ECSAS2012: The 22nd European Conference on South Asian Studies

ISCTE-Lisbon University, 25th-28th July 2012

(P16)

Meerut revisited: the conspiracy case in context, 1929-1934

Location C401
Date and Start Time 25 Jul, 2012 at 16:15

Convenors

Michele Louro (Salem State University ) email
Alastair Kocho-Williams (University of the West of England, Bristol) email
Carolien Stolte (Leiden University) email
Ali Raza email
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Short Abstract

This panel examines the local and international dimensions of the Meerut Conspiracy Case. The trial placed thirty-three public figures - trade unionists, socialists, nationalists and communists - on trial for conspiracy. The case became a watershed moment in anti-imperialist politics in South Asia.

Long Abstract

The Meerut Conspiracy Case placed thirty-three well-known public figures - trade unionists, socialists, nationalists and communists - on trial for conspiracy against the King. This highly publicized case became a watershed moment in anti-imperialist politics in South Asia, which led to the realignment of and between various political players. It also incited critical responses beyond India's borders and turned the 'Meerut prisoners' into anti-imperialist symbols internationally. This panel re-examines the Meerut case in the overlapping contexts of interwar internationalism and South Asian history. It invites participants to analyze the event through the writings and activities of both organizations and individuals.

Discussant: Ben Zachariah

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The impact of the Meerut Conspiracy case on the Comintern's challenge to British India

Author: Alastair Kocho-Williams (University of the West of England, Bristol)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper examines what the impact of the Meerut Conspiracy Case was for the Comintern's challenge to British India in the interwar period.

Long Abstract

The paper examines the impact of the Meerut Conspiracy Case on the Communist International's (Comintern) challenge to British India. Considered is the use of the Indian Penal Code to attempt to prove a conspiracy that involved agents of an external power in the form of the Soviet Union, the way in which the Comintern, its member parties, particularly the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), and its agents reacted to the trial, and the impact on Soviet foreign policy. That the case coincided with shifts in the Comintern's line and the foreign policy of the Soviet Union is significant, and the impact of the case is considered in this context.

Meerut and its impact on regional politics: a case study of the Punjabi Leftist movement

Author: Ali Raza  email
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Short Abstract

This paper will seek to explore the impact of the Meerut Conspiracy Case on regional and local politics. In this regard, the focus of this paper will be on the Leftist movement within the Punjab.

Long Abstract

The Meerut Conspiracy Case was one of the most important events in the formative years of the South Asian Left. While the colonial state failed to crush the leftist movement - and indeed it could be argued that it inadvertently provided an impetus to it - the trial did manage to drive a wedge within the Left. More broadly, the case also encouraged a realignment of alliances and engagements within the wider political spectrum. As far as the Left was concerned though, the implications of the case were far more serious. For one, the state succeeded in relegating the Left and the idioms of its politics to the political fringe. This was a far cry from the 1920s when leftist idioms of politics were part of a wider vocabulary that was employed by politicians of all hues and stripes.

This paper will aim to highlight these shifts by using the case study of the Punjabi Leftist movement. It will seek to show how the Meerut Conspiracy Case impacted the development of leftist politics in the province. More crucially though, this study will also shed insights into the differential impact of the Conspiracy Case which in turn only highlights the diversity of the Leftist movement and its varied political experiences in South Asia.

Rethinking Meerut: Nehru, the League against Imperialism, and the limits of internationalism in India

Author: Michele Louro (Salem State University )  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines the Meerut Conspiracy Case as a site for the intersection of national, international, and colonial politics in British India. It focuses on the specific case of the League against Imperialism (LAI) as a seditious organization targeted by the Meerut trial.

Long Abstract

In the Meerut Conspiracy Case (1929-1934), the colonial state accused thirty-three defendants - trade unionists, socialists, nationalists and communists - of conspiracy to overthrow the sovereignty of the king in India. Indian connections with the League against Imperialism (LAI) were one of the primary offenses on trial in Meerut. However, the British did not arrest and charge Jawaharlal Nehru, the official representative of the LAI in India. In 1929, Nehru served on the LAI's Executive Council and had created an Indian Independence league to coordinate the national and international anti-imperialist fronts.

The aim of this paper is twofold. First, it highlights Meerut as a highly publicized space for the Government of India to flex the muscle of the colonial state and show nationalists like Nehru the consequences of forging connections abroad that operated outside the margins of imperial servitude. From the vantage point of the colonial state, Nehru had strong nationalist credentials, and the Meerut Case aimed to pull him away from seditious elements like the LAI.

Secondly, the paper considers the failures of Nehru, Indian anti-colonial nationalism, and the LAI to coordinate an international protest against the Meerut Case. From Nehru's perspective in 1929, the attack on Indian connections abroad could become a lightning rod for anti-imperialist forces nationally and internationally to unite against the British Empire. Yet paradoxically, at the same time that Nehru worked prodigiously in Meerut to protest colonial repression of Indian connections to the League, the LAI abandoned collaborative work with the INC leader.

The impact of the Meerut case on the international engagements of the Indian trade union movement

Author: Carolien Stolte (Leiden University)  email
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Short Abstract

In March 1929, tensions between various factions in the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) regarding AITUC’s international engagements were made urgent by the Meerut arrests. This paper examines the influence of the Meerut Conspiracy Case on AITUC’s break into to rival factions in December 1929.

Long Abstract

The All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), established in 1920, became increasingly active in the international theater as the 1920s progressed. By 1927, these activities not only included participation in the International Labour Organization (ILO) conferences in Geneva, but also ties to other forums, such as the League Against Imperialism and the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat. The latter was explicitly affiliated to Profintern, as the Asian branch of the Red International of Trade Unions. Towards the late 1920s, tensions over the directions that AITUC's international engagements should take arose between moderate and more left-leaning factions within AITUC. In March 1929, these tensions were suddenly made urgent by the Meerut arrests.

The League Against Imperialism and the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat had been mentioned explicitly in the Meerut indictment, proving in the eyes of AITUC's more moderate members that continued engagements with these bodies would prove detrimental to the interests of the Indian labour movement. At the tenth AITUC session in Nagpur in December 1929, it became clear that reconciliation between the rival factions was no longer an option, and the moderates seceded as NTUF, the National Trade Union Federation. Given the consequences of this event for the unity of the larger Indian labour movement, this paper seeks to examine the role the Meerut Case played in AITUC's 1929 split.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.