Political ideologies in colonial India

March 26, 2023

A commentary on the communist movement in India during the colonial period

Political ideologies in colonial India


any scholarly works on South Asian history, specifically the anti-colonial pre-independence era, address the mainstream politics of the time. The narratives vary within the triangle of the Muslim League, Congress and the Raj. After the partition of the sub-continent in 1947, governments have promoted biased histories that glorify certain parties and personalities while vilifying others. The practice has obscured some important narratives and histories that need to be known. Revolutionary pasts: Communist Internationalism in Colonial India by Ali Raza is an essential addition to South Asian history in this regard. Through his research and examination of primary sources, Raza brings to the fore the world of communist politics during the first few decades of the 20th Century.

Introducing a unique perspective, the book draws a detailed portrait of the political landscape of that time and contextualises the Russian revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union. Raza skillfully gathers the accounts of the scattered Indian Diaspora and their revolutionary zeal. The author then discusses the formation of revolutionary parties and how these parties recruited members despite a severe crackdown by the Raj.

Through a meticulous analysis of police and intelligence reports, the author sketches the cat-and-mouse relationship between Indian communist workers and the Raj. In addition, these reports introduce some less-known but extraordinary individuals who dedicated their lives and energies to dreaming for a better future for their land and its people.

This book is a comprehensive overview of how communism and its politics worked at grassroots levels far from the USSR. The author brilliantly shows how deep-rooted communist ideology was in the minds and lives of Indian peasants and farmers about a century ago.

Revolutionary Pasts analyses the relationship between revolutionary politics and the Indian National Congress during the colonial period in India. The book explores the differences between these two political movements and how they influenced each other. This insight enables the reader to view the mainstream politics of the time from a different perspective.

Raza highlights the role of women in the communist parties of India and their contribution to the revolutionary cause. He asserts that women were active participants in the communist movement and challenged patriarchal norms and traditional gender roles through their involvement in the political struggle. The study also shows that women were underrepresented and exploited even in the communist and progressive movements of the time. It also introduces to us some extraordinary women who stood against not only the Raj but also traditional family norms and patriarchy.

Raza also explores the confluence of Sikhism and revolutionary politics in India and how the two intersected and influenced each other. He argues that the Sikh community’s commitment to justice and equality was essential in developing revolutionary politics in India. Parties like Akali Dal make the mixture of religious and revolutionary politics interesting.

Finally, the book discusses the fluidity of political ideas in colonial India and how the communist movement was shaped by its interaction with other political and cultural forces. Raza demonstrates that the communist movement in India was influenced by Marxist-Leninist ideology and local cultural and political traditions. He also highlights how the communist movement adapted to colonial India’s changing political and cultural context.

Today, many analysts see political ideologies in black and white. Raza’s work reminds us of an era when things were quite different. It was common for workers to switch ideologies and parties without getting called turncoats or traitors. Such workers always strived to evolve their understanding of politics and change parties as
their experience matured. This is rare in contemporary South Asian politics.

Ali Raza’s Revolutionary Pasts: Communist Internationalism in Colonial India is a significant contribution to the study of South Asian history. The book provides an in-depth analysis of the communist movement in India during the colonial period. It highlights the contributions of women and the Sikh community to the revolutionary cause. Raza’s research, which includes primary sources as well as police and intelligence reports, brings to light some important narratives and histories of the time that have remained overshadowed. This book shows that the communist movement in India was shaped by local cultural and political traditions and adapted to the changing context of colonial India. It is a reminder of an era when political ideologies were more fluid. Revolutionary Pasts is an essential read for anyone interested in the history of South Asia, communist politics and the role of women in revolutionary movements.

Revolutionary pasts: Communist

Internationalism in

Colonial India

Author: Ali Raza

Publisher: Folio Books, 2021

Pages: 353, Paperback

Price: Rs 995

The reviewer is a graphic designer and an activist. He writes about the environment, politics and culture. He can be reached at ehteysham7@yahoo.com

Political ideologies in colonial India