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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 10, February 21, 2009

Ajoy Ghosh

Monday 23 February 2009, by Mohit Sen

The Communist Party of India has been nourished on the sacrifices and advanced by the wisdom of many thousands of the finest representatives of our great people. They truly are the best of the best which the edging forward of our country to freedom and to socialism have produced. And among the tallest of these noble souls was Ajoy Kumar Ghosh, the General Secretary of our party from 1951 till the day of his death on January 13, 1962.

Ajoy Ghosh was born on February 20, 1909 in a small town called Mihijam which stands on the banks of the river Ajoy which gave him his name—the invincible one! His father, Sachindra-nath Ghosh, was a doctor in Kanpur and it was there that the future pre-eminent Communist leader grew up and matured.

It was there that when he was scarcely 14 years old that he met and became the close friend of the now legendary Bhagat Singh. The first task that he took up was the organisation of a gymnasium for physical culture and also for recruiting kindred ardent spirits for revolutionary work. At that time this meant for Ajoy and his comrades the continuation of the militant anti-imperialist armed actions by conspiratorial groups that had been organised by the Ghadr Party and other national-revolutionary organisations.

But even at that time, as he himself relates in his Bhagat Singh and His Comrades, questions had begun to arise in their minds as to the future of terrorism, as it was called, and its connections with mass revolutionary action against British imperialism. In January 1926 he went to Allahabad University from where he graduated with Chemistry as his Honours subject but where his main concern was the rebuilding of the revolutionary party which had been shattered following the arrests in connection with the Kakori case.

It was there that in 1928 he renewed his personal contact with Bhagat Singh and learnt from him the tremendous changes that had been made in the outlook, perspective and organisation of the national-revolutionary conspiratorial organisation.

Ajoy writes:

We were henceforth the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association with a socialist state as our avowed objective. Also the party had been reorganised with a central committee and with provincial and district committees under it. All decisions were to be taken in these committees, majority decisions were binding on all.

As for the most important question, however, the question in what manner the fight for freedom and socialism was to be waged, armed actions by individuals and groups was to remain our immediate task. Nothing else, we held, could smash constitutionalist illusions, nothing else could free the country from the grip in which fear held it. When the stagnant calm was broken by a series of hammer blows delivered by us at selected points and on suitable occasions, against the most hated officials of the government, and mass movement unleashed, we would link ourselves with that movement, act as its armed detachment and give it a socialist direction.

At that time Ajoy had developed sympathies with communism and the Communist Party in India and differed from them only on the point of who was to start armed action and when it should be started. It was no accident that the famous bomb attack in the Central Assembly by Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutt was made just after the Trade Disputes Bill—an anti-working-class measure—had been passed. In the imperialist swoop made thereafter Ajoy was arrested in mid-1929 and became one of the accused in the famous Lahore Conspiracy Case.

It was during this trial that Ajoy along with his colleagues went on hunger strike for 63 days which resulted in the martyrdom of Jatin Das.

Studies in jail deepened the love that Ajoy and his comrades felt for the Soviet Union and on the occasion of the 1980 anniversary of the November Revolution they sent greetings to the Soviet Union pledging their solidarity.

On being released Ajoy found that the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association was in shambles. As he wrote :

Never was the truth more evident than now that a party of middle-class revolutionists looking upon action by individuals as the highest form of struggle and operating in isolation from the people could not only not rouse the nation but was dependent even for its internal unity and morale on the personalities of its leaders. Life itself had smashed all the pet illusions we had held till then.

Whatever lingering faith I had in terrorism was now fast vanishing. But what was the alternative?

It was only after further deep studies, intensive discussions, above all, with S.G. Sardesai and by working in the Mazdoor Sabha of Kanpur that in 1933 he finally became a confirmed Communist and devoted the next three decades till the very end of his life to selfless service to the cause of communism. A revolutionary by temperament as it were and an uncompromising imperialist fighter with radical ideas from his childhood, Ajoy found the full realisation of his great personality by the acceptance of Marxism-Leninism and its inevitable corollary—membership of the CPI.

It can be said that in the development of this great but young man we have the finest example in our country of the transformation of a revolutionary-democrat into a Communist.

No sooner had he been accepted as a party member than Ajoy was appointed to the first District Organising Committee of the CPI in Kanpur and later to its first Uttar Pradesh (United Provinces as it was then called) Organising Committee. In 1934 he became a member of the Central Committee and in 1936 of the Polit-Bureau—the highest leading organ of the party at that time. He remained in the highest leadership of the party from that time onwards, becoming, as has been already pointed out, its topmost leader in 1951.


When one recalls the activities of Ajoy in the period prior to his becoming General Secretary of the party one is struck by its tremendous range. In 1935 we find him deputed to lead the strike of the Ahmedabad textile workers and unite the Communists working on the trade-union front. We see him as a most prolific and passionate publicist as one of the members of the editorial board of the National Front, which was the CPI’s organ from 1936. We find him working on the illegal Communist. Living in the underground he pens a brilliant exposure of M.N. Roy and at the same time helps to organise the escape of Dr G. Adhikari from the detention camp in Bijapur! He guides the work of Communists and progressives in the States’ People’s Conference which was then the organisation which headed the struggle against the oppressive pro-British princely toadies.

He was arrested in Lucknow in 1940 and later transferred to the famous Deoli camp for political detenus where he joined the celebrated hunger strike which electrified the entire country. But the strain of this hard and tense life had begun to tell even on his magnificent physique—Ajoy had developed a tough body through weight-lifting and boxing! In 1942 he contracted TB and on the party’s mandate had to live for some time in Kashmir and then spend most of his working time in Punjab from where he used to travel to Bombay for Central Committee and Polit-Bureau meetings.

Ajoy did a great deal to radicalise the people’s movement in Kashmir and reared up a whole generation of radical young freedom fighters, one of the most prominent of whom was D.P. Dhar who died in June 1975 when he was our country’s ambassador to the Soviet Union. He developed the party in Punjab and attracted to its banner a large number of brilliant students—Romesh Chandra and Perin Bharucha, as she was then called, being the most eminent.

And it was there that he fell in love with and in 1947 married Litto Rai who remained till the end his devoted comrade and companion through all the vicissitudes of the hard life of a professional revolutionary and who is now the General Secretary of the Indo-Soviet Cultural Society and a candidate member of the party’s National Council. In April 1958 their son, Amit, was born; and he is now a budding expert in electronics.

Ajoy, though ill, was re-elected to the Central Committee and Polit-Bureau of the party at its Second Congress in 1948 and immediately imprisoned for the next two years. It was while in prison that he gradually moved to positions of criticism of and opposition to the Left-adventurist and sectarian line as well as wrong organisational practices of the functioning leadership of the party headed by B.T. Ranadive.

Later following the famous editorial published in January 1950 in For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Demcoracy which criticised what has come to be known as the ‘Ranadive line’ and the subsequent sharp inner-party struggle, Ajoy along with Dange and Ghate wrote the renowned ‘three Ps’ document (so called because the underground names of all the three authors began with the letter P!). The great merit of this document was the break that it made with dogmatism and the tendency to imitate the revolutions in other countries. It insisted upon a concrete study of the concrete situation—the very essence of dialectics as Lenin had said long ago.

It was because of this and the tremendous and practically universal respect that he commanded in the party that in 1951 he was elected its General Secretary at the underground Calcutta Conference. He became the party’s leader at, perhaps, the most difficult period in its history.

Thanks to his sterling qualities, great patience and supreme merits as an analyst and a theoretician he was able to steer the party from a state when it was almost shattered to recovery and to becoming the second party in the country and an influential political force. And all this was done despite continuous ill health especially following the first heart attack in 1954.

The eleven years of Ajoy’s General Secretay-ship were extraordinary ones on any reckoning. It was period when the entire international communist movement, with the great CPSU as its vanguard, made a new turn and advanced to a new stage with the inevitable difficulties that such a leap involves. It was also the period when the battle against Maoism commenced, not least in or own country and party.


Only some of the great achievements of Ajoy in these years can be mentioned in this brief biographical sketch.

Firstly, with great patience and tact he led the work of gradually reunifying the party and gathering its members and forces. Time and again it was his personal intervention that prevented an outright split in the party. The Left-sectarians never forgave him for this and literally hounded him with a campaign of personal vilification and character assassination especially following the Maoist campaign against the CPI from 1959 and more so the Sixth (Vijayawada) Party Congress of 1961. To safeguard the unity of the party was his supreme concern.

Secondly, he provided a wonderful example of devotion to the principle of proletarian internationalism, love for the Soviet Union and the immortal party of Lenin. It was during the years of his tenure as General Secretary that the friendship between India and the Soviet Union, both at the popular and governmental levels, developed dramatically and attained new heights. He paid great personal attention to the development of the ISCUS and constantly reminded the party and the masses not only about the immense value of Indo-Soviet friendship but of the need for them to take this cause into their own hands. He is rightly regarded in both the countries as one of the most important architects of this friendship which today is playing so key a role in shaping world developments in a progressive direction.

It was under his personal leadership that the CPI played a pioneering role in helping to develop in our country the united movement of all patriots and peacelovers brought together in the All India Peace Council and the Indian Association for Afro-Asian Solidarity. He constantly criticised those who belittled the importance of these movements and pointed not only to their necessity but to their immense potential. It is a tribute to his farsightedness that we witness today the anti-fascist united upsurge in our country.

It was he who also was chiefly responsible for the growing role of the CPI in the world communist movement. His high theoretical level, brilliant mind and great precision in formulation combined with his deep understanding of the revolutionary process in the world and India enabled him to emerge as one of the leaders of the world communist movement. He immensely raised the prestige of the CPI in that movement. It may be noted in this connection that he was the Chairman of the Drafting Commission for the section on the national-liberation struggle at the 1960 Moscow World Conference of the Communist and Workers’ Parties. The CPI was among the twelve parties entrusted by that Conference to review the situation and to take the initiative with regard to consulting various parties in connection with the convening of another world conference.

It was Ajoy who boldly took up cudgels against the wrong ideological-political positions and methods of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party which was then rapidly evolving in the direction of coming under the total domination of Maoism. He did his best, as the accredited leader of the CPI, to persuade the CPC leadership to abandon its worng line and return to the positions commonly accepted of the world communist movement. He stoutly defended the principled Marxist-Leninist stand of the CPSU. Particularly in his speech at the 1960 Moscow World Conference of Communist and Workers’ Parties he exposed the errors of the CPC leadership and pointed to the tremendous damage that it was causing.

This stand of the party’s General Secretary was also directed against the gross interference of the CPC leadership in the internal affairs of India and the CPI. Even at the last press conference that he held a bare few days before his death he publicly declared that the CPC leadership’s analysis and assessment of the Indian state and situation were wrong and that in any case it was the CPI which was the best judge of the Indian situation and not any other party including the CPC. This led to an intensification of the vicious campaign being conducted against him by the CPC leaders and their supporters in the CPI.

Now it is difficult for those who had not arrived at political consciousness in those days to realise what courage and granite faith in Marxism-Leninism and the Soviet Union were required to take such a bold stand. The prestige of the CPC leadership was very high because of the historic victory of the Chinese Revolution. The menace of Maoism was still not fully appreciated by many. There were not a few fainthearts, especially at different levels of leadership in our party, who believed that the CPSU leadership would ‘lose’ in the controversy convulsing the world communist movement, would even be overthrown and the CPC leadership with Mao at its head would win. But it was the great theoretical clarity, profound political understanding and moral courage of Ajoy that have been proved correct by history.

It was therefore not mere formal words that the Central Committee of the CPSU used in its condolences to our party on Ajoy’s death when it declared:

Ajoy Kumar Ghosh was one of the outstanding leaders of the international communist movement. He tirelessly fought for its unity and cohesion on the principled foundation of Marxism-Leninism.

Thirdly, it was under Ajoy’s leadership that the CPI made the most important and positive turn in its entire history, that is, a turn towards integrating the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism with the specific features of the history, conditions and revolutionary process in our country. It can be said without fear of contradiction that most of the fundamental positions of the programme (adopted at its Seventh Bombay Party Congress in 1964) and the present tactical line of the CPI are already to be found in embryonic form in the writings and reports of our late General Secretary.

The June 1955 Central Committee resolution, the resolution of the Fourth Palghat Party Congress in 1956, the resolution of that Fifth Special Amritsar Party Congress in 1958 and the speech and resolution of the Sixth Vijayawada Party Congress in 1961—all these bear the stamp of the thought and precision of formulation of Ajoy. No doubt all these were the product of the collective analysis of the situation and generali-sation of the experience of the party as a whole. But equally without doubt nobody can possibly deny his outstanding and leading contribution.


This is not the place to go into questions of party line. Nevertheless, it has to be stated that with regard to the recognition of the winning of national freedom, the capitalist character of the Indian state, the contradictions of the capitalist path of development, the progressive nature of India’s foreign policy, the possibilities of the secular democratic system, the need and possibility of the unity of all national-democratic forces including those in the ruling Congress party and the vast masses behind it, the national-democratic and non-capitalist perspective of the Indian revolution—all these are to be found in these documents of which he was the principal architect. There is no doubt that but for the dogmatic and disruptive stand taken by the Left-sectarian elements in the then leadership of our party we would have arrived under Ajoy’s leadership almost a decade earlier to the positions of the 1964 party programme.

What was important was not only the conclusions to which Ajoy arrived and to which he step by step was bringing the party. At least as important was the method that he used. This was the true Marxist-Leninist method of using the class approach, studying the experiences of other revolutions, especially the Soviet, and firmly keeping one’s mind focused on the Indian scene as well as on the problem currently facing the party and the movement. This was the very opposite of dogmatism, of argument with endless quotations form the classics and by innumerable and pointless references to the Russian and other revolutions.

At the same time Ajoy gave no quarter to revisionism and Right-reformism. He firmly defended the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, put forwad the revolutionary perspective, emphasised the special task of the working class and the independent role of the party and opposed any tailing behind the bourgeoisie in the name fo the united front.

A brilliant example of the application of this approach as well as the line based upon it was the manner in which Ajoy led the great political campaign of the party in defence of the first Communist-led Ministry in the stormy mid-months of 1959 against the ‘liberation struggle’ of the reactionary forces which were fully backed by the State and Central Congress leadership, including Indira Gandhi, who was the Congress President, and Prime Minister Nehru. Giving no quarter to the Congress, Ajoy at the same time rebuffled any attempts to make it a ‘communist versus the others’ affair. He made it clear that what was at stake was the democratic system of our country and the basic principles of the Constitution. His speeches and press conferences put the entire Congress leadership on the defensive and in the dock. Although the Ministry was unconstitutionally removed from office, it was the Congress, including Pandit Nehru, who suffered a political-moral defeat. It was the CPI which gained the sympathy of the vast masses and broad democratic sections many of whom were far removed from communism and even opposed it.

Another splendid instance of Ajoy’s deep understanding of India was the speech he made at the National Integration Conference in September 1961. He put the whole problem in the proper historical and class perspective and linked it with the entire process of the post-independence developments in our country. What was of equal importance was the importance that he attached to the specific features of what can be called the superstructure of Indian society, eschewing any narrow so-called ‘economic determinism’.

It was in the fitness of things that, apart form leading the election campaign of our party in 1962 during the course of which he died, one of the very last political actions of our party which he headed was the powerful nationwide campaign, joined by many other patriots and democrats, that Goa had to be liberated before the end of 1961. Tremendous was his joy when with the entry of the Indian Army into Goa on Decmber 18, 1961 this aim was achieved. He took pains to point out on this happy occasion that deep from the underground the Communist Party of Portugal, which had consistently supported the cause of Goa’s liberation, sent greetings to the CPI and the entire people of India. He also emphasised the indispensable role played by the firm support to India by the Soviet Union including its use of the veto in the Security Council.

One could go on and on writing of the political work of Ajoy. In his case politics was the man. Nevertheless, there was also the man in politics. Shy, reserved but full of humour and humanity, he had a sense of Spartan discipline and of austerity which was an example to all who met him. His powerful intellect probing the complex reality of our country and of our times never missed the subtlest of nuances. But about himself and his personal needs he was totally absentminded and forgetful even to a fault. For him the party and its line and its advance was life; the rest at best was incidental to this consuming passion. It is such persons forgetful of themselves who are remembered by others, by the party, by the millions and, in the end, by imperishable history. n

[From a piece on Ajoy Ghosh written by the author as the Introduction to a reprint of Bhagat Singh and His

Comrades, thirty years ago in February 1979]

Ajoy Ghosh met Pandit Nehru to discuss the whole (India-China border) issue. So did Dange. The Prime Minister was upset and surprised that the seasoned and mature Chinese leaders should display such strange fears that India might serve as a launching pad for an anti-Chinese sally by the imperialists. Had they not known what the Indian leaders had stood for and what they were? For him, the territorial claims were a pretext. He said that he knew that the Chinese tended to be expansionist when they had a strong central power but then what would their communism be worth? He still did not expect the Chinese to attack on a large scale though skirmishes woiuld take place. But damage had been done to both countries and to world peace and security. He was upset to learn that the Indian Communists’ appeals seemed to be falling on deaf ears. He imagined the Soviet leaders would not be able to do much as the Chinese did not seem to trust them. While taking all necessary security precautions he felt that there should be no panic and every effort should be made to get the negotiations going. There was absolutely no sign of any jingoism, aggressiveness and no anti-communism…..

…..the Chinese sniping at the borders of India and at the CPI continued. This helped the Right in the country at large and the ‘Left’ inside the party. By now the latter had organised itself into a party within the party and had acquired more self-confidence by the establishment of direct connections with the Maoists in Beijing. The common point was hostility to the Congress and Pandit Nehru personally. The aim was to first capture the central party leadership and then to use the mechanism of democratic centralism to impose its views on the party as a whole. Of course, as ‘true’ revolutionaries there was no question of their submitting to the same discipline. In spite of his steering a Centrist course in the attempt to preserve the unity of the party, Ajoy Ghosh had no intention of letting the ‘Left’ have its way. He was equally, if not more determined, that the Maoists should not dictate the policy and actions of the CPI. In what was, perhaps, the last press conference he held at the CPI headquarters, he spoke out very strongly against the Chinese Communists’ attempts to assume that they had the monopoly of Marxism and wisdom and they knew the situation in India better than anybody else. He categorically differed from their assessment of Nehru as a ‘running dog’ of imperialism and of the Indian state as representing the interests of the reactionary big bourgeoisie and landlords serving the interests of their collaboration with imperialism. He added that as the General Secretary of the CPI, his views were the authoritative Communist views on India.

At long last, the CPI had expressed its public disagreement with its Chinese counterpart—something which Dange had done much earlier and for which he had been censured by the party....

So the die had been cast. Ajoy Ghosh now became as much the target of the CCP as of the ‘Left’ in the CPI. A vicious personal slander campaign was unleashed against him. Even his ill-health was sneered at as being a pretext for frequent trips to Moscow. He was, in fact, quite unwell and scheduled to leave for Moscow for treatment in the autumn of 1961. He had already taken leave on medical grounds from General Secretaryship. E.M.S. Namboodiripad had taken over as Acting General Secretary. When he applied for formal permission to proceed to Moscow, E.M.S. informed him that this permission was being withheld. He was told that this was also in view of the prevailing inner-party situation. On his return, whatever view he expressed would be taken to be those of the CPSU. This would be unfair to those in the party who held different opposed views. It was not Ajoy Ghosh who told us what the Acting General Secretary had said, but the latter himself when he called a meeting of leading members of the apparatus of the central office of the CPI to clear misunderstandings. Ajoy could have had this decision overturned by calling a full meeting of the Central Secretariat and Central Executive Committee where the ‘Left’ was in a minority. He did not do so because he was personally involved and he was a very decent peson. E.M.S. had shifted closer to the ‘Left’ after Vijayawada and saw himself in a new historic role as the General Secretary of the CPI. It was quite a shock for some of us to see that such an important leader could be so small and inhuman. Ajoy Ghosh stayed on. He returned to work as the General Secretary when he should have been resting. In a few months thereafter he had to bear the brunt of leading the CPI in the 1962 general elections. In fact, he had wanted to go for treatment to Moscow in order to be fit enough to discharge this responsibility. In the course of campaigning he had a massive heart attack and died while being treated.

[From A Traveller and the Road: The Journey of an Indian Communist by Mohit Sen, Roopa and Co., New Delhi, 2003, p. 203, pp. 209-211]

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