“Tera saai’n tujh me, jyu pahupan me baas Kasturi ka mirag jyu, phiri-phiri dhoondhai ghaas”
THE fragrance of the flower flows from within the flower, so it is with people. Why then, so much like the baffled musk deer, do people search for their own fragrance in the distant grass? The 15th-century guru Kabir wrote the lines some 300 years before Hegel would grapple with a similar thought. And how well the lines sit with the trauma of an identity crisis South Asia’s communists have suffered from almost the very beginning.
One such moment came in February 1951 when four leading Indian partisans secretly boarded a ship from Calcutta to the USSR. They had a rendezvous with Stalin and they hoped to gain from his revolutionary experience and perhaps could do with some guidance too. They were keen to avert a looming split within their ranks, and they also needed Stalin’s opinion about the widely fabled but internally divided Telangana movement they had been running valiantly but with mixed results. Stalin surveyed the maps of Telangana. Then very politely he advised them to stop the unwinnable insurrection. The Indians should seek the parliamentary route to power instead. Nehru although a slippery eel was no stool pigeon of colonialism, Stalin told the visitors. Moreover, the popular Indian leader was too deeply admired by the masses to be pushed over by mere fervour minus strategy or resources.
A less polite version of the meeting came in 1979 when Stalin’s interpreter and diplomat Nikolai Adyrkhayev’s memoirs were released. Soon after meeting the leaders of the Communist Party of India, with whom he was polite without being overly respectful of their revolutionary ideas, Stalin scolded a delegation of the Japanese Communist Party. “In India they have wrecked the party and there is something similar with you.” Just around then another Indian partisan “had the privilege” to carry the party’s ‘China path’ document to China.
In an irony, not unusual for South Asia’s communists, while Stalin took a dim view of his Indian partners’ ability to stage a successful revolution, the capitalist order led by the Americans was quaking in its boots over precisely that fear.
What if Afghanistan, Pakistan and India were to overthrow their avowedly anti-communist governments?
“The most serious effects of the loss of the Indian subcontinent to communist control would be psychological and political,” noted the CIA in a secret analysis in1952. The bizarre thing about the analysis, contained in the agency’s recently declassified files, was that it coincided with the Indian comrades’ unhappy and unpublicised Moscow meeting with Stalin.
“Communist victory in South Asia, if not preceded by the loss of much of Southeast Asia, would be speedily followed by it and the remaining non-communist countries of Asia would be under strong pressure from their communist neighbours.” The CIA saw prospects for an Indian upheaval that had eluded Stalin. The Americans seemed to have a better idea of where the source of the musk deer’s fragrance was than the deer itself knew.
What if Afghanistan, Pakistan and India were to overthrow their avowedly anti-communist governments? The question posed by the CIA analyst echoed a real and palpable fear in the West. Little did Messrs Ajoy Ghosh, Basavapunnaiah, Dange and Rajeshwar Rao, know this when, dressed as ordinary workers, they embarked on a journey that would further sap their self-confidence.
Communist victories in India and Pakistan, the CIA noted, would deprive the US of “the support, present and potential, of a group of nations whose ties and sympathies are primarily with the West, and the usefulness of the UN to the US”. A communist victory in the subcontinent would also undermine the will to resist “communist aggression” in non-communist Asia, Africa, and Western Europe. Suppose the agency’s analysis became public around that time, would it not have restored the partisans’ shaken self-belief?
The CIA informed the American leadership that a communist takeover in India and Pakistan would not bring economic benefits to the Soviet bloc but it would add greatly to the economic potential of the “communist sphere”.
The subcontinent, it was observed, not without a hint of nervousness, had the largest industrial plant in Asia outside of Japan, a huge labour supply including a considerable number of skilled and semi-skilled workers and the natural resources to support extensive industrial expansion.
The low per capita productivity of the region and its dependence upon imports obtained from the West would pose serious but not insuperable problems for the communists. “China and North Korea have shown a capacity to mobilise meagre resources quickly and effectively.”
The agency’s perspective was routinely peppered with its McCarthy moments. By “ruthless methods … the communists could … within five to 10 years develop a specialised industry capable of supplying sufficient material to a large modern army”. The CIA was not discussing two mutually hostile armies they were to become, or rather made to become. Imagine that.
Had India and Pakistan pulled it off, “it would add five nations, two of them large and potentially powerful, and nearly a fifth of the world’s population to the Soviet bloc, and would precipitate the rapid transfer of much of Southeast Asia to communist control supposing this had not already occurred”.
The phenomenon of having the world’s most powerful capitalist country worried sick eluded India’s partisans, however. But the CIA was certain that the loss of South Asia would be “all the more grievous to the West inasmuch as it would involve countries whose present regimes are actively anti-communist”.
Moreover, a revolution in South Asia coming on the heels of the communist victory in China would create the impression throughout non-communist Asia, Africa and Western Europe “that the advance of communism was inexorable”.
What do we make of it then? Did the CIA work itself into a self-induced trance about India and Pakistan’s revolutionary capacity, or had it overestimated the musk deer’s olfactory prowess to divine the source of its own fragrance?
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn February 14th, 2017