Singaravelu Chettiar , respectfully known as ‘Singaravelar’ is one of the pioneers of both the Indian freedom and the Indian Communist movement as well. He was a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi and Lenin. Born on 18/2/1860 to a fisherman’s family, Singaravelar breathed his last on Feb 11,1946. When he passed away, the Congress leader C Rajagopalachary popularly known as Rajaji paid him tribute by saying that “an avowed freedom fighter and an honest leader had passed away” . Singaravelar can be called rightly as a pioneer in all the streams ,viz, Indian National Congress movement, Communist movement, Self-respect Social movement and Trade Union movement in pre-Independent India. His Hindustan Labour Kisan Party was considered more dangerous than the Indian National Congress by the British Rulers then.
After having had education and graduated in Law, he visited London in 1902 to establish a trade relationship with a British firm in rice trade. There, he came across several publications on Politics , Philosophy , Economics etc. After his return to India, he associated with National movement led by the Indian National Congress leaders. When Gandhiji gave a call for boycott of courts, colleges, schools, government positions in protest against the Jalianwala Bagh massacre by the British Police, Singaravelar burnt his professional attire for lawyer in a public meeting . He evinced deep interest in knowing the political changes that were taking place in Soviet Russia after the 1917 Revolution and started reading Marxist literature ,speeches of Lenin. Impressed with ideas of Communism, he propagated them among the Congressmen by saying that only Marxism could emancipate the oppressed classes from the exploiters .
When M N Roy , as a candidate member in the executive body of the Communist International established in March 1919 under the guidance of Lenin was assigned the responsibility of reporting about Indian political situation and the various revolutionary groups operating in India with a view to taking the ideas of the Communism to the Indian people, he identified four places in India where there were some people who had already Marxist perspective. They were S A Dange in Bombay, Singaravelar in Madras, Muzafar Ahmed in Calcutta and Ghulam Hussain in Lahore which is presently in Pakistan after partition. It was then in 1922, Singaravelar started establishing contact with the Communist International . Subsequently, a close co-ordination between
Dange, Muzafar Ahmed and Singaravelar followed within India.
It was Singaravelar who first used the word ‘Comrade’ , when he addressed the 1922 Congress Session in Gaya and electrified the youth with that magical word and informed them that he was there at the conference to greet the delegates on behalf of the International Communist movement. It was in Gaya session of the Congress, Sinagarvelar called for “Total and Complete Independence for India”.
Writing on the impact of Singaravelar’s speech in Gaya session, M N Roy noted in his ‘ Vanguard of Indian Independence’ published from Berlin :
“When Singaravelar addressed the delegates and the participants of the Congress session in Gaya as ‘Comrades; there was thunderous applause from the assemblage and there was demand from the delegates that Singaravelar be included in the Congress sub-committee on labour. His call for total and complete Independence was amazing “.
Singaravelar published ‘Hindustan Labour Kisan Gazette’ and a newspaper by name ‘Worker’ in Tamil and popularised the Communist manifesto of Marx and Engels. His periodical , ‘Non-Cooperator’ was nipped at the bud by the British rulers then . Sensing the ‘danger’ posed by the activities of the various Communist groups as mentioned above, the British rulers were desperate to nip the fledgling Communist movement at the bud.. As a consequence, the Kanpur Conspiracy case was framed up in 1924 against 8 leading Communist leaders who were M N Roy, Muzafar Ahmed, S A Dange, Singaravelar ,Ghulam Hussain , Nalini Gupta, Ramcharanlal Sharma,and Shakat Usmani..
In 1925, when the conference of Communist Party was held in Kanpur, it was supposed to have been inaugurated by Sakhatwala , a Communist opposition leader in England. As he could not make it to Kanpur, it was Singaravelar who inaugurated the conference Even before the Communist Party conference in 1925, it was Singaravelar ,who hoisted the Red flag first in Asia in 1923 ,when he floated his ‘Hindustan Labour Kisan Party’. The Kanpur Conference of the Communist party decided that Hindustan Labour Kisan Party be disbanded and its mouth-piece , ‘Hindustan Labour Kisan Gazette’ be converted as the organ of the Communist Party of India.
Singaravelar had close political relationship with E V Ramasamy Naicker, popularly known as ‘ Periyar’ ( meaning elder /veteran in Tamil) who was active leader of Self-respect social movement in Tamilnadu. Singaravelar imbibed the ideas of Communism in Periyar and suggested he visited Soviet union then. After his return from Soviet union, Periyar started popularising what he saw in Soviet union then in post revolution era. Periar’s self-Respect movement and Singaravelar’s Communist movement both had close working relationship between 1932 and 1934..Alarmed by the danger posed by the twin movements led by both Singaravelar and Periyar, the British got annoyed with Singaravelar and sent secret notes ,saying that it was Singaravelar who was instrumental in “spoiling” Periyar who otherwise was only concentrating in social movement disengaged with the communist movement. The outcome of hostile attitude of the British resulted in the ban of Communist party in 1934.
Being a powerful orator and writer in Tamil and English, Singaravelar tirelessly worked for the cause of the workers. He used several pseudonyms to write articles in scores of various Tamil and English newspapers and periodicals including ‘The Hindu’ . He organised workers meetings in Madras to condemn the brutal killing of two American workers by , Chacko and Vancity. In August 1921, he led from front the funeral processions of 7 workers killed by the blacklegs of Buckingham &Carnatic Mill in collusion with the mill management. He escaped the house arrest by the British and managed to show black flag to the Simon Commission that visited India in 1928 to ascertain whether India had attained the political maturity for introduction of political reforms by the British. When Lenin stopped breathing on January 21, 1924 , Singaravelar paid rich tributes to Lenin in his 'Hindustan Labour Kisan Gazette' through an editorial.
Singaravelar’s collection of books was really massive, about 20,000 books. Due to lack of proper attention and maintenance , a big chunk of his books has been lost.Yet, Some of his books have found their way to Moscow's Lenin Library where there is a separate section of books in memory of Singaravelar,known as 'Singaravelar Section'.
“I learnt my Marxism and Darwinism from Singaravelar ”, said Thiru Vi Ka, a popular Tamil writer and freedom fighter during the British days.
The above article is a loose translation of an OP-ED article that has appeared in 'Theekkathir'(18/2/2009), a Tamil daily of the CPI(M), penned by Prof Muthu Gunasekharan , with additional inputs collected from ‘The Rise and growth of Communist movement in Tamilnadu’ authored by N Ramakrishnan, a well-known writer of several books on Communist leaders.