West Bengal and Communists

  • There were some notable similarities between Bengal and Punjab, the two provinces central to the events of 1946–7. Both had Muslim majorities, and thus were claimed for Pakistan. But both also contained many millions of Hindus. In the event, both provinces were divided, with the Muslim majority districts going over to East or West Pakistan, while the districts in which other religious groups dominated were allotted to India.

  • But there were some crucial differences between the two provinces as well. Bengal had along history of often bloody conflict between Hindus and Muslims, dating back to (at least) the last decades of the nineteenth century. By contrast, in the Punjab the different communities had lived more or less in peace – there were no significant clashes on religious groundsbefore 1947.

  • In Bengal large sections of the Hindu middle class actively sought Partition. They were quite happy to shuffle off the Muslim-dominated areas and make their home in or around the provincial capital. For several decades now, Hindu professionals had been making their way to the west, along with landlords who sold their holdings and invested the proceeds in property or businesses in Calcutta. By contrast, the large Hindu community in the Punjab was dominated by merchants and moneylenders, bound by close ties to the agrarian classes. They were unwilling to relocate, and hoped until the end that somehow Partition would be avoided.

  • The last difference, and the most telling, was the presence in the Punjab of the Sikhs. This third leg of the stool was absent in Bengal, where it was a straight fight between Hindus and Muslims. Like the Muslims, the Sikhs had one book, one formless God, and were a close-knit community of believers. Sociologically, however, the Sikhs were closer to the Hindus. With them they had a roti-beti rishta – a relationship of inter-dining and inter-marriage – and with them they had a shared history of persecution at the hands of the Mughals.

  • Forced to choose, the Sikhs would come down on the side of the Hindus. But they were in no mood to choose at all. For there were substantial communities of Sikh farmers in both parts of the province. At the turn of the century, Sikhs from eastern Punjab had been asked by the British to settle areas in the west, newly served by irrigation.

  • Unlike the Hindus of Bengal, the Sikhs of Punjab were slow to comprehend the meaning and reality of Partition. At first they doggedly insisted that they would stay where they were. Then, as the possibility of division became more likely, they claimed a separate state for themselves, to be called ‘Khalistan’. This demand no one took seriously, not the Hindus, not the Muslims, and least of all the British

The major drawback of the Communist party was the inability to develop suitable structures for urban development and inability for creating industrial development in West Bengal. The CPM had worked to mobilize the rural masses and had used policy making and Panchayati Raj to ensure social equity at the village level. But it couldn't ensure the same success at the urban level. It failed to create institutions like Panchayati Raj at the urban level. Also it failed to mobilize the urban people and so towns and cities in West Bengal remained stagnant during the Communist rule. Urban infrastructure facilities deteriorated and Urban quality of life too didn't improve.

The other major failure of the CPM was to create a strategy for rapid industrialization or economic development of the State due to the absence of any theory on the matter. The similar situation was seen in the other communist ruled state of Kerela. Both these places had stagnant economies as there were no precedent of a communist ruled State in a country where it communism doesn't prevail. Communism couldn't lead to egalitarian society or rapid growth of wealth or reduction in inequalities of income and successful wealth distribution without rapid industrialization and the resultant creation of jobs, trade and wealth. The State saw a flight of capital due to Congress rules apathy, administrative failure in Bengal, lack of accountability, work culture and labor militancy. The CPM managed to control labor militancy and it was a peaceful state under communists with low loss of workdays due to lockouts / gherao's. But capitalist's didn't return as they were afraid of a communist government committed to abolition of capitalism.

One reason for the Communist failure to attract development was that it believed its rule would be short lived. The aim became to start revolutionary activities in rural areas and mobilize peasantry. The CPM believed that social economic development would begin only after the country would be under Communist rule. The communists failed to evolve an innovative strategy of using public sector or cooperative sector for industrialization. It also couldn't mobilize small and medium scale industries. All this led to stagnation of the economy. The recent years have seen an improvement in the situation where Communist have wooed many National and international investors. But these sporadic attempts won't be successful unless accompanied by innovations in basic strategy of Communism to suit it to Indian society. The CPM is facing an existential crisis in the state after losing two consecutive elections.

Kashmir Problem

Kashmir was acceded to India by its ruler and so the Indian army fought the invading Pakistani tribes and army for the state. If Kashmir had acceded to Pakistan the question of Indian intervention wouldn't have arisen and India wouldn't have laid any stake on Kashmir. But the argument for invasion of Kashmir was that its a Muslim majority state and this wasn't acceptable to India. The secular ideology was followed by Indian leaders and they rejected the ideology that two communities can't form a nation. It was safeguarding this ideology that led to the Indo - Pak battle. Accession of Kashmir to Pakistan would have meant vindication of the Two-Nation theory and would have made the existing Muslim population in India [which was larger than Pakistan's Muslims] untenable. It would also have given credence to Hindu communalists to argue for a Hindu state. However currently Indian state has accepted the Line of Control as the permanent international border.

The Article 370 was made by which a special status was provided to Kashmir. The State was recognized as part of the Union but was given temporary privileges like separate flag, constitution and autonomy. However over the years the autonomy to Kashmir has been gradually reduced. The State has seen increase in its integration with the Union. Article 370 also created another movement in the State, a demand by Jammu for accession to India, separation from Kashmir and increase in representation in Government services. The J&K movement also became communal with Hindu dominated Jammu and Muslim dominated Kashmir taking sides against each other. The communal tone of the movement also created suspicion among its leader Shaikh Abdullah towards Indian secularism. Shaikh Abdullah was the popular leader of Kashmir kingdom but had a wayward and arbitrary nature. He wanted independence of Kashmir as he was opposed to communalism in Pakistan and didn't believe in the strength of secularism in India. His political ideology made him a pariah and he had to face harassment and isolation from politics. He was arrested and imprisoned too. The change in his ideology came after the 1971 war where Pakistan was defeated and also the Pro-Pakistani forces were shaken. Shaikh Abdullah now changed his policy towards the Indian state. He accepted to not raise issues like self determination, plebiscite and became the Chief Minister of J&K. His policy was now for greater autonomy within the Union.

He was succeeded by his son Farooq Abdullah who ruled J&K for a long time. The National Conference too continued to work for greater integration with the State. But Hurriyat elements, Pro-Pakistan parties and militant groups backed by Pakistan continue to cause damage to J&K. Kashmiri pandits had to leave the valley and settle in refugee camps in Jammu and Delhi. However the role of separatists and Pro-Pakistani elements have been declining due to their affinity to violence and depredation towards the J&K community.

The part responsibility of Kashmir problem also resides with the inability of the government to provide a stable regime. Successive governments have been mired in controversy, corruption-nepotism has increased, civil liberties have been trampled by police and para-military. The State leaders have also lost their credibility and mass appeal. The elections too haven't inspired confidence and appear to have been manipulated. In such a case the Government of India has imposed President's rule and the people have viewed this as an interference in state autonomy. The identity of the Kashmiri community has been undermined due to this. Hence on all there fronts there is a need for effective action.

Jammu and kashmir map after 1951

Fig 1: J&K

Punjab Crisis

Punjab crisis existed due to communal tensions between Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. Prior to partition the Muslims would be facing off against the Sikhs and the Hindus but since partition the Sikhs and Hindu communalists had been against each other.The main reason for such tensions was the rejection of demand for a Punjabi suba. Akalis which represented the Sikh community rejected secular polity and claimed that separation of religion and politics wasn't possible. The Akali Dal claimed to be repreentative of interests of all Sikhs. It followed a ideology of hatred against the Hindus and the Congress. The Sikh extremist leaders claimed that the Hindus wanted to dominate the Sikhs and crush the liberty of the Sikh religion. The allegations that the community was repressed were made but they had no grounds. It was proved that nearly 20% of the Indian Army was Sikh, Sikh representatives far exceeded their population at the Central and state services. The Akalis used religious symbols for politics and there was a factional rivalry between the Akali's for domination of the 700 Gurudwaras and the Golden Temple. Though Hindu communalists weren't as wedded to religion as the Sikhs but they too were active in the region. 

The Nehru government followed a policy of no negotiation with political leaders of a movement if it had a secessionist character or violent nature. But Nehru was sensitive to the grievances of the minority and signed pacts with the Akalis to resolve their secular differences. He also supported the Chief Minister of Punjab who had dealt firmly with communalist forces on both sides.The congress appeasement of the Sikh communalists led it to increase expectations of the Hindu communalists too. The failure of Nehru and the Congress was not being able to fight communalism by a mass ideological campaign when it was insignificant.

The Akali Dal demanded a creation of a Punjabi suba and a separate state of Hindi speaking Haryana. Refusal to grant this demand would be treated as an insult to Sikhs. The demand was made mainly on a linguistic basis but was given a communal overtone. Due to the communal underpinning of the demand it wasn't accepted by Nehru. The other issue was regarding the official language of the state and the medium of instruction in educational institutions. This was being a purely linguistic demand was converted into a communal nature by the Akalis and the Hindu communalists. Both sides refused to accept each others demands, Sikhs wanted Punjabi and Hindus wanted Hindi. The communal question was inflammed and even the moderate Akalis too refused to accept a compromise.The change in Nehru's stance was caused by two developments: The change in leadership of Akalis and the next leadership agreed that the question of Punjabi Suba wasn't communal but linguistic. The other development was a growing demand for a separate Hindi speaking state of Haryana. Both these factors led to split of Punjab and a separate Haryana was created. The Akalis now had most of their demands accepted. A compromise was made on Chandigarh by making it a Union Territory and it became the capital of both Punjab and Haryana. It was believed that communalism would be reduced now that the Punjabi suba was created but soon it emerged as neither the Congress nor the secular forces of Punjab took steps to fight it.

However now the Akali Dal had to face a major dilemma. It had to either accept a secular ideology or accept the religious ideology and leave politics. So just like any communal organization it moved towards secessionism. The Akalis had to create an ideology towards which its supporters could rally. It is the default mentality of a communal organization -when its demands are accepted it moves towards a more radical ideology. The problems faced by the Akali Dal were that it had a low support base. The major supporters of the movement were the rich and middle peasants. They had no support from the small and marginal peasants who voted for Congress or Communists. Amongst the intellectuals too their support was narrow. The Punjabi speaking community was a narrow majority in Punjab so in the elections the Akali Dal would garner just around 35-40% of the votes.

Operation Blue Star

The Akalis went on a more and more communal ideology the Punjab congress inorder to confront them went to Bhindranwale who they believed could be used to undercut the Akalis. But this turned out to be a mistake. Under Bhindranwale the secessionists, extremists and other followers adopted militancy as the option and resorted to vioent acts against all people. They wanted to separate Punjab from India and wanted a Sikh state for the people independent of India.This led them to unleash a reign of terror amongst the masses. Sikhs, Hindus both were killed in such acts. Bomb blasts,, gunfights, looting and killing became common. All those who opposed the ideology of Bhindranwale were targeted. The violence didn't spare the police too as several police officers and government servants died. The response of Akali to the violence was that of support or passive resistance. They believed that Bhindranwale was following the ideology preached by them and so they saw no harm in following his actions. The Central government under Indira Gandhi too followed a policy of tolerance towards the extremists and allowed them freedom. Indira felt that minority demands should be accommodated but failed to distinguish between communal and other demands.

Meanwhile there was widespread violence in Punjab. The lawlessness was forcing outward migration. Police too couldn't proceed without firm orders from political leadership. The Khalistani's, extremists or separatists wanted to increase their acts as they felt emboldened by the mild police response. Meanwhile, Pakistan which wanted a low intensity, proxy war with India too supported the Khalistani terrorists by providing weapons and funds. The Sikh radicals abroad too contributed money for the movement. The situation now had to be brought under control militarily. The army began its Operation code named Blue Star and stormed the Golden Temple where the Khalistani's had created a base camp. The worshipers were caught in the cross hair and many died but in the end the Khalistani's along with Bhindranwale had been killed. The situation in Punjab was slowly brought under control by liberating other Gurudwara's. The secular political parties too succeeded in convincing the public that the fault for the operation was Bhindranwale's not the Army's.


The Operation though successful was poorly planned and executed. The army underestimated the capacity and firepower of the terrorists. The Operation is criticized for causing such large scale damage to the Golden Temple. A similar operation in 1988 was done without bloodshed by the police due to proper planning. Thus overall the Punjab crisis showed the World that India could handle separatist demands effectively. But the operation has still affected the Punjabi community till today. Though the operation dealt a major blow to terrorism and secessionism the terrorist related violence continued till 1998 i Punjab and 11700 were killed including 1500 policemen. But finally the movement succeeded in crushing terrorism and the ugly face of it was never to be seen again in Punjab. 

After the Operation, Indira Gandhi was killed by her bodyguards. She had kept the Sikh bodyguards despite being warned by her advisor. The turmoil that followed saw anti-sikh riots in the country. These targeted the poor sikh community that looked upon Indira as their savior. Around 2500 were killed. The Rajiv Gandhi government that followed negotiated with the Akali leaders. The majority of the Akali's were now in a negotiable mood. They had to give up the communal demands and agreed to accept constitutional machinery to reach power. However the Rajiv Gandhi government erred in its approach of not launching an all out war on communalism by mass ideology of masses. It used the moderate communal leaders of Akali Dal against the extremist elements. Its second mistake was to stop operations against terrorism which allowed it to rise again. The moderate communal leaders couldn't stop the extremist elements some of whom were backed by Pakistan. However the reign of terror unleashed by the terrorist failed to convince the Sikh community that they were fighting for Sikh interests but it made them feel that the terrorists were using violence and debasing the ideals of their forefathers for personal interests.The majority of the community remained together and fought the terrorists. The Hindus too refused to accept communal demands for a Hindu resistance force and formed a secular alliance. The terrorists too couldn't create a wedge between Hindu's and Sikh's and there were no incidents of communal violence. A large number of cadres of secular parties like Congress, communists, socialists died fighting the terrorists. The spirit of secularism had been imbibed too deeply in the Punjabi community by the Ghadar Party, Bhagat Singh, Congress, National movement and religious leaders.

The Punjab crisis showed that religion and politics could never coexist in a secular democracy.

  • In 1987 the Indian army launched an attack on jaffna based university which was believed to be the headquarters of the powerful militant group LTTE. The operation ended in complete failure as the army lost its men and morale. This was widely regarded as the Vietnam of the Indian Army.

  • The loss at Jaffna was further used as an excuse to keep the army out of military operations on foreign soil such as Afghanistan and Iraq. The start of the Sri Lankan problem was the persecution of the minority tamil community by the majority sinhalese buddhists in SriLanka.

  • The Rajiv Gandhi government wanted the tamilians to get greater autonomy but not a separate state. It supported the rebel tamil groups including the LTTE to an extent and also allowed food and other non military aid to the tamilians. A reason for this was the Tamil Nadu governments pressure on the center. India also sent a peacekeeping force (IPKF) in SriLanka to protect the country from descending into civil war and turmoil. However due to certain events the IPKF went into conflict with the LTTE.

  • The IPKF then planned a military attack on the Jaffna university to eliminate the LTTE leadership and crush the rebels. However the poor planned and executed operation led to a humiliating defeat of the IPKF. Soon a larger force was sent to defeat the rebels at Jaffna but the main LTTE leadership had already escaped from there. After Rajiv Gandhis death the VP Singh government recalled the IPKF men in 1990 but till then the army had suffered 1200 casualties.