Majid Kapra

Playing football with Lenin

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BY: Murtaza Shibli

Russian communist revolutionary Lenin has remained an inspiration for generations of young people across the world in their wars of independence, mainly against Western colonialists.

Many freedom fighters in British India – Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and others across ethnic or geographic divides were inspired by Leninist ideas. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 inspired several movements to galvanise support for the freedom movement. From Prafulla Chaki, Khudi Ram Bose, Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad to Ashfaqulla Khan and Ram Prakash Bismil, Lenin remained their muse as he lent moral support to the freedom struggle. Nehru and Gandhi were also deeply influenced by Lenin. Stalwarts like Subhas Chandra Bose, Dr Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayaprakash Narayan also sought inspiration from the communist revolutionary.

Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, two great Muslim revolutionaries and freedom fighters, supported the idea of social justice espoused by socialism and linked it to Islamic tenets. In fact, Maulana Mohani was one of the pioneers of the communist movement in India. During the Khilafat Movement, Maulana Sindhi was forced to migrate to Afghanistan where he declared a transitional government for India. Sindhi had to abandon Afghanistan under intense pressure from the British. He travelled to Russia where he met with Lenin and deliberated upon the many ways that freedom could be attained from the British imperial yoke.

Allama Iqbal shows his appreciation for Lenin in a long poem in Urdu titled ‘Lenin: Khuda kay hazoor mein’, where he sympathetically draws a portrait of the ‘atheist Lenin’ who reneges from his agnostic beliefs with much regret while blaming it on the unjust system that is built by Western imperialism and operates in collaboration with capitalism.

Lenin, in his prayer before God, is shown in an extraordinary light and his lamentations are secretly savoured even by the angels. Finally, the angels openly come out in support of Lenin and God orders them to demolish the immoral and crippling capitalistic system that has caused much affliction to humanity. He then commands them to replace it with a system of social justice that is propounded by Islam.

On March 3, 25 years of communist rule came to an end in the Indian northeastern state of Tripura. The Hindu extremist BJP and its allies won an impressive 43 seats out of 60, relegating the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) to a distant second with a paltry 16 seats. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his victory speech at the newly-constructed swanky BJP headquarters in New Delhi, termed the electoral success as an “ideological victory” over the communists. BJP chief Amit Shah promised a “communist mukt bharat” – a communist-free India.

Not long after the speeches, a wave of attacks was unleashed against communists in the state, specifically targeting the CPI-M cadre and supporters. Within hours, more than 1,500 residential houses were attacked, nearly 200 houses destroyed by arson, 134 party offices damaged and over 200 party offices ‘captured’. The CPI-M blamed the BJP and said the attacks were planned and coordinated by it. One commentator observed that the violence was the first step towards getting rid of communists. In Jirania Town, a woman was killed in a bomb attack while a man was hacked to death.

Barely two days after the BJP’s public pledge to get rid of communists as part of their ideological battle, BJP supporters gathered around the statue of Lenin at the College Square in the heart of Belonia Town. The statue, made out of fibre glass, was put up in 2013 to commemorate 21 years of communist rule in the state.

The venue had become an inspiring attraction for the youth who would engage in political debates and discuss the challenges of capitalism as India’s surrendered to the Western-led market economy in the early 1990s, destroyed pristine environments and caused massive disadvantages for the poor, the Dalits and tribal population.

Armed with a bulldozer, BJP supporters brought down Lenin’s statue amid chants of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, (Hail Mother India). The mob then severed the head and kicked it like a football. Pabitra Kar, the deputy speaker of the Tripura Assembly and the CPI-M leader, compared it to the Taliban’s razing of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan.

This ravaging was photographed and video-recorded in full public view and shared across social media platforms amid triumphalist rhetoric. The first one to tweet his approval was the BJP’s general secretary, Ram Madhav, who shared the picture of the falling statue with words of approval. This was followed by Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy who also shared the picture with text that was tacitly supportive of the move. He suggested the vandals represented a “democratically-elected government”.

BJP Spokesman Subarta Chakraborty described it as the outcome of “public fury” while Subramanian Swamy, a BJP parliamentarian, called Lenin “a sort of terrorist” and questioned the need for his statue in India. Another senior party leader H Raja quizzed: “Who is Lenin? What is the relevance he holds in India? What is the link between communism and India?”

The hatred against communists runs deep in Hindutva veins. After Muslims, they are considered the biggest enemy as they espouse pluralism, secularism and equitable development. In its heydays, the Left had effectively challenged their divisive narrative and forged alliances with like-minded groups to stop the Hindutva progress. It is important to note that during the cold war, when India had a deep and strategic relationship with Communist Russia, Hindutva groups supported the US and the Western block. They even defended America’s war on Vietnam, which was deeply unpopular in India.

Therefore, it is no wonder that, while Lenin is described as an outsider and a terrorist, Donald Trump is revered. Prior to the US elections, Hindutva groups organised scores of pujas for Trump’s victory. And in America, Hindutva groups were the first to embrace Trump when nobody took him seriously. What united the two was rabid Islamophobia and a deep hatred for a pluralistic social order.

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