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Liking Progress, Loving ChangeA Literary History of the ProgressiveWriters' Movement in Urdu$

Rakhshanda Jalil

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198096733

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198096733.001.0001

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Rise of Socialist Consciousness

Rise of Socialist Consciousness

From 1900 till 1930s

(p.52) 2 Rise of Socialist Consciousness
Liking Progress, Loving Change

Rakhshanda Jalil

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the influence of Westernization, industrialization, and modernization along with the increasingly visible presence of socialism on Urdu literature. A political background of 1900–1930s is provided, including several important events on the world arena and the developments on the eve of, and in the aftermath of, the Khilafat movement, each of which had a profound effect on Indian politics. This is followed by a description of the ways in which creative writers the world over gave expression to the sense of disquiet over the repression unleashed by the colonial government and how their sentiments were echoed, with equal vigour by Urdu writers; it also establishes how the nationalist trends in the country as a whole strengthened the growth of socialist thought, and how socialistic ideas had begun to influence a cross-section of Urdu writers and how the establishment of the Communist Party of India (CPI) channelized the anti-imperialist sentiments into a pronounced nationalist wave. Then the circumstances that lead to the publication of Angarey in 1932 are reviewed, unfolding the linkages between the literature of this period, nationalism, and socialism. While enumerating the fears and insecurities of India’s Muslims, it also concludes that the Muslim community was not without its own shortcomings.

Keywords:   Khilafat, Muslim pedagogues, Muslims and socialism, Deoband, Communist Party of India, anti-imperialism

  • Daur-e-hayat aaega qatil qaza ke baad
  • Hai ibtida hamari teri inteha ke baad
  • (A period of joy will come most certainly after the martyrdom
  • Our beginning will come after your limit)

—Mohamed Ali (1878–1931)

The Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), the First World War (1914–18), and the developments on the eve of and in the aftermath of the Khilafat movement (1919–22) had a profound effect on Indian politics. These, and several other important political events, are covered in the opening section of this chapter. Creative writers were not unaffected by these events; they gave expression to the sense of disquiet over the repression unleashed by the colonial government. Such sentiments were echoed, with equal vigour and finesse, by the Urdu poets and writers. The second section of this chapter attempts to establish how the nationalist trends1 in the country as (p.53) a whole strengthened the growth of socialist thought, and how socialistic ideas influenced a cross-section of Urdu writers well before the establishment of the CPI. The establishment of the CPI helped channelize the anti-imperialist sentiments and made them acquire a sharper, more focused, more pronounced pro-nationalist hue, while at the same time strengthening the socialist sentiment that already existed in a large section of educated Indians, especially Muslims. In the third section, we shall review the circumstances and events in the 1930s that lead to the publication of an incendiary book called Angarey in 1932, and unfold the linkages between the literature of this period, nationalism, and socialism.

Political Background: 1900–1930s

The introduction of Western education brought in fresh ideas.2 Educated Indians had access to them through a profusion of printed material.3 By the second half of the nineteenth century, the writings of the Scottish philosopher and historian J.S. Mill (1806–1873) and the English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) were being widely read in some of the elite colleges in the presidency towns. Users of public libraries also took to the reading of novels—in English as well as translations; the most popular being Charles Dickens, (p.54) Benjamin Disraeli, William Thackeray, Alexander Dumas, George Eliot, R.L. Stevenson, etc.4 Along with the dissemination of ideas, manners, and mores came the histories of nationalist and liberation struggles in Italy and Ireland. Soon the Italian mathematician Carlo Antonio Manzini (1599–1677) and the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807–1882) became household names and the saga of Irish revolutionaries was being taught through Indian textbooks.5

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 increased traffic from Europe—both of people and ideas. A new class of intelligentsia emerged, along with traders and missionaries who had long been plying the eastern sea routes. This was the scholar, the writer, and the professional journalist. English language newspapers began to be increasingly and rapidly available as also books, journals, periodicals, and pamphlets. These brought information from Europe on contemporary and topical events to the readers. This coincided with the rapid growth of the indigenous press.6 Along with the spread of better rail and road networks and the greater use of telegraphs, news, and news reporting acquired a different and an altogether more contemporary hue.

As the vernacular press became vociferously anti-imperialist and staunchly nationalist, the English press put its weight strongly behind the colonial interests. Virtually from its inception—from the time of Warren Hastings (1732–1818) and Lord Cornwallis (1737–1805)—the scope of the English-language press had been limited. It served British interests. Owned and edited by Englishmen, initially set up to serve the small colony of British residents who carried the White Man’s Burden in hot, dusty, (p.55) remote corners and provincial outposts, it made some efforts to change its character after 1857. It took upon itself the onerous task of directing and educating public opinion. But its views did not always find favour with the new breed of politically minded English-educated Indians: ‘British assertions of authority met persistent resistance from both regional rulers and the Indian officials employed by the British.’7

Many educated Indians launched a number of newspapers and periodicals in English,8 but these ventures were destined to suffer in a country where the vast majority could not read English. It was left to the vernacular press to not just mould and define public opinion, but steer debates and discussions and focus the reader’s attention on social, religious, and literary issues, as well as provide information on political events in India and abroad.9 From veiled innuendoes through a ‘subversive subtext’,10 the Urdu newspapers began to display an increasingly hostile attitude towards the British and a markedly nationalist tone. Moreover, with the far lower (p.56) prices of dailies such as Oudh Akhbar, Kohinoor, Akhbar-i-Aam, and Paisa Akhbar, the vernacular newspapers posed a threat to major Anglo-Indian dailies such as The Pioneer, The Times of India, The Statesman, etc.

Lord Lytton, the viceroy, introduced the Vernacular Press Act,11 a draconian law designed to curtail the freedom of the Indian-languages press. It came down especially heavily on the non-English newspapers and muzzled any form of criticism of the government. In the wake of widespread protests, the Act was repealed by Lytton’s successor, Ripon, in 1881;12 however, it marked a cleavage between the English and the non-English press.

Several Indian-owned English newspapers were also started, but their fate was not always good; some survived long enough to establish a regular readership, others folded up as soon as funds dried up.13 Many were (p.57) proscribed by the imperial government and forced to shut shop. Norman Gerald Barrier notes how the ‘content of the press reflected the awakening mood of Indian politics’. With a boom in printing presses, vernacular journalism too showed an upward swing. Barrier cites 1,359 newspapers and journals in 1905 serving an estimated 2 million subscribers.14

A word about the imperial policy of proscription might be useful here. The link between sedition and immorality has been pointed out as also between censorship and surveillance.15 The Reporters on Native Newspapers16 were encouraged to carefully track vernacular press to fathom the public mood and it was believed that heavy censorship could deprive the authority of useful information. Often, instead of an outright ban, the government chose to forfeit securities; this had different effects on different proprietors. Some buckled down; others rose to the challenge. The Zamindar of Lahore, for instance, lost a security of Rs 2,000, but since the owner could sustain the loss, it put up Rs 10,000 to continue publication; the result was not to the liking of the proscribers:

[The] paper’s notoriety increased subscriptions to 15,000. Similarly, the Comrade refused to mute its criticism and lost securities of Rs 2,000 and 10,000. Not only did the sanctions fail to affect the publicists, but to the embarrassment of the British, the publishers fought a running court battle, which challenged application of the Press Act and broadcast the Pan-Islamic message. Ultimately, the Government of India resorted to pre-censorship and, fearing the reaction to public prosecution of leaders, interned them for the duration of the war.17

Keenly aware of the damage wrought by the press, the government enforced the Press Act in 1913. As a result, Hasrat Mohani’s Urdu-i-Mualla was forced out of business, the Tauhid had its security confiscated (p.58) in 1913, the Al-Hilal and Comrade were closed in 1914, the Ali brothers were interned in May 1915 for writing ‘The Choice of the Turks’, and a year later Hasrat Mohani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad suffered the same fate for writing/publishing ‘seditious’ material.18 Gagged and bound, the agitators could neither be quelled nor wished away. As the agitation simmered away in quiet corners, new voices arose and new names replaced those who were put behind bars. Poet-politicians like Mohamed Ali (who used the nom de plume ‘Jauhar’) and Hasrat Mohani employed stock images of the caged bird to speak out in defiance of those who sought to curb their freedom:

  • My opinions are free and so is my body
  • It is useless to lock up the body of Hasrat.19

The turn of the century saw changes in many parts of the world. Events in North Africa and the Balkans influenced certain sections of the Muslim community in more ways than one. Western imperialism and its increasing aggressiveness angered them. Italy’s aggression in Libya in 1911, the French moves against Morocco in 1912, the Balkan War of 1912, and the gradual shrinking of the once-mighty Ottoman Empire brought fear into the hearts of the Indian Muslims. The First World War broke out in 1914 and ravaged Europe for the next four years. When Turkey entered the fray on the German side, the Indian Muslims found themselves on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, they resented the British for their role in dismantling the Ottoman Empire; on the other hand, they were willing to be seduced by the promises held out by the British in return for their support on the Allied war front.20 (p.59) Azad captured the mood of the moment when on 1 November 1914 the government informed its Indian subjects through a widely circulated official announcement of its war with Turkey and its much-laboured keenness to avoid any sacrilege to the holy places: ‘Possibly there was no Muslim home left in British India which was unaware of the contents of this announcement.’21 Azad went on to say, pithily, that the world has seen how the government had fulfilled its promises—from the days of Napoleon till the present time.

Meanwhile, Sharif Husain (1854–1931), the amir of Mecca, proclaimed himself to be the ‘king’ of Hejaz on 10 June 1916. But, by virtue of a Machiavellian treaty signed between Britain and the House of Saud, Ibn al-Saud (a rival tribesman) was recognized by the former as independent sovereign of Najd, Al-Hisa, Qatif, and Jubayl. Given their virtual monopoly of the steamer ships carrying pilgrims from all over South Asia to the Hejaz as well as their stranglehold on trade and commerce, the British presence in the Middle East caused consternation among the custodians of the holy sites scattered all through the region as well as those who flocked to the holy land.22 Given also the close affinity between Wahhabism and the fledgling Ahl-e-Hadith movement in India, the rise of the House of Saud caused tripping of power lines from West Asia to India. The rise of the Wahhabis in Arabia was supported by the Ahl-e-Hadith and the Nadwat-ul-ulama, but not by the ulama of Firangi Mahal and Bareilly. The Ali brothers and the Khilafat Party, initially supporters of Ibn Saud, changed their stand in later years and by 1925 had parted ways due to Ibn Saud’s dealings with the British. To further complicate matters, Abdul Bari and Mohamed Ali came to a parting of ways over the candidacy of (p.60) the Khilafat: Ibn Saud or Husain? All pretence of unity was lost as the Muslim politicians and ulama found themselves in two hostile camps: pro-Wahhabi and pro-Hashemite.23

Spurred by news of desecration of the holy places at the hands of the Nejdis and their becoming custodians of Mecca and Medina, the Anjuman-e-Khuddam-i-Kaaba (Society of Servants of Kaaba) was formed as early as 1913 by Abdul Bari and Maulana Shaukat Ali. Earlier still, on 15 December 1912, an Indian medical mission called the Red Crescent Medical Mission had gone to Turkey under the leadership of M.A. Ansari. The purpose of this mission was to extend a hand of friendship on behalf of the Indian Muslims to their Turkish brothers-in-faith. Shibli Nomani24 had written a paean welcoming Dr Ansari back home called ‘Khair Maqdam Ansari’. It was published on 12 July 1913 in Hamdard and was promptly proscribed by the imperial government.25 Earlier still, the same Shibli had written a series of three articles entitled ‘Musalmanon ki Political Karwat’ (The Political Turning of the Muslims) in 1912 in the Muslim Gazette from Lucknow. An excerpt from the second article makes the following observation: ‘Muslims have two characteristics: one, they are subjects of the British government, and two, they are Muslim. As a result, their politics is a combination of these two elements and the first element over-rides the second.’26

Mohamed Ali27 made a distinction between the two sorts of Indian Musalman: the ‘deendar’ or men of faith who were helpless to stop the (p.61) progress of an avalanche of ‘bedeeni’ or ‘irreligiousness’ and those who are propelled by ‘nai raushni’ or new light. In My Life, he wrote, ‘The international developments which had resulted in the disintegration of the already enfeebled temporal power of Islam were bound to exercise a great influence on the Musalmans. But few could have prophesied the precise form this reaction was to take. Western education had thrust, so to speak, a wedge into the ranks of Indian Muslim society.’28

In the previous chapter, we witnessed the consolidation of British power in India. In this section, we shall attempt to establish the impact of outside events on the emerging Indian Muslim identity; in this part of our narrative the colonizing influence of the British will feature more prominently than it has so far. From here, we will go on, in the next section, to see how socialism combined with the effects of both external and internal events to give rise to a pronounced and proactive nationalism. In the concluding section of this chapter, we shall see the reflection of these events in the Urdu literature of this period.

By the early twentieth century, the impact of socialist thinking was much less felt, though the theme of exploitation—both by the colonial government and its collaborators—had begun to figure quite largely in both prose and poetry. But it was not till the October 1917 revolution that the floodgates of socialism and communistic ideas opened into India. Before that, the Japanese victory over Russia in 1904–5 had been a significant landmark in galvanizing the Asian nations against the hegemony of the European powers. Nehru, writing in his Autobiography, captured the excitement of those years, ‘Japanese victories stirred up my enthusiasm and I waited eagerly for papers for fresh news daily…. Nationalistic ideas filled my mind. I mused of Indian freedom and Asiatic freedom from the thralldom of Europe.’29

The Japanese victory inspired Asian leaders and stiffened their resolve to end colonial domination. In India, the extremists led by B.G. Tilak (1856–1920),30 felt vindicated, for they had all along rejected the politics (p.62) of mendicancy or subservience in favour of radical activism. Tilak and Aurobindo Ghosh began to challenge the existing Congress leadership with a new ideology that combined Hindu revivalism and a far more militant political activism than the stalwarts within the Congress were hitherto used to. Content to secure greater Indian participation in existing systems of governance, the Congress was, till then, an elitist, amorphous sort of organization. The split in the Congress between the moderates and extremists in Surat in 1907 marked a significant watershed. For it was here, in Nehru’s words, that ‘the Congress broke up in disorder and emerged as a purely moderate group’.31 A year ago, in 1906 the Congress had adopted the goal of swaraj, self-governance; however, it would take 10 long years for this goal to turn into a mass action programme. For that, India had to await the arrival of Gandhi from South Africa in 1915. On a sea voyage from London to South Africa in 1909, Gandhi had already penned a remarkable document; this was the Hind Swaraj written in the form of a dialogue between himself (as editor) and an imaginary reader. In it, Gandhi had outlined his conception of Indian freedom, the need for ‘soul force’ and passive resistance to win the war against an adversary who was ‘splendidly armed’.

Before Gandhi’s arrival and his demonstration of the power of satyagraha, several other events happened that deserve a brief mention here for the purpose of this dissertation: the Hindi–Urdu controversy in 1900;32 the proposed partition of Bengal in 1903 by Curzon (the scheme was enacted in 1906, but in the face of charged communal tensions, annulled in 1911);33 (p.63) the Simla Deputation34 of 1906 which paved the way for the establishment of the All India Muslim League in 1906 in Dhaka; and the Morley–Minto Reforms35 of 1909.

Noting the emergence of the Indian Muslims as ‘a religiopolitical community’ in the wake of the establishment of the Muslim League and the colonial reforms of 1909, Mushirul Hasan writes:

The colonial government reforms of 1909, enacted to defuse the Congress demand for a greater share in administration and decision-making was a calculated master-stroke: it discarded the notion and jettisoned the prospect of secular nationalism. It established separate electorates for Muslims, along with reservations and weightages, and thus gave birth to a religiopolitical community, sections of which began to see themselves in the colonial image of being unified, cohesive, and segregated from the Hindus. Separate electorates put a formal seal of approval on the institutionalized conception of Muslim political identity and contributed to the forging of communitarian identities that were, both in conception and articulation, profoundly divisive and inherently conflict-oriented.36

Nehru, in his Autobiography, wrote, ‘From 1907 onwards for several years, India was seething with unrest and trouble. For the first time since the revolt of 1857 India was showing fight and not submitting tamely to foreign rule.’37

(p.64) Some of the significant events for the purpose of this chapter are: Gandhi’s return to India in 1915; the Lucknow Pact38 of 1916 between the Congress and the Muslim League; and the Montague–Chelmsford Reforms39 of 1919. However, the blackest chapter of the period under study (1900–1930s) was the infamous Rowlatt Act passed in March 1919. By indefinitely extending ‘emergency measures’ (under the Defence of India Regulations Act) enacted during the First World War, ostensibly to control public unrest and root out conspiracy, this piece of legislation effectively authorized the government to imprison, without trial, any person suspected of terrorist activities. Anything that smacked of ‘revolutionary’ activities could be punished. The Rowlatt Act caused widespread outrage among both Hindus and Muslims and led to the first satyagraha under Gandhi’s leadership on 6 April 1919. On 10 April 1919, two Congress leaders were arrested in Amritsar—Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew—culminating in the worst bloodbath the country had yet known: the Jallianwala massacre, three days later. Here is a sample from Saadat Hasan Manto remembering those days in a short story called 1919 ka Ek Din (A Day in 1919) written sometime in the late 1930s:

It is about those days in 1919, Brother, when agitations against the Rowlatt Act had sprung up all across the Punjab. I am talking about Amritsar. Sir Michael O’Dwyer had forbidden Mahatma Gandhi from entering the Punjab under the Defence of India Rules. Gandhi ji was on his way when he had been stopped near Palwal, arrested and sent back to Bombay. As far as I can understand, Brother, had the English not committed this grave mistake, the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, which is the bloodiest chapter in the history of British rule in India, would never have occurred.

Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs—alike—held Gandhi ji in veneration. Everyone considered him to be a ‘mahatma’, a great man, a truly evolved spirit. When the news (p.65) of his arrest reached Lahore, all business ground to a standstill. When people in Amritsar heard of this, complete and total strikes paralysed the city within the snap of a finger.40

Meanwhile, two important developments need to be noted on the Muslim front: the formation of the Jamiayat-i-Ulama-i-Hind in 1919, and the return of Maulana Mahmud-ul Hasan from British imprisonment in Malta in 1920 and issuance of a fatwa giving religious sanction to the non-violent non-cooperation movement launched by Gandhi in the same year. The dawn of January 1921 saw the Muslims of India ‘dizzy with the headiness of azadi’ blindly willing to follow Gandhi on the long march to freedom.41 Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation mingled with the Muslim’s desire to rise in defence of their religion. Syed Mahmud (1889–1971), general secretary of the Central Khilafat Committee from 1921 to 1926, appointing Gandhi as a member of the Committee from Bombay in 1922, wrote, ‘It is the hardest time for Islam, and we pray that the Almighty Allah may give you strength and fortitude to stand by righteousness and justice at this hour of trial.’42

Unfortunately, the atmosphere of communal camaraderie fostered by the conjoined non-cooperation and khilafat movement proved to be short-lived. The hatred for British rule, that had been steadily mounting, reached such an extent that the slightest stirrings of reform or revivalism within Indian Islam too came to be inseparably intertwined with hatred for the British and—by extension—Christianity. Some Muslim theologians had gone so far as to declare the subcontinent, ruled as it was by the British, to be Dar-ul-Harb (literally, ‘house or abode of war’, but used to refer to enemy territory as opposed to Dar-ul-Islam, that is, the ‘abode of Islam’).43 The managing committee of the Jamiayat-i-Ulama-i-Hind met at Delhi on 18 October (p.66) 1922 and decided that since Britain was the only Christian power hostile to the Turks and Islam, it was ‘haram (unlawful) for any Moslem on the surface of the world to accord any help to this hostile government’.44 Some among these ulama also contemplated issuing a fatwa prohibiting enlistment in the Army45 and to discuss the question of jehad. Other intelligence reports cite the reference from the Netherlands Trading Society and the Imperial Bank of Persia of remittances of £ 10,000 and £ 80,000 by the Sindh and the Central Khilafat Committee for Kemal Pasha at Angora.46

Some among the Muslim community interpreted the description of Dar-ul-Harb to be apt also because, apart from the infidel conquerors, there were the Hindu infidels who held positions of power and patronage in India, positions that were, they believed, denied to the Muslims. At the same time, there were some Muslims who felt the need to turn the gaze inwards and look at the reasons for the complete disarray among their numbers. Communitarian politics had so divided the people that small, everyday things that had always been taken for granted now became contentious issues: such as the arti–namaz disputes among temples and mosques. By the 1930s, the rift between the Congress and the Muslim League had grown to such an extent that they were ‘like two trees growing on either side of the road’.47

To go back to the years immediately after the First World War, the currents of change were sweeping across the Ottoman Empire all through (p.67) these turbulent times, where the Ottoman Empire was carved up into many small, independent countries and the regime of Sultan Abdul Hameed II was overthrown by the Young Turks. The Young Turks, like their counterparts in India in the Congress, ushered in an era of reform and change. Their revolution too impacted the Indian national movement whose leaders were widely celebrated for their heroism. Events in the Islamic countries had an unsettling effect on India. The Balkan wars in particular stirred the consciousness of educated Muslims, who realized the consequences of Turkey’s capitulation to European powers. A pan-Islamic tide with its focus on the Sultan of Turkey who was also the Khalifa of the Sunni Muslims, swept across north India. Poets and writers wrote in white heat about the plight and sufferings of the people in the Balkans. A poem by an unknown writer, Farhat, who wrote Fughan-e-Kaaba (The Lament of Kaaba) published in 1920 in Garya-e-Hind, placed the blame for the loss of Khilafat squarely on the ‘Hindwallon’ (the people of Hind):

  • The sanctity of the Kaaba is saying:
  • The people of Hind have snatched the Khilafat
  • How can the Turks protect me now
  • The people of Hind have snatched the Khilafat.48

By 1919, the pan-Islamic ferment had reached a crescendo with the establishment of the Central Khilafat Committee. Gandhi had been convinced by the Ali brothers that the Khilafat was a cause dearer than life to the Indian Muslims, and for the next four years the Khilafat movement raged across India like a tornado, becoming the first revolutionary mass movement for Indian Muslims. It brought more Muslims together—as it turned out, for slighter reasons—than the later movement for independence. While Muslim opinion and support was divided between the Congress and the League, when it came to the subject of separate electorates, it was unanimous over the Khilafat issue. The peasants who had given whole-hearted support to the non-cooperation and Khilafat movement had done so more out of a sense of impending freedom, a release from the yoke of crushing poverty and oppression rather than any real understanding of the geopolitics of distant Turkey or even any sense of real allegiance—spiritual or otherwise—to a remote khalifa. Nehru, (p.68) on his tour of provincial towns and cities in the early 1920s, was quick to grasp this. He wrote:

Even in remote bazaars the common folk talked of the Congress and Swaraj (for the Nagpur Congress had finally made Swaraj the goal), and what had happened in the Punjab, and the Khilafat—but the word ‘Khilafat’ bore a strange meaning in most of the remote areas. People thought it came from khilaf, an Urdu word meaning ‘against’ or ‘opposed to’, and so they took it to mean: opposed to Government!49

During December 1923, a delegation of Indians comprising Qazi Abdul Ghaffar50 went to Lausanne with a message for Ismet Pasha on behalf of the Khilafat Committee suggesting that another khalifa be found if the Great National Assembly did not revoke its decree depriving the last khalifa of his temporal powers. Ismet Pasha entrusted Ghaffar to take a message for the Khilafat Committee urging it to provide financial assistance by asking Indian industrialists to invest in Turkish concerns and to continue their support of Turkey.51 The Anjuman-e-Khuddam-i-Kaaba was also reported to have requested the Turkish government to permit a branch of the society to be opened in Angora and other important Arab towns.52

When Mustafa Kemal, the architect of the new Turkish republic and the newly constituted Turkish National Assembly, abolished the Khilafat on 3 March 1924, the Khilafat movement in India collapsed like a house of cards. Not only did the movement lose its raison d’etre, it led to confusion and disarray among Indian Muslims; they were left ‘politically all dressed up and nowhere to go’.53 In equal measure, it made many Hindus question the allegiance and interests of the Indian Muslims.54 In hindsight, (p.69) it seems a miracle that the movement lasted as long as it did—given the acute dearth of intellectual content in it—and brought so many Muslims together so strongly. Again, in hindsight, it seems evident that the movement was essentially the result of an emotional outburst, stemming from a deep-seated, partly nostalgic, partly emotional response. The enemy in both cases—Muslim Middle East and Muslim India—was common: the British. It must be noted that the growing Muslim antipathy to Pax Britannica took a long time to get fully and coherently articulated. The inchoate distrust of the British presence, distilled and expressed in poetry, pamphleteering, and political speeches did not find a conclusive, intellectually grounded, well-articulated form for a very long time. This was, partly, due to the different shades among the Muslim intelligentsia—from the reactionary to the progressive, the liberal to the traditionalist, the nationalists to the loyalists.

A great ferment, however, was clearly brewing among the Indian Muslims which combined nostalgia for a decaying institution (the Khilafat) with growing anti-colonial sentiments. Urdu poetry and prose mirrored the feelings of what was no doubt a turbulent era. Shibli Nomani’s ‘Hungama-e-Balqan’ (The Turmoil in the Balkans) is a classic exposition in poetry of the trauma experienced by an entire generation of Indian Muslims. Its strength lies in its restraint, self-awareness, and its intuitive cognizance of the far-reaching implications of the trouble in the Balkans:

  • When decline has set in over political power,
  • The name and banner will stand how long?
  • The smoke from the burnt candle of
  • A vanished assembly will rise how long?
  • When the sky has torn the mantle of power to pieces,
  • Its shreds will float in the air how long?
  • Gone is Morocco, gone is Persia. We have now to see
  • This helpless sick man of Turkey will live how long?
  • This tide of woe which is advancing from the Balkans,
  • The sighs of the oppressed will stem how long? …
  • (p.70) Shibli! Should you long to migrate, where can you go now?
  • Syria or Najd or Gyrene are sanctuaries how long?55

Like Shibli, another remarkable figure, Hasrat Mohani,56 eloquently expressed the anxieties of his generation through both poetry and journalism.57 In a ghazal written in 1917, and published in An-Nizamiya, the journal from Lucknow’s Firangi Mahal, Mohani made a passionate protest against the British capture of Baghdad in March 1917:

  • Hasrat’s request to the Shah of Jilan58 is that Islam wishes
  • That the fate of Baghdad should not have been so decided.

It must be remembered that it was Hasrat Mohani who first recorded in prose, and later used as a rallying cry at a labour rally in Calcutta in 1928, the enduring cry of revolutionaries anywhere in India whatever be the cause or the language of the oppressed: Inquilab Zindabad! (Long live the revolution!).59 Hasrat Mohani, like Shibli Nomani before him was, incidentally, a fervent pan-Islamist as well as nationalist insofar as both (p.71) believed in a modus vivendi with the Congress.60 Both wrote prolifically in Urdu and both drew upon world events to inspire, rouse, and challenge the imagination of the Indian Muslims. Shibli’s disciple Maulana Abul Kalam Azad61 was cast in much the same mould. There was much in the lives and careers of these men which inspired their contemporaries and future generations.

The trauma of a generation that Shibli expressed was taken to new poetic heights by the genius of Iqbal, and it was Iqbal who expressed the disquiet that afflicted the Muslim mind in startling ways that no one had ever attempted before. This disquiet found expression in different ways: there was the sorrow over the loss of freedom or power of an Islamic race, both in the distant past and the present; concern about the future of the Islamic countries subject to European hegemony; and suspicion and distrust of Western powers that had, in the first place, plotted and brought about the downfall of Muslim rule everywhere. In a rejoinder to his own famous Shikwa (Complaint), Jawab-e-Shikwa (Answer to the Complaint, both published in Bang-e-Dara, ‘The Call of the Road’, 1924), Iqbal wrote:

  • The tumult caused by the Bulgar onslaught and aggression
  • Is to rouse you out of complacency and gird your loins for action.
  • Presume not that to hurt your feelings, it is a sinister device
  • It is a challenge to your self-respect, it is a call to sacrifice
  • Why tremble at the snorting of the chargers of your foes?
  • The flame of truth is not snuffed out by the breath the enemy blows.62

To return to the troubles inside India, earlier, in 1916, the Lucknow Pact had secured separate electorates for the Muslims and ushered in a (p.72) short-lived period of Hindu–Muslim unity. Relations between the two communities had been strained since the partition of Bengal in 1905. A year later, in 1906, the Muslim League was established in Dhaka under the leadership of the Agha Khan to safeguard Muslim interests. Among Hindus, a movement for the revival of Hindu religious life initiated in the nineteenth century was being strengthened by men like Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. Hindi poets like Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850–1885), Pratap Narain Misra (1856–1894), Radha Charan Goswami (1859–1923), Kishorilal Goswami (1866–1932), Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi (1864–1938), and Subhadra Kumari Chauhan (1904–1948), and Bengali writers like Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (1838–1894) stoked the fires of an increasingly militant nationalism that many perceived as a Hindu nationalism, for it reviled the Muslims as dominant, oppressive, and destructive.63 All through the 1920s, the Shuddhi movement and the Arya Samaj gained ground among the Hindu revivalists. Running parallel were the various movements of the Muslim revivalists who kept raising their voice against the dilution and corruption of Islam under the influence of the kafirs.64

Several attempts were made to not just ‘defend’ Islam against the combined infidel presence of the British and Hindus, but also, in the bargain, strengthen and bolster Indian Islam. Different voices and movements sprang up in different parts of the country, striving to give the Indian Muslims a measure of self-assurance with varying results. Unfortunately, some sprang from the bedrock of fear and threat; thousands of Muslims migrated to Afghanistan in search of a sanctuary in 1920 in what was called the hijrat movement65 and several thousand more took part in the Moplah (p.73) Uprising66 on the Malabar Coast in 1921. Some movements sprang from a missionary or proselytizing zeal, such as the Tablighi Jamaat.67 Others had a relatively more secular ‘agenda’. For instance, in July 1929 a group of ‘Congress Muslims’ organized themselves into a group called the Muslim Nationalist Party with the intention of taking on the communal Muslim leaders. In Nehru’s words, while they had ‘some success’ and a ‘large part of the Muslim intelligentsia seemed to be with them’, they were ‘all upper-middle-class folk, and there were no dynamic personalities among them’.68 The ‘communal leaders’ who, according to Nehru, being the ‘greater adepts’ held sway over the masses. The Muslim Nationalist Party proved to be short-lived and had all but collapsed by 1934 leaving the field clear to the greater adepts!

At the end of a decade of growing communal tendencies among both communities, the establishment in 1930 of a group of progressive-minded and socially committed individuals—the Khudai Khidmatgar or Servants of God—seemed like a strange and miraculous occurrence. This group of divergent Pakhtun tribes from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), headed by the charismatic Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, displayed a remarkable commitment to the cause of Indian nationalism; more importantly, they showed how fighting for freedom from British rule was in no way (p.74) discordant with Muslim ideals. Another example of a ‘progressive’ people’s movement is the Ahrar movement which sprang up in the Punjab under the leadership of Chaudhry Afzal Haq (d. 1942) who stressed obedience to the Shariah, but did yeoman’s service in the Punjab and Kashmir areas.

While the Indian Muslim was looking at different ways to forge a new identity—one that would be in consonance with the demands of his nationalism and religion, a significant event took place. After the surrender of Turkey’s sultan, the communist government of Russia recognized the establishment of a secular government by Mustafa Kemal. This open support of a newly emerging Asian nation state by the largest Western country provided a new way of viewing the East–West conflict. The West, or at least one major Western power, the Soviet Russia, was not only viewing Islam with sympathy, but also extending a helping hand to Muslims. As a result, a new dimension was added to the traditional bipolar world view. This new ingredient was communism. We shall look at it in more detail in the second section of this chapter.

Introduction of Socialist Thought and Setting-up of the CPI

The Russian revolution opened a window to the future.69 It triggered new debates on state and society. Some of these debates found expression in the establishment of the CPI in 1925 which, in turn, provided a fertile ground for left-leaning writers to gain a stronghold and eventually led to the formation of the PWM a decade later. My contention, in this book, is that the PWA was the manifestation of a movement that was by no means inconsistent with the existing liberal and enlightened trends in Urdu literature; it was, if anything, a logical extension of what was already being debated from social platforms and also, increasingly, being written about by Muslim writers.

However, there were two new developments. One was the strong ideological thrust, and the other was the emphasis on a changeover and not just a re-negotiation with the colonial government. The new breed of socialists exhorted, rather demanded, a break from the past and the conventions—both literary and social—that they felt shackled them and inhibited a move towards the brighter future that awaited the Indian masses. Change would (p.75) come to the Indian peasants, just as it had to their brethren in Russia after the overthrow of the repressive, regressive Czarist regime.70 By 1921, a substantial number of books and pamphlets had appeared that gave fairly authoritative information on Lenin and the Russian revolution: there were Lenin vs. Gandhi by S.A. Dange in English; Nicolai Lenin: His Life and Work by G.V. Krishna Rao; Socialism by V.S. Sarawate in Marathi; Lenin and the Russian Revolution by Aziz Bhopali in Urdu; The Liberator of the Poor in Russia—Nicolai Lenin by Gorakh in Kannada; Biplab Pathe Russiar Rupantar by A.C. Sen in Bengali; among others.71 The influence of the Russian revolution was recognized not just by Indians, but also by the British. Montagu, the British secretary of state to India, and Chelmsford, the viceroy, in their momentous Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms noted thus: ‘The revolution in Russia in its beginning was regarded in India as a triumph over despotism; and notwithstanding the fact that it has since involved that unhappy country in anarchy and dismemberment, it has given impetus to Indian political aspirations.’72

During the First World War, the Ghadar (Revolt) Party and its associates in Berlin had prepared brochures in Urdu and Punjabi which were dropped among Indian soldiers in France by German aircraft. These brochures and pamphlets played up issues such as ‘poor pay, racism and British attacks on Indian religion’.73 Back home, some socialist literature was being made available in the form of British newspapers like The Herald, Workers’ Dreadnaught, and Soviet Russia. The first Urdu translation of the Communist Manifesto was serialized in Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s weekly newspaper Al-Hilal.74 The translation was done by Maulana Abdur (p.76) Razzaq Malihabadi (1889–1959). Mushir Hosain Kidwai, the talukdar of Gadia in Barabanki district, influenced by the rising tide of socialism in the West, wrote a pamphlet called Islam and Socialism75 which attempted to prove this radical connection through references from the Holy Quran and the Hadith.76 Many other scholars and theologians subsequently attempted to prove the link between socialism and Islamic tenets; they did so by stressing that while the Prophet’s socialism was ‘ethical’, the modern breed of socialists was ‘materialists’ who attacked capitalism, but espoused agnosticism. Earlier, Syed Ahmad Khan and Shibli had already established an intellectual tradition within the framework of religion. Zamana and Muhammadi, two of the Khilalfatist newspapers of Calcutta, gave further credence to the Bolshevik movement by projecting it as the friend of Islam and the oppressed.77 Abul Kalam Azad, keeping in mind the demands of the changing times, wrote on matters of faith and religion and provided contemporary commentaries on the Holy Quran. In fact, Al-Hilal proved to be so popular and created such a stir among its readers with its revolutionary contents that within the first three months of its appearance, Azad felt constrained to re-publish all the back issues so that readers could maintain a complete set.78 Later, others attempted to correlate religion with science, but mostly the attempts were rhetorical in nature. It would appear that the (p.77) great majority of thinkers who wrote in Urdu seemed afraid of change; when faced with new concepts and new social, economic, and political ideas, they preferred to do so within the comforting confines of religion. This might explain why many theorists, publicists, and intellectuals tried to cast socialism and socialistic ideas in the mould of Islam.

Iqbal introduced modern philosophical concepts, gleaned from his study in Europe, and vastly broadened the scope of the existing intellectual discourse among educated Muslims, yet keeping it all the while tethered to its quintessentially religious moorings. In his passionate protests against the capitalist and imperialist forces, he propounded the message of ‘socialism’ couched in Islam:

  • The capitalist from the blood of workers’ veins makes himself a clear ruby;
  • Landlords’ oppression despoils the villagers’ fields: Revolution!79


  • What is the Quran? For the capitalist, a message of death:
  • It is the patron of the property-less slave.80

Given his own vast reading and early exposure to European philosophy, poets like Iqbal had some understanding of socialism (though not of communism per se, as has been indicated in different ways by Sajjad Zaheer and W.C. Smith). Soon, even the less privileged among the Indian Muslim intelligentsia began to have a steady exposure to socialist thinking through a stream of propagandist literature that was increasingly making its way into India from the 1920s onwards. Most of the Marxist–Communist tomes of the period began to be available in Urdu; some were serialized in the many Urdu-language journals and newspapers that sprang up during this time. A flourishing translator’s bureau existed in Tashkent, and Indian mujahidin from Afghanistan (who had set-off to fight beside the Ottoman army, but had either ended up in Turkey or were in the process of finding their way back home) were introduced to socialist literature by men like M.N. Roy and Abdul Rab Peshawari. Led by Akbarjan, another batch of about 100 muhajirs crossed over into Soviet Russia in July–August 1920. The Azad Hindustan Akhbar of 1 October 1920 reported that seven delegates from India participated in the Congress of Peoples of the East (p.78) held in Baku.81 In fact, Indians (again, many of whom were the straggling mujahidin) returning from the Communist University of the Toilers of the East82 in Moscow introduced Marxism to Indian intellectuals upon their return. In 1922, Soviet Russia set aside funds for promoting the organization of communist groups that would proactively intervene and encourage revolutionary activity in India. M.N. Roy set up a network through which men, ideas, and literature would find its way from Soviet Russia into India. Ghulam Husain, who had translated some of Roy’s communist writings into Urdu, was given a substantial sum of money to set up the Urdu daily Inqilab (Revolution) from Lahore in 1922; Comintern’s magazine Vanguard was launched by M.N. Roy from Calcutta in the same year. Inqilab came to be known as ‘the people’s paper’ and its office soon became a hub of socialist activity in Lahore. Among those associated with it were Shams al-din Hasan and M.A. Khan who, along with Ghulam Husain, were also office bearers in the North Western Railway Workers’ Union.83 It is significant that a great many of those who were participating in the fledgling communist/socialist activities at various rungs and in different capacities were Muslims. Even a cursory reading of Adhikari’s Documents throws up a profusion of Muslim names.

Ghulam Rabbani Taban (1914–1993),84 a communist and active member of the PWA, in an essay entitled ‘Some Thoughts on the Soviet Union’, recalls:

During the closing years of the 1920s, while still at school, we at times heard some fragmentary stories about Russia that trickled though colonial censors. The news of the Russian revolution and its achievements thrilled us. I had no perception of a revolution but the term had been familiarized by the full-throated cries of ‘Long Live Revolution’ ringing throughout the country.85

(p.79) Taban goes on to mention how Nehru’s Soviet Russia and Tagore’s Letters written from Moscow were hugely popular with college students because ‘they gave a glimpse into a fairytale world.’ He also mentions Iqbal, as one of the tall poppies who was also the earliest to introduce socialism and the socialist movement to young people in India through his rousing poetry.

A visceral hatred for English imperialism led the leaders of Comintern and the Indian people to find common cause; it united them in the prospect of a joint campaign against a common enemy. According to E.H. Carr, the left-wing British historian and journalist, Indians were turning perhaps not so much to the communism of Moscow, but towards the political strength of Moscow, and the Comintern was not immune from the temptation of regarding the peoples of the East as pieces on the chessboard of the diplomatic war with Britain and her allies. The thrust of the socialist activities, as well as the brunt of the propaganda literature making its way from Moscow into India via Afghanistan, was anti-imperialist rather than pro-communist or even anti-British. Till 1920 or so, it had little effect on the ‘radicalisation of Indian Muslims’.86 The situation changed after the Second Congress of the Comintern in July 1920. The Russian Revolution had had little impact in Europe; the Bolshevik leaders thus decided to look east. In 1919 at the Second All-Russian Congress of Communist organizations of the East, Lenin declared, ‘The socialist revolution will not be only or chiefly a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against its bourgeoisie—no, it will be a struggle of all colonies and countries oppressed by imperialism, of all dependent countries, against international imperialism.’87

The Bolsheviks had been keenly following events in India for a variety of reasons.88 One, they saw even a threat to British power in India as a way of undermining British hegemony in other parts of the world. Britain represented the biggest obstacle in the global revolution being dreamed of in the new socialist state, and if India were to rise up in revolt against the colonial master it would, they hoped, show the way to other suppressed nations (p.80) such as Arabia, Egypt, China, Tibet, Persia, and large parts of Africa and the Middle East. Moreover, India, the Bolsheviks believed, was ripe for revolution and an ideal vehicle to spring a revolution that could catapult the ‘idea’ of revolt onto a larger platform. They found many active rebels among scattered émigré groups who could carry the seeds of the Bolshevik ideology. Some of them had settled in Germany after First World War when they had looked towards Germany for arms and money. After the German defeat, they gravitated naturally towards the Bolsheviks in search of similar support. Chief among these were Virendranath Chattopadhyay89 (1880–1937) and Bhupendranath Dutta (1880–1961), Swami Vivekananda’s younger brother, in Berlin; Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh (1886–1979), Ubaidullah Sindhi (1872–1944), and Maulvi Barkatullah (1854–1927) in Kabul; Lala Lajpat Rai (1865–1928) leading the Home Rule League in New York; activists of the Ghadar Party in California; Har Dayal (1884–1939) of the Ghadar Party who had moved from California to Stockholm; Rash Behari Bose (1886–1945) in Japan; and M.N. Roy (1887–1954) in Mexico, who would play a seminal role in setting up the CPI. Usually at loggerheads with each other, they were scattered and of little practical help to each other. On Indian soil, during the second and third decades of the twentieth century, a new brand of revolutionaries had come up, particularly in Bengal, Punjab, and Uttar Pradesh. They were left-leaning, though not yet communists as such, though almost all were influenced by the Russian revolution. They set themselves up in different groupings, such as the Naujawan Bharat Sabha and the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army led by Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, and their comrades; the band of youth led by ‘Masterda’ (Surya Sen); and the Jugantar and Anushilan groups in Bengal; among others.

Written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in German, the Communist Manifesto was first published in 1848 in London; its first English translation by Helen Macfarlane in 1850 seized the imagination of the world. In India, the educated middle classes had long been familiar with it, in parts if not entirely in its sum and substance. The underlying appeal of (p.81) the Communist Manifesto—to the Workers of the World to rise in revolt, to throw away their shackles, and to unite—soon found an echo in Urdu poetry. A steady stream of propagandist literature from the Soviet Union, which wound its way into India through Afghanistan, fuelled the fire that had been lit years ago by the events of 1857. In different parts of India, events conspired to turn attention upon the long-suffering peasants and landless labourers of India’s vast hinterland. In places as distant as the Punjab and Bengal, demands of industrial workers and peasants came to the forefront and were picked up by Khilafat leaders as yet another example of imperialist brutality. The Railway Workers’ Strike of 1920 in the Punjab coincided with the growth of trade union consciousness among the jute mill workers of Bengal. A wave of strikes assailed India in 1921: 396 strikes in one year alone, involving 600,351 workmen and a loss of 6,994,426 workdays.90 This involved workers from textile and jute mills of Bombay, Calcutta, Ahmadabad, and Madras; North Western and East Bengal Railways; coalfields of Jharia; Bombay P & T; Assam plantations; Calcutta tramways; among others.

With the establishment of a propaganda base in Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, a steady increase in Russians entering Afghanistan became evident. While the base of their activities was Afghanistan, the target was India. Moscow was at pains to set up a channel of contact with India, a channel that ran through all its eastern border outposts: Tibet, Sinkiang, Persia, and Afghanistan. Mention must be made of two incidents that strengthened the Marxist presence in India even before the formal establishment of the CPI, namely, the Kanpur Conspiracy Case and the Meerut Conspiracy Case. The arrests of communists had begun in Peshawar in 1923. The government had launched a campaign of anti-communist repression by May 1923. Three prominent communists were arrested on slender charges and kept under detention—Shaukat Usmani was arrested from Kanpur, Muzaffar Ahmad from Calcutta, and Ghulam Hussain from Lahore. As Adhikari noted, ‘The strategy of the British imperialists in their attempt to destroy the rising communist movement was to discredit the patriotism of communists, show them as agents of a foreign power and drive a wedge between them and the militant left-wing in the Congress and the national movement.’91

(p.82) Scrambling for evidence to link the Bolshevik and communist agencies with ‘other foci of disorder’, the government embarked upon a lengthy trial. Thirteen people were named in the Kanpur Conspiracy (as the case came to be known since the case was lodged in Kanpur, or Cawnpore as it was then spelt) and complaints were filed against eight ‘well-known Bolsheviks’. Referred to as the Bolshevik Conspiracy in official documents, the magisterial inquiry eventually whittled down to four suspects: Muzaffar Ahmad, Shaukat Usmani, S.A. Dange, and Nalini Gupta. The charge was an attempt to secure ‘the complete separation of India from imperialistic Britain’ by a ‘violent revolution’ and thus ‘deprive the king-emperor of the sovereignty of British India’.92 The accused were sentenced to four years’ rigorous imprisonment. The case attracted a great deal of attention in Britain where the Labour Party had come to power in 1924. Money and help poured in—both from Britain and Russia—for an appeal. Fund drives were launched in Indian papers such as The Socialist. The Indian Communist Defence Committee was formed in 1924; its grounds for seeking an appeal were interesting; ‘the idea of forming a legal communist party has to be given a trial.’93 A conference of several loosely coalitioned kisan and workers’ unions as well as communist sympathizer groups was held on 25 December 1925 at the same time as the Kanpur session of the Indian National Congress (INC). The foundation of the CPI is said to date from that occasion. Hasrat Mohani, as chairman of the Reception Committee, spoke thus:

The movement of communism is the movement of peasants and workers. The people of India generally agree with the principles and aims and objects of this movement, but owing to certain misunderstandings some weak and nervous people fear the very name of communism … [our aims and objects] to establish swaraj or complete independence by all fair means … some evilly-disposed persons incriminate communism as necessarily an antireligious movement. The fact however is that in matters of religion we allow the largest possible latitude and toleration.94

The furore over the Kanpur Conspiracy Case had barely died when the government launched the Meerut Conspiracy Case against 31 communist and trade union leaders; this lasted from 1923–33. Upon their release, the (p.83) Meerut conspiracy prisoners took to the cause of the trade unions, which had already shown their ability to rock the nation, with great enthusiasm.95 As we shall see in later chapters, none of the government’s various forms of repression could squash the spread of communist ideas; eventually, the government felt constrained to ban the CPI in July 1934 and resorted to mass arrests of communists and militant trade unionists, keeping the suspects under detention without trial under the infamous Preventive Detention Act.

However, the juggernaut of protest had rolled too far to be stopped. The fires of protest raged across the country. The Indian peasant and factory worker, long inarticulate, scattered, and disempowered, increasingly began to find a voice and a platform. The Kanpur Conspiracy Case threw up a new kind of protestor—one who vociferously called out for revolution and would stop at nothing, not even militant terrorist activities, to achieve their end. The country had already witnessed random, scattered acts of nationalist-revolutionary activity during the first phase of the non-cooperation movement (the most famous example being the Kakori Conspiracy Case when a group of young men planned to loot a government treasury from a train in the small qasbah of Kakori, near Lucknow on 9 August 1925). From 1925 onwards, examples of armed resistance began to increase; what (p.84) was different now was the inclusion of the workers and peasants into these militant activities. The year 1925 was rocked by two prolonged strikes—the North West Railway Workers’ strike and the Bombay Textile Workers’ strike. The days of spontaneous strikes led to organized ones that paralysed industry and, in turn, paved the way for the militant red-flag trade union movement during 1927–9. The leaders of these movements were influenced by Marxist ideology and by developments in the Soviet Union, especially the Five Year Plan which took several things into account in an organized forecast, especially issues related to labour. In 1929, a Royal Commission was appointed to look into the problems of industrial labour that was, in Nehru’s words, ‘miserable and militant’.96 The post-war years that had spelt boom time for the Indian industry had brought no respite to the workers. The slight increase in their wages was evened out by the rising inflation. A gulf separated the lives of the workers and the mill owners, ‘Semi-naked women, wild and unkempt, working away for the barest pittance, so that a broad river of wealth should flow ceaselessly to Glasgow and Dundee, as well as to some pockets in India.’97

A journal called Langal (meaning ‘plough’) was launched from Bengal by the Labour Swaraj Party of the INC in 1925. Among its founders was the legendary Bengali poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam. The first issue of Langal carried Nazrul’s famous poem ‘Samyavadi’ (Communist) and sold a record 5,000 copies within a few hours.98 Langal routinely carried Bangla translations of Marxist texts, short stories by Maxim Gorky and other Russian masters, as well as articles on topical issues such as the Bengal Tenancy Bill. Elsewhere in the country, tumultuous events were taking place which would, in different ways, encourage the publication of radical literature in general. Some of these events were: the Madras Congress (December 1927); the Congress’ declaration of complete independence (1929); the boycott of Simon Commission (1928); the launch of civil disobedience (1930); and the Communal Award announced by the British government (1932). The first ever May Day celebrations in 1934 were a major landmark in the growing labour movement in India.99

(p.85) Ideologically driven newspapers were being set up all over the country. The Socialist was set up by S.A. Dange from Bombay, first as a weekly in August 1922 and then as a monthly from February 1923. It did yeoman’s service in the face of mounting Hindu–Muslim tensions by publishing articles such as ‘Proletarian Hindu–Muslim Unity’ and exposing the imperialist hand in stoking communal fires. In the wake of the declining influence of both non-cooperation and Khilafat movements, both of which had affirmed Hindu–Muslim unity, newspapers like The Socialist tried to show how the capitalists and big landlords were behind the fratricidal conflict that tore the country’s secular fabric. The Socialist also carried advertisements of books and treatises that dealt with socialist issues and reprints of articles from the Inprecor100 that ‘occasionally slipped through the British censorship net’.101 Many forms of subterfuge were adopted to escape detection—books were wrapped in the dustcovers of popular novels or religious tracts, communist newspapers were slipped in between the pages of mainstream newspapers, and communist agents took great pains to collect safe addresses of firms and shops where proscribed literature could be sent from abroad by ordinary mail. The government saw through many of these ruses and under Section 19 of the Sea Customs Act prohibited the import of any publication issued by or emanating from the Comintern or its affiliates. Writing the Preface to the revised edition of the compiled intelligence reports, H. Williamson, DIB noted that ‘… Communism as preached by the Third International constitutes the gravest threat to the civilization of the modern world’.102

The contact between Moscow and the communist groups in India was initially through the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) which tended to monopolize India as its own ‘province’, thus ironically strengthening the imperialist relationship that the fledgling organization in India had set out to denounce. R. Palme Dutt, member of the CPGB, became a (p.86) mentor or ‘pundit to lay down the law to the Indian Communist Party’.103 And much against the protestations of men like M.N. Roy who wished to convince Moscow that they alone were the true and faithful repositories of communism in India, Comintern began sending a series of British communists to India. The most notable of these was Philip Spratt, who arrived in India in December 1926 ostensibly on behalf of a bookseller’s firm, but actually to open a branch of the Labour Research Department such as the one he had worked for in London through which Soviet money could be received and distributed. Along with financial assistance, Spratt actively helped and guided the workers’ and peasants’ movements of the cotton mills and railway workers’ unions. He is credited with helping set up the Workers and Peasants’ Party in the United Provinces, which held its first conference in Meerut in October 1928, and the strengthening of the various scattered units in the Punjab. Spratt was joined in September 1927 by Benjamin Francis Bradley who devoted himself to the cause of the workers and peasants. A file in the British Library entitled Communist Party of Great Britain: Reports on Members104 yielded a mine of information on the activities of British communists and their sympathies (and the reasons thereof) for the Indian masses. The file also contained a pamphlet entitled ‘India’s Fight for Separation and Independence’ written by one W. Rust and issued by the CPGB in 1932. Some extracts from this rousing pamphlet are as follows:

British imperialism is staking everything on drowning the movement in blood…. The number of arrests already exceeds 20,000 and tax and revenue collection in the countryside is carried out with the aid of troops and armed police … the phrase ‘Struggle or Starve’, so often used in Britain, has a terrible literal meaning for the Indian peasants, who are dying off by the thousand.

Going to great lengths to extend its support to the Indian communist movement, it ends thus, ‘We must resist every attack of British imperialism on India with the burning consciousness that their fight is our fight and that we cannot advance in the struggle against the capitalists unless the slogan of “Indian Independence” is inscribed on our banners.’105

(p.87) While the CPI was (officially) set up in 1925, it was not till 1927 that its constitution was drafted and attention focused on a single dynamic organization. The Sixth World Congress of Comintern on 1 September 1928 stressed the need to consolidate the party apparatus while working to throw off the imperialist yoke. The Resolution dealing with India under the heading ‘Communist Strategy and Tactics’ read:

The basic tasks of the Indian communists consists in struggle against British imperialism for the emancipation of the country.… The union of all communist groups and individual Communists scattered throughout the country into a single, independent and centralised Party represents the first task of the Indian communists.… In the Trade Unions, the Indian communists must mercilessly expose the national-reformist leaders.106

In December 1930, there appeared first in the Inprecor and later in the London Daily Worker and the Moscow Pravda, a thesis on Indian communism entitled ‘Draft Platform of Action of the Communist Party of India’. It was later translated into Urdu and was widely circulated throughout India. Briefly, after a vigorous denunciation of Gandhism and the INC, it set out the following main tasks:

  1. 1. The complete independence of India by the violent overthrow of British rule. The cancellation of all debts, confiscation and nationalization of factories, banks, railways, sea, and river transport and plantations.

  2. 2. The establishment of a Soviet government. The realization of the right of national minorities to self-determination including separation. The abolition of the native states. The creation of an Indian Federal Workers’ and Peasants’ Soviet Republic.

  3. 3. The confiscation, without compensation, of all lands, forests, and other property of landlords, ruling princes, churches, the British government, officials, and moneylenders, and the handing of them over for use by the toiling peasantry. The cancellation of slave agreements and all indebtedness of the peasantry to moneylenders and banks.

  4. 4. An eight-hour working day and the radical improvement of conditions of labour, increase in wages, and state maintenance for the unemployed.107

(p.88) While the Russian influence is evident in this document with its emphasis on ‘toiling peasants’, it is significant to note the seeds of the communists’ acceptance of a separate homeland for the Muslims. We see here an early indicator of the left’s alignment with the Muslim League as well as their later demand that the princely states be given the right of self-determination before their accession into India. All through the 1930s, there were repeated assertions that a ‘general national armed insurrection against the British exploiters’ was the only means of winning independence. Also, the ‘left’ element within the Congress, namely, Jawaharlal Nehru, was viewed as the most dangerous obstacle and a ruthless war, it was exhorted, must be waged on the left national reformists.108

On 1 May 1934, the Bande Mataram, a newspaper from Lahore, carried a report by Hari Harnath Shastri, president, All-India Trade Union Congress, Kanpur, announcing the establishment of the All-India Socialist Party.109 It not merely announced its goal of national independence, but also achieving it by means of force. It held its inaugural conference at Patna at the same time as a meeting of the All-India Congress Committee (AICC) and was attended by 100 delegates from all over India. The party declared its objective to be the formation, through a Constituent Assembly, of a socialist state. It was largely propelled by the work of M.R. Masani, a young barrister from Bombay, and Jayaprakash Narain. The fact that they could induce 35 members of the Congress to vote against a resolution moved by Gandhi was a testimony to their strength.

One of the most significant fallouts of the Khilafat movement110 had been the emergence of Muslim socialist leaders who had the knack of establishing mass contact. Their skills of oratory, the flourishes of their (p.89) pen, and most important of all, their ability to invoke both Islam and the principles of socialism with equal ease made them instantly popular with the people. Industrial hubs like Bombay, Calcutta, and Kanpur, which had a large number of Muslim workers, brought to national prominence leaders like Hasrat Mohani and Azad Subhani.111 These men did a great deal of work in establishing nationwide peasants’ and trade union movements for, given the migratory nature of the industrial workers, both the peasants and the workers, had their roots in the villages. In fact, four-fifths of the population lived in villages, that is, 226 out of 244 million people112 in British India lived in villages and agriculture was the basic industry of the people. The kisan movements, therefore, acquired a special significance for all political parties and regardless of their differences, were engaged in the emancipation of the ryot. While Gandhi took the lead in stirring agrarian consciousness, others were not far behind.

After the Kanpur Conspiracy Case, many Muslim publicists had come to the fore. The career of Azad Subhani deserves some scrutiny.113 A pan-Islamist and communist, he became principal of the Madrasa-i Ilahiyat, formed to oppose Arya Samajism and protect Islam. Subhani came into prominence in 1913 over the Kanpur mosque case when he was arrested for inciting rioters; after becoming a supporter of the Anjuman-e-Khuddam-i-Kaaba in 1914, he became a prominent extremist Khilafat agitator, a leading non-cooperator, and advocate of complete independence; in 1923 he published a scheme for swaraj which had a distinct communist tone and advocated the establishment of a parallel government. He continued to be involved in Congress activities till 1924, but in 1925 became vice president of the CPI and spent the next several years espousing communism and the cause of labour movements. Arrested on 10 May 1934 for advocating extreme communist doctrines at a meeting of railway union in Lucknow, he went to Mecca for haj along with Hasrat Mohani upon his release. On return, he agitated against the repressive policy of the British in the Hejaz, (p.90) and remained irreconcilably anti-British. He toured the United Provinces, ‘pouring vitriol, stirring up passions about the politico-religious crisis in Islam’.114

Modernists tend to shy away from the past and revile all that was done in the name of tradition. But some men, like Hasrat Mohani, show a strange mingling of the old and the new, a regard for the past, while at the same time harbouring a passionate quest for change. We will see this duality in some of the liberal, forward-looking, educated, middle-class Muslims. In subsequent chapters, we will also see how the Angarey group marked a feisty departure from precisely this norm; they carried no duality whatsoever, either in their lives or work. Also, some Indian Muslims were attracted to socialism because it carried the same poetic and romantic appeal of egalitarianism that they were familiar with through the works of well-loved and well-respected poets from the time of Ghalib down to Iqbal and Hasrat. The establishment of the CPI in 1925 and the emergence of a new breed of comrade of the ilk of Rashid Jahan, Mahmuduzzafar, and Sajjad Zaheer put paid to these hazy ideas of romanticism that seemed cozy from the luxury of their well-appointed, Western-style drawing rooms and salons. The writings of this new lot, such as the contributors of Angarey, showed how there was no romanticism in poverty, illiteracy, and backwardness. The communists, especially those who were members of the party and were therefore convinced and highly committed ideologues unlike the left-leaning liberals enamoured by fuzzy notions of equality and egalitarianism, were people in a hurry. Not only did they want to call a spade a spade, they also wanted to call out to the masses to rise up in revolt—just as the Russian peasants had done—and bring about a new socio-economic order, one in which religion had no role. In fact, the communist ideology as laid down in the Programme of the Communist International adopted by the First World Congress as early as September 1920 had already dealt with ideologies that were inimical to communism. Among these ideologies, it also included Gandhism:

Tendencies like Gandhism in India, thoroughly imbued with religious conceptions, idealise the most backward and economically most reactionary forms of social life, see the solution of the social problem not in proletarian socialism, but in (p.91) a reversion to these backward forms, preach passivity and repudiate the class struggle, and in the process of the development of the revolution become transformed into an openly reactionary force. Gandhism is more and more becoming an ideology directed against mass revolution. It must be strongly combated by Communism.115

As the communist ideology got more ingrained, the directive from the party was to expunge religion from revolutionary activities that would bring about the much-needed change. We shall discuss the party’s involvement in the work of the PWA in greater detail in later chapters. At this point, it is necessary to take note of two things. One, how communist ideology was sometimes supporting, sometimes opposing nationalist ideology and how it was always opposing Gandhism as an ideology that was reactionary and therefore inimical to communism. Gandhi’s talk of God, love, non-violence was anathema to the believers of dialectical materialism. ‘To the communist,’ wrote Masani, ‘the end justifies the means; to Gandhi the means were everything—the means and the end were like the seed and the tree; and so Gandhi pronounced Soviet Communism to be “repugnant to India”.… Communism seeks to centralize and collectivise everything; Gandhi preached the need to decentralize and to distribute power both politically and economically.’116 Gandhi came in for a fair amount of abuse from the CPGB too, especially at the time of the second All-India Round Table Conference in September 1931 where Gandhi claimed to represent all of India; the CPGB even collected funds for this particular purpose.117

The Appearance of Socially Engaged Literature

Smarting under British biases since the Revolt of 1857, denied positions in British–Indian services, acutely aware of being unequal beneficiaries in the British system of education, and distant events in Muslim lands fuelled the growing sense of besiegement among India’s Muslims. The fate of fellow-Muslims in different parts of the colonized world seemed to carry a portent of worse things in store for them in India. The last section of Chapter 1 (p.92) has dealt in detail with the poetry of Akbar Illahabadi and Mohammad Iqbal and how it reflected the effects of outside events on the Indian Muslims. Feted and lionized Urdu poets like Iqbal fed this growing paranoia in poems such as ‘Masjide-e-Qartaba’ (The Mosque at Cordoba), and ‘O Ghafil Afghan’ (O Heedless Afghan).118 The emotional tug of tradition, of memories of Islam’s glorious past blurred Iqbal’s vision of the future. While on the one hand, he remembered the glorious civilization that had produced the splendid mosque at Cordoba, he was reminded also of the abject state of the Muslim in the present time. If one views Iqbal’s vast and varied oeuvre, one is struck with how often progressive, even socialist, ideas are quickly negated by regressive, even reactionary ones.119 Standing before the mosque at Cordoba, he exclaims:

  • Destiny’s curtain till now muffles the world to be,
  • Yet, already, its dawn stands before me unveiled;
  • Were I to lift this mask hiding the face of my thoughts,
  • Europe could never endure songs as burning as mine!120
  • In ‘God’s Command to His Angels’, he exhorts:
  • Rise, and from their slumber wake the poor of my world!
  • Shake the walls and windows of the mansions of the great!
  • Kindle with the fire of faith the slow blood of the slaves!
  • Make the fearful sparrow bold to meet the falcon’s hate!121

(p.93) In ‘Armaghan-i-Hejaz’ (The Gift of Hejaz), in one of his last important works, ‘Satan’s Parliament’ written in 1936, he puts these words in the mouth of Satan:

  • … When Nature’s hand
  • Has rent the sleeve, no needleworking logic
  • Of communism will put the stitches back.
  • I be afraid of socialists?—street-bawlers,
  • Ragged things, tortured brains, tormented souls!
  • No, if there is one monster in my path
  • It lurks within that people in whose ashes
  • Still glow the embers of an infinite hope.122

Yet, it is the same Iqbal who has also written:

  • Follow the path of thy ancestors, for that is solidarity
  • The significance of religious conservatism is the integration of the community.123

And, on the subject of women he is most inconclusive, in a small poem titled ‘Aurat’ (Woman):

  • I too at the oppression of women am most sorrowful
  • But the problem is intricate, no solution do I find possible.124

Victor Kiernan, in an essay on Iqbal entitled ‘The Prophet of Change’ admits: ‘Iqbal mirrored the confusions and contradictions of his highly complex environment, and there were to be moments when he could come near the brink of a narrow sectarianism.’125

Events abroad and simmering communal tensions at home conspired to heighten a sense of persecution amongst the Indian Muslim intelligentsia. The most visible and direct source of this persecution seemed to be the British imperialistic adventurism and everything that fed and nurtured this grand design, such as capitalism, landlordism, unjust (p.94) taxation, and monopolistic trade policies, among other repressive measures by the civilian administration. The firebrand revolutionary, Hasrat Mohani, was imprisoned in 1908 for writing an article that criticized the British educational policy in Egypt. He also wrote a poem called ‘Ain-e-Soviyat’ (Soviet Administration) on the Soviet system. Hasrat continued to write and send articles, poems, and essays for publication even during his internment. When the British government in Kanpur began to demolish a mosque in 1913 in a bid to widen a road, protests broke out and the police fired on the crowds to dispel them. Riots broke out soon thereafter where 23 people were killed and 30 were wounded.126 This sort of thing had been done before by the British authorities, but this time the discontent among the Muslims was so high that the issue caught fire and, getting mixed up with the Khilafat agitation, it sparked the cry of ‘Islam in Danger!’ and stirred countrywide indignant protests. Hasrat Mohani wrote a stirring poem on the subject; so did the editor of the Agra Akhbar. The latter, called ‘Chand Lamhe Shaheedan-e-Sitam ke Saath’ published on 26 August 1913 in Kanpur ki Khooni Dastan, concludes on a poignant note:

  • Our sorrow is for neither ourselves nor our children
  • Our only regret is for the ruined and helpless Muslims.127

Syed Sulaiman Nadwi writing in the Al-Hilal on the destruction of the Kanpur mosque begins by asking, ‘The earth is thirsty. It needs blood. But whose? The Muslims.’ The Al-Hilal’s security deposit was cancelled upon the publication of this article. Yet, Maulana Azad congratulated its author. Khwaja Hasan Nizami, the sajjadanashin of the venerable dargah of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin in Delhi, also wrote a tract called ‘Kanpur ki Khooni Dastan’ (The Bloody Tale of Kanpur) in 1913; it too was proscribed.

Several poets, lost in the veils of time and virtually unknown today, made important interventions. Presented ahead is a sampling of the socially conscious, politically aware message of the poets of the times. Not all of these poets are well-known today, nor is their poetry of a high calibre; yet fragments of their work have been included here simply to illustrate the strong yearning for freedom in the Urdu poetry of the (p.95) times.128 Suroor Jahanabadi (aka Durga Sahai) lamented in a poem called ‘Khak-e-Watan’ (Dust of the Country):

  • Once your flag of greatness was flying high
  • Now the sign of your greatness lies in the dust.

Brij Narain Chakbast in a poem also called ‘Khak-e-Watan’ rued the fact that hubb-e-watan (love for the country) was no more, though khak-e-watan remained the same.129 In an open letter to Queen Victoria, Sajjad Hussain Kakorvi wrote with sarcasm about the Queen’s many advisors who were misguiding her.

Hashmi Faridabadi in ‘Chal Balkan Chal’ (Come Let’s Go to the Balkans) urged his readers to go to the Balkans, if they had the slightest bit of ghairat left, for if they were true momin, they must go where they were most needed. That the Urdu poet was not content with mere high-flying rhetoric and was rooted—and aware—of immediate contemporary realities becomes evident when Chakbast in ‘Awaz-e-Qaum’ (The Call of the Nation) declared:

  • From the ground to the skies there are cries of Home Rule
  • And the youthfulness of nationalism and the urge for Home Rule.

Similarly, Hasrat Mohani in a poem called ‘Montagu Reforms’ was scathing about the so-called reforms which were mere kaagaz ke phool with no khushboo, even for name’s sake. The poem ended with a fervent plea that the people of Hind should not be taken in by the sorcery of the reforms. Zafar Ali Khan130 in ‘Mazalim-e-Punjab’ (The Victims of (p.96) Punjab) mocked the excesses of the British and jestingly praised the delights of martial law and the brutality of men like General Dwyer. In ‘Shola-e-Fanoos-e-Hind’ (The Spark in the Chandelier of Hind), he went on to wish that all the drops of the martyrs’ blood may be used to decorate the walls of the qasr-e-azadi (the fort of freedom). Hashar Kashmiri in a sarcastic ode to Europe called ‘Shukriya Europe’ (Thanks Europe) thanked it for turning the world into a matamkhana and for having turned the East into an example of Hell. Another proscribed poet, Ehsan Danish, in his rousing anthem ‘Tarana-e-Jihad’ (The Anthem of Jihad) urged his fellow Muslims to go forth (Badhe chalo, badhe chalo) using the parameters of religion.

Mention must be made of a remarkable series of mushairas held in Agra Jail from January till May 1922.131 Home to over 200 political prisoners, including Hindi and Urdu poets, writers, editors, university teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc., the jail authorities permitted the inmates to organize a series of cultural programmes. Some of the country’s most distinguished men happened to be serving time in Agra Jail: Mahadev Desai, private secretary to Gandhi; George Joseph, editor of The Independent (Allahabad); as well as some literary heavy weights such as Josh Malihabadi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Arif Hasoi, Khwaja Abdul Hamid Khwaja, among others. The first such mushaira, on 20 January 1922, organized soon after the Friday prayer was presided over by Arif Hasoi. As tarah, a line from Hasrat Mohani was chosen: ‘Hai yeh woh dard jo sharminda ahsan na hua’ (It is the pain that knows not the gratitude of embarrassment). In his inimitably rousing style, Josh read:

  • The chieftains of the community have entered the prison
  • May they be kept safe from the harm of enemies
  • Their crime is that they are the prophets of their religion
  • Their fault is that they obey the commands of their god.132

(p.97) Firaq, serving an eight-month sentence and a fine of Rs 500, declared:

  • This assembly of the inmates of this prison is proof
  • Though scattered, this shiraza, has not gone waste.133

The Zamindar of Lahore carried a detailed coverage of each of the four mushairas and marvelled at the courage of these men, their unabashed fervour, and love for the motherland. The last report, dated 4 May 1922, spoke of the mushairas coming to an end and the inmates transferred to Lucknow where not only would they be treated more strictly, but also be kept in solitary confinement. At the last mushaira in Agra Jail, the Zamindar reported, the prisoners outdid themselves in not merely the technical excellence of their poetry but in laying bare their souls.

Each successive milestone—the Rowlatt Act, the first non-cooperation movement, Jallianwala Bagh massacre, amongst others—produced voluminous poetry, polemics, and posters in Urdu. The more virulent ones were proscribed, some of them being: Ek Khuli Chitthi Benam Asquith Sahib (An Open Letter to Asquith) on British rule in Egypt, in 1915; Rowlatt Act ki Asli Mansha (The Real Intent of the Rowlatt Act), a sarcastic attack on British laws published in 1919; Waqia-e-Punjab (The Incident in the Punjab), a collection of poetry, 1920; Vatan ka Rag (The Song of the Nation), a collection of poems on revolutionary ‘martyrs’; and ‘O Lenin, Mazzini, Washington and Napoleon, come and see the future of India’s heroes’ in 1932; among others.134

All these themes expressed by the poets and publicists of the age were taken up by the growing number of Urdu newspapers, journals, and prose writers such as Mehfooz Ali who wrote a humorous column in Mohamed Ali’s Hamdard. Ale Ahmad Suroor, in an essay on humour and satire, commenting on the proliferation of newspapers and journals during the period between the two wars, writes, ‘Q.A. Ghaffar, a journalist shaped by the Balkan war, the first World War and the Khilafat and non-cooperation movement, gave us Naqsh-i-Firang (A Picture of Europe), a satirical account of the mission that failed. It is poor reportage but delightful writing.’135

(p.98) A number of newspapers were launched to voice the sentiments of the Muslims, notably the Al-Hilal from Calcutta (from 1912–15 and again in 1927), the Zamindar from Lahore, and the Comrade from Delhi. This has been touched upon in the first section of this chapter. It finds a mention here again because these newspapers were a barometer of their times; they had a finger on the pulse of their readers and, in turn, provided themes for the poets to pick up and elaborate.

As we have noted in the first chapter, there was no uniform or un-variegated response among the Muslim intelligentsia to the events of 1857. Similarly, there was no uniform response to domestic and international events that impinged upon the Indian Muslims. For every nationalist there was a defender of the Raj, for every progressive, a reactionary, and so on. Mention must be made of two Muslims who exemplified the Muslim loyalist point of view, loyal that is to the British government: these were Abdullah Yusuf Ali (1872–1953) and Ameer Ali (1849–1928). The former, a commentator on the Holy Quran and the latter, a historian and scholar of Islam were advocates of Anglo–Muslim rapprochement rather than confrontation. Apologetic of the poor intellectual and religious leadership of Muslim India, Yusuf Ali attempted an analysis of the hostility towards British education in a seminal essay ‘Muslim Culture and Religious Thought’.136

The Muslim intelligentsia of the early twentieth century had been quick to seize upon the writings of a motley group of writers and thinkers, chief among them being John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), Aldous Huxley (1894–1963), and of course Karl Marx (1818–1883). Among Indian writers and thinkers, Iqbal had the most profound influence on a cross-section of writers. In his espousal of an ‘activist view of life and the rejection of fatalism’, we can see a ‘continuation’ of Syed Ahmad Khan’s ideas and thoughts: ‘He [Iqbal] was asking the Muslims, and primarily the Muslim middle-class intelligentsia to develop their ‘egos’, to stand on their own feet, to get going, in fact. That was the way to create a destiny for the Muslims in India as elsewhere.’137

(p.99) However, such is the duality of Iqbal’s message—couched though it is in a language of a Muslim addressing fellow Muslims—that it can be read as the inspiration for both Muslim nationalists and seekers of pan-Islamism as well as by communists and socialists. Despite the overtly Islamic frame of reference of almost all of Iqbal’s writings, reams have been written on the socialist content of his thought. Possibly, this is because Iqbal was among the first Indian intellectual to openly and warmly welcome the socialist revolution and the dawn of the era of the workers.138

‘One of the great paradoxes of the history of Islam in the twentieth century,’ writes Humayun Ansari, ‘is that many of the first Muslim socialists were men who at earlier stages in their lives had been devout Muslims, often passionately involved with the fate of Islam throughout the world.’139 Why should this be considered a paradox? Is Islam so antithetical to the notion of socialism? Are a Muslim and a socialist a contradiction in terms? Not really. After all, both Islam and socialism preach equality and brotherhood and advocate an egalitarian society. The best example to illustrate this point is the remarkable and varied career of a man like Hasrat Mohani whom we encountered in the first section of this chapter. A romantic poet in the classic ghazal tradition (remembered today for his sweetly sentimental ‘Woh tera kothe pe nange paon aana yaad hai’, immortalized by Ghulam Ali), journalist, politician, parliamentarian, and freedom fighter, Hasrat Mohani was profoundly impressed by the Russian Revolution and carried its imprint on all his later writings.

Several leaders emerged from the Muslim clergy too who worked and wrote passionately in favour of nationalism.140 Notable among them was the scholar from Deoband, Shaikhul-Hind Maulana Mahmud-ul Hasan and his protégé, the Sialkot-born Sikh convert, Maulana Ubaidullah (p.100) Sindhi.141 During the First World War, amongst several leaders of the Deoband school who, led by Maulana Mahmud-ul Hasan, left India to seek support of the Central Powers for a pan-Islamic revolution in India in what came to be known as the Silk Letter Conspiracy, Ubaidullah’s career was marked by a ‘penchant for high political adventure’.142 He reached Kabul in 1915 to rally the Afghan amir to attack India, and shortly thereafter, offered his support to Raja Mahendra Pratap’s plans for a revolution in India with German support. Always a firebrand, he joined the Provisional Government of India formed in Kabul in December 1915. After several years in Kabul where he met a Turko-German delegation and men like Maulvi Barkatullah, Ubaidullah left for Russia in 1922.143 In Moscow, he observed, at first hand, how the socialist ideology was a quick tool for mobilizing people and gaining results. He compared the Russian revolution with the early days of Islam thus, ‘I came to understand that Islam in its early period had brought about a similar revolution as the one in which the Russians are now engaged. And the Holy Quran is the book of an identical revolution in the history of mankind.’144 Subsequently, Ubaidullah Sindhi spent two years in Turkey and, passing through many countries, eventually reached Hejaz where he spent about 14 years learning and pondering the philosophy of Islam in the light of Shah Waliullah’s teachings. Upon his return to India, he became not just a vocal anti-imperialist, but, more importantly, the defender of a new social order. Barkatullah Bhopali (1864–1926), prime minister in Mahendra Pratap’s government-in-exile, was yet another early socialist. He edited Islam Fraternity from Japan and Naya Islam from Germany, participated in the anti-imperialist conference held in Brussels in 1927, and lived and worked in Japan, USA, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Germany gathering momentum for a pan-Islamic movement. Barkatullah’s writings, like Hasrat’s and Mushir Kidwai’s were vague, (p.101) filled with ‘obtuse insinuations to the struggle ahead but to both Hasrat and Barkatullah, the ideology or its practical application is not of immediate concern and even as a righteous dream it is distant.’145

Did this dream remain a distant one? Did the Indian Muslim ever get fully drawn into a mass movement? If so when? These questions acquire significance when we see the strands of socialism, communism, nationalism come together to form a grand tapestry of the freedom struggle, a tapestry that drew people from every part of the country and from every walk of life. The first mass contact movement—the non-cooperation movement that had coincided with the Khilafat movement—had been abandoned by Gandhi in 1922 due to scattered incidents of violence; it had seen a sizeable Muslim presence.146 The second one launched almost a decade later, under Gandhi’s control and direction, proved to be a ‘protracted and, on the whole, an inconclusive one, and it produced among the politically articulate a dissatisfaction with Gandhian methods and a sympathy for more modern left-wing Marxist-influenced political policies.’147 Nehru’s mass contact campaign launched in 1936—aimed directly at wooing the Muslims away primarily from the Muslim League—was more successful. It, in fact, nibbled away at the socialists’ territory and brought back those Muslims who had strayed into the socialist camp back into the Congress’ thrall. We shall return to the role and presence of Muslims in the national movement at various points when we examine the reasons for both the success and failure of the PWM in subsequent chapters.

The majority of the Muslim socialist writers came from families who had served the British and knew, therefore, the inequities of the colonial administration at close quarters. Humayun Ansari lists the number of Muslims active in the socialist movement, and a brief look at their family background reveals that almost all had some linkage or the other with the British administration. The suffering that many Muslim families had endured after 1857 perhaps explains the attraction of their descendants towards a new movement that was propelled on the twin engines of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism. Ahmed Ali, writing in Twilight of Delhi, (p.102) speaks of the trauma of his own immediate family in the aftermath of 1857, ‘My grandmother was five and my grandfather eleven when the ghadar of 1857, the blind persecution and massacre of the citizens of Delhi, took place. The triumphant British held an orgy of blood and terror, all mention of which has been dropped by their historians….’148

As Ahmed Ali suggests, the concern was also with the effacement that the British had so successfully implemented and the conspiracy of silence to which some Muslims had themselves been a party. Socialism gave to the Muslims born a couple of generations later the courage of their convictions to speak up and, in a sense, avenge the wrongs done to their ancestors.

The ‘disproportionately large’ number of Shias149 among Muslim socialists is also noteworthy: ‘whereas Shias formed a mere three per cent of the Muslim population of UP, twenty per cent of the Muslim socialists [surveyed] were Shia, as were forty per cent of the organizers of the PWA [as we shall see later]. Their development was affected by the relatively more privileged position enjoyed by qasbah Shia elites.’150 Interestingly, the word Shia or Shiah literally means ‘followers’ or ‘members of party’, referring to those who joined the group of Ali, the close comrade and son-in-law of the Prophet. The Shias, then, can be seen as the earliest organized group of dissenters, or those who protested against a political stalemate. In India, the Shias have been more organized, that is, more organized in comparison to the Sunni masses (but not more than other Islamic sects such as the Ahmadiyas or the Bohras) and in many ways, more progressive. A sizeable number of Muslims in the PWM, as we shall see later, were indeed Shias. Surely, this had less to do with coincidence and more with the ‘separateness’ or ‘distinctiveness’ that marked the Shias in India. Or, perhaps, it had something to do with the Shia consciousness of being a minority within a minority.

Another interesting fact is that despite the larger world view afforded by their ‘conversion’ to socialism, many Muslim socialists retained their (p.103) affiliation to their qasbati origin by calling themselves Sandelwi, Kirhani, Rudaulvi, Orainvi, and so on. It has, in fact, been argued that it was the qasbati culture that encouraged the propagation of socialist thought among the privileged Muslims of north India.151 This culture also encouraged the development of wit, humour, satire, ridicule, and lampooning—all valuable skills for a critic of society. One such young man, Wilayat Ali (1885–1918), wrote mostly in English under the nom de plume ‘Bambooque’. He mocked the British rule in skits and sketches, published mostly in the Comrade, that were modelled on the Tatler and the Spectator. He also made fun of the imperialist arrogance and cultural superiority with as much tartness as the ‘England-returned’ natives. In column after column he made fun of the servility of the Indian babus.152

In prose, the figure of Premchand (1880–1936) loomed large over his contemporaries. Some of his finest writings, written in the last 20 years of his life, portray the influence of Gandhi and the Russian Revolution in his choice of subjects: widow remarriage, dowry, untouchability, the rich-and-poor divide, the problems of landless labour, the inequalities of the caste system, etc.153 Some of Premchand’s notable works of this period are Nirmala and Narak ka Marg (The Road to Hell; both appeared in 1925 and both dealt with May–December marriages [marriages where the ages of the spouses are disparate, that is, old men with very young wives] caused due to the problems of dowry); Rangabhumi (literally, The Land of Colours, but said to mean the arena of life in all its colours) where a woman leaves her husband for the larger cause of nationalism; Godan (The Gift of a Cow, 1936) with its depiction of Malti and Govindi as the ideal traditional Indian women, paragons of devotion and kindness. Premchand, incidentally, supported the Sarda Bill which aimed to raise the age of marriage for girls and advocated the right to give widows a share of their late husband’s property. Interestingly enough, unlike women writers of the same period, such as Mahadevi Varma and Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, Premchand made no attempt to portray the woman as a silently suffering (p.104) victim; if anything, his women ‘voice the strongest arguments, complaints and feelings’.154

As we have seen so far, the Urdu poet and prose writer took up newer, more immediate concerns like never before. No longer was he content to sing of the gul-o-bulbul or traipse around in the magic gardens of the fasanas. This literary ‘adventurism’ required a new diction and a new vocabulary. For these writers, language became a means, not an end, of a creative exercise. No longer was it necessary to revive the debates on whether—or the extent to which—literature should reflect contemporary realities. Realism had crept into the writings of even those who shied away from labels or chose not to belong to schools of thought. These changes were as much evident in popular writings, be they in the form of ‘literary’ digests, pamphlets, or the novels of respected writers such as Premchand. Individuals apart, Indian society in general and creative men in particular were being swayed by the themes of colonial exploitation and subjugation, on the one hand, and, on the other, the centuries-old injustice and intolerance that had weakened Indian society from within. Freedom from foreign rule became the war cry and liberation from the clutches of landlordism and capitalism the rallying point. Against such a background, the publication of a book like Angarey becomes, in retrospect, a fait accompli, an event waiting to happen. In the next chapter, we shall look more closely at the year 1932 and the circumstances in which three young men and one woman put together a collection of 10 ensemble pieces—which were by no means great literature, but which nevertheless redefined what could constitute significant literature and, in the process, laid the foundations of the PWM.

Having seen above what was on offer in the literary scene, as reflected in the writings of the Muslims intelligentsia in the first three decades of the twentieth century, one is struck by the intellectual crisis among Indian Muslims. The only major Muslim thinker of any stature during this time was one man: Iqbal. And Iqbal offered the Indian Muslim a vision of the future that was confused, self-contradictory, and profoundly reactionary. The Age of Enlightenment in Europe had successfully brought together the spirit of modern, scientific enquiry and religion. In India, they remained mutually exclusive. Syed Ahmad Khan’s ‘Aligarh (p.105) Experiment’ had not borne the desired result. The marriage of science and faith, progress and tradition had failed to bear fruit. Why did this happen? What was the difference in the crucible of upper India and Europe? Was it the presence of Islam that worked as a contraceptive? Or was it the potent presence of the colonizer that emasculated? Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

Despite the good number of Muslim socialists who, as we have seen above, were active either as publicists or journalists, there was little being written at this time that made a sufficiently deep emotional and intellectual impact on the Indian Muslim—an impact, that is, that could counter the moral and intellectual imperialism of the west. The Deoband Ulama, ‘after an initial flurry of anti-British activity’,155 had settled down to the business of weeding out ‘false accretions’ from ‘true’ Islam. The deendar from Deoband regrettably did not find common cause with the duniyadar of Aligarh. They had, briefly, come together during the early, heady days of the Khilafat movement, but that euphoria soon petered out. It is perhaps a great tragedy that these two forces chose not to join hands and produce an intellectual renaissance, one that could have taken the Indian Muslims on another, altogether different trajectory. Even progressive Muslim leaders such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who embodied the liberal face of Indian Islam, could do little to rouse the Muslim community from apathy and torpor. The strident illiberal voices were drowning out the moderate liberals. Ideological rivals were bent upon eroding each other’s space rather than creating an ideologically sound, emotionally drawn, intellectually driven movement that could appeal to a cross-section of people. One is tempted to make a comparison with the Hindus who, at this very time, were enjoying the benefits of the Arya Samaj and the Brahmo Samaj movements launched in the 1880s.

I will conclude this chapter with two observations about the Indian Muslims, both by Western scholars. They are important here because they show an understanding of the Indian Muslim which, regrettably, both the reactionaries and the progressives lacked. Once freedom was achieved, the glue of nationalism was no longer required. With nothing else to replace it, with no understanding or empathy for the Muslims and their very real (p.106) fears, the progressives found mere ideology insufficient to hold and sustain their movement. However, more on that in later chapters; first, the observation by W.C. Smith. ‘The Indian Muslim is both Indian and Muslim. The existence of this duality, and the endeavour to stress either one or the other fact rather than both, have proven, shall we say, explosive. There has been a failure to intellectualise the duality, to hold the two poles synthetically in creative tension.’156

It is precisely this failure that I wish to stress by way of conclusion to this chapter. It would be erroneous to view the Muslim community as a victim of circumstance, more sinned against than sinning, or to suggest that all of its problems stemmed from a hostile or overwhelming colonial power.

I have devoted two chapters to enumerating the fears and insecurities of India’s Muslims, articulated through public platforms, journalistic writings, and literature. While these fears and insecurities may have had some grounds, the Muslim community was not without its own shortcomings. It is important, at the very least, to take note of them. Apart from the intellectual failure that Smith refers to, we can see—after having surveyed in this chapter the concerns reflected in Urdu literature in the first three decades of the twentieth century—how indeed there was an intellectual paucity. Along with the shortcomings among Muslim writers and thinkers, there was also the failure of Muslim institutions—both Deoband and Aligarh, representing the two poles of the intellectual spectrum of the Muslims of upper India. The Aligarh of Syed Ahmad Khan that had once held out such high hopes for the Indian Muslim failed to produce any major pedagogue who could capture the imagination of the Muslim masses. One can, then, go so far as to venture that there was indeed an intellectual vacuum, a space that the progressive writers filled only too gleefully. That they went about doing so in a hammer-and-tongs sort of way is another matter; or, even, that their own intellectual agenda was flawed, limited, and ill-conceived. But it is definitely worth considering that in the 1930s, while Urdu literature was reflecting a gamut of concerns—both national and international—the Indian Muslims were an intellectually anemic, listless community. The progressives gave them, quite literally, a shot in the arm.

(p.107) The second observation is by Francis Robinson, and it concerns the very real fears of the Muslims which stemmed from the ulama’s ‘passionate engagement’ not just with Islam, but also the Muslim public:

As ulama they are oppressed by their marginalization in the affairs of Muslim India. As Muslims they are oppressed by the marginalization of Islamic power in the world at large. Their security threatened, their very identity questioned, their distress bites ever more deeply as World War One comes to its close. Witness of this fact helps to explain their prolonged, and often frenzied, struggle from 1919 to 1924 to defend the Turkish Khilafat.157

This, to my mind, is not inconsistent with the observation made in the preceding paragraphs. It is easy, with hindsight, to look at a community’s shortcomings; but we would be guilty of a shortcoming of our own if we fail to at least acknowledge their fears. As I shall attempt to show later, it was precisely this lack of understanding of the fear that gripped the Muslim which, for all their other strengths of mind and heart, proved to be the undoing of the progressive writers. Completely fearless themselves, by virtue of their inherent advantages of class and education and early exposure to Western ideas, they had no sympathy for those who dwelt in fear.

The two observations above are useful precisely because, as we shall see in the next chapter, when a group of four young writers—all four being Indian and Muslim—chose to express one duality at the expense of the other, the result was, to say the least, explosive! Angarey is the expression of one fact ‘rather than both’ in Smith’s memorable words. Perhaps its explosive result was, therefore, inevitable.


(1) To view the chronological progression of nationalist thought in Urdu poetry, I have studied Urdu mein Qaumi Shairi ke Sau Saal (Hundred Years of Nationalistic Poetry in Urdu) and Nava-i-Azadi (The Call of Freedom), compiled by Abdur Razzaq Qureshi. Other such compilations include Azadi ki Nazmein (Poems of Freedom) by Sibte Hasan and a selection of proscribed poems called Zabt Shudah Nazmein (Banned Poetry). Many were written by writers who had to go ‘underground’ to evade arrest by the colonial government.

(2) Felix Boutros (1796–1863) initiated a programme of translating books suitable for higher education into Urdu. See Annemarie Schimmel, Islam in the Indian Subcontinent (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1980), p. 185.

(3) For a study of the introduction of printing in Muslim South Asia, see Francis Robinson, Islam and Muslim History in South Asia (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000). Once the Muslims overcame their resistance to the written word, a spurt in Urdu printing was observed with large numbers of tracts and books being published from the 1830s. Initially led by the ulama, printing activity soon came to embrace secular subjects as the Muslim world view broadened. In tracing the effects of print and religious change, Robinson also speaks of the Indian Muslim’s growing affiliation with the ummah and how the Islamic vision was increasingly being used to embrace the Muslim community across the world.

(4) The institution of the public library introduced mass reading habits. The Calcutta Public Library (established in 1836) and the Madras Literary Society (1818) allowed common people to walk in and access the wealth of world literature. For details, see Priya Joshi, ‘Reading in the Public Eye: The Circulation of Fiction in Indian Libraries, c. 1835–1901’, in Stuart H. Blackburn and Vasudha Dalmia (eds), India’s Literary History (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2010), pp. 280–326.

(5) See Surendranath Banerjea, A Nation in Making (Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1963) for the influence of Manzini; and Lala Lajpat Rai, ‘Unhappy India’, in B.R. Nanda (ed.), Collected Works of Lala Lajpat Rai, vol. XIV (New Delhi: Manohar, 2010).

(6) See, Uma Dasgupta, ‘The Indian Press 1870–1880: A Small World of Journalism’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 11, no. 2 (1977), pp. 213–35.

(7) Michael H. Fisher, ‘The Office of the Akhbar Nawis: The Transition from Mughal to British Forms’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 27, no. 1 (1993), p. 45. The akhbar nawis (news-writer whose job was to collect and transmit specific kinds of information and who, therefore, also doubled up as an intelligence agent who reported and interpreted events) was institutionalized during Akbar’s reign. Fisher traces the changes in his role during the colonial time when he walked a tightrope between objective reporting and intelligence gathering.

(8) The earliest English newspapers, such as Hicky’s Gazette (1780), The India Gazette, The Calcutta Gazette, The Madras Courier (1785), and The Bombay Herald (1789) served British interests. Indian-owned English newspapers such as The Bengal Gazette (1816) or Amrita Bazar Patrika (1868) served the English-educated Indian elites. It was only in the early twentieth century when the national movement became strong that the Indo-Anglian newspapers began to address Indian nationalist issues. It was the regional press that embraced overtly political and social issues and showed a remarkable commitment to political freedom. For a lucid history of the early years of print in India, see John V. Vilanilam, Mass Communication in India: A Sociological Perspective (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2005), pp. 52–4.

(9) Gail Minault, ‘From Akhbar to News: The Development of the Urdu Press in Early Nineteenth-Century Delhi’, in Kathryn Hansen and David Lelyveld (eds), A Wilderness of Possibilities: Urdu Studies in Transnational Perspective (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 101–21.

(10) Ibid., p. 117.

(11) For details, see John Dacosta, Remarks on the Vernacular Press Law of India, or Act IX of 1878 (London: W.H. Allen & Co., 1878).

(12) Ripon introduced widespread reforms, such as introduction of local representation at district-level elections. See Francis Robinson, Separatism among Indian Muslims: The Politics of the United Provinces’ Muslims, 1860–1923 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974) for how some of these reforms, such as the introduction of Nagri script, posed a threat to the Urdu-speaking Muslim elite and lead to the Urdu–Hindi controversy. See also W.S. Blunt, India under Ripon (London, 1909).

(13) The Comrade was started in 1911. It was founded and edited by Mohamed Ali at Calcutta with the motto ‘Comrade of all, partisan of none.’ This was followed by Hamdard in 1912, also founded by Mohamed Ali but in Urdu, and Al-Hilal by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in the same year. The latter two pioneered a new style of Urdu journalism and took a diametrically opposite position from the ‘loyalist’ position of the Aligarh school of journalism hitherto prevalent in India. I am indebted to Ziya-ul-Hasan Faruqi’s The Deoband School and the Demand for Pakistan for an understanding of the role of the Deoband ulama in formulating a new kind of ‘anti-loyalist’, ‘pro-nationalist’ form of journalism fashioned by young educated Muslims. I shall quote from Faruqi in greater length in the last section of this chapter. The other major Urdu newspapers of this period were the Urdu-i-Mualla founded by Maulana Hasrat Mohani in 1906 at Aligarh, the Muslim Gazette started by Maulana Wahiduddin Salim from Lucknow in 1910, and the Zamindar founded by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan in Lahore in the same year. Together, these were not only anti-loyalist, but also vigorous and radical in content and style. References to them and their editors shall crop up throughout this chapter.

(14) Norman Gerald Barrier, Banned: Controversial Literature and Political Control in British India, 1907–1947 (New Delhi: Manohar, 1978), p. 9.

(15) C.A. Bayly, Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 340–1.

(16) Like the Akhbar navis, these people were employed to track certain news items in the vernacular press, anything and everything that could be of interest to the empire. Copies of cullings from the Native Newspapers are preserved in the National Archives of India (NAI).

(17) Barrier, Banned, p. 70.

(18) Exiled from Calcutta, his press seized under the Defence of India Act, Azad was not allowed to enter the provinces of UP, Punjab, Bombay, and Delhi. The only place left for him was Bihar and so he went to Ranchi where he was promptly placed under house arrest for three years till 1919. For details, see Humayun Kabir (ed.), Azadi-i-Hind: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (Azad Kashmir: Arshad Book Sellers, n.d.).

(19) Quoted in Gail Minault, Gender, Language and Learning: Essays in Indo-Muslim Cultural History (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2009), p. 110.

(20) The British had promised reforms and greater Indian participation in systems of governance as well as greater Muslim representation. And, they did indeed introduce the much-awaited reforms. However, if the Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 were the benign form of these pre-War promises, the Rowlatt Act of the same year showed the ugly side of British rule in India.

(21) Abul Kalam Azad, Masala-e-Khilafat (Lahore: Maktaba-e-Ahbab, n.d.), pp. 287–8.

(22) For details on the geopolitics of the Hejaz, see J.L. Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd, 1968 [reprint]); F.E. Peters, The Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994); Michael Pearson, The Indian Ocean (London: Routledge, 2003); Michael Pearson, Pious Passengers: The Hajj in Earlier Times (London: Hurst & Co., 1994); and Mushirul Hasan and Rakhshanda Jalil, Journey to the Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Diary (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009).

(23) Gail Minault, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilisation in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. 206.

(24) Shibli Nomani was a scholar and researcher, apart from being a theologian and a teacher. His travelogues and historical essays provided an invaluable glimpse into the big world outside India to the Urdu reader of his day. His Heroes of Islam, published in 1888, concedes that our own ancient historical works compare poorly with the scholarly tradition of European scientific writings.

(25) Rajesh Kumar Parti (ed.), Ashob, vol. 1, National Archives mein Mahfooz Zabt Sudah Adabiyat se Intekhab (New Delhi: NAI, 1993), pp. 8–11.

(26) From Abdur Razzaq Qureshi, Nava-i-Azadi (New Delhi, Maktaba Jamia); translation mine.

(27) Mohamed Ali devised an ingenious variation of the slogan ‘Divide and Rule’: ‘We Divide, They Rule’. Reference found in the private papers of Ghulam Rabbani Taban, NMML, 446, 78.

(28) Mohamed Ali, My Life: A Fragment—An Authobiographical Sketch of Maulana Mohamed Ali, ed. Mushirul Hasan (New Delhi: Manohar, 1999), p. 80.

(29) Jawaharlal Nehru, An Autobiography (London: John Lane, 1936), p. 16.

(30) Tilak formed the Home Rule League in 1916 to attain the goal of swaraj. His slogan ‘Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it’ inspired millions of Indians. He, along with Bipin Chandra Pal from Bengal and Lala Lajpat Rai from Punjab, formed the core group of the extremists within the Congress who called for radical action especially after the British had played the communal card in the partition of Bengal. The trio was called the Bal-Pal-Lal triumvirate.

(31) Nehru, Autobiography, p. 23.

(32) Nawab Mohsin-ul Mulk, secretary of the Aligarh College, also the secretary of the newly founded Central Urdu Defence Association, led the agitation against the decision of the Government of the United Provinces sanctioning the use of Hindi in Devanagri script as the official vernacular. In later chapters, we shall see that the progressives, unlike most Muslims, were not against the use of Devanagri. They, in fact, supported the move for a single script for all Indian languages: the Roman script.

(33) The decision to annul the Partition in 1911 nullified the gains secured by the Muslims of East Bengal after Curzon’s partition of undivided Bengal in 1906.

(34) A group of 70 Muslim representatives, headed by Aga Khan, drew up a plan for separate electorates for their community, and presented it to the Viceroy, Lord Minto, at Simla on 1 October 1906.

(35) It allowed, for the first time, election of Indians to the various legislative councils in India. From the Muslim point of view, it was a significant piece of legislation because it stipulated that they be allotted reserved seats in the municipal and district boards, in the provincial councils and in the imperial legislature; the number of reserved seats be in excess of their relative population (25 per cent of the Indian population); and only Muslims should vote for candidates for the Muslim seats (separate electorates).

(36) Mushirul Hasan, ‘The Myth of Unity: Colonial and National Narratives’, in David Ludden (ed.), Contesting the Nation: Religion, Community and the Politics of Democracy in India (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), pp. 185–210.

(37) Nehru, Autobiography, p. 21.

(38) This was a historic pact by which the Congress accepted separate electorates for the Muslims and allowed them representation much in excess of their proportion of population in the provinces, except in the Punjab and Bengal. Earlier, in 1913, in its annual session also in Lucknow, the League had declared its objective as a steady reform of the existing system of administration, by promoting national unity, by fostering public spirit among the people of India, and by cooperating with other communities.

(39) These were reforms introduced by the British government in India to introduce self-governing institutions gradually.

(40) Saadat Hasan Manto, Naked Voices: Stories & Sketches, translated by Rakhshanda Jalil (New Delhi: Roli/India Ink, 2008), p. 60.

(41) Qazi Muhammad Adeel Abbasi, Tehreek-e-Khilafat (New Delhi: Taraqqui Urdu Board, 1978), p. 174.

(42) V.N. Datta and B. Cleghorn, A Nationalist Muslim and Indian Politics: Being the Selected Correspondence of the Late Dr. Syed Mahmud (Delhi: Macmillan, 1974), p. 36.

(43) For a detailed study of jihad in colonial India, see Ayesha Jalal, Partisans of Allah (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2008).

(44) Extract from Weekly Intelligence Summary for week ending 21 November 1922; IOR/L/PJ/12/133, File 6835 (B)/23. Soon after 1920, the Khilafat money scandal began to assume alarming proportions. Things reached such a pass when in January 1923 Seth Chotani admitted to Ansari and Hakim Ajmal Khan that he had invested Rs 16 lakhs of the Khilafat fund into his family business. For details of the Khilafat money scandal, see Minault, Khilafat Movement, p. 189.

(45) Ibid., weekly intelligence report ending 14 November 1922, File 6835 (B)/23, ‘On 21 September Mohammad Sajjad wrote to Chotani and advised the Central Khilafat Committee to announce to Mohamedan sepoys that further service in the Army is haram (sinful).’ Mohammed Sajjad was the vice Amir-i-Shariat in Bihar and Orissa and described in the Report as ‘one of the most influential members of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema’.

(46) A hand-written note marked ‘secret’ by P. Biggani, IOR/L/PJ/12/133 File 6835 (B)/23.

(47) Minault, Khilafat Movement, p. 189.

(48) Parti, Ashob, p. 152; translation mine.

(49) Nehru, Autobiography, p. 69.

(50) The author of Laila ke Khutoot whom we shall repeatedly encounter in our narrative on the progressives.

(51) Intelligence Report, IOR/l/PJ/12/133, File 6835 (B)/23.

(52) Eastern Summary No. 1192, dated 3.7.23 entitled ‘Turkish Pan-Islamic Policy: Propaganda among Pilgrims, etc.’: IOR/l/PJ/12/133, File 6835 (B)/23. Note, interestingly enough, the entire file is called ‘India: Pan-Islamic Intrigue.’

(53) Peter Hardy, The Muslims of British India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), p. 198.

(54) The collapse of the movement left the Hindus with the ‘bitter realization that now that the external stimulus of Muslim anti-imperialism had failed, they might have to carry on the struggle alone; and that instead of being allies the Muslims might develop into a third force in the triangular fight for the sub-continent’s advance towards freedom.’ Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), p. 268.

(55) Shibli Nomani, Kulliyat-i-Shibli (Azamgarh: Maarif Press, 1954), p. 53; translation mine.

(56) Hasrat Mohani (1875–1951) was a poet, journalist, nationalist, and politician. He addressed the first Indian Communist Conference on 26 December 1925 in Kanpur. He was a member of the CPI till 1927. He joined the Muslim League in 1937. He remained in India after Partition as an independent-minded, liberal, devout Muslim who prayed regularly and went for the hajj 13 times, but was also a ‘Communist Muslim’.

(57) An excellent biography of Hasrat is available in Urdu: Khaliq Anjum, Hasrat Mohani (New Delhi: Publications Division, 1994). Another useful book in Urdu is by Ahmar Lari, Hasrat Mohani: Hayat aur Karname (Lucknow: Nami Press, 1973).

(58) The Shah of Jilan refers to the great Sufi master Abdul Qadir Jilani whose shrine is in Baghdad and who is regarded as the founder of the Qadiriya silsila of Sufis.

(59) This Urdu slogan has an interesting history. Said to have been first coined by Iqbal, it has been used by people from across the political, linguistic, socio-cultural spectrum of India from the early decades of the twentieth century till present times. It has crossed the Vindhyas and is heard used by Malayalam and Tamil-speaking people as it is in the north. It is, after Hindi film songs, the best example of the most vibrant use of Urdu by a heterogeneous group of people. Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary comrades popularized the use of this slogan.

(60) Mohani, despite brief flirtations with the CPI and Muslim League, chose to be with the Congress; he even stayed back in India after Partition, cast his lot with the Congress, in order to safeguard the interests of the Indian Muslims. It is worth noting that as long ago as 1921, Mohani wanted to move a resolution defining swaraj as ‘complete independence’, free from all foreign control; it was rejected by the Congress.

(61) See Ian Douglas, Abul Kalam Azad: An Intellectual and Religious Biography (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988) for a study of Azad’s contribution to intellectual, political, and religious thought in India.

(62) Mohammad Iqbal, Shikwa and Jawab-i-Shikwa, Complaint and Answer: Iqbal’s Dialogue with Allah, translated by Khushwant Singh (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 90.

(63) Mushirul Hasan, ‘Myth of Unity’, pp. 220–1.

(64) Paul Brass has argued that both the Hindu and Muslim revivalist movements chose to emphasize differences between their communities rather than similarities. Brass also maintains how the religious elites of both communities made an ‘explicit choice’; the revivalist movements selected ideals, real or imaginary, from the past to suit their purposes. Paul Brass, Language, Religion and Politics in North India (London: Cambridge University Press, 1974), p. 126.

(65) Hijrat, meaning ‘exodus’, takes its name from the Prophet Muhammad’s move from Mecca to Medina in search of a sanctuary. In the summer of 1920, several thousand Muslims, many of whom were illiterate peasants, were encouraged to escape the oppressive rule of the infidels (Dar-ul-harb) and go to the Muslim kingdom of Afghanistan (which could be said to be Dar-ul-Islam). Peasants, many from Sindh and NWFP, were encouraged to believe by the agitators that the king of Afghanistan was waiting to receive them with open arms and the gift of fertile lands. The number of those who went is put variously at 18,000 to 500,000. Those who reached the Afghan borders were turned back ruthlessly. A few of those who reached Afghanistan later moved on to Russia. Some returned home to India imbued with new ideas of socialism and change.

(66) The Moplahs are poor Muslim peasants along the Malabar Coast. When news of the Khilafat agitation reached them, these poor peasants numbering about a million, rose in rebellion against their British masters. Their uprising was brutally crushed, but like the hijrat movement it is an early example of a mass peasant movement.

(67) The movement was founded in 1926 by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Kandhelvi (1898–1982) in the Mewat province. The inspiration for devoting his life to Islam came to Ilyas during his second pilgrimage to the Hejaz in 1926. Maulana Ilyas put forward the slogan: ‘Ai Musalmano! Musalman bano!’ (O Muslims! Be Muslims!).

(68) Nehru, Autobiography, pp. 138–9; italics mine.

(69) Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971), p. xi.

(70) Ali Ashraf and G.A. Syomin (eds), October Revolution and India’s Independence: Proceedings of the Soviet Land Seminar on ‘The Great October Socialist Revolution and India’s Struggle for National Liberation’, New Delhi, August 20–21, 1977 (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1977).

(71) G. Adhikari, Documents of the Communist Party of India (henceforth Documents), vol. I (New Delhi: PPH, 1971), p. 275.

(72) Report on Indian Constitutional Reforms, 1918, p. 14. Cited by M.R. Masani, The Communist Party of India: A Short History (London: Derek Vershcoyle, 1954), p. 11.

(73) Barrier, Banned, p. 68.

(74) I am grateful to Baidar Bakht who helped locate the reference found in Sajjad Zaheer, Sajjad Zaheer ke Mazameen (Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy, 1979), p. 24. Al-Hilal was published during 1912–15 and in 1927. However, according to Humayun Ansari, an Urdu translation of the Manifesto appeared in Madina. See Humayun Khizar Ansari, The Emergence of Socialist Thought among North Indian Muslims, 1917–1947 (Lahore: Book Traders, 1990), p. 107.

(75) Mushir Hosain Kidwai, Islam and Socialism (London, 1913).

(76) For a detailed study of pan-Islamic groups active in London, see Humayun Khizar Ansari, ‘Making Transnational Connections: Muslim Networks in Early-Twentieth Century Britain’, in Nathalie Clayer and Eric Germain (eds), Islam in Inter-War Europe (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). ‘Like Barkatullah, he [Kidwai] believed that revolutionary socialism was wholly compatible with the achievement of Muslim aim.’ Ibid., p. 38.

(77) Ansari, Emergence of Socialist Thought among North Indian Muslims, p. 52.

(78) Humayun Kabir (ed.), Azadi-i-Hind: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (Azad Kashmir: Arshad Book Sellers, n.d.), p. 10. Azad goes on to say that two years after its launch the weekly print-run of Al-Hilal was an astounding 26,000. He also mentions the conflict with the Aligarh school, which after Syed Ahmad Khan, had fallen in the hands of men who seemed no more than puppets in the hands of the British.

(79) See Zabur-i-Ajam, p. 134.

(80) From ‘Paygham-i Afghani ba Millat e Rusiyah’, in Jawid Nama, p. 89.

(81) Adhikari, Documents, vol. I, p. 48.

(82) Established on 21 April 1921 in Moscow by the Communist International (Comintern) as a training college for communist cadres in the colonial world.

(83) This paragraph has been largely built from H.K. Ansari’s Emergence of Socialist Thought among North Indian Muslims.

(84) An important progressive poet and critic, his works include Saz-e-Larzan, Hadees-e-Dil, Nawa-e-Awara, Shauq-e-Safar, and a collection of essays in English entitled Poetics to Politics. He worked for over two decades as a manager at the Maktaba Jamia from 1949 onwards.

(85) Ghulam Rabbani Taban Papers, 1957–99, NMML, File No. 446, p. 78.

(86) Ansari, Emergence of Socialist Thought among North Indian Muslims, pp. 37–8.

(87) Quoted in E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 13 (London: Macmillan, 1953), p. 236.

(88) This section has been built from a reading of Gene D. Overstreet and Marshall Windmiller, Communism in India (Bombay: Perennial Press, 1960).

(89) Virendranath Chattopadhyay set up a body called the League against Imperialism in Berlin. Due to the Nazi putsch it was transferred first to Paris in March 1933 and then to London. The League’s main focus was on India and was said to be funded largely by the Comintern. In 1932, the first issue of the Anti-Imperialist Review appeared which too took a keen interest in the oppressed people of India.

(90) Adhikari, Documents, vol. I, p. 273.

(91) Adhikari, Documents, vol. II, p. 274.

(92) Adhikari, Documents, vol. II, p. 274.

(93) Ibid., p. 294.

(94) Ibid., pp. 640–1.

(95) Intelligence Reports on Communist Influence in India’s Trade Unions, IOR/L/PJ/12/137, File 6835 (E)/23 January 1933–December 1934. ‘The release of the Meerut prisoners lends spice to the situation…. Communism in Bombay will have to be a hardy growth to survive the bickering, pettinesses, and jealousies that have so prominently marked the actions of its leaders hitherto.’ Extract from weekly intelligence report of the Director, Intelligence Bureau (DIB), Government of India, dated 28 September 1933, Simla. The very next week, the writer urges the need to take a broader view on the communist situation. The real threat was not so much from the home-grown communists, but from the British comrades who were directing and controlling the movement; the report mentions Hutchinson and Bradley. The writer goes on to say that as is frequently argued, ‘India does not provide a suitable soil for Communism’, the government would need to keep a careful watch on the activities of those who have recently received communist training in London, Europe, Moscow and have lately returned or are on their way home. Another intelligence report dated 3 February 1934, after giving a brief history of communism in India, concludes thus: ‘Perhaps, after all, Bradley has some justification for the remark (written just before he left for England), “Taking everything into consideration, I think things are going very well.”’

(96) Nehru, Autobiography, p. 187.

(97) Ibid., p. 188.

(98) Adhikari, Documents, vol. II, p. 676.

(99) IOR/L/PJ/12/137, File 6835 (E)/23.

(100) Inprecor was established by the Third International in the wake of the Russian Revolution to allow communists to read the documents and thoughts of their comrades around the world. Its name was a contraction of International Press Correspondence and indicated that the magazine translated articles and letters from revolutionaries around the world.

(101) Adhikari, Documents, vol. II, pp. 191–2.

(102) India and Communism (Simla: Government of India Press, 1935), IOR/L/PJ/12/671.

(103) Masani, Communist Party of India, p. 25.

(104) IOR/L/PJ/12/383, File 198/29, 1931–4.

(105) Ibid., p. 50.

(106) Ibid., p. 31.

(107) From India and Communism, IOR/L/PJ/12/671, p. 170.

(108) India and Communism, IOR/L/PJ/12/671, pp. 170–1.

(109) IOR/L/PJ/12/137, File 6835 (E)/23.

(110) Another off-shoot of the Khilafat movement had been the emergence of several Hindu and Muslim leaders in different parts of the country—men like Muzaffar Ahmad and E.M.S. Namboodripad—who seized the anti-colonial ideology generated by the movement. They were among the first to bring this ideology into the communist movement, which the next generation of communists would harness with the independence movement. Unfortunately, this book does not permit me to explore their contribution at greater length. Mushirul Hasan, in Nationalism and Communal Politics, dwells on what he calls the ‘radicalisation’ of the Khilafat and non-cooperation movement.

(111) The Muslim Independent Party was set up in July 1932 with Hasrat Mohani as its general secretary and Azad Subhani and Syed Zahir Ali as assistant secretaries. The party being new and completely without funds, Mohani went on tour to preach the gospel of the new party and collect funds.

(112) These figures are from Masani, Communist Party of India, p. 16.

(113) Details of Azad Subhani’s career culled from The United Provinces’ Political Who’s Who, IOR/L/PJ/12/672.

(114) Robinson, Separatism among Indian Muslims, p. 216.

(115) Cited in Masani, Communist Party of India, p. 21; italics mine.

(116) Ibid., p. 234.

(117) Communist Party of Great Britain: Reports on Members, IOR/L/PJ/12/383, File 198/29, 1931–4.

(118) Iqbal proposed a separate homeland for Muslims of north-west India in 1930: ‘[T]he formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims at least of North-West India.’ Quoted by Ralph Russell in ‘Iqbal and his Message’, The Pursuit of Urdu Literature, citing Q.M. Haq and M.I. Waley, Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal (London: British Museum Publications Ltd, 1977), p. 28.

(119) In a letter to Padmaja Naidu, Nehru talks of Iqbal and the ‘baneful influence of dogmatic religion which does ‘infinite harm’ to Iqbal’s poetry. Nehru writes, ‘He has always been one of the many problems I could not solve. How can a real poet be so extra-ordinarily communal and narrow minded and earthly? And yet he happens to be both.’ Nehru then goes on to make a light-hearted reference to Iqbal’s clothes and manner of dressing, saying poets must look and act as poets. From the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, vol. 12 (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1979), p. 641. Letter dated 16 February 1929.

(120) V.G. Kiernan, Poems from Iqbal (London: John Murray, 1955), p. 41.

(121) Ibid., p. 43.

(122) Ibid., p. 83.

(123) From ‘Ramuz-i-Bekhudi’, in Asrar-e-Ramuz, p. 143; translation by W.C. Smith in Modern Islam in India: A Social Analysis (Delhi: Usha Publications, 1979), p. 161.

(124) ‘Aurat’, in Zarb-e-Kaleem, p. 96; translation from Smith, ibid., p. 166.

(125) Prakash Karat (ed.), Across Time and Continents: A Tribute to Victor Kiernan (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2003), p. 201.

(126) Hardy, Muslims of British India, p. 184.

(127) Parti, Ashob, vol. I, pp. 15–16.

(128) Culled from Abdur Razzaq Qureshi, Nava-i-Azadi. All translations are mine.

(129) Comparing Chakbast and Hasrat, Gopichand Narang finds Chakbast inspired by leaders such as Bipin Chandra Pal, Gokhale, and Annie Besant. His poetry reflects the ‘liberal-moderate’ aspect of the freedom struggle compared to the more militant Hasrat who wanted nothing short of full freedom and was inspired by Tilak and his demand for sampurna swaraj. See Gopichand Narang, Urdu Language and Literature: Critical Perspectives (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1991), p. 67.

(130) As editor of the Zamindar, Zafar Ali Khan exerted a powerful role in the Muslim politics of the Punjab. A daily feature of his newspaper was the political verses that reflected popular sentiment and also provided information on topical events. Using stock images of the nightingale and the candle, he spoke out powerfully through poems titled ‘Martial Law’, ‘The Central Khilafat Committee’, or ‘Swaraj’. See Gail Minault, ‘Urdu Political Poetry during the Khilafat movement’, in Gender, Language and Learning: Essays in Indo-Muslim Cultural History (Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2009), pp. 107–8.

(131) Detailed account of these mushairas as well as press cuttings from contemporary newspapers found in Mushaira-e-Zindan (Lucknow: Uttar Pradesh Urdu Akademi, 1982).

(132) Ibid., p. 19; translation mine.

(133) Ibid., p. 34; translation mine.

(134) Culled from Barrier, Banned.

(135) Ale Ahmad Suroor, ‘Humour in Urdu’, from Nissim Ezekiel (ed.), Indian Writers in Conference: Proceedings of the Sixth PEN All-India Writers’ Conference (Mysore: PEN, 1964), p. 212.

(136) In L.S.S. O’Malley (ed.), Modern India and the West: A Study of the Interaction of Their Civilisations (London, 1941). Published in Hasan, Encountering the West, pp. 137–65.

(137) Iqbal Singh, The Ardent Pilgrim: An Introduction to the Life & Work of Mohammad Iqbal (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997 [reprint]), p. 57.

(138) L.R. Gordon-Polonskaya, ‘Ideology of Muslim Nationalism’, in Hafeez Malik (ed.), Iqbal: Poet-Philosopher of Pakistan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), p. 119.

(139) Humayun Khizar Ansari, ‘Pan-Islam and the Making of the Early Indian Muslim Socialist’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 20, no. 3 (1986), p. 509.

(140) On the Muslim attitude towards the British government, struggle within orthodox parties, conflicts between pan-Islamism and nationalism, splits within the ulama at Firangi Mahal, Deoband, and Bareilly, see Robinson, Separatism among Indian Muslims.

(141) For a detailed study of his political thought see, Muhammad Sarwar, Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi (Lahore: Sindh Sagar Academy, 1967); and Naseer Habib, ‘The Tradition of Deoband and the Pragmatism of Ubaid Allah Sindhi’, Third Frame, vol. 1, no. 3 (July–September 2008), pp. 30–42.

(142) Jalal, Partisans of Allah, p. 203.

(143) Ziya-ul-Hasan Faruqi, The Deoband School and the Demand for Pakistan (Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1963).

(144) Muhammad Sarwar, Ifadat-o-Malfuzat (Lahore: Sindh Sagar Academy, 1972), p. 206.

(145) Ali Jawad Zaidi, A History of Urdu Literature (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1993), p. 349.

(146) Mujeeb, Indian Muslims, pp. 435–6.

(147) Russell, Pursuit of Urdu Literature, p. 193.

(148) Ahmed Ali, Twilight in Delhi: A Novel (New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2007 [reprint]), pp. xiv–xv.

(149) Sajjad Zaheer, in an interview with Hari Dev Sharma for the NMML’s Oral History Project, stated that the Shias remained aloof from the Khilafat movement and, by extension, the first non-cooperation movement.

(150) Ansari, Emergence of Socialist Thought among North Indian Muslims, p. 125.

(151) Mushirul Hasan, From Pluralism to Separatism: Qasbahs in Colonial Awadh (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), see ‘Introduction’.

(152) For details, see Mushirul Hasan, Wit and Humour in Colonial North India (New Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2007).

(153) David Rubin, ‘Introduction’, in The World of Premchand: Selected Short Stories (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001).

(154) Francesca Orsini, ‘Introduction’, in The Oxford India Premchand (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. xxiv.

(155) Mushirul Hasan, ‘Sharif Culture and Colonial Rule’, in Mushirul Hasan and Asim Roy (eds), Living Together Separately: Cultural India in History and Politics (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 328.

(156) W.C. Smith, ‘Modern Muslim Historical Writing in English’, in C.H. Philips (ed.), Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 330.

(157) Francis Robinson, ‘An-Nizamiya: A Group of Lucknow Intellectuals in the Early-Twentieth Century’, in Christopher Shackle (ed.), Urdu and Muslim South Asia: Studies in Honour of Ralph Russell (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 110. Incidentally, the position of scholars such as Robinson and Barbara D. Metcalf in taking a sympathetic view of the ulama has been criticized in recent years by historians such as Mushirul Hasan. Hasan questions the role of the ulama by asking why they could not extricate themselves from Islamic thralldom. He asks what the ulama did for the regeneration of the Muslim community at a time when it most needed their guidance. In India, he says, the ulama were content to rejoice in tradition unlike their counterparts in Egypt and Turkey who initiated debates which lead to change.