Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

Speech at the second conference of All India Forward Bloc, Nagpur

Comrades! Early in May 1939, the Forward Bloc of the Indian National Congress was inaugurated in Calcutta following a momentous session of the All-India Congress Committee. In the last week of June 1939, the first session of the All-India Conference of the Forward Bloc was held in Bombay and the constitution and programme of the Bloc were adopted there. Since then, a year has rolled by — a year which will be memorable not only in the history of India but in the history of the whole world. We are, therefore, meeting at a most opportune moment. We shall have to do a great deal of heart-searching as well as stock-taking. We shall have to determine our course of action in the crisis which has overtaken India and the world, a crisis which is deepening and worsening, not only from day to day but also from hour to hour.

The first question which I shall pose before you is, "Has our policy and line of action been a correct one? And have we acted in the best interests of the country by launching the Forward Bloc?" To that my reply is: "Most certainly, yes." I shall remind you that we were constrained to start the Forward Bloc in the light of four considerations. The Right wing had definitely told us that they would not work in co-operation with the Leftists in future, and they had rejected the proposal of a composite cabinet which was our demand. Secondly, Mahatma Gandhi and the Right wing had told us that a national struggle in the near future was out of the question. Thirdly, the attempt to consolidate the anti-imperialist and radical elements in the Congress under the name of the Left Bloc had been given up by the Socialists and Communists. Consequently, a further attempt at Left consolidation could be made only by us and, for that, the Forward Bloc had become indispensably necessary. Fourthly, the Right-wingers had already consolidated themselves under the aegis of the Gandhi Seva Sangh and any further delay on our part would have meant the strangling of the Leftist elements in the Congress by the Rightists.

It was clear in 1939 that most of those who had entered the Congress as Leftists in 1920 and 1921, and had retained the leadership of the Congress in their hands for nearly two decades, had ceased to be revolutionary or even radical. Any further political progress under such circumstances presupposed a consolidation of all anti-imperialist, radical and progressive forces in the country and particularly in the Congress.

Towards the end of April 1939, when I was seriously considering the idea of resigning the presidentship of the Congress and inaugurating the Forward Bloc, I had an interesting and important discussion with a very prominent Leftist leader of the Congress who has since then thrown himself into the arms of the Gandhiites. He advised me to refrain from either course and he added that since an international storm was brewing, we should avoid everything in the nature of a split within the Congress. I replied saying that since a war was inevitable in the near future, it was all the more necessary that the Leftists should be organised and prepared in advance, so that in the event of the Rightists developing cold feet in a war situation, we at least could do something off our own bat. Differences had become so fundamental between the Right wing and Left wing that a split — whether permanent or temporary — had become inevitable. That being the case, it was desirable that the internal crisis should come and should be transcended before the external or international crisis overtook us. I added that if I accepted my friend's advice and lay low for the present, the consequences would be far worse for us when the international crisis appeared. In such a crisis, we would never agree with the Rightists. But many people would blame us for causing a split, if we attempted to act on our own at that time. Moreover, if we did want to act independently then we would have no organisation behind us to fall back on. Consequently, the argument of my friend only strengthened my case.

Looking back on the last twelve months, can we not claim that events have justified our policy and line of action? Barring the Kisan Sabha of Swami Sahajanand (and Prof. Ranga, Comrade Yajnik. etc.) and the Forward Bloc, who is there to stand up to the Rightists today? The Left Consolidation Committee which came into existence in June 1939, after the formation of the Forward Bloc, has disintegrated by now. The Royists (or Radical Leaguers), the Congress Socialists and the Communists (or National Fronters) have in turn deserted the Left Consolidation Committee and only the Kisan Sabha and Forward Bloc have been functioning as the spearhead of the left movement in this country. This was evident when we held the All-India Anti-Compromise Conference at Ramgarh in March 1940. There we found that the Royists, Congress Socialists and National Fronters boycotted that Conference and threw in their lot with the Gandhiites.

There can be little doubt today that if there had been do Forward Bloc and no Kisan Sabha, no voice would have been raised against the policy and the line of action pursued by the Gandhiites during the last 12 months.

We shall now consider another question: "What has been our actual achievement during the past year?"

In the first place we can claim to have successfully resisted the tendency towards constitutionalism and compromise within the ranks of the Congress. Thanks to our efforts, the Congress Ministries had to vacate office as a protest against the policy of the British Government. If they had not done so, they would have been carrying out the war policy of the Government of India, as agents of British imperialism. In spite of all efforts made hitherto, no compromise has yet been made with the British Government, and for this we can legitimately claim some credit.

Secondly, we have so far frustrated all attempts to secure the cooperation of the Congress in the prosecution of the war. Friends will remember that in September 1939, when His Excellency the Viceroy invited Mahatma Gandhi for a talk at Simla on the war situation, the latter gave out that he was of the view that India should give unconditional help to Great Britain during the present war. This was reiterated by Mahatmaji in a Press statement issued soon after the above interview. Nevertheless, up till now the Congress Working Committee, which usually follows Gandhiji blindly, has ignored his views on such an all-important issue. Would the same thing have happened if there had been no Kisan Sabha and no Forward Bloc?

Thirdly, we can perhaps claim that we have succeeded in creating an atmosphere of struggle. Today we find Congress leaders drilling in shirts and shorts and Congress Committees being converted into Satyagraha Committees. Moreover, the Rightist leaders have been constantly talking of a struggle. Would all these have taken place, if there had been no Forward Bloc and if the Anti-Compromise Conference at Ramgarh had not shown which way the wind of public opinion was blowing? There is no doubt that today the talk of a struggle is everywhere in the air and the more our people talk of it, the more will they move away from a compromise.

Lastly, we can claim that at Ramgarh we launched our struggle with such strength and resources as we possessed. During the last three months a large number of our fellow-workers, including men of outstanding influence in the country, have been arrested and incarcerated. Nine members of the All-India Working Committee of the Forward Bloc are at present in prison or internment. In addition to them, leaders of the Kisan Sabha headed by Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, Prof. Ranga and others, are behind the bars.

The national struggle we launched at Ramgarh has been steadily gaining in strength and volume. The campaign has made considerable headway in Bihar and the United Provinces. In Bengal, the struggle was launched as early as January 1940 over the question of civil liberty which had been violated by the drastic ordinances promulgated by the Government in September 1939. Thanks to the civil disobedience movement launched by the Bengal Congress, we have restored in a large measure the status quo which existed prior to September 1939. The special session of the Bengal Provincial Political Conference which met at Dacca on the 25th and 26th of May, 1940 took stock of the situation in the province and formulated a plan for intensifying the struggle and widening its scope. The Bengal Provincial Congress Committee will give effect to this plan.

Before I proceed to deal with the international situation, I shall refer to one or two criticisms which are constantly levelled at us. We are told, for instance, that we have created a split in the Congress. The fact, however, is that it is the Gandhiites who have created a split by refusing to cooperate with the Leftists. We have all along been strongly in favour of joint action and a composite cabinet for ensuring such action.

We are also told that we have brought disruption within the ranks of the Leftists. But it is not we who have caused disruption or disunity. The Royists, the Congress Socialists and the National Fronters (or Communists) have, one after another, deserted the Left Consolidation Committee.

We stand today exactly where we did twelve months ago. During these months, we have passed through an ordeal. Suffering, persecution, banter, ridicule — such has been our lot. But we have gone ahead along the path of uncompromising struggle in a most unflinching manner. Numerous fellow-workers of ours have been persecuted by the Congress High Command and in the province of Bengal, owing to the disaffiliation of the Provincial Congress Committee, all Congressmen of our way of thinking have been virtually thrown out of the Congress.

The question which will naturally arise at this stage is: "Why have the Royists and others deserted us?” So far as I can judge, they are afraid of being expelled from the Congress and they feel, perhaps, that once outside the Congress they will be completely lost. What amuses me, however, is that these comrades had been hoping to fight the Rightists and had not anticipated that before being defeated by the Leftists, the Rightists would do their worst and would do all in their power to maintain their supremacy in the Congress. The backbone, the stamina and the toughness that are needed in order to fight the Rightists successfully, these Leftist (or shall I say pseudo-Leftist?) comrades do not possess. We are now passing through a phase of our struggle when his-I—m WSJ put all of us to the test and declare to the world as to xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx rally round the Banner of a non-violent struggle. Let us, therefore, hold ourselves in patience yet awhile.

But supposing for argument's sake that the struggle will fail, does that mean that it should not have been launched? Could we not argue, on the opposite side, that the campaigns of 1921, 1930 and 1932 should not have been launched because they did not bring us Swaraj? Failures are often the pillars of success. So what does it matter if we fail for the fourth time? Not to try at all is more dishonourable than making the attempt and failing to achieve success. The whole world is watching us today. What will the free nations of the world think of us if we miss the golden opportunity that has now come — an opportunity that is rare in the lifetime of any nation? But nobody will think ill of us if we fight and then fail.

There is another point which we should not overlook either. Shall we not consider what posterity will think of us twenty or fifty years hence if we do not acquit ourselves manfully today? What do people today think of the leaders who mismanaged the affairs of the country between 1914 and 1919? I, therefore, make bold to say that if we do not rise to the occasion and join the struggle without delay, neither history nor posterity will ever pardon us.

Twelve months ago when the Forward Bloc was formed we were obsessed, as it were, with the idea of the coming struggle and how to prepare for it in advance. At that time we did not know how far, if at all, outside events and international developments would aid us in our efforts to win Purna Swaraj. Consequently, we had to make "self-reliance” our motto in life and action.

Today, the situation has altered to some extent. In the war between rival imperialisms, the old ones have been faring very badly indeed. During the last few weeks the Germans have carried on the campaign with lightning rapidity. Kings and kingdoms have toppled down in the course of a few days and the German Army — the Reichswehr — has proceeded to the gates of Paris and occupied that queen of cities in a way which appears to the layman as a miracle in military warfare.

What has been happening in Europe in a kaleidoscopic manner has had its inevitable repercussions on India.

The wheels of history are grinding on quite regardless of what we may be doing in India. But in order to fully utilise the opportunity which international events have presented to us, we must have sufficient unity and solidarity among ourselves. If India could speak with one voice today, our demand would indeed be well-nigh irresistible. It follows, as a consequence, that while we should think of intensifying the national struggle and widening its scope, we should at the same time try to develop national unity and solidarity to the maximum limit.

National unity will presuppose unity within the Congress on the basis of a dynamic programme of struggle and at the same time unity between the Congress and other organisations like the Muslim League. If we can develop sufficient unity and solidarity among ourselves in good time, we may very well hope that even if the country passes through a struggle and even if catastrophic events take place in Europe, the transference of power from the hands of British imperialism to those of the Indian people will take place in a peaceful manner.

It is not necessary that the Indian revolution should be a bloody one or that it should pass through a period of chaos. On the contrary, it is desirable that it should be as peaceful as possible; and a peaceful transition can be ensured if the people are united and are determined to have their freedom.

My own suggestion to you is that we should immediately go out into the country with the rallying cry — "All power to the Indian people." This will galvanise the masses in a moment. In order to put forward this demand in an effective and irresistible manner, we should leave no stone unturned in our effort to attain national unity. This effort will necessitate the setting up of a machinery which will preserve harmony and goodwill among the people under all circumstances. Such a machinery will be provided by a Citizens’ Defence Corps organised on an all-party basis.

But such a Corps should be quite independent of the Government Our Citizens' Defence Corps will only aim at preserving internal peace, harmony and goodwill. The question of defending the country militarily from any other force or power is one which should concern the Government only.

Before coming to the epilogue of this address, which will be a consideration of the international situation of today and tomorrow, I should like to remind you of the historical role of the Forward Bloc. The Bloc has come into being as the result of historical necessity. It is not the creation of an individual or of a group of individuals. So long as it will serve a historical purpose, it will live and thrive — despite all obstacles, internal or external.

We should also bear in mind that the Forward Bloc will have a role to play in the post-struggle phase of our history. It will have to preserve liberty after winning it and it will have to build up a new India and a happy India on the basis of the eternal principles of liberty, democracy and Socialism.

Let us not commit the fatal mistake of thinking that our mission will be over, once we win our freedom. The organisation or party that wins freedom must undertake the responsibilities of post-war reconstruction. Only in this manner will continuity of progress be maintained.

Let us now proceed to consider the international situation as we find it today and as it will probably be tomorrow. After reading the outspoken statements of Messrs Winston Churchill and Paul Reynaud we cannot blink the prime facts of the situation as they emerge from the quick tempo of war. Every day makes it more clear that M. Paul Reynaud's summing up of the situation in the Chamber of Deputies (that victory for the Allies could only be brought about by a miracle) was a true measure of the military conditions then obtaining. Dark as was the picture then, it has grown darker since. The prospect today is positively bleak. And when one remembers this is a totalitarian war, it dawns on us how impossible is the situation in which the losing side is placed.

We may also concede that Monsieur Reynaud's ringing resolution "to intensity the struggle and not to give up" is brave and resolute, and his words not empty heroics. For all that, he fails to convince when he says: "We will shut ourselves into one of our provinces and if we are driven out we will go to North Africa and if necessary into our possessions in America.”

Today we have every right to examine the stark realities of the war as it has developed until we see them in the white light of clarity. The leaders of the French and British peoples have been frank. We should also be frank with ourselves.

The cause of the Allies’ continuous defeat seems to be lodged somewhere in their system. It was a system which Mr Clement Attlee, speaking, I believe, for the last time from the Opposition benches, said had failed to meet the need of the crisis.

It was the fundamental weakness of a system in which slavery and freedom existed side by side that had resulted in British being "decisively beaten” on the propaganda front. This was, what the Daily Mail said was happening. Propaganda radiocasts from the Reich, it wrote at the end of March, were "influencing not only the civilian population of Britain, but also our armed forces.” Goebbels, it asserted, had had a walk-over.

But we are not so much interested in a particular method as in the basic principles of action. And we are not to be dissuaded from pressing home our demand for the admission of our fundamental rights by a clouding of the issues and the cry of 'saboteur!' We have too long been taken in by the clever imperialist propaganda.

We cannot but ask ourselves where we stand in this international flux. Some of our statesmen, it seems have been possessed with the dream of India being converted into a bastion of democratic resistance against the dictators’ hordes. What a grotesque picture!

Almost the whole of the English Channel coast on the French side is in the hands of the Germans, making ordinary communications difficult and hazardous and the transport of troops all but impossible. Some of the best industrial regions of France are in the hands of the invaders. Paris, the heart of France, has ceased to throb. In the Champagne region a powerful German drive is developing to isolate the Maginot Line from the rest of France. In the South-East the powerful and fresh Italian legions are pressing. And everywhere the retreating French forces are harried by the admittedly superior air arm of the admittedly superior Reichswehr. Such is the gloomy picture of the Allied position in Europe. From the Northern Arctic regions to the Atlantic, the Nazi eagle has spread its wings in an unbroken line. It is not surprising we should be told that there is no cause for optimism.

When the Nazi hordes crossed the German frontier into Holland and Belgium only the other day with the cry of “nach Paris" on their lips, who could have dreamt that they would reach their objective so soon? A miracle in military warfare has happened, as it were, before our eyes, and for an analogy one has to turn to the Napoleonic wars or to the catastrophe at Sedan in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Whatever the French High Command may say, in the face of mechanised transport, innumerable tanks and dive-bombers, no resistance worth the name is possible after the capitulation of Paris. The days of French warfare are over.

But what next? The British people are famous for their dogged pertinacity and their unflinching nerves. They are now confronted with what is perhaps the severest ordeal in their history. Let us see how they will acquit themselves.

India must in this grave crisis think of herself first. If she can win freedom now and then save herself, she will best serve the cause of humanity. It is for the Indian people to make an immediate demand for the transference of power to them through a Provisional National Government. No constitutional difficulties can be put forward by the British Government with a view to resisting this demand, because legislation for this purpose can be put through Parliament in twenty-four hours. When things settle down inside India and abroad, the Provisional National Government will convene a Constituent Assembly for framing a full-fledged Constitution for this country.

Friends, these are some of my thoughts and suggestions. I hope and trust that you will give them due consideration. In any case, I appeal to you not to leave Nagpur till you have in your pockets a concrete plan of action for winning Purna Swaraj in the immediate future.

Let us proclaim once again — "All power to the Indian people here, and now.”