By Qurban Ali for BeyondHeadlines

Spiritualistic socialists Acharya Narendra Deva and Babu Sampurnanand in 1926 drew up a moderate socialist agrarian program for UPCC, which by 1929 was accepted by AICC, in its meeting held in Bombay. At the 1931 Karachi session of the Indian National Congress, socialist pattern of development was set as the goal for India and resolution on fundamental rights and economic programme was passed. According to Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, who drafted the Karachi resolution of AICC, the origin of this resolution was UPCC’s resolution of 1929. (Pt. Nehru’s Autobiography P.266).

During the 1932 Civil disobedience movement, many young socialists like Jayaprakash Narayan, Minoo Masani, Achyut Patwardhan, Asoka Mehta, Charles Mescrenhas, Narayan Swami, M L Dantawala, N G Goray and S M Joshi were lodged in Nasik Jail. While in jail, they all felt the need to form a Congress Socialist Party within the Congress Party (INC) wedded to Marxism. At the same time a group of ‘left wing’ Congressmen disillusioned with the policy of Congress, met at Poona in July 1933 for the purpose of organizing a Socialist opposition group. They drafted a constitution and programme which subsequently became known as the “Poona draft. (Selected works of Acharya Narendra Deva, vol.1 page 29).

There were two basic objectives behind this move, (a) to draw a picture of Socialism in order to attract workers and peasants into the Congress fold (b) to check the freedom struggle from drifting into the constitutional channel only. This group invited all those who believed in socialist ideology to attend the foundation conference of Congress Socialist Party (CSP) at Patna on 17th May 1934. According to Rajani Palme Dutt, the appearance of a “Congress Socialist Group” in Bombay has given rise to widespread discussion in the ranks of the Indian National Movement. The programme of this group was issued in February, 1934, under the signature of Krishna Menon, M. Shetty, M.R. Masani and others. It was issued with an approving letter from Jawahar Lal Nehru, who stated that “he would welcome the formation of Socialists groups in the Congress to influence the ideology of the Congress.”

Minoo Masani wrote to JL Nehru on 19th December, 1933, “Some of us Congressmen in Bombay, who are socialists, are attempting to form a Congress Socialist Group or Party. We feel that the lead you have given to the Congress and to the country by emphasizing the necessity of taking up a consciously socialist and anti-imperialist position should be followed by the organisation of socialist within the Congress. The Group, it is proposed to form, would carry out the purpose you have in view by placing before the Congressmen and the public of our province (or, may be presidency) a programme that would be socialist in action and objective. The Group would be socialist propaganda among rank and file of Congressmen with a view to converting the Congress to an acceptance of socialism. We would also carry on propaganda among the workers (and peasants) at the same time participating in their day to day economic struggles. It would hearten us to know that in the formation of such a group we shall have your approval and support”.

In reply of Minoo Masanis letter Jawaharlal said “I would welcome the formation of socialist groups in the Congress to influence the ideology of the Congress and the country. As you are aware, I have been laying stress on the socialist ideal very much in my recent speeches and writings. I feel that the time has come when the country should face this issue and come to grips with the real economic problems which ultimately matter. All over the world today people are being forced to think in terms of economic and social change and we in India cannot afford to remain in the back water of pure politics. The time has undoubtedly come now when we must think more clearly and develop a scientific ideology. This is, so far as I am concerned, one of socialism and I would, therefore, gladly welcome the formation of groups to spread this ideology. But it is not enough to talk merely in terms of an academic ideology, especially at a moment when our country is in the midst of a struggle for freedom. This ideology must be tacked on to action and this action, if it is to bear fruit, must be related to the Congress struggle. Otherwise the socialist group will become an ineffective, academic and sterile Centre. Even to spread the ideology the effective method is through action which is coordinated to the direct action of the Congress and labour and peasant organisations”.

Delivering the First Presidential address at the Foundation Conference of CSP, at Patna on 17th May, 1934, Acharya Narendra Deva fondly remembered his leader Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and paid him his tribute. He said,

 “Friends, we are founding today the first cells of the Socialist movement within the Congress. In the absence of our great leader, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, our task has become extremely difficult. We do not know how long we shall remain deprived of his valuable advice, guidance and leadership. I am sure he will hail with delight the birth of this new party within the Congress and that he will be watching our progress with keen interest from behind the prison bars. Let his great example stimulate and inspire us during the period of his incarceration and let us march forward with the assurance that the cause we represent will triumph in the end”.

At the foundation conference of the CSP, The draft proposals for a Socialist programme were circulated and a Socialist programme was approved in this conference. Outlining this programme, founding Secretary of CSP, Jayaprakash Narayan explained, what the Congress Socialist Party stands for in his book Why Socialism.

He said the objectives of the Congress Socialist Party, as laid down in its Constitution, are “the achievement of complete independence, in the sense of separation from the British Empire, and the establishment of a socialist society.”

This is direct and simple enough. The Party has two objectives: The first is the same as that of the Indian National Congress, except that the Party wishes to make it clear that the complete independence of India must include separation from the British Empire. The second object of the Party means that independent India must reorganise its economic life on a socialist basis. The question is one of the values and ultimate objectives, which once determined, the rest becomes a matter of logical sequence. If the ultimate objective is to the masses politically and economically free, to make them prosperous and happy, to free them from all manner of exploitation, to give them unfettered opportunity for development, then, Socialism becomes a goal to which one must irresistibly be drawn.

If again, the objective is to take hold of the chaotic and conflicting forces of society and to fashion the latter according to the ideal of utmost social good and to harness of all conscious directives of human intelligence in the service of the commonwealth, then, again, Socialism becomes an inescapable destination.

If these be our objectives, it should take little argument to show that Socialism is as definitely “indicated” in India as elsewhere. In India too there is poverty, nay, starvation on the one hand and wealth and luxury on the other; in India too there is exploitation; the means of production here also are in private hands. That is, the root evil of modern society, namely, economic and social inequality, exists in India too as does its cause; the exploitation of the great many by the very few.

And this is not the result of British rule. It is independence of it and will continue even after it. The ending of the foreign domination would not automatically solve Indian’s problem of poverty; would not put a stop to the exploitation of the vast many; would not in fact, mean the accomplishment of any of the objectives which we have started with. Economic freedom is also indispensable.

As far as we socialists are concerned, economic freedom means only one thing to us—Socialism. Without Socialism, economic freedom would be a sham.

The measures that are necessary, in the opinion of the Party to achieve this, are clearly set forth in the objectives of the programme of the All-India Congress Socialist Party. They are:

  1. Transfer of all power to the producing masses.
  2. Development of the economic life of the country to be planned and controlled by the state.
  3. Socialisation of key and principal industries (e.g., Steel, Cotton, Jute, Railways, Shipping, Plantations, Mines), Banks, Insurance and Public Utilities, with a view to the progressive socialization of all the instruments of production, distribution and exchange.
  4. State monopoly of foreign trade.
  5. Organisation of co-operatives for production, distribution and credit in the unsocialized sector of economic life.
  6. Elimination of princes and landlords and all other classes of exploiters without compensation.
  7. Redistribution of land to peasants.
  8. Encouragement and promotion of cooperative and collective farming by the State.
  9. Liquidation of debts owing by peasants and workers.
  10. Recognition of the right to work or maintenance by the State.
  11. To everyone according to his needs and from every one according to his capacity” to be the basis ultimately of distribution and production of economic goods.
  12. Adult franchise on a functional basis.
  13. No support to or discrimination between religions by the State and no recognition of any distinction based on caste or community.
  14. No discrimination between the sexes by the State.
  15. Repudiation of the so-called Public Debt of India.

After the Foundation Conference, first CSP Conference was held at Bombay on 21-22 October 1934. Dr Sampoornanand presided over and more than hundred and fifty delegates attended the conference. By that time, out of twenty states, CSP groups were formed in fourteen states.

It is interesting to note that before the formation of the CSP, Socialist Parties in Bihar and Punjab were already functioning which later merged into the CSP. The second National Conference of the CSP took place in Meerut on 20th January, 1936 and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay presided over it.

In the early 1930s Communists were opposed to Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress and when Congress Socialist Party was formed they derogatorily called it “Social Fascism”. But when Nazism emerged as victorious force in Germany and Stalin’s policy got reversed, Indian Communists changed their mind and started joining the CSP. In the Lahore session of CSP, many prominent Communist leaders like EMS Namboodiripad, Sajjad Zaheer, Z A Ahmed, Dinkar Mehta, Saurab (Soli) Batliwala and P Sundarayya,  got elected to the National Executive of CSP.

The third National Conference of the CSP was held at Faizpur along with AICC Session on 24-25, December 1937, and the fourth one at Lahore on 12-13 April, 1938. The CSP’s fifth National Conference was held at Kanpur in February 1947, under the Chairmanship of Dr Rammanohar Lohia and the word “Congress” was removed as prefix and the CSP became Socialist Party. This National Conference was held after a gap of almost nine years. The main reason for this gap was that most of the CSP leaders were in prison due to their participation in ‘Quit India Movement’ and also most of the Communists were out of the party by then.

After India got Independence in 1947, JP was of the opinion that the Socialists should leave the Congress party and play a role of constructive opposition. Acharya Narendra Deva and Dr Lohia were not in favour of it and Mahatma Gandhi was also of the view that Socialists should continue to be part of the Congress as long as they are welcome in the Congress. On 30th January, 1948, Gandhiji was assassinated and the Congress also amended its constitution saying that no entity or organization can exist within it with a separate constitution and membership. JP Narayan, Rammanohar Lohia, Achyut Patwardhan, Smt. Aruna Asif Ali and Yusuf Meherally were the heroes of the ‘Quit India Movement’ and were greatly respected in the Congress. JP and Lohia were members of the Congress Working Committee also, but with a heavy heart they decided to leave the Congress in 1948.

Socialist Party’s Sixth National Conference held at Nasik in March 1948, under the Chairmanship of Purshottam Tricumdas and decided to sever its ties with INC and left the Congress to play the role of ‘constructive opposition’.

The first major civil disobedience movement of Socialists was started in Uttar Pradesh in free India under the leadership of Rammanohar Lohia against the price rise in irrigation rates in UP in May 1954. Thousands of party workers participated in this agitation and more than five thousands party workers were arrested along with Dr Lohia under the ‘special powers act’ in UP. Dr Lohia challenged this act in Allahabad High Court. After two months of heated hearing, Allahabad High Court pronounced the ‘special powers act’ to be against the basic spirit of the Constitution and released Dr Lohia and thousand others on 28th of August, 1954, through a landmark judgment. Lohia proved through this movement of civil disobedience that people could achieve their rights through peaceful means.

In August, 1954, the PSP Government in Travancore-Cochin (Kerala) led by Chief Minister Pattom Thanu Pillai ordered police firing against peaceful protestors demanding inclusion of Tamil speaking areas of the state in Tamil Nadu. Many protestors were killed in the firing and Party General Secretary Dr Lohia, who was in Naini Jail, at that time demanded resignation of the Pattom Thanu Pillai Government. His argument was “when Congress Government at the Centre or in any State killed common man through police firing we demand resignation of that Government, now probity demands that our Government should also resign and we should establish some moral standards before the people”.

Party Joint Secretary Asoka Mehta reacted differently and asked: whenever there is police firing under Socialist Government should it resign? Or should it establish the norm of constituting judicial probe of such kinds of incidents? On this issue a special Conference of the party was convened at Nagpur on 25-27 November, 1954. Dr Lohia’s motion was defeated by 85 votes but party got splits.

The history of Socialist movement in India is a saga of differences and splits. It is a mixed bag of failures and successes. Failures in terms of ideology, lack of consistency in running a mass based socialist party and providing a socialist alternative to the centrist parties, left-of-the centrist parties, left parties and regional parties. It lost its identity and became part and parcel of the other corrupt and communal parties.

On the other hand, Socialists can claim to have compelled the Congress party and successive congress governments to adopt socialistic pattern of society and to the non-Congress governments to implement Kalelkar Commission and Mandal Commission reports and paving the way for social justice in the country.

They were also fighting for the cause of civil liberties, human rights, for equality amongst all sections of society, against discriminations in the name of caste, colour, creed, religion and sex and for the betterment of common people as enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution of free India – this is the legacy of the Socialist movement.

(Author is a Delhi based senior journalist, currently associated with Rajya Sabha TV.)


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