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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 1 New Delhi December 23, 2017 - Annual Number

Tribute: Sukharanjan Sengupta

Sunday 24 December 2017

by B.D.G.

Veteran journalist Sukharanjan Sengupta passed away on December 9 in a Kolkata hospital at the age of 85. He was suffering from old-age ailments for some time. His association with and reportage of the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 made him well known.

He began his career in the now defunct Loksevak daily of the erstwhile Krishak Mazdoor Praja Party (which later merged with the Socialist Party to become Praja Socialist Party) in 1950. After the paper closed down he joined the daily Janasevak, the mouthpiece of the West Bengal Congress. He left Janasevak to join the daily Jugantar where he spent the better part of his professional life. From Jugantar, he went to Ananda Bazar Patrika from which he retired, bringing to an end his colourful professional life. But he continued to write.

His autobiography Bhanga Pather Ranga Dhulay is a must read for those who want to know the politics and politicians of pre-Partition Bengal and their mutual relationships. It is full of interesting anecdotes that bring out little known facts. He came in contact with leaders like Atulya Ghosh of the Congress, Shyamaprasad Mukherjee, founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, and illustrious journalists like Hemendra Prasad Ghosh and Tushar Kanti Ghosh.

His coverage of the Bangladesh liberation War made him famous. His reports used to be quoted by foreign news agencies like the BBC. He personally knew all the prominent Bangladesh leaders except Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was in detention in West Pakistan throughout the liberation struggle. Later, after the liberation of Bangladesh, he came to know the Bangabandhu as well. [Some Bangladeshi historians have written about Sheikh Mujib’s clandestine visits to Agartala to get in touch with Jawaharlal Nehru through elements in the Indian military there in the 1960s, the essence of the Agartala Conspiracy Case that was framed against him by the Pakistani authorities. But Sukharanjan was of the view, based on indirect evidence, that Mujib actually came to Kolkata in early 1962 and through the then West Bengal CM, Dr B.C. Roy, was able to contact Nehru for advice. The Bangabandhu had, of course, denied in the Conspiracy Case the charge of having established contacts with the Indian PM at Agartala.]

In Kolkata he was familiar with the Ministers and senior bureaucrats of West Bengal and was on first-name terms with many of them including a former Chief Secretary.

In 1979, a few hundred East Bengal refugees who had been settled in Dandakaranya were wooed back to West Bengal by some Ministers of the ruling Left Front. They were resettled at Marichjhapi in the Sunderban area. They believed in the assurances given them by the Minister and came away from Dandakaranya, only to be set upon and hounded out by the police of the Left Front Government led by Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. Some 1700 of the refugees were killed by the police and the cadre of the CPI-M. Their shacks were burnt. The boats they were trying to flee from Marichjhapi were sunk by the police, their meager food stocks were destroyed.

The entire area was made out-of-bounds for mediapersons. Sukharanjan evaded the vigil of the lynx-eyed police and the party cadre, sneaked into Marichjhapi and came back with firsthand reports of the brutalities committed upon these hapless people.

He had an elephantine memory. For his widely known ability to remember and recall correctly the events, dates and the personalities involved in political incidents he was fondly called a ‘Living Encyclopedia’ by his colleagues. It was only during the last stage of his life that the memory he was famous for and relied upon by his friends began to dim. A few days before his death a colleague rang him up for some details of an old political incident and for the first time heard Sukharanjan say apologetically “Sorry, my memory is failing. I don’t remember anything of what had happened then.”

A man of simple habits and friendly to all, the image of dhoti-clad Sukharanjan will remain permanently imprinted on the memory of all those who knew him.

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