CONGRESS AND COLONIAL STRUGGLE

Leaders of many struggling countries in Asia, locked in the battle for freedom, were conscious of the fact that their struggle was a part of the general struggle in all colonial countries. They extended support to each other. Sun Yatsen once offered to make over the funds he had collected for revolutionary struggle in China to the Philippine revolutionaries and was willing to postpone the uprisings he had planned in China so that the cause of independence of the Philippines could be furthered. Perhaps more than any other country, the Indian National Congress leadership was clear from a very early stage in demonstrating solidarity with the other struggling, colonial peoples. This feeling of oneness and of a common struggle was instinctively felt by Dadabhai Naoroji, Bannerjee, Gokhale, Tilak, Lajpat Rai and other leaders of the time. Under the leadership of Gandhiji and Jawaharlal Nehru, this became a matter of faith as well as of policy.

Vocal Support

With each passing day the Congress became more and more firm and vocal in its support to the struggle for independence of other suppressed countries and sharper in its condemnation of imperialism in other colonial countries. One would recall the rare, enlightened stand on the part of nationalist struggle, when far from feeling elated over the British annexing Burma and making it a part of India, the Congress berated the British action as imperialist expansion and supported the struggle of the Burmese people for independence. In 1921 the Congress passed a resolution conveying felicitations to the people of Burma on their struggle for independence and declared that a free India would favour Burma's independence from India. Gandhiji made India's position very clear when he said that Burma "never was" and "never should be" a part of India and that the annexation of Burma was indefensible.

Much before that nationalist leadership had condemned the British policy of expansion at India's frontiers and saddling India with a large standing army and huge military expenditure. As early as 1878-80, the national leaders opposed the Afghan war waged by the British and Surrendranath Bannerjee described it as "one of the most unrighteous wars that have blackened the pages of history". In 1897 the Congress President, G. Sankaran Nair, advocated a peaceful policy for India in order to ensure an environment of peace around India's frontiers to enable her to undertake internal development.

Similarly the Nationalist leaders opposed military ventures and imperialist conquests and the use of Indian armymen and resources for waging such imperialist wars in other parts of Asis and Africa. They know that it was the same phenomenon of imperialism. In 1882 the British with the participation of the so-called "Government of India" despatched a military expedition to Egypt to suppress and smother the nationalist struggle there. Rightly did the nationalist opinion condemn it as immoral and aggressive, a war meant to serve British imperialist interests. Subsequently the Congress extended support to the Irish nationalists as well as the nationalist struggle in Egypt.

Yet another instance was the struggle in China. China had fallen a prey to a consortium of powers, at one time dominated by Britain and after the first world war came the iron fist of Japanese imperialism. At the same time the country was bedevilled by warlordism in league with various imperialist powers and consequently by constant warfare. China had become the "sickman of Asia", a play thing of foreign powers, foreign business interests and foreign missionaries, mostly in collusion with one another, and of the internal forces of reaction, feudalism and military satraps. The people were groaning under this duel suppression. A reorganized Nationalist Party led by Sun Yatsen began the struggle against foreign imperialism and native warlordism and launched the Nathern Expedition from Canton in 1925 for the unification of China and the restoration of Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Congress lent full support to the nationalist struggle in China and sharply condemned the use of Indian troops in China. Gandhiji condemned this use of Indian soldiers in shooting and killing Chinese students as a demonstration of the fact that India is being kept under subjugation, not merely for the exploitation of India herself, but that it enables Great Britain to exploit the great and ancient Chinese people".

Process of Awakening

Jawaharlal Nehru further spurred this process of awakening and the sentiment of solidarity with the colonial peoples. Indeed Jawaharlal became the conscience of the struggle of the colonial people. It is well-known that on behalf of the Indian National Congress, Jawaharlal attended the International Congress against Colonial Oppression and Imperialism in Brussels in February 1927 and subsequently the Congress was affiliated to the League against Imperialism and for National Independence as an associate member. Jawaharlal was electred one of the Presidents of the Brussels Conference along with such world luminaries as Albert Einstein, Madam Sun Yatsen, Romain Rolland and others and was later made a member of the Executive Council of the League. In his speeches at this time Jawaharlal dwelt on the nature of imperialism as an advanced stage of capitalism and his dominant theme was the common struggle of colonial countries and the need to stand by one another.

Who can fail to remember the movement launched by Gandhiji in 1920 in support of the muslims of Turkey that came to be known as the Khilafat Movement? This was also the time when the Congress was transformed from "an annual reunion of politicians to ventilate Indian grievances" into a deliberative but also a mass body determining national policies and controlling and directing their execution. The All India Congress Committee was reorganized on a population basis; provincial committees were formed on a linguistic basis; and the Congress Working Committee was created.

In 1918 the allies were swept to victory. Germany had been defeated. Turkey and surrendered and the Ottoman Empire had collapsed. The Arabs were incited by the British to revolt against the Caliph and the Greeks to claim a coastal strip that, included Smyrna. The British had gone back on their own pledges, given by Asquith and Lloyd George about the integrity of the Turkish dominion and Independence of Muslim territories. It was on the strength of these pledges that the Muslim Indian troops had participated in the war against the Turkish Muslim army. But now the British threatened the total disintegration of Turkey and the loss of Muslim holy places.

The Muslims in India were agitated. The Muslim League leader Dr. Ansari demanded the maintenance of the integrity and independence of the Muslim states and the restoration of Jazirat-ul-­Arab (the Arab region) containing the holy places of Islam to the Caliph. Hakim Ajmal Khan, Chairman of the Reception Committee of the Congress in 1918 expressed similar sentiments.

Support to Khilafat Movement

Gandhiji extended full support to the Khilafat Movement and decided to lead a non­-cooperation movement against the British Government. He said in an article in 'Yong India', "I am bound as an Indian to share the sufferings and trials of fellow Indians. If I deem the Mohammedan to be my brother, it is my duty to help him in his hour of trial to the best of my ability, if his cause commends itself to me as just." Gandhiji came down severely on Montagne and on the British rule in its indifference to the feelings of the Muslims all over the world, and particuarly in India." To my amazement and dismay I have discovered that the present representatives of the Empire have become dishonest and unscrupulous," he wrote, "They have no regard for the wishes of the people of India and they count the honour of India as of little importance. I can no longer retain affection for a Government so evilly manned as it is today".

Solidarity with the Oppressed

There was not a struggle for freedom and liberation that did not get the support of the Congress. Jawaharlal stood in the forefront in the denunciation of imperialism and fascism. From Spain to Ethiopia Jawaharlal carried the message of the Congress of complete solidarity with the oppressed countries. As he put it in 1939: "The frontiers of our struggle lie not only in our own country but in Spain and China also". Indeed Jawaharlal wanted to personally and physically serve in the Spanish struggle against fascism and it was only the demands of the independence struggle in India that held him back.

The invasion of Ethiopia (then called Abbeysinia) by fascist Italy under Mussolini in 1936 ranged the Congress fully behind the Ethiopian people. The Congress observed an "Ethiopia Day" and carried on the work of mobiliation against imperialism and fascism. Jawaharlal had gone to Europe and when on his return journey, the plane touched Rome for a stop-over, an insistent request came down from Mussolini to meet him, but Jawaharlal wanted to have nothing to do with a dictator who was enslaving the people of Ethiopia.

Similarly, in regard to the Japanese invasion of China, the Congress expressed deep anguish at this brutal invesion and expressed solidarity with the Chinese people with concrete steps. The Congress organized a boycott of Japanese goods throughout the country and held meetings and demonstrations against Japanese imperialism and in support of the struggle of the Chinese people. Later, the Congress sent a medical mission to China as a token of its support in the war against Japanese imperialism. This the Congress stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of other colonial countries and in full solidarity with their struggle.

- V. P. Dutt