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Mainstream, VOL LV No 49 New Delhi November 25, 2017

Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi

Sunday 26 November 2017, by SC


Among the ‘Young Turks’ who came into prominence during Indira Gandhi’s moves to rejuvenate the Congress after the party’s 1967 electoral debacle across the country, two were most noteworthy—one came from Kerala and the other from West Bengal: A.K. Antony and Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi. They were the two young Congress leaders who helped to revive the party in the two States known to be citadels of the Left. And they were assisted in large measure in that task by Indira Gandhi’s radical steps unveiled in 1971—bank nationalisation and abolition of the privy purse—besides the ringing call of Garibi Hatao (banish poverty) that electrified the entire country in those days.

Of course, there were other young leaders in the party at that time, outstanding among them being Vayalar Ravi (in Kerala) and Subrata Mukherjee and Saugata Roy (in West Bengal). But the prime figures in that period were Antony and Dasmunshi and both espoused causes that were progressive and aimed at changing the status quo, something close to Indira’s heart as she was engaged in a tough inner-party battle against the die-hard conservatives entrenched in what was known initially as the Syndicate and then, after the party split in 1969, Congress-O.

Times have changed but the idealism of those days has not waned. This was true of both. Antony remains an embodiment of a non-corrupt politician. As for Dasmunshi, he too was a Congress stalwart whose links with the masses at the grassroots never snapped. Till 2008 when he slipped into coma after a cardiac arrest (never to regain consciousness—he passed away at New Delhi’s Apollo Hospital on November 20, 2017), Priya Ranjan was a highly articulate outspoken Congressman deeply committed to national regeneration. And needless to say, he never wavered in upholding secular values, something rare indeed at a time when a communal gale is sweeping the country after the assumption to power of the Modi-Shah duo at the Centre.

Antony and Dasmunshi never sacrificed their principles. That is why they could not counte-nance the Emergency dispensation fashioned by Sanjay Gandhi. Both had to leave the parent party for a brief period at that time when others chose to stay on to enjoy the spoils of power forsaking dignity and values. Dasmunshi had not forgotten those days. Some 10-12 years ago, when one met him at a function in an embassy not only did he recognise this writer but also said in confidence: “I often think of those days and tell my wife that when Sanjay was victimising us—how Nikhilda stood by us as a rock through thick and thin braving all the odds.” The words came straight from the heart and one was moved beyond words.

Soon after I reached Moscow to work as an Indian correspondent of a daily newspaper there in January 1974, Priya Ranjan had come to attend a world youth conference in the Soviet capital. One cannot forget how he relished macher jhol at my place one afternoon while discussing the situation in India.

One has heard him in Parliament in the days when he was the Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs. Once when he was rebutting the Opposition’s arguments, he was asked what he had to say about the BJP’s standpoint. Without batting on eyelid he replied: “I have no time to waste in commenting on the views of those who were responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.” He spoke with such promptitude, boldness, frankness and conviction that his political opponents, that is, those for whom the words were specifically meant, were momentarily non-plussed.

But in general he had no enemies in the wide political arena. That in itself was a compliment and tribute to him. And this was reflected in the streams of people who came to offer their last respects to him after his demise. They included, apart from his colleagues in the Congress and erstwhile compatriots in the Trinamul, leaders of the Left of all hues among whom one saw a sprinkling of Naxalites against whom he had waged a bitter ideological struggle in his days as a student leader, that is, before he stepped into national politics in the Capital.

Priya Ranjan, wherever you are, you should rest assured that your memory will always evergreen in our mind, and your sense of optimism in the future will doubtless guide us in our stormy days ahead.


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