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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 31

Aruna Asaf Ali: A Tribute

Tuesday 22 July 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty


Generations spanning over centuries have been told that the French Revolution devoured its own children. In a sense, this could be said also of the Russian Revolution in which many of its heroes had themselves to face the firing squad.

There is however the other side, the heroic aspect of every revolution as it throws up leaders, and these in turn try to carry forward the revolution itself. Aruna Asaf Ali was one of these beautiful children reared by the Indian people’s revolution for freedom. And she dedicated the rest of her life in the service of the great revolution yet to come, in which the meek and the dispossessed are destined to inherit the many-splendoured land of ours.

Aruna Asaf Ali came from a well-known family of Barisal, now in Bangladesh. She grew up in the high society of north India in those days. Her marriage to Asaf Ali, a romance on its own, brought her in touch with the political elite of the day. Soft-spoken and stunningly beautiful, a picture of elegance enthroned, those of us who had the opportunity of meeting her in those days in Delhi’s oasis of opulence, could never believe that this frail body carried so much of fire within, which was lit up by Gandhiji’s Do-or-Die commandment in 1942. In the face of police brutality she raised the Tricolour at he historic Gowalia Tank on that stormy day in Bombay. From the comforts of luxury, she went without any faltering steps into the rigours of underground life, which brought her into the world of the Socialists—Jayaprakash Narayan, Rammanohar Lohia and Achyut Patawardhan, and also her close companion and mentor, Edatata Narayanan.

When the leaders came out of prison, Arunadi was still underground, and it was only Gandhiji’s written behest, that she surfaced into active political life, one of the leading lights of the resuscitated Socialist Party. But disillusion soon set in for this impatient revolutionary, who could not equate the compulsions of power with the ideals that she had nurtured in her revolutionary ardour about the free India of her dreams.

Then started the eternal quest. After a couple of years of activity in the Socialist Party, she and Edatata set out on a fresh voyage of discovery for the new world of tomorrow. They traveled far and wide, at home and abroad, and came back to start the Left Socialist group imbibing Marxism. Soon after, they joined the Communist Party, but it was a short stint, as Khrushchev’s version of Stalin at the Soviet Communist Party Congress in 1956, disenchanted both her and Edatata. They continued as friends of the Communists and the Socialists, but ceased to be card-carrying party members.

Meanwhile with the help of Dr Baliga and Krishna Menon and the blessings of Nehru, Arunadi launched her new venture into the field of media—Link and Patriot came, heralding a new genre into Indian journalism. However, the experiment fell into unworthy hands after Edatata Narayanan’s demise, though Aruna Asaf Ali tried valiantly to carry on almost single-handed. Her last days were the days of tragedy, this excursion into the media world.

Aruna Asaf Ali’s charm was her weakness too. She had a remarkable quality of building personal rapport, but as the world consists of black and white, it can be a minefield of deception. Many came and loved her, but not a few deceived her. However, the frail body, stooped with age, was never a broken spirit.

The freedom struggle of our great people has witnessed a whole galaxy of Titans, whose memory is embossed in our history. Today they are all in that unforgettable dream garden of Elysium, as the pure and the mighty live in our memory. In that haven of bliss, her countrymen in eternal gratitude shall always ensconce Aruna Asaf Ali, whose patriotism was as pure as the lily white flowers with which men and women of our great motherland shall cherish her, for ever and ever.

(Mainstream, August 10, 1996)

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