July 4, 1946 was the day of martyrdom of Doddi Komarayya, a young man from a poor peasant and shepherd family of Kadivendi village of the then Nalgonda district. (Now it is in Warangal district of Telangana state, TS.) This day is regarded as a marker indicating the beginning of armed struggle of Telangana. Martyrdom of Komarayya: A Turning Point in Telangana People’s Revolutionary Movement , is the title of an elaborate article written and published by Comrade Devulapalli Venkateswara Rao (DV Rao 1917 June 1 -1984 July 12 ) in June 1979 in the Proletarian Line, the communist revolutionary journal founded by him. It was reprinted in the same journal, Issue No 79, in July 2006. This title sums up the significance of that phase of Telangana struggle. July 12 marks the death anniversary of DV Rao, and he is inseparable from Komarayya, and the like.
The present article marks the 70th Death Anniversary of Komarayya, who was a local activist, and a member of the then recently formed volunteer squad, and he was not a leader. He was the first among 4000 communist and peasant revolutionaries of Telangana People’s Revolutionary Movement (1940-51) who were killed by the ruling classes, represented by the Nizam of princely kingdom of Hyderabad upto September 1948, and later by new India’s Nehru-Patel regime.
Clamour for Icons of Telangana
There has been a clamour, for some time now, to appropriate the names of Komarayya, Ailamma and the like. Last year, for instance, BJP leader and Union Minister from Telangana, Bandaru Dattatreya, who and whose party had nothing to do with Telangana struggle except contempt perhaps, released a booklet on Komarayya, on a platform shared, strangely, by some Leftists. There has been a clamour to set up his statue officially at prominent places in TS, by among others caste and casteist organizations, reducing the martyr to an icon of their caste which he never was. Likewise for his contemporary, Ailamma, a poor peasant woman fighter from washermen community, too. Some of her family successors were roped in by BJP. Recently when BJP President, Amit Shah, toured TS, he began his tour in a forgotten village of Nalgonda dt., Gundrampally, known for its heroic role in Telangana struggle like scores of other villages. And he had photos with some of the families of martyrs, duely flashed in the media.
So-called identity movements, with skin-deep commitment to anything serious towards the cause of the oppressed, inevitably working at cross-purposes, were seeking to promote Dr BR Ambedkar, Phule etc for their own ends, but they never bothered in the last several decades to know about Komarayya , Chaakali Ailamma and the like. Now they are also busy in this game, as they believe their names may matter now in the newly-formed TS. KCR’s TRS Govt., busy suppressing peasant struggles, but keen on any electoral dividends, has readily promised to do so. Already statues and pictures of Komarayya and Ailamma have come come up here and there. What is the context?
A history sought to be, but could not be, blacked out
Telangana People’s Revolutionary Movement (1940-51) which in its second phase (1946-51) took the form of people’s armed struggle constitutes a unique chapter in the history, not only of Telugu people, but also of India’s revolutionary movements. The ruling classes, the Governments and academic bodies have sought to erase it all from the pages of official, sanitized history though the struggle has lot of documentary material available on it. It is notable that the organized struggle that commenced as a mass movement in 1940 during Nizam’s regime took the form of peasant armed struggle in 1946 July marked by Komarayya’s martyrdom, and all but toppled that regime. It was at that time the Union armies entered ostensibly to liberate a Hyderabad that was tottering under the onslaught of the people led by communists. The Nizam, after putting up a token resistance, surrendered within five days (September13-18, 1948.). September 1948 was projected as Day of Liberation for Hyderabad. The Nizam and his establishment were rewarded, their plunder was legalized and sanctified, and he was made Raj Pramukh. But for people, it was the day when a campaign of repression, more brutal than that of Nizam, was launched by the army against people who fought the Nizam and feudalism.
The army had finished its claimed mission in September 1948, but did not get back. Instead, the army continued its occupation until 1952-53. It had marched into Telangana’s hinterlands, and sought to crush the peasants’ struggle against feudalism. That was how new India began its anti-people offensive. 1950 January 26 marked a new democratic Republic, but for Telangana it made no sense: Briggs Plan was implemented wherein villages and hamlets were encircled by armed forces and people were confined for months. 4000 peasant and communist cadres were killed, and one lakh people jailed. When prison space could not accommodate so many people, thousands were kept in open jails, fenced and policed, under the open sky. Feudal landlords were escorted back into the villages they had deserted and their hegemony was sought to be re-established. What Nizam’s regime did earlier, now the same was done by Nehru regime. People therefore decided to defend their gains and continued their armed struggle against the Union army.
There was an opinion inside the communist party that the armed struggle be withdrawn. However, after education on issues involved and an inner-party discussion, it was decided to continue the armed struggle. Thus, the Telangana armed struggle entered its Phase-2. This phase-2 continued against the Nehru regime which had deployed 50,000 armed forces that carried on a brutal military campaign to crush the peasant revolt and restore the feudals, their hegemony and their properties.
It was Telangana and such other anti-feudal struggles elsewhere, though of lesser magnitude, that forced the Nehru regime to abolish princely states and feudal administrative systems. What was prevailing in British administered areas was extended to the princely states and zamindaris. The abolition of feudal intermediaries, like zamindars, jagirdars and deshmukhs, however, was not meant to empower people. Instead, progressive reformist Nehru wanted no more than reforming, i.e., reshaping, outdated feudalism into modern landlordism, under a fortified, new State machinery, as DV Rao commented. The old, crumbling feudal mansions were pulled down, but only to be replaced by the new fortified RCC palaces.
This Phase-2 was openly opposed by not only Congress and BJP, but also revisionists like the parliamentary Left. Komarayya and the like died in phase-1, but Ailamma and the like carried on the struggle in phase-2 too. In fact, this phase-2 was longer, deeper, more extensive, and more heroic. But all of these parties are one when it comes to glossing over this history, and they seek to appropriate Telangana’s heritage of struggle, even this phase. They pretend to celebrate not only Komaraya but also Ailamma. That is what even BJP is doing presently.
All this history was sought to be erased. Ruling classes represented by RSS and BJP are known to fudge, distort, saffronize and rewrite history, and lot of genuine protest has been there about it , and rightly so. But much before these forces came to power, the Congress brand of ruling classes indulged in the same game for decades. Even PG-level text books focused exclusively on Modern History of Hyderabad State totally blacked out this chapter of Telangana’s history for decades. The Congress brand and Nehruite historians – most of them– played second fiddle to the then ruling dispensations. The once premier Osmania University and its academia totally suppressed this part of history for decades. Bulk of Telangana’s academics, including many of those claiming to be progressives, played a shameful and subservient role and now conveniently blame it all on rulers of integrated AP. The present rulers of Telangana , who were part of previous dispensations, made no efforts for decades to contest this though they now blame it all on others. And want to exploit it to fend their own own nests.
However, the revolutionary mass movements in the Telugu land, as also independent writers and journalists influenced by them, kept their the memory, as also the legacy of Telangana struggle, alive over the decades. For instance, Maa Bhumi (Our Land), drama on Telangana, was staged hundreds of times, and Telangana’s songs reverberated for decades, also through cinema.
Ironically, the wheel of current political developments , including the movement for separate state of Telangana, somewhat changed the scenario. The revolutionary political, literary and cultural movements in the erstwhile AP and Telangana made their own mark in relation to unraveling the revolutionary history of Telangana. A separate state of Telangana was ultimately formed in 2014. The new Establishment in Telangana, carved out of the same old bunch of ruling classes, needed to build a separate and progressive identity for itself. The events led them to include the History of Telangana People’s Revolutionary Movement (1940-51), including the people’s armed struggle, in the History Text Books at school and college level, as also in the Public Service Commission Examinations ( Group I, II and III ). Now the text books carried narratives and pictures of Telangana struggle, including those of Komarayya, Ailamma. Of course, tainted with their own interpretations and politics of convenience. DV Rao’s History of Telangana People’s Armed Struggle, volume-1, in Telugu, (5000 copies were printed in 1988 July) is now acknowledged as an authentic work. It is a much-acclaimed, detailed, authentic history, written by a key participant- leader that DV Rao was, running into some 450 pages in Royal demy size, that had two reprints after 2014 in this context. Thus a history sought to be erased from public memory is back with a vengeance.
Icons, statues and vote bank politics
Now Komarayya and Ailamma became new icons. But why and how? Political forces wanted to encash all this legacy of Telangana for vote bank politics. Revisionist leaders who betrayed the struggle in phase-2 (1948-51), post-Police Action, as the military campaign was camouflaged, were sought to be projected as Telangana’s great leaders, by the new rulers, acceptable to both Congress and BJP. TRS Govt and its Chief Minister, K. Chandra sekhar Rao (KCR), announced to build memorials for Ravi Narayana Redy, a well-known revisionist leader who bitterly and openly opposed phase-2 of Telangana struggle (post-1948), and the like.
After the Congress split of late 1960s, the ruling classes, now divided and vying for power, were in search of new icons to shear and share vote banks. Statues and politics of Gandhi, Nehru and Indira Gandhi gradually lost their electoral appeal. So it was a case of Lost and Found for Dr. BR Ambedkar, who was found useful and belatedly given post-humous Bharat Ratna by a non-Congress regime and his statues came up everywhere. Even those who opposed , and violently protested against naming a University after Ambedkar, and such others, suddenly changed their tune. RSS and BJP, the political forces and parties of the new ruling dispensation, which did not hide their contempt for him until a few years ago, now are all out to appropriate him, and re-invent him.
Casteist and sectarian forces meanwhile reduced and projected Ambedkar as a dalit leader. As dalit vote bank needed to be split, sub-caste movements were promoted (MRPS representing Madiga sub-caste began in AP but spread to other states too). Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram were slyly projected , sometimes as rivals and sometimes otherwise, depending on electoral needs. Politics veered around their statues. But in Telangana, these statues were not enough. They needed more.
Komarayya’s contemporary and neighbourhood fighter was Chaakali Ailamma, a peasant woman fighter (chaakali is the Telugu word for washermen community, or dhobis.). Both these communist revolutionary grassroots-level fighters, coming from poor peasant families, have become immortal icons of revolutionary mass movements who are still remembered and respected across Telangana. They are different from leaders of ruling classes celebrated by them as national leaders and different also from Telangana’s so-called BIG leaders who betrayed the struggle in second phase with their revisionist and opportunist politics, and hence projected as heroes by ruling classes.
Telangana’s TRS Govt and its Chief Minister, K. Chandra sekhar Rao (KCR), announced to build memorials for Telangana CPI’s Ravi Narayana Reddy, a big liberal landlord himself, but people were not satisfied. Demands for statues of Komarayya and Ailamma came up !
It is notable that disparate elements, like post-modernists, sub-alternists, Ambedkarites, separate Telangana supporters , bahujanwadis etc never remembered komarayya , Ailamma and the like for decades, until recently. Demands are now raised, however, for setting up statues of Komarayya , Ailamma and the like, obviously for their own ends. Indeed a few were erected by some agencies. In Telangana, even BJP was not harping much on the statue of Sardar Patel, but now tried to appropriate Komarayya and Ailamma.
DV Rao, veteran communist revolutionary leader, always highlighted their and such others’ role, right from his works of 1946 till he died in 1984. He did this decades before the sub-alternists made pretentious claims, blaming communists of ignoring the role of the wretched of the earth in history. As a commentator objectively noted, a couple of years ago, in a Telugu daily’s Op-Ed article, it was DV Rao– the leader of Telangana who rose up from the grassroots, lived with, organized, and led the oppressed people for years, and evolved into its theoretical, political, military and organizational leader — who created hundreds of Komarayyas and Ailammas. And he is sought to be ignored by powers that be as also vested interests for obvious reasons: It was he who represented and left behind the revolutionary mass line trend in Telangana, abhorred and feared by the present ruling classes.
DV Rao’s Birth Centenary (1917-2017)
It was in this context that DV Rao (1917-84) was also remembered in a big way, all over TS and AP. His Birth Centenary Convention held at Hyderabad on June1 last, attended by about 1500 activists and supporters from Telangana and AP, and addressed by leaders of various mass movements from about 8 states, brought out his unique role. Three leading Telugu dailies ran Op-Ed articles on DV Rao on that day. A Special Commemoration Issue (No.97) of Proletarian Line, a journal founded by DVRao and still being published, was released on that day. It was a spirited and purposive meet and went on for about 10 hours, houseful all the time. Hundreds of poor peasant women too participated in it, attentively. As expected, memories of Komarayya, Chaakali Ailamma, and DV Rao’s key role with such activists, were vividly brought out by many in the know of things, including a couple of participants aged 85-90.
Telangana was NOT merely a subject of past history, but a beacon of light showing the path for future, with many lessons, positive and negative, explained many speakers, including activists, who were associated with various mass movements for decades. That was the focal theme of the Convention.
Interestingly, and surprisingly as one Professor commented, an academic program also was held on DV Rao who was sought to be hitherto ignored or underplayed by vested interests, academic and political, rightists as well as Leftists : For instance, a Wikipedia article on Telangana mentions names of 20 leaders, and even of activists like Komarayya and Ailamma, of that struggle, but singularly omits the name of DV Rao, who was the key leader of Telangana and was even formally the then Secretary of the communist party in Telangana region, a Secretariat Member of the then Andhra Committee that led the struggle, and was a Central Committee Member, from 1950, of the then undivided CPI, and a Lok Sabha member too (1957-62). Obviously, not only those of ruling ideologies but also some from the official Left, rather the Left –overs as one commentator remarked, contributed to that article. So much for their (lack of) objectivity and academic (dis)honesty.
It was in that context that the academic program was held. It was a two-day National Seminar on DV Rao, the Architect of Telangana Peasant Armed Struggle, held by the History Dept. of Osmania University on June 19-20, where discerning academics and scholars called him a unique organic intellectual and a rare revolutionary leader. The Seminar was addressed among others ( there were many who earlier knew little about him or the struggle ) by Dr. Inukonda Tirumali, a Professor of History from Delhi. He is the author of the book, Against Dora and Nizam: People`s Movement in Telangana 1939-1948 (Kanishka, 2003), also published in Telugu as Tiragabadda Telangana, meaning Telangana that Revolted. He, hailing from a poor peasant family of Telangana, whose both parents were active participants of that glorious struggle, had painstakingly worked for his thesis on Telangana from JNU for long years and found out the unique role DV Rao had played in it. He was the defacto key resource person for the two-day seminar. His work is far better than D.N. Dhanagare’s (1983) Peasant Movements in India, c.1920-1950, often cited by academics.
Dr. Anand Teltumbde, distinguished academic, writer and activist, was another speaker who dealt with how, among other things, DV Rao and Telangana viewed and handled caste-class questions with a revolutionary perspective. Dr. Manoranjan Mohanty from Delhi was also among the speakers. There were some formal and ornamental persons from the University.
Ailamma and Komarayya, and their relationship with DV Rao as the leader, were frequently and inevitably mentioned by many in all these programs. DV Rao’s classic and model Field Reports, on Vetti, Jangaon, and Nalgonda struggles, all published as booklets in 1946, the year of Komarayya’s martyrdom were cited and quoted by many. It was in these chronicles, as also later writings of DV Rao, one can see a vivid picture of Komaraaya and of those times of revolt, indicated below.
Revolutionary Mass Action
Komarayya was shot dead on July 4, 1946 by armed goondas of the feudals of Visunuru family that had grabbed over 40,000 acres of land. He featured in several writings by DV Rao. In his booklet, a chronicle published in late 1946 , Nalgonda People’s Heroic Struggle , DV Rao devoted a few pages to Komarayya’s martyrdom, and narrated how he had already developed into a legend: As news of his murder had spread like wild fire, 2000 people, men and women irrespective of caste, from surrounding villages, rushed to Kadivendi village , where he was shot and he fell dead with the slogan , Victory to (Jai) Andhra Maha Sabha; they stormed the fort-like mansion (gadi) of the feudals of Visunuru Ramachandra Reddy’s family; armed with sticks, slings and stones , they attacked, beat up and drove out 200 armed goondas summoned by the feudals; when goondas opened fire, they lied down to escape firing, seized the guns of the goondas, smashed them and the carts in which they were running away ; and smashed and literally pulled down the mansion brick by brick.
They had constituted an open People’s Court, tried a few culprits, awarded death sentence to Rami Reddy, the captured accomplice of the feudal, but avoided killing in response to his apology and mercy plea. The upsurge saw the end of the feudal practice of vetti ( corvee, forced/bonded free labor), and the wrath of the people was channelized , by comrades led by DV Rao, into an organized struggle for land in 40 villages of Jangaon Taluq. 3000 acres of land in those villages was occupied by the landless in that phase. Later on, the Jangaon struggle gradually expanded and became the Telangana struggle. Peasants refused to part with grain- levy, forcibly being collected by the administration as part of war efforts. Tenant peasants’ struggles for land picked up momentum. Armed volunteer squads of self- defence were organized in several villages. All this in course of time paved the way for Gram Rajyas (village Soviets), with elected representatives including women representatives, and a rudimentary people’s army, a people’s court, and a people’s culture, and revolutionary land program with the slogan of Abolish Landlordism and Land to the Tiller. Ultimately it led to formation of 3000 gram rajyas, and seizure and distribution of 10 lakh acres of land in possession of landlords, apart from Govt. lands.
This martyrdom also ignited the consciousness of women who had attended rallies in their thousands, and had thrown up women leaders too. Smt Mallu Swarajyam , one such communist leader who came to light in that period, later was elected MLA several times, and she is still active now in her late 80s.
DV Rao’s detailed article on Komarayya’s martyrdom , written in June 1979, was published in Proletarian Line, the communist revolutionary journal founded by DV Rao. It was reprinted in the same journal, Issue No 79, in July 2006. And we have used the latter source. Its Telugu version, published as a booklet several times, is still used by communist revolutionary cadres, not only as a piece of authentic history but also as a guide to initiate and carry on work among rural poor, with the goal of building an agrarian revolutionary movement. Accordingly , Grameena Pedala Sangham (GPS) or Organization of Rural Poor, began working as a mass organization, with a revolutionary mass line, in the late 1970s, and over the last four decades has grown and spread across erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, bifurcated in 2014 into Telangana and AP. Komarayya, Ailamma come alive in these struggles.
The article deals with some experiences and lessons from the relevant phase of the Telangana Peoples’ Revolutionary movement to enable communist revolutionaries to advance the revolutionary movement. These experiences and lessons are as valuable to communist revolutionaries and the people as ever.
The following are extracts from that long article which give the historical-political context, relevant not only to Hyderabad but India as a whole, of Komaraaya’s martyrdom and of those times. They also offer a glimpse of tactics revolutionaries adopted.
The Telangana people’s movement was initiated, organised, and was led by the Communist Party ever since 1940 onwards. Earlier, there were either some peasant revolts of a local and spontaneous nature, or movements for civil liberties and constitutional reforms led by the liberals, connected with feudal landlord families. They were satyagraha type of movements (individual) by the Gandhian leadership of National Congress. They led the participants nowhere. Some of them, being young nationalists, were disillusioned with the state of affairs.
Not all the disillusioned were Congress-minded. Some were in search of alternative ways. At least a few of them, mostly from students, were almost clear that the Congress-type of reformist movement cannot deliver goods. Therefore, they were thinking of revolutionary methods. We cannot say that they were clear on what these methods could be. The Communist Party had mobilized a good number of them, disillusioned nationalists and the revolutionary elements from students into an organization. Party units were formed and all the leading sections were given a preliminary understanding of Marxism-Leninism.
The political situation was too unfavorable to carry on the activities. Hyderabad was a princely State consisting of Telugu, Marathi, Kannada and Urdu speaking people with their respective regions,i.e., Telangana, Marathwada and Karnataka. The Urdu speaking people were concentrated in Hyderabad City, though every town had its share, big or small. The State was supposed to be independent, but the Nizam (the King) was a puppet of British imperialists. The British army was stationed in the capital (Secunderabad), and the key portfolios of the ministers, Revenue and Police were invariably handled by Britishers. The Prime minister (as he was called) was appointed by the British government. The administration, economy, politics, and all fields of people’s life were controlled by the British who were at the top. The Civil, Criminal and Revenue laws were more or less a reproduction of what the Britishers had enacted elsewhere in India. But the Land Revenue system was oppressive. There were no civil liberties, and no representative institutions of a limited nature, similar to those existing in other parts of India. Obviously, the regime was autocratic and none could raise his voice, not even a liberal, against the regime, however low and mild the voice may be. No political organisation was allowed to exist. The State Congress, led by liberal elements, was banned. No kisan organisation was allowed to be formed. The only exception was Majlis-Ithehad-ul Musalmein, a pro-government political organisation with a wide influence among the Muslims. Any attempt to form an organisation, political or otherwise, was dubbed as an attempt to create communal tension and the matter used to end then and there.
There was an organisation, known as Andhra Maha Sabha, led by loyalists and liberals. Its class basis was merchants in the towns and of small landlords in the villages. Nationalist elements were associated with it. It was not a functioning organisation. It used to hold its annual conference, once in a year or two, as and when the leadership had permission from the authorities. The main aspects of the resolutions were concessions for merchants in the towns and land owning sections in the villages. The other demands were to level up the administrative system in tune with those parts of India which were directly administered by British Regime,i.e., British India.
The feudal autocracy nurtured by British imperialism was bordering on fascism. The government officials, together with the feudal landlords were oppressive. People from all walks of life, rich and poor, landed and landless, were victims of this oppression.
Educational facilities were too meager to reach the middle classes. Overwhelming majority of the population, with their mother tongues Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, were deprived of education in the respective languages. Their cultures were suppressed. Their religious activities were curtailed to the minimum. In fact the Hyderabad State was a prison house to the people.
The Second World War, which began in 1939, had brought additional burdens to the people. Collection of war funds, grain levies etc. added to the miseries of the people.
The State was kept segregated from the rest of India, so that the people may not be influenced by the nationalist movement which swept throughout British India. But the attempts of the authorities met with only partial success.
The then Communist Party of India, had a revolutionary programme to overthrow British Imperialism in India, together with a specific programme for the stage of Imperialist War, which was going on from 1939 onwards. We refrain from commenting on it in detail. Suffice it to say that in spite of being a revolutionary programme, it had no correct understanding of hegemony of the proletariat over the national movement in general and agrarian revolutionary movement in particular. It had neither a correct understanding of National United Front, nor armed struggle. Its understanding of the armed struggle was an insurrection of the Russian revolution type; that of the United Front was United Front with “left wing” of the Congress leadership whose leader was supposed to be Nehru; the agrarian revolutionary movement was limited to abolition of the Zamindari system and the essence of the demands was to introduce Ryotwari system, which is in vogue in non-Zamindari areas; the nature of the work among working class was trade unionist, with occasional anti-British struggles. The result of such an understanding and practice was: the Communist Party was able to build a mass movement, a militant one at that. But the movement never went beyond a limit, which was what the so called “left wing” has desired. One can understand the limitations of ideological struggle against national reformism and counter revolution, imposed by such a line.
Early communist units working under the direct guidance of Andhra PC had to work under near-fascist conditions. In the towns and industrial centres, trade union work and work among the students was given prominence. It was not difficult to formulate demands and carry on agitation. Care was taken that the organisations do not bear a communal character and they were successful in that attempt.
As for the rural masses, demands for implementation of the legal provisions, which go in favour of the people even to the minutest degree, were put forward. It was born out of two conditions.
FIRSTLY: Landlords’ word was law in most cases. Despotism was the order of the day. The legal provisions regarding forced labour, tenancy, illegal exactions etc. were obviously too meagre to meet the immediate needs of the people. Yet the despotism which was in vogue had reduced them to mere pieces of papers. We can find such cases even today. They see the light of the day only when there is a mass agitation and people come into streets. More often some of the provisions are implemented together with ferocious repression. It is known as a “carrot and stick” policy.
SECONDLY: Any radical programme even for propaganda purposes was not allowed by the authorities. It could form a part of illegal activities. By radical programme we mean, abolition of systems of Jagirdari (Zamindari), Tenancy, forced labour etc. It was unimaginable in those days to demand abolition of the state together with Nizam’s autocracy.
In view of this the demand for implementation of certain provisions was correct. Communists could go to masses and develop contacts with them. They served their purpose to this extent.
But what was the organisation which can be organised for this purpose? The authorities did not allow formation of peasant organisations, which could take up these demands. Therefore, the party had decided to work in Andhra Maha Sabha, the liberal-dominated and non-functioning organisation. The nature of the demands was such that the liberals could not oppose the communists. The communists too had their share in the leadership because a section of the lefts had come to their fold. Their presence in the leadership had facilitated the work.
Once the communists took up the day-to-day work through the Andhra Maha Sabha, it had transformed itself into a functioning organisation at all levels and in no time. Of course, it was limited to the places (districts, talukas (tehasils) and villages) where they had worked. It should be kept in mind that a good section of nationalist elements worked along with them, with their own understanding and limitations. Thus the communists were more or less in a united front with them. A section of liberals too cooperated with the communists in their legal activities.
A specific feature of the Andhra Maha Sabha was that it could not be equated to peasant organisation. It was more than that. It was a cultural organisation carrying on cultural activities,i.e., organising Telugu libraries, reading rooms, night schools for illiterate village youths etc. Though it did not have a definite political aim, it used to adopt political resolutions in its annual conferences demanding constitutional and administrative reforms. It used to reflect the demands of urban population, i.e. merchants and certain other strata. Therefore, its activities were wider in scope with a national content, and the Nizam was an oppressor of the Andhras in Telangana because he was a puppet of British imperialism, which in turn oppressed the entire Andhras as a nation including those in Telangana.
Party building was given its due importance. The PC had deputed two organisers for this purpose. One was working openly with some legal cover, while the other was underground. The PC guided the day-to-day work through them, while important work (i.e., annual conference of Andhra Maha Sabha) was handled directly by the PC. It was obvious that early communist units had no experience of party work either in the mass organisations or in the party building. The two organisers with all their limitations were helpful to have a break-through in this respect.
The type of communists was: Some were popular leaders with about 10 years of political life. Some others were students with good oration. All of them, and a few more were entrusted the work in mass organisations. At the same time, every district had one comrade for each district including the city, who was entrusted with the work of party building. As such we had district level organisers for every district barring a few. But the development of the movement and the party was not the same in all.
The early communist units were given classes in basic principles of Marxism-Leninism together with a sprinkling of its application to the practice of Indian revolution. Perspective of the Indian revolution was that of Russian revolution. There was a brief criticism of Gandhism, as a counter revolutionary ideology. There were critical comments about the reformist, revivalist movements, and developments in the Telugu literature. It is quite possible that all classes might not have the same syllabus as mentioned here.
Andhra Maha Sabha issued pamphlets for educating the people on various issues. Important among them was one on forced labour. The pamphlet explained the legal provisions relating to it. The sum and substance of the provisions was the services to the officials while they were on tour were compulsory from the concerned sections of the population, mostly toiling people. But the services were payable and the remuneration was meagre. Together with issuing a pamphlet, a call was given to celebrate a week to explain the legal provisions to the people. It was done accordingly. The mass mobilisation in all districts was considerable. Notwithstanding this, the authorities were not ready to concede it in practice. There was an inherent contradiction between what the people demanded, i.e., no compulsion whatsoever, and what the legal provisions conceded, i.e., compulsion but with legal remuneration. The provisions were never extended to landlords, who were customarily extracting forced labour. The more oppressive a landlord, the more forced labour and illegal exactions he extracted, and there was no limit to it. Therefore, the demand for enforcing the legal provisions did not meet the needs and the then existing level of consciousness of the people. What they demanded was its abolition and not a remuneration.
Though the authorities in general conceded the demand, it was never implemented. Because the official, whether big or small, took it as a challenge to his authority to see a toiler demanding remuneration for his labour or himself offering it. The toiler preferred to refuse compulsory service outright rather than to offer service and then demand remuneration.
It was in Nalgonda district, that the people were mobilised to enforce the legal provisions, which in essence meant refusing to offer forced labour outright. It was an organised movement in 20-25 villages, big and small, consisting of a population of 15,000-20,000. The toiling sections of the people including the “Harijans” came forward on this demand, while the peasants including the rich and merchants (small number) supported it. Most of the villages consisted of small and medium sized landlords, who were also sharing in the extraction of forced labour. But it was not so severe in some cases. The Party did not touch them for tactical purposes. They were neutralised for the time being on this issue.
There were illegal exactions by village heads (patels and patwaris, i.e., the police and revenue representatives respectively), who belonged to the class of landlords, in almost all cases. It was not difficult to put an end to such practices. Andhra Maha Sabha rendered necessary legal help in overcoming the difficulties arising out of refusing payment of illegal exactions. In some cases, local leadership preferred reduced payments through bargaining, because it was not ready for direct confrontation with them. (Here local leadership means, the president and members of the committee, who were more often non-party persons to begin with).
The problem of tenancy was important not only for Nalgonda district but also for entire Telangana. Big and small landlords used to rent out a portion of ‘their’ lands, while cultivating the rest through farm labourers. Afraid of possible legal rights which the tenants would get (a draft legislation was pending before the government), they began to evict them. The Party and Andhra Maha Sabha (local) opposed evictions. While they were uncompromising on the question of evictions, they were ready to compromise on the amount of rent, either in kind or cash. But the crux of the problem was the evictions. They were stopped by the organised strength of the people in general and tenants in particular. The struggle was directed against big and small landlords and no differentiation was made between the two. As a result, the small landlords, who were neutral otherwise, were united with the bigger landlords on this issue. It should be noted that the village rich and a section of landlords joined Andhra Maha Sabha and attempted to retain their leadership at least at the local level as against bigger landlords. They were opposed to the latter’s domination, because, firstly it extended to them in spite of their being rural rich. Secondly, once their domination was finished or weakened they can step in their shoes. Their influence as local leaders or sympathisers of the Andhra Maha Sabha was an additional advantage for this purpose.
The cultural problems had a wider scope. Except a hardcore of feudal landlords, the rest had cooperated. Their sons, with some education at least, had come forward as activists in this field. Some of them, together with the rich peasant youth, were drawn towards the Party gradually.
It was one such procession,(of volunteers,) during which Doddi Komarayya was shot dead on 4th July, 1946. His martyrdom is directly connected with post-Second World War upsurge which was spread over the length and breadth of India. Workers, peasants, and armed forces took part in struggles and revolts. As a result, British imperialists transferred power to the Congress leadership to suppress the people’s movement on one hand, and to protect imperialists’ interests on other. Therefore, Komarayya’s martyrdom takes us back to the experiences of post-war people’s movements and revolts whose lessons are valid even today. The present article deals with some aspects of Telangana part of Indian people’s movement. At the same time it was not an off-shoot of post-war people’s upsurge. On the other hand it was a continuous movement, which took its birth in 1941, extended now gradually, now rapidly and reached a higher level in the middle of 1945. It was quite a short time, of not more than four years. It is this aspect which distinguishes Telangana people’s movement from those which are products of post-war revolutionary upsurge. This is not to say that there were no other such movements.
In the subsequent months, from July 1946 to December 1946, the organised mass movement covered about 120 villages with a population of about 3 lakhs. Gramarajyas (Village Soviets) had emerged. About 3000 acres of landlords’ land was distributed to the landless. Volunteer corps had been formed with indigenous weapons like lathis and slings. They were used to drive out the armed men of landlords and the police. The government could suppress the movement, temporarily with the help of Army. But it took no time for the people to rise again in 1947 and the armed struggle continued till 1951.
Communist revolutionaries are studying the lessons of Telangana armed struggle diligently to draw correct lessons, which may be used in their Party work. They are convinced that these lessons are applicable even to this day. In fact, these experiences and the lessons have an important bearing on the general line they are implementing. Therefore, they are living experiences too.
Revisionists and neo-revisionists are vociferous in singing hymns to Komarayya and his martyrdom, to capitalise on the revolutionary traditions be left for the people and revolutionaries. They have already failed miserably because they have nothing in common with the traditions. When asked about the lessons, they will simply say: “Ah, there is a lot of difference between then and now; therefore they are not applicable for the present-day situation.” Herein is their departure from Marxism-Leninism. It is a fact that, three decades of time separates the present from the past. It is also a fact that there have been some changes in the politics, economic and cultural fields. At the same time they are not basic changes. Indian revolution is far from complete. It is yet to be completed. Agrarian revolution remains the axis of the people’s democratic revolution. Hence their applicability.
Throughout this four years’ (1941-45) period, the Party had no correct line. The local Party leadership had to grope in the dark at every critical point. It did not formally oppose the then official reformist line. At the same time, it was with the people, in their struggle against feudalism. It went to the people, learnt from them and worked out the necessary tactics. It had seen the futility of the demands for implementation of legal provisions in practice with its own experience of work among the people. It never relied on legal provisions for its mass work. It relied on the mobilisation of the masses for struggles, while utilising all possible legal opportunities. This was undoubtedly a revolutionary step in the given situation.
But the situation is somewhat different today. Communist revolutionaries have basically a correct line. They are implementing it as well. They are better situated in this respect. The mass mobilization, i.e., issuing a handbill or a pamphlet, mass meeting, demonstration etc., can be carried out today within certain limits legally. There are more legal provisions today than in the past. It is not the utilisation of legal provisions that matters much. They are being utilised and must be utilised. The crux of the matter is whether the methods to be adopted are revolutionary or reformist. As communist revolutionaries, we are expected to adopt only revolutionary methods and not the reformist. We cannot build a mass revolutionary movement, if we limit our activities to pamphleteering, mass meetings and demonstrations; the mass movement cannot reach a higher level, as and when the situation demands; and the movement turns into reformist one in course of time. We cannot ignore them altogether because it is necessary that the people should have this experience to begin with. Those people who have undergone this experience with reformist methods, must re-orientate themselves to revolutionary methods of struggle.
Communists had gained the experience of United Front even in that earlier phase of the mass movement. Andhra Maha Sabha was one such mass organisation, which had provided a forum for this purpose. There was a period when the communists had a United Front with liberals, which normally does not happen. It was because of Nizam’s feudal autocracy with no share in the Government for liberals. As a result, they exhibited a marginal and spineless opposition to the government. They had fallen out even when the mass movement was smaller in extent and was in initial phase. It was because of its landlord class nature with a negligible influence among the masses.
United Front with a section of landlords at village level had its positive as well as negative aspects: They attempted to use communists to beat down the bigger landlords and to consolidate their position in the respective villages or group of villages. They attempted not to allow any direct links between communists and the masses, so that they may retain their influence intact, and the communists may not exercise their influence and leadership directly. They had partially succeeded and partially failed. (This aspect of the problem has a direct bearing on the hegemony of the proletariat). This was a negative aspect. With a section of landlords present in the United Front, anti-feudal unity at village level was total and extensive. Such a unity had facilitated to isolate the bigger landlords, and to defend the mass movement. This was a positive aspect. It is obvious that a more determined struggle was needed to isolate them from the masses while having united front with them.
In the present-day situation, communist revolutionaries need not go in search of such landlords for united front. They are there with the ruling and opposition parties which are participating in the elections at all levels. To have them among the people means, trailing behind them. Therefore, United Front must be built of toiling sections, i.e., agricultural labourers, poor and middle peasants to begin with. As the movement goes further, the rich peasant who is an ally joins the United Front. This does not mean that even if he joins it at an earlier stage, he should be kept out. Communist revolutionaries have a clear-cut programme of agrarian revolution for this purpose.
Then there is the question of Party and mass organisation. Younger elements from middle classes, bankrupt landlords, small and medium sized landlord and merchants were the cadres. In spite of this, because of the Marxist ideological orientation, they worked as communists. There was no question of landlords leading the Party at any stage of the movement, as is being presented by certain perverted elements. They are nihilists who reject the role of ideology and the Party. It was a difficult task to build the Party consisting of advanced elements from the workers, peasants, to begin with. Night schools for adults in some places did help in drawing the militants of these classes into the fold of the Party. The anti-feudal struggle could not draw the younger elements from the people to begin with, partly because the heads of the families took part in the movement, who discouraged them from coming out of the house and the piece of land it was cultivating so that the family economy may not be disturbed. But, when defending the mass movement was on the agenda, a number of younger militants came forward, to enrol themselves as volunteers. Most of them were the future Party members.
The cadres, who were real functionaries of the Party, worked hard and in a disciplined manner. They were provided with classes in which they were equipped with necessary politics and organisational methods. They could explain the political issues, mainly the role of Soviet Union in the Second World War, the role of Congress leadership etc. to the people and to the politically-minded sections. As a result they won the affection of the people and commanded the respect of other strata of population.
A section of cadres developed arrogance and self-conceitedness, once they became popular. They paid little attention to their ideological and political growth. They thought that such a growth was superfluous, and that their popularity as mass leaders could be a substitute for growth. Thus, they lagged behind the growing movement. They relied on their past work and popularity for retaining the leadership of the Party, and not on their capacity and level of responding to the ideological, political and organisational needs of the movement. There were a few old type of mass leaders with a reformist political past, who never bothered about a Party organisation, nor any preliminary understanding of building mass revolutionary movement. Certain amount of struggle was put up against such elements. But, when the Party leaders proved in practice that, they could be mass leaders as well, the former had learnt the first lessons of observing the Party discipline, together with the realisation of the need for Party leadership.
The relation between Communists and Andhra Maha Sabha as mass organisation was not a problem to begin with. They were in a minority and Party fractions functioned effectively at all levels of the organisation, under the guidance and control of respective committees. The Party and Andhra Maha Sabha functioned separately, independent of each other. But the situation was different when the liberals were driven out. The Party emerged as leading force in the organisation. As a result, there was no demarcation between Party’s political and mass work (peasants) and that of Andhra Maha Sabha because Andhra Maha Sabha was a political as well as peasant mass organisation with immediate political and peasant demands. As a result, the entire work (in this field) was being carried out by Andhra Maha Sabha. The only work left for Party was ideological and organisational. In the absence of a correct understanding of the relations, the situation was leading to liquidation of the Party. Limiting the Party activities had led to accumulation of the problem. Raising the volunteers from among the people, to defend the mass movement, had provided a revolutionary turn to the Party organisation, with a militant guidance which was political as well as practical. It was a welcome development in the right direction.
Andhra Maha Sabha was an anti-feudal, anti-(Nizam’s)-autocratic, mass organisation fighting not only for democracy, but also against feudal oppression in all its forms, including landlordism. The organisation bore more of an anti-feudal character in Nalgonda district than the others because it was developed on those lines because of continuous anti-feudal struggle it had led. The anti-feudal agrarian revolutionary content had strengthened the national character of Andhra Maha Sabha.
People’s consciousness reached a higher level, from getting organised into a mass organisation to that of organising themselves as armed volunteers, together with its leaders. Whether it was possible in the beginning itself or not, it was necessary and an attempt was worth making, even if it failed. But formation of volunteer organisation was easier when the people realised by their experience that it was necessary. A prompt and timely step had helped to raise their consciousness to a higher level, together with their struggle. Otherwise, there was no demarcation between the volunteers and the people, and there was no leadership which developed from among the people.
It is not necessary that communist revolutionaries go in for Party and volunteer organisation only at a later stage and not earlier. People, rural as well as urban, are much more politically conscious today than what they were during forties. Every form of mass activity is throwing up the young militants who can be absorbed into an intermediary organisation between the Party and the mass organisation. The level of their consciousness in a given time has a relation to the nature of people’s mobilisation. Therefore, we need not wait for such an organisation till the repression is in the offing. We can and should have it as and when it is possible.
Once the liberals were driven out from Andhra Maha Sabha, there was no political force other than a sprinkling of Congressmen in the field to contend with the communists. It was the feudal landlords and the government who stood face to face with communists. It is not the same case today.Therefore, communist revolutionaries have to carry on the struggle against right and “left” opportunism together with other ideologies of ruling classes in all fields so that they may be able to develop and consolidate mass revolutionary movement under the leadership of their organisation. Our experience also shows the correctness of this standpoint.
These are some of the experiences and lessons drawn, which are valid even today even though there is a change in the situation. Komarayya’s Martyrdom was a turning point in the Telangana people’s movement, from where it assumed the form of armed struggle. There can be no fitting homage than to study diligently the experiences of this phase of the movement, which was preparatory in its nature. They are more living today than ever.
Date : 16-6-’79
The Proletarian Line79 — July 2006
M. K Adithya is a journalist