World News and Views - Sharaf Athar Ali

What is Happening in India?

Date: March 12, 1949
Source: World News and Views, Vol. 29, No. 10
Author: Sharif Athar Ali
Transcribed/HTML: Mike B. for MIA, 2008
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2005). 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.


INDIAN REACTION'S latest onslaught on the workers' and peasants' movements must be seen against the background of the deepening crisis of imperialist rule throughout the colonial regions of Asia.

The seven-league strides taken by the Chinese Revolution have called forth some noteworthy counter-moves recently on the part of the imperialist powers.

In India a cold chill gripped Delhi ruling circles as the magnitude of the Chiang debacle was realised. Open condemnation of the national liberation movements in South-East Asia as "Communist mischief ", as "part of a wider world Communist plan ", had already been voiced many times by Premier Nehru and Deputy Premier Patel, and by the circles of the Indian oligarchy consisting of the small group of Indian big business houses of Tatas, Birlas, Dalmias, Goenkas, etc. Together, these houses of the "upper ten " control all the industrial wealth of India and the leading chains of Indian newspapers, side by side with foreign monopoly capital.

The first big move, however, on their part was Nehru's "Asian Conference on Indonesia ", held on January 20-23 at Delhi. Those invited were all the feudal and bourgeois reactionary flotsam and jetsam and Anglo-American "oil puppets" from the Middle East Arab countries at one end, to the American puppet Romulo of the Philippines at the other.

The representatives of Viet Nam and the representative figures of the genuine national liberation movements were studiously excluded.

Nehru made it clear at the outset that the conference met in a spirit of hostility to no one, "not even to the Dutch, who had done an injustice to Indonesia ".

The American Ambassador in Delhi, Mr. Loy Henderson, proclaimed complete identity of views with Mr. Nehru on the "objectives" of the Conference.

And the upshot of the Conference, if we rightly put aside the brave-sounding and unconvincing words about Indonesia and the United Nations, was the knocking together at Delhi of "suitable working machinery ", modelled on the aims of the "Western Union" and on the lines of the arrangements between the United States and the Latin American countries.

In other words, the knocking together of political-military strategic blocs for the Middle East and South-East Asia in alliance with Anglo-American imperialism on the flanks of the Chinese Revolution and the southern borders of the Soviet Union.

But this Conference was only the first step to more direct Indian participation against the revolutionary movements of the peoples of the East. On the very heels of the "Conference on Indonesia ", which laid down the general "common aims" to be pursued, followed the Delhi Conference on "Burma ". Thakin Nu approached the British Government and Britain immediately approached Nehru's "free" India—did not Burma get "complete independence" outside the Commonwealth only last year?

By joint agreement of Britain and India in November 1947, Gurkha troops recruited in the "independent kingdom" of Nepal are seeing service as far afield is Malaya and Hongkong—it is now hinted that the "Burma Conference" in Delhi might see Gurkha troops intervening to establish "conciliation" in Burma. For is it not time to say that the Burmese people have reduced their country to a mere "geographical expression" and it is time for an ordered "independent" State to be re-created, so that India can be assured her "rice supplies" and Britain the return of the financial "help" she has given?

The imperialists have a method in their madness, and Nehru and the "upper ten" of the big bourgeoisie have been quick to learn.

New Finance Capitalist Drive into India

In order to cut imperialist losses in China and the difficulties facing them in the, countries of South-East Asia, a new Anglo-American finance capitalist drive is now in full swing in India.

Joint Indo-British and Indo-American companies, in which the super-profits from sweated Indian labour are to be shared in mutually agreed proportions between the big Indian bourgeoisie and foreign big business, are being feverishly planned.

They include irrigation and hydro-electric power projects, a certain number of new roads, railways, new harbours, sea transport vessels, and communication services such as a network of automatic telephones connecting the main towns; light industries allied to the production of agricultural, industrial, and strategic raw materials.

On the purely military side, there are several schemes for the laying out of airfields, for small industries manufacturing to supply the needs of army, navy, and air forces expansion. In addition to increasing the present size of the armed forces, the Nehru Government is building a mass territorial army. India is buying military aircraft from Britain; one cruiser and three destroyers from the Royal Navy have already augmented the Indian Navy.

A Commission of the U.S.-controlled International Bank is now on a tour of India examining all these projects. The purpose is to ensure the absolute safety of the "long-term" dollar loan which is to be advanced. The Bank's President, Mr. McCloy, has pronounced that India "looked good" in the eyes of the Bank.

Mr. Dean Acheson, the U.S. Secretary of State, enlarging on President Truman's famous "fourth point" in his recent inaugural speech, declared that India was "certainly one country" they had in mind where the strength and power of the United States could usefully be employed.

A treaty of friendship, navigation, and commerce between India and the U.S.A. is on the way. The draft was drawn up and submitted, according to the announcement in the Indian Constituent Assembly, by the United States Embassy in Delhi.

The crisis of British imperialist economy is not only losing the Indian market as a sphere of trade to the United States, but the Americans are making a bid to challenge the field of monopoly investments in India held hitherto by the British. In short, Wall Street is making a determined bid to oust its rival and become the dominant economic and political foreign influence in India, once the mainstay of British imperialism's unchallenged world domination.

Acute Crisis of National Economy

The real question with regard to the new "schemes of development" now being announced from Delhi and which the International Bank Commission is scrutinising, is whether they herald the promised industrialisation and growth of India's independent economy. A cursory examination reveals that in their essentials they bear all the hallmarks of the classical type of colonial investment.

First of all they relate to industries directly connected with raw material extraction, agricultural and industrial; they do not include any large-scale basic industrial expansion such as coal, iron, and steel. Secondly, they are directly related to the expansion 'of land and sea transport facilities to improve access to and from the markets in the Indian hinterland; finally, and above all, they are not being accompanied by measures of social security, improved wages and working conditions for the masses of starving workers and peasants.

The only "new" aspect of the "development projects" is the fact that they are being launched with a Government guarantee to the investors both as regards profits and the maintenance of slavish obedience on the part of the working masses.

But in no way do they touch the core of the unparalleled crisis of present-day Indian economy. At the heart of this problem is the agrarian crisis and the impoverishment of the peasants to the last degree.

The following figures show the rapid growth of landlessness of the peasant masses and their consequent land hunger: in 1882 there were 7.5 million landless peasants; in 1921 there were 21 million; in 1931, 33 million; in 1935, 35 million; and in 1944, 68 million. These 68 million, forming the biggest mass of the working population, earn a daily wage of between eight annas and one rupee (9d. and 1s. 6d.).

Without the satisfaction of the land hunger of this mass, without the abolition of landlordism and the working conditions of serfdom, the basic problem of Indian economy cannot be solved nor can there be any real industrialisation of the country.

Next to this is the problem of improving the standard of living of the industrial workers.

An ordinary Indian railwayman's basic money wage today is between thirty rupees and thirty-five rupees per month. With the rupee worth a quarter of its pre-war purchasing value, the real basic wage amounts only to nine rupees per month, or, in equivalent English pre-war terms, to 3s. 9d. per week.

A worker in a major industry, such as jute, gets a basic money wage of eleven or twelve annas a day, or about a shilling a day.

A miner's wage is no higher. The coal pits in India are notoriously described as "death pits" in Indian trade union language.

It sounds almost hackneyed now to say that Nehru and his Congress Government colleagues have repudiated all their pledges made in the course of the national struggle against British imperialism and in election speeches about nationalisation of industry, land reform, and better living standards.

Instead the whole country is in the grip of an acute inflation and rising price spiral.

The following figures are indicative of the rising cost of living:

All-India Index of Wholesale Food Articles
(1939 = 100)
1945 . . . . . . 235.7
1946 . . . . . . 244.5
1947 . . . . . . 252.5
1948 (May) . . . . 362.9
1948 (November) . . . . 379
1949 (January) . . . . 382

All the current stress emanating from Government circles against price control, or increased wages through adequate cost-of-living allowances, but on speeded-up production, and "industrial peace", on "American co-operation" and even "war emergencies": fine stock-in-trade phrases borrowed from the arsenal of Western monopoly-capital.

Suppression of the Mass Movement

Last April more than a thousand trade unionists and Communists were summarily flung into prison for alleged "collection of arms ", of which the Government and police had "proof ". Those victims are still today languishing behind the bars without any charge or trial. There has been a veritable spate of hunger-strikes of political prisoners on the jail front against the cruel treatment to which they are being subjected.

Some 900 rail and other unionists have been rounded up with the same cant about "plots" and "sabotage ". The Central Government has now promulgated an anti-strike Bill for six months where formerly this right was vested only in the various Provincial Congress Ministries. The Government has thus illegalised the strikes of the railwaymen, post and telegraph office workers and the dock workers.

At the same time troops and police have seized about 4,000 peasants in the famous Telengana region of Hyderabad State in recent weeks for the crime of fighting extreme feudal bondage under Princely rule.

The wide "Public Safety Measures" Acts promulgated by the Provinces hang like a sword of Damocles over every trade union or peasant organisation which attempts to resist these measures of jailing, shooting, and arresting, or the attacks on the living standards of the workers and peasants.

The Communist Party and its Press is simply the principal target of this attack against all opposition to the Government's home and foreign policies. The Party is at the moment illegal in West Bengal Province and in the States of Hyderabad and Indore. In all other parts it is virtually illegal since the police have issued warrants of arrest against all its principal leaders and organisers. Most of its Press, which consisted of five daily newspapers and several weeklies, has been banned. In the current drive to crush the railwaymen, an order has been passed closing down its printing press in Bombay, where its remaining central weekly organ, People's Age, is printed, for a month. This has been followed by a demand voiced in the Assembly in Delhi to ban the Party altogether.

This is how the proportions and power of the new colonial police state in India have swelled to meet the growing needs of imperialist exploitation and expansion, and in answer to the deepening crisis of colonial rule in Asia as a whole.

To this picture one has only to add how Nehru is being lionised by world reaction as an "outstanding statesman", and compliments fly back and forth between Delhi, Washington, and London.

In placing the interests of the big bourgeoisie above the interests of the masses, Nehru and the Congress Party are repeating the mistake of Chiang Kai-shek and the Right Kuomintang in China twenty years ago, when they betrayed the Chinese masses and crossed over to the camp of imperialism. But 1949 is not 1927.

It only remains to be seen how long the myth of Nehru's slogan of "freedom won" will remain unexposed. That it cannot remain so for very long is clear from the mass movement now taking the form of strikes and agrarian struggles against intensified exploitation and the repeated police state actions.