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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 51, December 11, 2010

A Non-Communist’s Salutations to Jagannath Sarkar

Sunday 12 December 2010, by Shree Shankar Sharan


[Many Streams: Selected Essays by Jagannath Sarkar and Reminiscing Sketches was brought out last April in Patna to honour the veteran Communist leader of Bihar, Jagannath Sarkar. The author, who knew Jagannath Sarkar quite well, went through the publication and sent the following article for Mainstream. —Editor[

This is not a review of the charming collection of essays by Jagannath Sarkar and his admirers but a tribute to Jagannathda, a gentle colossus, made brief by a severe constraint of time forced by my wife’s surgery.

I have had the good fortune and pleasure of knowing at least two of the founding figures of Bihar Communist Party, the Jagannathda and Chandra Shekhar Singh of whom of late I had come in closer contact with Jagannathda. Not being in the communist circles and influenced by the strong indictment of Communists by books like Arthr Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and British socialist leaders like Harold Laski and G.D.H. Cole, as well as the Gandhian breeze blowing through India and Gandhi’s brave soldiers, who included members of my family as well as Jayaprakash Narayan’s magnetism, I would feel sorry for the sefless Indian Communists who refused to join the historic and revolutionary forces that had been released by the Indian genius and shaken the world. JP’s endeavours to have a popular front with the Communists which crashed at the time of the Second World War or the delayed founding of a Communist Party in Bihar because of their shared beliefs with the Congress Socialist Party all seemed a mistake or misjudgment by the Communists.

THE history of the last 60 years bears testimony to the serious mistakes of strategy or historical analysis made not just by Communists but also by other political forces. Again, ideological shortfall has been a common failure of all political actors and parties and the blame should not be pinned on any single quarter.
In these disappointing decades individual Communist leaders have shone forth brightly. One of them surely is Jagannath Sarkar. He was as much a Marxian as a humanist of great depth which showed up in his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru but sadly not for Jayaprakash Narayan who raised the first mass movement in India after Gandhi. Wisdom lay in joining the movement and pushing progressive ideas rather than Rightist leaders taking it away from progressive forces. Had JP been in good health he would have given the simmering movement a new energy and ideas that inspired his joining the bhoodan movement. The support to Mrs Gandhi and the Emergency and the Blue- star Operation proved the mistake of the Communists supporting her.

But these questions apart, Jagannathda’s admirable organising ability, his intellectual rigour, his erudition and his passion for thoroughness that speak through each of his essays are enough reason to honour him. His defence of secularism has been brilliantly written, and so have his ideas on the caste system and caste politics. His appreciation of the Karpoori Thakur formula of reservation, though critical of the Janata Government, shows his historical objectivity. So did his reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union and his disapproval of Left extremism. His dreams about the poor and propertyless which he held with such passion will come true albeit by the democratic process; it will take time to come since it has been started on the social front and made strides.

My salutation to this great activist and scholar, a worthy nephew of a worthy uncle—the famous historian, Sir Jadunath Sarkar.

Shree Shankar Sharan is a Patna-Delhi based social activist and political commentator.

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