In his documentary ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’, Michael Moore describes how propaganda that Barack Obama is a socialist did not work for his opponents, but in fact made more and more people curious about what socialism is, consequently increasing its approval rating in the country.
Something similar happened in India last week. As BJP supporters in Tripura bulldozed Lenin’s statues in the state and threatened to do so in other places and to other non-BJP icons like Ambedkar and Periyar, people in India began to ask, “Who Lenin was?”
Hashtags with Lenin kept trending on Twitter. Amusingly, the right made Lenin a subject of prime time discussions in news channels, a thing the left in India could only dream to accomplish.
The ‘Right’ Justification
Leaders of the bulldozing party had their justifications for the act. Speaking outside Parliament, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy described Lenin as “a foreigner.” He said, “Lenin was a terrorist because he killed a large number of people in Russia after imposing a dictatorship. Why do we want the statue of such a person erected in our country?”
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In a similar, yet tacit, approval to the act, Minister of State for Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir said that Indian leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jan Sangh founder Deen Dayal Upadhyaya are his idols and not some foreign leader. While BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhav and Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy justified the razing of Lenin’s statues in the name of democracy and change.
While the BJP, on behalf of the erstwhile Russian Czar, is avenging Lenin, let us have a look at how pre-Independence Indian leaders saw Lenin. It is interesting to learn that back then, Indian leaders were able to look at things without being blinded by their ideological biases. Their only objective was to gain freedom from the British and they constantly improved their stands on world politics.
Once Upon a Time, Lenin Was Loved
In the beginning Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders were mostly influenced by the ideals of the American and the French Revolutions, but gradually they identified Indian freedom struggle with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its leader Lenin. Below are some of the sayings of Indian leaders about Lenin and his ideas. The quotes are taken from the book Lenin – His Image in India by Devendra Kaushik and Leonid Mitrokhin.
Writing in the Young India on 15 November 1928, Mahatma Gandhi described, “Bolshevism… aims at the abolition of the institution of private property. This is only an application of the ethical ideal of non-possession in the realm of economic and if the people adopted this ideal of their own accord or could be made to accept it by means of peaceful persuasion, there could be nothing like it.”
Gandhi then goes on to say:
There is no questioning the fact that the Bolshevik ideal has behind it the purest sacrifice of countless men and women who have given up their all for its sake; an ideal that is sanctified by sacrifices of such master spirits as Lenin cannot go in vain.Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi feels “the noble example of their renunciation will be emblazoned forever and quicken and purify the ideal as time passes.”
The ‘Right’ Choice a Century Back?
For Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the leader the BJP eulogises, Lenin was “an advocate of peace”. In an editorial in Kesari on 29 January 1918, ‘The Russian Leader, Lenin,’ Tilak wrote:
We are publishing the main facts of Lenin’s life since mischievous propaganda is being carried on that the popular Russian leader has been bribed by the German government…. Lenin is an advocate of peace… It is his opinion that these upper classes in the warring nations are thoroughly selfish and vicious, that they are opposed to the interest of the common people in all countries, that it was they who started the war, and that is the working people who are honest and peace-loving.Bal Gangadhar Tilak
Further in the editorial, Tilak claims that as a “result of the distribution of the lands of the nobility to the peasantry by Lenin, his influence in the army and among the common people has increased.”
Religiously Yours, Too!
Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly called Frontier Gandhi, thought of Lenin as a true follower of Prophet Mohammed and the righteous Caliphs. In a book, Ghaffar Khan is quoted as saying:
“Read history and you will discover how power made most of the great men loose their balance. Napoleon, after all his hardships and promises, assumed monarchy and tried to retain it for his family. Raza Shah and Nadir Shah got intoxicated by it when their turn came. They could have easily followed the Prophet and Caliphs for showing such selflessness, but instead of them this example was repeated by Lenin, who avoided becoming supreme when it was within his reach to do so.”
Similarly Subhas Chadra Bose, who like Lenin was not against using force for independence, was very welcoming of Lenin and his ideas as well. In an interview with R Palme Dutt, published in the Daily Worker on 24 January 1938, Subhas Chandra Bose told Dutt that he was, “Quite satisfied that communism, as it has been expressed in the writings of Marx and Lenin and in the official statements of policy of the Communist International, gives full support to the struggle of national independence and recognises this as an integral part of its world outlook.”
When Bande Mataram Countered a “Mischievous” Propaganda
Another great freedom fighter, Lala Lajpat Rai, had taken it upon himself to bust falsehoods being spread to malign Lenin. In an issue of the Bande Mataram, Rai wrote:
When we read the attacks delivered by the hypocritical nations against the Bolsheviks, especially in columns of the Pioneer and the Civil and Military Gazette, it surprises us to find that there is no limit to the hypocrisy and lying indulged in by them. Some of our foolish Indian newspapers blindly support the hypocritical peoples in question.
Unlike today’s BJP leaders, leaders of India’s independence movement never saw Lenin as a “foreigner” or “terrorist”, but a true pacifist and drew inspiration from him.
Never for a moment had Lenin compromised with the set ideal of opposing imperial war in all manifestation. He criticised his former comrades who, disrespecting the social democratic stand on the nature of imperial war of 1914-1918, collaborated with their governments’ war efforts. After the revolution was complete, Lenin, at once, declared support for liberation movements all over the world, including the Indian freedom struggle.
(The writer is a Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at @hellovishnu on Twitter. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)