Monday, August 11, 2008

Communist Foreign Hand

Communist foreign hand
Tuesday August 12 2008 00:58 IST

New Indian Express (Chennai), 12 August 2008

Foreign financial contributions to political activities in India have always been controversial and many have used this to settle personal, organisational and ideological scores with their political rivals and competitors. At one time or another, various foreign countries have been accused of patronising their supporters and fellow travellers in India. Many were seen as ‘agents’ of this or that power.

While the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union hogged much of the attention, others were not far behind. Oil-rich countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia have been accused of funding extremist Islamic groups in India. Likewise at the height of the Ayodhya controversy, wealthy Indians in the West were charged with transferring funds to Hindutva forces. Indeed at times, ‘foreign agent’ has become a too common refrain in Indian politics.

Unfortunately, most of them remained allegations with little documentary evidence and far little follow up actions. Hence, they were quickly dismissed as nothing more than a political blot or external conspiracy to discredit a particular individual, group or political party.

This however is changing. The end of the Cold War has opened up a wealth of credible archival materials of the bygone era. As part of the Cold War Project, the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Centre is publishing large quantities of declassified Soviet documents. One such document throws some interesting insights into the question of the Soviet financial contribution to the then united Communist Party of India (CPI) just before the 1962 Lok Sabha elections.

On 17 January 1962 the Soviet ambassador in New Delhi I A Benediktov wrote a brief note on his meet earlier that day. It presents a summary of his meeting with Bhupesh Gupta, the Secretary of the National Council of the CPI. The meeting took place on the day the CPI ended its two-day meeting of the Secretariat in New Delhi to chalk out plans for the impending elections to the Lok Sabha.

Gupta was greatly disturbed by the sudden demise of Ajoy Kumar Ghosh. The death of the Secretary General of the CPI could not have come at a worse time because it deprived the party of not only its greatest organiser and orator, but also its important fund-raiser. Bhupesh Gupta had a twin-objective in initiating this meeting with the Soviet envoy. One, to ensure the continuation of close ties between the CPI and the Communist Part of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and two, to work out a mechanism for uninterrupted Soviet financial contribution to the CPI.

According to the Soviet ambassador, Ghosh candidly admitted that the party was suffering from “an acute insufficiency of funds for the pre-election campaign” and was apprehensive that “with the death of Ghosh, the source for receiving means for the communist party” from the CPSU might be closed.

Gupta was also worried about further complications. Until his death, A K Ghosh had singularly handled the financial contributions from Moscow and according to Gupta, the late leader had never consulted other party stalwarts such as E M S Nambudiripad (India’s first communist Chief Minister). They merely assisted in the distribution of funds. Ghosh monopolised funding to such an extent that he withheld this issue “from other leaders of the party and members of the National Council.” Because of this ‘strict secrecy’, Gupta proudly claimed, “not a single report on this question has appeared in the press.”

Admitting his own limitations, Gupta disclosed that unlike Ghosh, he would not be able to “single-handedly take on responsibility in questions of assistance” but would involve other leaders such as Nambudiripad. He confided that trade union leader Shripad Amrit Dange once sought exclusive responsibility for “all matters connected with foreign aid.”

Gupta vehemently denied suggestions that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was giving financial assistance to the CPI. Proclaiming that the CCP was not aware of the Soviet aid, he declared that the National Council “has not received, is not receiving and will not receive assistance” from the Chinese Communist Party but admitted that the party was receiving some aid from Sikhs living in England.

In the words of Benediktov, “Gupta repeated several times that the aid is needed precisely now” because the election campaign must be completed by the first week of February 1962. During this campaign, the main task of the CPI would be “to make clear to the population that the Soviet Union is giving selfless aid to India, is its true friend.” After the elections however, “we would like to receive your support in the matter of theoretical preparation of party cadres.”

Gupta held another round of meeting with the Soviet envoy on January 27 and expressed his gratitude for the readiness of the CPSU to assist the CPI. Both documents however are silent about the quantum and modus operandi of the Soviet “financial assistance” to the CPI. Interestingly, the party only marginally improved its tally and won 29 seats as against 27 seats five years earlier.

It is common knowledge that the Soviets had provided more than ideological and theoretical support to the communist movements in various countries including India. Through a host of outlets such as friendship societies, media outlets and cultural associations they befriended influential segments of the public. The rupee-rouble trade was also used to prop-up a pro-Soviet constituency within India. Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that the CPI was not the only Indian recipient of foreign contributions.

Thanks to the end of the Cold War, however, there are documentary evidences to prove that the Communist leadership had sought and received funds from Moscow for its political activities in India. These Soviet documents cannot be dismissed as an imperial conspiracy merely because they were obtained, translated, annotated and published by a Washington-based think tank.

What is the need to address an archaic issue that is more than three decades old, especially when the country is facing more serious problems of today? Likewise, it is too tempting to dismiss the issue as a manifestation of McCarthyism.

However, by definition political parties including the communist parties, shoulder a heavier responsibility than individuals, organisations or lobbying groups that receive foreign financial contributions. Furthermore, the Communist parties often project themselves as role models in the otherwise corrupt Indian political climate.

One cannot expect much from the political parties, partisan scholars or activists. They all will be dismissive and condescending. India still has some non-partisan Sovietologists who should ponder over the central issue: What was the nature of Soviet 'financial assistance' to the Communists?

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