CHAPTER III: ‘LONDON MAJLISH’


At this point of time, me Indian Student formed the London Majlish. I was its first editor. My job was to create public opinion for India’s cause and collect subscriptions.

The Indian Students Federation in Britain was re-established and its mouthpiece with the Indian Students and Socialism started publication.

I have already referred to the formation of Communist groups in the various Universities in England. I cannot quite recollect the names of all the members; from what I can, those of Rajani Patel, P.N. Haksar, Mohan Kumar Mangalam, Indrajit Gupta, Renu Chakraborty, M.K. Krishnan, Parbati Krishnan (nee Mangalam), Nikhil Chakraborty and Arun Bose spring to mind immediately. These groups used to meet at joint conferences regularly. Feroze Gandhi was an active leader of the India League. He was also involved in the work of the London Majlis He made it a point to attend every meeting of the Students Federation. Snehangshu used to come too. Bhupesh and Snehangshu had already become friends earlier. One of the most important priorities of the Majlis was to host receptions for Indian Nationalist Leaders who came to London. Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Vijaya Laxmi Pandit, Congress Socialist Party Leader, Yushuf Meher Ali had all been guests.

It was Krishna Menon who introduced me to Nehru. He took me to the place where Nehru used to stay in London. I remember telling Nehru ‘ I believe in Socialism’. Nehru had replied, ‘ Our first task is to earn freedom for India. Do you people agree with this? I replied in the affirmative and invited him to a reception function. Nehru was one of those Indian leaders who I respected during my stay in London. He had rejected proposals to meet Fascist leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. Also the fact that he had raised us voice against Franco enthused us a lot. We were also very proud of Mrs. Vijaya Laxmi Pandit. It was really heartening and a fact to be proud of that Indian women leaders like Sarojini Naidu had turned to active politics when the world was rumbling with Hitler’s diktat that a women’s place was only in the kitchen.

It was during our student life in London that some of us decided for sure that once back in India, we would devote ourselves to the Communist Party.

A top Congress leader and excellent orator, Bhula Bhai Desai was given a reception in London, though we considered him to be a representative of the bourgeoisie class. The India Domicile Rule was already enforced since 1935 and in 1937, the Congress had formed governments in most of the states of India after elections. Farmers had been fired upon; we raised this issue with Desai. To this, he only replied, ‘ The farmers support only the Congress’.

We considered Subhash Chandra Bose to be a left list. We sent him a Congratulatory note after he became the President of the Congress at the Tripura Conference in 1939. It was also decided that a meeting would be held in London. We invited Feroze Gandhi who said that though he would be present at the meeting, he would not make any speech. He kept his word. There were two speakers on that day; N.K. Krishnan and I. It was after this meeting that the note was sent to Bose.

While we were still there, Bose had come to London once. A full interview of CPGB leader, Rajani Palm Dutt was published in the daily worker, a mouth piece of the British Communist Party, the next day.

Meetings of rallies were held every year at London’s Trafalgar Square on January 26. Indira Gandhi used to come for these meetings.

Before morning on to other subjects, there are some incidents relating to my stay in London, which need mention. We started a literacy campaign in East London which was populated largely by Indian sailors. The British Communist Party lent a helping hand in this too.

The civil war was or in Spain. The famous Communist leader of Spain, Ms. Dolors Ebaruri (la Pasionara) had gone to France to generate public opinion and help for the civilian government in her country. A reception was organized for her in Paris where Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohit Banerjee and Feroze Gandhi were present. But the French government would not allow here to speak on the occasion. It was at this meeting that Nehru presented a bouquet of red roses to the Spanish leader. This incident caught the imagination of the people and public opinion was veered against the French Government.

The Indian scientist, Dr. Biresh Guha, who had Communist leanings came over to London and met Rajani Palme Dutt and other leaders of the CPGB. I met him too.

Meetings of some party or the other were routine at London’s Hanistead Health area, where Karl Marx had spent a long time of his life. While a rally of the Fascist Party was on in the area one day, and India was being bandied around, Bhupesh and I could not but go upto the speaker and tell him that while he had every right to talk about his politics, there was no reason why he should be dragging our country into it. A couple of hundreds of people supported us. The police cautioned as that while we could pose questions, we would not possibly disrupt the meeting. The meeting all the same, was aborted. Of all the acquaintances in London, I specifically remember two people. One was Promod Sengupta, who was a party member. We used to meet him often. He was at odds with the British Communist Party over certain issues. The CPGB advised him to return to India and continue party work.

The second was Dr. Sasadhar Sinha. He owned a book shop called Bibliophile in London which had become a short of meeting point for us. Dr. Sinha was extremely sympathetic to our cause.

I do not remember the exact year; Soumen Tagore had send a theoretical paper from India to the British Communist Party leadership which in turn, sent it to us for our appraisal. We, the Communist students, rejected it as being unacceptable. The British Party agreed with us.

I remember that when we left London, tap CPGB leaders like Rajani Palme Dutt, Harry Pollit and Ben Bradley had told us categorically that formation of an anti-imperialist united front was the only way out in India at that time.

By that time, Europe was aflame. Hitler had already annexed Czechoslovakia and Poland and Britain Conservative Party Prime Minister Champerlain was only appeasing the Nazi leader in the name of anti-communism. 

Champerlain returned with Peace Treaty with Hitler. The people of Britain as also all the peace loving forces of the world rosel in Vision against him. But the Prime Ministers line was that he had brought peace. His followers chimed the ‘ Follow him; Inspire him.’ A part of the Conservative Party like Harrold Laski also joined him. Indian students in Britain played a major role in forming public opinion against this appeasement policy. The London Majlis organized meetings after meeting to strengthen the Left forces.

Finally, on September 3, 1939, Britain too declared was. He also came to know that there were some differences in opinion within the British Communist Party regarding the character of the Second World War.

I appeared for my final law exams in December 1939. But without waiting for the result, I left for India within a month. Back home, I was informed that I had passed. During my stay in London, I had grasped the basic knowledge that Britain was not prepared for the war and the Chamberlain had taken it for granted that Hitler would attack the Soviet Union first and that Britain would remain unscathed. Chamberlain considered the Soviet Union, and not Hitler as the main enemy. There was no war-preparedness in England. It was only after Churchill became Prime Minister that the defence forces were upgraded and modernised. Churchill was a known Communist-baiter but even then the reason as to way he signed and agreement with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany would be an issue that would be quite outside the purview of this book.

Hitler started bombing London even as we were there. We had to wear gas masks as a precaution. After some of US took the ocean route back to India, Hitler’s Nazi started using for torpedoes; as a result, this route was stopped for civil Navigation. Bhupesh Gupta, Indira Gandhi and Feroze Gandhi were stranded in London. They had to take a detour back to India. We were suspicious that Scotland Yard detectives were on our trail; naturally, we became alert. A book,’ The History of the Communist Party’ of the Soviet Union was kept with a lady who returned with us to India. The rest of the books were with us. That we were not off the mark proved when we returned home. As soon as the ship berthed in Bombay, the books were confiscated but fortunately the “History of the CPSU” was spared.

We had already decided that we would become whole timers of the Communist Party. Some of us like Bhupesh Gupta, M.K. Mangalam, Arun Bose and myself contacted some of our party leaders in Bombay in 1940. They told me to attend a public meeting to be addressed by labour leader Swami Sahajananda. I went. It turned out to be a huge rally.

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