Struggle, Solidarity, and Secession: Left Politics in South Asia and Its Diasporas in the 20th Century

AHA Session 173
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 5
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Mile High Ballroom 1B (Colorado Convention Center, Ballroom Level)
Subho Basu, McGill University
Subho Basu, McGill University

Session Abstract

This panel proposes to investigate political developments within Left movements of the twentieth century in South Asia through the overlap of local and global lens. Starting with the turbulent post depression decade in India and greater Indian diaspora in the Indian Ocean, this panel engages with the politics of socialism, communism and trade unionism in order to explore the transformative capacities and limitations of such movements. Further, this panel moves beyond the historic dividing line of 1947 in order to depict how the global dimensions of the Soviet-Indian dialogue affected the processes of foreign policy making in the Cold War era. The final paper of the panel discusses the environmental dimension to the resistance movements and Left politics in dismantling of a postcolonial nation-state. By combining insights from labor, intellectual, diplomatic and environmental histories, this panel offers a wider portrayal of different aspects of the Left movements and politics in the South Asian national and diasporic contexts. This panel explores the unexplored moments in South Asian history across various temporalities to capture the wider kaleidoscope of Left movements. 

Each paper in this panel reexamines the conventional narratives associated with distinct historical moments. Most importantly, the scale of political intervention based on ideology is the key intervention addressed in the individual papers. The juxtaposition of colonial and post-colonial period provides a unique lens through which the scale of political intervention is ascertained. Yoshina Hurgobin’s paper discusses the August 1937 strike in several sugar estates in Mauritius following a clash between estate managers and casual workers. Through this episode, the paper ties the global economic depression to the control of social wealth and the formation and new class relations in Mauritius.  Focusing on India’s United Front between 1934 and 1939, William Kuracina’s paper affords unique insights into the meanings of unity during the colonial period. The experiment of unity between the socialists and communists was a global intervention to facilitate national and international ideological unity. Sukhjit Chohan’s paper interrogates a distinct event in India’s postcolonial history: Nikita Khrushchev’s visit to India in 1955. The paper argues that the Indian elite’s favorable reaction to the visit was to secure Soviet support for India’s political and economic future. Thus the international reasons for Khrushchev’s visit were seized upon by the local elites.  Kuracina and Chohan, thus, discuss two distinct political moments in which the Indian political actors modified and appropriated the international visions of Left ideology. Sravani Biswas’ paper examines the environmental dimension to the political crisis in East Pakistan in 1970. The paper discusses the Bhola Cyclone and the ways in which the 'natural' disaster transcended national boundaries, and affected the rhetoric of the political actors of the moment.

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