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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 19 New Delhi, April 25, 2020

An Octogenarian Communist Looks Back

Saturday 25 April 2020, by Barun Das Gupta


Oshitipar Chokhe Firey Dekha
Communist Jiban
By Nitai Basu
(Ganaudyog Prakashani, Kolkata
Price Rs. 120.)

The author, Nitai Basu (full name Nityagopal Basu), was born in a rural middle class family in Khulna district (now in Bangladesh). He portrays a picture of the social life in rural Bengal in the 1930s. Most members of his family were freedom fighters. A book written by his father was proscribed by the British Government.

After reading up to Class V in his village school, he came to Kolkata in 1941 for higher studies. While in college, he came in contact with the All India Students Federation, the student wing of the undivided CPI. Those were tumultuous times. Anti-imperialist movement was at its peak. He got membership of the CPI in 1947. After passing the I.Sc. examination, he joined the Jadavpur Engineering College (which later became the Jadavpur University) as an engineering student.

Meanwhile, he had become a full time worker of the CPI. He took part in the peasant movement of the 1950s and worked under the leadership of the legendary peasant leader Kansari Halder. But his attendance in the engineering college became very irregular. Ultimately he had to opt out of engineering and become a student of economics in the Bangabasi college.

A remarkable feature of this autobiography is the author’s unreserved criticism of the party and party leadership whenever he thought the party was pursuing a wrong line. He is bitterly critical of the Left-sectarian line of the party during 1948-51, when B. T. Ranadive became the General Secretary of the party. He describes how the Left-sectarian line alienated the party from the masses..

While participating in the refugee movement, he faced police bullets. A bullet pierced his right hand. He had to be hospitalized. About the refugee movement also, he is frankly critical of the party’s refusal of then Chief Minister Dr B. C. Roy’s offer of settling the East Bengal refugees in the Andaman islands and insisting that all the refugees must be rehabilitated in West Bengal.

He describes how, under the party’s order, he and some of his comrades tried to derail local trains in the south section of the then East Indian Railway and how the whole plan came a cropper. On looking back he is happy that the plan failed. He and his comrades had never thought that if their plan succeeded, many innocent passengers would have been killed.

He describes how the peasant movement at Kakdweep in South 24-Parganas failed, how the common peasants did not at all like looting the granaries of the zamindars and distributing the rice among the poor peasants. Before that the all-India railway strike called by the party had also fizzled out. Ultimately the party realized that armed peasant uprising in some isolated pockets was an impractical proposition and gave up that line. No peasant revolt, he realized, could ever be successful by sending some city-based students to the villages. He dismisses the whole idea as Left-wing infantilism. (Incidentally, the same mistake was again committed by the Naxalites in the 1960s.).

He is bitter about the split in the undivided CPI and in all its front organizations as a sequel to the Chinese aggression of 1962. He puts on record that when a CPI delegation met Stalin in Moscow after the Left-sectarian line of Ranadive had failed disastrously, Stalin pointed out to the CPI leaders that no revolution against the armed might of the police and the army was possible with a couple of hundred guns. He is equally frank about his assessment of Jyoti Basu: “Jyoti Babu did not take part in any theoretical debate. We never came across a single theoretical article by Jyoti Babu.”

The author recalls the rapid expansion of the CPI under P. C. Joshi’s leadership. Joshi brought into the party people from different walks of life – poets. litterateurs, singers, playwrights. He regrets that the Left-sectarianism of the party alienated many of these talented people. The loss was the party’s, not theirs.

About the present situation, he says that the unity of all democratic and secular forces is the need of the hour. The Congress has to be a part of this unity. He recalls the progressive steps taken by the Congress in the past – from bank nationalization, to coal industry nationalization, to abolition of the zamindari system and of the privy purses of the former rulers of the princely States. He reminds his comrades that in saving the peasant leaders of Telangana from the gallows “the Congress was our principal associate.” He reminds them of the intervention of Gandhiji in the Kanpur Bolshevik Conspiracy Case against the communist party leaders of those days.

He regrets that for the sake of blind anti-Congressism, the party had once helped the BJP. He questions: “ By what criterion of class politics did we support the BJP, except for immediate gain?” He questions why Prakash Karat and some other Leftists are so averse to having any truck with the Congress? Why the CPI(M) and the CPI, which claim to be unalloyed Marxist parties, are pursuing an anti-Congress line? All anti-democratic forces are now under the umbrella of the BJP. The need of the hour is to unify all anti-communal, democratic forces – be it Congress, Trinamool Congress, SUCI, PDS, CPI(ML) Liberation or anyone. “We cannot leave out any potential ally from this unity”, he says.

The author also had a brilliant career as a professional economist. He rendered great service to the adivasis of Ranchi. But that part of his life is beyond the purview of this review.

Barun Das Gupta

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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