Birth Of Trade Union Movement And Communal Politics

Working Class, Peasant and Youth Movements

The working class became not only well organised but radicalised and politicised also. The Russian Revolution (1917) gave a new impetus and broad horizon to the working-class movement. The All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), the first central organisation of trade unions in India, was born on October 31, 1920. Its  first session was held in Bombay under the presidentship of Lala Lajpat Rai. At the second session, a resolution was adopted that “the time has now arrived for the attainment of Swaraj for the people of India”. The fourth session was presided over by
C. R. Das and the fifth by D. R. Thengdi.

The working class was very active in the 1920s. In January 1919, there was a general strike in textile industry in Bombay involving 1,25,000 workers. Other powerful strikes took place in industrial centres like Kanpur, Sholapur, Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Ahmedabad. All these strikes in 1920 were followed by increase in wages from 10 to 30 percent. To terrorise the movement, the Government staged the Kanpur Conspiracy Case. The anti-rationalisation strike of Bombay workers in 1928 culminated in the historic strike of 1929 lasting for six months. In 1928, Jawaharlal Nehru was elected as the President of AITUC, with S. A. Dange as an Assistant Secretary. In 1929, the Government gave another blow to the movement by arresting militant leftist trade union leaders under the Meerut Conspiracy Case. Of the 32 leaders arrested, 18 were office-bearers of the AITUC. A special ordinance, the Public Safety Bill, was issued by the Governor-General to “curb Communist activities in India”.

Similarly, the peasantry was organised under the All-India Kisan Sabha. In 1925, the first conference of the Communist Party of India was held. The Workers and Peasants Party was leading the working class and peasantry, particularly in Bengal. Leftist and radical groups also developed in the Congress under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose. The youth and students conferences became an annual feature. The Communist and Socialist ideas were becoming popular. They were all working for the freedom of the country and brought a dose of militancy to the nationalist movement. Revolutionary activities were forging ahead. The revolutionary party under the leadership of Bhagat Singh had captured the minds of the people of Punjab. He threw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly. It was symbolic—an expression of anger of the people of India against British imperialism. The heroism of Bhagat Singh and the self-sacrifice of Jatin Dass electrified the political atmosphere of India.

Growth of Communal Politics

The Hindu Maha Sabha became politically active. The Muslim League became more and more communal
and obstructive. The emotional demoralisation of the people resulted from the failure of the Non-Cooperation Movement. The constructive programmes of Gandhiji—temperance, anti-untouchability, spinning, cottage industries—could not satisfy the hunger of the starving millions. The British Government utilised the opportunity to fan the flames of communalism. Communal riots became a regular feature after 1923 leading to frayed tempers.

The Shudhi and Sangathan movements of the Hindus and the Tanzim and Tabligh movements of the Muslims became strong and came into direct clash with each other. Each provoked the other. Bureaucracy engineered communal riots and fully exploited the situation. The cunning British imperialists used Hindu and Muslim fanatics to destroy the basic unity among Indians on the pretext of issues like Azans, peepal trees, animal slaughter, temple, gurdwara or mosque properties, so on and so forth. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in such riots. Unbridgeable discord between the two communities was created. The communal problem overshadowed the political scene. India was thrown into a blind alley. Communalism highlighted distinction, antagonism and separatism rather than unity, cooperation and commonness. Communalism divided the nation and caused permanent harm.

To stem the communal riots, Gandhiji resorted to frequent fasts and unity conferences were held. The most important of such conferences were the Simla Conference, the Delhi Conference and the Calcutta Conference. An evil star seemed to haunt India’s fate, for nothing emerged out of the apparently serious efforts. The parties, on a challenge thrown by the Secretary of State for India, appointed the Nehru Committee to produce an agreed Constitution for India acceptable to both the Hindus and the Muslims.

The Nehru Committee report was widely welcomed. However, the Communists could not agree even on such a reformist Constitution as was envisaged by the committee. The Hindu Maha Sabha was recalcitrant and Mohammad Ali Jinnah came out with his fourteen-point demand. The efforts of political India to reach communal accord failed. The spirit of 1916 leading to Hindu-Muslim unity had vanished, never to come back. The political climate soon became hot. The Indian National Congress resolved Complete Independence in 1929 as the ultimate goal of its national movement at its Lahore session. The Congress started the Satyagraha movement. The communalists were on the retreat. Communal riots were conspicuous by their absence. But such evils hardly die and communal discord, once again, emerged in its violent form with the failure of the political movement and treacherous designs of the British rulers.

Boycott of the Simon Commission

The dyarchy had failed. The Swarajists did their part in wrecking it, howsoever little it was. The working class, youth and peasants were on the move. Socialist and Communist ideas were spreading. The
All-Party Conference had appointed the Nehru Committee to produce an agreed Constitution. The Congress was moving from ‘dominion status’ to ‘complete independence’. The Madras Congress of 1927 passed a resolution of ‘Complete National Independence’. Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress leftists became the General Secretaries of the Congress. The All-Party Muslim Conference of UP met in November 1928 and declared that the Muslims stood for “the goal of complete independence”. The revolutionary move-ment was spreading. Even the Moderates were demanding further reforms.

The British Government was forced to appoint a Royal Commission, known as the Simon Commission. No Indian was thought fit to serve on this Commission even though at that time there were two Indian members of the British Parliament—Lord Sinha and Saklatvala. It added insult to injury. People became furious. It was an all-White Commission. All the political elements in the country boycotted the Commission except the stooges of British imperialism and diehard communalists. A more conservative group in the Muslim League and the Hindu Maha Sabha welcomed it. A resolution was passed in the Central Legislative Assembly on the motion of Lala Lajpat Rai to boycott the Commission.

The Commission arrived in Bombay on February 3, 1928. It was greeted with hartals. Wherever it went, the city was deserted. Cries of “Simon Go back”, black flags, anti-British processions and demonstrations welcomed it. Things reached a pitch in Lahore. The anti-Simon demonstration was headed by Lala Lajpat Rai, the Lion of Punjab. As he was standing at the head of the demonstration, he was assaulted and hit on his chest with a baton by a young English police officer. It sent a wave of indignation throughout the country. Lajpat Rai succumbed to injuries. It was another nail in the coffin of the British imperialism. Leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Gobind Ballabh Pant too received the baton blows of the police in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh).

It charged the political atmosphere in India with an agitational mood. Revolutionary activities were revived in
Bengal and Punjab. Bhagat Singh caught the imagination of the people. The English officer who beat Lajpat Rai was shot dead in Lahore. B.K. Dutt and Bhagat Singh threw two bombs on the floor of the Central Legislative Assembly. Bhagat Singh’s heroism vindicated the nation’s honour. It showed the resolve and firm determination of the Indian youth to free the motherland from the chains of the British imperialism.       o

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