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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 19

Lest We Forget

Tibutes to: P.N. Jalali, Sibnarayan Ray, Bazlur Rahman, Madan Lal Didi, Rajendra Sadangi

Sunday 27 April 2008

[(Several noted personalities have left us in the last few months. We offer our sincere homage to their abiding memory.)]

P.N. JALALI, born in 1926 in Srinagar, was a self-effacing freedom fighter attracted to the national movement drawing inspiration from the legendary Bhagat Singh’s heroic exploits. As with many other freedom fighters in the Kashmir Valley, he was soon to join the communist struggle for independence as an integral part of the national movement; but what distinguished him from others was his silent and tenacious work within the National Conference giving it a clear-cut revolutionary—anti-feudal and anti-colonial—character during the British days without in any way projecting himself. In the process he suffered imprisonments too. During the Pakistan-backed tribal attack in the late forties he and the Communists in the NC played a seminal role in organising the public resistance to that onslaught and thereby ensured that Kashmir’s accession to India was final and could not be reversed by external pressure, howsoever strong.

A brilliant blend of nationalism and communism, P.N. Jalali was a progressive journalist who worked in IPA, Patriot and PTI; he also wrote for Mainstream. His wife Sumitra, whom he met in the fifties in Czechoslovakia (where he had gone for treatment as he was quite seriously ill), predeceased him some years ago.

Jalali all along maintained livewire contact with N.C. who was introduced to the vortex of Kashmir politics by the erstwhile CPI General Secretary, Ajoy Ghosh, in the fifties. During N.C.’s visit to the Valley in 1967 it was Jalali and D.P. Dhar who helped him get a clear idea of the developments in the region; his talks with certain leading figures in Sheikh Abdullah’s camp at that period assisted in laying the firm foundation for the Sheikh’s detailed discussions with the national leadership leading to the former’s rapprochement with the Centre in the mid-seventies. In this whole exercise Jalali played an exceptionally significant part, as always, behind-the-scenes, a characteristic he shared with the founder of this journal. In 1990 he had to quit the Valley but never severed his organic links with Kashmir. A proud, upright and dignified Kashmiri he breathed his last in New Delhi on February 7, 1990. His funeral at the Capital’s Lodhi Road crematorium brought together all sections of Kashmir’s political life (some of them not on talking terms with each other)—from Farooq Abdullah to Saifuddin Soz, thus providing a glimpse of the broad sweep of his influence in J&K. Also present were a large band of Kashmiri writers and journalists like Badri Raina and Zafar Meraj—all of whom held Jalali sahb in esteem.

ON February 26 distinguished educationist and writer Sibnarayan Ray passed away in Santiniketan (West Bengal) at the age of 87. An outstanding student, he obtained his post-graduate degree in English from Calcutta University securing the Regina gold medal; thereafter he was engaged in research for two years having won the U.N. Mitra scholarship. From his student days he used to write regularly in different journals. He joined teaching in 1945. That was the time when he came in contact with M.N. Roy and became his close associate from 1946 to 1954; he also edited four volumes of the Selected Works of M.N. Roy (published by the OUP from 1987 to 1997).

Chairman of the Department of Indian Studies at the University of Melbourne (1963-81), he was also Professor at the Universities of Bombay and California (Santa Barbara), Research Fellow at the Universities of London and Chicago, Director of International Seminar on the Role of the Intelligentsia in Asian and African Societies at the University of Mexico, Chairman of the first International Conference on Modernisation in Asia at the Korea University, Seoul, presenter of the Keynote Address at the World Congress of Humanists at the University of Oslo, Director of Rabindra Bhavan (Archives and Museum), Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, Chairman, Raja Rammmohun Roy Library Foundation, and founder-editor of Jijnasa, a Bengali quarterly of ideas and inquiry. He has been a visiting lecturer at various universities, among them Oxford, Cambridge and London, Heidelberg, Cologne, Humboldt (Berlin) and Frankfurt, Wisconsin, Michigan, Columbia and South Carolina, Malaysia, Dhaka, Rajshahi and Chittagong. He has published and edited over fifty books in English and Bengali, and many of his writings have been translated and published in French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Hindi, Marathi and Telugu. He was honoured with an Emeritus Fellowship in Literature and was a Senior Research Fellow of the Indian Council of Historical Research. He was acclaimed by the late Bertrand Russell as an important thinker of our time, and was a member of the Board of Directors of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Utrecht, from 1962 to 1968.

Sibnarayan was active in denouncing, with other intellectuals of West Bengal, the inhuman atrocities, criminal assaults and killings organised by the ruling CPM on the people of Nandigram last year and played a vital role as an advisor to the Forum for Artistes, Cultural Activists and Intellectuals set up in the aftermath of the Nandigram massacre. Later he was quite vocal in decrying the manner in which the Centre and State Government sought to curtail the activities of Bangladeshi author residing in Kolkata, Taslima Nasreen, who was personally close to him: Taslima considered Sibnarayan as her mentor and guide, and Sibnarayan held her in deep affection. In his death the country has lost an erudite scholar and genuine free thinker who never hesitated to fearlessly defend the persecuted and hapless humanity whenever the occasion arose.

ON the same day—February 26—another figure departed from the scene: well-known Bangladeshi journalist Bazlur Rahman who was the Executive Editor of Dainik Sangad, published from Dhaka. His was an untimely death as he breathed his last following a massive heart attack at the age of 67. Born in Sherpur (Mymensingh district), Bazlur was active in the East Pakistan students’ movement and played an important role in the Bangladesh freedom struggle. He edited Ekata, the organ of then outlawed Communist Party, and subsequently in 1971 Muktiyuddha when the battle for Bangladesh’s liberation was at its peak. His wife, Matia Choudhury, one of the brightest student leaders in the sixties, earned the epithet Agnikanya (Daughter of Fire) for her fiery speeches during the 1969 Agartala Conspiracy Case the Pakistani authorities had engineered to discredit the movement for East Pakistan’s self-identity. Later she joined the NAP and thereafter the Awami League; she was the Minister for Agriculture in the Sheikh Hasina Government a few years age. (Bazhur and Matia’s spartan lifestyle provided a glaring contrast to the prevailing scenario—they kept their sense of idealism intact through all their travails.)

A person of deep commitment and progressive orientation, Bazlur was a true friend of India and always sought to unite the progressive forces in his country against reactionary elements of all hues including the religious fundamentalists (which is why he could not remain confined in the sectarian groove of the Communist Party). The media as well as the progressive forces of Bangladesh and the entire subcontinent have become poorer as consequence of his sudden departure.

IN the demise of veteran Communist and trade union leader Madan Lal Didi on March 12 Punjab and the country as a whole have lost a prominent freedom fighter who worked with extraordinary zeal for the emancipation of the toiling people. Born on March 19, 1924, he joined the Communist Party of India in the late forties and began organising the workers of Ludhiana. In the process he had to undergo numerous sacrifices, spend several years in underground, suffered imprisonment and incarceration; and in due course rose to high positions in both the AITUC and CPI.

His funeral at Chandigarh attracted a large number of people from all walks of life bearing testimony to the popularity and prestige he commanded in the public sphere. It was punctuated by the recitation of his revolutionary poems by his wife, son, daughter and comrades-in-arms. He leaves behind his wife Shiela, son Rahul, daughters Poonam and Sumita.

ON March 27 the anti-displacement struggle in Orissa received a heavy blow with the passing away of 48-year-old business executive-turned-revolutionary democrat Rajendra Sadangi due to cerebral malaria. He was the vital link between all such movements in the State—from Kalinganagar to Ersama to Lanjigarh—and acted as he real coordinator of all these struggles.

Only in February this year Sadangi had at a meeting in New Delhi explained in depth the nature of these ongoing battles in Orissa. In a recent report he wrote:

Corporates have decided to swap positions with the government in crushing dissent and opposition against land acquisition for their mega projects. They are not prepared to wait any longer. They are in a hurry. The stakes are very high. Today it is the case with Kalinganagar and Ersama. Tomorrow this may spread all over the country. The people of Kalinganagar and Ersama have so far fought valiantly and have decided to respond by organising large congregations to give a fitting reply to the corporates. It is the responsibility of all pro-people political forces to fight this menace both singularly and unitedly on a war footing.

The best tribute to Sadangi’s memory would be to raise these struggles to higher levels in the days ahead.

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