Those who were connected with the communist movement in the 1940’s argued that India did not gain independence in 1947; rather the British colonialists handed over power to their native representatives. This “faith-based” belief (like religion) was partly shaken not by any analysis by the leaders of the Communist Party of India (CPI) but rather by a cursory note in the January 27, 1950 issue of the Comintern journal "For a Lasting Peace and People’s Democracy".
The message underlying this note was understood differently by two divergent sections of the party. The then CPI General Secretary, Ajoy Ghosh pointed out: "None of us is clear what the Lasting Peace editorial means. If anybody claims he is correct, it is arrogance on his part." Notwithstanding these reservations, the Lasting Peace article suggested, even if vaguely, that the Indian ruling class can, in principle, play an anti-imperialist or independent role; this went against the official position of CPI at that time. It may be argued that this article sowed the seeds of the division which ultimately resulted in the unfortunate split of CPI into CPI and CPI (Marxist) in 1964. The 1967 Naxalbari uprising and the encouragement provided to this event by another foreign party, in this instance the Chinese Communist Party, led to further splits and to the formation of CPI (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969. CPI (ML) in its analysis declared India to be a semi-colony and this idea seems to have taken root in a section of the Indian left.
What does a country being a semi-colony mean? Because colonialism is characterized by total economic and political control of a country or region by the imperialist ruler, there must be some downgrading of this control in a semi-colony. However, it appears that in the views of some Indian leftists, the principal aspect of semi-colony is “colony” and not the “semi”. Pre-liberation China was essentially a colony but not as directly ruled by one power as India. Is post-1947 India like pre-1949 China? In his bold defense in the "Hyderabad Conspiracy Case" in 1972, the veteran communist leader, the late T. Nagi Reddy (India Mortgaged, Victory Press, Vijaywada, 1978) attempted to establish this by presenting data on the extensive financial and political control of India by the US and USSR (which had turned social imperialist, according to him and many of us, by this time, i.e., 1970s).
However, the presence of foreign capital by itself does not make a country a semi-colony; if this were so almost every country, including the US, will arrive at the status of a semi-colony. Indeed countries like Cuba, by no means a semi-colony, are craving for foreign investments and constantly complaining about the US sanctions against such investment.
It may be assumed that a country which is a semi-colony primarily functions in the interest of its imperialist masters at the cost of its national interests as was true for Chiang Kai Shek’s China. Is this what India is doing? And is India’s foreign policy geared to serve foreign powers, especially the US? It is pathetic to hear that those who trumpeted the subservience (the author included) of India through the years are now saying that the US-India nuclear deal will compromise the traditionally independent foreign policy of India. It would be more prudent to say that the nuclear deal merely proves that the analysis of India being a semi-colony has been incorrect all along. So nothing spectacular has happened.
The US-India nuclear deal, which might not even materialize, has caused a furor in Indian left circles, which contend that by agreeing to this deal India has surrendered its sovereignty and independent fgn policy. In Marxist terms, there are only two ways to examine the foreign policy of any country - either it is based on proletarian internationalism or it is based on the national interest. One can argue that neither the policy of the pre-Khrushchev Soviet Union nor of pre-Deng Tsiao Peng China was based on proletarian internationalism. Stalin signed a pact with Hitler based (putatively) on the USSR national interest and then gave a call for a United Front against fascism once Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union became imminent; the motive did not change.
The thaw in Sino-US relations leading to the hearty welcome of Nixon and Kissinger occurred during Mao Zedong’s time. So what has stood the test of time is that all countries follow a policy in their national interest. And the Indo-US nuclear deal is just another instance of two countries agreeing to a deal, both in their own national interests; at its worst, the nuclear deal, if it occurs, might place some constraints on India’s nuclear bomb program.
This does not mean that the perception and analysis of national interest by current political leaders always proves correct. It is very likely that India has much to gain by building ties with Iran than by signing a deal with the US. It is also possible that India thinks a nuclear Iran is not in its national interest. On the other hand, the US is a major economic and military power and it is possible that maintaining a viable nuclear energy option is in India’s national interest.
The Indian Prime Minister has declared from Red Fort that India will never surrender its sovereignty. Why should he be less trustworthy than the left? Why shouldn’t India sign a deal with the US if it is in its national interest? So the debate could be whether or not the deal benefits India or not rather than on the fancy assumption that India has sold itself to a marauding and aggressive imperial power. The Indian left specializes in tackling non-issues and ignoring real issues of concern to the marginalized and deprived masses. The US-India nuclear deal provides another occasion to the left to launch into this diversion.