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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 25, June 14, 2014

On C. Rajeswara Rao’s birth centenary

Saturday 14 June 2014

Communist stalwart C. Rajeswara Rao’s birth centenary took place last week. While remembering CR on this occasion, we are publishing the following articles by the former CPI General Secretary and reproducing a piece on him recently written by a CPI functionary in New Age.

C. Rajeswara Rao, As I Knew Him

by A.B. Bardhan

June 6 is the centenary of Com C. Rajeswara Rao’s birth. This is an occasion to recall his contribution and his life.

There are many who knew Com CR more intimately than I, and can write more effectively about his role and contribution in the communist movement, in the Telangana and kisan struggles, in the cause of emancipation of our toiling poor from the bondage of rank exploitation, of poverty, ignorance, and disease. I should like to dwell on a few of his character traits as a man, a patriot, a senior colleague, and as a leader of the party, on the basis of what I had the privilege to observe from close quarters for over a decade.

Com CR had been the General Secretary of the CPI for 25 years, not counting the short period during the days of inner-party turmoil in the early fifties. Such a long period at the head of a party has its positive and negative impact both on the person who has been in that position, as well as on the movement, on the party itself. Time will be, when this would be objectively assessed while dealing with the history of the communist movement in India, and more specifically with that of the CPl. Right now, we are too close to the period in question, and to all the events and personalities connected therewith, to venture on any such assessment.

I am therefore putting down only a few impressions which have engraved themselves upon my mind through the years I happened to work closely with him, that is, after I was inducted into the Central Secretariat of the party in 1982, and moved to the party headquarters in Delhi. For a little less than 10 years, we shared the same floor in Ajoy Bhavan. I could thus see and encounter him frequently, both at work and leisure, in official and personal capacities.

The first impression one always got about CR was his ‘largeness’. He was a big, tall, muscular figure, deep chested and broad shouldered, with a large face and a strong square jaw. He looked straight at your face, and talked in a loud, ringing voice. But more than the largeness of his size, was the largeness of his heart. The hard, rugged exterior concealed within it a soft, warm heart, which ached for all suffering people, and evoked concern for all comrades in his immediate entourage. He would visit them in bed at home or in hospital if they were ill, and anxiously enquire about their health and well-being, and the help they required. I can never forget that when my wife was in deep coma for several weeks, he came all the way to Nagpur, and did not forget to ask me whether I needed any monetary help. He had come with the money, but I did not need it. For this act of kindness and sympathy, I was prepared to forget any real or imaginary hurt that I might have suffered at his hand. Unfortunately, not all leaders are so considerate and thoughtful.

One rare quality that he had as a leader was his unassuming self, his approachability and accessibility to all cadres and members,—not just in a physical sense, but more so, in a spiritual and comradely sense. He could find the time to sit down and talk for hours, with the Red Guards at the gate, with the sweeper boys and the canteen staff, with as much ease as he could talk with the office staff, with colleagues in the leadership, with leaders and acquain-tances from other parties. There was nothing condescending in his approach and outlook. He respected them as fellow-workers, and that in turn begot respect for him.

I have known several occasions when I, so much his junior, had sharp differences with him, and had to face rebuke from him. But the next morning, even before I was out of bed, he would come into my room and share news and pleasantries. The signal was clear, that there should be no lingering bitterness, and that today is another day for work. This was because he bore no malice towards anyone. To earn the right to talk about humanism, one has to be human oneself. And that goes more for a leader. It is small things in behaviour and social inter-course that mark out a man, and more parti-cularly, a leader of men.

Com CR had the modesty not to claim great ideological or theoretical pretensions, though he was at the top of the party. In fact, he took pride in his peasant stock and instinct, which was on several occasions more correct and nearer the truth, than theoretical conclusions and generali-sations. But that also made him rather partial to some who had perhaps little capacity to theorise and generalise, and to lend them his ears rather more often than they really deserved. This could lead to mistakes, and mistakes at the top when persisted can lead to serious blunders. After all, one cannot sweep under the carpet such a strategic and tactical blunder, as support to the Emergency, which the party committed under his leadership, or the failure to be in the Left Front in West Bengal in time, that is, before the election debacle overtook it.

A most outstanding characteristic of Com CR, was his intensely secular outlook, and his faith in the secular-democratic foundation of our Republic and its polity. He was therefore particularly harsh about the role and activities of the BJP and RSS and their several outfits, in spreading the communal poison, and under-mining our secular traditions. He had an over-whelming concern for the welfare and rights of the minorities in every shape and form. He shared the just apprehensions of the minorities, faced with an aggressive offensive from a militant ‘majority communalism’, which would stop at nothing. I should like to assert here, that this is the hallmark of a true secular democrat, in spirit and in action, rather than, the parrot-like assertion and narrow concept that democracy means the rule and domination of the majority. He had almost a physical revulsion against the preaching of communal hatred. Small wonder, that he was among the first to hear the alarm- bell when Advani and his cohorts started talking about ‘Mandir wahin banayenge’ after pulling down the Babri Masjid. Many leaders who call themselves secular showed total unconcern till it was too late. CR understood quite well that the ‘Masjid’ was a symbol, and that the call to destroy it was in effect a call for an all-out offensive against the minority community, against the secular foundations and traditions of India and its people and for imposing a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ on the debris. But he had the faith that the Indian people, and first and foremost the Hindus themselves have the inherent strength to prevent this. Let not the turmoil of the last few years make anyone forget that it was CR (and to give his due, Com Sarjoo Pandey, that son of the Purvanchal soil, in Uttar Pradesh) who first took up the gauntlet and urged the people to rally in defence of the minorities and their Masjid. He was the first to personally lead a march to Ayodhya to carry this message. Only the future would provide the answer. The last word has not been said as yet. But one thing for sure, the campaign against communa-lism and for upholding India’s secular traditions would remain as CR’s contribution to our history of struggle.

CR was a Communist, and therefore a true patriot, alive to the cause of India’s national unity and integrity. To him it was the most precious legacy, for without it, India’s independence and future development would have no base to stand upon. He sensed the dangers and tensions that were building up, threatening this national unity and integrity, in Kashmir, in Punjab, in Assam, in Manipur and so on. He was not satisfied with a mere superficial analysis of these problems. Too often, the superficial symptoms hide the deep-seated disease within the organism. CR therefore always tried to delve into the roots of these questions, which had assumed dangerous secessionist dimensions.

I saw him calling for books and spending time reading up on Sikh history and the classics of Sikhism, on the history and geography of Assam and its multi-ethnic population, on Hindu philosophy and mythology, and so on.

Political causes leading up to the demand for Khalistan by a small section could be seen and defined. But CR wanted to understand the Sikh psyche, which could make it possible even for an infinitesimally small section of a community, nurtured by the teachings of the great Gurus, to raise such a divisive slogan and resort to brutal terrorism in its name. He spent hours discussing these matters with Punjabi intellec-tuals and leaders—not only those in the party, but even more so, those who were outside the party. None had more sympathy and feeling than CR for some of their justified demands, and for the trauma that they experienced during and after the Delhi anti-Sikh riots. But even so.

It was the same with the Kashmir, Assam or Manipur insurgency problems. He extensively toured all these places, going into remote villages, even those which were athwart the boundary, to meet the common folk at the ‘sensitive areas’, so as to get the feel of the thing.

It was never enough for him to sit in offices, and hear party leaders speak about such matters. Even when he had crossed seventy, he did not lack the physical stamina, endurance or energy to do so, despite the asthma he suffered from. As days went by, Com CR became increasingly uneasy about the divisive forces that were raising their heads in the name of religion, caste, community, ethnicity and so on. He began to study the various religions, cultures, etc. which together make up India’s diversity in unity. Even the small, but industrious and significant Parsi community did not escape his attention. He was for ever seeking the underlying unity in all the different religions and cultures that have their roots in India, and impart to India its uniqueness and greatness.

With each passing day he became more and more convinced that Marxist thought had to he integrated with India’s rich social and cultural heritage, rejecting those that were obscurantist and reactionary and had outlived their time, but upholding everything that was progressive and humanist in content. It was his tragedy that by this time he had come to the end of his tether, and had little further to contribute in this sphere. It is a task he has left behind for others to pursue.

It requires no mention that CR was deeply involved in the problems of kisans and agricultural labourers. He had sprung from there, and had spent most of his life among these rural masses, struggling for their betterment, striving to organise them and motivate them for radical social transformation. Itis no exaggeration to say that, even as the General Secretary of the party, he must have covered thousands of miles during

padayatras

through far-flung villages, dressed as an ordinary peasant, dhoti upto his knees and a towel wound round his head, addressing small and big meetings, conversing with the landless and kisans.

Com Rajeswara Rao became the General Secretary when the CPI had split. This is not the place to recall the great debate, the contro-versies about the causes and consequences of this split in the Indian communist movement, with all the bitterness and rancour that accom-panied it and continue to haunt it through all these years. I remember when I had the occasion to accompany him in the first party delegation that went to China with the aim of restoring fraternal relations with the Chinese Communist Party, CR telling our Chinese comrades: “Let us forget the past and look forward to the future. The past is now a part of history.”

So also, in the case of the party split: History will give its verdict about the past. But if communist unity, naturally on a ‘principled basis’, is a desirable and necessary prerequisite for ‘looking forward to the future’, towards India’s salvation and socialism, then it is a matter of regret that the generation of leaders that was there at the time of the split has not been able to move effectively forward to reforge unity. It is for those whom CR has left behind to consummate the task, and look hopefully to the future.

Com CR: A Fearless Warrior of Indian Revolution

by P.K. Balakrishnan

Com Rajeswara Rao led the party as the General Secretary for more than two-and-a-half decades. His dynamic personality and deep under-standing of agrarian and other connected problems of different sections of the rural and urban populations helped him and other Secretariat members to come up with suitable solutions to solve the problems of the down-trodden and other weaker sections of our society. He had a very able good team of senior comrades as Central Secretariat members. They were all well-read comrades and had an authority on their subjects. They could argue the justifiable cases anywhere and convince people at any time.

Com Rajeswara Rao was not only a brave fighter, but also a very tough leader while implementing the accepted policies, but at the same time very sensitive to the sufferings of the weaker sections.

Whenever a struggle, either in the kisan front or khet mazdoor front, against fundamentalism, casteism, communal forces as well as the struggle of the tribal people for their rights were launched by the party he used to jump into the struggle and lead it. He used to say that the leaders themselves should set an example by directly involving themselves in the campaigns and struggles to inspire the cadres. Throughout his active life he kept this principle in his mind and carried it forward.

It is important to note that during the Babri Masjid demolition period he went to Ayodhya a number of times and organised and headed the struggle against the BJP, RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal and other communal forces. There were many such examples to cite.

He used to lead a very simple life, very few simple clothes and a chappal. Even these clothes used come from his wife Savitri Amma, she had little income from small landholdings. He used to stay in a room in 4, Windsor Place behind the parliamentary office of the CPI. Even in summer he had only a fan. An instance could be quoted here. In 1969, every one was waiting for CR in the party jeep outside the parlia-mentary office at 8.45 am to go to the Central Office at Asaf Ali Road. CR had not come out, he was late, so I went inside his room looking for him, and found that he was stitching his dhoti that was a little torn. He asked me to wait for five minutes; he had a few clothes only.

In that period the party used to buy an old military jeep from the Army and after repairing, it was used by us. Com S.V. Ghate was incharge of it, and he used to collect all the staff comrades and leaders from different places bringing them to the Central Office at Asaf Ali Road. Comrades used to call this jeep as GTS (Ghate Transport Service). Everybody used to travel in it together including the General Secretary.

He never used to spend money unnecessarily; he never used party money for his personal expenditure. He used to travel by train in ordinary classes and very rarely used to travel by plane. He was against spending party funds for air travel. For air travel he used a particular word “Hanuman khud”. He used to advice other comrades to avoid hanuman khud.

Those days, in the early seventies, even a Member of Parliament used to get only Rs 400 per month as salary and Rs 21 per day as sitting allowance. Train travel was free. Very limited air tickets. One more instance I want to write about Rajeswara Rao to explain his simplicity. As he was coming back from Punjab, he reached the ISBT (Inter-State Bus Terminal) at Kashmiri Gate in Delhi. He tried for a three-wheeler, but could find none. Finally he decided to walk up to Ajoy Bhavan. He carried the heavy luggage, walked all the way with it and reached Ajoy Bhavan (a distance of about eight kms)! This was Com Rajeswara Rao! Now Com Rajeswara Rao is no more, but his inspiring memory and legacy will live forever in our minds.

Com Rajeswara Rao toured the “Naxal-affected areas” in Sreekakulam district in Andhra Pradesh in 1970 alongwith the Andhra State CPI leaders—Sanku Apparao, Balaga Prasadarao, Abbaya Naidu, Darapu Govindarayulu and Chepara Chinnababu. They visited a number of villages to find out the real state of affairs of these areas.

The CPI delegation from Andhra prepared a report about the atrocities committed on people by the police in the name of suppressing the Naxalite movement, which was submitted to the Chief Minister. In New Age, he dealt with the collusion of the police with landlords and vested interests to implicate innocent people in false dacoity cases with the aim of bolstering up their own domination in the villages.

The virtual police raj that was clamped down in these areas, he said, was the main obstruction to restore normalcy in the district, though the Naxalite movement itself was on the wane.

In his article he says the following about Sreekakulam district: “Very few villages in the district are electrified....

“The condition of the tribal people is horrible. They have been put to more troubles because of the police repression. Their lands are illegally grabbed by the landlords. Even according to the RDO of Parvatipur, 5000 acres of fertile land belonging to the tribals in the taluk’s tribal area alone are in illegal possession of the landlords. It is true that the state government has passed an order that such land should be returned to the legal owners, but because of the abnormal conditions in the district, the tribal people are not able to benefit from the order....

“The utter backwardness of Sreekakulam district is one of the main reasons for the spread of the Naxalite movement in the district. The Central and State governments have to take special measures for its all-round development to lift the district from the present turmoil in which it has landed.”

(New Age, March 29, 1970)

In May 1970, Rajeswara Rao organised a Joint Action Committee consisting of the CPI, AIKS and BKMU for the purpose of an all India struggle for land occupation. This decision he himself announced at a press conference in May 1970. The members of the Action Committee were CR, Bhowani Sen, Dr Z.A. Ahmad, Khadagdhari Misra (President, BKMU), and Guru Prasad (General Secretary, BKMU).

Explaining the resolution to the press, CR said: “The situation was ripe for such a movement which could enforce land reforms that was though promised but never enforced by the government.”

Land Struggle

The land struggle organised by the CPI, AIKS and BKMU started in a big way in many places in the country. On May 25, 1970 Patna witnessed a massive two lakh demonstration of poor peasants and agricultural workers. They marched to the State Assembly to serve an ultimatum to the government for speedy implementation of radical land reforms or face a Statewide militant struggle for occupation of land. While the demonstrators were declaring their determination to fight for land, a nine-member delegation consisting of Com Yogendra Sharma, MP and member of the Central Secretariat, Jagannath Sarkar, Secretary, Bihar State Council, Sunil Mukherjee, leader of the CPI Legislative Party, Indradeep Sinha, Chandra Shekhar Singh, Khadagdhari Misra, Bhogendra Jha, MP, Kishori Prasanna Sinha and Bhola Prasad, President and Secretary respectively of the Bihar AIKS, and Ramavatar Shahstri, MP, met the Chief Minister Daroga Prasad Rai and submitted a charter of demands on land reform measures.

They told the CM that if he failed to meet their demands under pressure of the reactionary forces the peasants would be forced to adopt the path of struggle to protect their land and lives.

Com CR gave a special interview to India Press Agency (IPA) in January 1970, and said the following: “We urge upon the democratic forces within the Congress to unite with the Left and democratic parties outside willing to unite with them for the intensification of the mass movement for urgently needed democratic policies and concrete measures.

“The future of our country depends upon the left and democratic forces, who should unite, keeping the larger interests of our country and people at heart, setting aside petty prejudices and partisan considerations.

“The CPI is strongly of the opinion that the 4th Five Year Plan must be replaced by a new plan to give effect to the urges and expectations of the people. In order to make India advance along the path of economic development and self-reliance, the following measures are urgently needed:

* Nationalisation of foreign oil companies, export-import trade, foreign banks, drugs and pharmaceutical companies and tea plantations. Moratorium on debt repayments involving expenditure of foreign exchange, ban on repatriation of profits of foreign companies and ban on further collaboration agreements except where indigenous technology is not available.

* In order to remove the road blocks to radical reforms, right of property as a fundamental right must be removed from part-III of the Constitution. In order to curb the monopolies, the recommendations of the Dutt Committee for conversion of loans advanced by the public sector financial institutions and the government into equity and other anti-monopoly measures should be implemented. Nationali-sation of sugar mills and wholesale trade in foodgrains is urgently needed in order to tone up national economy.” (For full text see New Age, January 11, 1970)

Com Rajeswara Rao’s views on the Bhoodan Movement of Vinoba Bhave was as follows:

“In dealing with the problem of land distribution to agricultural workers and poor peasants, it is necessary to consider the bhoodan movement also became this movement is counter-posed to the militant movement of the toiling people for radical land reforms. Vinoba Bhave, the founder of the bhoodan movement called it a “non-violent revolution in land relations through which the landless people would get land by bringing about a change of heart on the part of the landlords.

“....The irony of the situation is that while the Congress had undivided sway over the whole country all these years, it did not use its monopoly of political power to give land to the tiller. It was putting up this into plan as a real alternative before the rural masses. Congress governments at the centre and in the states have spent crores of rupees to bolster up this movement. They have enacted bogus ceiling and tenancy legislations with all the loopholes for the landlords to escape their provisions. This is nothing but bourgeois trickery to fool the masses and divert their attention from militant agrarian struggles developing through-out the country”. As a matter of fact, the very origin of the bhoodan movement was in the famous anti-Nizam and anti-feudal peasant armed revolt in Telangana in the years of 1946 to 1952 led by the CPI.

“In the course of his tour in Telangana in those days of turmoil, on April 18, 1951 Vinobaji reached a village named Pochampalli on the border of Nalgonda district. There when he pleaded for the landless, one landlord Rama-chandra Reddy, who happens to be the brother-in-law of Ravi Narayan Reddy, one of the famous leaders of the Telangana armed struggle, offered him 100 acres. That was the birth of the bhoodan movement.

“Vinobaji threatened the landlords with a ‘bloody revolution’ of course, under the leadership of the communists, if they did not heed to his advice. He said “if land owning people do not part with land and a proper atmosphere for land reform legislation is not created, the third alternative would be bloody revolution. My attempt is to prevent such a violent development, and after my experience in Telangana and in UP I am convinced that peaceful methods can succeed. Land, like air, sun or water, is a free gift of god, and what I am asking for, on behalf of the landless, is no more than justice.”

“He also said, ‘Unless the existing social order, which is based upon inequality and conflict, is replaced by one founded on equality and mutual cooperation, these can be no salvation for mankind.’”

Here Rajeswara Rao says: “We are in full agreement with the above-stated sentiments, but we do not believe that land can be given to the landless or a social order based on ‘equality and mutual cooperation’ could be established through a change of heart of landlords and other blood-suckers as a class. Hearts of some individual landlords might change but not if the class as a whole.”

(New Age, January 25, 1970)

(Courtesy: New Age, March 9-15, 2014)