As part of our efforts to bring about a semblance of unity among various sections of the village, we began collecting water from various wells located in the areas dominated by the Harijans and other low caste people and educating people on the right to water. First, we brought the potable water from the well which was situated half-a-mile away from the centre of the village, second, from a well in the centre of the locality dominated by the Reddy families, third, from a well in the area resided by the weavers and fourth, from a well in the north-eastern part of the village inhabited by the poorer and weaker sections. The caste Hindus did not object to our withdrawal of water from their well, but boycotted our call for the collection of water from all the wells. In the first instance, they wanted to attack me and our group, but since they feared reprisals from the Harijans, they gave up the idea. However, to sabotage our attempts at forging social harmony, one night they put night soil into the drinking water well. The young boys who were with us cleaned up the whole well the same night. Actually, we were furious over that inhuman act, but did not want to precipitate the matter further. So that issue was settled calmly. Gradually, our campaign picked up and we were able to assert the right to drinking water in the village. Ironically though, neither the Harijans were prepared to fetch water from the wells located in areas dominated by the landlords nor did the latter bother to make use of the water available in the north-eastern part of the village.
To put it broadly, the various activities that we undertook in the village, especially the mobilisation of the agricultural labourers, attracted the attention of people in the neighbouring villages also. Many farm workers and the small peasants began to organise themselves under our banner. Finally, they were able to find a platform from which they could raise their concerns, mostly of the economic and the social variety. The issue of wages was a potent tool in their hands with which they could put up a resistance against the exploitation by the rich landlords. Apart from my involvement in the Satyagraha movement, the way in which I was leading the farm labourers in the villages brought me widespread recognition and reputation in Nellore. The district Congress leaders realised that I was a hard taskmaster and felt that I could be an asset to any movement. While we were carrying out our activities on a large scale, the individual revolutionaries based at Nellore, including Duvvuri Balarami Reddy were arrested and sentenced to jail. Here, I have to mention one Harijan comrade Cholla Vishnu. He was from West Godavari. He was with me for nearly two years in Alaganipadu – till I left the village to take up general activities – to assist me in the organisational work.
When comrade Amir Hyder Khan was released from jail in 1934, I went to Madras and met him. We met at a secret hideout in the Zam Bazaar locality. We discussed all the political issues and the future course of action to be adopted to strengthen the communist movement. The place where Hyder Khan had a hideout was very near to a police station. Going and meeting him at odd times without adequate precautions would definitely rouse suspicion in the minds of the security personnel posted at the station. He told me that he was shifting his base and that he was likely to go to Bombay. I asked Khan to provide me with the party documents – by then we had only rough papers – so I could analyse and interpret the party line on various political issues. In fact, the party central committee had met at Meerut and issued a joint declaration, but we were not in possession of the full statement of that declaration nor did we have any documents. There was only a brief mention of the statement in the newspapers. A call was given for the unification of the movement. We did not have enough contacts to know the exact stand of the party leadership. So Hyder Khan said he would find out the party line and also fetch documents from Bombay. Later, he went to Bombay and came back to Madras. On his return, I met him again. He handed me over the December 1933 document of the party and suggested that we have to unify and strengthen the movement on the basis of that document. Those days, the party was a divided house in Bombay and Hyder Khan was entrusted with the responsibility of sorting out the ideological differences between the various groups there. He gave me an elaborate description of the party leadership and also what decisions were taken by the Meerut comrades to overcome disunity in the party. He advised me to establish contacts with the central committee in case anything happened to him during his stay at Bombay. A few days later, he left for Bombay on a unification mission.
The question of my membership in the party has to be addressed in a different way, but I count my membership right from the early 1930 when H D Raja came and met us at the Loyola College. There it was decided that we should be members of the party. According to the present standards, it was like applying for candidate membership. During the whole period between 1930 and 35 we were not officially recognised as party members by anybody except Raja. In fact, Raja himself did not reveal whether he was really a party member except maintaining that he was in touch with the Youth League which was an independent group of young people but more or less propagating the Marxist-Leninist ideology. However, our group had been of the firm belief that we were all active members of the communist party and we acted as such. And, when I was released from jail in 1931 comrade Hyder Khan met me for the first time at Bangalore and asked me to join as an active member of the party. At that time, I was not prepared to take up fulltime political work due to pressure from my family to complete the studies. Technically though I was not recognised officially by the party, Amir Hyder Khan bestowed on me the legitimacy of an active supporter of the communist movement. When I gave up the studies in 1931, I met him once again and pledged my complete support. That way, it was only a formality – with regard to active membership of the party. I considered myself as a whole-timer of the party from that time. Even when I was in the jails, I was branded as a communist both by the officials and the inmates. What kind of a communist I was and which ideology I was pursuing then was entirely a different matter. Therefore, I don’t think there should be any ambiguity on this question (of membership).
In the process of forging contacts with the communist supporters, I started visiting various districts from 1933-34. Some of the young people who joined the national movement then were in touch with the revolutionaries lodged in jails and also some from the Benares University. I got a list of such people and met them personally to explain our stand. We decided to set up a formal group which also comprised members of the Madras Youth League. I don’t think there were any members from East Godavari in our group when we formed it. From West Godavari, we had Tanikella Venkata Chalapathi, Uddaraju Ramam and Alluri Satyanarayana and from Eluru. We had Garapati Satyanarayana and some others. I don’t remember their names unless I refer to the party documents. In fact, Uddaraju Ramam can give more details about them. Those were the main people in our group who had wide contacts of their own in various villages. Each had a circle of friends of his own. As I said earlier, I had a list of supporters. With that I went to Ventrapragada village in Krishna district where I met Kosaraju Seshaiah and Maddukuri Chandram. After a lengthy discussion, they agreed to join the communist movement. Along with comrade Chandram I went to Bhatla Penumuru and established contacts with Chalasani Vasudeva Rao, Chalasani Jagannatha Rao and Katragadda Narayana Rao. Katragadda Narayanarao had married a girl from that village. Then I toured other places in Krishna along with Chandram, Vasudeva Rao and Seshaiah – who were very active – to find probable recruits. I went to Guntur district where I contacted Polepeddi Narasimha Murthy and Jonnalagadda Ramalingaiah. They were the two active workers there. In Nellore, I was able to contact Basavareddy Sankaraiah and Raavi Adi Seshaiah of Alluru apart from the colleagues with whom I organised the farm labourers at Alaganipadu. In Nellore town, I met Khandavalli Krishna Rao, who was a manager of a cooperative bank. I don’t remember exactly when I contacted him, but more or less it was during the same period. I was also in touch with the local Congress leaders like Muttharaju Gopala Rao and some other people, but they never joined the communist movement. However, Sankaraiah and Adi Seshaiah took an active part in the movement in the early years. They can be considered as full time members of the party.
After visiting various districts and establishing contacts, we decided to set up a formal committee. Later, we met a representative of the Communist Party in a garden at the Patamata residence of Katragadda Narayana Rao and elected a committee of seven members of whom I can recall only five – Polepeddi Narasimha Murthy, Chalasani Vasudeva Rao, Chandram, Alluri Satyanarayana Raju and Tanikella Venkata Chalapathi. Katragadda Narayanarao was not there in the committee. That committee started functioning, and after Amir Hyder Khan’s arrest, the responsibility of mobilising and organising the movement fell on my shoulders. As per his suggestion, I established links with the central committee members based at Bombay. By then, I had cleared all the activities back in the villages. I shifted to Madras where I rented an office to oversee the functioning of the organisation. In due course, we decided to set up a legal association to coordinate our political activities. That association was named as the Labour Protection League. We had branches of that league at Madras, Krishna, Guntur, West Godvari and Nellore. We used the league as a front for our activities. Of course, we framed a constitution for the league, but with only half-a-dozen clauses. In fact, when Jayaprakash Narayan visited Madras in 1937, I showed him the charter of league. He laughed at once and asked me whether such a small constitution was enough to guide the labour movement. I told him that it was comprehensive and good enough. That was how we started the first communist group in the Madras Presidency.
As part of our efforts to strengthen the communist movement, I established contacts with various people in Madras and brought them into the party fold. The committee that was formed with Polepeddi Narasimha Murthy as the secretary was more active after 1934. It was successful in bringing many people into the organisation, especially those released from the jails, the younger lot and some of the students from the Benares University. Gradually, the movement began to spread in the Andhra region.
There was a committee for the whole of Madras Presidency and I was its secretary. In that position, I naturally had to establish contacts with local people and also the leaders of various provinces in the country. I remember it was in 1934 September or October our Bombay comrades informed me of Hyder Khan’s arrest and asked me to immediately come over for further discussions. They were planning to hold a huge demonstration there and also discuss the party strategy with all the leading comrades. Just before a week or two the Indian National Congress was to hold its session, I went to Bombay. Around that time, there were bitter differences in the Congress over Gandhi’s political line. The Patna meeting was the melting point in that party. Socialist leaders like Narendra Dev, Achyut Patwardhan, Jayaprakash Narayan and Yusuf Mehrauli were to meet in Bombay just before the Congress session to finalise their strategy and announce the formation of a new party – the Congress Socialist Party. They mobilised all the Left-leaning leaders in the Congress for the purpose. I also attended the gathering of socialist leaders apart from our central committee meeting.
I went there just because every like-minded person was allowed to attend the meet. I was neither a delegate nor a supporter of the socialists in the Congress. The main purpose for which I attended the meet was to establish contacts with the socialist leaders from the south since I was expected to build the communist party in Madras Presidency that covered a major portion of south India. There I met comrade Dinakar and comrade Namboodripad. We did not have much discussion as they were busy with finalising the organisational structure of their own party. At that time, there was no question of us joining the Socialist Congress. The communist party was yet to finalise its stance towards the socialist leaders and it was still debating that issue. In fact, the party’s stand then was that of the views expressed by RPD (Rajani Palme Dutt) in an article. He had said that the Congress Socialist Party was being set up on contradictory terms and that the leaders could not call themselves as socialists while being a part of the Congress. Also, we had got our own organisation that was to be expanded further. Therefore, the issue of dual membership did not arise though we were with the Congress earlier – not as formal members.
As regards the Bombay movement, all the groups that had ideological differences with each buried the hatchet by the end of 1933 after a unification campaign. There was a functional unity in the party and all the comrades wanted to lead a big demonstration in protest against the Congress’s betrayal of the national struggle for independence. The young workers associated with the Youth League were there in a large number to take part in the rally. I think there was a general strike by the textile workers at the beginning of 1934 in which connection comrade BTR and others were arrested and lodged in jail. And, the restless Youth League people also wanted to express their ire on the arrests through the rally. Adding to it, there was severe resentment among the young Congress workers over the shape the national movement was taking. All these factors led to the mobilisation of a huge crowd not only to protest arbitrary arrests of trade union leaders, but it also put forward a charter of demands before the imperial government besides putting the Congress on notice on the workers’ issue. However, the demonstration was not allowed to reach the venue of Congress session; we dispersed after the police resorted to brutal lathicharge. Many were wounded in the incident.
I did not stay to attend the Indian National Congress session though I had a chance to go there as a visitor. I think Babu Rajendra Prasad presided over the session. We distributed some pamphlets at the session mainly among the delegates from the south. We had enough contacts with them. We did not take more interest than that. Earlier, we had a meeting of our party central committee members during which there was a worthwhile discussion on organisational affairs and the strategy to the adopted to spread the Left movement and forge unity between various socialist groups. At the meeting, I and Ajay Ghosh were formally admitted to the central committee. Ghate was the secretary then. Disciplinary action was initiated against erring members from Bombay. At the same time, decisions to the effect of unifying the party were also taken. There was not much socio-political angle to those decisions. A review of the work done by the unification committee set up in 1933 was taken up and certain modifications were suggested. We have to refer to the documents to understand what those suggestions were. But some of those against whom disciplinary action was taken were in the jail, including comrade BTR. I don’t think Dange was in the party then. He was still in the jail undergoing a two-year sentence handed out by the Bombay High Court. P C Joshi was a central committee member, but he could not attend the meeting as he too was in the jail. Comrade Mirajkar was there besides some other young workers. We discussed the topic of unity in the party and took some decisions. Of course, we were given certain contact addresses to keep in touch with the centre.
After I came back, the question of whether or not we should join the Congress Socialist Party cropped up. As far as I can remember, there was a big debate or rather a controversy in the party over whether we should demand for a constituent assembly to declare the sovereignty of India or we should demand the Soviet Republic model. The majority was for the Soviet model. The demand for a constituent assembly was considered as a revisionist tendency. Regarding the membership of the Congress Socialist Party, there was an utterly disgusting and quite a contradictory precondition. The socialist leaders made it clear that unless a person had a Congress membership he would not be allowed in the socialist party. Therefore, many of the communist sympathisers and workers could not join the party. I had many contacts in the Congress and decided to continue them, but others who were outside the Congress fold were diverted to the Labour Protection League and other trade unions. We decided to keep in touch with the Left elements in the Congress in the whole of south India and try to bring them over to the communist movement gradually. In pursuit of such an approach, in Madras we started the press workers union and the railway workers union. We specially co-opted those students and workers who had never been part of the Congress or had gone to jail in the course of the national movement. We kept them under the guidance and coordination of the Labour Protection League which was nothing but a legal front for the communist movement.
There was another general strike in Bombay after I came back to Madras. On the eve of the strike, all the communist leaders were banned from Bombay. Ghate was sent to Mangalore where his sister-in-law resides. Adhikari was shifted to Bijapur while Mirajkar was sent to some other place. All the second rung leaders were taken into custody. Practically, the whole central leadership was disrupted. Comrade Lahiri who was from Bengal took charge of the party. He moved over to Bombay. I met him in 1935 when I came to know that he was the one who was leading the party at the centre. I met him at the Marine Drive and discussed political issues with him for over an hour. He proposed that the central committee had to meet again to chalk out the party’s programme. By that time, comrade P C Joshi was expected to be released. After exchanging contacts I took leave of comrade Lahiri, but as soon as I landed in Madras I was horrified to learn the news of his arrest. Fortunately, comrade P C Joshi came out of the prison and took charge of the whole organisation. Before his arrest, Lahiri had suggested that I attend the CC meet to be held secretly somewhere in Nagpur and exchange contacts.
Meanwhile, I went to Kerala as part of efforts to establish contacts with comrades of that state. By then, we had a strong communist movement in Madras with various trade unions and student organisations. Our office was located on the Thata Mutyappan Street. We had Raja Vadivelu, Manikam and Sambandhan, a lino operator with the Indian Express with us in the press workers union. People working for the Andhra Patrika were also part of the union. Someswara Rao, a proof reader, was actively involved in the union activities. Kambhampati senior came over to Madras by 1934. He joined the Labour Protection League and took up trade union work. V K Narasimhan gave up his public activities, but he was very sympathetic to the movement. During my visit to Kerala, I met with comrades Krishna Pillai, EMS Namboodripad and N C Sekhar. The first two leaders were crucial for our movement since they played a prominent role in the setting up of Congress Socialist Party. Previously, they were the leading members of the Congress. I explained the dynamics of our movement and how our party was going to expand in future. I asked them to ponder over the inconsistency and contradictory nature of the policies being pursued by the CSP and then decide on joining the communist movement. I handed over the unity document of our party and asked them to keep in touch. I had the confidence that by keeping in touch with them I could persuade them to join the communist party, but I knew that it would take some time and that there was no use in pursuing the issue immediately. Of course, the two leaders had their own independent understanding of the political situation and had a huge following among the Leftwing members of the Congress. I told them to continue with organising the CSP and if they feel they could not carry forward their line of thought they could as well think of joining our party. The task of establishing contacts with the Leftists in the whole of Kerala was left to Namboodiripad and Krishna Pillai.
On the suggestion of EMS, I went to Cochin to meet comrade Namboodri. He was with the CPI when the division came, but was elected to the Kerala Assembly with our party’s support in the 1965 elections. I think he is still alive. He was an important contact for us. From Cochin I went to Trivandrum via Alleppey. I did not meet anybody in Alleppey. At Trivandrum, I met certain comrades and asked them to keep contacts. But the main task for them was to mobilise their own supporters in our favour. Because of the old contacts forged at Bombay in 1934, I met comrade Anantachari, who was an insurance agent. Now, he has taken over an old company in Tiruchinapalli. Since Madras was the centre of our activities he did not feel it burdensome to keep in touch with us.
So, which committee, which group and which comrade, if not myself, played a crucial role in the strengthening of the communist movement in south India has to be analysed properly based on the party documents.
The mode of maintaining contacts with comrades of various states was through a courier. Normally, party documents were not sent through post; only the covers would have reached them if they had been sent through the postal department. The newsletters and journals of the Youth League and the trade unions were mailed since they were legal organisations. In Andhra, our activities through the Labour Protection League developed phenomenally. We suggested the Andhra committee to establish a base in Vizag and also in the major towns to mobilise the working class. In 1935-36, Polepeddi Narasimha Murthy was successful in roping in Pulupula Venkata Sivaiah and Nanduri Prasada Rao into the party. Jonnalagadda Ramalingaiah who was working as a teacher at the Kavuru Vinayashramam near Cherukupalli in Guntur district shifted his base to Guntur to work for the party along with Narasimha Murthy and Pratapa Ramasubbaiah.