C.R. Das, Gandhi and the Working Class
RAKHAHARI CHATTERJI, Working Class and the Nationalist Movement in India, The Critical Years, South Asian Publishers, New Delhi 1984, 215 pp., Rs. 80.00.
A NEW PHASE in the Indian nationalist movement started after the first world war when, for a number of reasons, the masses were turned to for either tactical or strategic support. The integration of mass politics into the new approach of the INC, which till then, except for the 1905 eruption, had been dominated by the petitional activities of the urban professionals and the big business class, was not devoid of danger. It entailed the risk of the downtrodden people transgressing the rather limited aims of the Congress leadership.
As a matter of fact, the British government and its colonial administration were seriously perturbed by such a prospect. The real or fictitious activities of foreign-inspired revolutionaries, who were supposed to attempt to integrate the working class in the nationalist movement, were the focus of attention of the intelligence services and were the subject of a number of conspiracy cases.
The apprehension was not unwarranted, although most of those the intelligence services described as communists were not. Till the mid-twenties, there were practically no communists in India, despite the relatively early start of industrialization. One therefore has a basic reservation on the sub-title of Rakhahari ChatterjTs book in which he defines the early 1920s as the critical years in which the future INC attitude towards the working class is supposed to have been formed.
The period, significant though it was, did in this respect probably not have a decisive and conclusive character. The author has started from the assumption that the two opposite and exclusive views on nationalism and the working class were represented by Chittaranjan Das and Mahatma Gandhi. Since the former passed away in the mid-twenties, the ensuing period up to independence is discarded in the course of a few pages.
The contention is that the national leadership only towards the fag end of the independence movement, through the then founded INTUC, attempted to bridge the hiatus between the INC and the working class. The rejection of the approach of C. R. Das in the early twenties in favour of the Gandhian policy of indifference, is seen as the start of a generic