively the national and international crises that loom ahead, this Congress calls upon all parts of the Congress organŽisations as well as the Congress Provincial Governments and the people generally to prepare themselves to this end, to promote unity and in particular to strengthen, purify and discipline the organisation, removing weakness and corrupting influences so as to make it an effective organ of the people's will.

On the question of the Indian States the Congress resolution welcomes the awakening of the people in the States. The resolution registered Congress support to the demand for responsible government and Civil Liberties, and declared that the movement for freedom and self-expression in the States was an integral part of the larger struggle for freedom of the whole country. It is also important to note that the resolution states:

The great awakening that is taking place among the people may lead to a relaxation or to a complete removal of the restraint which the Congress has imposed upon itself, thus resulting in the ever-increasing identification of the Congress with the States peoples. The Working Committee is authorised to issue instructions in this behalf from time to time as the occasion arises.

The Congress desires to reiterate that its objective, complete indeŽpendence, is for the whole of India, inclusive of the States, which must have the same measure of political, social, economic and religious freedom as part on India.

This was the first occasion that the W.A.F.D. Party of Egypt sent a delegation to attend a Congress Session. The visit of the W.A.F.D. delegation symbolised the solidarity of the movement for freedom in India and Egypt.

The resolution of greetings to China reads:

The Congress sends its greetings to the people of China and its deepest sympathy in their trials and privations in their struggle against ruthless and inhuman Imperialism. It congratulates them on their heroic resistance.

The Congress expresses its approval of the sending of a Medical Mission on its behalf to the people of China and trusts that this Mission will continue to receive full support, so that it may carry on its work of succour effectively and be a worthy symbol of Indian solidarity with China.

The resolution on the "National Demand" and that on the Indian States both mark a political advance of the Congress on the previous session held at Haripura. The "National Demand" resolution lays the basis for the development of a nation-wide struggle. The whole of the Government of India Act must go, giving place to a Constitution for a free India framed by a Constituent Assembly fully representative of the people of India. It must be the immediate task of sections of the national movement, united within the ranks of the Congress in India, to translate into action the last paragraph of the resolution -- the Tripuri Congress calls upon "all parts of the Congress organisations as well as the Congress Provincial Governments and the people generally to prepare themselves to this end, to promote unity and in particular to strengthen, purify and discipline the organisation, removing weakness and corrupting influences so as to make it an effective organ of the people's will."

The rapidly-moving international situation leaves no time to be lost. Tripuri is over -- our task must be how to make the Tripuri resolutions decisions for action. The plan of action put forward by the Communists was not accepted -- there is no doubt that it would have strengthened the resolution -- but the task now is to strengthen the execution of the resolution. The resolution gives a call to the people of India, to the Congress organisations and to the Congress Governments to prepare for a nation-wide struggle.

There are tremendous possibilities taking the resolution as it stands. The extent to which the resolution becomes one of action will depend upon how the Congress organisation and Congress membership as a whole develop their local plan of action which will prepare the country for the nation-wide struggle. Each step must be carefully considered. We put forward the slogans at Tripuri -- Unity and Struggle -- these must still be our slogans. No steps should be consciously taken which would impair the unity of the Congress. The degree to which we are able to prepare and strengthen the Congress organisations, the type of questions on which the Congress organisations will be activised must inevitably be reflected in the policy which the Congress Ministries pursue. The task now falls upon the shoulders of all earnest Congressmen to make the Tripuri National Demand resolution a live resolution.

The resolution on States people has shown what can be accomplished -- the tremendous advance made by the Indian States peoples between Haripura and Tripuri. By the steady activity and struggle of the States' people themselves, they compelled the Congress to recognise the relationship of the struggle in the States as integral parts of the larger struggle for freedom of the whole country.

A number of lessons are provided by Tripuri. We can certainly regard Tripuri Session of the Congress as an advance. The Communists and Socialists as a whole seriously endeavoured to meet in a responŽsible fashion a difficult situation and greatly helped in the constructive result which was finally achieved.

We should beware of false friends -- those who gave the lead for a disruptionist "Revolutionary" Working Committee -- and thus did their utmost to wreck the unity of the National Front.

The Socialist and Communist unity achieved at Tripuri must be carried to a wider field. A united Socialist Party would be capable of obviating the weaknesses that showed themselves at Tripuri and will be the surest guarantee that the political decision of that Session of the Congress will be implemented.