75th anniversary of Independence:
India needs Liberation from the Colonial Legacy

Statement of the Central Committee of the Communist Ghadar Party of India, 15 August, 2022

India gained independence from colonial rule 75 years ago.  However, the economic relations, state institutions and the political process in the country continue to bear the stamp of the British Raj.

The land, labour and natural resources of the country continue to be exploited and plundered for the benefit of a wealthy minority, who are today headed by the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas, Adanis and other monopoly capitalists.  The economy of the country continues to be tied to the crisis-ridden capitalist-imperialist system.

The centralized bureaucracy and armed forces, laws, courts and jails which the British bourgeoisie created to oppress and rule over us remain intact. They have been used for the past 75 years for maintaining the rule of the Indian bourgeoisie, headed by the monopoly houses. Divide and rule remains the guiding principle of the rulers of independent India.  State-organised communal violence remains a preferred method of rule.

Many colonial laws remain intact, which violate the right to conscience and other human rights.  The Government of India Act of 1935, which was effectively the constitution of British India, remains the soul of the Constitution of independent India.   English remains the language in the higher courts, in higher education and dominates the job market.

Why is Indian society weighed down by the legacy of colonial rule 75 years after independence? To answer this question, it is necessary to study the situation which prevailed in 1947 in India and on the world scale, and the nature of the transfer of power which took place in August that year.

International and Indian Situation

The defeat of the fascist axis of Germany, Italy and Japan in the Second World War had created an extremely revolutionary situation on the world scale.  The people and army of the Soviet Union had inflicted a decisive defeat on Nazi Germany. Under the leadership of communist parties, people’s democratic republics were established in a number of countries of Eastern Europe. The liberation struggle in China was advancing towards victory. Through their bold leadership of the struggle against fascism, communists had gained the respect of the working people in many countries. Nations and peoples who were fighting for liberation from colonial, semi-colonial and neocolonial rule in Asia, Africa and Latin America were aspiring for socialism.

As the world war approached its end, the United States of America dropped atomic bombs on Japan to threaten the peoples of the world who were rising in revolution.  Using their military superiority, the US imperialists assumed the leadership of world imperialism.  They organised armed intervention in various parts of the world, to prevent newly independent nations and peoples from pursuing the path to socialism.

US imperialism intervened to brutally suppress the mass uprising in Greece and prop up a fascist regime there.  American troops carried out the bloody suppression of the Korean people’s liberation struggle, leading to the division of that nation and the establishment of a fascist regime in South Korea.

Within India, mass opposition to the colonial Raj had reached a peak.  Led by the Communist Party, workers’ strikes were breaking out in the textile industry and spreading to many other sectors.  Peasant movements were growing in various parts of the country under communist leadership, including Telengana in the south and Tebhaga in Bengal.

The British imperialists, who had been weakened by the world war, recognised that the days of direct colonial rule over India were numbered.  They did not want India, long considered to be their most precious possession, to break out of the imperialist system altogether.  They started planning how power can be transferred to those classes of Indians in whose interest it would be to perpetuate the colonial legacy and keep India within the imperialist system.

Expecting to ascend the throne vacated by the British, the industrial houses who headed the Indian bourgeoisie started planning the course of post-colonial development from 1943 itself.  They formulated their vision in a document called the Bombay Plan, written by leading representatives of the industrial houses, including J. R. D. Tata and G. D. Birla.

To create the conditions for capitalist industrial growth, the Bombay Plan advocated that public funds and foreign aid must be used to create a state sector of heavy industry and infrastructure.  It proposed to restrict imports of manufactured consumer goods, so that Indian big capitalists can dominate those markets and reap maximum profits.   The draft of the Bombay Plan was submitted to the British Viceroy for approval before it was published in two volumes, in 1944 and 1945.

Following the end of the world war, there was a rise in mass demonstrations demanding complete independence from colonial rule.  In 1946, a revolt by soldiers serving in the Royal Indian Navy shook the very foundation of British colonial rule and served to hasten the process of preparation for the transfer of power (See Box on The Naval Revolt).  The common fear of revolution brought the British imperialists and the Indian bourgeoisie together, to hurriedly execute the transfer of power.

The Naval Revolt of 1946

In February 1946, sailors or “ratings” of the Royal Indian Navy revolted against the British rulers.  From Bombay the revolt spread to Karachi and Calcutta. Thousands of workers thronged the streets in support of the naval ratings.

In less than 48 hours, 20,000 men took control of 78 ships and 21 shore establishments.  They replaced British flags with the combined flags of the Congress Party, Muslim League and the Communist Party.  The military troops of British India refused to fire on the sailors.  The mutiny sparked revolts in other branches of the armed forces.

To quell the rebellion, the British deployed their warship HMS Glasgow as well as RAF fighter planes.  They fired on the sailors and the people who had come out to support them, resulting in over 400 deaths and 1500 injured.

While communists extended support to the revolt, the leaders of the Congress Party and Muslim League condemned it.  They sent delegations to persuade the rebellious sailors to surrender.  They promised that none among them would be victimised, a promise that was never kept.   Even after independence, the governments of India and Pakistan refused to honour that promise. They prevented the dismissed men from joining the armed forces.  They even prevented the story of the naval revolt from being recorded in the history books.

Source: Pramod Kumar, 1946 Last War of Independence – Royal Indian Navy Mutiny, Roli Books Pvt Ltd., 2022.

Transfer of Power

The revolt in the Royal Indian Navy convinced the British imperialists that they could no longer rely on Indian soldiers to use force against fellow Indians who were fighting against British rule.  They immediately sent a Cabinet Mission to India, to work out the modalities for transferring power to the Indian big capitalists and big landlords.

As part of its exit strategy, the British bourgeoisie decided to partition the country into a Hindu majority India and a Muslim majority Pakistan.  Negotiating separately with the Congress Party and Muslim League, they persuaded rival factions of the Indian capitalists and landlords to accept this as the only way to gain political power.

The communal partition served to prevent revolution and drown the united struggles of the people in blood.  It served to sow the seeds of permanent conflict between the two newly independent neighbouring states. It served to keep South Asia weak, divided and remain a base for the imperialist offensive against the revolution and socialism on the world scale.

That the transfer of power served counter-revolutionary aims has been explicitly admitted by Lord Mountbatten, who was the last Viceroy of British India and the first Governor-General of independent India, until 21 June, 1948.  Many years later, Mountbatten is reported to have said during a press conference at the military college of South Carolina, USA:

The danger lies, as always, in subversion. It is much less since Indian independence. From that point of view, the withdrawal of Britain had strengthened India’s ability to destroy Communist cells and counteract Communist propaganda. They [the Congress rulers] put down the Communists whereas the British couldn’t without arousing the Indians’ sympathy for the Communists. “

[As reported in Hindustan Standard, 22 December, 1962]

Perpetuation of the Colonial Legacy

The Nehru government unleashed brutal repression against communists soon after independence.  It threw communists into jail and even murdered many of them in prison. It banned the Communist Party during the period when the Constitution was being drafted.

The Constituent Assembly which was entrusted with the task of formulating the Constitution of independent India was not elected by the people on the basis of universal franchise.  Some of its members had been nominated by the British Raj.  Others were those who had been elected to provincial legislative bodies of the British Raj.  They had been elected under British rule, when only a propertied minority of the population had voting rights. The majority of members of the Constituent Assembly represented the interests of the big capitalists and big landlords, who wanted to take over from the British and run the same system for their own benefit.

The 1950 Constitution defends the “right” of capitalists to accumulate private property through the exploitation of human labour, through the robbery of peasants and other small commodity producers, and through the loot and plunder of India’s natural resources.

The Constitution of independent India perpetuates the communal outlook of the British colonial state.  It considers Indian society as being made up of a Hindu majority, a Muslim minority and various other religious minorities.  There is even a sub-clause which declares that Sikhs and Jains are part of the Hindu majority.

The Indian bourgeoisie has preserved and further perfected the colonial arsenal of divide and rule tactics. Using the state to organise communal violence, portraying it as a riot, and then preaching communal harmony have all remained preferred methods of rule in independent India.

While India is called a “union of states”, there is no recognition of the national identity and rights of any of the constituents of the union. Any nation, nationality or people who demand their rights within the Indian Union have been treated as criminals.  They have been deemed to be a threat to national unity and the territorial integrity of India. The Constitution thus perpetuates the complete denial of the national identities and rights of the diverse peoples of this subcontinent.

The central Parliament is vested with supreme power over the definition of state boundaries. It has the power to break up existing states, create new states, or to reduce existing states to union territories. The overriding powers enjoyed by the centre over the states reflects the outlook and aims of the monopoly capitalists, who look upon the entire territory of post-partition India as their jagir.

While conceding the popular demand for universal adult franchise, the Constituent Assembly decided to perpetuate the political system which the British rulers had established to divide and rule over the Indian people. About three-fourths of the 1950 Constitution is a reproduction of the British Government of India Act of 1935.

The Indian bourgeoisie has used its enormous money and media power to determine election outcomes.  It has used elections to select that party or coalition of parties which can most effectively implement its agenda while fooling the people that their problems are being addressed.  Parties have periodically changed places between the ruling and opposition benches, but this has never led to any change in the capitalist orientation of the economy or in the growing violation of people’s rights.

Over the past 75 years, increasing concentration of capital has been accompanied by increasing concentration of political power.  Wielding the state inherited from colonial times, the big capitalists have developed capitalism, concentrated wealth in their hands, and grown into monopoly capitalists in pursuit of imperialist aims.  They have by now embraced the imperialist prescriptions of liberalisation and privatisation, shedding all pretensions of building some kind of socialism or a mixed economy. The so-called largest democracy stands highly exposed as the dictatorship of a small number of monopoly capitalists, Indian and foreign.

Indian monopoly capitalists collaborate and compete with foreign monopoly capitalists, both within India and in foreign markets.  In order to fulfil the imperialist ambitions of the monopoly bourgeoisie, the Indian state has entered into a strategic-cum-military alliance with US imperialism.

The bourgeoisie is dragging the country on an extremely dangerous course, in pursuit of extremely narrow interests and imperialist aims. They are intensifying the exploitation of workers and robbery of peasants to unbearable levels. They are resorting increasingly to brutal repression and arbitrary arrests using fascist laws.

 Conclusions

The end of British colonial rule was objectively a positive development.  It was a step forward.  However, it fell far short of what could have been achieved if the proletariat and not the bourgeoisie had led the anti-colonial struggle.

Looking back from the standpoint of today, it must be admitted that the communist movement failed to expose the treachery of the bourgeoisie in the period leading up to the transfer of power in 1947.  It failed to advance a revolutionary program to break with the colonial legacy and embark on the road of socialism under workers’ and peasants’ rule. In the absence of clear revolutionary leadership, the mass upsurge among workers, peasants and soldiers did not lead to the victory of revolution.

The task facing the communist movement today is not to cry about past failures but to take up the problem for solution today.  Our task is to make the proletariat and all the oppressed and exploited masses of people conscious of the need to break with the colonial legacy. India needs to break free from capitalism and the system of parliamentary democracy, which is in essence the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

The unity of communists must be restored around the revolutionary alternative to the status quo.  This requires a consistent ideological struggle against all forms of conciliation with bourgeois ideology, against glorification of the Constitution and creation of illusions about capitalism and parliamentary democracy.

The Communist Ghadar Party of India calls on all communists to unite around the program to establish workers’ and peasants’ rule, break out of the imperialist system, eliminate all remnants of feudalism and the caste system, and begin the transition from capitalism to socialism.

India needs Navnirman, a fresh beginning on a new foundation. The Indian Union must be reconstituted as a voluntary union which respects the national rights of each constituent. The Constitution must guarantee all democratic and human rights, including national rights.  It must vest sovereignty in the people. The political process must be transformed to make it possible for the masses of working people to exercise decision-making power.  The economy must be reoriented to fulfil the rising needs of the entire people and not to fulfil the greed of a minority of capitalists for maximum private profits.

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