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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 29, New Delhi, July 4, 2020

Tribute to Jolly Mohan Kaul | Sankar Ray

Saturday 4 July 2020, by Sankar Ray


Jolly Mohan Kaul who ceased to breathe on 29 June 2020 with less than three months to set his foot in his 100th year of life could be described in the briefest way as one who never ceased to dream of a society of working people in a profoundly humanitarian life and livelihood irrespective of caste, religion, creed and nationality. Which was he was deeply concerned about the planet earth where the life support system is increasingly threatened by climate change and global warming. He looked forward to political parties and their mass fronts, especially trade union movement to expand their commitment to reversal of global warming whose relationship with climate change is significant. His domain was trade union movement and class struggle but he was more worried about the environmental degradation that is a big question-mark on the existence of mankind due to perishing flora and fauna,

But environmental issues were not the principal concern for Jollyda who for several years was the conscience-keeper for many of us over several decades. When he chose to be a whole time political functionary and theoretically committed to scientific socialism, he plunged into trade unionism wholeheartedly, He reposed faith unflinchingly to the working class and toilers unto the last. He believed in what can be called as humanism. One of his last talks was on the state of trade union movement and its crisis in India in 2011 when the internationally renowned Marx scholar Paresh Chattopadhyay had come to Calcutta and delivered a two-day talk on Marx and new research and revelations on Marx and Engels at the International Centre, Calcutta. Ever since he was at the head of the historic 87-day strike (beginning in February 1947) of port and dock workers for raising their wage (a worker receiving unbelievably low wage of Rs15 a month), he believed that the working people are by their nature against communal divide. He was the general secretary, Calcutta Port Trust Employees’ Association, one of the largest unions of workers in Calcutta and around He had elaborately narrated in an interview with Andrew Whitehead in April 1997 when he was un his 76th year. And the strike took place when he was 25-plus. The interview (video) is preserved at the SOAS University, London (Partition Voices: Jolly Mohan Kaul - He remembered the general strike on 29 July 1946. “There was a general strike on 29 July 1946, probably the first general strike in India…The entire working class was completely united”. Within three weeks thereafter, there was the Direct Action Day, at the call of the president, All India Muslim League, Mohammad Ali Jinnah on 16 August 1946. Jollyda stated firmly that the workers did not participate in communal riots. Rather ‘they prevented clashes between Hindus and Muslims’. And this happened when there was a communal divide in national politics. On the Direct Action Day, port and dock workers decided to go to the Calcutta Maidan to campaign for communal harmony but the communal frenzy was so intense that the workers had to give up the plan. Recalled the septuagenarian man, ’We got to the Maidan but by the time we reached the Maidan, we realised that the riots had broken out. We found dead bodies on the way, so we immediately folded our flags and told the workers: let’s march back, let us try to see if we can save our locality from the riots at least” And they did it successfully to ‘maintain the solidarity of Hindu and Muslim workers.’

But Jolly Kaul was a man of colure. Along with Debabrata Bose, son of Prof Debendra Mohan Bose, a physicist and director, Bose Institute and nephew of Jagadish Chandra Bose, FRS, Jollyda led the Youth Cultural Institute (YCI) in 1940. He wrote several lyrics for mass singing, one of which was ‘Mazdoor mazdoor mazdoor hyay hum [We are Workers], set to a song by Nikhil Sen. YCI was the first step towards not only the Indian Peoples Theatre Association and Progressive Writers Association in Bengal. A cultural historian and one of the top leaders of IPTA, Chinmohan Sehanabis wrote on the historic 46 Dharmatala Street (now Lenin Sarani): the story of No 46 began with the YCI which, in 1941, shifted from Kent House on P-33 Mission Row Extension to the second floor of No. 46. Many of the YCI members were university students, and although they were well aware of the devastation caused by the world war and the threat of fascism, they were also keen on having a good time”.

Jollyda joined the Communist Party of India (CPI) in 1941 and started working among railway workers. His parents thought of him as a member of Indian Civil Service after he passed B A with first-class honours in English, but his life changed after he befriended Prasanta Sanyal, a bright leader of All India Student Federation, a frontal organisation of undivided CPI. He was elected a member of Calcutta district committee in 1943. He attended all the party congresses as an observer or delegate from the First Congress (Bombay.1943) to the sixth (Vijajwada, 1941). He was elected to the national council of CPI at the Amritsar Congress (1958). He was chosen to be a member of the central executive council but he declined as his disillusionment with the official communism in India had just begun. That’s a different story. On his recommendation to the then CPI general secretary Ajoy Ghosh, Harekrishna Konar was inducted in the CEC. Jollyda was elected secretary of Calcutta district committee in 1953 and remained in the post (later Calcutta district council) until January 1963.

Jollyda got married to the legendary and gifted communist organiser Manikuntala Sen in the early 1950s. She was an MLA [Member of Legislative Assembly] between 1952 and 1962 and was deputy leader of CPI group in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly. They quit the CPI after the Chinese aggression that led to bitter and scandalous factionalism. There was a concerted personal slander against them by a section of those that joined the split-away CPI (Marxist).

He strongly believed the controversial letter by Sripad Amrit Dange (Chairman of undivided CPI between 1962 and 1964 with Elamkulam Malakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad as the General Secretary) as a forged document created by British colonial-police police detectives. Dange was then imprisoned under the Kanpur Communist Conspiracy Case in the early 1920s. He was alleged to have secretly written to the colonial authorities offering collaboration as a condition of being acquitted and released. But he was not released. In this connection, Jollyda told me why he could not leave Indian shores, despite being elected a CPI delegate to the Twenty-Second Congress of the now-defunct CP of the Soviet Union and another Congress of an East European CP. “Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru himself had instructed that Jolly Kaul be never given a passport. Because a sleuth sent a report that Jolly Kaul had set fire to the national flag and trampled the burnt flag under foot. It was a complete lie and I came to know about this lie almost a decade and a half after leaving the party when he had an invitation to visit the USSR. The document was admitted as a lie and I had gone to the USSR. I say this to tell you that the police can do everything. And I believe that Dange letter is fake” Dange was alleged to have written to the British Viceroy on 28 July 1924 ”You hold an exceptionally influential position in certain circles here and abroad. Government would be glad if this position would be of some use to them.’ I think I still hold that position. Rather it has been enhanced by the prosecution. If Your Excellency is pleased to think that I should use that position for the good of Your Excellency’s government and the country, I should be glad to do so, if I am given the opportunity by Your Excellency granting my prayer for release।” But the so-called letter was signed as Sripat (not) Amrit Dange. And this letter was handy for those who wanted to set up another party under open inspiration of CP of China with Mao-Tse Tung at the helm.

Jollyda’s exit from the mundane scene makes me remember T S Eliot’s Four Quartets

“In order to arrive at what you do not know/You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess/You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not/You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know/And what you own is what you do not own/And where you are is where you are not.”

The world of us will never/ never be same again without Jolly Mohan Kaul.

Salute to you, Jollyda

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