The stand of the Communist parties comes under the spotlight whenever a conflict between India and China arises. Now, given the heightened tensions between the two countries, what is the position of the CPI? Party general secretary D Raja explains.
Whenever there is a dispute or conflict with China, the stance of the Communist parties in India comes into focus. The history of the CPI and CPM in India is in a way related to the happenings in China.
Communists were at the forefront of the freedom struggle in India. In fact, the ‘Purna Swaraj’ slogan was coined by the Communists.
The right-wing forces in the country never took part in the freedom struggle. In a way, they, in fact, helped the colonial forces.
No one can question the patriotism of the Communists in India.
India got Independence in 1947, and the revolution in China came to an end in 1948. The two nations wanted good ties. The ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ call of the 1950s was aimed at strengthening the relationship.
After Independence, India tried to achieve progress by ushering in an industrial revolution and through planning, while China opted to follow the Socialist path.
Within a decade of India’s independence and the Chinese revolution, the border dispute between the two countries became serious. It got worse in 1958-59.
The Indian government and the CPI were of the view that the McMahon Line should be considered as the border. However, China was not in favour of accepting it as the border as it was decided by the British.
In 1959, they started violating the McMahon Line. The dispute resulted in the war of 1962.
What was the stand of the CPI then, given that there were disagreements within the party on how to treat China?
When the 1962 war started, our party’s stand was clear: we said it was caused by China’s intrusion into India and that China shouldn’t have done that.
Its wrong attitude and stance gave the right-wing forces the motivation to come together.
We never hesitated to call it an intrusion by China. We were a single party then. We also decided to support the Nehru government. We also took part in the exercise to shape public opinion in support of the defence forces.
With the war, there was a rift between the CPI and the Chinese Communist Party.
The ties between India and China were in tatters. With that, the relationship between our party and the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) also got severed.
The two countries re-established their diplomatic relations only in 1976. The CPI and the CPC restored their ties only almost a decade later, in 1985, when Rajeshwara Rao was the party general secretary.
Since then we have been saying that the two countries should resolve the border dispute through meaningful negotiations. The two countries were even prepared for that. India and China signed many border agreements since 1976. There was an agreement on the line of control — today’s Line of Actual Control - and discussions over the border were held at many levels.
The brutal killing of our soldiers by the Chinese Army on June 15 shocked us as the two countries had never reached a war-like situation after that war.
I told the all-party meeting that we should not compromise the sovereignty and integrity of the country, and that it should be made clear to China that its forces should retreat and maintain the status quo as was prevailing in April.
But neither the CPI nor the CPM has clearly or strongly condemned China’s actions.
In 1962, too, some had raised this same question. (S A) Dange had responded to it. He said when we say that the country’s integrity is to be protected, it does not mean that others should be allowed to intrude into the country. That is our position.
Why are you not condemning China’s actions?
We condemn and reject China’s actions. That is why we say we need to discuss it. My first statement at the all-party meeting was that we should salute the martyred soldiers. It was a condemnation of Chinese aggression. We condemn the killing of the soldiers. It is for the government to clarify if there was an intrusion. That is what the Congress is asking, too. In Nehru’s time, he made it clear that there was intrusion. Now, it is the government that has created the confusion. The CPI stands for the integrity and sovereignty of the country. If the Chinese have breached the border, they must return.
According to the CPM, what happened was unfortunate, while the CPI termed the clash painful and said that it should not have happened.
The clash should not have happened. Does that mean that we support it? The CPI has called the event shocking. I can’t say anything about the CPM’s stance, let them talk about it. Even though India and China had resumed diplomatic relations in 1976 after the 1962 war, we did not establish a contact with the Chinese Communist Party till 1985. We were firm on our stand.
Considering the history of the two parties, what do you make of the CPM’s approach?
The CPM should explain its position. There could be a viewpoint on whether a Socialist country can wage a war with its neighbour. There could have been people who would have thought that might never happen. But they (China) have changed. We have never been confused and there has been no change in our position. We have always said that the dispute should be resolved peacefully and not through war.
Did you support the 1962 war?
We were not interested in a war. But the war did take place. The Congress was in power then. We supported the country.
What if the current government decides to go to war?
We will have to wait and see if we will go to war. We cannot give an answer by assuming things. In 1959, the national council of our party said the two countries should discuss the problem without the pre-condition that each should accept the other’s position.
We said that the status quo then should continue and that neither country should attack the other. When the war broke out, we were with the country.
In 1959 we called the Chinese action an intrusion and criticised the reactionary approach of the Jan Sangh, Swatantra Party and the PSP.
At that time, there was a big dispute within the CPI itself on how to respond to China’s actions?
It was the dispute that led to the split in the party. I will only talk about my party’s stance after that. It was Nehru then, today it is Modi. If you ask me what if there is a war now, my question is why should there be a war? What is needed are talks at the highest levels.
Nehru was anti-imperialist, but the Chinese called him an imperialist agent. We didn't call him that. But the times then were different. 2020 is not 1962. Nehru is not Modi, Modi is not Nehru. Xi Jinping is not Mao or Deng Xiaoping. We are in new circumstances.
The situation then reached a stage where, according to EMS Namboodiripad, both India and China staked claim to the disputed land.
EMS had tried to solve the problem, but his suggestions were not accepted. After 1976, there were many agreements. There were also tensions often. EMS made a suggestion in view of the situation prevailing then. What would have EMS said if he were alive today?
At the time of the split and even now, the CPM’s stance has been that it wants a peaceful solution. It has never condemned China but it has not supported a war.
Our position has not changed. We did not support the war, we stood by the nation. Who supports war? But there was war and the country was in distress. Then the question was if you would stand with country or not.
There were political and ideological reasons for the split in the party. Not just that, we had differences of opinion on how to evaluate the Indian state, how to deal with it and how to organise against monopolies. We were talking about national democratic revolution, while they wanted people’s democratic revolution.
There is no change in CPM’s view that the CPI is a group of revisionists working with the bourgeoisie.
I have said at their conference: CPM and the Naxalite movement were there when I joined the CPI. I was taught that the CPM was a sectarian party. (Sitaram) Yechury and (Prakash) Karat may have been taught by CPI revisionists. We need to think about what we can do in the new situation.
There were people who listened to my college speeches and thought that I would end up being a Naxalite. But I joined the CPI.
I have always been associated with Ambedkarites. I believe that the Communists should raise Ambedkar’s views on social justice in a big manner.
Has CPI suffered a loss in electoral politics due to its stance?
The split will have its own effect. That is natural. We then started to work together. In 1978, after the Emergency, the CPI had proposed a Left democratic alternative. We directed PKV (PK Vasudevan Nair) to quit the chief minister’s post. Achutha Menon became the chief minister in alliance with the Congress. It is even now considered as one of the best governments. PKV quit the CM’s post in 1978. The two parties began to stand together. Now, CPM-ML has also joined us. It is imperative that the Left comes together in changing circumstances.
The CPM has become a bigger force after the split. Its achievements prove that.
They have grown into a major force in electoral politics, no doubt. They have been leading the governments in Kerala after PKV. In Bengal, Jyoti Basu had been the chief minister for a very long time. At first, we were not part of that government. But, later, we joined the Left Front.
But if you consider Tamil Nadu, the DMK formed an alliance with Rajaji's Swatantra party. The CPM also joined the alliance, but we did not. We fought independently. We won only one seat. Can you call that practical wisdom? It can be termed as opportunist politics. History is history. What is needed is learning the lessons from it.
Do the two parties have the same stance on China?
Both want meaningful discussions to resolve the dispute. As far as my party is concerned, the India and China clash is a shock. Only the CPM can talk about its stance. For Communists, jingoism is not possible. Patriotism teaches you how to behave responsibly and maturely.
The Congress has been repeatedly asking if there has been an intrusion. Why can't the government end the debate? It is a very complicated situation. As Communists, we need to behave responsibly and maturely.
Do you agree with the stand of the Congress?
I don't know what information the Congress has. But going by their statements, it seems to me that their assessment is that China has intruded into India. The government has to say if that is true or not. All that we know for sure is that there was a clash and Indian soldiers died in that encounter. That is what makes me shudder.
It is for the government to take the political parties into confidence and clarify if there was an intrusion.
What is the status of the relationship with the Chinese party? Have they given any guidance for the Indian Communist parties?
We do interact on multi-party platforms, like meeting of Communist parties or of workers. We also hold bilateral talks. It is not just the CPI, they have ties with all parties, including the BJP. The BJP also sends its representatives to interact with the Chinese party.
Why should the Chinese party give us guidance? What can we do if people think so? People can think whatever they want. We may share our experiences, but the word guidance is wrong. All are independent political parties. They take their own decisions based on the international and national situations. I think no party is influenced by any other party or person. Every party has its own organisation, leadership and way of assessing things.
During the Naxalite movement, I have heard slogans that said Chairman Mao is also our chairman. I heard that when I was a student. I don’t know who coined that slogan. Having said that, we are living in a time when even holding the Red Book is considered anti-national. You are called an anti-national if you hold the Communist manifesto or if you have Lenin as your name. What can you do? We have children named Lenin and Stalin.
It is a right-wing propaganda to call someone anti-national based on the book they possess.
There are reports that Russia is indirectly involved in solving the problem.
How much can Russia help? There is the matter of bilateral trade and arms trade. They face a problem in Ukraine — they share a border with China. All this has to be taken into account. It has to be said that the Modi government has failed to solve the problem. If relations between the two countries deteriorate, Nepal may choose to remain neutral, Sri Lanka may not stand with India. Pakistan will not support us for sure. What will Bhutan do?
Both the countries should act maturely and find a solution through talks. That is what is needed.