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Mainstream, Vol. XLVIII, No 38, September 11, 2010

Remembering Ravi Narayan Reddy

Friday 17 September 2010, by Mohit Sen

Ravi Narayan Reddy was the outstanding leader of the Telangana armed struggle. His birth centenary celebrations took place last year and are still continuing. September 7 marked his death anniversary and September 17 is the Hyderabad Liberation day. We offer tributes and salutations to Ravi Narayan Reddy by publishing the following article (constituting the introduction to RN’s autobiography) written by the renowned Marxist ideologue and CPI leader, late Mohit Sen.

The continuity of his passions and the change of their focus have both to be understood if we are to understand RN. He did not break from the Congress to become a leader of the Communist Party but moved with his heritage to a new level of his life and work.

Any perceptive reader of this autobiography will find for himself the truth of what has been written above. There is no need to elaborate this point in the introduction which I am writing.

What would, perhaps, be worthwhile is to write something about what RN came to mean and continues to mean not only for Communist sympathisers but for progressives and nationalists.

Despite all that was done to him—slander, isolation and, at one stage, threat to his life—by some of the leaders of the Communist Party, he was not disillusioned about the ideals and philosophy of communism. In conversations I had with him beginning in 1955 and till a month or so before he died, there were many occasions when he spoke in glowing terms of these ideals and this philosophy. What had changed, to an extent, was his integration of these ideals and philosophy more directly with the noblest ideas of Indian thought and more particularly with Gandhism.

He considered that Gandhiji’s emphasis on morality in action was needed by all activists especially the Communists who generally thought not of the best way to reach their goal but what seemed to be the quickest way of so doing. In his view, this was one of the main reasons for the grave setback suffered by the Communists all over the world.

At the same time his opinion was that the communist philosophy and methodology combined the highest idealism and strictest scientific approach to an understanding of society as well as the way to change it. That grave and damaging mistakes were committed by the Communists in India and elsewhere he readily admitted. But he stressed two other points in this regard.

First of all, the Communists had not committed only mistakes. They had pioneered in fighting national injustice and social exploitation and in organising the toiling people. Apart from the macro examples of the Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions as well as contributions to the Indian revolution made by the CPI, there was the micro but important emphasis of the new inspiration and impulses imparted, by the Communists, to language and culture. In Andhra Pradesh Telugu and Urdu language and literature were transformed by the Communists as well as traditional folk forms like the Burma Katha were revived and given a new content.

Second, the philosophy and method of Marxism-Leninism provided a worldview and standpoint that was matchless. It gave purpose to life and opened up nature and history to national scrutiny in an unparalleled manner. It made possible greater sovereignty and power for man. It helped one to both interpret and change the world. Of course, there was sectarian abuse of the strength of Marxism-Leninism. The contributions and insights of other philosophies were disregarded. The need for learning from new experiences and fresh knowledge was derived. Above all, what Lenin emphasised that truth was always concrete or Mao Zedong stressed that one had to seek truth from concrete facts tended to be ignored. Additionally, of course, there was the dogmatic and authoritarian influence of Stalinism. The latter was particularly strong in the CPI as well as in the subsequent breakaway formations from it since most of its leaders identified Marxsian-Leninism with Stalinism. Only P.C. Joshi and S.A. Dange were original thinkers who had their roots in Indian thought and the national revolution. To the end he retained his historic optimism that Marxism-Leninism would become again what it had been and at the same time reinforce itself by new truths and closer integration with the thought systems of the great civilisations of the past.

RN was, of course, a thinker. He was equally a leader of revolution. In fact, history will place him among the great makers of our national revolution. He tried hard and even up to the last years of his life to make the CPI ally with the Congress while retaining its identity. And its critical approach to such policies and actions of the Congress which it considered wrong. He wanted the CPI to boldly experiment and function as a pathfinder as it had done in the 1920 and then again in the mid-1930s. He wanted it, of course, to avoid the wrong understanding of internationalism which led it to oppose the 1942 August Revolution. But he was proud of the fact that it was in this period that the CPI, under the dynamic leadership of P.C. Joshi, became a nationwide organisation. It was in those years that the CPI published journals in all the Indian languages in which serious political, economic and natural scientific topics were discussed, internal developments were featured and analysed. Literature, too, was brought out in all these languages. The basic works of Marx Engles, Lenin and Stalin were translated in all major Indian languages. Prominent cultural personalities, including scientists, either joined the CPI or became its friends. P.C. Joshi corresponded with Mahatma Gandhi in which he termed him the “nation’s father” while the latter, even while disagreeing with the CPI’s ‘people’s war’ strategy, expressed his admiration for the Party. Sarojini Naidu, C. Rajagopalachary, B.C. Roy were among those who had affection and love for the Communists despite their errors.

RAVI NARAYAN REDDY’S life was a glorious tragedy. He lived his ideals and he lived for his ideals. Neither the ideals let down the man nor the man the ideals. He accomplished much. He left a rich heritage of ideas and deeds. Yet he could have done much more. He was let down by companions he never forsook but who found him and his fame inconvenient in his last four decades.

This is one of the reasons why what can best be described as fragments of an autobiography should be carefully read and made known what stands out about RN’s consistency and adhering to the truth as he saw it. It began with the start that he made. Personally there was no reason for him to give up the life of cultured ease that his birth entitled him to. Within the life of comfort he could also have done political work and made his contribution to the political activity of the Hyderabad State.

There were two reasons which made him do otherwise. One was his passion for the freedom of India. The other was his passion for justice and equality. It was the contribution of these two passions that drew him to being a leader of the Congress in the erstwhile State of Hyderabad with Gandhiji as his chief inspiration. It was the further pressure of the same two passions that brought him into the communist movement and Communist Party.

RN stressed that the austere lives, simplicity, dedication and high intellectual qualities of the Communists impressed everybody except the diehard anti-Communists. Moreover, despite all the differences there was the common bond of battle against the British colonialists. He never forgot to remind persons that it was during this period when the supposedly “anti-struggle” P.C. Joshi was the General Secretary of the CPI, that some of the most powerful militant mass actions were headed by the CPI, including the Telangana armed struggle. But these were not struggles for the sake of struggle. Nor were they struggles which broke out at the command of the Party. They were struggles of the masses themselves in which the Party played a leading and organising role. Least of all were these struggles intended to expose the so-called “treachery” of the Congress or to turn the masses against the Congress especially at a time when the British colonial rule was the chief obstacle to Indian’s progress. At the same time such struggles were intended to and did increase the power and organisation of the toiling people as well as their weight and influence in the general national struggle. The approach was of regarding the national struggle itself as the conglomerate of class struggles.

Another distinctive feature of RN’s outlook was expressed in his approach to production and productivity after India became free. To increase national production and national productivity was a continuation of the national anti-imperialist struggle in the new conditions. In this sphere, too, the Communist Party should be in the forefront of the effort to increase national production and productivity as well as in the forefront of the struggle to ensure that the gains from production and productivity were used for the benefit of the nation and to improve the conditions of living and enhance the opportunities of the working people and the downtrodden. He was one of those Communist leaders who wholeheartedly supported the Nehruvian strategy of the 1950s and thereafter. What he strongly emphasised was that this strategy’s success required the unity of all nationalist and Left parties, forces and persons. In concrete terms this, above all, meant the unity of the Congress and the Communists.

At the time of the Palghat Congress of the CPI in 1956 he wrote to this effect in the party discussions forum. Dr B.S. Paranjpe and I helped him with the drafting of the note. It was then that I experienced the directness of his thought and his capacity to go straight to the heart of the matter. Since the CPI needed and believed that it needed allies to carry forward the democratic revolution, with which ally could it combine which was more nationalist and progressive than the Congress? Could it be the Jana Sangh (the predecessor of the BJP) or the DMK? If it spurned these parties as well as the Congress then did it believe that it could on its own carry forward the democratic revolution? These were uncomfortable questions which the sectarians and the so-called Centrists in the CPI simply refused to answer.

These questions remain relevant today at the national level as well as in Andhra vis-a-vis a regionalist party anywhere in the country. He was, of course, opposed to the BJP and to attempts to equate the Congress with the BJP. He reminded all those willing to listen that there has been the historical tragedy of the Communists and the Social-Democrats failing to unite against the Nazis and Fascists for which both of them had to pay a heavy price. His warning has turned out to be prophetic. Unfortunately in his case also it has been proved that prophets are generally not honoured to make use of his prestige but not made much effort to take his advice seriously.

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