The Communist Party of India was clearly taken aback by the abrupt move of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to kick-start year-long centenary celebrations to mark the formation of the original Communist Party of India.
The CPI insists that the Communist Party of India was not formed on October 17, 1920, as the CPI(M) claims, but instead on December 26, 1925.
“Is it not strange that a party that is only 58 years old is celebrating 100 years,” asked Panniyan Raveendran, the former state secretary of the CPI. The CPI(M) was formed when the unified CPI split in 1964.
But there is a reason why the CPI(M) "acts strange" and swears by 1920. It wants to historically set right an old image issue. The Marxist party wants to definitively remove the anti-national tag that had somehow got stuck on it in the early post-Independence period.
Letters from a 'stooge'
Two events had provoked the traitor charge against the party: The Dange letters and the Indo-China war in 1962. These letters, supposedly written by the CPI stalwart S A Dange while he was in prison in 1924 and which were leaked to the press in 1964, show that one of the tallest CPI leaders was willing to collaborate with the British.
Ironically, the very same charge the Marxists hurl at the Hindu Mahasabha leader and the proponent of Hindutva Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
The CPM has never been able to easily swat away the charge of colluding with the British. The 'Leftist' faction in the unified CPI, which later became the CPI(M), had brandished the letters to force the resignation of Dange, the leader of the 'Rightists', from the post of party chairman.
But when they used the letters, they were also admitting that their leaders were willing to be British stooges. When Dange refused to yield, the 'Leftists' broke away and formed the CPI(M).
But what made the 'Leftists' to seize upon the Dange letters was the humiliation they had to endure during the Chinese incursion into Arunachal Pradesh in 1962.
Like all other parties in India, the 'Rightists' in the CPI led by Dange had backed Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and had condemned Mao Zedong. The 'Leftists', though they were not open in their support, were subtly pro-China.
A prominent 'Leftist' like E M S Namboodirippad had taken the stand that India should have taken the initiative to hold bilateral talks to sort out the boundary issue. The 'Leftists' then had to suffer the ignominy of being castigated as anti-national, and many were jailed. The 'Leftists' also believed that the police had taken the help of the 'Rightists' to round them up.
But the 'Rightists', who remained the CPI after the split, did not suffer from any such image complex. The CPI had always said that the Dange letters were forged. And during the war, they were clearly on India's side.
So, the image makeover is the CPI(M)'s sole burden. And for this, 1920 is critical. It was in 1921, a year after they claim that the CPI was formed, that complete Independence or 'Poorna Swaraj' declaration was first heard in India.
And this, the CPI(M) now wants to hammer home, was inspired by the first Communists.
“There was a mention of the formation of a communist party in Tashkent at the 36th meeting of the Indian National Congress in Ahmedabad in 1921,” CPI(M) veteran C P Narayanan said.
On October 17, 1920, right after the Second World Congress of the Communist International (Comintern), a seven-member organisation that adopted the name 'The Indian Communist Party' was formed in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The seven members were M N Roy, Evelyn Roy-Trent, Abani Mukherjee, Rosa Fitingov, Mohammad Ali, Mohamad Shafiq and Acharya.
Narayanan said that copies of the new party's manifesto, which demanded complete freedom from Britain and signed by both Roy and Abani, were circulated at the Congress meeting.
“The manifesto was so inspirational that the prominent progressive leader in the Congress, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, introduced a 'Poorna Swaraj' resolution at the Ahmedabad meeting.
This, however, was defeated by a majority led by Mahatma Gandhi,” Narayanan said.
Incidentally, it was Congress leader Hasrat Mohani, who was also a noted Urdu poet, who coined the slogan 'Inquilab Zindabad' (Long Live the Revolution).
'Poorna Swaraj' advantage
Yet another 'Poorna Swaraj' resolution, prodded on by Communist leaders, was moved at the Gaya conference of the Congress in 1922. This, too, was defeated. “It was only seven years later in 1929, at the Lahore conference, that the Congress finally passed the 'Poorna Swaraj' resolution,” Narayanan said.
Pushing the formation date to 1925, as the CPI insists, will deprive the Communists of their claim over the first two 'Poorna Swaraj' declarations. How can they stake claim if the party did not exist before 1921.
The attempt clearly is not just to remove the anti-national stamp but also to demonstrate that the early communists were more strident nationalists than even the Indian National Congress.
Unmindful of the CPI(M)'s keenness to get back into the heroic pages of history, the CPI says the date of formation has been long settled.
“There was a debate about the date of the party's formation during the fifties when the party was united,” Panniyan said. “Then, the central committee convened and constituted a sub-committee to conclusively settle the issue,” he said.
The report of the sub-committee stated that the Tashkent group was formed outside the country, had no units within and, therefore, could not be called an organic formation. The report said that the party can be called an Indian party only when it is formed in the country's soil.
Also, according to the CPI, the “Tashkent party” was only one of the many small militant communist groups that were sprouting all over the country and outside, both inspired and impatient with Mahatma Gandhi's ways.
“There were many other such groups, one in Calcutta led by Muzzafar Ahmed, another in Bombay led by S A Dange, another in Madras under Singaravelu Chettiar, and yet another in the United Provinces led by Shaukat Usmani,” Panniyan said.
All of these small groups were subsumed under a single umbrella at the communist conference in Cawnpore (now Kanpur) on December 26, 1925. It was at the Cawnpore meeting that the name Communist Party of India was adopted; in Tashkent, it was called Indian Communist Party.