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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 27, June 20, 2009

Lest We Forget

Monday 22 June 2009

[(Several noted personalities, some of them friends and associates of Mainstream, have left us in the last few months. We pay our sincere, though belated, homage to their abiding memory.)]

On November 9, 2008 passed away in New Delhi Mahendra Acharya, 90, who functioned as the CPI Parliamentary Party’s Office Secretary till 1996. A totally unassuming dedicated revolutionary, he joined the party in the central office staff when P.C. Joshi was its dynamic General Secretary. He worked in the party’s central headquarters in 1948-50 as well as thereafter before becoming the Parliamentary Party’s Office Secretary in 1952.

A friend of N.C. he maintained all through close connections with Mainstream.

On November 23 last year one of the pioneers of the communist movement in Orissa, Gurucharan Patnaik, 92, died at his residence “Ananta-Alok” at Cuttack’s Shankarpur.

Born on October 31, 1917 he lost his parents as an orphan when he was barely four months old; his elder brother, prominent revolutionary and eminent poet Ananta Patnaik, was only four years old at that time. Joining the freedom movement at a young age, Gurucharan along with several others, like Naba Krushna Chaudhury and Bhagabati Charan Panigrahi, launched the Congress Socialist Party in Orissa. In 1936 he joined the underground Communist Party in Calcutta—he was the first Oriya to be recruited into the party, followed by Prananath Patnaik, Bhagabati Charan Panigrahi, his elder brother Ananta Patnaik, Baidyanath Rath. Biswanath Pashayat.

Gurucharan was associated with the founding of the Nabajuga Sahitya Sansad, a progressive Oriya movement, Krushak Sabha, Students Federation and other organisations. He edited several publications including Nua Dunia, the weekly organ of the Orissa CPI, Nua Dunia monthly, a theoretical journal, Kotikuntha, a Marxist theoretical journal. He used his writing skills to reinforce the freedom struggle and Left movement in Orissa. Imprisoned more then 13 times, Gurucharan was the recipient of the Soviet Land Nehru Award for 1971, the Orissa Sahitya Akademi’s Life Time Achievement Award in 1985, Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Award for his epic theoretical book Jagat Darshanare Jagannath. He was also awarded ‘Utkal Ratna’ by the Utkal Sahitya Samaj. He wrote about 55 classics and made hundreds of translations of Marxist-Leninist literature in Oriya acclaimed all over the State. The entire political spectrum in Orissa—from the Congress, BJD, CPM to the CPI-ML—mourned his death.

A close friend of the Mainstream family he was in direct touch with N.C. and Renu Chakravartty for many years and had boundless affection for this journal’s editor; when he last met Gurucharan during his trip to Orissa in 2007 the Communist leader recalled the golden era of the Left movement and lauded Mainstream’s constructive role in guiding the Left in today’s complex scenario. We offer our heartfelt tributes to Gurucharan and our deepest condolences to the bereaved family members.

On January 20, 2009 passed away in New Delhi’s AIIMS veteran Communist leader Bhogendra Jha; a noted freedom fighter who suffered a series of imprisonments during British rule, he was a distinguished parliamentarian elected five times from Madhubani (Bihar).

Bhogendra Jha joined the Communist Party in 1940 and steadfastly fought for land reforms standing by the side of the marginalised and deprived sections in the realm of agriculture. A former President of the All India Kisan Sabha, he was an excellent speaker and a lucid writer whose intellectual contributions in the fields of philosophy and literature cannot be overestimated. He was one of the undisputed leaders of the Bihar CPI which at one time was a citadel of the party in the Hindi heartland and even now happens to be an important base of the CPI.

Three well-known journalists departed from our midst in the recent past. They were Thomas P. Matthai, R.K. Mishra and Ranjan Gupta.

Thomas P. Matthai, 74, who passed away on November 19, 2008, was the former editor of the Democratic World magazine and Future quarterly. After a distinguished service in the Government of India and UNESCO he pioneered the two aforementioned publications devoted to serious discussion on issues of democracy, governance as well as future changes in the world. He was also actively involved in issues of press freedom.

He had good relations with N.C. and occasionally wrote in Mainstream. Shortly after the 1996 Lok Sabha poll he sent a thought-provoking piece “India Tomorrow: What kind of Left?” for publication in Mainstream, and it appeared in the May 25, 1996 issue of the journal. Therein he observed:

For life after the election, the fluid arithmetic of party fortunes is far less important than the stage it sets for a drastic redirection of Indian politics. For, whichever party or group comes by some makeshift arrangement, tall words do not translate into real change—given the blurred vision and blunted tools that distinguish our dysfunctional political system. Yet the one remaining reason for hope is the visibly higher ethical competence of most of the people, particularly the majority in poverty of one kind or another, compared to those in the profession of politics…

Political parties get in touch with people once every few years. In between they do business of one kind or another, in this our Age of the Contractor. The Congress is happiest in the company of the rich. The BJP lives in much the same street, though some distance away. Neither had any more use even in their election manifestoes for ideals like freedom and equality, much less the complementarity of democracy and socialism. People are embarrassed, because of their own inhibitions, even to mention these words. Which is why one must see beyond the recent election and, in the absence of other known options, insist that the Left-of-Centre parties regain the moral ground represented by the ideals of the earlier freedom struggle.

Irrespective of who has won how many seats in the eleventh Parliament, it is never too late for the Left Front and National Front to close ranks, not in a hurried patchwork, but towards a long-drawn National Left Movement, built around political organisation at the level where people live, social education and community action. Nothing less would respond to the dangerously diminishing idealism and the consequent loss of direction and substance in Indian politics.

Last January R.K. Mishra breathed his last. A noted journalist, he was initially the Rajasthan correspondent of Patriot daily before becoming its Special Correspondent in New Delhi and eventually its editor, moulded as he was by the late Edatata Narayanan, the publication’s founder editor, while he was able to gather considerable professional experience from his association with N.C. He occasionally contributed in Mainstream and also for Muktdhara, the journal’s Hindi periodical, in the seventies.

He wrote several articles on the issue of privy purses before Indira Gandhi decided to abolish the provision that only went to perpetuate the dominance of the princes in the polity. A few of these appeared in Mainstream.

In one piece “Rajasthan: Chieftains and Tycoons” (Mainstream Republic Day Special, 1967) he noted:

If the Congress in Rajasthan today faces a deadly political challenge from the joint combination of Maharajas and Maharanis on the one hand and the big businessmen on the other, it would do well to recapitulate its various acts of omission and commission since the day Sardar Patel in his infamous speech placed the princes on a high pedestal of history and called upon the people to remain grateful to them ‘in perpetuity’. If the people had been educated during the last twenty years that these princes were nothing but a new tribe of parasites enjoying fabulous unearned incomes, they would, by now, be an object of contempt and hatred.

If this background were kept in view, one would not be surprised to find that of 16 general Lok Sabha constituencies in Rajasthan, the Congress faces a challenge from the Maharajas and Maharanis and their tribe in five constituencies and from the direct representatives of Big Business in six others.

In another article “Myth of Princely Privileges”, he pointed out:

Since independence, the leaders of new India have not made any attempt to convey to our people the lessons of the valiant anti-feudal struggle. Instead, attempts have been made to invest the former rulers with a respectability which they could never command before. Attempts have been made to make people forget the bloody record of their tyranny and oppression.

Because of the pampering of the princely order since independence the former rulers have succeeded in a large measure to invade even political arena. Leaders of the ruling party are unable to gather courage to have faith in the masses and tremble at the prospect of losing power if the princes are arrayed against them. That is why a section of Congress leadership also talks of ‘honouring the pledges’ given to the former rulers.

Whether the Government can be courageous enough to rectify this distortion of democracy in the country or not, it will do well not to advance the plea of ‘rights’ enjoyed by the princes under the British. The Congress leaders should at least desist from insulting the anti-feudal struggle of the masses by talking about the ‘sacrifices’ and ‘patriotism’ of the princes. The facts of history show the princes did not enjoy any inviolable rights under British rule and therefore the talk of their having surrendered any such right is nothing but a myth.

‘RK’, as he was known to the journalist fraternity, played a noteworthy role alongside Patriot during the 1969 Congress split that saw the party’s radical section (headed by Indira Gandhi) parting company with the conservative old guard (dubbed as Syndicate in those days). RK remained a staunch supporter of Indira Gandhi since those days and this continued during the Emergency as well. He wrote extensively on the 20-Point Programme of the Congress (with which he had formally associated himself by then and on whose backing was elected to the Rajya Sabha).

After Edatata Narayanan’s death he remained close to the Link House founder and distinguished freedom fighter, Aruna Asaf Ali, till the paper folded up due to financial constraints.

Thereafter RK traversed a wide arena and went into other pastures with which one had little knowledge. However, he did retain his journalistic acumen and occasionally used it in a variety of ways for wider benefit.

Ranjan Gupta, who died on April 27 this year, was a political scientist by training and a journalist by profession. A Nieman Fellow at Harvard University as well as a Fellow at the Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley, he wrote for several newspapers around the world including the Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Sydney Morning Herald and Irish Times. Widely travelled, he worked in Indian Express for several years as a Special Correspondent in Sikkim, Nepal and Bhutan. Besides authoring a monograph “Sikkim: The Merger with India” published in the Asian Survey by the University of California Press, he authored the book The Indian Occean: A Political Geography.

An avid reader of Mainstream having been close to both N.C. and S.C., he wrote an article (perhaps his last) “Reflections on a Visit to Bangladesh” that appeared in this journal’s March 28, 2009 issue. Therein he expressed himself with unusual frankness and the words came straight from his heart:

My father was a Bengali from East Bengal though he lived most of his life in Calcutta. After the age of ten I have never lived in Bengal and only visited it occasionally. It may sound exaggerated, a bit of a hyperbole, but on my first proper visit to Bangladesh recently I felt I had discovered my identity—what it means to be a Bengali and to be part of a larger Bengali culture. For one who speaks only a smattering of Bengali and had a non-Bengali mother, I never felt I was part of the Bengali mainstream in Calcutta, but in a strange inexplicable way I felt a sense of cultural belonging in Bangladesh. It could be that as an outsider I could see Bengali culture from a distance without seeking to be part of the local society. It could also be the intensity of the Bengali language and culture that draws a person to it in a way it never does in West Bengal...

He then perceptively opined:

…Bangladesh is an enclave country surrounded almost on all sides by India. It is a country where the struggle for independence is still fresh in the minds of the people; there are reminders of death and destruction and it is only in Bangladesh that one realises how bitter was the fight for indepen-dence. It was in the face of insurmountable odds that Bangladesh became free and whatever the differences, the people never forgot that. Indians sometimes do not realise how bitter was the Bangladeshi struggle for their language and their culture. They even broke the bonds of religion for the sake of their language. In these days of religious fundamentalism and terrorism Bangladeshi pride in their language and way of life is unique.

Subir Dasgupta, who left us on March 15, 2009, was in the team of dedicated souls who launched Mainstream in September 1962 and spent sleepless nights in the press with the journal’s first editor, C.N. Chitta Ranjan, and N.C. to bring it out on time every week. He looked after the production of the paper as well as its printing. Subsequently he settled down in Kolkata and set up an advertising firm there; he breathed his last in that city. A product of Santiniketan, he was highly cultured in his interactions with people and had seen from close quarters several persons attain eminence and distinction in life.

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