How Lenin Tried to Foment Communist Revolution in India

How Lenin Tried to Foment Communist Revolution in India

In the previous articles, we saw how in the middle of the nineteenth century as Russian imperial forces were capturing the Central Asia cities one by one, Britain got alarmed for India’s security. The resulting proxy war is called the Great Game. This first part of the Great Game ended in 1907 with the Anglo-Russian Convention in which the respective spheres of influence were carved.

The second Great Game started in 1914 with the start of the Great War. With Turkey fighting alongside Germany, a plan was hatched to raise the Muslims of the world and particularly India in a Holy Jihad against Britain and then to land Turko-Muslim forces in India via Persia and Afghanistan and thus liberating India for Islam. This was known as the Great Game Two. It came to an end in 1918 with the end of the Great War. Turkey and Germany lost and this threat could never be pressed on to its victory.

But as soon as the second Great Game ended, the third Great Game started. For far from abandoning the imperial goals of its imperial predecessors, the Bolsheviks immediately set upon creating an Empire for communism, led by Russia. The first step in this was to consolidate the Central Asian possessions of Imperial Russia. Britain, though war-weary, jumped upon this with alacrity and the third Great Game started.

It all started with the coming to power of the Bolsheviks in a coup in November 1917. Upon coming to power in Russia they immediately tore apart all the treaties that Imperial Russia had done with anyone, including the Anglo-Russian Convention mentioned above. Lenin soon proclaimed an unrelenting war against Britain as Britain was considered its number one enemy, the greatest obstacle in the ‘path to communism’. In a matter of minutes, communist Russia was once again a mortal enemy of British India and the war was on in Central Asia, for Lenin said about Britain: “It is in India that we must strike them hardest.” (Hopkirk 3)

And thus began the Great Game Three.

Jihad and Revolution in Central Asia

At first, it was all chaos in Central Asia. The fall of Imperial Russia was taken as a token for freedom for various Central Asian Khanates which had been merged into the Russian Empire a few decades back. But Lenin had no idea of letting one inch of territory go and very soon the Bolsheviks would come whipping the iron lash and with atrocities unheard of.

The British had no idea what was going on in Central Asia and so they sent two officers to Tashkent, which was to become the de-facto capital of the Soviet Union in Central Asia. While Russian central Asia was soon to fall victim to the communist brutality and an iron curtain was to fall in Central Asia, Chinese Turkestan was still comparatively free as China had a very tenuous hold on these territories and the communist revolution in China was still three decades away. Kashgar, the pre-eminent city of Eastern Turkestan resumed its former role as the primary listening post of the British under George Macartney who ran his affairs from the famous Chini Bagh in the city.

Another centre of British operations in this Great Game against Lenin’s Soviet Union was Mashhad in northern Iran. Earlier Persia had been divided between Russia and Britain for their ‘spheres of influence’, but ever since the collapse of Imperial Russia, Britain moved in to take over the Tsar’s part there too. Mashhad thus became another centre.

Aiming at India, Lenin had issued a call for making ‘revolution against your oppressors’ on December 7, 1917.

To have a hold on the unfolding events, Britain had dispatched some of its ablest officers in the Great Game including Tredwell, Brun and Hall but most importantly Colonel Bailey to Tashkent in the summer of 1918. The Revolution had come to Tashkent by which it was meant that Bolshevik soldiers had seized power and murdered Tsarist officials and anyone who objected to heart-rending brutality.

The British officers saw some of the cruelest blood-letting which was going on in Tashkent and various other central Asian cities. The Bolsheviks were strengthening their hold on these cities and executed anyone who seemed to oppose it. The counter-revolutionaries organized Jihad armies known as basmachis and they engaged in the same ferocious blood-letting on anyone who was not a Muslim or if he was supporting the Bolsheviks.

Colonel Bailey and General Malleson tried to support the counter-revolutionaries but the First World War ended soon and Malleson’s armies were recalled to Mashhad. Without him and with Bailey on the run, as the Bolsheviks were hunting him, Central Asian cities fell one by one to the Bolshevik rule. The White Russian armies fighting for restoring the Imperial Rule were fighting at various places in the vast Russian Empire but one by one they lost and with the withdrawal of British forces from near Tashkent, the communists finally consolidated their hold on the Central Asian countries. This communist rule was so paranoid and so totalitarian that nobody would even know what happened inside these Central Asian countries until the fall of the communist Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Colonel Bailey though in 1919 was still in circulation. He was roaming the Central Asian cities under many disguises. The Great Game for him was hotly in pursuit. But he gradually saw the Bolsheviks tightening screws on the gates of Central Asia. As the British army withdrew from Uzbekistan into Persia, all hopes of giving a tough fight to the Bolsheviks and pushing them back were lost. The former Great Game players were now one by one sneaking back into British India or neutral countries like Persia. Colonel Bailey did a picturesque escape. He somehow got recruited himself as a Bolshevik spy who was hired to catch himself! He pretended to be following Colonel Bailey into Persia and scuttled to safety.

Afghan Invasion of India Attempted

Meanwhile, former playgrounds of Great Game were once again heating up. The new king of Afghanistan Amanullah, spurred on by false reports of weak British forces in India, tried to invade India in May of 1919. This alarmed a lot of officers in British India but his ‘invasion’ was soon beaten back. Though Bolsheviks hadn’t directly helped Amanullah, they had raised his hopes and promised help. Lenin in a telegram congratulated Amanullah goading him with hopes that his destiny was “to unite all the enslaved Muslim peoples.” (Hopkirk 81)

Since this failed ‘invasion’, the British kept a constant eye on Afghan affairs, trying to prevent an Afghan-Bolshevik joint invasion of India. But in Soviet Central Asia, the gates were being shut by the Bolsheviks. The good old days of gentlemanly Great Game where spies could hope for human treatment upon being caught were long gone. The Bolsheviks killed before they spoke. An iron curtain fell in Central Asia.

The border ran from the Caucasus alongside the Caspian shore of Persia and then through Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and all through the border of Eastern Turkestan up till Mongolia. Eastern Turkestan though nominally in Chinese control was basically a free area where the British spies and agents kept working for the next three decades. Kashgar, the city just at the border with Soviet Russia became a great British outpost in Central Asia. After McCartney, it was Colonel Etherton who would become a name to reckon with as he single-handedly put up a fight against the Bolsheviks in Central Asia. In those days it was possible to do so in Kashgar. Its days of Red Terror were three decades away.

The famous Chini Bagh, functioning as the British Consulate in Kashgar became a rare oasis of anti-Bolshevik resistance in Central Asia under Colonel Etherton. He would help anyone fleeing Bolshevik persecution to sneak into Kashgar and from there to India and beyond. He ran a group of spies which was recruited from the great community of Hindu traders and merchants spread across the entire Eastern Turkestan. He single-handedly prevented the Bolsheviks from getting a foothold in Eastern Turkestan and saved it from Red Terror for many years.

Communist Party of India: A Puppet of Lenin and Soviet Union

Meanwhile, on March 2, 1919, Communist International (Comintern) had been created and fomenting revolutions all over the world against the established states and governments was its stated goal. And when communist revolutions in Western Europe failed, Lenin turned his attention to Asia and particularly India. India was their primary goal as it was still ruled by the British and its richest colony. The Great Game Three was heating on.

For fomenting a communist revolution in India, Lenin needed communist spies whom he could run from Moscow. And he soon found a perfect one who would betray not just the British but his own brother revolutionaries for communism. His name was Manabendra Nath Roy or M. N. Roy. Fleeing from British authorizes he had found a home in Mexico where he was found by Mikhail Borodin a Comintern operative and together they founded the first communist party outside Europe, the Communist Party of Mexico.

M. N. Roy was called to Moscow and given a private audience with Lenin who talked to him for some length. It was obvious that Lenin considered India a lynchpin in his plan of communist conquest of the world. M. N. Roy proved to be more than willing to do the bidding of his new communist masters in Moscow and was very glad to take Zinoviev as his new master. In the next meeting, he proved himself to be more fanatic than Lenin.

While Lenin argued that the Communist Party of India had not even been created by then, so the communists should take the benefit of the nationalist movements there and after dislodging the British they should then grab power from the nationalists too. But M. N. Roy argued that nationalists were to be avoided at all costs and any association with them was unthinkable. (Hopkirk 105-7) Differing with Lenin often resulted in death, but Lenin considered M. N. Roy so important in fomenting a communist revolution in India that his transgressions were forgiven:

“Roy enjoyed the patronage of the only man who counted, Lenin himself. While he had such support, he was inviolable. He was Lenin’s chosen Greenmantle. With luck, when the time was right, he might set the East ablaze for them.” (Hopkirk 114)

Communists Try to Wage Holy Jihad in India

It would be well to remember here that in Great Game Two Germany’s and Turkey’s ploy was to arouse the Muslims of the world in a Holy Jihad against Britain and all their enemies. As soon as the Great War and with the Great Game Two ended, the communists of Russia took the game forward. In September 1920 the Comintern invited Muslim representatives from twenty Muslim countries to Baku for a conference. They were exhorted to call Muslims to Holy Jihad the world over. Hopkirk says that Zinoviev, the second-in-command of Lenin himself led the conference:

“For it was Zinoviev, in a spellbinding opening oration, who had called on Muslims everywhere to join the jihad, or Holy War, against their imperialist oppressors. The delegates had responded with wild enthusiasm, it was reported from Baku, drawing their swords and brandishing their revolvers and echoing his call for the liberation of the East. The uproar had been such that Zinoviev was unable to continue for several minutes.” (Hopkirk 108)

Once again Holy Jihad was on the menu and this time, in Great Game Three it was the communists who were going after it. But they intended to use it as a tool to defeat their enemies. Their own Muslim colonies in Central Asia of course did not have a right to self-determination.

On the western front, the communist armies had lost badly and their invasion of Poland ended in disaster. Seizing upon this chance, M. N. Roy proposed an invasion of India from Central Asia. And this would be a Holy Jihad: “For Roy’s army would be recruited from disaffected Indian Muslims.” (Hopkirk 112) The invading army was appropriately called the “Army of God”.

For this, the support of King Amanullah was crucial, as it was through Afghanistan, once again, that India would be invaded but we have already seen that how the Afghan ‘invasion’ of India failed. In 1921 the Bolsheviks came to a trade agreement with the British and hence a direct plan of invasion was shelved for a later date and a long-term plan of indoctrination of Indians into communism was created.

To achieve this purpose, a University for the Toilers of the East was created.  The plan was to recruit communist leaders and indoctrinate them in the art of espionage and to become a professional revolutionary. They would infiltrate the nationalists in India and at right time would wage a civil war. taking advantage of this, they would then defeat the nationalists and then come to power. Though in India, they obviously failed, they did become successful in China later on, on precisely the same formula. (Hopkirk 163) A revolution in China was actually thought of as a stepping stone for a revolution in India.

Enver Pasha Tries a Final Jihad in Central Asia

The reader will remember Enver Pasha who tried to create a pan-Turkic Empire during the Great War and then led the Army of Islam against the Armenian Christians in the Caucasus and led to the genocide of Armenian Christians. After Turkey was defeated, he was called by Lenin to Moscow. Lenin was collecting madmen for it is here that Enver Pasha who had a pan-Islamic dream met M. N. Roy, the man who was more than willing to use Holy Jihad to attack India, under the tutelage of Lenin, the man who wanted to rule India by arousing the Muslims of Asia against the British in a Holy Jihad. Enver Pasha, always a dreamer, had this plan for Lenin:

“Enver’s proposal to Lenin, when it came, was breathtakingly simple. Though his prowess as both soldier and revolutionary, he would deliver British India to the Bolsheviks in exchange for their help in restoring him to power in Turkey, which by now was in the grip of one of his former colonels, Mustafa Pasha, better known today as Kemal Ataturk. Enver intended first to seize Chinese Turkestan and, having forcibly ejected the Chinese, to establish a Muslim republic there as a base. From there (and not from Afghanistan, as Roy proposed) a full-scale holy war would be launched against British India.” (Hopkirk 156)

But Lenin soon struck a deal with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was now the ruler of Turkey. Enver Pasha went to Central Asia on his own and tried to wage a Holy Jihad for the creation of a pan-Turkic state, but as was expected he died after putting up the fight for a few months, in 1922.

How Communists Infiltrated India

Meanwhile, in May 1923, Lord Curzon sent a very strict note to the Bolsheviks to stop meddling in Indian affairs and stop funding and arming Indian communists, giving away that the communists were doing that. In order to evade British eyes, the communists funded by the Soviet Union came up with a brilliant plan of dual parties:

“One would be legal and there for all to see. The other would be illegal and secret. The latter a small but active Communist cell – would operate from inside the legal party. It would be controlled by the Comintern, which meant Roy himself, and would consist of hard-core, Moscow-trained revolutionaries. The legal, or ‘front’ organization, would be called the Workers’ and Peasants’ Party. The Comintern-directed cell, which would be the real Indian Communist Party, would make full but covert use of the ‘front’ party’s nationwide organization and would recruit its most promising members.” (Hopkirk 176)

For speeding up the communist revolution in India, the Comintern fielded two British communists in India under disguise named Philip Spratt and Benjamin Bradley. They are generally credited by American historians as the ones who actually put the communist party on warpath in India. (Overstreet and Windmiller 179)

The Comintern actually saw the revolution in China and Eastern Turkestan as a stepping stone to the communist revolution in India. India, as always had been the greatest prize of all the Great Games. It was the primary goal in the First Great Game and Britain and Russia were fighting for it. It was the ultimate goal in Great Game Two and When Germany and Britain were fighting for it. And it was once again the primary target when the Soviet Union and Britain were fighting for it. And just like China is doing today, the Soviet Union was also trying a complete encirclement of India with communist states so that in the future a revolution in India can also be kicked off.

“An intelligence summary prepared by the Political Department of the India Office in the autumn of that year (1925), on land, by Bolshevised political entities’, and drew particular attention to the potential threat in Sinkiang.” (Hopkirk 185)

The British officers in Beijing, China’s capital in 1925 warned the British Indian government in India that the Bolsheviks were planning to infiltrate Sinkiang ‘in order to attack India from the north’. According to Lord Winterton, the Under-Secretary of India, this was by then the most serious of all Soviet and Russian efforts to infiltrate India and take control of it. Communists made such a serious attempt at seizing power in China that riots broke out in many cities of China in 1927, but the nationalists and the warlords came out on the top.

With Lenin dead and Stalin at the helm and the failure of the first great attempt at the communist revolution in China, M. N. Roy’s fortunes also declined and he fell out of favor of Stalin. In 1928 a Russian secret service officer defected to British authority in Persia and through him, it was confirmed that the Soviet Union was serious about a worldwide revolution and considered Britain to be the primary obstacle in that goal. But in order to defeat Britain, first India, its richest colony, had to be snatched from it. And thus a communist revolution in India was the most serious pursuit of the Comintern and the Soviet Union at that time.

In 1928 the British government arrested almost all the leadership of the Communist Party of India including M. N. Roy and tried them in the Meerut case. The communists were exposed well at that time.

In Xinjiang or Eastern Turkestan meanwhile, things were heating up. In 1930 a civil war broke out in Xinjiang with Muslim leader Ma Chung-yin at its helm. Ma Chung-yin was a fanatical Muslim who spread a reign of terror in Xinjiang starting from 1931 putting entire cities and towns of Central Asia to death by brutally butchering every last inhabitant who did not convert to Islam. Mass conversions to Islam followed his Islamic reign of terror. Seizing this opportunity, Stalin intervened with communist troops from the Soviet Union and saved Xinjiang from the Islamic terror of Ma. But in return, he practically overtook Xinjiang and turned it into a Soviet satellite.

When the Second World War started, the Soviet Union was an ally of Hitler. India once again was under great threat from invasion from the north, as all of Central Asia was now either directly Soviet territory or a Soviet puppet-like Xinjiang. Only Afghanistan was still in the British sphere of influence. But with a curious turn of events, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and as a result, Soviet Union became an ally of Britain and invasion of India was postponed.

Great Game Three

The story of how Indian communists worked for two years from 1939-1941, for Hitler and Stalin and tried to foment a communist revolution in India, is a well-known one and not to be repeated here. It was the nationalist elements in India and the alert British officer who prevented a communist takeover of India. But India became independent in 1947. The British left and with them the geo-political legacy that they espoused evaporated overnight. India under Nehru willingly became a Soviet satellite. How the Soviet Union and communists had infiltrated the highest offices of the Indian government is a story which I have told elsewhere in “Was Indira Gandhi a Soviet Agent?”.

In a way, Great Game Three did not end with the alliance of the Soviet Union and Britain in 1941. After India’s independence, it once again started but with a much weaker government in Delhi and with no geopolitical sense. In 1950, the communists took over China and unleashed a reign of terror unseen in the history of humankind.

That the communists could not take over India during the four decades of Indian independence from 1947-1990, despite full neglect and sometimes active encouragement from a socialist Congress government is a matter of great mystery. It seems that it was the inner strength of Sanatana Dharma and Hindu society which prevented the collusion of powers and the eventual coup by the communist powers. The Great Game Three ended with the fall of the Soviet Union when Central Asia once again became a backwater and with the gradual demise of the Congress party as a powerful political force in India.

But another Great Game started – the Great Game Four – for Great Games don’t seem to end. This time China was at the helm of it, and communism was once again a force to reckon with. How China overtook the derelict Central Asian Muslim countries and how it colonized Pakistan and various countries encircling India from almost every side is the matter of another Great Game series.


  1. Overstreet, Gene D. and Windmiller, Marshall. Communism in India. Berkeley, USA, 1959.
  2. Hopkirk, Peter. Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin’s Dream of an Empire in Asia. James Murray, 2006.
  3. Caroe, Olaf. Soviet Empire. The Turks of Central Asia and Stalinism. Macmillan, 1953.

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Pankaj Saxena

Pankaj Saxena is a scholar of History, Hindu Architecture and Literature. He has visited more than 400 sites of ancient Hindu temples and photographed the evidence. He has been writing articles, research papers and reviews in various print and online newspapers and magazines. He currently works as the Asst. Professor, Centre for Indic Studies, Indus University, Ahmedabad. He has authored three books so far. He maintains a blog at