Daya Varma


In the 1940’s the Communist Party of India (CPI) was not very big but its influence was far beyond its size (see note 1). Until 1942, CPI was with the Congress and Puran Chand  Joshi, the General Secretary of CPI  directly interacted with Congress leaders including Gandhi and Nehru.


CPI membership comprised of both progressive Muslims and Hindus without even a hint of who was what. Women were attracted to the party, not just symbolically but in large numbers, so much so that the enemies of the party ran the propaganda that this was why men joined the party. The intellectual caliber of a large number of its members was second to none.


Such was the cultural life of India that even the ugly communal carnage of the partition was unable to affect the vibrant and composite culture of India, so much so that the Sangh Parivar, not yet fully developed, targeted all its attacks on communists.


Could that atmosphere again become the norm of India? I think and hope so. But who will pioneer that movement?  Communists are still the most non-compromising secular force, and while the various communist formations are not friends of each other on most other issues, their position regarding the scourge of religious fundamentalism is similar. Whether they do something about it is quite another matter.


Reading the journals and pamphlets and listening to speeches of the leaders, and paying attention to their priorities, the Communist Party of India (CPI) still is much more conscious of this legacy than any other formation.  Their official organ New Age still has at least one column against Hindutva fascism in practically each issue. So when I saw the article “P.C. Joshi and cultural renaissance in India” by Anil Rajimwale in the CPI publication New Age, Dec 31, 2006, I was very moved. This was also because even the CPI does not accord due importance to PC Joshi’s contributions. May be some day, CPI will take honest stock of its history and give due importance to PC Joshi’s contribution. Whenever I pass by Comrade Indrajit Gupta Marg in Delhi, I see all kinds of names on the signboards but not his name, not even in CPI Office. Some comrades of Joshi have established a Joshi-Adhikari Foundation, but it receives little encouragement. 


Puran Chand Joshi, M.A., LL.B. was born in 1907 in Almora, then in UP but now in Uttaranchal, and died on Nov 9, 1980 in Delhi. His wife and comrade   Kalpana Dutt, whose revolutionary career predated the founding of the Party, died on Feb.8, 1995 in Calcutta.


PC Joshi, popularly known as just PC, was drawn to the ideals of communism while a student at Allahabad University, just like so many giants of yesteryears were drawn to the British Communist Party while at Cambridge.


PC organized the UP branch of CPI in 1928, within three years of the founding of the Party. He was convicted in the Meerut Conspiracy case and remained in jail till 1933 (he passed his LLB exam from jail). He was elected General Secretary of CPI in 1935 and disgracefully removed in 1948 during the ascendancy of BT Ranadive (BTR). Soon after, he was expelled from the Party.  Fortunately he was in India and not in the Soviet Union of Stalin and did not meet the fate of Bukharin and other dedicated communists.  He was readmitted in the Party again in 1951 (Bukharin was, posthumously, after the 20th Congress of CPSU) and again elected to the Central Committee in 1956.


PC Joshi was a dynamic leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and a great organizer. I do not   intend to describe various contributions of PC Joshi – only the area covered in the New Age article, which  records his contribution to the cultural renaissance.


It was during PC Joshi’s leadership and at his initiative, that two important institutions came into being – PWA (Progressive Writer’s Association) and IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association). Every sensitive and talented artist or writer in undivided India (later India and Pakistan) was either a member or a friend of PWA and IPTA. I would rather say that any artist who was not part of or a friend of PWA or IPTA was not an artist of any stature.


Some of the luminaries of PWA and IPTA were Munshi Prem Chand, Sajjad Zaheer, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Josh Malihabadi, Kaifi Azami, Sahir Ludhianvi, Israr-ul-Haq  Majaz Lucknawi, Balraj Sahni, Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor and Dina Nath Nadim (from Kashmir),  Mukhdoom Mohiuddin, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Ali Sardar Jafri, Rajendra Singh Bedi, Krishna Chand, Onkar Nath Thakur, Saadat Hasan Manto,  Krishan Chander,  Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Hasrat Jaipuri, Shailendra,, Ram Lal (storywriter), Ismat Chughtai, Ehtesham Husain, Mudra Rakshas,  Akhtar Husain Raipuri, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Salil Chaudhury, Mukri, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Viqar Ambalavi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Sarosh Kashmiri, Jameel Manzari, Masood Akhtar Jamal, Ahmad Faraz (now in Pakistan,  N.A. Qasimi and many more. As well, there were many Hindi writers like Munshi Premchand, Rahul  Sankrityayana, Nirala (Suryakant Tripathi), Ram Vilas Sharma, Shivdan Singh Chauhan, Vijay Chauhan, Shiv Mangal Singh Suman, Rangeya Raghav,  Prabhakar, Machwe, Sheel, Brajendra Gaur,Yashpal, Amrit Rai, Bhairav Prasad Gupt, Bhawani Prasad Mishra, Muktibodh, Nagarjun (Vaidyanath Mishra) Ram Asrey, etc.


A 13-episode documentary (Mamoo Jaan ki diary) narrated by Syed Mohammed Mehdi of Aligarh, the only surviving member of the trio of Kaifi, Makhdoom, and himself, and produced by his son Feroz Mehdi of Montreal is to be aired on Door Darshan (it can be made available here). The documentary  gives a nostalgic  portrayal of those days and those lives; not every one is mentioned but the spirit is collective. As I.K. Shukla (LA, California) wrote to me, art and literature in India never saw anything like it before or after, unless it be the medieval Mughal period of the sufi-bhakti poets.


One of the key features of PWA and IPTA was that their contribution to the cause of Indian revolution  and composite culture was through their talents as writers or performers and not just as agitators for the Communist Party. Perhaps the major exception was when Sajjad Zaheer was sent to Pakistan to organize the Communist Party there, which did not prove very helpful (incidentally Nehru appealed to the Party to persuade Sajjad Zaheer and Josh to stay in India).  As well, Mukhdoom was a brilliant trade union organizer and a leader of the Telangana movement. The current CPI does not have such vibrant organizations.


CPM in many ways tries to abide by this principle through its support to the role of organizations like Sahmat of which a talented member, Safdar Hashmi, was murdered by reactionaries several years ago. Other Communist formations also have cultural or women’s wings but they are more of direct propaganda wing of their respective parties and unfortunately not as messengers of revolution through their professional talents and many believe that not much can change until socialism prevails.


I had the privilege of working under PC Joshi for just a few weeks as a courier during the Textile Worker’s Strike in Kanpur in 1954. PC Joshi was underground at that time. The last I saw him was addressing a cultural gathering in Ghalib Academy, Delhi, on the occasion of Kaifi Azami’s birth anniversary in which the great Begum Akhtar recited some of Kaifi’s poems. This was a gathering of admirers of Joshi and Kaifi, a gathering of  condemned revisionists.


 (I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to I.K. Shukla, Zafar Iqbal, Vinod Mubayi and feroz Mehdi who supplied many of the names of members and sympathizers of PWA and IPTA with encouraging and helpful comments. I will not be misrepresenting them if I say that all of them see the importance of rejuvenating progressive culture. Zafar also sent the link given below. Daya Varma)’_Movement


A few anecdotes about Joshi


Although the line of People’s War was first adopted by communist leaders in Deoli jail while PC Joshi was underground, he agreed to the line and led the party during this period. During this period he said  that  India would gain independence in the course of supporting the British government in its  war against Germany and Japan. (The war ended in 1945 and India became independent in 1947.)


After Ranadive line was defeated, PC Joshi  commented, the Andhra Communists merely replaced Ranadive’s obedience to the Russian example with equal obedience to the Chinese example. He went on to add  that “the sing-over from ignorant, insolent slandering to blind and servile idol-worship comes very naturally and easily to the Indian intellectuals with our traditional  outlook determined by the caste-ridden and Brahmin-dominated feudal society (emphasis added).” (PC Joshi “For a Mass Policy, Adhunik Pushtak Bhandar, Allahabad 1951, p.15. 


“Mr. P.C. Joshi, Communist Party leader, addressing a public meeting at Trichur on May 4, (1956), denied reports of a split in the Communist Party. There were definitely various viewpoints – and it was evident during the recent party Congress at Palghat – but when they discussed these more and more, they got closer and closer, he said. Mr. Joshi affirmed that the Communist Party could not afford to have a split in its ranks because it had before it the noble task of uniting the people of the country. If the party itself was not united, how could it undertake this task, he asked (emphasis added).” (From the Hindu, May 6, 1956)

Note 1.

The usual methods of judging the influence of communist parties by counting membership or the number of members in elected bodies often fails to take into account many changes that indeed were triggered or introduced by Communist Parties. Take for example the CP, USA, the smallest and the most haunted of all communist parties and the one which dissolved itself during the anti-fascist World War 2. But CP, USA  is greatly responsible for much of the civil rights, labor benefits, social services, trade unions and the awakening of the black people so much so that the US needed McCarthyism to deal with them. Many of the slogans started by CPI, Inquilabd Zindabad! for one, and some vocabulary such as “comrade” are popularly used.   

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