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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 21 New Delhi May 12, 2018

PIPFPD’s Homage to Dr Ashok Mitra

Sunday 13 May 2018

Co-Chairpersons of Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (India Chapter) Dr Syeda Hameed and Tapan K. Bose and General Secretary of PIPFPD (India Chapter) Vijayan M.J. have issued the following statement after the demise of Dr Ashok Mitra.

Dr Ashok Mitra (1928-2018) is no more. Economist, politician, political and literary author, analyst, columnist, Dr Mitra was known to the world in many different contours, that truly reflected most of his life. For the members of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) in both countries, we pride in that we got to see another face of this quintessential intellectual as an advocate of peace, justice, democracy and people-to-people relations—amidst hostility.

That Dr Ashok Mitra left us on the Inter-national Labour Day, is just a classic coincidence that reflects on his lifelong focus on working class politics, economic theorisation around the Marxian frame and undeniable people-centrism. He was formerly Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, the Finance Minister of West Bengal and a Rajya Sabha member from the State, in the Indian Parliament’s Upper House.

‘Ashok-da’ headed the Indian Chapter of the PIPFPD during some of the very troubled years of Pakistan-India relations. If the limited war at Kargil had inflicted enough scope for an all-out war between the two South Asian neighbours, the attack on the Indian Parliament House and the war cries that followed, led to an eyeball- to-eyeball situation between the two nuclear countries. The first NDA regime, led by A.B. Vajpayee of the BJP, was up against the militaristic authoritarianism of General Parvez Musharraf. Speaking about reviving India-Pakistan relations was a taboo, with people’s platforms like the PIPFPD almost facing extinction under the jingoistic nationalism of the conservative elements in society and polity.

The Bangalore Convention of the Forum in 2000 had audaciously decided to take forward people-to-people relations as the core focus, including efforts to build relations with the people of divided Kashmir. Ashok Mitra chaired the Forum into its historic Joint Convention in Karachi, where more than 500 Indians and Pakistanis from all walks of life interacted with each other openly and came out with the historic Karachi Declaration, in the year 2003. Referred to as the ‘Karachi turnaround’, the Convention was instrumental in reducing tensions and putting the relations back on to the track of ceasefire monitoring, dialogue and non-interfering co-existence. Despite the Agra logjam, caused by nationalistic arrogance, the interventions by a host of people, including Dr Mitra, opened the borders (literally at Munabao-Rajasthan and Kashmir, along with opening up the rail and bus services) for the people of both countries. Families got re-united, people were able to visit relatives, trade relations restarted and even the conservative governments had to control belligerent voices and attitudes.

Dr Mitra’s vision and courage immensely guided the Forum in undertaking a fact-finding mission to Gujarat, in the aftermath of the Godhra violence and the Gujarat pogrom. It led to the PIPFPD becoming one of the first international platforms to bring out a report on what was happening in Gujarat and the impact it had on the criminalisation of society. The PIPFPD helped in relief and rehabilitation, but also the legal assistance of victims—through solidarity groups.

Dr Jayati Ghosh wrote about Ashok Mitra in her review of “A prattler’s tale: Bengal, Marxism, Governance”, published by Samya, Kolkata 2007: “It is difficult to write about those whom you love. Curiously enough, the difficulty is not only because of the fear of excessive partiality: it is also because love brings with it the freedom to be exasperated. And intimacy creates very complex and textured perceptions, often too nuanced to be easily captured in mere words”.

The Forum members across India and Pakistan express our grief at the loss to the movement in the demise of Dr Ashok Mitra. We are orphaned in many senses. However, the conviction, intelligence and courage reflected through his life, especially in calling out totalitarianism and hegemonic capitalism, will be cherished by all of us. We vow to live for the battles he lived for.

‘Nigah buland sukhan dilnawaaz jaan pursoz/ yehi hai rakht e safar mir e karvaan ke liye’

(‘Lofty eye, dulcet speech, feeling heart/only this is the baggage of the caravan’s leader’)

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62