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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 26, June 19, 2010

Prof B.B. Sarkar is no More

Sunday 20 June 2010

Bibek Brata Sarkar died on May 16, 2010 in Delhi, aged 75. A teacher of Political Science, he had lectured at Ramjas College (1963-64), Dyal Singh College (Evening) (1963-64), Kirori Mal College (1964-83), and then in the Department of Political Science (1983-99)—all in the University of Delhi. He retired as a Professor in 1999.

Known for his teaching of and abiding interest in Western Political Thought and Liberal Political Theory, his long-held belief was that it was possible to talk of political ‘theory’ in non-Western contexts like that of the Indian subcontinent, a hotly contested point through the 1960s-70s. His doctoral research from the University of Delhi was on ‘The Socialist Movement in India, 1919-1947’, revised and published as Nationalism and Marxism in India: A Quest for People and Power, 1920-1940 (Delhi: Kalinga Publications, 1990). He argued that nationalism and Marxism were the two most powerful forms of thought, action and organi-sation in this period, being different techniques of mass mobilisation and political struggle. This shared potency led to a battle between the two for hegemony over the masses, a canvas complicated further by the emergence of classes, castes, ethnic groups and communities fighting various battles for assertion. Unsurprisingly, Rakesh Gupta’s review of his book in Mainstream (October 6, 1990, p. 35) said that his book could be conceptualised ‘within the Gramscian categories of political community and political power’, raising issues ‘both at the level of theory and past socialist history’.

A diabolically ponderous man, a Social Democrat, Prof Sarkar (June 14, 1934-May 16, 2010) was an active theatre-person in the 1960s when he translated, directed and acted in plays in the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and for Voice of America radio station. He loved watching movies, listening to Western pop, Hindi film music, Bengali Rabindrasangeet and modern songs, and read widely in literature and fiction, especially the poetry of Bishnu Dey and Sudhin Dutta (in Bengali). It was an exemplification of his belief that sensitivity of the conscience— which is the whetstone for political consciousness in any person—was to be honed through all forms of creative impulse.

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