845.00/2–2846: Telegram

The Commissioner in India (Merrell) to the Secretary of State


266. Department’s telegram No. 191, February 26, 6 p.m.12 Evidence obtained from secret British sources lends support to opinion expressed in official British circles here that in both Calcutta and Bombay riots Communists probably played an active part in efforts to regain prestige which has waned since last August. Current position according to these sources may be summarized as follows:

Since end of war Communists have given ample evidence of reversion to aggressive tactics employed in their illegal days. In face of waning influence as a party, in a country too obsessed with idea of independence to give much thought to class war, they feel necessity of using all means available to attract public eye. Confirmation of this change of front [Page 81] is found in resolution passed by Central Committee in December, contents of which has only recently been learned. Resolution declares unprecedented opportunity to make final bid for power is offered by present situation in view of unparalleled hatred against British rule. Resolution expresses fear opportunity may be lost through drift of Congress and Muslim League into “suicidal channels of national strife” or unilateral compromise with British, expresses determination to prevent “factional games” of Congress and League leaders from turning mass discontent against each other instead of against common enslavery by taking the lead in “organizing struggles of workers and peasants” and by participating fearlessly “in every outburst of popular fury against British rule and police terror”.

As Department is aware, Communists have, since September been faced with widespread hostility from Congressmen and others acting in name of Congress. Noteworthy incident in this connection was looting of party headquarters printing press and book store January 23 during Subhas Bose’s13 birthday disturbances in Bombay. Among more recent incidents is assault described by source as “brutal” on a leading Bihar Communist at election meeting addressed by D. C. Joshi, General Secretary of the Communist Party, who subsequently fled from the province in disguise escorted by party volunteers; and in Cawnpore feeling between Communists and the Congressmen is so bitter that the Congressmen have decided to soft pedal their agitation against a cut in rations rather than allow Communists to utilize resulting discontent to organize a general strike.

While Communists have been expelled from Congress and anti-Communist feeling is widespread among Congress membership, there is no doubt that certain Congress leaders hope to win over groups now under Communist influence—particularly trade unions. Gandhi, for example, publicly condemned looting of Communist headquarters in Bombay referred to above and Vallabhbhai Patel14 visited premises week after incident occurred. In Tanjore a new association of pro-Congress landowners has been formed with view to enticing farmers away from Communist influence by offering increased wages.

Of possible significance is fact that following riots in Calcutta in November, Secretary of Bengal Provincial Communist Party Committee publicly denied charges that Communists were responsible for disorders. No such denial in connection with Bombay disorders has [Page 82] to date come to attention of Mission. Telegram re possible implication of Soviet follows.15

Sent to Department; repeated to London, Moscow, Chungking, Calcutta, paraphrase to Bombay.

  1. Text reads as follows: “Press reports that Brit are attributing recent disturbances in India to Communist instigation. Please telegraph your views re this charge, together with Brit estimate of possible Soviet implication.” (845.00/2–2646)
  2. Subhas Chandra Bose was an Indian nationalist leader who collaborated with the Axis during World War II and formed, under Japanese auspices, the Indian National Army from Indian prisoners of war in Burma and Malaya. He had been killed in an air crash in 1945 but many Indians refused to believe that he was actually dead.
  3. Indian nationalist leader, formerly President of the Indian National Congress.
  4. See telegram 272, March 1, from New Delhi, p. 84.