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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 31, New Delhi, July 18, 2020

Jolly Kaul’s Quest For A Better World | Bhanudeb Dutta

Friday 17 July 2020

by Bhanudeb Dutta

As soon as the death-news of Jolly Mohan Kaul reached me, though not a bolt from the blue, immediately a thought flashed on me on a group photograph put up at the office of the Indian Society for Cultural Cooperation and Friendship (ISCUF), 77 Lenin Sarani, Kolkata. It was actually a group-photograph of 36 founder members of the ‘Friends of the Soviet Union’ along with a Soviet journalist Mr. Peter Gladyshev which was taken at historic 46 Dharamtala Street (now Lenin Sarani) in 1943. Of these members the youngest one was Jolly Mohan Kaul who was then twenty-two. The senior-most persons were Dr. Bhupendranath Dutta (then 63) and Muzaffar Ahmed (54). Jollyda was the last living member of that photograph until the 29th June 2020 , the day he passed away following a massive heart attack

Jolly Kaul (JK) died at 99 and he had seen the Communist Party(CPI) in different phases. It is convenient for me to present him in three periods albeit very briefly. First period refers to the ground-work for his grooming towards Marxism which lasted up to 1941 when he became a card-holder of CPI. The second period is from 1941 to 1962, a period of germination of dream for communist advancement, involving himself with trade union movement and reposing faith on the working class and ordinary members of the party. But unfortunately this phase ends up with his resignation from CPI on 21 January, 1963. Third phase starts here involving himself deeply in a thought-exercise. He looked back why it went wrong and so, this phase is the period of critical evaluation of the past and being rooted in Marxism and tried to get a solace from the Gandhian philosophy and Vivekananda.


Jolly Kaul was a brilliant student of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata and then to the Kolkata University. He passed B.A. (hons) in English with a first-class. At the latter place, he . having been associated with the All India Students’ Federation, formed an intellectual group with politically conscious students. Their object was to present before the students various socio-economic and political problems of different countries. He took an active role in organizing debates where in one occasion Prof. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan and Prof. Hiren Mukherjee participated – a spectacle ever to be remembered as a golden memory to the contemporary students. Sometimes the discussion on culture used to be organized by these students where once luminaries like Mulk Raj Anand, Prof. Hiren Mukherjee and Surendranath Goswami delivered their speeches on new culture. JK was an active organizer of all these and thus an imprint of communist ideology began to groom in his mind. He was brought up and gradually trained towards rational and Marxist thought in such an atmosphere.

It is noteworthy to mention here that such an atmosphere could be built at the university because of a bunch of brilliant students behind JK and they together put up their genius through that organization and set up almost simultaneously another organization named as Youth Cultural Institute. Few names besides JK were Subrata Banerjee, Debabrata Bose (grand nephew of Jagadish Chandra Bose) Sunil Sen, Uma Chakraborty (later Sehanobis), Kamal Bose, Sujata Mukherjee (later Davies), Mohit Banerjee etc. While being a student, JK Performed two plays in English meant for the Calcutta University Rowing Club of which he was a member. His untiring effort engaged him to write the plays in English like ‘Politicians takes to Rowing’.

JK’s culture-bent mind paved the way for the formation of YCI in the middle of 1940. Jollyda became the founder Secretary of the YCI and retained this post till 23rd September 1941 when he joined the underground team to work for CPI. Once a Bengali drama ‘Kerani’ (The Clerk) written by Sunil Chatterjee, the dramatic director of YCI was staged at the Muslim Institute Hall with JK as one of its cast. From an article written by Sri Amarendra Mukherjee in ‘Unity’ on December 1953 we come to know “The play was staged for the second time at the Y.W.C.A. Hall at a Cultural Festival Organised by the YCI. Prof. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee was the chief guest and Mrs. Sarojini Naidu was one of the distinguished guests. (Marxist Cultural Movement, Vol. I, compiled by Sudhi Pradhan). Thus under JK’s leadership, YCI took culture to the ordinary people but always remaining conscious to the line of demarcation between art and propaganda. This organization ultimately gave birth to Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) and remained a precursor and path-finder to a broad-based progressive cultural movement spread over India.


Jolly Kaul became a member of CPI in 1941 when the party was banned and thus the second phase of his political career started, though the ban was lifted in 1943. He plunged fully in the trade union movement and party organization. He became Kolkata District party Secretary in 1952. During this period he saw P.C. Joshi, the general secretary of CPI being stripped of his post even before the second party congress when BT Ranadive moved into the shoes of Joshi. Jollyda was to some extent soft and respectful towards PC Joshi for various reasons, mainly due to his attachment to PCJ in the initial period of his party career during the underground days. His sincerity, affection and devotion towards the working class lasted unflinchingly not only upto the end of this tenure but to the end of his life.

JK expressed his regret on many occasions that CPI in its decision-making stage kept the working class away from the leadership. He was also annoyed with the idea of working class leadership being under the care of middle class. This has on many occasions evoked economism in the trade union movement. Even at times Party’s position has been over-ruled on the plea of trade union independence.

Here I am tempted to cite an example of Tram fare increase resistance movement in 1953 .On 15 July all Central Trade unions and left parties including CPI jointly called for a strike excepting the AITUC affiliated Calcutta Tramways Workers Union. JK was then the district secretary of the party. The present writer had the privilege to meet him and to know from him on why the CTWU did so and why he did not mention any such reason in his autobiographical book published in 2010. He said it was just an omission and should be included in the second edition. He showed me the paragraph left out in the book and permitted me to include it in my book (15 volumes of ‘In search of the history of Bengal’s Communist movement’ (Bengali) if I so desire. I complied with and included it in my 7th volume (p.328) published in 2011.

The paragraph is hereunder.

“To make an objective evaluation of the issues involved, it is necessary to consider first the rationale of the decision taken by the Tram Company to enhance fare. Our contention that the motive behind this decision was to earn super profits to be taken out of the country was erroneous. In the absence of factual data on the exact financial condition of the company at that time, it is difficult to say whether the company was running at a loss. There seems no doubt, however, that its financial condition was deteriorating. Moreover, it was faced with the demand of the workers for increase in wages and improvement in living conditions. Wages were quite low at that time and the postwar inflation had taken a further to toll. It is in this background that one can understand why the tramway workers the most organized and militant section of the trade union movement in Calcutta at that time voted unanimously against the strike. No increase in fares, the workers knew very well meant no possibilities of wage increase”. By the way CTWU got dissociated from other workers and immediately corrected their mistake and declared an indefinite strike which compelled the government to send the issue to the tribunal.

The central committee of CPI adopted a document on 14 June, 1955 prior to the party’s Fourth party congress (Palghat) which was to be held in early 1956. The state party leaders and district leaders were divided on making a national front and democratic front. It was desired by the C C that “ The decision arrived at by the central committee will be tested in practice during the next six months, during which the entire party will engage itself in the task of implementing these decisions in their day-to-day work. The party will at the same time subject the line advanced by the central committee to a process of free inner-party discussion with a view to further improving it” (New Age Monthly, July 1955).

The debate on the document within the party was centred around the following :- (a) Policy and class character of Nehru Government; (b) The possibility of capitalist development in India ; (c) Relation between external policy and internal policy; (d) Contradiction within bourgeois class; (e) Government of National Front and Democratic Front; (f) Leadership of the working class. Of these, main contradictions were on class characterization of bourgeoisie and formation of front whether national or democratic. Jolly Kaul and seven others suggested that “by giving concession to the national bourgeoisie or by giving leadership to them, one cannot bring national bourgeoisie in the democratic front. Only the united strength of working class and peasantry is able to bring the national bourgeoisie to the democratic front”. Thus JK supported the formation of democratic front in which the class evaluation of the bourgeoisie was not made properly, the position changed only after the adoption of 81 party congress documents in Nov 1960 in Moscow.

In October 1962, Indo-China border clash exerted a violent jolt inside CPI as to who was really the aggressor. Jolly Kaul did not hesitate to criticize the Chinese role. He sided fully with the national council of CPI which branded China as aggressor. Thus CPI stood by the side of the national government in the face of the external contradiction. He did not budge an inch to call spade a spade. From then on flood of pamphlets began pouring in the Indian political arena which gave further solidity to his position in regard to China. These are :- (a) The philosophy of Nehru in the light of Indo-China border question (People’s Daily, 27th Oct, 1962), (b) Workers of all countries unite, oppose our common enemy (People’s Daily, 15.12.62); (c) The difference between Comrade Togliatti and us (People’s Daily 21.12.1962); etc. As against these, important resolutions were adopted by CPI viz. “unite to defend our motherland against China’s open aggression” – adopted by CPI National Council 31.10-2.11.1962 and “On need for a new world conference of communist and workers parties – adopted by CEC, 29.11 – 1.12.1962.


Though it was encouraging to find that majority of the communist parties in the world were not in tune with the Chinese Communist Party, JK did not see any hope to avoid the virtual split of the party. In such a situation he tendered his resignation on the 21st January 1963. He had expressed in his letter his perturbation both on the international situation and party’s internal condition. While he did not put forward any reason on the first one since he knew that as a result of the process of discussion in the international communist movement, he would get the answers he was seeking for. He opined in clear terms Chinese views at that time were wrong and harmful and majority of the communist parties did not see eye to eye with CPC.

JK’s resignation was due to internal situation of the CPI which was then, in his opinion and in reality also, in virtual split. Severe bitterness and mistrust among the members of the party prevailed throughout. Even the comrades arrested at that time were construed as a handiwork of the comrades following the national council line. The dissident group did not even hesitate to mention this subsequently in the political and organizational report of the 10th State Conference held on 22-26 Oct, 1964. The report mentioned, “Putting allegation against the arrested leaders and pleading not guilty for begging help from the government, they (N.C. Supporter - BD) sent a delegation (with Renu Chakraborty and Jolly Kaul) with a memorandum to the Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri”. Manikuntala Sen (JK’s wife and legendary women leader of West Bengal in the forties & fifties of the last century), in her book “SEDINER KATHA” astonishingly bemoaned, “Then are we Police Agents?” Jolly Kaul, unable to bear such a situation of mistrust and bitterness, thought best to snap ties with the party without assigning any particular reason.

Though the above incidents are all related to the second phase of his life i.e., before 1963, these are all put in the third phase, since he has himself hinted all these things in his resignation letter only in a few words like “virtual split”, “as a result of the bitter internal strife” etc and wrote a memoir “In search of a better world” published in 2010.

Jollyda in this third phase led a very modest life at the Karaya Housing Estate, Park Circus, Kolkata shattering even the most unfortunate remark made by Prof. Hiren Mukherjee that “they got shelter in the aristocratic affluent section of the society”. (Hiren Mukherjee – Tari Hotey Teer). It is true that for his livelihood he had to choose the profession of public relations an option at a time of dire distress. Till death, he was in that simple two-roomed flat.

That is the place wherefrom wrote Jollyda his memoirs looking back to the past and relating all these to his dreams nursed from his glittering gold university days. His death has invited many adverse comments about him from all through sectarian corner but as a man and in his intellectual stature, the adversaries are no match to him and nothing could daunt him from his path of conviction towards democracy, socialism and peace. His unfailing memory, analytical power, clarity of thought and sobriety in behavior were the elements of attraction to the posterity when on many occasions including this author used to throng around him for his advice and suggestion on political issues either of the past or present. In actuality, he believed in independence of thought, freedom of expression and humanism which he found lacking on many occasions inside the party specially during the last period of his party life. He referred to humanism because he saw it to be emasculated in the name of dogmatism, sectarianism and last but not least discipline’.

In conclusion, with my respectful tribute to Jolly Kaul, we, the communists can imbibe many things from him and in my opinion, the most important ones at the present context are to acquire an analytical frame of mind and always self-quest for one’s wrong renunciating dogmatism, sectarianism and hegemonism. His dream like every communist was in search of a better world (so named his book) and our honesty and sincerity towards this will be a befitting tribute to him.

Bhanudeb Dutta is a communist leader in West Bengal

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