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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 35, August 15, 2009 (Independence Day Special)

Tribute to Subhas Chakraborty: A Maverick Communist with Mass Following

Wednesday 19 August 2009, by Sumit Chakravartty


The untimely death of Subhas Chakraborty, 68, West Bengal’s Minister for Transport, Sports and Youth Affairs, in Kolkata on August 3 has caused a genuine void in the State’s Left circles. A maverick Communist in every sense being unorthodox and independent-minded both in his utterances and his activities, he was a real people’s leader and this was testified by the unprecedented crowds that came out on the streets of the city during his last journey—the metropolis was literally plunged in grief.

One of his close friends in his younger days, senior journalist Dilip Chakraborty (editor of the well-known periodical Saptaha), who along with Subhas was a leading figure in the Left students’ movement in the fifties and early sixties but subsequently distanced himself from Subhas’ political ideology and organisation, has written that Subhas was full of courage, an able organiser and one of the closest disciples of the CPM patriarch Jyoti Basu (because of the latter he joined the CPM though he along with other young comrades were later groomed by the party’s State Secretary, Promode Dasgupta).

His livewire contacts with the people at large was used by the party leadership in different ways—in mass mobilisation as well as during elections in varied forms—but the same leadership did not allow him to rise in the party organisation while far inferior elements with barely any talent registered meteoric rise within a brief span of time. Till his death he was denied entry into the party’s Central Committee whereas only because of his mentor Jyoti Basu’s vocal intervention was he made a member of the State Secretariat practically at the fag and of his life. The reason? He was neither dogmatic nor doctrinaire and never shied from calling a spade a spade.

Only recently after the party’s electoral debacle in the Lok Sabha polls this year he openly said on TV: “The Congress being the biggest anti-imperialist organisation in the country it was wrong to have withdrawn support from the UPA Government.” He also made fun of Third Front stalwarts like Navin Patnaik who severed ties with the BJP at the last moment and wondered how such personalities were more anti-imperialist than the Congress leaders. He further had a snipe at the CPM’s central leaders who sat in their comfortable rooms at the AKG Bhavan in the Capital and had no contact with the masses; he declared that he wanted leaders at every level in the party to contest elections to enable them to gauge the mass mood. Moreover, he felt there must be a genuine evaluation of the effect of the CP split in 1964, that is, whether it has helped the new party (CPM) to grow. The party leadership frowned on him, clarified that those were his personal views and not of the party, but had no courage to take disciplinary action against him as he was a man of the masses who would be antagonised by any such step. During his passionate advocacy in favour of Jyoti Basu’s Prime Ministership in 1996 and the Left parties joining the UPA Government in 2004 too the party leadership chose to ignore his views but could not publicly attack him for his opinions—a fate that would have befallen any smaller fry.

SUBHAS always placed the nation and the people above the party, and hence had the best of relations with members and leaders of all parties. This was witnessed not only in Railway Minister and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s visit to Peace Haven in Kolkata to pay homage to the departed leader but also, and more notably, in the presence of former State CM and erstwhile Union Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray (who usually does not go out anywhere these days due to his multiple ailments and walking difficulties) at the West Bengal Assembly to offer him floral tributes when his body was brought there. Outside the political arena too he was most popular. The way the entire sports community mourned his demise was really unique. From Dubai Ravi Shastri sent a warm message saying how deeply he would be missed. Even Diega Maradona paid handsome tributes to him from afar—an ardent lover of football, Subhas had arranged for his visit to Kolkata in the recent past. The film world was equally affected—matinee idol Mithun Chakraborty accompanied the body to the crematorium sitting alongside Subhas’ wife and son in the van carrying his body.

That was Subhas Chakraborty, the like of whom would not be seen for a long time. Of course, he courted controversy by his pronouncements and his deeds. But he had the courage to speak out his mind without caring for the consequences. And he helped all who came to him in their hour of need.

Would another Subhas emerge in the CPM? The answer, at this point in time, would definitely have to be in the negative unless the party decides to dump the sectarian arm-chair ideologues (shaped in the Ranadive mould) in the central party leadership to radically transform itself. As of now that possibility seems remote. However, Subhas’ replacement in the State Ministry, Kanti Ganguly, one knows from personal experience, has many of his traits and could follow his footsteps in due course.

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