The Communist Movement in Maharashtra: Glorious Legacy, Fresh Challenges

Maharashtra is among the states that have a long and glorious legacy of the Communist movement. It goes back to the struggle for independence against British imperialism. A large number of Communists, as well as workers and peasants owing allegiance to the Communist Party, have been martyred in these struggles.

This legacy begins in the decade of the 1920s with the massive strikes and other militant struggles of the textile workers of Mumbai, under the red flag of the famous Girni Kamgar Union (GKU) which was led by the Communist Party. One of the most memorable of these strikes was the six month strike of textile workers in 1928. It was as a result of these bitter class struggles that the working class of Mumbai and Maharashtra won several of its rights and demands. Among the legendary first generation leaders of these working class struggles were Comrades B T Ranadive, S A Dange, S S Mirajkar and many others. From Mumbai, these struggles then spread to other textile mill centres in districts like Solapur, Thane, Dhule, Jalgaon and so on.

Two cardinal features of these Communist-led working class struggles in Maharashtra were that they mobilised the workers in the freedom struggle against British colonialism; and they championed the cause of secularism and working class unity against the reactionary forces of communalism.

In 1930, the working class and the people of Solapur rose up in revolt against British rule. For a few days, they ousted the British rulers and took control of the administration of Solapur city. This became known as the Solapur Commune. The British clamped down and imposed a most draconian Martial Law. There was massive repression. Four leaders of this struggle – Mallappa Dhanshetty, Shrikisan Sarda, Qurban Husain and Jagannath Shinde - were hanged on January 12, 1931.

Less than three months later, on March 23, 1931, the British hanged three other illustrious and revolutionary martyrs – Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. Of these, Shivram Hari Rajguru hailed from Khed in the Pune district of Maharashtra. Khed has since been renamed as Rajgurunagar.

In 1938, when the government proclaimed a Black Act against the working class, the Communist Party and the Independent Labour Party led by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar came together and led a massive joint campaign and a general strike in Mumbai against this Act. Comrades R B More and Shamrao Parulekar were two prominent Communist leaders who had participated in the struggles led by Dr Ambedkar. R B More was one of the main organisers of the famous 1927 Chowdar Lake Satyagraha at Mahad in Raigad district that was led by Dr Ambedkar. It demanded the basic right of dalits to draw water from that lake. Dr Ambedkar and Shamrao Parulekar led a huge peasant demonstration on the Mumbai Assembly in 1938 against the ‘Khoti’ system of landlordism that was then prevalent in the Konkan region.        

Maharashtra has a rich history of several peasant and tribal struggles against landlordism even before the formation of the Communist Party. One of the foremost radical social reformers of Maharashtra in the nineteenth century, Mahatma Jotirao Phule, had written bitterly against landlordism and against all forms of caste oppression. This had inspired the peasantry to fight and it was one of the factors behind the massive ‘Deccan Riots’ against money-lenders in 1875. 

The organised peasant movement led by the Communist Party began with the formation of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha in its first conference held on January 12, 1945 at Titwala in Thane district. The pioneers of the AIKS in Maharashtra were Comrades Shamrao Parulekar and Godavari Parulekar. It was this conference that unleashed the historic Adivasi Revolt led by the Communist Party and the Kisan Sabha in Thane district. This revolt which began in May 1945, continued for over two years. It abolished all forms of slavery and bonded labour, increased wages of agricultural labourers and succeeded to an extent in giving land to the tiller. This struggle is documented in Comrade Shamrao Parulekar’s book “Revolt of the Warlis” and in Comrade Godavari Parulekar’s book “Adivasis Revolt”. The Adivasi Revolt gave its first five martyrs on October 10, 1945, when the British police, who were in league with the landlord and money-lender lobby, fired mercilessly on a peaceful gathering of over 30,000 Adivasis at Talwada, near the Talasari tehsil of Thane district. Comrade Jethya Gangad was among those who were killed in this state repression.

From 1943 to 1946, in another historic event, British rule was almost overthrown for three and a half years and a ‘Parallel Government’ was established in the Satara and Sangli districts of Western Maharashtra. It had the full support and backing of the peasantry. This revolt was led by ‘Krantisinha’ Nana Patil, who later joined the Communist Party and was also elected AIKS national president in the 13th AIKS Conference that took place at Dahanu in Thane district in May 1955.

The last nail in the coffin of British imperialism in India was driven by the unprecedented revolt of the Naval Ratings in Mumbai, which took place in February 1946, and which spread like wild fire to other ports across the country. After both the Congress and the Muslim League refused to support the revolt of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN), the naval ratings approached the Communist Party. The Communist Party not only extended its full and active support, but also mobilised thousands of textile workers of Mumbai in solidarity with this struggle. The working class erected barricades on the streets of Mumbai to prevent the passage of British armoured vehicles which were despatched to crush the revolt. In his pamphlet on the Naval Revolt, B T Ranadive has recorded that in the five days from February 18 to 22, the British government gunned down over 400 workers in Mumbai. Among those killed was a woman leader, Comrade Kamal Donde. Ahilya Rangnekar, who was with Kamal Donde at the time, just escaped being hit by a bullet. Ahilya Rangnekar’s sister Kusum Ranadive, who was also on the spot, sustained a bullet injury in her leg.        

After independence, democratic movements for the formation of linguistic states were unleashed in many parts of the country. The ruling Congress Party went back on its pre-independence pledge to form such states. This was the reason for the movements like Aikya Keralam, Vishal Andhra, Samyukta Maharashtra and Maha Gujarat that swept these states in the decade of the 1950s. The Samyukta Maharashtra movement, from 1956 to 1960, was led by the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti, which comprised four main parties – the Communist Party, the Praja Samajwadi Party, the Peasants and Workers Party and the Republican Party. It engulfed the state, and in the massive repression that followed, 106 martyrs were killed in police firing. Most of them were from the working class in Mumbai. This movement dealt a massive blow to the Congress Party in the 1957 elections to parliament and the state assembly. Several leaders of the above four parties won the elections. Eventually, the central government was forced to concede the demand, and the state of Maharashtra was formed with Mumbai as its capital on May 1, 1960 – the May Day of the international working class.  

The struggle against revisionism in the Communist Party in Maharashtra was particularly intense, since S A Dange himself hailed from this state. But it was nevertheless well fought. A large number of Party leaders from Maharashtra were detained by the Central government for three and a half years, from November 7, 1962 to April 30, 1966. In the 7th state conference of the CPI(M) that was held at Talasari in Thane district in 1964, Comrade S Y Kolhatkar was elected the first state secretary of the Party. In the 7th Party Congress of the CPI(M) at Kolkata the same year, Comrade B T Ranadive was among those elected to the first Polit Bureau of the CPI(M), and Comrades S Y Kolhatkar and Shamrao Parulekar were elected to the first Central Committee. However, a few months later, on August 3, 1965, Comrade Shamrao Parulekar died of heart attack while still in detention and this was a major loss to the Party. Comrade Godavari Parulekar was then elected to the Central Committee.

In the struggle against the hated Emergency imposed by the Congress regime from 1975 to 1977, the CPI(M) in Maharashtra played an active role. Several leaders of the Party were arrested and detained for 19 months. Nevertheless, the Party continued its campaign for the restoration of democracy.

In the general elections of 1977, the authoritarian Congress was routed. In that election, three Party leaders – Ahilya Rangnekar from Mumbai, Lahanu Kom from Thane district and Gangadhar Appa Burande from Beed district – were elected to the Lok Sabha as part of a united front. In the 1978 state assembly elections that followed, 9 MLAs of the CPI(M) were elected on an anti-authoritarian platform. This was the highest electoral representation of the CPI(M) in Maharashtra to date.

Ever since the Shiv Sena was formed in 1966 with the full backing of the big bourgeoisie and with the blessings of the Congress government, the Communist movement in Maharashtra has been engaged in ceaseless hostility with that semi-fascist force. The real purpose of promoting the Shiv Sena was to break the hold of the Communists over the working class of Mumbai. This hold had once again been proved during the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. The Shiv Sena, which had been formed on a platform of regional chauvinism – a manifestation of identity politics – began by attacking South Indians. It also attacked the Communists and their offices in Mumbai. The Communists, of course, retaliated. But the Shiv Sena had the full support of the Congress state government and its police. It was due to this support that Shiv Sena goons murdered CPI MLA Comrade Krishna Desai in 1970.

Defending the working class movement from the semi-fascist assault was rendered all the more difficult by the opportunism of the Praja Socialist Party, a major ally in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. The PSP shocked the political world by concluding an electoral alliance with the Shiv Sena in the Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections in 1968. This was neither the first, nor the last, instance of political opportunism of the socialists. It must also be recalled here that after the successful struggle for Samyukta Maharashtra, the Communist Party had proposed that the Samyukta Maharashtra Samiti continue as a cohesive political front to challenge the Congress. The PSP rejected the suggestion outright. This was a direct result of its anti-communist stance. This stance was clearly exhibited in Kerala in 1959, when the PSP supported the Congress-led so-called ‘liberation struggle’ against the first EMS-led Communist government, eventually leading to its dismissal.

The struggle against Emergency contributed to reinvigorating the Left democratic political stream that emerged out of the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, but gradual disintegration of the ‘socialist’ component started soon after. The socialists had already made a major political blunder when they allowed the RSS-led Bharatiya Jan Sangh to merge into the Janata Party in 1977. The Republican parties also lost direction and started tailing the Congress Party. A major faction of the Republican Party has now entered into an alliance with the Shiv Sena and BJP in a naked display of political opportunism. In this process, Republican groups have thoroughly weakened themselves. The Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), which was once an important force in state politics, has also weakened considerably. Not only that, one faction of it has for long been having an electoral alliance with the Shiv Sena and BJP, and another faction of the same Party has been going with the NCP.

As a result of all these opportunistic positions, the secular non-Congress bloc as a whole got diminished and disrupted. The CPI(M) proved itself to be an exception to this trend by retaining its strength in the traditional spheres of its influence and making forays into newer areas.  For example, Akole in Ahmednagar district, where the Party is holding its 20th state conference from March 25-27 is one of several such new areas where the Party and mass organisations have registered rapid growth in recent years. Today the situation is such that, in order to advance the class struggle in Maharashtra, the CPI(M) has to rely almost exclusively on its independent strength and that of the class and mass organisations led by its members.   

Against this overall political background, several statewide struggles on burning issues of the people were led by the CPI(M) and by the mass organisations in the post-Emergency period. Large political campaigns on vital issues were also conducted. Space does not permit a detailed account of all these struggles and campaigns.

However, two major successful and politically important struggles in the recent past must be mentioned. One was the struggle against the American multinational Enron and its Dabhol Power Plant in Ratnagiri district of Konkan. As is well known, leaders of the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena and BJP had concluded corrupt deals with Enron, guaranteeing it 16 per cent profits. This led to massive increase in power tariffs when the plant began production. The Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) was driven to near-bankruptcy because it had to shell out huge amounts to pay the Enron bills. The CPI(M), along with other Left and secular parties, led a massive statewide agitation in 2001 which led to the closure of the Dabhol plant and the eventual ouster of Enron. But Maharashtra is still paying a heavy price for the criminal Enron-related deals of these four major political parties in the form of tremendous load-shedding and rise in tariffs, more than a decade after Enron’s ouster. 

The second major struggle was that led jointly by the PWP and the CPI(M) against the proposed 10,000-hectare Mahamumbai SEZ in Raigad district from 2006 to 2008. This SEZ was sought to be developed by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries by ousting over 50,000 peasants from nearly 50 villages in three tehsils. The resistance to this took the form of two huge peasant rallies of 50,000 to 60,000 peasants each, several road blockades and a referendum in which 97 per cent of the peasants refused to part with their land at any cost. Eventually, as a result of this intense and sustained mass struggle, the state government was forced to declare the denotification of this SEZ.       

If we look at the last four years since the 19th Party Congress at Coimbatore, the CPI(M) has led statewide struggles against price rise and for food security; against the scourge of corruption; a massive campaign against the Indo-US nuclear deal; opposition to the Jaitapur nuclear plant; a campaign in connection with the golden jubilee year of the formation of Maharashtra state; and has intervened in various cases of social atrocities against dalits, minorities and women. Tens of thousands of people have participated in all these struggles and campaigns led by the Party. In Solapur, the Party has completed a novel project of 10,000 low-cost homes for women beedi workers, which has been named as the Comrade Godavari Parulekar Housing Scheme; and it has embarked on another big scheme for homes for poor Muslim women and their households.

During this same period, all the mass organisations have also been active. The CITU took the lead in bringing other trade unions together for making a success of the three All India general strikes and the Delhi rallies held during this period. The CITU also made headway in the organisation of various sections of unorganised workers and led their struggles, in which thousands of workers participated. The AIKS led a massive statewide Jail Bharo stir for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act and on other burning issues like peasant suicides, in which over 1 lakh peasants courted arrest. The AIKS also led statewide demonstrations of over 1.25 lakh rural poor around their demand for inclusion in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) lists. The AIAWU led struggles on issues like NREGA, houses and ration. The AIDWA, SFI and DYFI led several struggles on issues relating to food security, education and employment respectively. College teachers led by the Party also registered significant victories.           

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, two CPI(M) Adivasi candidates in Nashik and Thane districts polled around 1 lakh votes each in our two tribal strongholds. In the 2009 Vidhan Sabha elections, the Party won the MLA tribal seat in Thane district, getting over 62,000 votes. It won this seat for the eighth successive time without a break since 1978. Due to delimitation of constituencies and other factors, although the Party could not retain the other two seats in Nashik and Solapur districts, it stood second and got over 90,000 votes in these two seats. It did reasonably well in some other seats also.

In the statewide local body elections held last month, the CPI(M) largely succeeded in retaining its base in Thane, Nashik and Solapur districts and also won seats in Parbhani, Nanded and Buldana districts. The CPI(M) retained control of the Talasari Panchayat Samiti in Thane district for the last 50 years without a break. It also retained control of the Surgana Panchayat Samiti in Nashik district for the last 20 years without a break. The Party today has 31 elected representatives in municipal corporations, zilla parishads and panchayat samitis, apart from several gram panchayats.

In the wake of these local body elections, on the night of February 27, 2012, the Party lost one of its militant woman comrades in Talasari tehsil of Thane district, Comrade Mathi Ozare. This poor Adivasi comrade was killed by BJP goons, only because she worked with exemplary dedication for the victory of the CPI(M) in these elections. She is the 60th martyr of the Party in Thane district since the Adivasi Revolt of 1945, and the first woman martyr in this illustrious pantheon.    

Today, there are many formidable political challenges before the Party. There are the neoliberal policies of the Congress-NCP central and state government that are increasing disparities between the rich and the poor and are heaping miseries on all sections of the working people. There are the communal conspiracies of the Shiv Sena-BJP combine and the terrorist actions of various groups. There are the regional chauvinist violent acts of the MNS, the breakaway group of the Shiv Sena. There is the massive issue of large-scale corruption in high places that is looting the country and is destroying its moral fibre. Last but not the least, there is the threat of imperialism and its multi-fanged efforts to pressurise our country in the economic, political and military spheres.

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Lucid . Simple . Fresh

The article brilliantly bring in front us of nearly a century legacy of communist movement and struggle , victory with having simplistic manner. Many movement like The Samyukta Maharashtra movement , now the shrewd and maliciously the personality bourgeois driven politics is trying to hijack now. This article is a best glimpse of those movements.
Continuous Assault of bourgeois forces from surrounding area to religious fundamentalists to all personality driven politics still in the dahanu area the red flag is flying. A delicious article , delightful to read.

excellent piece

Ashok Dhawale says: "In 1938, when the government proclaimed a Black Act against the working class, the Communist Party and the Independent Labour Party led by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar came together and led a massive joint campaign and a general strike in Mumbai against this Act. Comrades R B More and Shamrao Parulekar were two prominent Communist leaders who had participated in the struggles led by Dr Ambedkar. R B More was one of the main organisers of the famous 1927 Chowdar Lake Satyagraha at Mahad in Raigad district that was led by Dr Ambedkar. It demanded the basic right of dalits to draw water from that lake. Dr Ambedkar and Shamrao Parulekar led a huge peasant demonstration on the Mumbai Assembly in 1938 against the ‘Khoti’ system of landlordism that was then prevalent in the Konkan region."

The closeness between Comrade RB More and BR Ambedkar is legendary. See: http://pd.cpim.org/2003/0316/03162003_comrade%20More.htm and http://pd.cpim.org/2003/0323/03232003_comrade_%20More.htm.

The authors say: "In the forums of the Communist Party, More always raised the question of caste oppression. Before the third party congress in 1953, he had sent a special note to the party leadership on the question of untouchability and the caste system. The then Polit Bureau had taken this note seriously and had circulated it to all the party state committees, asking them to provide relevant information and comments. He sent a revised version of this note in 1957 and 1964, stressing the need to take up issues of caste and social oppression as an integral part of the class struggle and making a balanced assessment of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s positive contributions to the struggle for social justice. On this issue, he also had discussion and corresponded with top Communist leaders like E M S Namboodiripad, B T Ranadive, M Basavapunnaiah and Ajoy Ghosh."

These two articles are a must-read for both Marxists interested in Ambedkar and Ambedkarites interested in Marx.