India Dossier: Huge General Strike in India Against the Modi Government
IN THIS INDIA DOSSIER
1) Huge General Strike Against the Modi Government on January 8, 2020 — by François Forgue, reprinted from Issue No. 222 (Jan. 15, 2020) of Tribune des Travailleurs
2) Report by Nambiath Vasudevan, trade unionist in Mumbai (India) and coordinator of the International Workers Committee Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers International (IWC), reprinted from Issue No. 147 — Jan. 10, 2020 — of the IWC Newsletter
3) “On the Origins of the India-Pakistan Conflict and the Kashmir Question” — by François Forgue, reprinted from Issue no. 18 (November 2019) of The Internationale, the theoretical magazine of the OCRFI
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1) Huge General Strike Against the Modi Government on January 8, 2020
By François Forgue
January 8, 2020 will remain a landmark date in the class struggle in India. In this country-continent of more than 1.3 billion people of great diversity (more than 30 languages, multiple religions), the unity of the exploited and oppressed was affirmed on this day from the southern tip of the country to the borders with China, at the call of the organized trade union movement.
The main trade union centers as well as the independent trade union organizations  called for a 24-hour general strike against the anti-worker policies of the Modi government, which are liquidating social gains and privatizing massively to the benefit of local and foreign financial powers.
Tens of millions of workers [with some union estimates as high as 200 million striking workers — translator note] stopped working on January 8, not only in the sectors covered by collective-bargaining agreements or civil service contracts (banks, railways, large Indian or foreign industrial companies), but also in the “informal” sector, where there are no rights or labor laws.
What gives this day a historic dimension is that the general strike was an opportunity to rally not only against the government’s anti-worker measures, but also against the anti-democratic measures aimed at reducing the country’s 200 million Muslims to second-class citizens.
The protest against these discriminatory measures first arose in the universities: students came out in defense of democratic freedoms and the unity of India itself. Despite police violence and attacks by right-wing extremist groups, the protest movement grew. But until the eve of January 8 the official leaders of the trade union movement considered this struggle as separate from the workers’ demands.
On January 8, workers and youth imposed, in the strike and in the streets, the unity between these different aspects of the same struggle: to put an end to the reactionary plans of the Modi government subordinated to imperialism, which supposes not separating democratic demands and social demands.
The working class needs democracy and unity to make its demands prevail. Only the working class, championing and heading the struggle of all the exploited and oppressed, can defend democracy and unity in India.
(1) In India, the trade union centers (or federations) are linked to different political parties. There are also “independent” trade unions not affiliated to these centers.
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2) “The Fight Against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)”
by Nambiath Vasudevan, trade unionist in Mumbai (India) and coordinator of the International Workers Committee Against War and Exploitation, For a Workers International (IWC)
(reprinted from Issue No. 147 — Jan. 10, 2020 — of the IWC Newsletter)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu right wing government passed a Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in parliament on December 11 denying citizenship to Muslim immigrants living in India. Using CAA, the Modi government plans to create a National Population Register (NPR) and later National Register of Citizens (NRC) in a calculated manner to exclude Muslims. People belonging to all religions, students, teachers, youth, lawyers, doctors, scientists, artists are in the streets opposing CAA, NPR and NRC, demanding the withdrawal of government move to discriminate citizens based on religion.
Immediate effect of the CAA and NRC will be felt in the north eastern state of India, Assam. People of Assam and neighbouring areas have opposed the new law, and the opposition protest led to police firing when two deaths were reported and several injured and large number of people were arrested. Government-imposed curfew and armed forces are brought to contain protests.
The eastern state of Assam is on the border of Bangladesh. There are many Hindu and Muslim Bangladeshis in Assam as also in many parts of India. Besides Bangladeshis in Assam and elsewhere, in India there are migrants from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Tibet. In 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh. At a time when Bangladeshis revolted against the military crackdown in East Pakistan in the beginning of 1970s, India had allowed Bangladeshis to cross over to the Indian territory. After the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 many Bangladeshis continued to live in India and many more came thereafter and settled within India.
Apart from Bangladeshi migrants Bengalis from India’s West Bengal also settled in Assam. Indigenous Assamese resented the swelling of Bengalis and other outsiders in Assam. Violent agitations took place in Assam to protect the local Assamese language and their indigenous cultural identity. The agitation ended when an agreement was reached to identify the non-Assames. As per a decision of the Supreme Court of India a National Register of Citizens (NRC) was prepared. After a lengthy process the NRC revealed there were 1.9 million people who did not have required documents to prove they were Indian citizens. Out of this 1.9 million, 1.5 million turned out to be Hindus. Hindus were BJP’s vote base. Thus, deporting 1.5 million Hindus from Assam was politically suicidal for the Modi government.
Hence, in a clever move, on December 11, BJP bulldozed the parliament resulting in Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) coming into force which act would legitimise Hindus’ right to Indian citizenship and denying citizenship right to Muslims. Such religious discrimination is not permissible under the constitution. But, in order to justify the majoritarian supremacy in parliament, the BJP argued that Hindus who crossed the border to India were the persecuted minority in Muslim-ruled Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan — and they had sought asylum in India because of such persecution. It is India’s duty and obligation to grant citizenship to migrant Hindus, BJP claimed. No evidence was produced to establish whether Hindus were persecuted in the countries from where they came to India and whether they sought asylum on the ground of persecution. Strangely, those born in India were definitely not persecuted. Afghanistan does not even share a border with India.
Yet non-Muslims who migrated from Afghanistan would be eligible for Indian citizenship under the new CAA. That raised the question, if persecution was the only criterion for according Indian citizenship, why persecuted Muslims cannot be granted citizenship in India. India did not accept Monghyars from Myanmar. What is still worse, in the amended law there is no provision for citizenship to Hindus settled in India from Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka Hindus are a minority. The discrimination in the matter of citizenship has angered people throughout the country.
Stateless citizens would be dumped in detention camps. In Assam detention camps are already in operation. BJP has allocated funds to create detention camps in other states too. This too has angered people.
People still remember the world’s largest exodus that took place in 1947 when British imperialists divided India in 1947 into India and Pakistan, when they had to wind up their colonial rule after 250 years. The division on religious lines had left scars, and Kashmir continued to be a disputed issue ever since. A free India adopted a constitution in 1949 and chose to be a sovereign democratic, secular, socialist republic. BJP’s parent organisation, RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), never accepted the basic tenets of India’s constitution and considered secularism and socialism as alien to India’s ethos. India has 200 million Muslims living in different parts of the country in harmony.
People have come out in the streets throughout India against CAA, NPR and NCR. The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in confrontation with the people across the country.
The anger is not limited to the amendment in the citizenship act. CAA is just a trigger. The simmering discontent was evident from the time of demonetisation in 2016 and even before. India has been in the grip of imperialist globalisation since 1990 and is a victim of volatile global financial and trade vulnerabilities. Life of common man was always neglected. Less than 5% of the 1.3 billion people reaped the benefits of capitalist development agenda implemented by Modi and previous regimes.
India’s corporate bosses decided in 2014 to back Modi’s Prime Ministership, and they projected him as a model for development, to end political corruption, bring about industrial growth as per the plan drawn up by the capitalists, to take bold steps in acquiring land for industry and reform labour laws, give push to privatisation, end public sector domination in defence, banks, insurance, transport, so on and so forth. Modi thundered in 2014 that he has a 56 inch chest to create a new India and carry 1.30 billion people for a better tomorrow. With the liberal financial support extended to Modi by the corporate houses, BJP won election and assumed power.
From the time BJP came to control the government in 2014, they implemented a series of sinister moves in a calculated manner fulfilling the demands of the corporate bosses on the one hand and concentrating attacks on Muslims and depicting all those opposed to BJP policies as anti nationals. Climate of intolerance and fear psychosis came to occupy prime political space. Hate against Muslims was in evidence. Indian Muslims were blamed for 1947 division of India, Kashmir imbroglio, disturbance at India’s border with Pakistan, and terrorism everywhere in all is manifestations.
Beef eating was banned in many BJP ruled states. Banning cow trade was projected as a big achievement. Muslims were lynched alleging they smuggled cows for slaughter and beef was found in their possession. BJP arrogated to itself as the only party defending nationalism and patriotism in India. The mass media controlled by the corporates sang virtues of Modi. Any criticism of the ruling dispensation came under severe attack. Just before the general election in 2019 Modi had boasted about surgical strikes against Pakistan and several BJP leaders vowed to retake Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and make it a part of India.
In the second term of Modi rule, in 2019, economic parameters further worsened. Unemployment rate stood at higher than what it was 45 years ago. GDP growth from 8% in 2014 has dropped to less than 5%. Senseless sudden and overnight demonetisation resorted to by Modi government whereby 85% of currency notes in circulation in November 2016 became invalid and thoughtlessly introduced one nation one tax, General Goods and Service Tax (GST) have played havoc with the economy. These steps resulted in ruining many industries, and more than 20 million jobs were lost. People suffered and more than 106 died due to demonetisation cues in front of banks. Sadly, the government has always been in a denial mode despite their own economists and financial experts declaring the dangers ahead.
In 2014 Modi received support from middle class and young voters who were fed up with a plethora of financial scams prevailing then. Modi assured jobs to one and all and offered to bring back black money stacked in Swiss banks and remit 1.5 million lakh rupees (20,000 euros) to every Indian’s account. During 5 year rule people experienced jobless growth and price rise on the one hand and the poisonus hate political atmosphere created by Modi clique which alienated the younger generation who backed Modi earlier.
Modi government has no answer to peoples’ demands for jobs, social welfare, better health, education. Routinely Modi spoke about his determination to teach Pakistan a lesson, indulged in tasteless theatrics branding all his critics as anti nationals and supporters of terrorism. Modi and BJP rejected Nehru legacy and always praised Mahatma Gandhi and some other national icons. But when one BJP member of parliament eulogised Gandhi’s killer as a patriot recently while speaking in parliament, Modi remained silent.
With a view to divert attention from major live issues affecting people, Modi government in August this year ended the special status enjoyed by Kashmir since 1947 and bifurcated Kashmir State into three parts and imposed complete communication ban on Kashmiri people. Kashmir is a muslim majority stat, and Modi government took this calculated decision with an eye on Hindu votes in other parts of the country. Political leaders of all hues and activists in Kashmir were thrown into detention camps. Even after five months Kashmir continues under military control.
Muslims received another blow when Triple talaq was made a criminal act. This legislation was passed under the pretext of liberating muslim women from the inhuman system of divorce but the real aim was to project Muslim men as criminals and punish them. In reality a miniscule number of muslims married thrice and indulged in Triple talaq.
It was BJP’s long standing agenda to build a temple for Hindu god Ram, perceived to have born at a place in Ayodhya where a mosque stood for 500 years. Hindu fanatics demolished Babri mosque in 1992. Recently the Supreme Court of India ruled that the land belonging to Babri mosque should be given to Hindus to build Ram temple and Muslims are entitled to alternate land in the vicinity. This decision also boosted BJP arrogance.
All the above developments took place after June 2019. The abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution pertaining to Kashmir and the prolonged lock-down there, including the incarceration of all opposition leaders, did not go well with people opposed to BJP. While the people of Kashmir were denied every right to decide their destiny, Modi government bulldozed all criticism and claimed that Kashmir has been liberated from anti-national forces.
Coupled with the above, the government decided to attack university students critical of the government policies. For the last two months students in the universities in Delhi have been opposing steep hike in fees and other facilities. They were up in arms against the high handed approach of university authorities. During the first five year term of Modi government, RSS managed to place their followers to control the administration of educational institutions, and their henchmen were appointed as Vice Chancellors and administrators. BJP’s efforts to control Delhi students unions failed. Students elected councils packed with those opposed to RSS ideology. Students opposed the RSS understanding that ancient India had planes, televisions and technical supremacy. Many who supported BJP began to feel that Modi government was taking India backward. The government took measures to rewrite history claiming India’s ancient past has provided answers to the new generation’s problems.
The new generation rejected this. Students in the elite Indian educational institutes were opposing Kashmir lock down. Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, turned out to be the chosen one for Modi assault. Students intensified their protest. On December 15 Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamiya University students were protesting against the authorities. To control the protest Delhi Police (Delhi police is under the direct control of Modi government) entered hostels and library of Jamia university and brutally attacked girl and boy students.
Entering the college premises by the police without permission from the college authorities is strictly prohibited. Many students were injured. They were to be hospitalised. The news of police brutality spread. Students from Jamia and other Delhi universities came out in the streets and clashed with the police. December 15 found a full night agitation at Jamia gates in Delhi. Public in the surrounding areas and parents joined the agitation. Several were injured in police firing. Agitation of students against police atrocity soon spread to other universities. This agitation got linked up with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The agitation against CAA, NPR and NCR gathered momentum in Kolkata. The Chief Minister of the state of West Bengal led the protests, where hundreds of thousands marched in the streets.
From December 15 India against CAA has changed the political landscape of India. Uttar Pradesh (UP) is the largest state in India. It is a BJP state. The state’s Chief Minister, a Hindu priest, openly declared that every protester will be punished. In the police firing in different parts of UP 19 people have been killed so far. More than 70 have been badly injured. 7,000 people are detained. The government, acting with vengeance, has decided to impose summary punishment to protesters, confiscate their property apart from levying on them huge fines alleging they were responsible for burning vehicles and buildings belonging to the government. BJP-ruled states are brutally attacking peaceful demonstrators.
In Karnataka (BJP ruled state in South India) 2 deaths occurred in police firing. Protest has become a daily feature in several towns and cities including Bangalore. Against such brutality people in their thousands are in the street in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and in every city and town throughout India. In the forefront of the protest everywhere are students and youth belonging to Hindus and Muslims. They have raised their voice to protect democracy, secularism and the plural culture of India. Millions of citizens, irrespective of their age, religion and caste, have joined the mass upsurge against Modi government – NO CAA,NO NPR, NO NCR. Slogans are against fascism, majoritarian rule. General political orientation of the protest is left leaning as Rightist forces are in power.
The government has branded protesters as apologists to Congress and supporters of Maoists, branded the leftists as Urban Naxals. A number of activists and independent thinkers were arrested and jailed under draconian laws.
BJP has called upon its followers to hold pro CAA demonstrations. Simultaneous anti-CAA and pro- CAA demonstrations are taking place throughout India. In Mumbai, Anti-CAA protest on December 27 found over 30,000 people. This was held in a ground near the city centre. BJP held a pro CAA rally on December 27 in Mumbai led by former Chief Minister of Maharashtra in another ground 2 kilometers away. According to police report BJP rally had 6,000 people. On August 19 Mumbai witnessed unique protest action of several thousands. Protests continue every day resembling such protests in Chile, Hong Kong, Baghdad, Lebanon.
No law in India can be implemented without the cooperation of the state governments. States of Kerala, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Orissa and many others which have non-BJP governments have announced their non-cooperation in the implementation of Federal government decisions discriminating against Muslims. This would mean CAA, NPR and CNR would remain in statute book. NPR is essential for census 2021. India holds census every 10 years. But the present NPR format has asked for information which would damage the citizenship rights of Hindus and Muslims alike, hence it is rejected by the people and the state governments. In other words the census itself would not take place if the federal government stuck to its present adamant stand.
Barring BJP, all political parties are opposed to CAA, NPR and NCR. From January 1 to 8 there would be nationwide protest actions called for by the political parties. This would involve rural as well as urban population throughout the length and breadth of the country. On January 8 trade unions have decided to organise strike by workers in all sectors. CAA, NPR, and NCR have become national issues. In Mumbai, erstwhile BJP ally, Shiv Sena, too is gearing up to make January 8 strike a complete show of strength. Maharashtra state government is headed by the Shiv Sena supremo and coalition partners are two wings of the Congress.
Some months ago TIME magazine’s cover described Modi as a great DIVIDER. Modi has proved TIME cover story right. People in India are opposing division of the country based on religion. It is going to be a long drawn-out battle.
— Nambiath Vasudevan
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3) On the Origins of the India-Pakistan Conflict
(reprinted from Issue no. 18 (November 2019) of The Internationale, the theoretical magazine of the OCRFI)
The current Indian government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government headed by Narendra Modi, is undoubtedly one of the most reactionary governments that the country has seen since the creation of the Republic of India in 1947. This government is an ally of US imperialism in its wish to isolate China. In India itself, the Modi government is continuously attacking the rights of the working class, is widely opening up the country to imperialist penetration and is carrying out more and more privatisations.
From another aspect, this government is also deeply reactionary. The BJP is a Hindu party, in other words it considers that only those who practise the Hindu religion deserve to be fully recognised as Indian citizens.
Among the most recent events, there is the Modi government’s decision [on 5 August 2002] to abolish the special status of the Indian state of Kashmir (the exact name of which is the state of Jammu and Kashmir). Let us remember that India is a federal State. This territory in the north of India, the majority of whose inhabitants practise the Muslim religion but which also contains a large proportion of Hindus and Buddhists, has been claimed by both the Republic of India and Pakistan. The special status which the state of Kashmir enjoyed, and which allowed its state parliament to pass laws which did not come under federal authority, was derived from the fact that formally, India considered its control over Kashmir to only be provisional, and that this had to be confirmed by a consultation with the population – which has not happened for 70 years.
There is also the decision taken this summer to strip Indian citizenship from around 2 million inhabitants of Assam state who originated from Bangladesh or were descendants of families from Bangladesh. The overwhelming majority of the victims of this decision were Muslim.
The Modi government’s policy is aimed at worsening the tensions in India between Muslims and Hindus in order to divide the workers and weaken the resistance to its anti-working-class policy.
In the case of Kashmir, its existence as part of India has only been within the framework of permanent crisis: in the name of the struggle against all those who call for an independent Kashmir or declare publicly in favour of uniting it with Pakistan, the Indian army has continually engaged in brutal acts of violence against the population.
But the decision of 5 August triggered an escalation. There was a total news black-out for weeks: no TV, no newspapers, internet connections cut. Arbitrary mass arrests of leaders of the main local political parties and trade union officials. Today, the Indian government is talking about “a return to normality”, but in fact the country remains under a state of siege. It involves a challenge to the Indian Constitution itself (since the particular situation in Kashmir was based on Article 370 of the Constitution) which threatens the federal character of the State, since it could be used in the future against any state whose government might be clashing with the central government.
The BJP is therefore opposing the principles for which the Republic of India stood – including the principle of secularism declaring that the State was independent of the various religions practised in India. But it should not be forgotten that these declarations fell within the context of recognition and acceptance by the Congress Party (the party of Nehru) of a partition that was carried out precisely on religious lines. In fact, justification of the partition of India, and therefore the formation of Pakistan, rested on the fact of considering that Muslims formed a nation having the right to its own State.
At the root of recent events there is therefore the partition of India. This is why we are republishing in this issue of The Internationale an article by Comrade François Forgue that was devoted to this question and appeared in Issue No.31 (new series) of La Vérité-The Truth, in October 2002.
The Root-Cause of the Kashmir Question: Partition
By François Forgue
When British imperialism had to give up its direct rule, in 1947, over the whole of what until then it had referred to as the British Indian Empire, it did not do so willingly in any way. It gave way in the face of the revolutionary upsurge that was developing throughout the Subcontinent, from Chittagong to Delhi, from Lahore to Madras, and sweeping through the most industrialised big centres, bastions of the working class, like Bombay and Calcutta. The “transition period” that had been anticipated initially was cut short. The British government declared itself ready to transfer power into Indian hands “in June 1948 at the latest”. Things went even faster. On 18 June 1947, the Indian Independence Act was passed by the British Parliament. On 15 August 1947, independence was declared. (1)
But, in keeping with the plan prepared by the last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, the disappearance of the British Indian Empire was sealed with the constitution of two politically independent States: India (as we know it today in terms of its borders) and Pakistan (at that time composed of West Pakistan – today’s Pakistan – and East Pakistan, which would become Bangladesh in 1971). This partition was intended to be carried out along religious lines of separation. The State of Pakistan was presented as the state for Muslims living in the territory of the former British Indian Empire.
At the time of partition, a little over one-quarter of the population living within the framework of the then-British Indian Empire were Muslim. Although Muslims were in the majority in some provinces, there was no purely Muslim enclave, and there were more or less large Muslim minorities in every one of the regions. Throughout its history, the whole of what forms India had organically included a Muslim component, therefore uniting Muslims and Hindus. Different geographical parts and different nationalities were not determined by ethnic origin or religious or cultural reference-points. Two of the main component parts of India, the Punjab and Bengal (which had constituted historical and linguistic units) brought together Muslims, Hindus and others. It was Britain’s colonial policy that gave an institutional form to the separation between Hindus and Muslims, with the two electoral colleges created at the start of the 20th century. (2) It was this policy which British imperialism, faced with the revolutionary movement of the masses, would take to another level by setting up the “religious communities” as “potential nations”, relying on the orientation of some feudal lords and Muslim big bourgeois, who propagated the “two nations” theory (one “Muslim” nation and one “Hindu” nation).
It should be emphasised that in 1940 this position was a minority view among the Muslim population. At that time, a conference of Muslim parties opposed the idea of a separate State, declaring itself in favour of India as the “common whole land of all the citizens irrespective of race or religion.” (3)
In practice, partition carried out according to the religious criteria mentioned above happened at the cost of a terrible “ethnic cleansing”, to use the modern term. Two of the main components of the constitution of India and its history, the Punjab – where the Sikhs, a religious minority, were rooted – and Bengal, were torn apart. Millions of people, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims were thrown into the chaos of a tragic exodus. It is estimated that 1 million of them did not survive the journey…
Partition was imperialism’s ultimate weapon for maintaining its indirect rule. Although the revolutionary upheavals produced by the Second World War created unexpected conditions, partition had been under preparation for a long time. British colonialism has always known how to find the means to divide those whom it was subjugating. The national movement led by elements of the Indian bourgeoisie (the Congress Party) had first asserted itself as a political force by opposing an initial division of Bengal (an administrative division separating the regions where Muslims were in a majority from other regions), in 1905.
It was then that the British government, granting limited selective suffrage for local elections, created a “double college” (Muslims and non-Muslims), a measure that was opposed at the time by the majority of Muslim Indians.
Regarding partition, French historian and economist Charles Bettelheim wrote the following, in his 1968 book India independent:
“This partition displayed several artificial features. It made each of the two States much weaker than a united India could have been. However, the whole history of the preceding years shows that the British government spared no effort to make partition politically inevitable. In this way, it hoped to more easily maintain its control over both young States.”
From this viewpoint, British imperialism’s plan was certainly effective: it provoked and still provokes enormous suffering for the peoples of the whole region, and the consequences of partition appear today, with renewed intensity, in direct relation with the world situation as has been formed in recent years and as has been expressed since 11 September 2001.
On the other hand, the reality of the developments since partition has seen the failure of partition in terms of the objectives which supposedly justified it. Today, there are around 120 million Muslim Indians, scattered in every one of India’s states. The creation of Bangladesh in 1971 is consistent with the fact that it was impossible to maintain a State on purely religious criteria.
The military dictatorship in Pakistan sought to impose West Pakistan’s official language on Bengal. The Bengali people’s defence of their right to speak their language led to the movement which resulted in the constitution of independent Bangladesh in 1971.
As has already been noted, the so-called “two nations” position was a minority view, including among the Muslims of India. The Muslim League, which advocated the need for two States, only became powerful during the war years, being designated a “valid interlocutor” by the British when the Congress Party was thrown into illegality after the 1942 uprising. (4) (…)
Only the Fourth International, in a manifesto dated 26 September 1942, saluted the heroic struggle of the Indian people, of the workers and peasants, called for solidarity with them and compared their struggle to the explosion of the Russian Revolution. (…)
The Communist Party’s betrayal left control of the national movement in the hands of the Congress Party. The latter agreed to the form in which the independence of India would be established. Firstly, the installation in 1946 of an Interim Government, for which the Congress Party was responsible, while real power remained in the hands of the British, their army and their administrators. Then, the rejection of any assembly elected by universal suffrage. The name “Constituent Assembly” was given to the institution that was supposed to control the executive put in place by the Congress Party. But it was a Constituent Assembly in name only.
One part of the assembly that was christened “Constituent Assembly” was composed of 292 members elected in the second degree by the British provincial legislative assemblies, which themselves had been elected by selective suffrage (just one-fifth of the adult population could vote) in 1946. It was therefore a colonial construction. The other main component part (5) was formed by the 93 representatives of the princely states. In fact, the British administration of the whole Subcontinent included – alongside the Empire as such – a series of principalities, ranging from small territories to vast entities, which existed in a subsidiary alliance with the Empire. It was the sovereigns of those territories (hence the name “princely states”) who would decide on their integration into one or the other of the two States, in the name of partition.
This is the direct root-cause of the Kashmir question. Kashmir was one of the princely states. It had its own language: Kashmiri. Its Sultan was Hindu and the majority of the population Muslim.
At first, the Sultan chose independence. But, facing the threat of an uprising, he called on Indian troops while the Pakistani army was also entering the territory of Kashmir. The first Indo-Pakistani War (1947-8) ended in a partition that involved the UN, which gave the assurance that the population would be consulted. It never was.
Since then, Kashmir has focused the disputes between the two States, Indian and Pakistani. It was the direct occasion for two wars (1947-8 and 1965) and one armed conflict, in 1999 (the so-called Kargil Crisis, opened by the fact that in May 1999, Indian troops discovered the presence of armed elements in strategic heights located in Indian territory).
The Kashmir question is only the tip of the iceberg. Partition and its consequences entail the fact that the two States that were created by the act of partition are permanently defined by their opposition to each other. This tension between the two States, which is incorporated into their very existence, has always marked their relations and has always constituted a leverage-point for dividing the urban and rural working masses and diverting them from action in their own interests, thus providing the means for implementing the most reactionary of measures.
Let us repeat, partition was carried out in the face of the unleashing of revolution in India. It is no accident that the partition of India happened in 1947, the same year that Palestine was torn apart, at a time when the revolutionary wave that formed in the final period of the Second World War was sweeping across the world, when the struggle of the peoples for their emancipation was breaking up the old colonial empires. Imperialism – while at the same time relying on the Stalinist bureaucracy and the policy of its parties – resorted to religion-based division, putting forward the idea of a State founded on religion, on the notion of race. It was this reactionary ideology that was developed to justify the partition of Palestine as well as that of India. Moreover, in an editorial in the review Quatrième Internationale [Fourth International] condemning the partition of Palestine and calling for a struggle “for a united independent Palestine, in which the masses will freely determine their fate for the election of a Constituent Assembly”, the link was made with imperialism’s plans in the Indian Subcontinent:
“Like in India, partition has proved to be the most effective means of diverting both the struggle of the Arab masses and the discontent of the Jewish working population from an anti-imperialist explosion towards fratricidal struggle.” (6) The struggle of the workers and peasants of India, “the classic colonial country as England is the classic metropolis” (7), had always been crucially important to the great Russian revolutionary and the militant activists who regrouped with him against Stalinist degeneration, and then for the constitution of the Fourth International. In 1930, Leon Trotsky produced a study of the emancipatory struggle of the Indian people and the role of the working class in that struggle, entitled “The Revolution in India – Its Tasks and its Dangers”.
In it, he wrote: “Just as in the older bourgeois countries, the various racial stocks that exist in India can only be fused into a nation by means of a binding political revolution.”
Indeed, the whole territory over which Britain exercised its rule was not only immense, but also geographically diverse. It encompassed different peoples, sometimes combined under an empire, but which experienced specific developments. When India obtained its political unity, the Constitution recognised 18 different languages (written languages with their own literature). It was the struggle against the common enemy, British colonialism, which welded them together and opened up the path to their merger into one nation through revolution. But which revolution?
It was the revolution that began in 1942. It was against this revolution that imperialism – benefiting from the agreement of the national bourgeoisie and its political leaders – raised the obstacle of partition. Trotsky went on:
“But in contradistinction to the older countries, this revolution in India is a colonial revolution directed against foreign oppressors. Besides this, it is the revolution of a historically belated nation in which the relations of feudal serfdom, caste divisions and even slavery exist alongside of the class antagonisms of the bourgeoisie and proletariat which have grown greatly in the last period.
(…) In reality, the necessity of throwing off the system of imperialist oppression which, with all its roots intertwined with the old Indian exploitation, demands the greatest revolutionary effort on the part of the Indian masses and by that itself assures a gigantic swing of the class struggle.
(…) If India is a component element in the internal rule of the British bourgeoisie, then on the other hand, the imperialist rule of British capital over India is a component element of the internal order of India. The question cannot at all be reduced to one of the mere expulsion of some tens of thousands of foreign exploiters. They cannot be separated from the internal oppressors, and the harder the internal oppressors and the harder the pressure of the masses will become, the less will the latter want to separate. (…) [I]n India the struggle with imperialist oppressions grows out of the countless masses of the oppressed and semi-pauperized peasantry, out of the necessity of liquidating the feudal landlords, their agents and intermediaries, the “chinovniks” [imperial bureaucrats] and sharks. The Indian peasant wants a “just” distribution of land. That is the basis of democratism. And this is at the same time the social basis of the democratic revolution as a whole.
(…) Passive resistance of the peasantry as well as its bloody uprisings can be turned into a revolution only under the leadership of the urban class, which thus becomes the leader of the revolutionary nation and, after the victory, the bearers of the revolutionary power.”
This perspective began to find a specific expression in the midst of war. As we have seen, the first wave of the revolution was held in check through a combination of repression and the open betrayal by the Indian CP. But as the war moved to its end in April 1945, and following the surrender of Japan, the movement picked up from the point it had reached in 1942. A revolutionary wave swept across the whole of India.
In the autumn of 1945, the working class began to command centre stage, combining its social demands with its struggle for independence: strikes broke out in every big city, in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Delhi.
In July 1946, there was a general strike by postal and telegraph workers, followed by a strike by bank employees, then a railworkers’ strike in August. There were 1,960,000 strikers in 1946, and 2,215,000 in 1947.
A revolutionary situation was spreading across the whole of India. When the masses went on the move and organised for their objectives in struggle, the division that had been carefully maintained between “Muslims” and “Hindus” was challenged by the joint action of the workers. The Congress Party feared the radicalisation of the masses above all. Gandhi (8) had denounced as “thoughtless” the demonstrations in which Hindus and Muslims marched shoulder-to-shoulder to support the mutinying sailors of the Royal Indian Navy (9) in February 1946. But the Congress Party could only contain the movement of the masses if they felt that they could win. On its side, British imperialism dreaded being dragged into a colonial war spanning a whole continent.
The British government gave up maintaining a controlled independence process that would extend over several years.
On 2 September 1946 the Interim Government was formed, headed by Nehru, but the situation continued to deteriorate. The struggle between “communities”, the religious rivalries which the British policy had encouraged for years, were used directly against the revolutionary movement. Pogroms against Muslims, anti-Hindu reprisals: the threat of a terrible fratricidal war grew stronger. The forces of repression, normally so quick to fire on unarmed demonstrations, proved very slow to react.
As the country slid towards chaos, the British government decided to speed up the abandoning of its rule over India.
On 15 August 1947, independence was declared. The Interim Government became the Indian national government. The Congress Party headed independent India’s first government. Partition was carried out simultaneously, in the conditions referred to earlier.
The Fourth International, which had been the only organisation to call for international solidarity with the Indian Revolution, especially in Britain and the United States (10), fought so clearly against partition, which it had condemned straight away, just as it had in the case of Palestine.
Thus, the 24 May 1947 issue of New Spark, the publication of the section of the Fourth International in India, wrote:
“It is high time to openly condemn this plan to dismember India. The religio-communal partition of India is an unrelievedly regressive act. Demanding the cutting-up of the living bodies of the crystallising nationalities in India is just as criminal as demanding the populating of Pakistan thanks to the transfer of populations. The demand by Congress to partition the Punjab and Bengal has been found to be very ingenious and has been commended. The fact is that this demand is ultra-reactionary. Hindu communalism cannot be the antidote to Muslim communalism. A united Punjab and a united Bengal in a unified India is the only progressive path to follow. As this plan stands, the principle of the nationalities’ right to self-determination is violated on every side: it serves neither the self-determination of India as a whole, nor the self-determination of the nationalities which constitute it.
The inter-communal riots that are raging currently in India are the inevitable result of an effort to resolve the India issue from the top, without addressing the masses and acting over their heads. The urgent issues for India of national liberation, the abolition of private land ownership and the elimination of the feudal states can only be truly solved by the revolutionary struggle of the masses. Revolution, like childbirth, is a natural process. The attempt to stop it is leading to serious complications. The revolution in India, late in coming, did not develop in 1942, for various reasons. Its birth pangs, felt once again in the Royal Indian Navy mutiny, were effectively suppressed through artificial intervention. The India issue, which includes a legacy of several centuries of oppression, cannot be resolved through a bureaucratic patch-up. Whatever the final British plan may be, it can only complicate the situation further, sowing the seeds of discord, of future disturbances. The India issue can only be resolved through the intervention of the masses.”
Once partition had been brutally completed – and attempts were made to justify the haste with which the dismembering of India was carried out by the need to stop the massacres, while in fact it led to even greater massacres – the section of the Fourth International did not accept the fait accompli by describing it as “inevitable”. On the contrary, it opened a perspective that allowed division to be overcome and the India issue to be resolved de democratically. (…)
The position of the Fourth International contrasted strongly with those who accepted partition. It contrasted strongly because its starting-point was the interests of the whole Subcontinent, irrespective of differences of ethnic origin, language or religion.
More than half a century has passed since then. The international situation in which the developments in the Subcontinent are occurring is profoundly different to the one that prevailed in 1947. The States that resulted directly from partition, India and Pakistan, and the other States that have been created in the Subcontinent, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, have experienced a history of different phases in their relations with imperialism and with each other. The working class has fought for its rights within the framework of each of those States, and has achieved gains, guarantees and limitations on exploitation in each State’s body of legislation.
Not one of the problems that were posed in 1945-7 has been resolved by division into States based on religious criteria. And this applies not only to the States which arose directly from partition, but to the whole Subcontinent.
It is in this sense that the questions posed by those who opposed partition have lost none of their validity, even in a new context. How can the peoples of the Subcontinent frustrate the manoeuvres aimed at setting them against each other, how can they unite in the struggle against their common enemies? (…)
Defending the workers’ demands in both India and Pakistan, defending an independent policy for the working class, first of all involves fighting against war and for peace. This is why the fact that Pakistani and Indian trade unionists belonging to various organisations have jointly condemned the warmongering policy of their governments, that they have jointly called for peace and establishing fraternal relations between the peoples of the Subcontinent, is so important. It is the primary precondition for effective resistance to block imperialism’s plans to take over, destroy and dismember.
It is the joint resistance by the workers and peasants of the whole Subcontinent – their practical rejection of a future of ruin presented to them by Afghanistan, their fight against imperialist domination which is the very expression of the system based on private ownership of the means of production – that provides the basis for action to overcome the consequences of partition, in other words, to move towards establishing relations between free peoples that will be freely decided upon.
It can only be the sovereign peoples who can democratically determine the forms and conditions of their unity, starting from their common interests – which go against imperialist domination and capitalist exploitation – and rejecting any division that goes against those common interests in the name of religion, language or ethnic origin.
(La Vérité-The Truth, Issue No.31, October 2002)
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(1) Until 1947, the British Indian Empire constituted the main colonial possession of British imperialism. The governor of this vast territory was the Viceroy of India. Lord Mountbatten would be the last person to exercise this function. Britain had begun to establish its colonial rule in India as early as the 17th century. Its rule covered the whole of the country at the end of the first half of the 19th century. It was during the last two decades of its rule that a national movement, the Indian National Congress, was constituted, led by representatives of the national bourgeoisie.
(2) Two electoral colleges, one for Hindus and the other for Muslims, were set up for elections to the provincial assemblies established by the colonial government.
(3) The Azad Muslims’ Conference (Independent Muslims’ Conference) took place in Delhi on 27-30 April 1940, with 1,400 delegates from almost all parts of India, and was referred to even in the British press as being a very representative gathering of Indian Muslims.
(4) In 1942, in the middle of the Second World War, the Congress Party’s leadership launched a campaign under the slogan “Quit India!”, putting pressure on British imperialism to obtain broad autonomy. It was overtaken by the masses, who transformed this movement into a widespread uprising against imperialism. The latter responded with violent repression, largely facilitated by the attitude of the Indian Communist Party, which condemned the uprising in the name of “unity in the anti-fascist war”, thus leaving the struggle for independence in the hands of the Congress Party.
(5) There were an additional four representatives from the chief commissioner provinces of Delhi, Ajmer-Merwara, Coorg and British Baluchistan.
(6) Editorial in the November-December 1947 issue of the review Quatrième Internationale.
(7) Leon Trotsky, “The Revolution in India – Its tasks and its dangers”, 30 May 1930.
(8) Gandhi (1869-1948) was one of the main leaders of the Congress Party, and advocated respect for “Indian traditions”, notably the caste system. Nehru (1884-1964), another Congress Party leader who headed the first Indian government after independence, represented the modernist face of a similar policy, the search for an agreement with imperialism.
(9) The Royal Indian Navy was part of Britain’s Royal Navy.
(10) Because in those two countries, the possibility existed to express oneself legally in the press – limited by censorship, of course – on the subject of the Indian revolution. Let us not forget, however, that in the case of Occupied France, the underground newspaper of the French Trotskyists, La Vérité [The Truth], expressed its solidarity with the struggle of the Indian workers and people.