The End of the Comintern’s Indian Project

A Comintern Poster

Continued from part-1 (Link to the article) and part-2 (Link to the article) of a trilogy on Lenin and his plans for an Indian invasion/revolution.


In 1921 the plans to overthrow the British Raj were unceremoniously shelved – the Indian Revolution was stillborn. Previously we had seen how the Comintern program had innate challenges such as factionalism, Pan-Islamism, the weakened Red Army, the Afghanistan factor, etc. We have also seen how Lenin finally allowed Enver Pasha to enter Central Asia. True to Murphy’s adage – “anything that can go wrong will go wrong” – everything did go wrong. The growing national movement deflated prospects for a violent revolution in India. Besides, the British were past masters of the Great Game. The unkindest cut of all was however struck by the Russians themselves.


Lenin truly desired a global revolution, but he was also keenly aware that Russia was an impoverished and industrially backward nation. His communist regime desperately required acceptance in the world scene. Anglo-Russian talks had begun in early 1920, but given the plans for Indian revolution these talks were perceived by the Indian revolutionaries as mere sideshow. However, by early 1921 it became clear that the Comintern endeavor was primarily a tool to arm-twist the British to make more concessions in an impending Anglo-Soviet agreement. The Russians knew that in their current weakened state they could not overthrow the British Raj – unless there was violent rebellion. But Gandhiji had successfully redirected India’s seething rage into non-violent resoluteness, by convincing Indians of the unassailable rightness of their cause. This new zeitgeist made violent rebellion unlikely. The British also made their countermoves. Ace agents were dispatched to the region: the ensuing spy games, bribery and clever diplomacy outmaneuvered the Russians.


The Eastern University

Eastern University

Following the Anglo-Russian agreement of March 1921, the Indian Military School was closed. Lenin ordered Roy to immediately cease revolutionary activities and return to Moscow. The Russians even formally claimed that military training of Indian exiles was an unauthorized act by overzealous Comintern elements. The British also reconciled with the Afghan King Amanullah Khan: following the Anglo-Afghan treaty of November 1921, Indian revolutionaries in Afghanistan were expelled. The Pan-Islamist revolutionaries journeyed to West Asia seeking religious battlefronts there. Non-communist revolutionaries scattered worldwide to continue the fight against the Raj. The communists fled to Russia. The Russians also took the neo-converts to communism to the new “Communist University of the Toilers of the East” (a.k.a. “Eastern University”). This institute grew into a training centre for communists from around the world, including future leaders such as Deng Xiaoping and Ho Chi Minh.


About this time Enver Pasha traveled to Central Asia following Lenin’s approval. When he reached his destination in November 1921 he promptly double-crossed the Russians. Enver Pasha united many Basmachi factions and his forces launched daring attacks across Russian Central Asia. Amanullah Khan welcomed the prospect of a friendly Muslim nation to his north and covertly aided the Basmachi rebellion. However, by mid-1922 the Red Army in Central Asia was rebuilt and considerably strengthened. Lenin now ordered his generals to crush the rebellion. The Basmachi were methodically ground down. When the tide turned Amanullah Khan backed out. The expected support of the Muslims of Chinese Turkestan did not materialize either. Enver Pasha died on August 1922, launching a suicide charge on horseback: he had refused to surrender or flee anymore.


The fate of those involved in the Comintern endeavor was also grim. Cancellation of the Indian project and infighting between Indian communists weakened Roy’s position. Additionally, Roy’s mentor Lenin was enfeebled by multiple strokes. Lenin died in 1924, shortly after Stalin consolidated power. In 1925, the Comintern, in an ironic act of imperialism, ordered the Communist Party of Great Britain to control India’s communist movement! The Communist Party of India founded in Tashkent was now effectively gutted. Roy lingered, despite his plummeting status. In early 1927, Roy and his old friend Borodin were sent on a sensitive mission to China, where civil war had begun. The mission failed, leading to mass expulsion of Russian officials from China and severely crippling Russian influence there. Though exonerated for this failure, Roy was soon expelled from the Comintern. A disillusioned Roy left Russia and eventually found his way back to India. Roy was briefly imprisoned by the British; afterwards he languished in the political wilderness till his death in 1954.

"Chatto", a purge victim

“Chatto”, a purge victim

Abani Mukherjee, a purge victim

Abani Mukherjee, a purge victim

Most were not as fortunate: the leading Indian revolutionaries in Russia were murdered in Stalin’s Purge. Zinoviev, who presided over the Baku Congress, was also shot. Many Indian revolutionaries in Europe did not survive fascism and World War 2. The Pan-Islamist revolutionaries became disappointed with Turkey’s secular turn and the West-friendly Arab sheikhdoms. Few, such as Ubaidullah Sindhi, eventually managed to return home. The Communist Party was however rebuilt in India through 1922-‘25, by the efforts of the Eastern University graduates and other leftists. Despite ambitious, long-term plans, the communists were eclipsed by the mainstream Indian National Movement. The Comintern itself ended quite ingloriously: during World War 2 Stalin had the organization dissolved to placate his Western allies.


PS: This is my article in DNA, published on March 25, 2018. Here’s the link to the original article.

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Lenin, The Army of God and Enver Pasha

Continued from part-1 (Link to the article) of a trilogy on Lenin and his plans for an Indian invasion/revolution.


The plan to overthrow the British Raj had three components: the first and the most potent component was a newly raised Russian army which would invade from Afghanistan. The full support of King Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan was necessary for this.

Ubeidullah Sindhi

Ubeidullah Sindhi

Ubaidullah Sindhi, a prominent cleric, was residing in Kabul with a large party of Islamic and secular revolutionaries from India and abroad. He had styled himself Prime Minister of the Provisional Government of India and formed an “Army of God” with many followers. Following the Baku congress, Sindhi had offered to aid any anti-British operations. He claimed that his army would be a beacon to millions of Indian Muslims, who would pour into Afghanistan to join this force. He would also persuade King Amanullah to support the invasion – this would encourage the fiercely anti-British Pashtun tribesmen to join in. This Army of God was the second component. A Pan-India network of communist cells was the third component of the plan. Indian leftist revolutionaries would be dispatched to create and run these cells.  Working with other groups opposed to the Raj, these cells would act as a fifth column. They would orchestrate uprisings when the invasion begins; the liberators would advance into India in the wake of such uprisings and destroy the Raj. During World War-I (1914-1918), Germany also planned to use Muslim rage to topple British India. But unlike Germany, Russia was right next door. Also, both Afghanistan and India appeared highly agitated after the war – and after the recent doctrinal debates the communists were ready for alliance with any disaffected group. A revolution seemed to be feasible, if the military operations were launched in time.


Afghan Basmachis

Afghan Basmachis

There were major difficulties though, and the planners understood this. The Army of God members were mostly intellectuals and clergy; it would take much time to turn them into a real army. Amanullah was an opportunistic despot who had no real cause to support communism. Finally, Russia was short of soldiers and supplies following its recent civil war: the new liberation army would have to wait. Lenin provided some troops and supplies to Roy, but these were for strengthening communist control of Central Asia – there were many threats to be dealt with. Specifically, bands of fanatic Turk tribesmen termed Basmachis seriously threatened communist control of Central Asia. Roy had to divert considerable time and effort to oversee such tasks. Moreover, factionalism developed within Indian revolutionary ranks due to doctrinal differences, pedigree and ego. This sapped the energy of the program. On a positive note, the Military School in Tashkent commenced training recruits from the Army of God in early 1921.


About this time, Enver Pasha, the Turkish leader, appeared. Pasha was part of the all-powerful triumvirate which once ruled the Ottoman Empire – with the Emperor reduced to a mere figurehead. After Ottoman Turkey’s defeat in the Great War, he went into exile in January 1919. However, Enver Pasha was still widely respected in the Islamic world and was therefore invited to the Baku congress. Following this congress, Pasha approached Lenin with a mutually beneficial proposal. He promised that with Russian aid, he would be able to co-opt the Basmachi rebels. Next, he would rally the Muslims of Turkestan, the vast western province of China bordering Russian Central Asia and India. The fledgling Chinese Republic barely held on to this chaotic region and they would be no match for Enver Pasha’s call. He would thus carve out an allied nation in Turkestan. Russia would now be able to strike deep into India through its north, bypassing capricious Afghanistan and strongly defended western India. The Afghan path was very risky – perhaps Pasha’s plan was safer. Lenin was however wary of Enver Pasha, who had a dark record of fanaticism and genocide. Lenin feared that Pasha would double-cross him once he reached Central Asia. Roy and Borodin also met Enver Pasha in Moscow and feared that this alternate plan might siphon off Russian support. In October 1921, Lenin agreed to transport Enver Pasha and his band of loyalists to Central Asia.

One could understand why Lenin was ready to support long shots such as M.N. Roy and Enver Pasha. During the Great War, when the February 1917 revolution broke out in Russia, Lenin was living in exile in Switzerland. The German High Command successfully transported Lenin to St. Petersburg (the very epicenter of the revolution) in a sealed train – they hoped that the tiresome revolutionary would cause even more trouble for their Russian enemies.

The Sealed Train

But Lenin, no mere pawn in someone else’s games, managed to accomplish much more. Synchronicity and the great crises in Tsarist Russia had helped catapult Lenin and his band into power. Perhaps Roy and Pasha would be able to repeat this feat in the restive East also. Given the ultimate goal of a World Soviet, this was a low-cost strategy. Moreover, there were other factors at play…

(To be concluded)




PS: This is my article in DNA, published on March 18, 2018. Here’s the link to the original article.


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Lenin and Roy: A Revolution in British India

This is the first of three articles on Lenin’s plans for a revolution in India


In March 1919, leading revolutionaries from around the world, including Russian leaders such as Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky and Zinoviev, met in Moscow to found the Communist International, a.k.a. the Comintern. The professed aim of this body was to overthrow all existing governments and replace them with communist regimes – a crucial milestone in the march towards the prophesized global communist utopia. Lenin’s zeal drove the Comintern, and as the head of the Russian government he commanded immense resources. Communist Russia was surrounded by enemies and had barely survived many attempts to destroy the nascent regime. For ideological reasons as well as for survival, the revolution had to be exported.

First Comintern

Lenin and Zinoviev at the Comintern

Lenin believed that a weakened Europe, horrified at the imperial games that led to World War-I, would fall right into the Communists’ lap. Just as Russia did. Once Europe fell, the rest of the world would soon follow. For this, a network of agents run by the Comintern had to instigate and guide peoples’ rebellions across Europe. Unlike the scattered and self-deluded anarchists of old, these trained and capable agents would have the Russian state backing them. However, despite the Comintern’ s best efforts Europe did not oblige. The Polish-Russia war also saw the Poles prevail, much to Lenin’s embarrassment. It was clear that other solutions were required. The British Empire was perceived as the greatest hindrance to the communist utopia – but it would fall if it lost India, the jewel in the Crown. Similarly, the loss of Asiatic colonies will weaken other European enemies. Lenin declared that ‘The East will help us to conquer the West’ and “It is in India that we must strike them hardest”.



However, India was very different from Europe. The required conditions and processes of history (as postulated by communist prophets) might not be applicable there yet. Moreover, none of the Russian leaders had first-hand knowledge of India. Also, they needed a native to lead this revolution. Lenin soon found his champion in Manabendra Nath Roy.

M N Roy as a young man

M N Roy

M.N. Roy, born Narendra Nath Bhattacharya, had been a revolutionary since 1905, originally influenced by mysticism and nationalism. From 1915 he traveled the world, relentlessly seeking arms and allies against the British. In 1917 he entered Mexico, a land wracked by many revolutions, and adopted left-wing thought. He founded the Socialist Workers Party in 1917, which became the Mexican Communist Party in 1919. Roy converted to communism under the influence of Mikhail Borodin, a Comintern agent. On Borodin’s recommendation, Roy was invited to the 2nd World Congress (August 1920) by Lenin himself.


Lenin was impressed by Roy. He conveyed his desire to launch a revolution that would eject the Raj and requested required Roy’s assistance for that. During the 2nd Congress the duo formulated strategies. It seemed that orthodox communist approach would have to be abandoned: the Comintern would have to co-operate with non-Marxist movements. Roy argued that such movements are regressive and would just replace white masters with brown ones. Lenin contended that an Indian communist party did not exist. Even if it was created, it would be impossible to reach the masses in time – given India’s unique characteristics. Temporary alliances have to be formed to foment revolution; these alliances would be broken once the Communists captured power. This policy, known as ‘Thesis on the National and Colonial Questions”, settled the debate and became the charter for the revolution.


At this juncture, India did appear to be restive. The Great War and its aftermath, British brutality, and a host of other reasons had enraged Indians. Nationalistic fervor was rising. Muslims were furthered angered by the dismemberment of Ottoman Turkey, through Anglo-French machinations. This meant the effective end of the Islamic Caliphate, invested in the Ottoman Emperor for centuries. In 1914 the Germans and the Ottomans had tried to rouse Muslim rage against Britain but failed. However, it still seemed the most feasible method to destroy the Raj. Moreover, the latest Anglo-Afghan war had just ended – maybe the restive Afghans could be co-opted too.

Zinoviev at the Baku Congress

Zinoviev in Baku

Consequently, in September 1920 in Baku, a grand congress chaired by Zinoviev hosted numerous Muslim delegates from around the globe. Thinkers and rebels of every hue were present. Mixing Islamism and Marxism, Zinoviev called on Muslims worldwide to launch a jihad against imperial powers. The “toilers of the East” were exhorted to overthrow their foreign masters. The delegates responded with great enthusiasm. The dangers of this path were however recognized by the communist leadership: millions of Muslims residing in Russian lands could also get caught in this storm. It was soon made very clear that the “liberation” was meant only for Muslims in other lands. A few days later, the Communist Party of India was launched in Tashkent. Roy was also made head of the Central Asiatic Bureau of the Comintern and the Indian Military School. The endeavor had begun.

(To be continued)


PS:  This is my article in DNA, published on March 11, 2018. Here’s the link to the original article.

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