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Home > 2021 > Remembering J Mohan | Sankar Ray

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 41, New Delhi, Sept 25, 2021

Remembering J Mohan | Sankar Ray

Saturday 25 September 2021, by Sankar Ray

Looking back at the early issues of now-defunct Now weekly, founded by Prof Humayun Kabir with Samar Sen as its founder-editor, I remember Calcutta Diary at alternate weeks by AM and J Mohan –both very well read. It is well-known that AM was Dr Ashok Mitra who also used to write under another pseudonym, Charan Gupta. But readers at large were not aware that J Mohan was none other than Jolly Mohan Kaul who would have been 100+plus now. Jollyda – as he was to numerous old-timers like me- joined the Indian Oxygen Ltd around that time as the Public Relations Officer for which he chose to write under a pseudonym. Until early January 1963 he was the secretary of Calcutta district council of the undivided Communist Party of India and a national council member of the party. He was among the first to envision the end of Congress monopoly. On5 August,1966, he wrote in his fortnightly column, “A spectre is haunting the ruling party in West Bengal –the spectre of hungry people rising in anger. It is this that lies behind PC Sen’s desperate search for special powers, sterner Security Acts, more police and other weapons for equation…Even with the help of Eric deCosta’s Gall Up poll it would be clear for any observer of the political scene that the Congress is fast losing its hold on the masses…West Bengal is indeed a powder keg that might go off at any time”. PC Sen, masqueraded as a great Gandhian was the Chief Minister of West Bengal at that time.

Those who want to read several issues of the weekly may click http://sanhati.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/now_5aug1966_opt.pdf , thanks to our friend Soumya Guha Thakurta, the archivist , a voracious reader and a living reference source who uploaded pdf copies of many issues of Now.. Reading them and the lucid style makes me remember words by John Berthelson, editor of Hong Kong-based Asia Sentinel where I wrote few articles a decade ago that a good read means one that reads fast. Having passed English honours in 1940 from the University College with a first class, it was natural Jollyda used to write that way keeping up the Queen’s English style. Take JM’s impression about the Naxalite uprising in a commentary in the Economic and Political Weekly on 1 July 1970: “The Naxalite movement in India is a price of the delayed agrarian revolution” A sentence is enough to gauge the rare political-historical perception he used to possess He added:’ There are, of course, many other factors that have given rise to the phenomenon. But the movement would never have spread so rapidly and received so much attention if it had not become suddenly so relevant in the context of the .sharp social tensions developing in the countryside.’

Small wonder, Ajoy Ghosh, general secretary of undivided CPI whom Dr Ranen Sen described as ‘head and shoulder above all general secretaries in the history of Indian communist parties wanted Jollyda as a member of the central executive committee but Jollyda declined. He was elected to the NC of the CPI in 1958, before Promode Dasgupta and Harekrishna Konar. But why did he decline a seat in an upper committee of the party? He revealed this over two decades before he quit the party. As he told us – wrote also, he felt infusion of impure blood into the West Bengal CPI. “In 1952, popular leaders in mass fronts were mostly reluctant to contest as party candidates in the state assembly and Lok Sabha elections stating that their engagement in mass fronts might be affected if they would be elected as MLA or MP. But in 1957, we saw queue for getting party tickets. I felt parliamentary illusion in the enthusiasm. I began to realize that it would be difficult for me to be in the party”. He told this writer, “ I suggested to Ajoy Ghosh that Harekrishna Konar be considered instead of me and he accepted it.” Actually, he was preparing to quit his close-to-heart party from around 1958-59. In an interview to the late Tapan Bandyopadhyay, once a card-carrying member of CPI and one of Jollyda’s favourites in the last decade and a half of their lives (Tapan passed away five months after Jollyda in 2020), he replied to a question, ‘‘Many old-timers of the CPI regret your decision to quit party and active politics. Almost five decades later, do you feel that you did not remain and help inner party struggle?’: “I am more convinced that ever before that I took the right decision when I resigned from the party. In my resignation letters, one of which I addressed to the Secretary, Provincial Committee in January 1963, I had said that ‘ever since a situation developed in which a neighbouring communist country began to behave in a matter which weakens the democratic and progressive forces in the country and bring grist to mill of the reactionaries’. I have been considering that whether the Communist Party has much of a role.’ I ended saying: ‘I remain as interested as ever in the cause of democracy, socialism and peace for which I had been working for so long but I do not feel confident that by remaining in the Party I shall be able to further the cause’. In that decision, I had the wholehearted support of my wife.”

Jollyda and Monidi (legendary communist leader Manikuntala Sen) whom he married in the early 1950s stayed at the Kareya Road Housing Estate. Monidi as an MLA and deputy leader of CPI legislature party in the West Bengal state Assembly was allotted the flat which eventually became a party commune where Ajoy Ghosh and/or Bhupesh Gupta used to stay when they were in Calcutta. When they were not in Calcutta, Dinesh Roy used to stay there. Roy was to keep tab on Jollyda, Monidi and those who visited them. An adherent of Dasgupta-Konar faction Roy was deputed there. Roy was entrusted to decide who would participate in the Assembly debate. A fiery speaker that was Monidi was allotted only seven minutes in total during 1960-61. Actually it began even before. She was not asked to participate in the debate about movement between end-August and September 1959. But Jollyda and Monidi were defenders of ‘democratic front’ line which was also the stand of Dasgupta, Konar, Jyoti Basu, Niranjan Sengupta et al who joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist).. The reason was Jollyda-Monid’’s refusal to be factionally fastened to Dasgupta-Konar faction. Incidentally, Dasgupta was elected as state party secretary in place of Basu who stepped down voluntarily despite reluctance of overwhelming majority to let him stay aside. Wrote Monidi in her memoirs, ‘In Search of Freedom: an Unfinished Journey (Eng tr of Sediner Katha in Bengali). “Within the party divisive trends were increasing. Slowly I began to realise I was no longer very close to the majority (meaning the larger fraction-SR).The distance began to show up in small matters. In every session of the Legislative Assembly, me name would figure in the list of speakers. The newspapers too mention whatever little I said/ But in 1960-62, I spoke for a total of just seven minutes.’ P 273), but she was the deputy leader of CPI group in the WB Assembly.

Jnanpith and Sahitya Academy laureate Bengali poet Subhash Mukhopadhyay who too was a frontline member of CPI between early 1940s and mid-1980s portrayed him as ‘Banshi’ in his jail diary ‘Hangras’. Jollyda was then the jail committee secretary of the party. They were all arrested after the state government had clamped a ban on CPI in 1949 when the party gave a call for ouster through armed revolution of Congress government at the centre with Jawaharlal Nehru as the Prime Minister Subhasda narrated about a fateful day when the comrades were on the fourth day of hunger strike. They planned to put up barricade with cots etc. The jail police fired at them killing a few at the Dum Dum Jail in 1949. Bangshi is my best friend. We were in the student movement at the same time. Instead, he dropped out of MA and went on to join a trade union. Now he speaks fluent Bengali. Who will say in his words that he is the son of a Punjabi….The news came at last in five minutes. We and most of all I survived. Banshi and Kanchan were both at number four. Both are fine. Banshi was right in front of the gate. I remembered plastering one of the legs of the flute for so long. That means I was busy with myself for so long. Meanwhile, everyone in jail knows that I am the best friend Banshi. He is the best friend’ There was one error, perhaps deliberately. Jollyda was a Kashmiri. Kanchan was a labour leader in tea estates in North Bengal. His real name was not Kanchan. Jollyda shot into fame in 1946 as leader of a successful strike of port and dock workers of Calcutta for several days protractedly, He was the secretary of the Port Trust Employees’ Association, when he was twenty-five. Workers were Hindus and Muslims. When Calcutta was inebriated with communal frenzy amidst the infamous Direct Action Day at the call of M A Jinnah for All India Muslim League. Workers went in a march hand in hand and fought against rioters together. He told Andrew Whitehead, ‘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. ... I think our tactics did pay off. ... The organised trade union movement in Calcutta was able to ... maintain the solidarity of Hindu and Muslim workers.’ https://www.andrewwhitehead.net/partition-voices-jolly-mohan-kaul.html

Jollyda was a versatile personality and cracked success everywhere. He became a pioneer in public relations too, wrote a book on PR in India. He could speak French fluently. And he was an excellent cook, reminisces Debjani Sengupta, niece-in-law of Monidi. Jollyda often visited the housing quarters of Dipankar Sengupta, husband of Debjani at Haldia and captured the kitchen frequently.

He will remain Jollyda for many like me.

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