Socialism in India is a political movement founded early in the 20th century, as a part of the broader Indian independence movement against the colonial British Raj. It grew quickly in popularity as it espoused the causes of India's farmers and labourers against the zamindars, princely class and landed gentry. Socialism shaped the principle economic and social policies of the Indian government after independence until the early 1990s, when India moved towards a more market-based economy. However, it remains a potent influence on Indian politics, with a large number of national and regional political parties espousing democratic socialism.
Small socialist revolutionary groups arose in India in the aftermath of the October Revolution in Russia. The Communist Party of India was established in 1921, but socialism as an ideology gained a nationwide appeal after it was endorsed by nationalist leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose. Radical socialists were amongst the first to call for outright Indian independence from Britain. Under Nehru, the Indian National Congress, India's largest political party, adopted socialism as an ideology for socio-economic policies in 1936. Radical socialists and communists also engineered the Tebhaga movement of farmers in Bengal against the landed gentry. However, mainstream Indian socialism connected itself with Gandhism and adopted peaceful struggle instead of class warfare.
After India's independence in 1947, the Indian government under prime ministers Nehru and Indira Gandhi oversaw land reform and the nationalisation of major industries and the banking sector. Independently, activists Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan worked for peaceful land redistribution under the Sarvodaya movement, where landlords granted land to farm workers out of their own free will. In the 1960s, the Communist Party of India formed India's first democratically elected communist government when it won elections in the states of Kerala and later West Bengal. However, when a global recession began in the late 1970s, economic stagnation, chronic shortages and state inefficiency left many disillusioned with state socialism. In the late 1980s and 1990s, India's government began to systematically liberalise the Indian economy by pursuing privatisation, aiming to attract foreign investment. Nevertheless, the Congress party continues to espouse some socialist causes, and other major parties such as the Communists, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and several others openly espouse socialism.
The socialist movement began to develop in India with the Russian Revolution. However, in 1871 a group in Calcutta had contacted Karl Marx with the purpose of organising an Indian section of the First International. It did not materialise. The first article in an Indian publication (in English) that mentions the names of Marx & Engels printed in the Modern Review in March 1912. The short biographical article titled Karl Marx – a modern Rishi was written by the German-based Indian revolutionary Lala Har Dayal. The first biography of Karl Marx in an Indian language was written by R. Rama Krishna Pillai in 1914.
Marxism made a major impact in Indian media at the time of the Russian Revolution. Of particular interest to many Indian papers and magazines was the Bolshevik policy of right to self-determination of all nations. Bipin Chandra Pal and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were amongst the prominent Indians who expressed their admiration of Lenin and the new rulers in Russia. Abdul Sattar Khairi and Abdul Zabbar Khairi went to Moscow, immediately on hearing about the revolution. In Moscow, they met Lenin and conveyed their greetings to him. The Russian Revolution also affected émigré Indian revolutionaries, such as the Ghadar Party in North America.
The Khilafat movement contributed to the emergence of early Indian communism. Many Indian Muslims left India to join the defence of the Caliphate. Several of them became communists whilst visiting Soviet territory. Some Hindus also joined the Muslim muhajirs in the travels to the Soviet areas.
The colonial authorities were clearly disturbed by the growing influence of Bolshevik sympathies in India. A first counter-move was the issuing of a fatwa, urging Muslims to reject communism. The Home Department established a special branch to monitor the communist influence. Customs were ordered to check the imports of Marxist literature to India. A great number of anti-communist propaganda publications were published.
The First World War was accompanied with a rapid increase of industries in India, resulting in a growth of an industrial proletariat. At the same time prices of essential commodities increased. These were factors that contributed to the buildup of the Indian trade union movement. Unions were formed in the urban centres across India, and strikes were organised. In 1920, the All India Trade Union Congress was founded.
One Indian impressed with developments in Russia was S. A. Dange in Bombay. In 1921, he published a pamphlet titled Gandhi Vs. Lenin, a comparative study of the approaches of both the leaders with Lenin coming out as better of the two. Together with Ranchoddas Bhavan Lotvala, a local mill-owner, a library of Marxist Literature was set up and publishing of translations of Marxist classics began. In 1922, with Lotvala's help, Dange launched the English weekly, Socialist, the first Indian Marxist journal.
Regarding the political situation in the colonised world, the 1920 second congress of the Communist International insisted that a united front should be formed between the proletariat, peasantry and national bourgeoisie in the colonised countries. Among the twenty-one conditions drafted by Lenin ahead of the congress was the 11th thesis, which stipulated that all communist parties must support the bourgeois-democratic liberation movements in the colonies. Some of the delegates opposed the idea of alliance with the bourgeoisie, and preferred support to communist movements of these countries instead. Their criticism was shared by the Indian revolutionary M.N. Roy, who attended as a delegate of the Communist Party of Mexico. The congress removed the term 'bourgeois-democratic' in what became the 8th condition.
The Communist Party of India was founded in Tashkent on 17 October 1920, soon after the Second Congress of the Communist International. The founding members of the party were M.N. Roy, Evelina Trench Roy (Roy’s wife), Abani Mukherji, Rosa Fitingof (Abani’s wife), Mohammad Ali (Ahmed Hasan), Mohammad Shafiq Siddiqui and M.P.B.T. Acharya.
The CPI began efforts to build a party organisation inside India. Roy made contacts with Anushilan and Jugantar groups in Bengal. Small communist groups were formed in Bengal (led by Muzaffar Ahmed), Bombay (led by S.A. Dange), Madras (led by Singaravelu Chettiar), United Provinces (led by Shaukat Usmani) and Punjab (led by Ghulam Hussain). However, only Usmani became a CPI party member.
On 1 May 1923 the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan was founded in Madras, by Singaravelu Chettiar. The LKPH organised the first May Day celebration in India, and this was also the first time the red flag was used in India.
On 25 December 1925, a communist conference was organised in Kanpur. Colonial authorities estimated that 500 persons took part in the conference. The conference was convened by a man called Satyabhakta, of whom little is known. Satyabhakta is said to have argued for a ‘national communism’ and against subordination under Comintern. Being outvoted by the other delegates, Satyabhakta left both the conference venue in protest. The conference adopted the name ‘Communist Party of India’. Groups such as LKPH dissolved into the unified CPI. The émigré CPI, which probably had little organic character anyway, was effectively substituted by the organisation now operating inside India.
Currently, Marxism is especially prevalent in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. The two largest Communist parties in Indian politics are the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India. The RSP and Forward Block support them in some states. These four parties constitute the Left Democratic Front.
There are a large number of smaller Marxist parties, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Marxist Communist Party of India, Marxist Coordination Committee in Jharkhand, Janathipathiya Samrakshana Samithy, Communist Marxist Party and BTR-EMS-AKG Janakeeya Vedi in Kerala, Mazdoor Mukti (Workers' Emancipation) and Party of Democratic Socialism in West Bengal, Janganotantrik Morcha in Tripura, the Ram Pasla group in Punjab, and the Orissa Communist Party in Orissa.
At the 1931 Karachi session of the Indian National Congress, socialist pattern of development was set as the goal for India. Through the 1955 Avadi Resolution of the Indian National Congress, a socialistic pattern of development was presented as the goal of the party. A year later, the Indian parliament adopted 'socialistic pattern of development' as official policy, a policy that came to include land reforms and regulations of industries. The word socialist was added to the Preamble of the Indian Constitution by the 42nd amendment act of 1976, during the Emergency. It implies social and economic equality. Social equality in this context means the absence of discrimination on the grounds only of caste, colour, creed, sex, religion, or language. Under social equality, everyone has equal status and opportunities. Economic equality in this context means that the government will endeavour to make the distribution of wealth more equal and provide a decent standard of living for all.
Following independence, the Indian government officially adopted a policy of non-alignment, although it had an affinity with the USSR. The party's commitment to socialism has waned in recent years, particularly following the assassination of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi. Elected in 1991, the government of Narasimha Rao introduced economic liberalisation with the support of finance minister Manmohan Singh, the former prime minister of India.
Communists were also active in the Indian independence movement and have played a significant role in India's political life, although they are fragmented into a multitude of different parties. Communist parties represented in parliament are: (statistics from 2004 General Elections) Communist Party of India (Marxist) (43 seats in the Lok Sabha), the Communist Party of India (10 seats), the Revolutionary Socialist Party (three seats) and the All India Forward Bloc (three seats). The former speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, is a member of the CPI(M). Left Front parties remain an independent faction in the parliament critical of the policies of both the government and that of the mainstream opposition parties.
Aside from the Congress and the Left Front, there are other socialist parties active in India, notably the Samajwadi Party, which emerged from the Janata Dal and is led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, the former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. It has 5 seats in the 16th Lok Sabha.
Noted Indian socialists include the founding leader of the All India Forward Bloc and the Indian National Army Subhas Chandra Bose and the country's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.