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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 20, May 10, 2014

Defeat of Neo-liberalism will be the True Tribute to Sunil

Monday 12 May 2014, by Prem Singh

Sathi Sunil is no more. He had a sudden brain hemorrhage and lost consciousness. After four days of struggling with death in that condition, he eventually passed away on of April 21, 2014. For years Sunil had been wanting to travel the country to raise awareness among the people about socialism. This wish of his could not be realised, and Time claimed him as his own co-traveller!

Sunil’s last rites were conducted the next day in Delhi itself. Condolence meetings were conducted for him at the AIIMS on the 23rd and at the Gandhi Peace Foundation on the 24th. Dr Lohia, whose ideas influenced Sunil deeply, believed that if a leader were to pass away abroad, his last rites should be concluded there itself. Within the country this ought to be taken care of. Sunil’s kin and colleagues did not insist on having the last rites in his birthplace or workplace—where he stayed and worked for three decades. It seemed appropriate to bid him farewell in Delhi since he had died here.

However, I was struck by the irony that Delhi, which has been targeted by a poet like Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and a thinker like Rammanohar Lohia; and which Sunil had abandoned for good after his brief stint as a student of MA Economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University almost three decades back; it was in this Delhi that he breathed his last and returned to the elements. When Sunil was brought to Delhi following his brain hemorrhage in a state of unconsciousness, I was reminded of Muktibodh. He too had been brought to the AIIMS from Madhya Pradesh. He too had never regained consciousness. He too was cremated in Delhi. Muktibodh’s times were different. ‘Kahan jaaun/Dilli ya Ujjain?’ (Where to go? Delhi or Ujjain?)—his predicament involved an ambi-valence-conflict of choice. In Sunil’s time, five decades later, Delhi has been reduced to a full-fledged mandi (market) of corporate brokers, unashamedly parading its brazenness!

I kept feeling that even though Sunil had breathed his last in Delhi, his last rites should have been performed in his village Bhumkapura in Kesla tehsil in the midst of his own people, in the presence of Guliyabai and Phagram.

There have been many people in India as well as elsewhere, who have never aspired to have their own families or have subsisted on very little along with their families in their commit-ment to a life of thought and struggle. But it is not necessary that they choose such a path in order to oppose the core of the capitalist system. Knowingly or unknowingly, their very austerity can even strengthen capitalism. Capitalism has opened its coffers of wealth and consumerism for all its votaries. People in high offices like us also get our wages-allowances from the same coffers now. In the third phase of globalisation (following the Washington Agreement between British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan in the eighties), if one looks behind the curtains of all the people/ organisations committed to ‘service’, one will find that they are all indeed serving capitalism. As an integral part of the pervasive neo-liberal order in the Third World, this is the age of NGOs. Sunil was very much aware and cautious of this phenomenon. He could not be appro-priated: certainly not in his entirety; in fact, not even in bits and parts. This, of course, had to do with his ideological commitment, but, perhaps, his fakeer-instinct also helped the cause. Well before he became a fulltime activist in the socialist movement, he had been named the ‘JNU’s Gandhi’.

It is wrong to say that Sunil was an idealist. If one could manage to descend from the ground of neo-liberalism to the utterly devastated ground of the deprived masses, one would realise that Sunil was a committed realist. It is also wrong to suggest that he believed politics and idealism can co-exist and remained engaged in attempting this reconciliation. In Sunil’s perception politics and ideal (ism) are not two separate categories. Such misconceptions are often generated to hide one’s deviation from the socialist ideals while aspiring for power.

Without ideals, no efforts are ever possible in life. The ‘ideal’ for a majority in Indian and world politics today is neo-liberalism. That is why it is prospering in the whole world. The ideal of the pre-independence politics was freedom. People were prepared to suffer and even lay down their lives for that ideal. The ideal for post-independence politics was socialism, towards which certain provisions were made in the Constitution. Sunil was someone who treaded the path towards the socialist ideal in politics.

I worked in the Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP) for fifteen years. I left the SJP in 2009 and till the formation of the Socialist Party in May 2011, I continued to work for it as a like-minded comrade. I never had any ideological differences with Sunil. Even though Sunil never directly criticised the World Social Forum (WSF), he was in agreement with my criticism of it. Both of us disagreed with the NAPM’s anti-political stance. We were both opposed to the organisation of the Commonwealth Games and the corruption therein. When Chandra Shekhar passed away, I wrote a piece of tribute for him which appeared in Mainstream. Sunil wrote to me stating his disagreement with my tribute. He sent the same comment to other colleagues as well. Kumkumji suggested that I should respond to it, since she is the one who finalises my writings in English and also looks out for any ideological lapses in any article or proposal. I of course believed, and so did she that there was no praise for Chandra Shekhar’s ‘socialism’ in the tribute; rather it was a homage to Chandra Shekhar’s bid to oppose globalisation in Parliament and outside. I told Kumkumji that if Sunilji had made a comment, he was likely to say something again on the issue. Soon enough he wrote again to say that he had had a lot of things on his mind lately and that he had written his initial comment in a hurry. He wrote that after a re-reading he realised that he agreed with whatever had been said in the tribute.

However, on India Against Corruption (IAC) and the anti-corruption movement including Anna Hazare, Ramdev and the likes, we disagreed. A few months before the beginning of the anti-corruption movement, I had a discussion with him about this issue on our way to Kanjhawala camp in Delhi. I submitted to him clearly that it would not be proper for either you or the SJP to get into this muddle. He had listened to me carefully. Whatever followed is known to everybody.

For the past two years he had been editing Samayik Varta from Kesla-Itarasi on his own. He had a very positive gesture towards the routine memorial lectures, political, cultural, literary seminars/conventions/ workshops/ study circles we hold in Delhi and always asked us to send reports of them for Samayik Varta. That Varta must continue regularly and retain its edge, was something that even Kishanji wished for. Sunilji took its entire responsibility upon himself. He, in fact, was writing the editorial of Varta when he suffered a paralytic stroke. Not only must all the comrades bring out a very good issue in Sunilji’s memory; they must also ensure regular publication of Varta.

A major part of Sunil’s writing was in Hindi through Varta. He competed with that English which emerges from the high echelons of corporate capitalism and openly robs away nation’s resources along with all possibilities of independence, self-reliance and original talent. From his first booklet titled, Dunkel prastavon ko kaise samjhein (1991), to the recent one titled, Bhrashtachar ko kaise samjhein (2013), his work is incredibly important from this perspective. A few years back I had delivered a lecture in a seminar at the Hindi Akademi, Delhi, on the merit of the Hindi prose written by Sunil, Sachidanand Sinha and Kishan Pattnaik. Some of my students had requested me to write the same lecture as a paper, which I could not do.

Sunil was a scholar of economics and we used to called him a ‘zameeni arthshastri’ (grass-roots economist). He always wrote about a complex discipline like economics in Hindi, thereby challenging the assumptions of globalisation. Challenging globalisation was the gist of his personality, thoughts and work. There is absolutely no contradiction to be seen in it.

He worked extensively on the question of education too. Prof Madhu Prasad of the All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE), while offering her tribute to Sunil, submitted that she learnt a lot from him and Prof Anil Sadgopal on education related issues in the era of globalisation. We must keep the spirit of Sunil Bhai alive in order to meet the challenges. Remembering Sunil’s contribution in this field Swami Agnivesh said the tribute to Sunilji should not remain a ritual. He suggested that first and foremost a common school system must be enforced all over the country. These are right suggestions. We can all rally together under the aegis of the All India Forum for Right to Education, of which Sunil was an active member, and fight for equal, free and quality education, provided by the state, for all. If we can thwart the neo-liberal assault on education, it will not take long to oust it from the economy and polity. That shall be the true tribute to Sunilji.

Former Fellow, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and a teacher of Hindi at the Delhi University, the author is the General Secretary of the
Socialist Party (India). He can be contacted at

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