If you take the period between 1934 and 38 or rather 1939, we have to evaluate the activities in Andhra Pradesh as well as other states with which I was connected. Earlier, I have given a broad outline of my activities, including the formation of an agricultural labourers union in Alaganipadu, and how the union spread to places in Guntur and Krishna districts in 1935-36. I have also narrated how we started the Youth League and made it a state-wide organisation. However, the Youth League was relegated to the background after 1936 when we all decided to join the Congress Socialist Party. I would explain the context behind the formation and the growth of the CSP in Andhra. Tactically, an overwhelming majority of the CSP members joined the Communist Party of India in the later period. I would narrate all those incidents a little later. Before doing that I would like to recall the period of 1932-34 when I was in my village carrying out various socio-political activities. One of the purposeful activities I took up on the personal front was to toughen my body for revolutionary exigencies. It was also necessary to equip myself. There was a distant relative of mine in Buchireddypalem by the name Dodla Muddukrishna Reddy. He came back from America or Europe. He had a very good library comprising books on politics, economics, literature and social sciences. I used to walk from my village to his place which was some 18 miles away. I would get up early in the morning and reach there by 8 or 8.30 am, spend three or four hours reading books, take food with him and come back to Alaganipadu by 5 ‘0’ clock in the evening. Even after returning home, I still had the capacity to walk another five or six miles. Similarly, I used to go to Nellore which was some 16 miles away. Walking to Nellore was part of the routine to harden myself and also to meet various groups involved in revolutionary politics besides purchasing essential commodities. There was no bus service then. Going by walk was the only option. Of course, later on I purchased a cycle. That’s another aspect; I would come to it later. So, I was confident of walking about 50 to 60 miles a day by that time. In 1936, I went to Madras twice or thrice from my village on a cycle only to test my cycling capacity. The distance was some 110 miles or so. It was not very difficult to peddle all the way to Madras. Once I started early in the morning from Madras, reached Nellore, from there to Pallepadu and again back to Nellore.
On the eve of my second arrest, I was coming from Madras on a cycle. The CID police who were deputed to follow me could not keep pace with me. They had to go back to Madras and hire a taxi. They followed me the whole distance from Madras to Nellore in a car. It was not very difficult to cover long distances on a cycle in a short time compared to modern day cycling races, but all those activities helped in hardening my physique and that stood me in good stead during the underground activities in the 1940s and the Telangana armed struggle later. I do suggest that every revolutionary should look after his health very well and also toughen his body. I regret the fact that I was not trained in lathi fight though between 1942 and 43 I underwent a guerrilla training. At the training camp, I was considered as a very good athletic fighter as well as a good squad leader. That was the certificate given to me by the training officer. In fact, I can cite a few instances where the trainer was appalled by my courage. One day, we were asked to move around bushes and a ditch stealthily as part of the exercise to dupe the enemy. I straight jumped from the bushes into the ditch which was some 15 to 17 feet deep. Similarly, I crossed the whole lake by underwater swimming – without ever floating up till I reached the other shore. Among other things, mountain climbing was my favourite hobby. We used to have trekking competitions as part of guerrilla training. I used to compete with well-trained soldiers (revolutionaries) and their squads. The seniors were surprised that I could trek so fast and in a record time. These are the activities that the young revolutionaries should practise continuously.
Before going to the details of my role in the formation of Congress Socialist Party, I would like to say something about my activities in Madras where we have been working through a press workers union. Though we had members from different places, ours was a comparatively better union – the first union in Andhra Patrika. There we put forth a charter of legitimate demands of behalf of all the workers. After many rounds of negotiations the management refused to honour our demands. We went on a strike and the daily paper had to be stopped for a few days. VV Giri and Kasinathuni Nageswararao Panthulu had to intervene. The strike was called off after Giri mediated with the management on our behalf. The main issue was that the demands were not illegitimate and the concessions we got were also not very substantial, but they were good enough for the workers. What Kasinathuni Nageswararao Panthulu said later was: “I do not mind the financial loss on account of honouring some of the demands, but the very fact that a strike has taken place in my concern is a hard ball to digest. I have lost my prestige.” He felt that if I had approached him directly he would have settled the issue without giving room for a strike. I told him that the management was not even willing to talk to the union leaders leave alone taking up the demands charter for perusal. I made it clear that we could not be held responsible for the strike; it was the management’s tough posture that forced the workers to take the inevitable step. I did not agree with the settlement initially as only a few demands were accepted, but Giri said in a working class struggle such humiliations were natural. We did not have the required strength to carry on with the strike until all the demands were settled, so I had to accept whatever concessions were offered by the management. In fact, some of the employees from other press houses who picketed in support of our union were dismissed by their managements. Their employers did not want to give them a chance to organise such strikes in their concerns. In any case, that strike gave us a strong foothold among the press workers.
I remember another important event of that period. I wrote a small agitational pamphlet castigating the attitude of the landlords and the capitalists towards their workers and their living conditions. The government deemed the pamphlet as subversive and filed a case. During the trial the prosecutor termed it as seditious and aimed at inciting class hatred. I strongly rebutted the landlords’ version on the material conditions and prosperity. They had been arguing that the forefathers of the workers did not work; therefore, the workers were deprived of riches. Whereas their own forefathers toiled day in and day out as a result of which they acquired vast lands and properties. I strongly refuted their contention in the pamphlets. I wrote: “Only those who work should enjoy the material benefits. Your (landlords) forefathers worked hard to earn riches and you are enjoying the prosperity without working now. It’s alright if the forefathers of the workers did not work, but it does not mean that they should suffer along with their children even when they are working. Your theory that only those who work hard should enjoy the benefits can be invoked against you since you are not working. It’s the workers who should be really sharing the benefits of your properties. You can’t go on blaming their forefathers for their present sorry state of affairs. Your argument is akin to the wolf crying hoarse about the muddying of the stream water by the sheep.” It was a simple pamphlet that called upon the workers to stand up to the exploitation by their masters and launch a struggle to secure their rights. The booklet was adopted by different Labour Protection Leagues and brought out in different languages. The booklets were distributed in Madras, Eluru, Nellore, Rajahmundry, Guntur and Krishna districts.
In connection with the publication of the pamphlet, the state government filed cases in all the places where it was circulated and began arresting the Labour Protection League leaders. In Madras, Kambhampati Satyanarayana was arrested. He was organising the trade unions then. Another comrade V Narasinga Rao was also arrested along with Kambhampati Satyanarayana. In Nellore, Chundi Jagannatham, R Adiseshaiah and Balarami Reddy were taken into custody. In Guntur, Jonnalagadda Ramalingaiah and others were arrested. Some of the comrades were sentenced up to six months in jail. However, the first class magistrate of Nellore dismissed the case saying there was nothing seditious in the pamphlet nor it was meant to incite class hatred. He noted that the literature had been written only out of anger for ignoring the welfare of the workers and that it would not harm anybody in anyway. All the other comrades were released by the Madras High Court after a few months. In fact, the government wanted to arrest and prosecute me for having written such an ‘explosive’ literature when the courts were hearing the related cases. We were carrying out our own activities but under the umbrella of the Congress as well as the Congress Socialist Party. The government thought that if it could arrest and put me behind the bars – I was considered as the leading person by the authorities – it could easily put an end to all kinds of ‘subversive’ activities and the Left movement would collapse gradually.
In course of those activities, I delivered a speech at the Congress Socialist Party conference in Rajahmundry. Besides giving a brief outline on what the CSP stands for, I argued that peaceful methods of protests were not in anyway going to fetch political freedom for the country however hard we may try for it. To buttress my point, I cited certain examples from Europe where the imperialist forces had put down native resistance with a heavy hand. I called upon the cadres to stand up and face the repression. However, my speech was quoted totally out of context. They alleged that I had preached the workers to take up an immediate violent revolution – kill the British and secure independence for the country. The short hand reports were not comprehensive with sentences jumbled from one place to another. No sentence was reported properly nor was there any sequence of the speech. They tried to pin me down and, as a part of it, they kept a close watch on my movements. In Madras too, they closely followed me to find out my contacts. It was easy for me to throw them off the trail since I was a very good cyclist. Their best cyclists too could not follow me. Taking sharp turns in the lanes and by-lanes I used to throw them off gear. Despite increasing intelligence surveillance, we decided not to go underground. The government was desperate; it wanted to cook up a case against me. During that same period of 1936, the District Board elections were announced. We decided to put up some of the young people as candidates on the Congress ticket. I was asked to stand for the election to the Nellore District Board from one of the constituencies that included my native place. Similarly, G C Kondaiah was fielded from the Atmakur constituency. By that time, Balarami Reddy was out of the jail. They (individual revolutionaries) realised that their method was wrong and decided to flock to our fold, especially carry out activities under the auspices of the Youth League and the Labour Protection League. The Congress people too accepted our position with regard to the struggles for the simple reason that we were the most active in their party. Unless we (Left-minded) moved ahead the Congress activists were not in a situation to take up any struggle. Such was the general feeling among the top leaders of that party. Therefore, they had to approve of all our actions.
While we were busy with our activities, I was arrested at the Tenali railway station and taken to Kakinada because I delivered my ‘explosive’ speech at Rajahmundry. The district magistrate tried me for sedition. I was aware that the arrest was coming; there was a close watch on all my activities. In fact, I was contemplating to go underground after attending the meeting of our group at Tenali. I was always on the alert. Before leaving for Tenali, I advised the Nellore Congress leaders to put another candidate in my place for the District Board elections citing the various assignments I had to finish. If I had avoided the Tenali meet, I would have definitely dodged the arrest. I did not expect that just on that night the government would arrest me though I anticipated such an action in a matter of a day or two. Some of the government officials gave me a hint on my possible arrest in the next two or three days, so I thought of completing the party work at Tenali. From that incident what I learnt is that once you get the inkling of your likely arrest you need not wait till the last minute. In Kakinada, I stayed with Dr Chelikani Rama Rao’s family while on bail. He was a Leftist and also an influential Congress leader. He started practising medicine after he was released from the jail. The condition for granting me bail was that I should not leave the jurisdiction of East Godavari till the case was disposed of. Barrister Seshagiri Rao, who was a leading criminal lawyer, argued on my behalf. Allowing the defence argument was only a legal formality; the government had already decided to pin me down. Rao argued that my speech was grossly misinterpreted and that I had never given such a speech. He claimed that the speech was reproduced by the government adducing dangerous motives and that his client could never use such an unreasonable language. Rao clarified that his client has never in the past made a gobbled and a meaningless speech. In connection with the case, the editor of Zameen Rythu Venkatrama Naidu came all the way from Nellore to give an undertaking on my behalf. He appeared before the trial court and vouched that he had heard Sundarayya’s speech on a number of occasions and that he had never made incoherent speeches. All such testimonies did not impress the court and I was sentenced to jail for two years. I don’t know whether or not I was considered as a very sober and a restrained speaker, but people did appreciate that my speeches were always interspersed with some critical points – mine was not a useless and rabblerousing demagogy. You may repeat some sentences in a speech, but there has to be some sense in it. You should not jumble the sentences. Our defence was strongly based on the point that the reporters were incapable in receiving my speech and that they simply jotted down whatever they liked. Especially, they erred in reporting the sentences which had been dubbed by the authorities as seditious. A proper sequence was not followed in the report. It was definitely an interpretation with the sole intention of convicting me. However, I was sent to the Rajahmundry central prison to serve the two-year sentence. Later, I filed an appeal in the Madras High Court and it granted me a bail. It was not a conditional bail; I was asked to furnish two sureties. I was allowed to roam about the entire state without the fear of being closely followed by the intelligence. They also took a general undertaking that I should not participate in seditious activities nor make any inflammatory speeches. Demagogy was not my forte, but I was actively involved with organisational building.
From the Rajamandry central prison, I had to directly go to the Tejpur congress where the party central committee members would gather to chalk out the future course of action and also rebuild the contacts. I did not have any money when I was released from the jail. I could not have gone back to my village to get some money. So I went to Katragadda Madhusudhan Rao – he knew me very well since 1934 – and told him that I was in urgent need of money to attend the Tejpur congress. I requested him to lend some Rs. 50 to 100 so I could repay it after I returned from the party meeting. He immediately gave me the money. When I went to pay him back, he did not take the money. He said he did not lend me with the hope that I would give it back. He claimed that helping the comrades financially was part of his political work, so there was no question of taking back the money. That way, right from 1934, the whole Katragadda family – Madhusudhan Rao, Narayana Rao, Bhavani, Srinivasa Rao – helped and respected me a lot. In fact, in 1934 when I was trying to bring out the Communist Manifesto in Telugu, I expected a police raid. I had to make certain arrangements. I used to cycle between Eluru and Vijayawada during the nights. Late in the night, both I and Narayana Rao used to go into the kitchen and prepare the food. His mother was aware that I liked curd and malai very much, so she used to store them especially for me. I was also considered a very good eater by their family.
I carried out many activities in a period of two to three months while I was out on the bail. Later, the High Court squashed the case, but reduced the sentence to six months. I had to go back to the jail once again. In 1936, when I went to the Tejpur congress, I met comrade Bharadwaj who was organising the meet. There was nothing particular I could do at the meet, except establishing contacts with leaders from various states, presenting a report on our activities and distributing some leaflets. The important aspect that we decided after coming back from the party congress was to work actively with the Congress Socialist Party and build up a support base for the communist movement. Another aspect was that PC Joshi, who was elected as the party secretary at the congress, proposed a broad platform of the CSP activists and the communists with the aim of spreading the Leftist ideology throughout the country. Of course, there were some ideological differences between the leaders at the congress on the approach the party should adopt towards the Leftist elements in the Congress as well as the Congress Socialist Party. But it was generally agreed that as a first step towards strengthening the communist movement we should align with the CSP. If we refer to the party documents of those times, we can ascertain that there was not much agreement with that line as the party was affiliated to the Communist International. And, the Congress Socialist Party had confined its membership only to the active members of the Indian National Congress. Prior to adopting a new line at the party congress in 1936, we had been very critical of the CSP saying it represented the rabid elements. We had denounced it as a socialist party with a fascist outlook in one of our editorials. In fact, we wanted to know how they could call themselves as socialists even while professing their faith in the Congress. The Dutt-Bradlee thesis came out precisely at that moment and changed the line of the party. It called for unity between the socialists and the communists and the establishment of a broad platform. It also gave a call to the Leftists to join the Congress Socialist Party in a big way and control it. The right wing of the socialists led by Masani and Ashok Mehta strongly opposed any attempts aimed at enrolling of communists in the CSP. They claimed that they can’t rely on the communists since they had little in common with them. However, Jayaprakash Narayan backed by other leaders – Narendra Dev, EMS, Batleewala and Dinkar Mehta – supported the unity efforts. In fact, at the Rajahmundry conference of the CSP we elected the executive committee comprising our own supporters as we had the absolute majority, but Masani and Ashok Mehta opposed granting of recognition to that committee. So, it was decided that Jayaprakash Narayan should tour Andhra to probe their allegations. He was given the authority to expel us from the CSP if it was proved that we were actively working for the Communist Party of India. JP toured Rajahmundry, Krishna, Guntur and West Godavari. I accompanied him to all the places. In the meanwhile, comrade Rajeshwara Rao too joined us. By then, he had given up his study in medicine and decided to work full time for the Communist Party. We were able to organise impressive gatherings of the youths in all the places JP visited.
Then he attended the third annual conference of Andhra Congress Socialist Party at Palakollu. The section opposed to the Leftists led by Ranga Sai had mobilised quite a number of people. There we had an overwhelming majority at Palakollu session. Despite this strength, we made it clear that we did not wish to eliminate them entirely from the leadership responsibilities; we also wanted them to be in the executive committee. Our aim was to run the organisation through our work, arguments and conviction. We wanted to be just pro-active and nothing more than it. We were not opposed to the inclusion of the other section in the leadership. Of course, Ranga Sai, Linga Raju and Madduri Annapurnaiah were there in the executive committee. However, Annapurnaiah was more in favour of us. Later on, he became a member of the CPI. Without eliminating the other section completely from the committee, I was elected as the secretary of the socialist party. JP saw for himself our activities and understood our reasonable stand on the question of leadership. Therefore, he had no reason to say why we should not work with the CSP. In fact, he said he knew we were all communists, but wanted to know why we had all joined the socialist party. We made it clear that we strongly believe in communism and our aim in joining the CSP was to strengthen the socialist movement in the country in tune with the new line of the communist party. At the same time, we also made it clear that we would abide by the organisational discipline of the CSP as well as carry out the programmes given by the socialist party. We said we wanted to go ahead with the socialist party, but only time and experience would tell how far we would be successful with our new line. JP was totally satisfied with our contention that ultimately a united socialist movement should develop in the country. But the problem was with the ideological differences within the socialist party on the question of aligning with the communists to launch a united movement. That bitter inner struggle persisted for long. In Andhra, the more active we became in the socialist party, the more the other section drifted away from the party programmes. Their activities were entirely different from ours. Even while carrying our activities under the umbrella of the CSP, we established contacts with the socialist leaders of Kerala and Tamil Nadu and eventually transformed them into communists.
The CSP’s national convention was held at Lahore in 1938. We attended the meet as delegates from Andhra. We had strong reservations on the political resolutions and policy statements drafted at the convention. In fact, I was feeling suffocated ideologically over the communist party’s new line (on joining the CSP) by then. As I said earlier, we had genuine differences with the CSP leadership on many issues. Rather than force a vote on all the resolutions we compromised. However, when the question of electing a new executive came up for discussion, the party leadership was prepared to give some representation to the communists as against our demand for more seats. When they refused to accept our demand, we put up a parallel panel for the election. The leadership came to know about the panel in no time. Our panel had the names of leaders belonging to the other section, but the majority candidates were our supporters. Naturally, the leadership did not agree to endorse the panel which would give the communists a dominant say in the organisational affairs. So, JP, Narendra Dev and other leaders supported their own panel from which they eliminated most of the leaders whom they considered as staunch communists. Despite that, they could not suspect the loyalty of EMS, Krishna Pillai and other leaders towards the Communist Party and endorsed their names in the official panel. Those leaders had not joined the CPI and were not known as communists by then. If the leadership wanted to eliminate them the whole Leftist section within the CSP would go along with them. In fact, we were not thrown out of the party for putting up a parallel panel. At the same time, we were refused representation on the national executive.
We had clear differences within the communist party over the new line. Earlier, while the central committee was debating the issue of differences between the trade unions, I argued that the entire line of the party to join forces with the socialists to strengthen the communist movement was wrong. I said it was wrong to conceptualise that by throwing our organisational weight behind the CSP we would be able to capture that party across the country. I urged that the party should wait till the conditions turn more favourable for launching a massive struggle. If the party tried to capture the CSP, naturally, the split would come as has happened with the trade unions. However, that question was lost at the Lahore socialist party conference. We voted for our panel, but it was defeated. Even those few individuals whom the leadership wanted to accommodate in the national executive were not taken. The rift in the CSP intensified beyond control. Ultimately, all the known communists were thrown out of the socialist party in 1939-40 or we walked out of the party on our own when we had acute differences with the leadership on what should be our approach towards the British government on the eve of the Second World War. Their line was more or less the Gandhian line of individual Satyagraha and non-cooperation whereas we were totally opposed to the war. Both the sections took diverse lines on the question of war. By then, the majority of the socialist leaders from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra professed their faith in the communist party. Only a few leaders were left with the CSP. That’s the reason why Masani and other leaders said that the communists were a sort of Trojan horse in the socialist party – they joined the party and then tried to capture it. Therefore, it was wrong on the part of JP and others to have allowed the communists into the party fold in the first instance. Of course, Masani’s insinuation was right in every sense. When JP saw that an overwhelming majority of the socialists from Kerala, TN and practically all the leaders in Andhra shifted their allegiance to the CPI, he was appalled. He felt that his policies had been defeated comprehensively in the whole of south. Thereafter, he took an anti-communist line though he kept his democratic credentials in tact by not rabidly opposing a joint front with the communists. He claimed that he had been betrayed by the communists whereas our contention was that the communists were not bound to comply with the faulty programmes and policies of the socialist party. Since their policies were wrong and inadequate more and more people joined the communist party whose policies were in tune with the objective conditions prevailing in the country. We made it clear that if a clause was introduced barring membership to the communists in the socialist party, we would all move out. We also claimed that we had not done anything to harm the CSP and that they should have changed their policies to retain the support of the communists. In fact, our arguments did not have any impact on the leadership. We said united struggle did not mean that we should give up our own ideology. It actually meant that we should win over the majority to our side in due course of time by educating them on our policies and ideology and then advance the communist movement. That was how the Congress Socialist Party became a powerful political force in the country.
That was the story related to the formation of the Congress Socialist Party and its subsequent development. As the secretary of the Andhra Congress Socialist Party I had the responsibility to educate our workers on several socio-political issues. I issued many circulars to the cadres on how to organise various mass organisations, public meetings and other gatherings. The small booklet that I wrote in early 1938 gave a broad outline on the organisational pattern to the communists and their sympathisers. Except for a few minor changes, the booklet helped a lot in raising the consciousness levels among the cadres. Similarly, we organised classes to educate the illiterate masses on political issues. We organised one such school at Kothapatnam in Ongole district in May 1937 just after the completion of the provincial elections. At that time, the Congress did not accept ministerial posts in the government. An interim government led by Kurma Venkata Reddy Naidu was installed by the governor. But still we organised the political school under the umbrella of the Congress Socialist Party. The Youth League members participated in it in a big way. Most of the delegates who participated in that school joined the Communist Party of India within a short time. I have got a list of those who attended the classes. Annapragada Kameswara Rao organised that school mobilising the Leftist elements in the Congress as well as the supporters of the Congress Socialist Party. He left for Moscow, got trained there and later on went to East Africa. After coming back, he joined the Communist Party. He was also one of the leading comrades and was taken into the Andhra committee along with Madduri Annapurnaiah.
I was in the jail when the Kothapatnam school was organised because I was arrested in connection with my inflammatory speech at Rajahmundry. The High Court reduced the sentence from two years to six months after I filed a revision petition. While the political classes were on, the police stormed the venue and asked the participants to disperse. When they refused, the police resorted to cane charge. Some sustained severe injuries in the attack while others were booked under various sections. A big agitation followed demanding the revocation of the false cases. The police had to finally withdraw the cases under immense public pressure. The Kothapatnam School was dispersed after 10 or 15 days. We organised another such school at Manthenavaripalem in 1938 where the classes went on for a month. I participated in that school. The leading comrades of the CPI like S V Deshpande, P C Joshi and Dange took classes on various subjects at the school. For the delegates who attended both the schools, I gave a basic understanding of the organisation. That helped in strengthening our hold in the Congress Socialist Party thereby advancing the communist movement. Even before we organised those two schools, N G Ranga used to take classes for the peasants in Nidubrolu. He invited me on one occasion to give a lecture on the communist movement in the country as well as the world. I accepted his invitation and went to Nidubrolu in 1935. There I explained certain sections from the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution to the peasantry. My contention was that the bourgeoisie would not be able to complete the revolution. I cited the instances dating back to 1848 during which period the capitalist class joined hands with the feudal landlords to suppress the upcoming progressive working class movement. I also explained how the communist movement advanced in the later years. I stressed on the need for a strong organisation to protect the interests of the workers and the peasants, especially the need to develop an agricultural labourers’ movement. The peasants I referred to in my lecture were not of the category that Ranga sought to organise. I listed out the various demands that ought to be voiced as part of the peasant movement. My lecture attracted quite a large number of young people towards the communist movement. They were already moving away from the strangle hold of Ranga since he wanted to be the sole leader of all the farmers. We explained the Marxist ideology and won over many supporters of Ranga to our side. However, some of them went back to the Congress fold and emerged as leaders, for instance, Pidathala Ranga Reddy, Kandula Obul Reddy and Bali Reddy. They were all members of the Communist Party, but we had to remove them for toeing the Congress line. Another important aspect of that period was we not only developed the agricultural labourers’ movement, but also organised a long march of the peasantry from Ichapuram in Srikakulam to Madras under the leadership of Kommareddy Satyanarayana Murthy and Chalasani Vasudeva Rao. The long march was one of the biggest events for those times. Though Satyanarayana Murthy was not a formal member of the party, he was very close to us and very cooperative. He used to respect us (communists) a lot. Practically, he was more or less a leading comrade. The evolution of the peasant movement in Andhra began with the struggle against the resettlement rates in West Godavari, Krishna and Guntur districts. Dandu Narayana Raju and NG Ranga gave up the struggle under immense pressure from the government. After they backtracked from the struggle we stepped in and gave the idea of long march from Ichapuram to Madras and submit a memorandum. All through the march we organised public meetings at major villages.
Similarly, a march was organised by A K Gopalan from Kannanur to Madras to highlight the problem of unemployment. That march was also inspired by the party. Naturally, I was associated with the planning of the march. The general planning for the party in Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala was done by us. It involved not only the communists but also wider sections of society. The merits and development of the movement can’t be credited to any one single individual; many were involved at the field level, including a good chunk of the primary teachers and supporters of the Congress. All the struggles were organised to coincide with the national movement for independence which was at its peak then. There’s no doubt about it. In the same period (1936-37), we started a movement demanding the abolition of the zamindari system. Various struggles were organised as part of it and a memorandum was submitted to the government. In that connection, we organised the peasant struggles in Munagala. Nanduri Prasada Rao and some comrades from Krishna district were entrusted with the leadership responsibilities. Munagala was an enclave of the Nizam state. The Munagala raja wanted to sell away his lands or transfer them to the private persons. We mobilised the people and fought against his decision. A large number of cadres were arrested during the struggle and lodged at the Rajahmundry jail. So, a big Satyagraha struggle was staged to oppose the feudal lord’s decision. Similarly, in Nellore district, people fought against the Venkatagiri zamindar. The struggle was led by Venkatrama Naidu. The communists were not part of the struggle as such, but in Kanigiri, Podili and Darsi areas which were under the control of the same zamindar we mobilised the young peasants. They were very active and quite a large number of them joined the communist movement. In Krishna district, we fought against the Vuyyur, Nuziveedu and Challapalli zamindars. The Challapalli zamindar owned some 17,000 acres of land most of which was occupied by evicting the small peasants and the labourers. Our slogan was that the zamindari should be abolished and the lands given back to the tillers. That slogan is very much alive in the contemporary period. In West Godavari too, we organised a similar struggle against the Kalipatnam zamindar. Our people went on a Satyagraha there demanding the return of lands to the peasants. While those struggles were going on, the government led by the Congress was in a dilemma on how to deal with the issue of land. They at first wanted to suppress the peasants’ movement. That was a mandatory decision. The people were expecting something better from the Congress, but when the government started suppressing them they intensified the agitation against the landlords. As a damage control exercise, the government issued orders to the local committees of the Congress not to organise Satyagraha against the zamindars without the prior permission of the top leadership. We clearly said ‘no’ to such a directive and claimed that we have every right to launch a peaceful movement. Many local Congress leaders joined our struggle without consulting the Provincial Committee. We did not bother whether the leadership would take disciplinary action against the Congress cadres. We totally utilised the Congress platform at the ground level to intensify the struggle against the landlords. Since we were very pro-active the provincial leadership of the Congress could not prevent us from carrying out our activities. The general sentiment among the grassroots Congress workers was also against the zamindari system. Ramam, Alluri Satyanarayana and others were arrested in Kalipatnam.
We intensified our activities utilising the platforms of the Congress and also the Congress Socialist Party. While doing so, comrade KL was elected as the secretary of the MSN railway employees union. So he had to shift to Madras. We (the communists) were the only force working in the trade unions, the agricultural labourers’ movement and the peasants’ struggle. Ranga had got his own peasant union. At that time, the Kisan Sabha was not a united organisation. While doing this, we wanted to invite Dange – who was a known communist – to our programme in Guntur. It was to be held under the banner of the Congress Socialist Party. Masani objected to our decision to invite Dange, but still, we went ahead with the programme as scheduled. That became one of the points of dispute between the communists and the socialist leaders. The CSP leaders claimed that their party was an open organisation and alleged that the communists were trying to hijack it to implement their own agenda. We shot back saying what was wrong in inviting Dange when we had earlier invited Yusuf Mehrali to one such programme. However, they stuck to their argument that leaders who are known communists should not be invited to the CSP gatherings.
During the course of the Satyagraha struggle – we were also working with the Congress – we decided to contest the organisational elections to the provincial committee in 1936. We fielded N G Ranga against Kasinathuni Nageswara Rao Panthulu for president and I contested against Neelam Sanjiva Reddy for the post of secretary. Of course, we were all the younger sections, and did not command an absolute majority. I remember they moved a resolution at the meeting expressing confidence in Gandhian struggles. We opposed the resolution on the grounds that Gandhi had failed twice and that there was no question of agreeing with his leadership. Ours was a sharp criticism. Naturally, we were defeated by an overwhelming majority. Later, Nageswara Rao Panthulu commented: “Now we have reached a stage where people can speak against Gandhi in our own Congress.” I said there was nothing wrong in speaking against Gandhi if he pursues a wrong line. In any case, we were very active and Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramaiah wanted to debar us from contesting the organisation elections. So in 1938, when they finally blocked us from contesting the polls, I told Pattabhi that he had no right to take such an action against me. I was a due congressman as anyone else and I had not done anything wrong. I had never disobeyed the party, so there was no basis for taking disciplinary action. I took my case to the Congress Working Committee of which Nehru and Netaji were the members. I argued that the action of the Andhra committee was illegal and goes against the Congress constitution. During that stand-off, The Indian Express interviewed Pattabhi Sitaramaiah. He was asked by the correspondent as to why action had been taken against Sundarayya. He replied that the action was not taken with the intention of sidelining Sundarayya in the party, but because he did not believe in non-violence. Then, the correspondent also approached me for my reaction. I gave a long explanation in a written form. I wrote: “The Congress’ creed is not non-violence. It has adopted non-violence as a policy to fight the British. I personally don’t believe in non-violent struggle and nobody should be debarred from contesting the organisational elections for holding his own beliefs. As long as one is in the Congress he has to be judged by his actions and whether he has stuck to the non-violent methods and policies. That’s all that is required. Though I have no faith in the Gandhian way of struggle, I have not done anything that one can question my loyalty to the party. As per the constitution of the party, I am entitled to be in the party and contest the organisation elections. Therefore, Pattabhi has no right to take action against me and that’s why I am appealing to the Working Committee.” Both the versions were published prominently.
There was a big debate in the Congress Working Committee on the issue. Gandhi said such people should not be allowed to continue in the party. Vallabh Bhai Patel and Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramaiah supported him. In fact, the whole controversy was there in the CWC itself because non-violence was not the creed of the Congress as such. Therefore, Netaji and others opposed the move to expel me from the party saying they too did not believe in non-violent as a creed; only as a policy they had accepted it. They questioned the decision to debar me on such a ground. Finally, I was allowed to stay back in the party. Of course, the CWC’s decision became a point of heated debate at all the levels in the Congress. As part of our activities within the Congress, we used to maintain good relations with leaders, especially Prakasam Panthulu and Bulusu Sambamurthy, who was by no means a radical. They were not in total conformity with the Gandhian creed of non-violence. For instance, when we advocated that the Congress should accept the collective affiliation of the mass organisations besides individual membership, Sambamurthy agreed with our proposal saying it would strengthen the party. It was a big sensation then that we were able to push through our proposal. Prakasam Panthulu was not present at the meeting where our proposal was adopted. When that proposal was taken for review at the next meeting, Prakasam strongly opposed it saying the party constitution allows only individual membership, but not collective affiliation. He commented: “Who are we to change the Congress constitution?” In fact, at the 1938 All India Congress Committee session I moved an amendment to the official resolution that Congress should accept the affiliation of mass organisations and that the party workers should actively campaign and organise the trade unions and kisan sabhas. Till such time, the Congress was opposed to organising separate unions. Their logic was: “When everybody is in the Congress, why should there be separate organisations for workers and peasants?” So, I moved that amendment motion with which the communist party did not agree. It said what I did at the AICC plenary was wrong. I asked the reason for saying so. They explained that if the Congress were to incorporate the mass organisations, it would become a leading force in the country and the communists would lose the initiative to act independently through the trade and peasant unions. I said the party should rest the matter there since the amendment motion had been disallowed by the Congress. Actually, I was forced to withdraw the amendment when Nehru and other socialist leaders in the party strongly protested such a line. Nehru thundered as to why such a proposal had been made at all and asked me to withdraw it. I agreed. However, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya contended there was nothing wrong in Sundarayya’s amendment. She said just because Nehru did not like the motion, it did not mean that the socialist leaders too should reject it. She termed their concurrence with Nehru as ridiculous. She expressed the view that if the Congress cadres were denied the opportunity to work with the mass organisations there was no way in which the ideology of socialism could be spread. Her outburst against the socialist leaders on their stand on the amendment motion reflected the general sentiment – among the Leftists in the Congress – against the authoritarian tendencies of the Congress leadership.
In 1939, there was a raging debate in the country on who should be the next president of the Indian National Congress. If I remember it correctly, Subhash Chandra Bose was elected unanimously at the Haripura session of the AICC the previous year. He stood up as a candidate for the second time in succession. Gandhi strongly opposed his candidature in the Congress Working Committee meet. Those who supported Gandhi’s view fielded Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramaiah against Bose. The whole episode became a point of dispute between the Left in the Congress and the Right. In Andhra, we mobilised support for Bose’s candidature notwithstanding the fact that the overwhelming majority of the AICC delegates favoured Bhogaraju. The 70-80 votes that we were able to garner from Andhra were crucial in giving a slender majority for Bose on the national scale. Prakasam Panthulu was not for Bose. He did not like his revolutionary approach. Besides, the candidate who stood up against him was none other than a leader from Andhra. By then, Bhogaraju had the distinction of penning The History of the Indian National Congress. In such a case, there was no reason for the Andhra leaders to oppose him.
We took a radically diverse line from that of the Andhra Committee. We said it was not the question of this or that leader, but of ideology and approach. We campaigned vigorously for Bose highlighting his radical line. Ultimately, when the results came, the Andhra Congress leaders mainly singled us out for the defeat of Bhogaraju. The margin of his defeat was very thin and they said that had we too voted for Bhogaraju he would have definitely won the presidential election. I can’t say the result would have been otherwise had the Andhra committee supported Bhogaraju totally. However, our bold stand was appreciated later by many Congress workers. They hailed us for sticking to our principles rather than get swayed by regional considerations.
I remember after the election of Bose, we invited Batleewala who was a prominent communist leader and a very effective speaker to tour various centres in Andhra and educate the cadres. He came and delivered speeches at different places. He was arrested by the Rajaji government for delivering a seditious speech at Venkatagiri in Nellore district. There was a big uproar over his arrest across the state. He did not deliver the speech against the Congress government, but against the British. The police foisted a stupid case and Rajaji endorsed it. We launched a massive agitation demanding to know from the government as what had prompted it into taking action against a leader who had only opposed the imperial rule. We said it was our right to preach sedition against the British. Later on, the case was withdrawn after obtaining some explanation. All our activities – right from organising the political classes at Kothapatnam and Manthenavaripalem to our work in the Congress Socialist Party, from our fight against Bhogaraju Pattabhi Sitaramaiah to organising various peasant struggles and the agitation over Batleewala’s arrest – gave a picture of Andhra as one of the strongholds for the emerging communist movement. Everybody understood that the communists were behind all those activities.
During the period between 1937 and 38 we were able to build a strong leadership for the Left movement in different districts of the state. In Rayalaseema districts too, Tarimella Nagi Reddy and their whole batch came into the communist fold in 1938. In Cuddapah, we had Eswar Reddy and Venkata Subbaiah, a teacher. We also had a small group of peasants in Alankhanipalle near Cuddapah. Similarly, we had contacts in Muddanur, Pulivendula and Jammalamadugu. In Chittoor district, we had supporters in Tirupati, Madanapalle, Puttur and Nagari even as early as 1939. My job was to go around all those places and build new contacts apart from the main political activities. LBG (Lavu Balagangadhara Rao) and MH (Moturu Hanumantharao) came over between 1937 and 38. MH was a student before he joined the party.
Another important aspect during the period was bringing out Navashakti. Even before the journal was launched, the banishment on comrade Ghate was lifted by the government in late 1936. So we asked him to come over to Madras and take charge of the party office. By then, H D Raja was editing The New Age, a monthly magazine. Of course, we were the main contributors to the magazine. He said he would hand over the responsibility of bringing out the magazine to us so he could go underground and organise the movement. So, Ghate became the editor of The New Age and in charge of the headquarters guiding the party and the trade union movement. From that time onwards, he used to take charge of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and I had the responsibility to guide the party in Andhra. That was how the work was divided between us. We would meet occasionally to coordinate the activities.
We brought out Navashakti somewhere towards the end of 1937 because Madduri Annapurnaiah, the Secretary of Andhra Congress Socialist Party wanted to run a weekly. We also felt the need for a journal to propagate the communist ideology. Comrade Chandram and Tummala Venkataramaiah were asked to go to Rajahmundry and help Annapurnaiah to bring out the weekly. Though the journal had the name of Annapurnaiah prominently, the main job of editing was done by Maddukuri Chandram. Earlier, Gadde Lingaiah used to bring out a paper called Prabha. He used to publish articles with a poor interpretation of the revolution. In one such article, they wrote that where poverty and starvation rule supreme revolution could be ushered in sooner. I immediately wrote a critical comment saying the article didn’t reflect Marxism or Leninism in any way. “Starvation and deprivation will definitely cause distress to people, but revolution will not spring up automatically from distress situations alone. We have to make the people more conscious before they could get ready for a revolutionary upsurge. The theory that more hunger and more poverty would naturally speed up the revolutionary processes is totally wrong. Instead of fighting for the betterment of the living conditions of the people you have taken an attitude that where the misery is more the chances of a revolution succeeding are brighter. It is a totally wrong conception. No body has said so. If the material conditions deteriorate, people will have no other go, except fight. Those people who are suffering will fight, but that does not mean that only more misery can consolidate the revolution.” After my criticism, they immediately corrected themselves. They knew that I was a party leader; they could not have ignored my views.
Similarly, I used to write critical comments on the articles published in Navashakti besides contributing columns regularly. I was entrusted with the responsibility of mobilising funds for The New Age and Navashakti. We had to face more problems to fund the weekly Navashakti than the monthly magazine of The New Age. The Andhra committee used to provide some funds, but whenever there was a major financial problem it was I who provided the money. I borrowed money mostly from my elder brother. He was more of a bank to me. He never said that he had given me more than what I was supposed to get. The whole share of Ramu’s property was also spent in the process. By 1939, Ram was left without any property, but he transformed into a communist by then and did not bother much about money. He was more attached to me and did not say ‘no’ to whatever I asked him to do. In fact, my elder brother gave him some Rs. 5,000 for setting up a clinic at Nellore. That way, we all three brothers had very cordial relations.
Later, we shifted the Navashakti press from Rajahmundry to Vijayawada where we rented out a building owned by Katragadda Madhusudhan Rao. The three-storey building was located opposite to the Ansari Park. The press was set in the ground floor, office in the first floor and the editorial on the second floor. We also had two small rooms for stay in the second floor. Madhusudhan Rao gave us the huge building on a nominal rent, so it was not a big problem for us to bear the other expenses. Chandram became the chief editor of Navashakti at Vijayawada. Apart from the various political articles and the editorial page, we used to give a two-page review of the international events, a two-page review of the national events and well-researched articles on the government policies in the weekly magazine. It was a very comprehensive journal in one way. I used to contribute a lot for that purpose. I was at the headquarters then. Everybody helped in bringing out the journal on time. We also brought out two special issues – one in November, 1938 and the other in 1939. The second issue was the Tripuri issue which focussed more on the lives of the revolutionaries and the development of the national movement. Both the issues were very much appreciated by the readers; we sold over 4,000 copies of them. The special issues were priced at four annas while the normal price was one anna.