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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 1

Remembering S.V. Ghate

Tuesday 25 December 2007, by P C Joshi *



The birth centenary of P.C. Joshi, the outstanding Communist leader and General Secretary of the CPI (1935-47), was observed this year (April 14). We reproduce here the following tribute he wrote in this journal following the death of S.V. Ghate in December 1970. Ghate, incidentally, was the first General Secretary of the CPI (1925). Ghate and Joshi were the most humane leaders the communist movement has produced till date.)]

Among us Communists it is real high honour to be classed as founder members of the Party. Only a few of them are alive and two of them have left us this November; K.N. Joglekar died in Bombay last week, and now S.V. Ghate.

As I watched the sad faces of the comrades assembled at 4 Windor Place, where his body was kept for us to pay our last homage and carry him to the crematorium, I realised that one common sentiment moved the bereaved lot, we had lost a most loved and deeply respected Elder of the big joint family that is our Communist Party.

It is not easy to command and keep for about four decades and half the love and respect of all those amidst whom you live and work and who get to know you inside out. Our departed comrade, S.V. Ghate, earned this distinction with natural ease.

The intellectual itch for the righteous course leads one inevitably to the study of Marxism and Leninism in our day. And this, with the heartache for our working folk leads one into the ranks of the Communist Party. The “good” in one takes him into the Communist Party. And if one goes on working for the Party as expected, the good survives, grows and goes on shining bright.

Comrade Ghate had no life apart from the Party. He lived in and for the Party. This kept him good-hearted all his life, endeared him to all Party members as a selfless comrade who made one feel good and strong.

As a student Communist I uttered Ghate’s name with awe. He was our first General Secretary. As far back as March 1929, I met him first inside the Meerut Jail where both of us, along with thirty others, had been taken to stand our trial in the Meerut Conspiracy Case.

Ghate stepped forward to greet me with: “Remember, you are the youngest!”

His hearty grin gave me the boldness to quip back: “I may be the youngest, but you are the smallest!” He was almost dwarfish in size and slight of built.

Ghate gave one big laugh and sallied out: “You may be young but you are cheeky all right. Come, let us make friends!” And we did.

Our friendship got seasoned in the five long years of life together in the Meerut Jail. It began with Ghate every day giving me a good part of his tea. We got one big mugful each, and no more. It was not enough for me. Ghate with his small stomach had a surplus.

He would egg me on to swallow my tea fast and make room for him to pour some from his mug. Other comrades made rollicking fun of my having to gulp it while too hot and Ghate grumbling that his tea was getting cold. Our tea partnership survived through the years.

We came together in other endearing ways as well. I did all the donkey work demanded of a youngster; making notes for the lawyers, doing the report of the day’s proceedings for the press, organising the smuggling of comrades’ letters to and from, with most of them coming from outside the province.

I found time hanging heavy and felt bored. Ghate also felt no less bored. He had an irrepressible sense of humour. We ganged up to bring out a daily manuscript bulletin which we named Arcom. We made fun of the judge and the prosecution side, and we did not spare our comrades either. Not unoften we were hauled up before the Party group by our humourless victims and charged with impermissible flippancy, or even voicing anti-Party sentiments. Ghate would sit grinning at the accusers and sometimes get provoked to state: “Ban it, like the British!”

My young and innocent looks sufficed as our joint self-defence, though sometimes I had to indulge in cheeky advocacy. It is not always amidst smiles that we got away. We got duly reprimanded sometimes. The meeting over, Ghate would get at the comrade who was sore and had taken offence, shake his hand, and say how silly he was! How could anyone take anything amiss from such a comrade.

By the time Ghate got released, I was in jail a second time. He settled down in Madras and did the pioneering work of a Party organiser. He had a big hand in bringing Namboodiripad, Ramamurthy, Sundarayya and the rest of the founders of the Party in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra into the Party. He put them through their paces.

After the Party attained legality, we summoned him to the Party Headquarters to act as the Party Treasurer. In Meerut, as joint editor of the Arcom, I had seen his hilariours side. Now, when I was the General Secretary, I saw his tough side acting the Party Treasurer.

Not unoften and sometimes with justification he would attack what he called my “thoughtless generosity” and refuse to sanction the amount demanded.

But it was not smooth-sailing all the time. Sometimes Ghate would dig in and demand a formal mandate from the Polit-Bureau. I held the PB meeting and got the needed sanction, but no mandate was ever issued. Dr Adhikari’s dictum was that mandates were not given to one like Ghate. To the extent that there is a system and order in our Party budget, it is Ghate’s contribution.

After suffering some knocks, I was back in the leadership and working in the Party Headquarters. Inner-Party differences cried aloud for solution. Ghate thought I had gone politically too Right, while I thought he was sticking to Leftism; organisa-tionally, he thought I was going anarchist, while I thought his ideas were bureaucratic. These differences caused tension but no breach in our friendship. Ghate was the type with whom one could not but remain friendly.

After our passionate discussion during which Ghate would forget all about my bad heart, he would come back to my room looking very concerned to tell me lovingly not to neglect the doctor’s advice, and to break up my work and take rest. I would grunt my “yes”, without which he would not leave, and go on working. After a while he would come back and shout: “Are you going to go up and rest or I summon the Red Guard to remove you bodily?”

My heart went on worsening. Comrade Ghate conspired with the Party leaders concerned, as also with my wife and the family, and succeeded in sending me abroad for enforced rest and the needed treatment. If I am yet alive, how can I forget that Ghate did his best to ensure it despite all our tense and deep differences.

At the time of his death, Ghate was not only the Party Treasurer but also the Chairman of the Control Commission, something like the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, on matters of Party discipline, breach by individuals or units of the organisational principles of the Party. Ghate was the type who was elected from one Party Congress to another to this office of trust and authority.

His last ambition was to build the Ajoy Bhavan and leave behind a building worthy of Party Headquarters. He surmounted all difficulties and began the good work, only to die before its completion.

Ghate is no more. He has left behind a bit of him inside everyone who knew him or had heard of him. He was such a loyal and active Communist that it made him so good and unforgettable.
(Mainstream, December 5, 1970)

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