ABSTRACT

I Indian nationalism was multi-dimensional. While Mahatma Gandhi reigned supreme in India’s struggle for freedom, there were competing ideological strands that also motivated masses to fight for their rights in adverse circumstances. Despite its typical western roots, left radicalism remained perhaps the most powerful ideology in mobilizing Indian masses during the freedom struggle and its aftermath. By seeking to articulate the voice of the underprivileged, not only did the left radicals catapult the workers and peasants onto the centre stage of the Indian nationalist movement, they also addressed serious ideological weaknesses that the Gandhi-led Congress leadership had by making the workers and peasants integral to India’s freedom struggle. In that sense, left radicalism was a significant ideological strand that fulfilled a specific political role in the anti-British struggle for independence. What was striking was the growing importance of left radicalism especially among the socio-economically underprivileged in a context when the Gandhian ahimsa (non-violence) became more or less an uncontested instrument for political mobilization. This perhaps confirms that, despite its alien ideological roots, left radicalism struck organic roots in India because of its persuasive appeal to that section of the struggling masses that remained disconnected with what the nationalist Congress stood for. As is evident in history, besides being a powerful ideological voice during the freedom struggle, left radicalism sustained and also expanded its ideological reach by adopting specific socio-economic programmes for the poor who had to toil hard in factories and agriculture for mere survival. Despite being aware of the issues, the nationalist Congress appears to have been restrained in its response to the struggle of the subalterns presumably because of its class background. With the growing importance of peasants and workers as constituencies in the nationalist movement, it was difficult for the Congress to ignore them completely in the light of its declared objective of expanding its organizational base beyond its conventional sphere of influence. But its class bias against the peripherals, which Gandhi also did not strongly challenge presumably because of the probable adverse repercussion on the organization, held the Congress leadership back from extending uncritical support to the genuine demands that the peasants and

workers regularly made. So it was a deliberate ideological choice for the Congress not to pursue the causes of the peasants and workers to the extent it was expected especially in the context of the freedom struggle which unleashed massive popular energy against the foreign ruler and vested interests. It is true that the Congress addressed this weakness later though not fully because of its class prejudices against the underprivileged which created an environment in which left radicalism struck roots and gradually expanded its acceptability among those who fought individually and in specific areas, but never became part of the organized assault on the vested interests protective of feudal land relations and industrial capital. So, left radicalism was a unique voice of protest which the Congress was reluctant to articulate given the constraints that the Congress leadership failed to overcome, primarily due to its clear tilt towards vested social and economic interests. The distinct ideological stance notwithstanding, left radicalism was a powerful articulation of a voice that was not adequately represented in the initial stages of India’s freedom struggle. In other words, politically vibrant and ideologically innovative, left radicalism created and nurtured its constituency by constantly being sensitive to the genuine socioeconomic demands of the toiling masses which, for specific ideological constraints, never became critical to the Congress leadership though some of the top left radicals in India were politically baptized by the Congress. What was paradoxical was the failure of the Congress to meaningfully address the real socio-economic grievances of the downtrodden despite having understood their criticality in political mobilization against the alien rule. Left radicalism was a contextual response in circumstances where there were hardly any organized political forces to take care of those who so far remained peripheral in the struggle against colonialism. It was thus not merely an ideologically meaningful construct for political mobilization, but also a persuasive plan of action for the victims of the skewed development that the well-entrenched vested interests pursued in collaboration with their colonial masters.