In Conversation with…

In this section we interview a person involved in the people’s movement, in an informal way, as we sit and chat under a peepul tree.
In this issue, we carry a conversation with K S Anand, a writer and an activist of Lok Raj Sangathan.

In this section we interview a person involved in the people’s movement, in an informal way, as we sit and chat under a peepul tree.
In this issue, we carry a conversation with K S Anand, a writer and an activist of Lok Raj Sangathan.

GJH: Anandji, welcome to peepul ke neeche. You participated in the meeting where this abhiyan took shape and you are an articulate and enthusiastic member of the same, we want to talk to you on several issues concerning 1857 and the significance of this abhiyan, while chatting under this peepul tree and absorbing its iridescent foliage as it rustles in the wind.
K S Anand: Thank you very much. I like this format rather than a stiff formal interview.

GJH: Was the uprising in 1857 the first such against British colonialism?
Anand: No, it was not. There were many struggles against British rule even before 1857. Some of them were adivasi uprisings, like the Khasis and Kols, some were peasant uprisings against the new permanent settlement in land that led to the introduction of private property and buying and selling land which in turn led to mass landlessness in Bihar, Bengal and Orissa where these changes were first introduced. Local spiritual leaders led some of these uprisings. Then there were various kings and queens who refused to bow down to humiliation at the hands of company residents. Tipu Sultan (1799) and Chennamma of Kittur (1824) come to mind in this category. However, 1857 was the grandest of them all and represented a united front of kings, peasants, artisans, sepoys and many religious personalities and encompassed a vast swathe of land in the Gangetic basin and central India.

GJH: What happened to the traitors of 1857?
Anand: It is a well-known fact the British showed their ferocity by the way they hit back at the rebels and all those who supported them. However, it would be interesting to do further historical research into what happened to the collaborators. From the little that I know some very well known industrial families owe their origins to jagirs received from British Raj for their services against the uprising. Similarly, there are prominent political families who today play an important role in the government and opposition, who were rewarded for supporting the British and so on.

GJH: There is an attempt at putting communal colours on Ghadar, what is your reaction?
Anand: First of all, to label anybody communal because he is devout or is inspired to act politically based on his religious convictions is patently wrong and mischievous. Communalism is not religiosity but spreading hatred towards other communities and participating in pogroms. There were people who used religious imagery to mobilize the masses against the British rule. There were people who used religious congregations to spread the message of Ghadar. There were also people who used the cover of religious gatherings to organize in some areas. The symbols of roti and kamal with religious connotations played a major role in spreading the message of the uprising from village to village especially in Awadh. It needs a perverse imagination to call this communal? On the other hand, the British themselves played the most cynical communal divide and rule game after the brutal suppression of the uprising. For example, they hung the supporters of the uprising from Faizabad area, who were both Hindus and Muslims, on a tree revered by both the communities and at the same time tore up the agreement reached by the two communities about peaceful worship in Babri Masjid and the adjoining mandir. Thus communalism was the conscious policy of British rule and not that of the patriots who rose up against it.

GJH: Did 1857 lead to change of tactics of British in India?
Anand: It led to major change in tactics. In fact we can safely say that 1857 was a watershed. Externally, the rule of East India Company ended and the British government took over through a proclamation from Queen Victoria. Internally within UK, however, there was a struggle going on between the old merchant bourgeoisie and the new rising industrial bourgeoisie. The merchants of East India Company were under pressure and had already ceded the monopoly over trade with India. Thus the breadth and depth of Ghadar was used by the industrial bourgeoisie to show the incompetence of East India Company in serving bourgeois interests and India was brought under the direct rule of the British state where the new industrial bourgeoisie had more say. It also signaled the end of the old days of adventurers and plain robbers (the upstart adventurer Robert Clive was nick named by the British aristocracy as ‘Robber Clive’ for the private wealth amassed by him through the loot of India) and laying the foundations of a modern colonial state, which systematically plundered India. New laws were passed, procedures laid down and new organs were built including the judiciary, police, district administration, army and so on. Socially, a conscious policy was adopted of communal divide and rule.

Ideologically, the grooming of an intelligentsia with European education and Euro-centric worldview was vigorously taken up. The first three Universities of India, viz., Bombay, Calcutta and Madras were established in 1858. The policy of “pacifying the dominion” as expressed in the proclamation of Queen Victoria, included offer of protection to the collaborators and waverers and creation of new associations of propertied and educated elite, like planters’ societies, zamindars’ societies, chambers of commerce and Indian National Congress, so that the elite do not sympathise with any future rebellions and find their own ways of putting forward their grievances to the representatives of British crown. Soon, this educated elite was used to transplant on the Indian soil modern capitalism and Westminster style parliamentary system.

The Ghadar of 1857 was also a great source of inspiration to generations of patriots. The Ghadar party was formed among Indian immigrants in US and Canada in 1908, taking direct inspiration from 1857. They not only exposed British imperialism internationally through their propaganda activities but also tried to organize once again within the British Indian Army another Ghadar in 1915. Unforunately, the timing of this uprising was betrayed which led to the disarming of rebels and execution of young organizers like Kartar Singh Sarabha. But these tales of heroism of Ghadar Party inspired the next generation of revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and his associates, who in turn inspired many more. Clearly for both imperialism and Indian national liberation struggle, the Ghadar of 1857 was a watershed.

GJH: Is India today an imperialist power?
Anand: It is definitely moving in that direction and the Indian capitalists, like all capitalists, have imperialist and super power ambitions. They are exporting capital through the government and the private sector and are getting fully integrated with international finance capital, which has to bless all such ventures. They are looking for new developed and emerging markets for their goods and services. They are also looking for sources of raw materials in other countries especially in the field of energy. They are modernizing their armed forces, which are already among the top three in size and have ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. They are engaging in contention and collusion and playing geo-politics with US, Europe, Russia, China and others. They are developing their own economic and political spheres of influence. All these are classic characteristics of a rising power with imperialist ambitions.

GJH: However, India is still a backward country compared to many other smaller advanced nations in Europe, Asia and Latin America and how did the bourgeoisie of a former colony do it?
Anand: First of all the imperialist character of the bourgeoisie of a country has nothing to do with the level development or the standard of living of people. It has to do with the strength of monopoly capitalists of that country and the possibilities that are provided by its size and history. For example Czarist Russia was the most backward country in Europe before the revolution but was still imperialist.

As for the evolution of Indian bourgeoisie, clearly they were the creation of imperialism and also its props and partners. They were clever enough to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. Thus, while they reaped profits and were challenging many British capitalists that had invested in textiles, Jute, plantations and other sectors, they also took active role in the nationalist movement and especially in the affairs of the Indian national Congress. Thus, when the British had to leave India under the twin pressures of the national liberation movement and their own weakening in the second World War, the Indian bourgeoisie were well prepared to replace them. Meanwhile the famous “Plan for India’s Economic Development-Parts I & II”, (1944) popularly known as the Tata-Birla plan named after the authors of the plan (JRD Tata, GD Birla, Purshottamdas Thakurdas, J Mathai, A D Shroff, Lala Sriram, Ardeshir Dalal and Kasturbhai Lalbhai), which became the basis of “socialist” industrial policy of Nehru government, helped them gain further strength. With the development of cold war, Indian bourgeoisie played cards once again cleverly (in an unprincipled way) and tried to benefit from both the super powers while speaking of non-alignment. The end of cold war brought new possibilities in front of them and in the last 16 years of liberalization, privatization and globalisation they have further grown in strength. They have largely controlled the pace of globalisation so that it does not adversely affect them.

Whenever a threat to their domination of the domestic market looms, they raise slogans of Swadeshi as they did with the famous “Bombay Club” in 1993 and later with BJP prior to 1998. Similarly, today they support the opposition to foreign investment in retail trade and real estate so that they get enough time to occupy dominant positions in these sectors, prior to the entry of foreign capital. And all this is being done in the name of protecting the livelihood of the neighbourhood kirana wala and so on.

GJH: What is the main point, which makes 1857 relevant today?
Anand: I think the most significant point to emerge from the study of 1857 is the existence of a profoundly democratic trend among the rebels, which was articulated by Bahadur Shah Zafar as: “Indian people will themselves decide their future”. That struggle for enabling Indian people to decide their future without any intermediaries remains unfulfilled and continues today. Hence the title of this campaign 1857: Ghadar jari hai…is very appropriate.

GJH: Do you envisage a new movement among intellectuals as a part of this abhiyan?
Anand: Definitely. After all, the ideological baggage of Euro-centrism that we have been educated with, burdens us all. We have to settle scores with our old conscience and look at our past and present with fresh eyes, be it Indian philosophy, social organization, science and technology, political theory, economic theory and so on. Many of the shibboleths and labels that divide us today in exasperating polemics and friction will then fall away and a new unity and a new struggle will be born for the renewal of India.

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