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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 43, New Delhi, October 10, 2020

On Roza Deshpande and Redlining Dange-line in Indian Politics | Pratip Chattopadhyay

Friday 9 October 2020

by Pratip Chattopadhyay

Roza Deshpande died on 19th September 2020. This death is an event of sorrow and grief to entire communist fraternity of our country. However the correct way to pay homage to Comrade Roza is to carry forward her mission — to redefine Dange-line in Indian politics.

Roza Deshpande, daughter of Sripad Amrit Dange and Ushatai, was born in 1929 at a time when her father was imprisoned forcibly by the British imperialist rulers on false Meerut conspiracy case. Interestingly she died in 2020 at a time when the lineage of Dange, i.e., Dange-line, has been forcibly locked-down by the left political parties in India. The entire life of Roza Deshpande has been a saga to follow the footstep of her father, S.A. Dange and to spread the essence of Dange-line, i.e. a comparative temporal preference to Indian National Congress as a secular force over and above communal fascist rightist reactionary cultural majoritarianist BJP (the present incarnation of earlier Janata Dal). This temporality is in line with the Marxist dialectic principle of ‘unity and struggle’ of opposite forces. Roza Deshpande was with her father when Dange supported Emergency proclamation of Indira Gandhi. In response to the humiliating environment that was created in Bhatinda Congress of CPI in 1978 to expedite the exit of Dange from CPI, Roza Deshpande along with her husband Vidyadar (Bani) Deshpande and a staunch Dangeite Mohit Sen formed the All India Communist Party (AICP). Dange was made the General Secretary of AICP in 1981. The issue is not that AICP failed to attract support and finally merged with United Communist Party of India (UCPI). The actual issue is a show of responsibility of a daughter to create a new Party to give respect to ideas, vision and mission of her father. In this direction Roza Deshpande followed Lenin’s dictum that — “at all events a split is better than a confusion”. Letters written by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter Indira Gandhi from jail in 1928 when is well documented in a collection titled Letters from a Father to His Daughter. Although Dange was in and out of jail when Roza was growing up there is no such mention of letters or advice from Dange to Roza. But revolutionary spirit, fearlessness, oratory skills, correct analysis of objective political reality, correct reading of class character of Indian ruling class in tune with Leninists position, empathy to the cause of working-class, particularly women workers- are the qualities that genetically intruded in the heart and mind of Roza Deshpande, not only because of her father Dange but also because of her activist mother Ushatai. As a result Roza Deshpande fought and won a by-election in 1974 from south-central Mumbai as a Communist Party of India candidate, defeating Ramrao Adik of the Congress, who had the support of the Shiv Sena. The election was held after a 42-day strike by textile workers. She got huge support from the workers. “Her fiery speeches, laced with Marxist ideology, made her very popular with union members” (Reddy. 2020). So Roza Deshpande personified ‘unity and struggle’ with Indian National Congress on the basis of requirements of reality and correlation of class forces.

I had the rare opportunity to meet Roza Deshpande at her Dadar residence in an evening on 28th April 2018 and interacted with her informally with the help of her family members who made possible the communication in Marathi to let her better understand my queries. Stepping into her residence I was mesmerized by collage of real-life photographs of Dange in conversation with Indira Gandhi, Dange with his family members, Dange with Roza and  Bani Deshpande craftily wall-mounted in the lounge area of her residence. My basic question to her was about her perception on the imagery of her father as a Congress-agent in left circles. She nodded her head with anguish and told that this is a false imagery. She went on saying that Dange was highly moved by the mass appeal and populist following that Indira Gandhi as a political leader possessed across the country in early 1970s along with her anti-imperialist position in world and regional politics, particularly in the wake of Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Deshpande emphasised that Dange’s preference for leadership of Indira Gandhi should not be equated with her support for the Party she represented, i.e. Indian National Congress. She asked me to read the collection Selected Speeches of S.A. Dange in Lok Sabha which amply demonstrates that Dange always criticised Congress government under both Nehru and Indira Gandhi Prime Ministership whenever the situation demanded. On my return, I read the collection and found that Dange once stated in Parliament addressing Prime Minister Indira Gandhi — “I do not want you to deal with me as a ‘poor individual’. I am the mighty working class pitted against the exploiting classes . . . many of you do not deliberately want to call me by my class-name. Because if you do it you will recognise in me a power that the class is. Hence you call me poor which has no power.” (S.A.Dange —‘Do Not Call Me Poor Call me by My Class Name — Working Class’ speech in Lok Sabha on 8th June, 1972). Moreover Deshpande emphasised that Dange was always uncompromising on class issue and his unity with working class was loud and clear. Even Dange’s support to Emergency, was according to Roza Deshpande, not a support for hijacking of freedom of press, expression and association but a support to an effort to maintain discipline, integrity and stability in Indian political system. Finally, she handed over to me the Marathi volume on life and works of S.A.Dange titled S.A.Dange: Ek Itihash and asked me to try to translate it in English and bring out as a volume. That is a task I am entrusted upon by Roza Deshpande.

Today the left political parties, particularly CPI and CPI(M) as per their latest Party Congress resolutions in 2018 seems to be following this essence but without naming Dange. One is reminded of George Orwell’s novel titled 1984 and the idea of ‘unperson’. According to Orwell, unperson is someone who has been vaporized. Vaporization is when a person is secretly murdered and erased from society, the present, the universe, and existence. Such a person would be taken out of books, photographs, and articles so that no trace of them is found in the present anywhere — no record of them would be found. This was so that a person who defied the Party would be gone from all citizens’ memories, even friends and family. There is no Newspeak word for what happened to unpeople, therefore it is thought crime to say an unperson’s name or think of unpeople. Dange was literally not murdered by the Party but Dange’s vision and mission encapsulated in Dange-line has been strangled and kept forcibly behind the curtain by the Left political parties. The life and work of Roza Deshpande has been to continually practice this ‘thought crime’ by writing memoirs on Dange by herself in Marathi and in English co-edited with her husband Vidyadhar(Bani) Deshpnde titled S.A. Dange and the Problem of Indian Renaissance. So today exposing the fallacy and double standard of Left political parties of following the essence of Dange-line without naming Dange has to be made public. This is the task with which Roza Deshpande left us and let us engage in this thought crime for the betterment of Indian society in this sordid time of unipolarity in Indian politics.

Reference:

Reddy, Prakash (2020): ‘Roza Deshpande was the Last of Indian Stalwarts’, https://thewire.in/labour/roza-deshpande-was-the-last-of-the-indian-communist-stalwarts, accessed on 30.9.20

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