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Mainstream, VOL LV No 51 New Delhi December 9, 2017


Bringing Back the Torch

Sunday 10 December 2017

by Shaukat Usmani

According to the decisions of the Third Congress of the Comintern a new university came into being in Moscow. This was then commonly known by the abbreviated name of the KUTV.

It got contingents from India (the Indusky Kurs section), from China, Indonesia, from all nationalities using Turkish language, and many others from the Far East.

The Indian and Chinese students were living in adjoining rooms in the same hostel. And there was complete amity between the students of these two major countries of Asia.

And sometimes the jokes between these two student sections were very comradely and warm. For instance, the daily greetings between one Comrade Mao and Comrade Majid consisted as follows:

Mao Tee Tolstie, was Majid’s form of greetings to Mao.

Majid Tee Krotkiece Khudoshavie was the usual Mao reply to Majid.

Incidentally, this mention of the name of Mao brings to memory the names of some of the Chinese then studying in KUTV. These were (if I am not mistaken) Lee, Chen, Chou. And of course no one can forget Mao, since he was very fat, rather inordinately fat, and humorous. The writer wonders if these Lee, Chou, Mao and Chen have any reference to the present Chinese leadership. The contour of the face of Chairman Mao certainly resembles that of the Mao in the KUTV hostel.

The present author cannot write much about these comrades since he was not putting up in the same hostel with his Indian comrades; after his return from Crimea the authorities were kind enough to recognise the necessity of a convalescence period for him after his treatment and had allotted him a room in Hotel Lux.

The lessons in the University were conducted in English, Persian, Turkish and Chinese. Some of the Indian students had joined the Persian classes since their knowledge of English was not up to date.

And here in this University were also people like Mohammad Hatta and Musa who had in after-years played a very prominent part in the Indonesian struggle for liberation.

Among the lecturers were Bukharin, Radek and many others from the Communist Inter-national.

It is unnecessary to state here that the Russian efforts at promoting and helping the revolu-tionary struggle of the people of the Orient had not abated at all, in spite of the setbacks that the Comintern had suffered. It ought to have been stated that the Eastern section of the Comintern had also been closed down in 1921, and the main centre of activities now remained in Moscow alone.

If we state here that there was a little discontent among the Indian students against their leaders, it would not be an exaggeration. Apart from earning now the name of boys at the hands of their leadership, these were getting restive when the news of the Indian movement rising to a crescendo reached Moscow in the autumn of 1921.

When the leadership took the step of sending two among the revolutionaries to India to forestall the exodus of the remaining, a veritable revolt broke out. This author himself got out of control and went from Raccocci to Radek and then to Stalin to demand his passage back to India. Though Raccocci had now become the Secretary-General of the Comintern, Radek still held some responsible position in this world organisation.

Although I had by then learnt Russian to some extent, an interpreter was provided for talks with Stalin; but that became unnecessary as the conversation was in a very simple language.

Gradually the students from Moscow returned home, in batches and got themselves active in the thick of the revolutionary movement of the country. They were, by and large, unfit for trade unionism. They were mostly saturated with the idea of a military line and they would have been lost if they had not found an anchor in the existing revolutionary movement in the country. Abdul Majid got connected with the group working under Kedarnath Sehgal in Lahore and later on with Bhagat Singh and his comrades. And the author finding a shelter with the doyen of the UP revolutionaries, Ganesh Shanker Vidyarthi, came in contact with the UP group of the youths known first by the name of HRA, Hindustan Revolutionary Army (and Association), later on known as HSRA, Hindustan Socialist Revolutionary Army (and Association).

And getting in touch with the labour movement in Kanpur in 1922-23, he could achieve very little. This was the time when he joined the Mazdoor Sabha of Kanpur which was drinking deep the Bolshevik ideology then.

Congress Eager for News

Coming to the question of ideology, it may be of interest to the present generation to know how keen and eager was a section of the Indian National Congress membership to get some news and literature about the October Revolution. Let us quote Dr Sampurnanand who after independence became the Chief Minister of UP and later the Governor of Rajasthan.

In 1919-21, Dr Sampurnanand was Head Master of the Dungar College at Bikaner.

In his book, Memories and Reflections, Dr Sampurnanand writes:

“Many of us were anxious to study Marxism but it was difficult to know exactly where to begin. We were gradually pushing forward with our understanding of the theory and the philosophical basis but could not lay our hands on the living current thought that was moulding the destinies of millions of men in the contemporary world.

“An opportunity came my way some time in the autumn of 1922. A number of Muslims had left India about two or three years ago as a protest against British policy as regards the Khilafat. They were called Muhajireen. They had hoped that Afghanistan, a Muslim country, would welcome them but their expectations were not realised. Some of them then drifted on to Russia where they received much better treatment. They were trained as active propa-gandists and very naturally came under the influence of M.N. Roy. Some of them came back hoping that their arrival had not been noticed.

“One of these men was Shaukat Usmani. He had been a student of mine in Bikaner.... I received much first-hand information.... what is more important, received some up-to-date literature. The supply of such literature, both books and papers published in Russia, never stopped since then. I cannot definitely say who smuggled it in and how, but in spite of the best efforts of the Police and the Customs authorities, the flow continued... Even many of us who were staunch Congressmen did not hesitate to act as agents for passing such proscribed goods from hand to hand.”

No Red Army came to India but plenty of ideology that had saturated the Red Army was eating into the vitals of British imperialism in India.

The Red literature flowed from one end of the country to the other. And the students of the KUTV were now pouring into India from all directions. The first messenger of Bolshevism was no Communist and yet he was awarded the highest sentence in the twenties for spreading Bolshevism. Akbar Khan Qurreshi, as already stated, had been tried in Peshawar in what were then known as the Tashkent Conspiracy Cases.

Courage Admired

And the others who ventured to conquer the Pamirs found themselves behind the bars in Peshawar Jail in the end of 1922: They were tried in what was termed as the Moscow Conspiracy Case. The sentencing Judge admired their courage for crossing the dreaded Pamirs which, according to him, no traveller had ventured to cross in fifty years.

These were the people who got the sentences of one year rigorous imprisonment each: Abdul Majid, Ferozuddin Mansoor, Habib Ahmed, Rafique Ahmed, Sultan Khan.

And two others got two years RI each: Gohar Rahman Khan and Mian Akbar Shah Khattak.

This case had finished in May 1923.

In the same May 1923 there was a spate of other arrests in India. This writer was arrested on May 9, 1923 and Muzaffar Ahmed was also arrested the same month. After some time the former having suffered the rigours of fetters was declared a State Prisoner under Regulation III of 1818 in Peshawar Jail, and the same was meted out to Muzaffar Ahmed in Bengal. 

The new year, 1924, saw the addition of two more names to this list. These were S.A. Dange and Nalini Kumar Gupta. The four were then tried in March 1924 in what was known as the Bolshevik Conspiracy Case.

There was a lot of difference in the attitude of some accused and the Defence Counsels. The Counsels would not allow the prisoners to make political statements, since according to them these would not only have brought them heavy sentences but opened the gates for fresh prosecutions.

Two statements—one by S.A. Dange and the other by this writer—were torn to pieces. And thus what would have been a historical stand was destroyed by the mistaken advice of sympathetic Counsels.

Kanpur Case

And this is why most of the accused in the Meerut Conspiracy Case, five years later, refused the lawyers to handle the political side of their case.

Although the list of the Kanpur case contained eight names, only four were present, and all the four got equal sentence of four years’ rigorous imprisonment. Only two passed the full terms, Dange and this author; the other two, Muzaffar Ahmad and Nalini Kumar Gupta, were released in 1925 owing to reasons of health.

What is more important about this and the Peshawar cases is the dread of the prosecution about the Communist International. The Prosecution complaint in almost all these cases was similar and it read:

“There was a body by the name of the Communist International. The aim of this organisation is to create armed revolution to overthrow all the forms of existing government throughout the world and to replace them by Soviet republics subordinate to Moscow.”

But the ideology which had come in accordance with the objective conditions in India did not suffer any setback with these prosecutions. On the contrary, the urge for literature and understanding increased with boundless zeal. This was the abiding impact of the activities of these revolutionaries. Whatever the repressive steps imperialism took, it could not stem the tide of a revolutionary nationalism in India.

Alarmed at the growth of the trade union movement in the country, the die-hard administration arrested in March 1929 all the Left-wing elements connected with this movement and launched the last protracted political case in the history of India. This was the Meerut Conspiracy in which British imperialism roped in even three Englishmen too.

The case lasted three years and ten months before the accused were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. The statements of some of the accused were veritable predictions, and the posterity would read these with pride.

Long Term

There were differences in categories of the sentences: Muzaffar Ahmed got 20 years’ transportation.

Dange, Ghate, Spratt, Joglekar and Nimbkar, transportation for 12 years.

Bradley, Mirajkar and Shaukat Usmani, transportation for 10 years.

Sohan Singh Josh, Abdul Majid and Dharani Goswami, transportation for seven years.

Ajodhya Prasad, Adhikari, P. C. Joshi and M. G. Desai, transportation for five years.

Gopen Chakravarty, Gopal Basak, Lester Hutchinson, Radharaman Mitra, Jhabwala and Kedar Nath Sehgal sentenced to four years’ rigorous imprisonment.

Shamsul Huda, Arjun Alwe, Kasle, Gauri Shanker and Lakshman Rao Kadam sentenced to three years’ rigorous imprisonment. There were 33 accused in the case with one absconding (Amir Hyder Khan). Two died before the passing of the sentences: They were K.L. Ghose and D.R. Thengdi.

And when ultimately the High Court reduced the sentences, the three who had been in the Bolshevik Conspiracy Case (Kanpur) got three years’ RI each: Spratt two years, and Goswami, Abdul Majid, Nimbkar, Joglekar, Mirajkar, Sohan Singh Josh and Ghate each got one year RI. Gopen Chakravarty seven months. The rest were let out with the remark of “detention already undergone”.

Before closing this topic of arrests and prosecutions we should once more revert to Peshawar.

The North West Frontier Province of united India was nicknamed by the nationalist press as the Land of No Laws (Sar Zam-ein-e-Be Aaien).

Shady Trials

And this was no exaggeration since all political trials in this province were shady and the opportunities for defence were very meagre.

Once a man was arrested by the warrant of this Province there was no early release for him. Hence when this writer was taken after his arrest in Kanpur in May 1923 to be included with the others being tried in the Moscow Conspiracy Case, and the Defence Counsel objecting strongly against the inclusion of one at the fag-end of the trial and the one who had a record of political activities in India while his clients had been arrested on entering the country, the Government did not release the writer and got the sanction of the Central administration to make him a State Prisoner as stated already.

A new procedure was adopted to meet all students expected back from the USSR.

All entering India from the KUTV or Indusky Kurs were to be summarily tried and sentenced according to the whims of the prosecution and the trying judge, to long terms of imprisonment.

Thus, when Fazal Ilahi Qurban came down from abroad and was arrested in Bombay he was brought straight to Peshawar and sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment. This was in 1927.

The second such case was that of M. Sheffique, the former Secretary General of the USSR-stationed Communist Party ofIndia. He got three years’ RI in a similar manner.

The fright of Bolshevism hadgone deep into the marrows of the British imperialists in India. It was during 1928 that new laws were contem-plated to stifle the growth of the trade union movement and deport without trial all foreigners including Englishmen suspected of Communist sympathies.

Fifty years have gone by since the October Revolution took place. Twenty years have passed since India won her independence. The long predicted bourgeois democratic revolution in India is being impeded at every step by many reactionary forces, trying to obstruct the onward march of the Indian people.

But in spite of all this, the impact of the October Revolution is being felt in every nook and corner of India, as also in the entire newly-liberated area of the Orient.

One thousand million roubles to India as economic and technical assistance, and the building of projects in many parts of the country.

Benefits of Revolution

Four hundred thirty three million roubles to Afghanistan. 30.5 million roubles to Ceylon. 296 million roubles to Indonesia. 42.4 million roubles to Iran, still a member of the obnoxious CENTO. 205 million roubles to Algeria. 220.5 million roubles to Iraq. 920 million roubles to the UAR. 89 million roubles to the Syrian Arab Republic. And 71 million roubles to the Yemeni Arab Republic.

And there are many more countries like these where the benefits of the October Revolution are being bountifully showered.

We wish this October Revolution a long and prosperous life!

It has travelled a very beautiful path and we hope it shall complete the rest of this arduous but rewarding journey, liberating all the victims of imperialism and neo-colonialism and bring smiling sunshine of prosperity to the millions upon millions all over the world. May this happen soon.


Shaukat Usmani (Maulla Bux Usta) (1901-1978) was an early Indian Communist. A member of the émigré Communist Party of India, established in Tashkent in 1920, he was a founding member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) when it was formed in Kanpur in 1925. He was also the only candidate to the British Parliament contesting elections, while he was residing in India—that too in a prison. He was sentenced to a total of 16 years in jail after being tried in the Kanpur (Cawnpore) Case of 1923 and later the Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929. This article he wrote specially for Mainstream fifty years ago on the occasion of the October Revolution’s fiftieth anniversary. It was published in July-August 1967. The first, second, third and fourth instalments of the article were reproduced in Mainstream (November 4, 2017, November 11, 2017, November 18, 2017 and November 25, 2017). This is the fifth and last instalment.

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