Tuesday, June 21, 2011

He fought to be British MP while in Indian jail

Decades after Dadabhai Naoroji was elected as the first Asian MP to the House of Commons, another Indian stood for elections while lodged in a jail in India. Naoroji was assisted by, among others, Jinnah in his successful campaign while Shaukat Usmani had the support of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Usmani, one of the founding members of the Communist Party of India, was arrested in the Kanpur conspiracy case and the Meerut Conspiracy case. While the masses were with Gandhi and the Congress party to overthrow the Britishers, the Kanpur and the Meerut conspiracy cases brought the communist agenda and their ideas in the public domain. People discovered the communist ideology and their revolutionary plans.
In March 1929, Usmani was arrested along with some other Communists in the Meerut Conspiracy case. It was just a way for the British goverment to lay their hands on the Communists who were giving severe headaches to the administration. During the trial the Communist Party of Great Britain decided to field Usmani as their candidate for the general election held that year. He stood against Sir John Simon from the constituency of Spen Valley.

This was a clever move on the part of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It got the much needed publicity to the British misrule in India and the Meerut conspiracy case in particular. Sir John Simon was the same person who later came to India in 1930 as head of the Simon Commission.
The British government was in no
mood to let the off the comrades easily. The Meerut conspiracy case dragged on and during the 1931 British general election, Usmani's name was again put forward. He was still in jail when communists from all over Britiain converged in London to campaign for him. This time he was the candidate for the St Pancras South East constituency (now abolished). His main opponent was Sir Alfred Beit, who was a millionaire. Usmani lost again.

It was purely on ideological gro
unds that the Communist Party of Great Britain decided to field Usmani for elections to the House of Commons while he himself was miles away in a nondescript cell in India. Interestingly, V K Krishna Menon fought elections and became the Labour councillor from the borough of St Pancras a year later.

On the directions of M N Roy, Usmani became active in Kanpur and Benares where he had to work to make a base for the communists. He had widely travelled and had taken part in the Russian civil war in 1920. He also wrote few books. One of them is attractively titled Peshawar to Moscow: Leaves from an Indian Muhajireen's diary and was published as early as 1927. Most of his books are now out of circulation.

I do not know Usmani's date of birth but it is widely believed that he was born in 1901 in Bikaner where his father Bahauddin was a stonecutter. His real name was Maula Baksh but being an ardent admirer of Maulana Shaukat Ali he changed his name to Shaukat Usmani. He had left India during the Hijrat movement and came under the influence of M N Roy.

Shaukat Usmani died in 1978 unsung and unnoticed like many of his ilk.