I've been looking for this book for decades and I've finally found a copy!
Philip Spratt was a British communist, a Cambridge graduate, who in the 1920s headed out to India on behalf of the party. He was - along with Ben Bradley and Lester Hutchinson and most of the local leadership of the CPI - a defendant in the notorious Meerut conspiracy trial. After his eventual release from jail in 1936 Spratt made his life in India, marrying an Indian woman.
This political biography was published in Calcutta in 1955, by which time Spratt had broken with the CP and indeed was fiercely critical of communism. But it promises to be a really fascinating read. It's exceptionally rare and I am delighted to have alighted on a copy.
I was asked this week to write a brief, informal piece for a global audience about how the Kashmir conflict began in 1947 ... by the time the news organisation had decided that this didn't quite meet their purpose, the piece was written. It's posted below:
When I first arrived in Delhi as a correspondent – quite a while back – an old school Indian official promptly made contact. He was a ‘spin doctor’ of sorts – trying to persuade foreign journalists of the merits of India’s stand on Kashmir.
He took me out to lunch. ‘You see’, he explained with the sort of smile the knowing bestow on the innocent, ‘if you want to really understand what's been happening you have to know how the Kashmir conflict started - back in the autumn of 1947 …’ As we were sipping coffee about an hour or so later, he’d got as far … as the spring of 1948.
The history of the Kashmir conflict is complex – deeply contested – and both India and Pakistan give the impression that if they can demonstrate that they were ‘right’ back in 1947 then it follows that their claim to Kashmir is also beyond question.
That’s not quite the way the world works. But it’s true that you can’t really get to grips with a conflict unless you have a grasp of how it started.
During British rule in India, Kashmir had its own prince or maharajah. The princely family were Hindus; most of their citizens, Muslims. When the British pulled out in 1947, and rather messily carved up the region into the independent nations of India and Pakistan, Kashmir - stretching from the Punjab plains to the high mountain ranges - was caught between the two; it was up to the maharajah to decide which state to join.
He was more interested in hunting and polo than in politics – and he hoped that if he kept quiet, Kashmir might be able to become independent. He sometimes talked of Kashmir as a Switzerland of the East –mountainous, peaceful and politically non-aligned.
Two months after the end of the British Raj, Kashmir’s fate was still undecided. From Pakistan, a fighting force of tribesmen invaded Kashmir. The maharajah fled, signing up to India as he did so. Indian troops were flown in and the invaders repulsed.
India’s claim on Kashmir is that its princely ruler opted for India – and that in doing so he had the support, at the time, of the commanding Kashmiri political figure, Sheikh Abdullah. All that’s true.
Pakistan insists that the logic of Partition was that adjoining Muslim majority areas should become part of their new, explicitly Muslim nation. And that language, geography and trade tied the Kashmir valley more to Pakistan. They also argue that India’s pledge to allow Kashmiris self-determination has never been honoured. All that’s true too.
By the spring of 1948, Indian and Pakistani troops were at war in Kashmir – the United Nations got involved – the area was informally divided between the two countries, and has been ever since. Both continue to claim all of the sprawling former princely state. Though the active dispute is about just one part of it - the Kashmir valley, the crucible of Kashmiri culture, with a current population of about seven million.
So I've now got about as far as that Indian spin doctor when he introduced me to the origins of the conflict. An awful lot has happened since 1948, of course, but Kashmir has never escapade the legacy of that turbulence almost seventy years ago.
Walking through Marylebone this afternoon, I came upon this plaque which I don't think I've noticed before. It's on the northern end of Marylebone High Street, near the junction with Marylebone Road. And a rare reminder of that sinister place name - Tyburn.
Tyburn was London's principal place of execution - both beheadings and hangings - and continued as such right down until 1783. Among those who met their end here were the pretender Perkin Warbeck ... Oliver Cromwell (executed posthumously - no, it doesn't bear thinking about!) ... and 'gentleman' Jack Sheppard. Hogarth's 'Idle 'Prentice also came to a sticky end at Tyburn. But as well as Tyburn Tree and the gallows, not too far from where Marble Arch now stands, there was also this royal hunting lodge which, to judge from the plaque, outlasted the execution spot. Tyburn was the name of a manor within St Marylebone. But nowadays, the term has fallen into disuse - one of those localities whose name is lost to history.
From this happy hunting ground, I headed north through the Crown estate to Regent's Park,passing on the way this happy remnant of the Georgian era
And in the park's English Garden - where better - a newly-married couple were getting their photo taken - the bride so all-in-white that my mobile phone couldn't quite cope ... it's as if she has been excised from the picture.
It was a Muslim wedding, with a Muslim woman photographer. The groom is posing as he kisses his bride's hand, and she is leaning away as if swooning at this display of romance. I wasn't the only passer-by whose attention was caught by the scene - and if you are reading this, bride or groom, wishing you every happiness!
This was the Big Issue of its day - a cheap handbill, printed on tissue with a couple of poems about hardship. It's entitled 'The Address of Unemployed Workmen' and the bottom reads: 'Kind Friends, - It is with feelings of the deepest regret that we are at present compelled, for the support of ourselves and families, to offer these few but simple verses to your notice. trusting at the same time that you will be pleased to purchase this paper, it being the only means at present to support the tender thread of our existence, and keep us and our families from that utter starvation which at present surrounds us.'
A penny - pre-decimal, so less then half-a-penny by today's coinage - was sought from passers-by.
And the printers, Such, had a reputation for printing broadside ballads - most rather more imposing than this - and were most active between 1863 and 1885.
If you are interested in how the Anti-Corn Law League, a few decades earlier, had made use of images of distress in it propaganda, have a look at my blog here.
A great piece of political ephemera - a membership card of the pioneering, and arguably most successful, of middle-class pressure groups, the Anti-Corn Law League. In 1846, Peel's government repealed the corn laws - the 'taxes on bread' - and so divided the Conservative party and made the most important single move towards free trade.
The corn law repeal - as generations of sixth formers have discussed endlessly - was arguably more about a tussle between the landed and manufacturing interests than achieving a cheap loaf. And in as much as it was about more affordable bread, then that was perhaps to allow industrialists to cut wages rather than about improving the lot of the labouring poor, the sort of people depicted (rather theatrically) on the League's membership card.
But as a memento of the embattled 1840s, it doesn't get better than this slender piece of card.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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