JYOTI BASU MEMOIRS
My longtime associate, Comrade Saroj Mukherjee, had requested me to write about my political experiences in Bengali. After giving it a long thought, I had decided to do so and Ganashakti serialised them which were later compiled as a book “Janaganer Sangey” (“With the People”).I have had to face many complex problems during my career which centred wholly on the liberation of the people at large. I have seen the people rise in victory as much as I have been witness to their defeat at times. These memories themselves imbibe a sense of achievement. This new book has been updated since then. If my experiences are of any help to all those who are striving to make this world a better place to live in, then I will consider my efforts a success.
Finally, I would like to repeat what I have always believed in: it is man, and man alone, who creates history. Despite the many crests and thrusts, the people will finally emerge victorious and gain freedom in a classless, society free from exploitation of any form.
January 22, 1998
CHAPTER I: CHILDHOOD
Time has travelled. It’s been over 50 years that I have been in active politics. When I first stepped on the portals of politics, the country’s struggle for independence had entered a cervical stage; our goal, at that point of time, was not only achieving freedom but how to handle it later. Building a new nation was important. But the ultimate task was to ensure the liberation of the poor. We thought of ourselves as a partner in the fight for liberation of the global labour force. Looking back, I realise the vast changes in perception over the years; both positive and negative. But the original problem has remained. In our country, the rule of the proletariat continues to elude us.Thoughts-and memories along with them- come rushing. I have put pen to paper to document only those which have braved the ravages of time. Memories which have lasted. It would be quite impossible to write about and mention all those who I have been close to. All I can say is that I have been with the people of this country and, in the process, been witness to many twists and turns of history. The people – the common man – have been my inspiration. It is indeed difficult to write about the days gone by; memories don’t paint the canvas chronologically any longer. Above all, there is always this lurking compulsion to talk about oneself. I have always been hesitant about that.
I was born on July 8, 1914 at a house on Calcutta’s Harrision Road. The name of that Street has since been changed to Mahatma Gandhi Road. My father – as did my immediate family on his side – stayed in Dhubli, Assam. My grandfather used to work there; and that was the reason for our link the with Assam. My two uncles – elder to my father – were into law. There was not much of politics in my family. Both my parents hailed from what is now called Bangladesh. The village was Baradi in Dhaka district. My mother came from an upper middle-class family; they were well to do landowners. Mother was the only girl-child in the family; on the other hand, my father, Nishikanta Basu, came from a relatively lower middle class background, having got his medical degree from the Dibrugarh Medical College. After practising for sometime in Dhaka, he left for higher studies in the US and stayed on for six years. He returned with a foreign degree after working there for some time. While he was there, he had arranged for the studies of a younger brother – my uncle – there too. My uncle became an engineer and returned to the country after 13 years.
As I have said earlier, politics was not the hot subject in our household; a certain sense of sympathy and respect for the revolutionaries of those days were, however, not missing though underplayed. Mother used to tell us that a revolutionary, Madanmohun Bhowmick, had taken shelter in our Bardi residence for quite some time. He used to stay at Dhumni in Dhaka district. He joined the Anushilan Samity in 1905; he was first arrested in 1913 when he was a final year student at the Dhaka Medical School. But the case was withdrawn for lack of evidence. It was after this that he went underground. In 1914, he was rearrested – a sick man then – in the Second Barishal Plot case and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. He was tortured mercilessly during his incarceration at the Andaman Islands. But even after release, he continued to maintain links with revolutionaries, dying in 1955.
During his underground days in 1913-14, Bhowmick used to frequent our residence often. He was always armed. He used to keep these arms for safekeeping in our residence at times. Once, there was a police raid; my mother had then hid the weapon in her saree. Incidentally, she was as much a mother to him; he used to even call her ‘Ma’.
One of my elder uncles, Nalinikanta Basu, rose from a munsif to become a judge of the high court; we are told he was the first in the courts to set such an example of distinction. Another uncle, younger to my father, was with the Railways.
Father had by then started practising in Calcutta. With time, his patients grew in number and his name spread. We used to stay opposite the Hindusthan Buildings where now stands the Elite Cinema in Central Calcutta. It was a rented house; the landlord was Dr. Naliniranjan Sarkar who was also the owner of Hindusthan Insurance. Father’s chamber of practice was where now is the Aminia Restaurant. We spent long years in the Hindusthan Building area.
When I was all of six years, I was admitted to the Loreto School where my sister, eight years my senior, also studied. My cousin sister was also there. My father was, for all practical purposes, a father-figure to a huge family. The families of my uncle stayed in the US and another uncle used to stay with us. Upon his return from the US, father learnt that his brother, his immediate elder, had passed away. That family was taken care of. This uncle had been a lawyer.
The curriculum at Loreto Kindergarten was for four years; it came down to three with a double promotion. The rules prohibited boys from studying in the school from the First standard; it was entirely meant for girl students then onwards. Father wanted to get me admitted to the Saint Xavier’s School, but by then, admissions for that session had been completed. I had to be waitlisted for the next year. Father now zeroed in on Loreto of Middleton Road but even there, we drew a blank since the Mother-in-charge told us that boys were not allowed after kindergarten there too. Back to my old school at the Loreto in Dharamtolla the Mother-in-charge realised the predicament and allowed me in. In that First Standard, I was the only boy, the rest were girls. Father reasoned that there was no point in losing out on one academic year. And so, Loreto it had to be.
I entered the second standard of Saint Xaviers the next year. It was at that time that Dr. Naliniranjan Sarkar told my father that there was some vacant land belonging to the Hindusthan Insurance at Hindusthan Park. He was ready to part with it if Father was willing to buy and set up house there. Around two bighas were bought; my elder uncle kept half of it. Father’s share was slightly less than a bigha. The entire area those days was surrounded with thick growth, almost resembling a jungle. There were no roads. We had to get down from the car far ahead. There were paddy fields, tall palm trees and stray ponds. If memory serves, our house was built in 1924; we shifted when new roads were coming up within a year. Tram tracks were being laid. The surroundings were changing. I was 10 years old. Talk of revolutionaries and the fight for independence was in the air. Father was treating a revolutionary who had been shot and wounded. Those were part of my childhood thrills.
I passed the Senior Cambridge (Ninth Standard) from Saint Xavier’s; the Intermediate was also done from that college. Time was passing fast. Then it was English (Honours) from the presidency College. It was during my Intermediate and Graduation days that I familiarised myself with the Bengali language since, there was not much scope to do so earlier.
I was in the Eight Standard of Saint Xavier’s in 1930-31. Entire Bengal was being swept by the revolutionary favour of the freedom struggle. News had filtered that revolutionaries had stormed the Chittagong Armoury. British subjects were being murdered as a counteroffensive against the torture inflicted on the freedom-fighters. But it was an unequal fight; on the one hand, was the armed might of the British Royalty and on the other, the helpless, insecure Indian revolutionary with love for the country and a fierce desire to bring freedom at any cost was his only weapon. This was not a stray wave; it was crystallising itself into a major movement from which it was impossible to stay untouched. I do not remember the exact date now but the year was 1930 and Gandhiji had begun a fast. I felt my heart heavy; I did not want to go to school. Father did not object. I accompanied him to his chamber.
It was in the same year that we heard that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was to address a meeting at the Ochtorloney Monument (now Sahid Minar) grounds. A cousin and I decided to go. We were not into “Khaddar” those days but somehow, emotion got the better of us and we went for the homespun cloth. The entire area resembled a battlefield. There were mounted policemen, ordinary constables and sergeants in uniform. When the sergeants gave chase, we decided we would not run for safety; naturally, as we started walking away in the face of the onslaught, a few canes fell on our backs. But we did not flee; that would show that we were scared. We walked briskly to Father’s chamber. One of our cousins had been with Jaiprakash in the US; he had returned as a dentist. We did not utter a word to anybody, not even to this cousin. We only asked Mother to apply some home-made lime-turmeric paste on the bruises. Perhaps that was the first public protest of sorts against imperialism as far as we were concerned.
During my greenhorn days, a relative Indusudha Ghosh, a student of Shantiniketan’s painter Acharya Nandalal Bose, was a major exception to the prevalent norms of those times. She used to frequent our residence often; she was Putu-di’s (Suhashini Ganguly’s) friend; Indu-di was also related to Bengal Lamps Kiron Roy. It was Roy who initiated Indu-di to the basic tenets of the revolutionary struggle. Later, she joined the Communist movement. After the split in the party, she joined the CPI(M). She was also the principal of the Nari Shiksha Mandir for a long time. The motherland, in ferment, the indomitable wish of a nation to be free from the shackles of the inhuman British monarchy, father’s silent but strong sympathy for the Swadeshis, Indu-di ….. all these seemed to me at that time to flash a distant signal as to what the future would hold for me. But nothing had crystallised then.
My widowed aunt, her three sons and two daughters used to stay with us. This aunt of mine was sympathetic towards the Swadeshis. People like Kiron Roy and Bijoy Modak used to visit her. They used to study at the Jadavpur Technical Engineering School. I observed them but did not quite get the feel of things then.
My, uncle Nalinikanta Basu, had retired as a judge from the high court. He had been suffering from diabetes. At that time, a special tribunal had been set up to go into the Mechuabazar bomb case. The principal accused was Niranjan-da (Niranjan Sen) and others. My uncle was asked to head the tribunal. Father was opposed to the proposal. His thesis was simple; there was no need to get involved in such affairs and uncle was not keeping good health anyway. But the chief secretary himself came over to our house and got uncle’s assent.
Though we did not have nay clear idea about what was happening around us, one feature stood out; we did not like it at all. We were young, but even at that stage, we realised that the revolutionaries were dedicated souls who were ready for the ultimate sacrifice. There may not have been too many Bengali families directly linked with the struggle, but deep inside, all of us harboured a deep love and total respect for the cause and these men. Anyway, my uncle did take up the job. The police used to confiscate “forbidden” books during raids. These books were usually kept lined on my uncle’s work desk. When he went to court, we used to take a peep at these books and return them to their old order before he returned. My initiation and subsequent alliance with so-called anarchist literature were made thus.
Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s “Pather Dabi” was published in August 1926. It was banned immediately thereafter during September-October. But by then, I had read the book, albeit behind closed doors. My cousins had a keen interest in these affairs. One of them was Prabitra Kumar Basu. He used to stay in London at one point of time. He was very involved in the affairs of the nation. But he did not live to see Independence. Bijoy Modak and some others had kept a revolver with Pabitra for safe going. They thought our house was safe enough since uncle happened to be the judge of the special tribunal. Pabitra used to cover the revolver in a cloth and keep it in a box. It was a routine of seeing him take the wrapped revolver to the bath room everyday; perhaps he had been told to clean the weapon on a regular basis. Pabitrada’s younger brother once caught him in the act. He was very curious. Once Pabitrada had gone out of Calcutta, his brother opened the box and saw the revolver. The entire family came to know about it immediately. Uncle was most embarrassed. He used to go for a morning walk everyday, accompanied by security guards and my father. He took the easy way out; he consigned the revolver to a pond. As soon as Pabitrada was back, he was flooded with questions. He got very angry and countered; “Why did you have to open that box?” But the matter rested there since nobody was keen to make an issue of it. Later we learnt the revolver had indeed been given by Bijoy Modak and his associates. By that time an armed police camp had been set up outside uncle’s house. But we were getting more and more zealous; it was as if we had now thrown ourselves fully into the Independence Movement. We were never reconciled to the fact that uncle had accepted the offer to become a judge of the tribunal, which was trying the nationalists. One of my cousins, Debapriya Basu, and I secretly drafted a letter in English. We typed it ourselves. It went somewhat like this : “You have done great injustice. You have let down Bengalis being a Bengali yourself by siding with those who are against the Patriots. This is entirely wrong. Your life will be in danger.” The day uncle received the letter, word spread around. The family was in the middle of a meal and my parents seemed to be quite disturbed. We could hear Father speak in a low tone to Mother, “I had asked him not to take up the offer. But he did not pay any heed to me. And here comes this letter and his life is in danger.”
Security at the residence was increased; the morning walk had to stop too. Both father and uncle loved to go to the market everyday together. That was now taboo. But we were enjoying every minute of it.
My brother’s marriage was arranged when he were at Hindusthan Park. The bride was Raja Presannadeb Raiket’s daughter. Both my parents had reservations about the match; some close relatives has said that the families would be imcompatible because of caste considerations. We were dumb-founded. It struck us that the question of caste could crop up like this suddenly. We laughed it away. The marriage was solemnised.
We had come across revolutionaries other than the militant types also. We used to live on the first floor at Hinduathan building; a floor above was Nalini Ranjan Sirkar. Chittaranjan Das used to frequent him at times. I have seen him myself. He used to come to father also for subscriptions. Back to Militant struggle. The Chittagong Armoury raid had already taken place in 1930. When the news reached Saint Xaviers School, there was disbelief among all round. No body could imagine that Bengalis could actually carry out a mission like this. But when it was established as a fact, the priests at Saint Xavier’s issued a leaflet condemning the raid. I raised my voice in protest. The non-Bengalis, particularly the Anglo Indians, friends did not like this at all. In fact, we had a running battle. My stand was simple; the raid had been carried on for the good of the nation. Why should the school authorities issue a leaflet like this?
I graduated from the Arts Faculty with Honours from the Presidency College in 1935. It had already been decided that I would go to the U.K. and return as a barrister. I did not oppose the idea either. Father suggested that since I was going to the U.K. then I might as well appear for the ICS also. I set out for the U.K. after my graduation results were out in 1935; I reached the shores for the Kingdom by the end of the year. Little did I realize that something great was going to happen to me; a realization which went far beyond studying law.
I reached London. I was all set to become a barrister. Following father’s advice, I appeared for the ICS examination the next year but could not make it. My law studies continued.
I was initiated to international politics in London. Entire Europe was restive; Fascist Mussolini had wrested power in Italy. In 1922, within a year of my reaching London, he was in control of Abyssinnia too. In Germany, Hitler, after going control of power, was casting lustful eyes at the entire world. On the other hand, the Socialist Soviet Russia had been trying to align its economic policies with Fascism. Japan had already attacked China.
Politics was a hot topic of discussion at all the Universities in England. Professor Harold Laski was drawing huge crowds with his anti-Fascist lectures. I had also become one with the progressive forces. I was reading a lot on Fascism. We Indian students were at the some time trying to generate public opinion on the movement back home. Krishna Menon was the leader of India League. In later Independent India, was a minister in Nehru’s cabinet for a long time. It was under his leadership that we took to our movement to London. Later my personal relationship with him deepened. All the Indian students co-operated with him without reservations. In 1936, Bhupesh Gupta came to study in London. With he was lodged in Behrampur Jail, he had graduated in arts; he was that intelligent. He also arrived in London to study law.
It was at a house in London that I met Bhupesh, his enthusiasm was contagious. Bhupesh had brought along with him a letter written to the Great Britain Communist Party leadership. Snehangshu Acharya was also present in London at that time. We met Britain’s top Communist leaders Harry Polit, Rajani Palme Dutt, Ben Bradley and others. The British Communist leadership actively helped the India League and the Indian Students.
I would like to mention here the role of two leaders of the British Communist Party; Bradley and Michele Karrit Bradley had even come to India to help the Communist movement here. He had a significant involvement in the Labour Movement too. Though he was an Englishman, he had to spend some time in India jails for his involvement in the Meerut conspiracy case. We can never forget or ignore the role of this Englishman in India’s Freedom struggle and the spread of socialism here. Karrit, on the other hand, was a top Imperial Civil Service Officer. He was even secretary to the Governor of undivided Bengal for sometimes. Once his political inclinations became public, he resigned. Some idea about his contribution to the Indian Communist Movement can be gauged from his book, ‘ Mole in the Crown’. We received all out support from leaders like these.
Hiren Mukherjee, Sajjab Zahir, Dr. Z.A. Ahmed and Niharendu Dutta Majumdar had left Britain for India in the meantime. Their absence was felt by us dearly; in fact, our enthusiasm had ebbed somewhat. We realized with the void had to be filled. Indian students at London, Cambridge and Oxford formed their own Communist groups. The British leadership advised us not to hold public meetings because the British Raj in India had already banned the Communist Party. We started attending Marxist Study circles. Our teachers were Harry Pollit, Rajani Palma Dutt, Clemens Dutt and Bradley. The entire world was by then in a tizzy. There was a civil war in Spain; all progressive forces were coming together against the dictatorial rule of Franco. An International Brigade had been set up to fight this Fascist attitude. Ralph Fox, Chirstopher Codwell and other eminent communist intellectuals had started going to Spain. Incidentally ‘For whom The Bell Toll’s by Ernest Hemingway was based on this struggle. I was getting more and more involved; deep inside; I would realize everything changing. Marxist literature and the contemporay political happenings of the world were fast pulling me into the mainstream of politics.
CHAPTER II: IN LONDON
I graduated from the Arts Faculty with Honours from the Presidency College in 1935. It had already been decided that I would go to the U.K. and return as a barrister. I did not oppose the idea either. Father suggested that since I was going to the U.K. then I might as well appear for the ICS also. I set out for the U.K. after my graduation results were out in 1935; I reached the shores for the Kingdom by the end of the year. Little did I realize that something great was going to happen to me; a realization which went far beyond studying law.
I reached London. I was all set to become a barrister. Following father’s advice, I appeared for the ICS examination the next year but could not make it. My law studies continued.
I was initiated to international politics in London. Entire Europe was restive; Fascist Mussolini had wrested power in Italy. In 1922, within a year of my reaching London, he was in control of Abyssinnia too. In Germany, Hitler, after going control of power, was casting lustful eyes at the entire world. On the other hand, the Socialist Soviet Russia had been trying to align its economic policies with Fascism. Japan had already attacked China.
Politics was a hot topic of discussion at all the Universities in England. Professor Harold Laski was drawing huge crowds with his anti-Fascist lectures. I had also become one with the progressive forces. I was reading a lot on Fascism. We Indian students were at the some time trying to generate public opinion on the movement back home. Krishna Menon was the leader of India League. In later Independent India, was a minister in Nehru’s cabinet for a long time. It was under his leadership that we took to our movement to London. Later my personal relationship with him deepened. All the Indian students co-operated with him without reservations. In 1936, Bhupesh Gupta came to study in London. With he was lodged in Behrampur Jail, he had graduated in arts; he was that intelligent. He also arrived in London to study law.
It was at a house in London that I met Bhupesh, his enthusiasm was contagious. Bhupesh had brought along with him a letter written to the Great Britain Communist Party leadership. Snehangshu Acharya was also present in London at that time. We met Britain’s top Communist leaders Harry Polit, Rajani Palme Dutt, Ben Bradley and others. The British Communist leadership actively helped the India League and the Indian Students.
I would like to mention here the role of two leaders of the British Communist Party; Bradley and Michele Karrit Bradley had even come to India to help the Communist movement here. He had a significant involvement in the Labour Movement too. Though he was an Englishman, he had to spend some time in India jails for his involvement in the Meerut conspiracy case. We can never forget or ignore the role of this Englishman in India’s Freedom struggle and the spread of socialism here. Karrit, on the other hand, was a top Imperial Civil Service Officer. He was even secretary to the Governor of undivided Bengal for sometimes. Once his political inclinations became public, he resigned. Some idea about his contribution to the Indian Communist Movement can be gauged from his book, ‘ Mole in the Crown’. We received all out support from leaders like these.
Hiren Mukherjee, Sajjab Zahir, Dr. Z.A. Ahmed and Niharendu Dutta Majumdar had left Britain for India in the meantime. Their absence was felt by us dearly; in fact, our enthusiasm had ebbed somewhat. We realized with the void had to be filled. Indian students at London, Cambridge and Oxford formed their own Communist groups. The British leadership advised us not to hold public meetings because the British Raj in India had already banned the Communist Party. We started attending Marxist Study circles. Our teachers were Harry Pollit, Rajani Palma Dutt, Clemens Dutt and Bradley. The entire world was by then in a tizzy. There was a civil war in Spain; all progressive forces were coming together against the dictatorial rule of Franco. An International Brigade had been set up to fight this Fascist attitude. Ralph Fox, Chirstopher Codwell and other eminent communist intellectuals had started going to Spain. Incidentally ‘For whom The Bell Toll’s by Ernest Hemingway was based on this struggle. I was getting more and more involved; deep inside; I would realize everything changing. Marxist literature and the contemporay political happenings of the world were fast pulling me into the mainstream of politics.
CHAPTER III: ‘LONDON MAJLISH'
At this point of time, me Indian Student formed the London Majlish. I was its first editor. My job was to create public opinion for India’s cause and collect subscriptions.
The Indian Students Federation in Britain was re-established and its mouthpiece with the Indian Students and Socialism started publication.
I have already referred to the formation of Communist groups in the various Universities in England. I cannot quite recollect the names of all the members; from what I can, those of Rajani Patel, P.N. Haksar, Mohan Kumar Mangalam, Indrajit Gupta, Renu Chakraborty, M.K. Krishnan, Parbati Krishnan (nee Mangalam), Nikhil Chakraborty and Arun Bose spring to mind immediately. These groups used to meet at joint conferences regularly. Feroze Gandhi was an active leader of the India League. He was also involved in the work of the London Majlis He made it a point to attend every meeting of the Students Federation. Snehangshu used to come too. Bhupesh and Snehangshu had already become friends earlier. One of the most important priorities of the Majlis was to host receptions for Indian Nationalist Leaders who came to London. Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Vijaya Laxmi Pandit, Congress Socialist Party Leader, Yushuf Meher Ali had all been guests.
It was Krishna Menon who introduced me to Nehru. He took me to the place where Nehru used to stay in London. I remember telling Nehru ‘ I believe in Socialism’. Nehru had replied, ‘ Our first task is to earn freedom for India. Do you people agree with this? I replied in the affirmative and invited him to a reception function. Nehru was one of those Indian leaders who I respected during my stay in London. He had rejected proposals to meet Fascist leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. Also the fact that he had raised us voice against Franco enthused us a lot. We were also very proud of Mrs. Vijaya Laxmi Pandit. It was really heartening and a fact to be proud of that Indian women leaders like Sarojini Naidu had turned to active politics when the world was rumbling with Hitler’s diktat that a women’s place was only in the kitchen.
It was during our student life in London that some of us decided for sure that once back in India, we would devote ourselves to the Communist Party.
A top Congress leader and excellent orator, Bhula Bhai Desai was given a reception in London, though we considered him to be a representative of the bourgeoisie class. The India Domicile Rule was already enforced since 1935 and in 1937, the Congress had formed governments in most of the states of India after elections. Farmers had been fired upon; we raised this issue with Desai. To this, he only replied, ‘ The farmers support only the Congress’.
We considered Subhash Chandra Bose to be a left list. We sent him a Congratulatory note after he became the President of the Congress at the Tripura Conference in 1939. It was also decided that a meeting would be held in London. We invited Feroze Gandhi who said that though he would be present at the meeting, he would not make any speech. He kept his word. There were two speakers on that day; N.K. Krishnan and I. It was after this meeting that the note was sent to Bose.
While we were still there, Bose had come to London once. A full interview of CPGB leader, Rajani Palm Dutt was published in the daily worker, a mouth piece of the British Communist Party, the next day.
Meetings of rallies were held every year at London’s Trafalgar Square on January 26. Indira Gandhi used to come for these meetings.
Before morning on to other subjects, there are some incidents relating to my stay in London, which need mention. We started a literacy campaign in East London which was populated largely by Indian sailors. The British Communist Party lent a helping hand in this too.
The civil war was or in Spain. The famous Communist leader of Spain, Ms. Dolors Ebaruri (la Pasionara) had gone to France to generate public opinion and help for the civilian government in her country. A reception was organized for her in Paris where Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohit Banerjee and Feroze Gandhi were present. But the French government would not allow here to speak on the occasion. It was at this meeting that Nehru presented a bouquet of red roses to the Spanish leader. This incident caught the imagination of the people and public opinion was veered against the French Government.
The Indian scientist, Dr. Biresh Guha, who had Communist leanings came over to London and met Rajani Palme Dutt and other leaders of the CPGB. I met him too.
Meetings of some party or the other were routine at London’s Hanistead Health area, where Karl Marx had spent a long time of his life. While a rally of the Fascist Party was on in the area one day, and India was being bandied around, Bhupesh and I could not but go upto the speaker and tell him that while he had every right to talk about his politics, there was no reason why he should be dragging our country into it. A couple of hundreds of people supported us. The police cautioned as that while we could pose questions, we would not possibly disrupt the meeting. The meeting all the same, was aborted. Of all the acquaintances in London, I specifically remember two people. One was Promod Sengupta, who was a party member. We used to meet him often. He was at odds with the British Communist Party over certain issues. The CPGB advised him to return to India and continue party work.
The second was Dr. Sasadhar Sinha. He owned a book shop called Bibliophile in London which had become a short of meeting point for us. Dr. Sinha was extremely sympathetic to our cause. I do not remember the exact year; Soumen Tagore had send a theoretical paper from India to the British Communist Party leadership which in turn, sent it to us for our appraisal. We, the Communist students, rejected it as being unacceptable. The British Party agreed with us. I remember that when we left London, tap CPGB leaders like Rajani Palme Dutt, Harry Pollit and Ben Bradley had told us categorically that formation of an anti-imperialist united front was the only way out in India at that time.
By that time, Europe was aflame. Hitler had already annexed Czechoslovakia and Poland and Britain Conservative Party Prime Minister Champerlain was only appeasing the Nazi leader in the name of anti-communism.
Champerlain returned with Peace Treaty with Hitler. The people of Britain as also all the peace loving forces of the world rosel in Vision against him. But the Prime Ministers line was that he had brought peace. His followers chimed the ‘ Follow him; Inspire him.’ A part of the Conservative Party like Harrold Laski also joined him. Indian students in Britain played a major role in forming public opinion against this appeasement policy. The London Majlis organized meetings after meeting to strengthen the Left forces.
Finally, on September 3, 1939, Britain too declared was. He also came to know that there were some differences in opinion within the British Communist Party regarding the character of the Second World War.
I appeared for my final law exams in December 1939. But without waiting for the result, I left for India within a month. Back home, I was informed that I had passed. During my stay in London, I had grasped the basic knowledge that Britain was not prepared for the war and the Chamberlain had taken it for granted that Hitler would attack the Soviet Union first and that Britain would remain unscathed. Chamberlain considered the Soviet Union, and not Hitler as the main enemy. There was no war-preparedness in England. It was only after Churchill became Prime Minister that the defence forces were upgraded and modernised. Churchill was a known Communist-baiter but even then the reason as to way he signed and agreement with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany would be an issue that would be quite outside the purview of this book.
Hitler started bombing London even as we were there. We had to wear gas masks as a precaution. After some of US took the ocean route back to India, Hitler’s Nazi started using for torpedoes; as a result, this route was stopped for civil Navigation. Bhupesh Gupta, Indira Gandhi and Feroze Gandhi were stranded in London. They had to take a detour back to India. We were suspicious that Scotland Yard detectives were on our trail; naturally, we became alert. A book,’ The History of the Communist Party’ of the Soviet Union was kept with a lady who returned with us to India. The rest of the books were with us. That we were not off the mark proved when we returned home. As soon as the ship berthed in Bombay, the books were confiscated but fortunately the “History of the CPSU” was spared.
We had already decided that we would become whole timers of the Communist Party. Some of us like Bhupesh Gupta, M.K. Mangalam, Arun Bose and myself contacted some of our party leaders in Bombay in 1940. They told me to attend a public meeting to be addressed by labour leader Swami Sahajananda. I went. It turned out to be a huge rally.
CHAPTER IV: BACK HOME
I got in touch with party leaders in Calcutta in 1940. Following party directives I did not go underground but Keeping in touch with the organization at that level was one of my most important tasks.
I enrolled myself as a barrister at the Calcutta High Court but have never since taken to practice. Simply because some of us like bhupesh and I had already dedicated ourselves to the party. Father was obviously not happy. He wanted that I start a practical and earn my own livelihood. But he was a liberal anyway; what he could not fathom was why I could not practice law and lead a political life at the some time. If Deshbandu Chittranjan Das could have done this, how was I an exception?
I remember one incident. Suddenly one day three leaders, who were under ground Kakababu (Mujaffar Ahmed), Saroj Babu (Saroj Mukherjee) and Panchu Gopal Bhaduri-told us during a meeting at our Hindusthan Park residence that it was imperative that they shift base since they were under watch. I immediately took them to a friend’s house in Dover Lane. (This friend had since been chairman of various central Government under taking). He was woken up from his sleep. He was extremely courteous and treated our leaders as guests. Later, after a shelter was identified, the three leaders were shifted from Dover Lane.
The entire character of the war underwent a sea change in the June of 1941 after Hitlar attacked the Soviet Union. From an imperialistic character, it became a people’s war against Fascism. Those of our leaders who were in jail opined the same. With the change in the character of the war, we had to change tactics also. Outside, I was also among those who relieved that this had become a people’s war.
A Friends of the Soviet Union (FSU) and Anti-Fascist intellectual organisation of writers and artists was established. I was its first secretary. Both the organization were housed at 46, Dharamtalla Street.
Talk of marriage was being discussed. I did not attach much importance to this. I know there was a long and difficult struggle ahead but anyway, I got married. My father-in-law’s name was Shri Amukule Ghosh; Prof. Prafulla Ghosh who tough English at the presidency college was part of that family. Within a few days of my marriage, my wife died. My mother died in 1941. I was sitting at the high court Bar Library when my father called to break the news. The last rites were performed by my elder brother. It was father who told me that there was no need to stick to custom and have vegetarian food. I would’nt have had anyway. But with father beside me, I got that extra bit of strength.
My life as a party whole-timer begun shortly after my return from London. When the Communist Party was banned in India during the British Raj, secret meetings used to be hold at our Hindustan Road residence; Under ground leaders took shelter also. My parents knew about it but did not object. My main task was to keep like with underground leaders and fix shelters for them and also organize secret meetings.
It was basically a communications job. During my last days in London I had established contact with a barrister who had communist leanings. I revived this upon my return to Calcutta. He had taken some risks by organizing the shelter of some underground leaders. A house had been rented in South Calcutta which had been turned into a secret base. But after a few months this a barrister friend developed cold feat; we realized that he did not want to having his head out. He stopped contact with him and discarded the house which had been taken in his name. This friend left policies after this incident.
I also used to collect subscription for the party. It was through me that many party sympathizers, including a few top government officers, donated generously. I also held party classes and was a frequent speaker in various meetings.
Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union marked a qualitative change in the international situation. Pearl Harbour came soon after and the US also got involved. The Soviet Union, Britain and the US become formal allies against Fascist forces. A part of the party leadership was in jails, while another was underground. The party leadership decided that since the character of the war had changed it was time for us to launch an all-out offensive against Fascism. The defeat of Fascism would give a fillip to our freedom struggle. The relative success of the Nazis during the initial stages of the attack on the Soviet Union encouraged the enemies of Socilism no end. They were convinced that the end of Bolshevikism had come. But we were sure that the Soviet Union would win; after all, there is no force which can defeat socialism. That the task would be difficult was known to us. Our party had always stood by the theory that only Independent India could fight Fascism effectively. But the British government was not yet ready to hand over power. The country was going through an economic crisis and even the political scenario was leading confusing signal on the question of Independence. Shortly before the quite India Movement took off on August 9, 1942, the British Raj, for their own were forced to. Some of the under trials at the Andaman Islands issued a leaflet condemning Fascism, despite his, they were not released. But the leaflet was distributed freely by the British rulers. Nationalist leaders like Nehru announced that it was only independent India which could fight the Fascist – Japanese Axis. But the British rulers were in no mood to talk about Independence. On August 9, 1942, Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad and other Congress leaders were arrested. The Quit India Movement had begun. The Communist Party opposed the movement at that time become we fell that this would only weaken the struggle against Fascism.
We demanded the release of the Congress leaders saying that this was absolutely necessary to put up an effective fight against the Fascist -Japanese Axis. The party was subjected to tremendous opposition and stiff criticism at that time. Many of our party offices were attacked and countless comrades were subjected to physical fortune almost on the lines of Fascist theory. But we continued with the Mass contact programmes and during the 1943 Famine, organised) a lot of relief work in the then undivided Bengal. It was at our initiative, that the Bengal Medical Relief Co-ordination Committee was formed. Its President was Mr. Bidhan Chandra Roy. The scope and work of the writer and artist organisation, later to be re-christioned as the Progressive Writers Forum, where enlarged.
I gave it my all too. Despite the opposition, the party progressed as a political entity and Membership increased. The first open Congress of the CPI was held in Bombay in 1943. Earlier that year, the Bengal chapter had held its maiden open session at the Indian Association Hall in Calcutta. A small provisional committee of seven members was formed. Saroj Babu has told me; as far as he can remember, according to a directives of the party politburo in 1945, all the provinces had appointed a few Provincial Committee Organisers. I was also nominated to be a PCO members.
There were many events between 1942 and 1945. But one of them stands out; the in human member of budding revolutionary writer and the member of Communist Party of Dhaka, Soumen Chanda.
We were on our way in Dhaka to attend an anti-Fascist conference. Bankim Babu (the late party leader Bankim Mukherjee) had already reached the venue ahead of us. Suddenly we noticed a group of people running; in the melee, Snehangshu was injured in the hand – We heard that Somen Chanda had been murdered. The entire conference area had been cordoned off by the police. But the conference was held. We gave speeches. But the inhuman tragedy did cast its sad shadow over the proceedings. Snehangshu and I went to Munshigunj the next day where we participated in a largely attended public meeting. From there, on to Mymensingh. After staying at Snehangshu’s residence for a couple of days, we returned to Calcutta. I have mentioned Martyr Soumen Chandra’s name only to high-light the fact that there were many such casualities during our political struggle between 1942 and 1945.
The National Leadership of the Congress was released from imprisonment at tag end of the war. The situation was volatile. Labour strikes, revolts by farmers, an indefinite strike in support of the E & T employees demands on July 29, 1946, the insurrection of the Indian sailers of the Royal Indian Navy, the police firing on a meeting in Calcutta held to support the calls of the Vietnam Liberation War and the General widespread antipathy against the British imperialists; all these went into making up the immediate history of Post-War India.
CHAPTER V: Organising the Labour
As far as I can remember, the party leadership asked me to work with the labour forces in 1944. Initially, I used to communicate with the Port and Dock labourers since we did not have much of a organisation in this two sectors. We had not been able to penetrate them. After this, I was asked to work with the labour force of the Railways.
In 1944, the party was trying to organize a Trade Union in the B. N. Railways. I was part of the effort. I met leaders like Mohammed Ismail and Nikhil Maitra. Maitra was expelled from the party later. Those who helped in this work – and I can only remember only the names of some of them – were Nityananda Chowdhury, Amulya Ukil, Purnendu Dott Roy, Satyen Ganguly and Satya Gupta. Saroj Mukherjee played a vital role during this time, it was he who introduced me to people like Ukil and others. The Trade Union activity was growing. There were calls from Dhaka. Along with Bankim Mukherjee and Saroj Mukherjee, I had to go places like Parvtipur are sodhpur. Kamania Dasgupta, who later become the Chairman of the Ranigunj Municipality, was a known figure in the labour Movement of Sodhpur. Saroj Babu used to devote a lot of his time to the Provincial Committee as member-Secretary.
It was an extremely difficult task to develop a Union in the Railways. Since there was already an existing one – the B. N. Railway Employees Association. Humayun Kabir was to later become President of the organization.
We had to fan out in areas like Sealdah, Howrah, Kanchapara and the border areas with Assam. Finally, the B. N. Railways Workers Union was established in 1944. I became its General Secretary with Bankim Mukherjee as/its President.
The War had not yet ended. It was too difficult to travel on trains. I had to make do with only a bag during commuting; I never felt any stress or physical discomfort though. We pursued our aim with unrelenting effort and branches were soon to grow in East Bengal, North Bengal and Assam. The opposition Union did not live any stone interned to spread disinformation against us.
There was a small but recognized Union at Domohari in Jalpaiguri. It was called the B. D. Rail Road Workers Union and its General Secretary was Biren Das Gupta who went as to become a member of our party. The Vice-President of this Union was Parimal Mitra. Hailing from Jalpaiguri, he was to later become the Forest & Tourism Minister of the Left Front Government in West Bengal. Much later, the B. N. Railway workers Union and B. D. Rail Road Workers Union amalgated. The new President was Mohammad Ismail and Vice President was Parimal Mitra. I was elected the General Secretary and Biren Das Gupta was made the Joint General Secretary. Kamal Sirkar and Krishnamurty from Madras were included in the working committee. A publication, Rail Mazdoor, with Parimal Mitra as its editor, was released but the entire administration devolved on Kamal Sirkar Englishman. We demanded that our Union be recognized officially. There was much dilly-dallying over the matter. But the recognition came anyway; we were further encouraged. There were some perks too; being the General Secretary of the recognized Union, I was entitled to a first class pass or Railway travel. Our influence on the labour force grew from strength to strength. The All India Railwaymen’s Federation was being run by reformists. We demanded that our Union too should be included in the Federation. They tried their best to ignore us but we were successful in the end. Earlier, the party = led SIR Workers Union had been included in the AIRF. I got involved with some other trade Unions also. Mr. Bhandarkar was General Manger of the east Bengal Railway. His son was sympathetic to the Communist Movement. Having returned after studying in Cambridge, he had joined a Mercantile firm in a responsible post.
He died before his time was due. At the time of his death, he had a savings of Rs. 10,000/-. His father handed over the money to us Saying, at the same time, that he was aware of his son’s political beliefs. He felt that it would only be in the fitness of things it his son’s savings came to the aid of the party. It was not only economic issues which rallied the railway workers. There was a constant effort to build a political philosophy. Their were instances when Railway Labours struck work over political matter. The sailors had revolted. A new history was being written at the Bombay Port by the Indian Armymen. The entire country was being rocked. The admiral of the British Navy served an ultimatum that the surrender should be effected within 24 hours. Otherwise the rebel ships would be sunk.
The BPTUC office was situated at 249, Bowbazar Street. We met there. A counter Offensive was planned. The British imperialists had to be taught a lesson. A 24 hour Railway Strike was called. No bogey would move. There would be no work. A total bandh. We were septic. Would we be successful? Yes, it was. The Railway labour force had set a new example in the struggle against imperialism.
CHAPTER VI: In The Legislative Assembly
It had never ever occurred to me that I would have to become an MLA but the party thought otherwise. And, I had to abide by the Directives. There was some other candidates too; Somnath Lahiri from Calcutta, Bankim Mukherjee from Howrah, Chatur Ali from Barrackpur, Ratanlal Brahman from Darjeeling and Krishna Binod Roy from Jessore. Indrajit Gupta, Moni Singh and Rupnarayan Roy contested from Asansol, Maimansingh had Dinajpur constituencies.
I was a candidate from the Railway constituency which included the entire B. N. Railway area except Assam. An electoral college would be formed by Railway Workers with valid voter papers and this college would elect the MLA.
My rival was Humayun Kabir, President of the Railways Association. I knew the fight would be a tough one. The congress was supporting Kabir with its full strength. Leaders like Moulana Abul Kalam Azad and had come to campaign for him. On the other hand, our union was new and our presence among the labour force had also not been for long.
But our comrades went headlong into the battle. We travelled throughout Bengal in a whistle-stop campaign; contacts were made with Railway workers with a lea to vote for us. Mr. Kabir’s supporters were up to many tricks. Top-shot Bureauirats were fudging voter papers. The rules stipulated that the election office had to send ballots to every voter in a registered envelope./News of fudging was pouring in by the minute; ballots were apparently reaching only false voters.
News reached that one thousand voter slips had reached the Chitpur ward from the post-office. All the voter slips had been accepted strangely by a single officer. There was no way but to take to the streets. It was decided that the strike would continue till all the slips reached their rightful destination. The strike started. Within hours, the Railway Officers assured us that each and every ballot would be deemed valid only if signed by the particular valid voter. The labour strike had forced this decision to come about.
But I was still slightly sceptical. Our election agents fanned out in the Railway colonies. The workers were alerted. The message went loud and clear; rigging would not be allowed. The postal authorities were also warned that it was their responsibility to ensure that the valid slips reached only the voters they were meant for.
Our doubts subsided some what. My very first election as a candidate gave me a taste of what bourgeois elections were all about. It was to baptism by fire. But all’s well that ends well. Mr. Kabir was defeated.
For all practical purpose, Mr. Kabir was a Congress candidate. Behind him was the Congress organisation and top leaders. There was a anscious effort to buy votes.
At another level, I saw what honesty and idealism was all about. Not one person of the electoral college had betrayed us; the dedication, perseverance and loyalty of our comrades ensured my victory. It was their victory, it was a party victory and above all, it was a victory of the Railway workers. Ratan Lal Brahman from Darjeeling and Rupnarayan Roy from Denajpur won. The other candidates of the party lost.
The significance of these victories were far reaching. The norm of the day was disinformation against the party and physical attacks on comrades. Allegations of treachery were being brought against us. In this background, the victory was most important.
This election was also an education. We realized that our critics and rivals could take to any means, open or hidden. During the election in the Barrackpur Constituency, I was sent as a party observer to Kanchapara. I was eye witness to the congress hooliganism.
After the elections, I returned to the State Party Office at 121, Lower Circular Road. Wounded comrades were lying on the ground floor. This was a result of congress Goondaism throughout Calcutta. The 1946 elections taught me that there could be no place for ideals and honesty in such a bourgeois set-up. The end game was to win. At any cost.
I became an MLA. Father was some what happy. That helped me in my work. For all practical purposes, I started my life as a whole timer only then. I used to give my salary as an MLA to the party. The party used to give me wages.
The political scene at that time needs to be elaborated. In 1946 under the leadership of Suhrawarddi, the Muslim League formed the government in Bengal. The Congress was in the opposition, led by Kiran Shankar Roy. We three Communist MLAs formed a separate group. The Muslim League got a majority in the 1946 elections. Suhrawarddi led the government and kept the home portfolio with him. There were seven other ministers. There were Mohammad Ali, Sayed Mojum Hussain, Ahmed Hussain, Abdul Gafran, Abul Rajar Mohammad, Abdul Rehman, Samsuddin Ahmed and Yogendra Nath Mondal. Mondal was opposed to the congress. Five to eight members of the ministry were Khan Bahadur, a title doled out by the Raj to those that it viewed to be loyal. Khan Bahadur, Khan Saheb, Rai Bahadur and Rai Saheb – these are all part of those old symbols of Prizes for loyalty. In 1946, a new Legislative Assembly was formed on the basis of the India Domicile Rule Act of 1935. The two sessions was held on May 14, 1946. It would not be futile to dwell on the economic situation of the entire nation, particularly Bengal, before going into the deliberations of the session.
Only a year earlier, on May 2, 1945, Berlin had fallen to the Soviets. The red flag had been hoisted there. We organised a victory rally in Calcutta. That year = end, the entire country rose in demand for the release of the imprisoned soldiers of the Indian National Army. There were rallies and meetings everywhere. In Calcutta, this eliminated in a huge procession on November 21. The police opened fire. Many students were killed or injured. In the January and February of 1946, Calcutta echoed with protests. The war carried on. On Rashid Ali Day, the demand that the INA soldiers would have to be freed. At another procession, voices of support were raise for the anti-imperialist struggle in Vietnam. The police opened fire again. Two young students, Rameshwar and Abdus Salem, became Martyrs in that eventful year. The labour force, particularly those of the Post & Telegraphs, observed a general strike. The student-youth-labour-employee protests were slowly creating a major struggle agianst the imperialist British.
The Communist Party was in the forefront; in Bengal, we were being regarded as a second force after the Congress. However, the League, capitalising on the Communal factor, etched out a place in the Muslim Constituency.
The Tebhaga Movement had begun in right earnest; Lakhs of farmers in the 11 States of Bengal had joined in the Parts affected were the Goro Hill Ijong area of Mymensingh, Denajur and Jalpaiguri in North Bengal, the Adhiyar dominated area of Rangpur, 24 Parganas on this side of the Gorges, Hooghly and Midnapur. The farmers of Bardhaman, Jessore and Comilla also rose again canal and other tax related disparities. Apart from Bengal, the movement also spread to Andhra, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Maharastra. And in this entire chapter of the nation’s history, the party was like a beacon and its role was that of a leader. In the mean tie, the Suhrawarddi government was forced to release the freedom fighters lodged in the Andamans in the face of a Sustained agitation. Niranjan Sengupta was a convenor of the committed set up to ensure the release of the nationalists. The Legislative Assembly session had not yet begun. The food crisis was acute. There was a need to organises a Movement to force the government to take measures on a war-footing. With the people’s support, we also launched a drive against hoarders. Fair price shops were opened is most districts. The Committee which ensured that the process went on smoothly received recognition from the government too.
The food crisis had given rise to hunger deaths. News of such tragedies were pouring in. Calcutta was being choked with hungry villagers there were reports of deaths event from a district like Dinajpur, known to be the crop bowl of Bengal. ‘Give Us Phaan (Starch)’ was the hungry shriek that echoed across the lanes and by lanes of the city of places. Bijon Bhattacharya wrote his famous, ‘Nabana’ play during these times in 1944; On the other land, the tragedy was put to canvas by artists Chitta Prasas and Jainul Abedin. The party’s Gananatya Sangha staged plays to collect money for the hunger = sticken. Great masters like Uday Shankar and Ravi Shankar joined Us in this effort.
As the party grew both in stature and in its role I found myself getting more and more involved in its activities. Trade Union work in the Railway went on simultaneously.
We were preparing for the Railway strike. I remember addressing a rally in Assam’s Laksum area on June 10 that year; the genesis of what I said was that the British had to be thrown out of the country and that the 5 lakh labours who were involved in the Trade Union activity were part of this struggle. There were meetings at Badarpur and Lamding. In the mean time, the Congress has also joined in the struggle. We demanded adjudication; the Congress supported this. My proposal was hat if the Congress joined the interim government at the Centre, then their leaders would put pressure on the Railway Board. In that event, our struggle would get a further impetus. It was possible that are acceptable solution would be found without resorting to a strike.
On September 2, 1946, the Nehru-Liaquat interim government was formed. Kiran Shankar Raj (the leader of the opposition), Bimal Chandra Sinha, Niharendu Dutta Majumdar, Nisha Pati Majhi, Suresh Chandra Banerjee, Charu Candra Bhandari and Bipen Bihari Gunguly were some of the leaders who were elected to the Legislative Assembly as Congress candidates. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was elected from the Calcutta University Constituency. He was a leader of the Hindu Maha Sabha. Krishak Praja Party’s nominee Fazlal Haque joined the Assembly after having been elected from Barishal. There were some other members from his party who became MLA/ s. There were 21 members of the European British Block and 25 from Anglo Indians. All of them were representatives of the British imperialists.
I realized that barring a few, most of the members had been elected due to Communal considerations. Most of the Congress members were Hindus; all the League MLA/s were Muslims. The Maharaja and Bardhaman was also a member representing the Royalty Block. Thus the British Raj had a major role to play in sowing the seeds of Communal Politics. We were totally inexperienced about the proceedings of the Assembly; neither did the party prepare Us for this new experience. We prepared our own questions and speeches. But I always discussed these matters with the party leadership and accepted their directives. We used to sit in a separate group. The release of prisoners, police torture, agitation by farmers and labourers, the food crisis and communal harmony – it was generally decided that we would raise these issues in the Assembly.
The elections to the Posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker were to be held on May 14, 1946. The Muslims League candidate Nurul Amin was elected Speaker with 137 votes. Rival Syed Mohammed Afzal got 93 votes. He belonged to the Krishak Praja Party.
After the division of Bengal. Amin became the Chief Minister of erstwhile last Pakistan. On the issue of the release of prisoners, a large section of the Congress and the League supported Us. But consensus eluded Us on other questions.
This was the beginning of our education in and initiation to Legislative Politics. On September 2, 1946, the interim qualition government was formed at the Centre. The Prime Minister was Jawaharlal Nehru and Liquat Ali Khan became the Finance Minister. The British had already made up their mind on partition. The setting up of the interim government was only a first step in this direction. Earlier in July the Constituent Assembly had been formed to formulate and decide on the new constitution of free India. The members of this Assembly were elected on the basis of votes by the MLA/s of various provinces. On July 17 1946, a special session was held by the Legislative Assembly of Bengal to discuss the voting pattern and process.
The then editor of Dainak Swadhinata and Party Leader Somnath Lahiri was made our nominee and he was elected to the Constituent Assembly as Communist Member. The Assembly again met on July 24 1946; it tuned out to be a memorable day. The all Party Committee going into the release of prisoners had launched a massive agitation on the issue; as part of the programme, 15,000 processionists marched towards the Assembly. Once inside the Assembly promises, they shouted slogans asking for an explanation from the government as to why the prisoners had not yet been free.
It was common knowledge with the procession would enter the Assembly premises. I had thus proposed an adjournment notice but it was disallowed. After Question Hour, I stood up and called the speaker’s attention to the fact that he had rejected my proposals. And I wanted to know why he had done so.
Suhrawarddi tried to oppose me on the question of propriety. I had him flatly that I was ready to accept the speaker’s ruling but not that of the Chief Minister. A debate ensued; the Congress Members supported us on the issue. In the meantime I had come out of the chamber and faced the processionist. I told them categorically that we had raised the issue inside and that the things were hotting up.
I reminded the speaker of my queries about the rejection of my notice. I insisted that he explain his ruling. The Speaker said that he would show me under which law he lad ruled me out only if I went to his chamber. I reiterated that this was a very important matter and that at that very moment, there were thousands of people waiting outside, clamouring for the release of the political detenus. The people wanted to know why the government could not take a decision to issue the release orders. The slogans could be heard from inside the chamber. The Chief Minister had told journalists that he would ensure the release of the prisoners. Looking directly at the speaker, I said, “I do not know why he can’t sign the order…… I request a review the matter. There is still time. Please allow a discussion.’
The Congress member Bhirendra Nath Dutt echoed my demand of and asked for a statement from the Chief Minister.” There are countless Hindu and Muslims asking for the release of the prisoners. The Chief Minister has to say why he can not……… we will not wait any longer” the Leader of the opposition and Congress Member Kiren Shankar Roy told the Speaker that while he respected the ruling, emotions were high outside; there was a huge gathering. “I do know with all the political parties, including the Muslim League, are out there….. I repeat almost all Political Parties of this province are waiting for an answer outside. There are both Hindus and Muslims……….” this statement was jeered at by the Treasury Benches.
What followed was a slanging match between me on one/side and some government MLA/s and the Chief Minister or the other. Kiren Shankar Roy and Suhrawarddi left the chamber. The speaker announced that they had gone to meet a team of representatives of the processionist. On the same day, an all-party team led by Niranjan Sengupta handed over a memorandum to the Chief Minister. Finally, Suhrawarddi was forced to face the gathering outside; I was also present. Suhrawarddi, in his broken Bengali, explained that he had gone through the relevant files many times and that he would do so again. The fathering shot back; ‘we want a deadline, not promises’ At last Suhrawarddi gave in: The prisoners would be released by August 15. The gathering dispersed peacefully.
Sometime before this unprecedented protest gathering, a few of us went to Writers Buildings to hand over a memorandum on the prisoners’ release issue to Chief Minister, Suhrawarddi, Bankim Mukherjee and Bhupesh Gupta were among those who went along with me. The memorandum had demanded immediate release of the prisoners.
Suhrawarddi asked us to sit and called for an English Officer of the Home department (most probably the Home Secretary). His name was Porter. The Officer did not have chair to sit on. As soon as he entered the room, Suhrawarddi told him, ‘Porter, why don’t you get a chair for yourself?’ Porter went out and soon returned with a chair. Suhrawarddi read out a part of the memorandum and asked him for his for his views.
Porter answered flatly. “Sir, these people (the prisoners) re all killers.” A war of words ensued between Porter and Us. Suhrawarddi then asked Porter to leave and told Us that he would look into the matter. It was then that we realized that Suhrawarddi had already taken the policy decision to release the prisoners. On July 24, he announced the decision.
However, the Committee looking into the release of prisoners did not sit idly after Suhrawarddi’s decision. Between July 25 and August 15, entire Bengal witnessed meetings and processions in which a major part comprised students. Ultimately on August 15, 1946, Suhrawarddi announced the release of all the prisoners and that steps were being taken in this regard. Suhrawarddi added that he was also reviewing the cases of others who had identified as political detenus. At that point of time, I wanted to raise an issue but the Speaker disallowed all speeches. On August 16, after the tragedy of the fratricidial riots had taken place, the prisoners were released; most of them had been initiated into communism during their incarceration. A few had, however, joined parties like Congress. Among the political detenus who were released were Ganesh Ghosh, Ambika Chakraborty, Ananta Sinha and Probhat Chakraborty. All these communist leaders were felicitated at our state party office, at 8/E Deckers Lane in Calcutta.
Earlier on August 6, I found the Legislative Assembly gates locked and that a few thousands of people who wanted to enter the premises were waiting on the streets. I was accompanied by Ratanlal Brahman. Apart from Us, Dhiren Mukherjee of the Congress and some other members of the Assembly were also left standing on the streets.
The then Deputy Police Commissioner – the Much-hated Samsu Doha – was in charge of operations. All the police sergeants were Anglo Indians. When I started making enquiries, Samsu Doha pushed me aside, so so, that my clothes were torn. Samsu Doha then instructed his police to rough me up. The Congress Member, Dhiren Mukherjee then intervened and told the police that they could not do this and that I was a member of Legislative Assembly. I was then arrested and lodged in the custody of an Assistant Police Commissioner.
When this news reached the Assembly Chamber, the session was adjourned after request from the members.
Suhrawarddi rushed out. The gathering had become extremely restive. “Even The Muslim League supporters/were up in arms against Doha.
Suhrawarddi called me, ‘Jyoti, come here’ I replied, ‘How can I? I am under arrest.’ To this Suhrawarddi said : ‘No body has arrested you – you come here.’
We met on the Assembly Premises. I was joined by many other when I insisted that Doha would have to apologize if any solution had to be reached. Suhrawarddi summoned the English Police Commissioner who, however, did not seen to be agreeable to an apology. These were arguments and counter-arguments after which the Commissioner was asked to leave. The Chief Minister then asked Doha to apologize. Doha said that while he was convinced that he had done no wrong, but since the Chief Minister was insistent, he would follow orders and apologize.
I entered the Assembly Chamber in my torn clothes. Suhrawarddi announced that he was happy to say that a wrong had been corrected, that a honourable member had been arrested but released and the police officer concerned had apologized.
He also said that he would look into the matter further. I asked him for a deadline regarding this. Suhrawarddi said that he would definitely complete the prove into this matter latest by August 17. All members of the Assembly, cutting across party lines deplored the attitude and the action of the police.
I was still in the torn clothes when I reached the party office in the evening and reported the morning’s incident. It was then that I left for home. Father was quite surprise. I told him everything that needed to be told. It was my usual practice to go to the party office every evening and report the day’s events to the leadership, for instructions on various issues. As General Secretary of the Railway Leader Union, I visited at the crossing of college street and Bowbazar Street. During recess of the Assembly, I had to tour the districts; it was always our endeavour to be in close contact with the masses to raise their issues inside the Assembly. On July 25, 1946, the Congress Member, Bimal Chandra Sinha brought an adjournment motion in the Assembly on the acute food crisis throughout Bengal. The motion castigated the Bengal government for the abnormal price rise, of failure to distribute sufficient food grains. As leader of the three= Member Communist group, I had also given notice for a similar motion.
I participated in the discussion, my first speech as member of the legislative Assembly. The Amrita Bazar Patrika and a few other newspaper gave some importance to my speech in the next days edition.
We had already discussed our stand on the food crisis with the party leadership. The district committee had also fed us with information and statistics which helped us in the Assembly debates. The difference in opinion between Us on the one side and the congress and the Muslim League on the other had become apparent on that day itself . It had also been noticed that we had done some significant and constructive work in setting up people’s committees in various districts; There Committee took up cudgels against hoarders and ensured the distribution of food stocks to fair price shops.
At no point did we expect that the Congress and the Muslim League Members would accept or party line. But again there were many leaders of other parties who met me individually and praised my speech. That speech was my first speech; it also proved that the Communist Party was now an organized force. It would not be ignored any longer.
The adjournment motion of Bimal Chandra Sinha was put to vote. We voted for the motion which was defeated 86-126.
It is important to take note of another significant debate of those times. On July 26, the Muslim League Member, Taffazzal Ali, moved a motion, it concerned a request to the Governor. The Governor was requested that he should take up the cases of many Bengali families of the Assam Valley which were facing eviction by the Assam government. It was our lea that the Governor-General be apprised of the situation and that the general feeling of the Bengal Assembly be conveyed to him.
Assam then had a Congress Government while Bengal had a Muslim League regime. Many poor farmers, particularly from Maiman Singh of East Bengal, had settled in the Assam Valley. They had been driven to Assam because of hunger. The earlier government of Assam had promised them citizenship. But Taffazzal Ali maintained that there was a premeditated plan to event them by the congress government.
This was holly contested by the congress. We also apposed the motion but for purely different reasons. Leader like J. C. Gupta and Niharendu Dutta Mujumdar of the Congress raised the question of propriety and said such motions would not be adopted by the Assembly. They could not validate their arguments with political reasoning; most probably, the fact that Assam had a congress government as well as a chances of losing popular support in Bengal made them shy away from a political debate. The Speaker agreed to a discussion. Taffazzal Ali’s speech had communal overtones. He said that Bengalis needed a place of their own. I reputed this by saying that this mirrored Hitter’s Philosophy.
The cross of the matter was simple; on the one hand, the Muslim League was busy trying to resettle the poor farmers in Assam on the plea that Bengal did not have sufficient room for them while, at the same time, the Assam government was busy trying to evict them.
We discussed the matter with the party leadership and spoke accordingly in the Assembly. My first question was why the Bengalis were forced to leave their homes and whether there farmers had been identified as a social group. They were all landless farmers who, because of tack of food and shelter, were being forced to migrate to other parts of the country. It was a matter of shame that we could not provide for them in Bengal. The Zamindari system, established by Lord Cornwallis, was playing havoc with the lives of these farmers. This system, unfortunately is evident even now. I said that this issue needed serious introspection. I called far a different approach; there was no point, I said, in making representations to the Government and Viceroy with whose approval this system was continuing. This was shameful. Azad and his Morning News was spreading propaganda against the Congress and Hindus in Assam, while some other publication is Assam were disseminating Lathed among the Assamese. I emphasized that we were fully against both there view points and propaganda. Both the Congress and Muslim League Members tried to stop me; Obviously because I had hit them where they did not want to be.
I said there was still time and that we should unite to form a committee and try to solve the problems. Going to the Viceroy would be useless. It was important that the motion be withdrawn and the focus be on Hindu-Muslim Unity. Niharendu Dutta Majumdar tried to stop me from completing my speech. I announced that the there of us in the communist block would vote against the motion. The Congress members also voted against the motion. Needless to say, the motion was adopted.
CHAPTER VII: The Riots of 1946
August 16, 1946 will go down in Indias history as a black day; it was on this day that the fratricidial riots Began. The Statesman Newspaper called it ‘The Greet Calcutta Killing.’ While its a fact that the communal elements belongings to both the Hindus and Muslims started the riots, it was equally…..that it could not have happened without the egging of the British imperialist rulers. The British had already decided that would leave a partitioned country in the lands of the Congress and the Muslims League and there could be nothing more to help in this then communal riots.
Soon after the riots started, the police administration of Calcutta collapsed completely. The police force was operated on communal lines. Despite innumerable requests to the then Governor of Bengal, the army was not called out even three days before the Riots began. When the situation went out of control and entire Calcutta city gave itself upto mass killings and boot, only then did the British rulers deploy the army and suddenly try and project themselves as “Peace-loving” and “friends of India.” They did succeed in their mission though; the genesis of the partition was sowed by the riots.
Our party activity opposed partition and with our limited renounces tried hard to keep Congress and League unity and Hindu = Muslim unity.
A majority in the Congress and Muslim League was against partition. The same was true among the Hindus and Muslims. But the reformists, provoked by the British imperialists, started the riots. Riots also took place in the Punjab, the United Provinces and Bihar. It was like a conflagration. The Muslims League called for Direct Action Day throughout India on August 16. The Bengal government announced a State Holiday. The Assembly was in session.
The Speaker had earlier disallowed the congress adjournment motion on the situation. I tried to say a few words but the speaker and the Deputy Speaker did not give me permission. I had decided that I would ask the government to revoke its holiday notice. I felt that a common man wanted to leave in peace and that there was no need to call for dissect action. It would, I wanted to say, only add to the tension in the air** but I was not given a chance to speak. The congress also announced its opposition to Direct Action Day. The Muslim League leadership was unsleken**.
Our leadership apprehended disturbances on August 16. Our leaders and comrades were asked to fan** out in the labour = dominated and mixed = population areas of Calcutta. The call for Direct Action was made by the Muslim League leadership at a rally on the Maidan in the second week of August.
Following arty directives, I went to the Labour Lines of Narkeldanga. The then Railway Union Leader, Krishnamurty and Nikhil Mitra, we re with me. We spent the evening of August 16 at the Railway colony there. I was very involved with Railway Union activities at that time. From inside the colony, we could not make out what was happening outside. We could only see some processionists shouting slogan. The labourers asked us to go, as they felt that we could be attacked. It was they who told us that the entire city was burning. Somehow we made our way to the Sealdah Station and then on foot onto Lower Circular Road. Dead bodies were strewn on pavements. The attackers were moving about freely. We avoided the pavements and walked through the middle of the road. We managed to reach our Calcutta district office at 121, Lower Circular Road near the Loreto School. Even there, the party commander had the same story to narrate. Calcutta was burning. We spent the night there. That area was not safe either; we were expecting attacks any moment. Comrades with Lathis were put on guard. We could not reach news to our provincial party office at Deckers Lane or back home. During our stay at the Lower Circular Road office, me suffered a lot; at times we had to go without meals. News, however, did reach the provincial committee office. Leaders like Nripen Sen, Saroj Babu and another comrade took a Peoples Relief committee Van to out Calcutta district committee office. Sen drove himself. We heard from them that this van had been used to rescue some congress and communist men from danger = prone areas. Infact, they had only sometime back picked up some injured people from Mirzapur crossing and got them admitted to the Medical College.
We reached Deekers Lane. Khoka Ray, Promod Dasgupta and Dinesh Roy were present there. Leaders like Bankim Mukherjee, Nirodh Chakraborty and Abdul Momen and is wife were trapped in a hotel near the Islamia Hospital at Chittaranjan Avenue. The building was already under siege. These lives were in danger. Snehanshu Acharya was all the time doing a lot to help in the rescue work.
R. Gupta, an ICS officer was in charge of the rescue centre which had been set up in the Maidan. The centre had been alerted about our trapped comrade. Even then I was asked to go and ensure that some action was taken immediately.
I took a car to the Maidan. Gupta could not be found. Mohamemad Ismail accompanied me. At the rescue centre, an English youth alongwith another sepoy came to us and heard us out. After this, they summoned for a lorry, I asked the English youth whether he would be able to handle the tens of thousands of emotional people who had gathered at Chittaranjan Avenue. I also asked him pointedly whether he would be able to manage on his own. His simplistic answer was, “Do you know that I have fought in the Second World War?”. I realised that it would be futile to say anything more and both Ismail and I followed him in our car. We did not go upto Islamia Hospital and stopped at the crossing of Bowbazar Street and Chittaranjan Avenue. We waited in our car. Strangely, as soon as the English youth alighted from the lorry, revolver in hand, the assembled rioters gave way. Bankim Mukherjee, Abul Momin, Nirodh Chakraborty and Promod Dasgupta were rescued and brought out. We could see everything from our vantage point. They were then brought to Deekers Lane. If we have waited for another half an hour, I wonder whether these leaders would have been alive.
Kamal Sarkar said that Snehangshu Acharya had also participated in the rescue mission and that they had gone to Deekers Lane in a military van and we followed them in our car. Earlier we have been asked to stay put on the crossing of Bowbazar Street.
Abdul Momin gave us the full story.
They had been trapped at the hotel. The Muslim janitor had tried to save them till the last moment. The rioters raided Momin’s room many times and asked for the Hindus inside. But the janitor had said that there were no Hindus. The room where Bankim babu had stayed was blocked from outside; however they did not stop the attackers from having doubts that there could be Hindus inside also. This went on for two days. As and when the injured were laid down in front of the hospital, the emotion which were thrown around and the tension were palpables. The janitor was helpless. It was at that point of time that we reached the spot.
Till things normalised, our party had taken the initiative in rescue work. Both Hindus and Muslims had taken shelter in our provincial Committee Office, the District Committee Office and other Units. The peoples relief committee was housed on 249 Bowbazar Street and the volunteers there were ready to give their lives to rescue out comrades.
By contemporary estimates, the causality in the Calcutta killings in 1946 were nothing less than 20,000 or more. There were some significant factors in the riots during 1946. The British Imperialists had divided the common people among communal lines. The communal element, no doubt, had been able to incite a major part of the public. But this is only one side of the story. In Hindu dominated areas were people who despite the riotous situation had staked their lives to help out Muslims; but this feeling was also reciprocated by the other community. I can give one example. The then party leader Krishna Binod Roy used to live in Park Circus. His landlord was a Muslim who despite danger had whisked Roy to a Police station and saved his life. The rehabilitation work was now uppermost. Though the riots had stopped the repercussions went on….
The stability and taken the fear psychosis from the minds of the public were among the major task in front of us. A mission for peace was then the top priority. I am proud to say that at that time our party comrades had a major role to play and formations of peace missions was our primary task, The Communist Party had already taken the lead role. This was admitted by no less a person than Chief Minister Suhrawarddi. On September 1946 responding to a No Confidence Motion against his Government, Suhrawarddi said; “I think all those who have helped in our peace efforts and joined our rallies. In particular I would like to thank some members of the Communist Party since it was they who had demanded that peace Committees be set up right from the beginning.” The party leadership had been trying to set up an all = party Central Peace Committed after the riots started. When Gandhiji was camping at Beliaghata in 1947, representatives of various parties and organisations met him uninterruptedly. I also met Gandhiji alongwith Bhupesh Gupta and asked for his advice. Gandhiji said that the best potion would be to form an all = party central committee and organise and all = party central procession. That, he added, should be the foremost task ahead of us.
We set about our work in right earnest. Almost all political parties met Suhrawarddi at a meeting at his house. Bhupesh Gupta and I represented the Communist Party where some from the Congress party and Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee came from the Hindu Maha Sabha while the Chief Minister himself represented the Muslim League. The Sikh community was also there. Even as the talks were on, Suhrawarddi took me and Bhupesh to his bedroom and told us that Shyma Prasadbabu was not willing to work on the same committee with the Communists.
The idea of All Party Central Peace Committee was still-born. But the local Units continued to work. Confidence was restored amongst the public and there was a general feeling of friendship and amity. A major part of Congress and Muslim League worked for peace. On September 1947, Dhirendra Nath Dutta of the Congress brought a No Trust Motion against the Suhrawarddi Government in the Legislative Assembly. There was a long debate and many speakers spoke on the occasion. I also got an opportunity to make my views known. However the move was defeated with 85 members voting for the motion while Suhrawarddi won with 130 votes. It was during this debate that it was revealed that both the Congress and Muslim League were divided on communal lines. The Congress speakers blamed the Suhrawarddi Government for the riots while the Muslim League members tried to convey to the Congress that it was the Hindu communalists who started it. However, it must be said that there were some members in both the parties who did not attack any particular community and stressed the importance of keeping harmony. Strangely no leader put the British Imperialists on the dock though it was the rulers who were the main culprits.
I went hammer and tongs against the British rulers and emphasized Hindu-Muslim unity.
CHAPTER VIII: Tebhaga Movement
The Tebhaga movement was one of the proudest moments in the history of the farmers’ movement in undivided Bengal. Tebhaga, simply put, mean that 2/3rds of the crops tilled by the Baradyas and Adhiyars would have to go to the farmers. The idea was to enact a low to give recognition to this demand. 41% of the farmers, according to the Land & Revenue Commission in 1940 were Baradyas and Adhiyars. In the same year the Commission had agreed that this demand was only in order. A draft bill was been readied and circulated. But this had been swept under the carpet later on. I asked Suhrawarddi as to why this has been done. Suhrawarddi told me that he did not know that we had so many landlords in his party! In other words, he admitted that it was these Zamindars who had forced the Bill to be sabotaged. The farmers waited for years. When it was realised that the Bill was only a pipedream, it was then decided that the Tebhaga demand would have to take an agitational route. After the Second World War, the farmers took to active struggle. The movement was already taking place in bits and starts in many districts. However in the beginning of 1947, it took the form of an organised movement throughout the State particularly in North Bengal. There was a general awakening in places like Mymensingh, Jalpaiguri, Jessore, Khulna, Rangpur, Dinajpur and 24-parganas. The catchword that went around was; “We want Tebhaga. We will give our lives but not our crop.” With law and order being the easiest excuse, the Police went on torturing the farmers; firing and lathi charges on peaceful gatherings were the order of the day. In the early part of 1947, I moved extensively in Mymensingh, Khulna and Jalpaiguri. My report was as an eyewitness. At least 70 farmers had died because of unjustified police firing,. There was arson by the Police. Even women were not spared. But this sort of atrocities could not stop the progress of the movement. The movement went ahead even though the police torture grew. I raised the issue four times during the month of March 1947. We had published a number of leaflets about the agitations; detailed repots had also come in from the District Units. My first hand experience during my tours also helped in preparing my speeches.
CHAPTER IX: Independence and Partition
On 15th August 1947 the country was partitioned and two Government were formed in India and Pakistan. Md. Ali Jinnah became the Governor General and Liaqat Ali Khan the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The first Governor General (only for a short time though) of India was Lord Mountbatten. Jawahar Lal nehru became the Prime Minister and Sardar Vallab Vhai Patel the Dy. Prime Minister. The constitution……?. On 26th January 1950, the Constitution of the Independent India was adopted. The first General Election was held during March 1952. It is important to elucidate the party’s stand on partition. We were against partition nut we did not have the power or the influence to stop it. Though we were regarded as a third force, we were far behind in influence compared to the Congress and the Muslim League. We had no alternative but to accept partition. However the Union Jack have been lowered. Between 1942 and 1947, our party made major progress and inroads through various agitations. “In 28 Districts, there were 2200 party members in 1942 which grew to 26,000 in 1947 : 14,000 in West Bengal, 12,000 in East Bengal (Source : Saroj Mukherjee in “Three Decades”). Our party wanted to keep the unity of Bengal intact. Suhrawarddi wanted unity too. But he wanted a “Greater Bengal”; we were against this. Sarat Chandra Basu also raised his voice against partition. As far as I can remember, he was one of those who were the first to sign leaflets against partition. Suhrawarddi and Sarat Basu had together chalked out a formula to avoid partition. But there were differences between then. Even after independence Sarat Babu had continued to speak about a Unified Bengal. The joint formula was rejected by both the Congress and Muslim League. Suhrawarddi went to live in East Pakistan after partition.. Bengal was partitioned. From 15th August 1947, the Congress took the reins of power in West Bengal. Dr. Prafulla Chandra Ghosh became its first Chief Minister. On 20th June 1947, the last meeting of the Bengal Assembly was held. At this meeting, the partition of Bengal was formalised through voting. It was also decided that Sylhet would be a district in East Pakistan. A referendum was held whether it would be in India of Pakistan. Sylhet went to East Pakistan. A border commission was set up of to delineate the borders of West Bengal and East Pakistan. The process of partition was complete. Nurul Amin was the first Chief Minister of East Pakistan. We were forced to accept reality. Both Pakistan and India went wild with the enthusiasm for new found independence. There were festivals and celebrations everywhere. I still remember that on 15th August 1947, the gates of Governor House (now Raj Bhavan) were kept open for all. At the same time at another level, minority refugees were arriving in hordes from East Pakistan. This became a national issue. A total of 35 lakh people came to West Bengal. Subsequently the number increased and the figure went up to around 70 lakhs. Even after 50 years, the Central Government led by the Congress could not solve this problem. In 1946, shortly after the publication of Dainik Swadhinata, a printing press was set up in our office at Deekers Lane in December. The house has been rented in the name of Snehangshu Acharya. The party’s 4th conference at the provincial level was held on the roof top of this house. This was after independence. Since the party was growing, a big provincial committee was elected. I was also one of the members. A part of this committee was told to look after the affairs of East Bengal. A part of this committee was asked to look after matters pertaining to East Bengal. I was still involved in the railway trade union activities and was touring throughout the State. I used to visit the railway union office every day whenever I was in town. After from the railway union, I was also involved with other labour units. Eight more ministers were taken in by Chief Minister Prafulla Ghosh in his cabinet. They were Dr. S. C. Banerjee, H. C. Naskar, Kamal Krishna Roy, Bhupati Mazumdar. The new legislative assembly had 83 members. Some congress members, who were in the earlier Assembly, had resigned. Their places were taken by new members. Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee had been earlier elected from the University Centre and was taken into the Central Cabinet. Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy was made a member of the assembly. Rupnarayan Roy could not become a member of the new assembly since his constituency fell in East Pakistan. We were left with only two members – Ratanlal Brahman and myself. Those of the Muslim League who remained in West Bengal formed a separate group. While they did not sit in the opposition benches they supported us on many issues. Md. Khuda Bux and Hassam Saheb were two of those. Hassan Saheb was the uncle of our former Stati Law Minister Mansur Habibulla. He was a progressive minded leader. I the new Assembly, there was hardly any presence in the Opposition benches. We, having only two members, were the only active opposition to the Treasury benches. The first session of the newly formed Legislative assembly sat on 21st November, a full three months after independence. Topmost on the agenda was the selection of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Iswar Das Jalan and Ashutosh Mullick were chosen Speaker and Deputy Speaker without any opposition. Ashutosh Babu continued till 1962 as the Dy. Speaker. He was an extremely lovable man and had a sense of humour.
CHAPTER X: THE WEST BENGAL ASSEMBLY
On November 21, 1947 before the first session of the legislative assembly, Chief Minister Dr. Profulla Chandra Ghosh brought a motion: “The West Bengal Government and the Legislative Assembly, during its inaugural session fecilitate and congratulate all the citizens of the State and pays its respects to those who have given their lives or who have suffered during independent struggle”. The motion was adopted with the consensus and we all stood up to support it. It may be recalled that on the very first day of the session the police of the then Congress government resorted to lathi charge and tear gas. 20 to 25,000 farmers and students at Esplanade East at Calcutta. Before the elections of the Speaker I said: “Countless farmers from various places were coming to the legislative assembly premises to congratulate us. Unfortunately, the police stopped them at Howrah and Sealdah. The Chief Minister should make a statement on why the police did this?” We were told that the Police has stopped the farmers rally at Esplanade East near Dacres Lane a place which is now known as Sidu Kanu Dahar. At that the we had not known about the use of tear gas and lathi charge. That gathering had been organised by the Bengal Provincial Krishak Sabha, The Chief Minister’s statement was not at all satisfactory. I walked all the way to Esplanade East. What I say stunned me. The police was arbitrarily using lathi and teargas on thousands of farmers. That was my first experience of what was teargas would like.. I had no idea and my eyes and entire face started burning. I went to Writers Building wiping my face all the way with my handkerchief. Both Chief Minister and Kalibabu were there. I questioned Prafulla Babu as to why the peaceful gathering was attacked by the police. I also asked them to be present and explain the situation to the fathring. Prafuill babu was a student of chemistry. He gave me a lecture as to how teargas was made. He also told me that He has to go to Dum Dum and that he can not make it possible to come to Esplanade and he asked Kali Babu to go instead, We moved towards Esplanade in Kalibabu’s car. The atmosphere we tense and everybody around jeered at Kalibabu and rediculed him. I then asked him to return since I thought that the situation may go out of hand. Kalibabu returned. I spoke to the fathering in groups. After sometime they also left. I returned to our Dacres Lane party office, reported the incident and returned home. I trued to move an adjournment motion on the incident. But could not do so because of lack of quoram. It was a that on the very first day of assembly started that police attached farmers who came to congratulate the government got lathi-charge and tear-gas in return.
CHAPTER XI: BLACK LAW
In Dr. Ghosh’s chief ministership, the first Black Law that was noticed was that the West Bengal Powers Act which was later rechristened the West Bengal Security Act. Incidently even during the British rule, the Surawardy Government had implemented the Special Powers Ordinance. The purpose behind the law had been to curb the communal powers. But the actual was to subvert the various opposition political parties to put them behind bars and to take away the democratic rights of the people in the name of security. What Shrawardy did in 1946, Dr Ghosh did on 27th November 1947 in the shape of a Bill. This Bill was sent to the Select Committee for consideration. I opposed this Bill. On 27th November, I told the Assembly that either the Bill should be withdrawn, or our public opinion should be sought. I want “This draconian Bill gives unlimited power to the bureaucracy and the police to check public agitation’s. The Suhrawary Government had also used this Ordinance for the same purpose. The ordinance has stipulated that if the Police feels that if a person or party was acting against the interest of the State’s security that they can be arrested and unlimited powers in the hands of the police in the act. The Congress Government had also used this ordinance on 8th December 1947. Dr. Ghosh in answer to my query said “Under the ordinance of 1944 Sec, (8) Somendra Nath Tagore had been arrested without trial and he himself has ordered this”. We questioned as to what the charges against them were. The Chief Minister said that according to information with the Government, Tagore and his followers were upset with the security of the State. He also said that this ordinance is in use in various districts and many arrests have already been made or being made. It was this ordinance that the Gosh Government brought forward as a Bill, Despite protests made from Muslim League, Abdul Hassan and others the Bill was sent to the Select Committee. Interestingly Suhrawardy had used the same ordinance the crush the Tebagha movement. The new Bill gave rise to a state wide agitation and all party central team to protect the rights of the citizens we set up by our party. Those who took active part were Sarat Chandra Basu the then Bengal Provincial Marinal Kanti Bose, Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, Congress leader Khitish Prasad Chatterjee and the leadership of our party. The meetings of these committee were held regularly at either at the house of Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee or Sarat Chand Bose. Meetings and processions were held throughout the city. I still remember it was held at Shradhananda Park. This meeting was presided by ………and the speakers were ……..and others. Perhaps this was the first Black Law initiated in the Independent India. The Congress Government panicked and started acting fearsly to protect the law. 10th December 1947 still remain a Black day in West Bengal’s his troy. A huge -gather including students had gathered outside the legislative assembly asking for withdrawal of the Bill. Police first used lathis and then used teargas, Finally with no way out they resorted to unprovoked firing. A WAC cadet Sisir Mandal died in the firing Manu were hurt in the lathi charge. This was the first police firing on a fathering by the first Congress government in West Bengal in Independent India and the first murder was of Mandal. I was the eye witness. I find the gate on the morning of 10th December.. A student friend of the High Court watched hell that was being established. The police was carrying not only lathis but revolvers and other lethal weapons. I saw for myself and the gathering faced the lathi charge. I went upto first floor and watched from there. There was tear gas. The mounted police was chasing the people. Two young girls were hurt so were some boys. Not a single minister could be seen around. Everybody knew that it were they who had egged on the police. The situation continued to deteriote. Continuously the people got provoked and started brick batting the police. The police retaliated in the same fashion. I repeat, I was eye witness to this. The people …….helper skeletal. The police then went to a shooting spree. There still remains no doubt in me that this was the unprovoked firing and we all saw how were hurt and how. One barrister was coming down from the Solicitor’s chamber. He was fired at too. Mondal was sitting in his WAC car. The police murdered him. incidentally Mondal was sitting in an ambulance, the barbaric police did not even …..the Red Cross. The area was tense till the evening. Later on peaceful protest continued in front of the assembly. We decided to raise this issue of police atrocities inside the Legislative Assembly. The next day we moved an adjournment motion and the speaker allowed nobody opposed the motion. The debate started after the afternoon recess. However a Congress member Nihanredu Dutta Mazumdar suddenly opposed it and made a total anti communist out of character speech. Dissidents have always taken this sort of an extreme attitude. Abdul Hassan the Muslim League supported my motion and made a forceful speech. The Chief Minister Dr. Ghoush in answer said that such a law was needed to check violence of any kind. Most probably he might have been referring, likes of Sarat Chandra Bose, There was no votes on the motion. Since the allotted time period of two hours was over. In December 1947 after an acrimonus debate in the assembly, the bill was passed and made into a law. It was valid till March 1967. When the United Front Government came to power this law was scrapped. When Suhrawardy has introduced this ordinance we were told that it was necessary to bring down the incidents of goondaism and check rioters. However while some goonds were arrested the main idea behind the ordinary the ordinance to stem the agitation by labours, farmers and the middle class workers. The Tebagha movement suffered some because of this ordinance and many of the movement leaders were behind jail which cried hoarse against this. Many Congress as well as Muslim League workers also joined us in ……… against this black law. In the face of this Suhrawady did not have the guts to transform the bill when the ordinance had not withdrawn it either, Strangely the very same Congress leaders who had agitated against Suhrawardy government was trying to pass on Dr Ghosh’s bill as valid in three months after Dr Ghosh took over this ordinary was used against many of us as well as other political leaders. Dr Ghosh had falsely promised that the ordnance would not be used against justified labour movement. This ordinance was used to arrest Debnath Das (INA) B V Maj. Satya Gupta S Juber and Dwarka Nath Mitra and labour leader Manoranjan Hazra and led an agitation at Brooke Bond factory and Sree Durga Cotton Mill. They were arrested and residences were raided without any warrants. Ladies of the households were also harassed by the police, Hundreds of those goondas who have been arrested by the Suhrawardy government were released by the Congress leadership. The Congress Party Muslim League a part of the Congress and eminent citizens were against the bill. On 27th November 1947 it was introduced in the assembly. Both of us Communist MLAs were left out when Select Committee through the 11 member list proposed by the opposition Muslim Leae member Md Mkhda Buix had my name in it. Naturally the Government did Like this list. Names that Dr Ghosh proposed had 8 Congress members, one Anglo-Indian and 2 Muslim League nominees. After discussions with the party membersip, I proposed a movement saying that the Bill should be circulated for public opinion on 5th January 1948, despite major opposition from us the Congress government proposed the Bill for consideration and adoption in the Assembly. Widespread movement throughout not only in Calcutta but entire West Bengal, processions and rallies were routine. Total 92,000 members struck work on the day the Bill came up for discussion. The strike was total in Budrawn and many Congress members and workers also participated. The Congress leadership wanted the strike to fail and it even brought goondas to foil it. Revolvers, Knives and lathis were used freely against the peaceful processions. The Congress volunteers were held by the police everywhere. On the other hand some of our Union offices were subject to arson. According to my estimate more than a lack of farmers and students participate against the bill. In fact the discussions were on in the assembly protest meetings and rallies continued outside. We are proud that the Communist party played a significant role in opposing that bill. The party had asked me to introduce all the amendments to the various clauses of the Bill in the assembly. I proposed many amendments and spoke for them. I made almost 60 speeches and asked fox voting on atlast 60 amendments. There were some amendments against Ratanlal Brahman too. The members of the Muslim League supported many of my proposals did not kept silent too, but on the -whole they opposed the Bill. There were many cases when only two votes were cast on my amendments; Brahmans and mine. Discussions on the bill began on 14th January ending 15th January. On that day the Bill became law with voting pattern of 46-12 The Congress Government had hoped that they would get the bill passed in two days but actually it took 10 full days. Most to the Congress members did not participate in the debate except…..?Dutta Mazumdar. Nobodyelse spew venom against the Communist Party. What Dutta Mazumdar had to say went something like this: “The Communist Party were given the anrchy and such a law was necessary to counter that. The Congress member Binod Kumar Sinha did not utter a single word against the Communist. In fact he admitted that the Bill would do more harm than good. But that it was a necessity in the given situation. He did not explain what this abnormal situation could be” On the last day of the debate, Ratanlal Brahman spoke that the Bill was totally against the labour force. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel had come to Calcutta a few days before the debate on the Bill started. He was brought to stem the dissidents among some Congress workers against the Bill. Patel addressed many meetings in the city and elsewhere. The Congress Government could not face the bill down West Bengal’s throat. The Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehtu had said that in places like U.P. and Bombay this sort of law was already enforced. I have told the assembly “Our party, all the left and democratic forces are against this Bill and I speak for these forces. I am given to understand that Sardar Patel has been brought in to throttle the voices of those dissident forces within the Congress who are against this Bill” It is to the credit of Bengal that this Bill was not passed without protest. Bengal had a pioneer. It was we leftists who were trying to keep the toruch alight/ On the last day of the debate I categorically said the rights of the freedom loving citizens have been murdered today because the Congress Government has stopped advertisements to the Bengal Provincial Committee daily mouthpiece Swadhinata because it has criticised the policies. I added that our struggle against the Black Laws has not ended and that this experience and suffering has only helped to inspirit the people. Barristers like Bhupesh Gupta and others helped me and others in organising the amendment proposal on the Bill. In fact Bhupesh helped me out on my speeches and made out the various points. That our warnings and apprehensions about the Bill came true was proved later. Between 1948 and 1956 thousands of workers were arrested in the same timn. After the Bill was passed the Assembly went into recess indefinitely. Soon after this Dr Ghosh’s Government was ousted and Dr B C Roy became the new Chief Minister. The new Home Minister was Kiran Shankar Roy and Finance Portfolio is handled by Nalini Ranjan Sarkar. A new chapter has come in West Bengal’s political history. I was later told that it was Gandhi’s wish that Dr Roy become the new Chief Minister and Dr Ghosh had to go. In February 19481 began the Budget session. I do not remember the exact date. One morning on only Dr Roy suddenly came over to my seat in the Assembly and said: “I know you are Dr N K Basu’s son Dr Basu was a good friend of mine. But let me tell you one thing, these amendments ……..they want ……….”. He was obviously referring to the numerous amendments proposed to the draconian Bill. Another day, another time. I have already said that we were tenants at NRS Sarkar Hindustan Insurance Building for a long time. We had got no difference there. In the Assembly Dr Sarkar attacked on a personal level. I countered by saying:” Entire West Bengal know everything about you”. Yet another day. Manikuntala Sen and some other leaders came to Writers Building in a procession with some demands that the Women’s defence committee. Police did not allow the procession to come. I was present at that time. The women stood outside and raised slogans. I tried my best that Kiran Shankar Roy talks with the delegation. When I was searching for Kiran Babu, Dr Sarkar fetched for me. He told me “I; had a fight with the ……other day. I know your family well enough. Don’t think anything to heart” Kiran Shankar Roy called me. I told him that he should come out and talk to the women. He replied: “It is useless talking to women. They will not understand logic. Ask them to give their demands in writing and I shall look into it” I conveyed this to the delegates and the women left.
CHAPTER XII: I AM ARRESTED
The second congress of the Communist Party of India, held in Calcutta’s Mohammed Ali Park between February 28 and March 6,1948, made changes in the membership policy and work culture. B T Ranadive succeeded P C Joshi as the general secretary. I was part of the delegation from West Bengal and was one of those who raised questions about of the political thesis adopted at this congress. Many of the mistakes made by Joshi had been rectified, but in the process, there was hint of recklessness which had crept into the party.We felt this would harm the party. I did not get a chance to speak at the congress but sent a questionnaire to the secretariat. The provincial secretary of bengal, Bhabani Sen, called a meeting of the state unit the next day and those of us who had raised questions on the political thesis, were asked to apologise and the contents were read out at the party congress. Work started in right earnest on the lines of the new political thesis. The Congress government tried to take full advantage of some of our organisational weaknesses and prepared for an all-out attack against us. Some secret documents of the home department, which came to our possession at that time. detailed how the Communist Party was aiming to unleash a wave of terror and why it was important to keep a watch on some of its leaders. A top police official tipped us off that widespread arrests would be undertaken and that the party could be declared unlawful in West Bengal. However, despite this warning, our party leaders did not take any counter steps; most probably, not much importance was attached to the tip-off. In this context, I remember an incident while the Assembly was in session.I shared good relations with minister Hem Chandra Naskar. A few days before the party was actually declared unlawful, he called me aside in the Assembly, gave me a paan and alerted me. “Jyoti, I would like to have a word with you later. But please be careful. We will talk later.” I was not able to trace Hem-babu after this; he could have given me some authentic information. Later I was told that on the eve of my arrest on March 26, 1948, a “source” had indeed confirmed the government move to ban the party. And that a list of those to be arrested had already been drawn up. This was passed on to the top leadership at our Dacres Lane office. Some members went underground but because of the suddenness and the little time left, most of us were caught napping. I was at my residence at Hindustan Park. On March 26, at the crack of dawn, the police encircled our house. I was still asleep. Soon, a police officer came up with a warrant, arrested me and took me to the Special Branch office on Lord Sinha Road.Once there, I saw the other comrades who had been arrested. It was in this office that I came to know that our party had been banned under the erstwhile Raj law. Our party office had been raided and locked. “Swadhinata” had stopped publication. Thousands had been arrested throughout West Bengal and many of the warrants were still pending. We also learnt that home minister Kiran Shankar Roy had signed the orders against us. Gopal Halder was among those whom I met at the S B office. He had brought his bag along. I asked him why. Gopal-babu said: “You have never been in jail before.You will not understand. These should be kept ready. You never know how long you have to stay here.”There is another incident I remember. While going to the SB Office in the police van, I saw former chief minister Dr Ghosh on Gariahat Road. I was immediately reminded that it was he who had promised in the Assembly that this Bill would never be used against any people’s movement. Some of us were sent to Dum Dum Central Jail, Presidency Jail and Alipore Jail. It was Presidency Jail for me; was my first imprisonment. I came across many comrades there. We used to stay in one hall. Some gave themselves up to writing during those long hours, others played games or simply read books. Some took to a game of bridge; unfortunately, I did not know how to play that particular game of cards. Ambika Chakraborty took care of us; he seemed to have the right of way within the premises. Our cases were to be reviewed every three months. The police brought ridiculous allegations against me. They said that I had been invited by farmers’ organisations in Burma which was patently false and that I was involved in trade union activities. I was freed after three months. Likewise many others were freed either on the recommendation of the review committee or under habeas corpus pleas. I plunged into railway trade union activities. The Communist Party was still illegal. I could make out that police sleuths were after me all the time and every movement was under watch. I was told that I could not change residence without the permission of the police. Mrinalkanti Bose, the then BPTUC president, was one of those who voiced strong reservations against the ban. Subsequently, we had differences with him as Mrinal-babu felt that we were being too reckless at times. He left the BPTUC and became acting president of the newly formed UTUC. The stage was set for the conference of All India Trade Union Congress and I was expected to join. I discussed tha matter with barrister friends like Niren Dey and asked them whether I should risk the trip to Bombay. They gave me the green signal. I took the train from Howrah with Mrinalkanti Bose as the leader of our delegation. But we could not go far. When the train stopped at Kharagpur, a police force led by an officer entered the compartment and asked for me. The officer came to me and said that he had an arrest warrant. I asked why. He replied that he had no clue but that there were orders from the Police IG in Calcutta and that he was carrying the telegram with him. I alighted from the train. I was kept waiting at the Kharagpur station and told that our next destination would be Midanapur. We boarded a passenger train soon afterwards. I was taken straight to Midnapur court. After getting to know of my antecedents, the lawyers seemed taken aback. I told them that I had no idea why I was in court. And that too, in Midnapur. I was presented before the magistrate. He asked the police who drew a blank. The magistrate then ordered that I should be sent to Calcutta forthwith. I waited in the Bar Library of the Midnapur court. Later, the magistrate called me to his court and showed me an order from the government. The order said that Communist prisoners would have to be escorted by armed policemen. It was almost evening and no police force was available. I had to stay overnight in Midnapur. The magistrate also informed me that he had already ensured that I would reach Calcutta by the first train in the morning. I was taken to the Midnapur Central Jail and stayed overnight there. I met many comrades there. Everybody was happy to see me. I took the first train surrounded by armed policemen to Calcutta and taken straight to the Alipore court. I sat in the Bar Library. I had decided that I would ask for bail. Some lawyers told me that this would not be granted since the judge who was to hear my case was on temporary posting and that he would do nothing to displease the government. Snehangsu Acharya arrived soon. I saw some known faces in the Alipore court. My brother was present too; he was there in connection with another case. I was summoned to the court and Snehangsu accompanied me. What I was told by the lawyer came true. I was not granted bail. We asked for an explanation as to why bail was being denied. The judge did not even look at us.. I asked him, “Why can’t you look us in the eyes?” But even then he did not. I was sent to the Alipore Central Jail. It was a Thursday. Some youths, charged with dacoity, were with me. I asked them why they had taken to crime. They answered that they had no means of livelihood and had been forced to take to unlawful activities. I was sent to Alipore Central Jail on Thursday itself. Snehangsu decided that he would ask for bail in the court of M. Guha Roy. I was produced in his court on Monday. This time I got bail but the police tagged on some restrictions. I was told to report every week at the Beltala police station . I did not even know how to react to this since this was a totally new experience. The case came up in court. The police charged me with flouting orders; that I had proceeded to Bombay without letting the police know. The police said that amounted to “change of residence!” The case went on for some months. A friend Mrigen Sen helped us a lot during this case, not to forget what Snehangsu did as always.On the last day of the case, I came to court alongwith Mrigen Sen. He was prepared and had done his home work. The counsel for the prosecution came beside me and said, ” I have to say certain things against you. But my hands are tied, I have to ask for a jail remand. But that is all: I shall not stay to hear the ruling.” The proceedings went on for 45 minutes. I was released unconditionally, thanks to Mrigen Sen. I returned home. 12 Union which was affiliated to the AIFR. One of its top leaders Madras’s Kalyanasundaram with me as it. Vice-president. Jaiprakash Narayan was the initial President to the all India organisation and the General Secretary was Guruswamy. not belonged to any party but we shared harmonious relations. He wanted us in many ways. On 26th March 1948 I was arrested. As said earlier I was released three months later. While going through the minutes of the Assembly’s September session I now see that I have then said: “A total of 70 comrades and I appealed for habeas corpus in the High Court which released us. But High Court said that there was no reason to keep us under arrest. It was only after the review that we were released. Since none of the allegations against us held any water. It was precisely for this reason that the ordinance was necessary. But it is important to note that the government had not released us. I have already mentioned the two frivolous allegations against me. There was one more. I was a member of the West Bengal Unit of the CPI. This party was amassing arms. On this ground we were liable to be arrested without trial. Kiran Shankar Roy and the rest of the ministers knew that such an excuse would not do; no Court could order us in jail. It is because of this that when our habits corpus appeal was placed in Court, I was faced with a fresh charge. This was absolutely hilarious, so much so that even under the new law, it sounded ludicrous. The fresh charges were : (a) I was taking part in labour conference to propagate the Community Party beliefs. This was my first crime. (b) I had led a procession and staged a blockade of the legislative assembly. This was the second crime. Finally I had apparently threatened those who were not interest in joining strike; this was possibly of the worst of them of all. However when I lead the procession was not made clear neither was I told which labour meeting I had participated which propagated communist beliefs. I was not the only target, other comrades were too, I have personally seen around 80 of these charge sheets. The then Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court said : “If these charges are to be found rationale enough, then I can take it that you can arrest anybody anywhere in the country if you feel that they are working against the Government if the security of the government is the only issue. Then no party can fight elections and such parties and individuals can not expect justice from the court rooms.” The High Court find a Special Bench to go into this matter. A secular government almost overnight issued an ordnance to amend the law which, however, said that whatever the government felt was rationale reason enough for the arrest would be taken thus. The ordinance was issued on the very day that the bench was supposed to give this ruling. By this, all those arrested without trial of all those held were taken out of the purview of the High Court. Later one of the Judges of the Special Bench Justice Chatterjee in a separate judgment said that the authorities who had drafted the ordinance should have taken care to pass its final order. Referring to Justice Chatterjee’s remark I indicated that the government had not only defamed the court but had also trampled upon the rights of the citizens. It was clear that the government felt that the citizens had no right to go to court. It had been left to the police to explain the rationality of reason as it was felt proper. Now-a-days I feel that this order had striking similarities with the MISA introduced by Indira Gandhi during Emergency; obviously it would be a if I had mentioned MISA at the legislative assembly at that point of time. On 4th September 1948 we met for all India Railway Federation meeting at Liluah. On of the top Railway Union leaders, Kamal Sarkar stepped out for tea during the meeting, the police immediately arrested him and sent to the jail. Raids and arrests were routine. Between September 1948 and January 1949, I worked openly in the trade unions, maintaining keeping the communication links with our leadership who were in hiding. I also used the Assembly to ventilate our views. I was then the general secretary of the B.N.Railroads Workers Union which was affiliated to the All-India Railwaymens Federation (AIRF). I was also the vice-president of the South Indian Railway Workers Union (Golden Rock) which had Kalyansundaram as its president. The AIRF was headed by Jaiprakash Narain and the general secretary was Guruswamy. Guruswamy did not have any political party affiliation but our terms with him were friendly. On September 4, 1948, we held a national railway workers meeting in Liluah near Calcutta. One of our leaders, Kamal Sarkar, had gone out from the meeting room for a cup of tea; he was immediately arrested and sent to the Presidency Jail. Arrests without trial did not surprise us any longer. I kept harping one point inside the Assembly. This government could arrest us any time and that keep us in custody without trial. But as long as I was outside and alive, I would continue to and oppose this anti- people government. This was a government of traitors. The stage was set for a nationwide strike under the leadership of the AIRF. A charter of demands had been drafted. Amendments to the labour structure and wage parity were included in the charter. The process of organising the strike began from October 1948. My first aim then was to make this strike a success. The railway union office was situated on the third floor of a house on the Bowbazar and College Street crossing. The B.N.Railways strike in support of the sailors’ uprising in 1945 had been an unqualified success. The party had gained a new experience from that. But this was big, entailing a nationwide stoppage of railway movement. This was to be a major and far greater experience. Guruswamy started touring the nation. I was also making hurricane tours. Our enterprise and enthusiasm knew no bounds. As I have said earlier, reformist leaders already sway in the AIRF. We were also told that these leaders were holding parleys with the government to call off the strike. We started to pressurise the leadership to announce a date for the strike. At another level, the preparations continued. On December 5, 1948, I got married for a second time. The then central and provincial leadership were wary whether I would be prepared to carry on party activities and risk the possibility of having to go underground; their apprehensions were unfounded. I had clear instructions to carry on party work in public. Suddenly I got a letter from the secret underground party centre asking for an explanation as to why I had still not gone underground. They also questioned my decision to marry. In reply, I said that all my actions had the sanction of the leadership. If the party so wanted, I was prepared to go into hiding in an hour. I also requested the leadership to make my position known throughout the party. The letter seeking my explanation was circulated; whether my reply was, I am not too sure. My father was still alive and I was living in Hindustan Park with my family. The AIRF session was called at Danapur near Patna on February 16,1949 after considerable pressure was exerted by our group. By that time, we had confirmed news that the reformists within the organisation had reached a compromise with the authorities. However, the decision was on the strike stood despite any compromise that had been reached. It was presumed that the strike would begin some time in March. We were instructed likewise. Later, the strike date was fixed as March 9. We left for Danapur. Before my departure, I told my wife that I may not be home for an indefinite period of time. By that time, an arrest warrant had been issued against me. I went to Danapur alongwith some comrades and stayed in a nearby village because of security reasons. News about the conference filtered through. A proposal on March 9 as the strike date was brought; we lost in the voting. I was expelled from the AIRF. I held a somewhat different view from that of the party leadership. Some of us felt that the workers were not ready for a strike of this nature. However despite differences, we had gone all out to make the strike a success. Some time later, the leadership did veer round to the stand that indeed the time had not been ripe for a strike on such a scale. Obviously, a correct assessment of the situation had not been made. I did not come back straight to Calcutta. Some of our comrades were arrested. I flew down from Patna after hoodwinking the police. It was then that my life in hiding actually began. This also meant that I had to carry on hectic party work without getting arrested. I was changing residence frequently in Calcutta and zeroed in on comrade Abdul Halim’s secret shelter. From there, I wrote a letter to my wife which went simply, “I am well. I need to stay in hiding now”. Incidentally I had also sought refuge at a relative’s residence who was totally dumbfounded. Such incidents were new to the family; they were unimaginable. I organised a meeting of party members working in the railways. They could not give me any idea of where I could possibly stay. For some time, I stayed with Indrajit Gupta in a secret shelter in North Calcutta. By then, we had received information that the chances of holding the strike had receded. The railway station had become virtual police camps and the city itself was teeming with policemen. On March 8 evening, the police activities reached a peak and there were widespread arrests. Not even one train could be stopped on March 9. There was normalcy everywhere barring a few stray violent incidents. The railway strike had been a failure but the leadership did not seem to have learnt any lesson from that. That we were going the wrong way was not realised at this time. In fact, the party gave itself over to some recklessness and impetuous decisions were taken. The Politburo had a feeling that the Provincial Committee elected in 1947 would not be able to implement its policies. A new seven-member committee was then formed with Mohammed Ismail as its secretary. I was out; so was also Bhupesh, Saroj Mukherjee, Pramode Dasgupta, Niranjan Sengupta and Mohammed Ismail. We had to change shelter often. But by that time the secret party headquarter was in position. I spent some time with Mohammed Ismail too. We ;had to do all the household chores ourselves. We stuck to the party line despite differences now and then. This was done with great sincerity. That was the positive aspect. In the final count, we did not desert the public and always stayed with them. The result of this attitude was reflected in the 1952 elections. The Congress government had by then taken it for granted that the Communist Party had been finished. We entered the Assembly with significant influence. Since 1952, our party has gained in strength after every election, reflecting the confidence of the people in us. In fact, we are now the biggest political party in West Bengal. While our unit was banned officially in 1948, our comrades in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh had to face great restrictions and worked under a virtual siege.During our days in hiding, we used to meet for group discussions in the evening, moving from place to place to avoid arrest. Certain events of 1949 return to me now. After returning to our base after holding group discussions, news came to us that the police had opened fire on a procession of women at Bowbazar in Calcutta and that four of our party leaders, including Pratibha Sen and Latika Sen, had died. One youth had also been killed. In the same year, some of our comrades started a fast in jail. The police was requisitioned and a clash ensued. Many prisoners died or were hurt. Muzaffar Ahmed was then in jail. An agreement was signed between chief minister B C Roy and Kaka-babu, who represented the prisoners. The chief minister accepted many of our demands and the fast was called off. Many of us felt that we were on the wrong track. Both Bhupesh and I realised this and discussed whether anything positive could be done and even thought of sending word to the Communist Party in Great Britain. But this could not be done because of a communication gap. The functioning of the party continued as before. Nothing else of any major consequence happened in 1949. The Comminform was established after the Second World War to establish greater links between the Communists and other labour parties. The mouthpiece of this organisation was named, “For A Lasting Peace For A People’s Democracy”. We were still following the same narrow-minded leftist policies. In January 1950, the Comminform mouthpiece published an important editorial on the various liberation struggles, taking the examples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The editorial indicated that the Indian Communists should also change their line of thinking. There was much that needed to be rectified. Soon after this, the Politburo issued a circular saying that discussions would be held to reassess the party line and strategy on the basis of that editorial. We were enthused again and derived strength from that editorial. There was now scope for debate within the party. Rajeshwar Rao became the general secretary of the newly-constituted Politburo. A renewed drive begun. In West Bengal, a new Provincial Organisation Committee (POC) with Ranen Sen as secretary was formed. We in the Bengal unit had differences with Rajeshwar Rao over the reorganisation of the central leadership and at times, this led to serious bitterness. There were long discussions; we stressed the need for reorganisation first and the adoption of the political thesis later. Apart from myself, those who worked tirelessly during this inner-party struggle were Abdul Halim, Abdullah Rasul, Saroj Mukherjee, Bankim Mukherjee, Niranjan Sengupta, Pramode dasgupta, Bhupesh Gupta and Ranen Sen. We used to hold group discussions almost daily at the state party level. After the editorial became the focal point of discussions, the tendency towards recklessness abated. Many of our underground leaders were arrested one after the other. In September 1950, while Niranjan Sengupta and I were on our way after a secret group meeting, we were arrested on the road by officers of the Special Branch who took us to their office on the Lord Sinha Road. We were later sent to Presidency Jail. From there to Dum Dum Central Jail where we met many of our comrades. Next to be arrested were Pramode Dasgupta, Abdul Halim, Abdullah Rasul, Bhupesh Gupta and Saroj Mukherjee. They were also lodged in the Dum Dum Jail. My second imprisonment continued for almost one year. In 1951, I was a free man again after I filed a habeas corpus petition.
CHAPTER XIII:THE PARTY BAN IS LIFTED
On January 26, 1950, the Constitution was adopted. The next day. the Calcutta High Court ruled that the ban on the Communist Party in West Bengal was unconstitutional and that it was being lifted. However, despite this ruling, the political detenus were not released immediately. In April 1951, Kaka-babu was released. But the arrests continued even after a year and many comrades were still behind bars. We realised that the government would be forced to let us work as a lawful entity. After our release, we set about establishing party offices. Everything was disorganized and in a disarray. It was at Kaka-babu’s initiative that the state party committee office was set up at 64, Acharya Jagadish Bose Road. Most of the leaders were still in jail or underground. I was out of jail. A big private car used to stand outside my residence everyday and followed me wherever I went. It did not take me much to realise that it was a police detective car which was keeping vigil on me. One day, I chose to take another way out of the house, changed taxis twice and went straight to Bidhan Roy’s chamber at Writers Buildings. I told him, “Your government has not released me, but the high court has. Why is the Intelligence Bureau car following me?” Dr Roy immediately called for the then police inspector-general, Hiren Sarkar, and asked him, “Why is Jyoti being followed?” Sarkar replied, “They believe in violence.” I had a heated exchange with Sarkar and Dr Roy asked him to leave. The vigil stopped after this. I had been absent from the Assembly for almost two years; the government owed me a lot in salaries. Dr Roy directed that all the arrears be cleared. I suddenly came upon a lot of money, a part of which I handed over to the party. I was one of the delegates at a secret national conference of the party held in Calcutta some time in 1951. Kaka-babu was also there. The new party strategy was adopted and Ajay Ghosh was elected the new general secretary. A rectification programme was announced. Shortly before this, the West Bengal unit of the party had held a conference in Calcutta. Kaka-babu was elected secretary of the West Bengal unit. A huge rally was held at the Calcutta Maidan, the first such meeting after the party had been declared legal. Some contemporary news reports dubbed the rally as “historic.” In my speech, I pointed out that the party had indeed erred in certain respects and that there was an urgent need to rectify these mistakes. The news of the resumption of publication of “Swadhinata” was also announced; in a few days time, the party organ did start work again from a house in Park Circus. The Telengana agitation had been withdrawn. But the prisoners had not been released yet. When we leaders wore in jail in connection with this agitation. The Telengana agitation had been withdrawn but the leaders were still languishing in jail. Kaka-babu and I were told by the party leadership to visit Telengana. We were also asked to meet Pandit Nehru in Delhi. Kaka-babu and I went to Telengana and met the prisoners there. Kaka-babu returned to Calcutta while I went to Delhi. Mridula Sarabhai acted as the go-between in the talks between Pandit Nehru and me. The Prime Minister said that he would look into the Telengana release affair. Nehru asked me what we felt about the foreign policy. I said that while we had no basic fight with the policy, we were at a loss to understand why an American observer in Kashmir Nehru seemed slightly irritated and retorted, ” I am not a Communist… I have to keep in touch with everybody.” I did not go into any further argument since I had gone to Delhi on a specific mission. I was with the Prime Minister for 50 minutes. I returned with the feeling that some of the prisoners would be released. The release process started and warrants issued against underground leaders started being withdrawn. We also started work on the first general elections in right earnest. The “Swadhinata” resumed publication on February 9, 1951. I became the president of the new editorial board. The resumption of “Swadhinata” was the fruit of a combined effort by all of us; we have to remember that a major part of the leadership was still behind bars. This was even more creditable since the party was going through a major funds crunch. On top of this was the Congress government’s untiring efforts to throttle “Swadhinata.” The order for Kaka-babu’s release came on April 27,1951. The government had realised that there was no option but to free him since the court would exonerate him anyway; the administration did not wait for the verdict.
CHAPTER XIV: RE-ORGANISING THE PARTY
The full Provincial Committee of the party was formed in the end of 1951. Before this, we had had only the organizational and working committees. Many leaders were still in jail. Saroj Mukherjee was among those who were released in the later phases. We set about organising the party in the districts, getting prisoners released, carrying out the agitation on the food crisis and refugee rehabilitation and working on the run-up to the elections. I attended the Assembly whenever I was in Calcutta. I took part in a number of debates during the 1951-52 Budget Session which began on February 8, 1951. The Congress had split by then with Dr P. C. Ghosh. Suresh Banerjee and Charu Chandra Bandari forming the Praja Socialist Party. Hemanta Bose had also left the Congress Legislative Party. They used to sit in the Opposition benches. I did not miss a single opportunity to criticise the Congress government in the Assembly. During the debate on the Governor’s address, Ratanlal Brahman, speaking in his halting Bengali, raised valid issues pertaining to the plight of the tea garden labourers. Kaka-babu was given a citizen’s felicitation on May 18, 1951 at the Calcutta University Institute Hall. Presided over by lawyer Atul Ganguly, the programme was a major success and had Hemanta Bose, Mrinalkanti Bose and Satyapriya Banerjee as convenors. “Swadhinata” reported the next day, “The people’s leader, Muzaffar Ahmed, was given a warm felicitation at the University Institute Hall which was choc-a-bloc with people. Comrade Muzaffar Ahmed gave a passionate speech where he asked for the release of detenus who had been arrested without trial. He appealed for a major movement on this issue.” The party line for the elections was in place. It was decided that we would ally with left and democratic forces on the basis of a progressive democratic programme. On March 27,1951, I led a delegate team of the EI Rail Road Workers Union to S.Guruswamy who was the general secretary of the AIRF.We stressed on the need for greater unity of action among the various railway unions. I presided over a special meeting of the EI Rail Roads Workers Union during April13-14,1951. Delegates participated from Allahabad, Tundla, Jamalpur, Asansol, Liluah, Howrah, Bandel, Rampurhat, Naihati, Kanchrapara and Calcutta. A new working committee was set up with Satyen Ganguly as the general secretary. I addressed a rally at Siliguri on May 22 organised by the railway workers and said that it was necessary to make the movement stronger despite the lack of unity and non-cooperation of some AIRF leaders. The Congress government had carried out major attacks on our union. A few thousands of our workers were in jail without trial. The Congress government was acting like the British regime but the red flag was getting increasingly visible in the villages, factories and tea gardens. Ratanlal Brahman also spoke on the occasion. The food crisis was acute at the time. Essential commodities were going out of reach of the common man. A dhoti of Rs 10 was selling at treble the price. Hunger rallies were being taken out in various areas. The singlemost important cry was that for food. A cornered people launched raids on hoarders and news of clashes kept coming in. A 5000-strong hunger rally was brought on April 21, 1951, in Cooch Behar town. The police resorted to unprovoked lathicharge and firing. Five people were killed and at least 40 hurt. Another rally was brought out the very next day and the police this time went on an allout offensive. The “Swadhinatha” was to report the next day: “The Army has been called out in Cooch Behar town. They are conducting flag marches in the city. Unprovoked firing by the police outside the secretariat has worsened matters, according to the official spokesman. The protesters attacked the Cooch Behar police superintendent’s house and furniture was destroyed. Congress offices at Cooch Behar, Mathabhanga and Dinhatta were also raided by agitators and documents and furniture destroyed. News of more such clashes are coming in.” There was a widespread demand to bring the killers to book. The government gave in and prohibitory orders under Section 144 were withdrawn. Ration shops were opened in some parts of the town. A judicial probe headed by Justice Guha Roy was held but it was withheld since the contents did not go the way the government had wanted it to. Those who lost their lives in Cooch Behar were Dibyendra Talukdar (7 years; hit by bullets) and Kavita Bose (13 years; bullet injuries), while those who died in hospital were Bandana Talukdar (16 years; bullet injuries), Jiten alias Badal Biswas (23 years; bullet injuries) and Satish Debnath (25 years; bullet injuries). I was sent to Cooch Behar to investigate and make an on the spot study. I met the guardians of the victims apart from Leftist workers and eminent citizens and addressed a huge meeting of 6000 people on April 29. I said, “You have shown the way to entire West Bengal. In the last four years of Congress rule, 200 people including 40 women have been killed in police firing.” The demand for a non-partial probe was also made. On May 16, I was sent to Cooch Behar again. At a huge gathering at Dinhata, I said, “The Congress government has not solved any problems of the country. In fact it is making the situation more complex. Hungry people are being fired upon. The need of the hour is a Left democratic people’s government. The Congress government must be ousted. The country must progress under a new leadership.” I said that the recent events in Cooch Behar could be a model for the people’s movement and that it was important to work and strengthen the roots of this agitation. The rally was reported in the May 20 edition of “Swadhinata.” All Left-minded trade union organisations celebrated May Day of 1951 from a common platform. It was at this point of time that the idea of unity on the basis of broad Leftist ideals started to grow in the country. The elections came right at that time. The elections were to be held in January 1952 and we took this very seriously, starting work from October itself. It the meantime, the conference of the West Bengal Provincial Committee had been held and Kaka-babu had been elected the secretary while I was one of the committee members. Ajay Ghosh had by then already been elected the new national general secretary. The central committee decided that the party would take part in the election and the manifesto was circulated. The manifesto pinpointed the Congress as the main enemy and said that all Opposition parties needed to unite to defeat it. A demand was made to ensure free and fair elections and release all political detenus. If this were not done, the elections would be reduced to a farce. We did not see perceive the general elections as an issue unconnected with the general demand for the freedom of all political detenus, the food crisis and the refugee rehabilitation issues. On November 11, 1951, the West Bengal Provincial Committee issued a statement saying that there were still 500 nationalists in jails of the state and 43 others had warrants against them.They had to be released before the elections. The party made out a list of these detenus which included names of Ganesh Ghosh (Calcutta), Ranen Sen (Calcutta), Abdur Rajjack Khan (24 Paraganas), Ajit Ganguly (24 Paraganas), Nityananda Choudhury (24 Paraganas), Jatin Maity (Midnapore), Rabi Moitra (Midnapore),Bhupal Panda (Midnapore), Satyendra Narayan Mazumder (Darjeeling), Sushital Roy Choudhury (Hooghly), Bijoy Modak (Hooghly) and Benoy Chowdhury (Bardhaman). All of them were candidates. The signature campaign launched by us was drawing a huge response but on November 12, 1951, the chief minister announced at a press conference that the political detenus could not be released before the elections. Naturally, our movement got a fresh impetus in the face of Dr Roy’s rather obstinate attitude. We were faced with many obstacles. The party had just come out from a dark period and the organisation was still not in place. Most leaders were still either in hiding or in jail. To compound matters, there was a severe funds crunch But we went headlong into the election fray. In October, we arrived at a sort of understanding with some other parties. On November 3, we released a list of 88 candidates. I circulated a statement of the provincial committee to journalists. The statement categorically said that the candidate list had been drawn up keeping in mind the understanding reached with other parties and that there should be no confusion regarding this. We also said that the talks were still on and that the list had been released only to consolidate and work for greater unity with the other parties. The statement added that it was absolutely necessary to form a united anti-Congress front and this was quite possible. This front would comprise all anti-communal, democratic and progressive forces and that a common minimum programme was the need of the hour. This was the vital component of the unity talks and dominated all discussions. The Forward Bloc, the Socialist Republican Party established by Sarat Bose, the Bolshevik Party of India, INA, People’s Movement and other groups and individuals came together to form the United Socialist Organisation (USO) and forged an election alliance with us on November 23. This was the first time that an anti-Congress opposition Front had been established. The Front decided to sit up 143 candidates of which the Communist Party had a share of 71 and the USO fielded 72 nominees. Seventeen candidates were named for the Lok Sabha of which Communist Party had nine nominees and the USO eight candidates. It was decided that the USO and the Communist Party would go to the voters together and that there would be seat adjustments. The signatories to this statement were Ashok Ghosh for the USO while I represented the Communist Party. We wanted the RSP to join the Front but did not succeed. However, we supported its candidate in the Behrampur Lok Sabha seat, Tridib Chowdhury. Dr Meghnad Saha fought for the RSP in the Calcutta North-West seat; we worked untiringly for him and he won. Unfortunately, the RSP did not see reason and fielded candidates against the Front nominees in many places though it had no chances of winning. For example, while I was the candidate for the Baranagar Assembly constituency, the RSP fielded one of its top ranking leaders there. Similarly with the Calcutta North-East Lok Sabha seat: our candidate was Prof Hiren Mukherjee who, with 71,670 votes, trounced his Congress rival who managed only 36,180 votes. The RSP candidate lost his deposit with only 5831 votes. However, after the election, the RSP became part of the Front. We had tried to come to an understanding with the Krishak Mazdoor Praja Party (KMPP) and the Socialist Party. But these two did not want to share a common platform with us. Wherever there were no Front candidates, we appealed to the people to vote for the KMPP and Socialist Party. But both these parties set up candidates against us wherever possible. On December 15, 1951, we had our first election meeting which culminated in a huge procession which went round the streets of Calcutta. Ajay Ghosh and the Forward Bloc (Marxist) leader Satyapriya Banerjee spoke on the occasion. On December 8, the Congress government released 17 political prisoners on parole. On the same day, the West Bengal unit of the Communist Party issued a statement asking for the release of all prisoners. All of those who were released on parole were candidates of the Communist Party. This helped our election campaign in no mean measure.
CHAPTER XV:The 1952 Elections
Our manifesto stressed on the need to defeat the Congress though there was no word on the party’s chances or intentions to form the government. However, Ajay Ghosh did say that if the Congress was reduced to a minority in any state, then the opportunity to provide an alternative government on the basis of a common minimum programme would be explored. However he did not say anything about whether the Communist Party would take part in such a government. Apart form the common minimum programme of the Front, the Communist Party in a separate manifesto said that the need was to establish a people’s government which strive to ensure : - Freedom of the individual - Minimum wages for all - End of the food crisis - Waiver of farmers’ loans - Low interest government loans and proper irrigation system - End of the unemployment problem - Decrease in the prices of essential commodities and end to corruption - Widespread industrial sanctions - End of the zamindari system without compensation for the landlords and free land to poor farmers and agriculturists - Snapping of ties with the Commonwealth and seizure of British holdings and - Setting up of business links with countries like the Soviet Union and China on the basis of equality. The manifesto was published in the “Swadhinata” of December 8, 1951. I had had to travel to almost all districts of West Bengal and address meetings of the Communist Party as well as the United Front. I had to go to states outside West Bengal too for the election campaign. On November 4, I addressed a one-lakh-strong meeting at Malabar. I was accompanied by the popular Communist leader of Malabar, A. K. Gopalan. This rally had kicked off the party’s campaign. On November 24, I addressed a meeting of 15,000 people at Tamluk in Midnapur district. Kaka-babu and Biswanath Mukherjee also spoke at that rally. On December 7, I addressed a meeting of more that 15,000 people in Tripura. I was asked by the party to contest the Baranagar Assembly seat in 24 Parganas district. Barangar was a new area for me; the party organization was weak and the residents of the area were traditional and conservative. However, during the election campaign, the local people came out spontaneously. There was small as well as big meetings and rallies; in all, the response was tremendous. The elections in Baranagar were held on January 18, 1952. I got 13,968 votes while Harendranath Chowdhury of the Congress got 8,539 votes. The RSP, KMPP, Socialist Party and two Independent candidates lost their deposists. Incidentally, Chowdhury was a member of Dr Roy’s ministry. Seven ministers of the Congress government were defeated. The former labour party leader who subsequently became a Congress minister, Niharendu Dutta Majumdar, was defeated by the Communist Party candidate Sudhir Chandra Bhandari at Maheshtala in 24 Paraganas district. At Bishnupur in the same district, minister Bimal Chandra Sinha lost to our candidate Prabhas Roy. Incidentally, Chowdhury who lost to me was also a minister. Our candidate Bankim Mukherjee won handsomely against labour minister Kalipada Mukherjee at Budge Budge by over 7,000 votes. The food minister, Prafulla Chandra Sen, lost by 21,000 votes to Independent candidate Radhakrishna Pal at Goghat in Hoogly district. Maharaja Uday Chand Mehtab, contesting ona Congress ticket, lost to our party’s Benoy Chowdhury at Bardhaman. The Forward Bloc (Marxist) leader Satyapriya Banerjee was set up by the Front against the Congress candidate, Dr B. C. Roy, in Bowbazar. Dr Roy polled 14,910 votes while Satyapriya-babu got 9,799 votes; the margin thus was negligible. It should not be forgotten that the Congress used all its resources ranging from money and the administrative machinery to hooligans to ensure Dr Roy’s victory. The Communist Party fought 71 seats in the first Assembly elections and won 28 of them. In the Lok Sabha, we got five out of nine seats. It was a very significant success considering the situation that was prevalent in those days. We emerged as the singlelargest opposition party in the Assembly. The Congress government had taken it for granted that the Communist Party would be finished by the onslaught of terrorism and atrocities. That the people had not forsaken us despite some errors made by the party during 1948-50 was established in these elections. Just after the elections, the Congress government sent back the political detenus _out on parole earlier _to jail again. However, after some time, the government was forced to release those held without trial in batches. Sadhan Gupta was our party candidate from the Lok Sabha constituency of Calcutta (South-East). The others in the fray were Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (Jan Sangh) and Mriganka Mohan Sur (Congress).The seat was won by the Jan Sangh. However, we set up Gupta again as our candidate in the byelection held in November 1953 after the death of Dr Mukherjee while the Congress fielded famous lawyer Dr Radhabinod Pal. In the straight contest, Gupta won with a huge margin and was elected to the Lok Sabha. We had six MPs in the first Lok Sabha from West Bengal _ Hiren Mukherjee, Tushar Chatterjee, Kamal Bose, Renu Chakraborty, Nikunja Chowdhury and Sadhan Gupta. We had also actively supported Dr Meghnath Saha and the RSP leader Tridib Chowdhury actively. One incident requires mention; the election of our candidate Sudhir Bhandari from the Mahestala Assembly constituency by a few hundred votes was annulled. The byelection was held in 1953. The candidates were same but this time, Bhandari defeated Niharendu Dutta Majumdar by more than 10,000 votes. It was after the first general elections that we got recognition as a national party and emerged as the singlelargest group in the Opposition. But no individual group in the Opposition got recognition as a party since none of them had a share of 10 per cent the total strength of the Lok Sabha. A.K. Gopalan was unanimously chosen as the leader of Communist Parliamentary Party. Hiren Mukherjee and Renu Chakraborty became deputy leaders and Kamal Bose the chief whip. The Speaker recognized the Communist Party as the main Opposition group. Till his death in 1977, Gopalan remained the leader of the Communist group in the Lok Sabha. We had won 28 seats in the West Bengal Assembly and two Independent candidates had won with our support. The Opposition strength, including the Forward Bloc, KMPP, Hindu Mahasabha, Jan Sangh and Independent members, was 76 seats while the Congress had 162 MLAs. We were the biggest party in the Opposition and naturally, expected to be recognized as a the main Opposition party. The provincial committee discussed the post-poll scenario in 1952. We listed our main successes; some weakness were also evident. One major main weakness was that our influence had not spread as much as it should have had in the rural areas. We were successful in the city and its industrial belt. Some definite decisions were taken to overcome this weakness. A major stress was laid on involving more and more people in our movement and consolidate the electoral successes. The significance and import of the success in the first general election cannot be minimised. We had to go through a continuous programme of struggle while the Congress spent huge amounts of money; the administrative machinery was used with impunity and there was massive rigging. Also, even though the High Court had ruled our party as lawful, in actuality, we had to fight for every inch; it was as if we were still a banned outfit. The elections again proved that despite the minor errors in the party line at times, the people had not left us. Political detenus were now being released and arrest warrants were withdrawn The routine work of the party began iwith the leadership now out of jail.. The provincial committee as well as the secretariat started meeting regularly. The district committees also became active. I was unanimously chosen as leader of the Legislative Party at a meeting of MLAs. This was done at the instance of the provincial committee. Monikuntala Sen was named the deputy leader while Biren Banerjee was made the chief whip. A team was set up to help the party work in the Assembly as well as the Legislative Council. The effort was to improve the functioning and efficiency of the legislators. Comrades like Dinesh Roy actively participated in this work for a long time. A new Congress ministry had been sworn in under the chief ministership of Dr B. C. Roy. The other ministers were Jadobendra Panja, Hemchandra Naskar, Ajoy Mukherjee, Shyama Prasad Barman, Khagendra Nath Dasgupta, Radhagobinda Roy, Renuka Roy, Prafulla Chandra Sen, Dr. R. Ahmed, Pannalal Basu, Satyendra Kumar Bose and Iswar Das Jalan. Prafulla Sen and Kalipada Mukherjee had lost in the 1952 Assembly elections, while Iswar Das Jalan was the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly since 1947. Fifteen ministers of state were also inducted. We discussed the strategy to be taken in the Assembly within our party. It was decided that we would go all out against the Congress government and its anti-people policies and organize a mass movement. We also tried to reach agreements with other parties of the Opposition on various issues. This yielded results. We rallied the Opposition parties and fought together against the anti-people Bills and proposals of the Congress government. Topmost on our agenda were the food crisis and the release of political detenus. The first session of the Assembly sat on June 18, 1952. The elections for the Speaker and Deputy Speaker were held the next day. While we knew clearly that the Opposition stood no chance, we decided to contest all the same. I proposed the name of veteran Forward Bloc Leader Jyotish Ghosh and was seconded by KMPP leader Charuchandra Bhandari. The Congress candidate was the MLA from Howrah, Saila Kumar Mukherjee, whose name was proposed by Dr. B. C. Roy and seconded by Purabi Mukherjee. Ghosh got 74 while Mukherjee polled 148 votes. Mukherjee was elected the Speaker. For the post of Deputy Speaker, the Opposition candidate was Natendranath Das. His name was proposed by me and supported by Bhandari. The Congress candidate was the former Deputy Speaker Ashutosh Mallick. His name was proposed by Pannalal Bose and supported by Hemchandra Naskar. The Opposition candidate got 74 while the Congress nominee received 144 votes. Mallick became the Deputy Speaker. The full Budget session began on June 18. A vote-on-account Budget had been passed before the Assembly had adjourned on the eve of the general elections. The new Legislative Assembly was quite different in character and structure from the previous one. In the earlier Assembly, a chunk of the Congress members were big industrialists and zamindars, apart from the usual lawyers and doctors, which meant that the Congress was basically a party run by professionals and industrialists. While most of them lost in the 1952 elections, those Congress candidates who had won from the villages were mainly big zamindars. Others like Bimal Sinha of Paikpara and the Maharaja of Burdwan lost but the Raja of Mahisadal, the Rani of Narajal and the Rani of Jalpaiguri _all royal personages _ won on Congress tickets. The zamindars in the Congress Legislative Party were extremely powerful though there were industrialists and businessmen too. Those of us who were elected represented the peoples’ aspirations; all of us had spent years in jail either during the British Raj or after Independence during the Congress regime. Many of us spent a long time underground, working tirelessly for the people. Examples readily come to mind _ Ranen Sen, Manikuntala Sen, Biren Banerjee, Ambika Chakraborty, Narayan Roy, Bankim Mukherjee, to name only a few. Those of our comrades who were elected from the villages, had all participated in farmers’ struggles and movements and had faced torture and persecution during the British and Congress regimes. The Forward Bloc was represented by Hementa Bose, Dr. Kanailal Bhattacharya Jyotishchandra Ghosh, Jyotish Jowardar and Amar Bose, among others. Charuchandra Bhaduri and Haripada Chatterjee were elected on KMPP tickets. There was hardly any Opposition strength to write home about in the earlier Assembly. Ratanlal Brahman and I were the only two Communist Party members who represented the Opposition. However, after the 1952 elections, the new Opposition strength stood at 76; without the seven Jan Sangh and Hindu Mahasabha members, our total strength was an impressive 69. The Communist Party had already emerged as the singlelargest Opposition party in the Assembly. I wrote a letter to the Speaker in my capacity as the Legislative Party leader demanding that the Communist Party be recognized as the Opposition and I be considered as the leader of the Opposition. I also sent a list of members of our party to the Speaker. Strangely, the Speaker seemed somewhat reticent about the matter and, finally on June 21, set up a panel of four members. But we went totally unrepresented; even a senior leader like Bankim Mukherjee was ignored. After taking an inordinately long time, the Speaker gave an unprecedented ruling regarding recognition to the Opposition party. It is quite likely that he had entered into a tacit understanding with the chief minister. The Speaker said that the Communist Party could not be recognized as the Opposition. We were, however, being given the status of “main” Opposition party while I was designated as its leader. I wrote a letter to the Speaker against the ruling. It was a fact that our block represented the only party in the Opposition ranks while the others were groups. Hence the status of ‘‘Main Opposition Party’’ was meaningless; we had to abide by the Speaker’s ruling anyway. There was one advantage though : as representatives of the main Opposition party we had the prerogative to initiate a debate. Also the very same party which the Congress government had only a few years back banned and deemed illegal had got an official recognition; this was a significant incident in the Communist movement. My new status made my father somewhat happy; he was content that finally, his son had come up in life. On June 21, I proposed an adjournment motion on the food crisis while Ganesh Ghosh raised another on the release of political detainus. But the Speaker rejected both. Almost all our members spoke during discussions in the first Budget Session. But this is not to say that we only pilloried the government. There were some occasions in which consensual notices were sent to the Centre after being adopted in the Assembly. During these times, there was a conscious effort to strengthen the mass organisations and the provincial committee. We moved around in the various districts extensively and attended many major as well as minor meetings. Before the party congress held at Madurai in 1953, the West Bengal Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of India discussed the draft political resolution and there were lengthy debates on the political and organisational reports. Resolutions were also adopted on the party’s ensuing programmes. A new provincial committee was elected, in which Saroj Mukherjee, Niranjan Sen, Pramode Dasgupta and Muzaffar Ahmed were included. I was unanimously chosen as the secretary. The state secretariat meeting of the party was over by the first week of January 1954. The Madurai congress had elected 39 members to the new central committee. I was also part of it. Bhupesh Gupta and Ranen Sen were included and the new committee had representations from almost all states. A nine-member Politburo was formed comprising Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Ajoy Ghosh, EMS Nampoodiripad, S.A. Dangey, P. Ramamurthy, P. Sundaraiyya, Ranen Sen, Z.A. Ahmed and C. Rajeswara Rao. While on paper, I headed the editorial board of “Swadhinata,” it was Bhupesh Gupta who actually did the editor’s work. After the elections, he took over as editor. In the meantime, Bhupesh had also been elected as a Member of the Lok Sabha. As far as I can remember, Saroj Mukherjee was made the editor of the party mouthpiece in 1956 since after the Palghat congress of the party that year, Bhupesh had to mainly work in Delhi as a Politburo member.
CHAPTER XVI: Resisting the Tram Fare Rise
In July 1953, the then British Tram Company, with the approval of the Congress government, decided to increase fares by one paise; the Left parties launched a major and indefinite agitation throughout Calcutta and Howrah. This continued for a month. It is impossible to describe the tactics that the Congress government adopted to crush the movement. Dr B.C. Roy was then abroad and the food minister Prafulla Chandra Sen stood in for him. The British Tram Company had made enough profits but had not done anything to improve the amenities for the commuters. When the decision to raise the fare was taken, our party initiated a major movement both inside and outside the Legislative Assembly and formed a committee against the rise of fare alongwith other Opposition parties. The call that went out to the people was simple : ‘‘Do not pay the new fares but ride the trams anyway’’. Since the employees of the British Tram Company were also with us, this worked like magic. When the commuters refused to pay the new fares, the conductors simply did not give them the tickets. It was a perfect two-way traffic. There were police postings in all tram cars and forces were deployed at every depot. We called for a boycott of trams and all commuters responded in a major way. Calcutta saw trams moving on the tracks without passengers. The Tram Company stopped the movement of trams altogether. The employees then struck work. The agitation spread like wildfire. Meetings and rallies were held throughout Calcutta. The government imposed Section 144 and meetings were banned. But our agitation continued despite incidents of teargassing, lathicharge and arrests.
There were many who became martyrs, others were hurt and hundreds of people were arrested. I remember that after a meeting at Subodh Mallick Square, I was having a cup of tea at a shop inside the Kamalalaya Stores. The Forward Bloc (Marxist) leader Satyapriya Banerjee was also with me. We were arrested from the shop and sent to jail straightaway.
On July 22, 1953 ,a massive rally was held at the Maidan despite the prohibitory orders which were in force. The enraged policemen attacked even journalists who were covering the meeting. A photographer’s camera was snatched away by the policemen who were led by a deputy commissioner.
The attack on journalists isolated the government entirely from the people. The next day’s headlines screamed against the police action and one newspaper even had an editorial which said that if the government did not take corrective steps, then journalists would have to resort to counter steps.
The famous journalist Satyan Mazumder wrote an editorial in the “Satyajug” paper which called the police “shameless.” Finally the government had to accept defeat and withdraw the order raising tram fares, a probe commission was instituted to go into the attack on journalists as well as the question of the rise in fares, those held during the agitation were released and we withdrew our agitation.
The commission’s verdict was totally one-sided. It said that the the journalists were at fault and the police were innocent. The government circulated a summary of this verdict on November 4, 1952. However, the findings on the fare rise issue were not made public by the government. We raised this in the Assembly but Dr Roy did not budge. We learnt later that the report had not gone in favour of either the government or the Tram Company.
In 1967, during the rule of the first United Front Government in Bengal, the Tram Company was nationalised. I was then the state’s finance as well as transport minister. The Calcutta Tramways Company is now a national asset.
The agitation on the issue of tram fares will be written in gold in the nation’s history of mass movements. We must also remember that the stir had an anti-imperialist angle to it. At the same time, it had also given a major thrust to the unity of Left forces and made them more powerful.
It was after 1952 that the mass organisations and movement got a fresh lease of life. These organisations had been somewhat subdued because of the Congress government’s atrocities. But after the 1952 general elections, they became very active again; many mass movements were launched by the Left organizations in 1952 and 1953 and processions and rallies were routine on the premises of the Assembly.
On March 13 1953, 25000 people assembled on the Assembly premises with demands on the food crisis and employment dole. I addressed the Speaker and said that the chief minister should meet the processionists. But Dr Roy refused to do that. We walked out of the House. On March 21 the same year, the historic conference of the Bengal Provincial Trade Union Congress (BPTUC) began. The previous one had been held way back in 1947; the interregnum had been wholly taken up by the fight against the terror tactics of the Congress government. The conference was conducted by the BPTUC president Satyapriya Banerjee.
The pages of “Swadhinata” of March 22, 1953 remind me that I had placed the secretary’s report in my capacity as the union general secretary; unfortunately, I do not remember the exact date when I became took up the post. From the same report, I see that after the conference of 1947, the trade union movement had been temporarily weakened by the various opportunistic and disinformation tactics of the British imperialists and the subsequent Congress rulers.
The secretarial report had then said that a new awakening was evident in the labour force. There was a call for greater unity and the BPTUC was successfully carrying the other trade unions alongwith it on issues like retrenchment and joblessness. The BPTUC made it clear that it was ready to take the lead in the formation of a single, combined union and that the time for a greater struggle had come. The president of the UTUC, Mrinalkanti Bose sent a congratulatory message to the conference. Satyapriya Banerjee was re-elected as president and Ranen Sen became the general secretary. A total of 523 representatives of the BPTUC participated in the conference. There were 125 member unions in the BPTUC and the total membership was 1,55,178. On March 29, a public rally was held at the Maidan.
The Winter Session of the Bengal Assembly began a full seven months after the Budget Session ended in 1953. On the very first day, the Forward Bloc and our party proposed five adjournment motions but all of them were rejected. I tried to move a similar motion on the tram fare rise, the food crisis and the agitation for bonus and the government’s role in trying to stamp out the movement. The adjournment motion proposed by Ganesh Ghosh raised the issue of the government’s improper rationing system while Benoy Chowdhury served a notice on matters relating to the payment of bonus for jute labourers. Hemanta Bose (Forward Bloc) wanted a discussion on the Deulti killings and the food crisis there. On September 29. Manikuntala Sen also moved an adjournment motion on the food crisis.
CHAPTER XVII: I Am a Father
I became the father of a son in the September of 1952. We named him Chandan; he is my only son. My wife, Kamal Basu, used to stay at her parents’ place during most of the time when I was either in jail or underground. I have also had occasion to stay there. My father-in-law, Mr Biren Bose, was an officer of the Bengal Civil Services during the British regime though, of course, he had retired by the time Chandan was born. He was not into party politics but had a unique sense of humanitarianism, numerous examples of which I can remember. It has been a long time since his death.
During the first session of the Legislative Assembly after the 1952 elections beginning on June 21 that year, the Congress government introduced the West Bengal Salaries and Wages Bill 1952 which was intended not to hike the pay packets of legislators or government officials but that of ministers, ministers of state, deputy ministers, not to forget the Chief minister himself.
Needless to say, the Opposition had lots to say against the Bill. There was simply no justification in hiking the salaries of ministers when the food crisis was at its peak, children were going without milk and people were dying on the streets. This move deserved condemnation.
Dr Roy’s Bill envisaged an enviable rise in his own salary from the then Rs 1250 per month to a steep Rs 2400; add to this, his residential rent and his total emoluments stood at Rs 2650. Also, the chief minister was entitled to a second official residence for which the State Treasury would have to pay Rs 250 per month. In all, this amounted to more than doubling the chief minister’s salary!
Earlier, a state minister used to get a salary of Rs 1200 per month; with the new Bill, this went up to Rs. 2100. There was a similar proportionate rise proposed in the salaries of ministers of state, deputy ministers and parliamentary secretaries. Charuchandra Bhandari opposed the Bill and said that public opinion be sought on it.
Manikuntala Sen said, “I am not sure how close the proponents of this Bill are with the people. But if they had even some idea of the general public feeling and the strong condemnation that this Bill has evoked in Bengal, then they would have been forced to withdraw it. But it’s quite pointless to talk about public opinion to these people who choose to stay in ivory towers; they have never gone to the people, instead choosing to run away from them during the elections.”
Even as the debate on this Bill was on in the chamber inside, word came that a huge procession had arrived on the Assembly premises, just outside the gates. From inside, we could hear their slogan, “We want food, shelter and clothing; we want to live decent lives.”
I drew the Speaker’s attention and said that the processionists would like to hand over a memorandum to the chief minister. I also said that it was the chief minister’s duty to face them. Dr Roy, true to style, evaded meeting them but agreed to talk to a representative deputation.
Alongwith some other Opposition members, I met the processionists and put forward our views. They dispersed slowly and peacefully.
The Opposition members tried to stall the Bill through parliamentary procedures. Countless amendments were proposed and voting was recorded on each of them. The government had thought that it would be able to rush the Bill through on the opening day itself; finally, it was passed on June 27 with a voting pattern of 139-75.
On July 1, the law minister, S. K. Bose, introduced a draconian Bill. It was called the Tribunals of Criminal Jurisdiction Bill 1952. Proposing the Bill, he said that since 1950, violence had increased manifold in the state and industrial peace was being jeopardised. It was for this reason that tribunals were being necessitated to facilitate speedy justice.
We reckoned that this Bill would be dangerous. The intention was clear; the target was obviously the growing labour movement which was fast spreading its influence among the farmers and the middle class. The Opposition leadership decided to fight the Bill with all its might.
We knew that the Congress government would be able to push through the Bill by the strength of the majority it enjoyed. But the passage of the Bill was not the final word; we wanted it to be delayed and brought amendments to all clauses and sought voting on each of them.
I said in the Assembly, “We know that this Bill has not been introduced to be used against dacoits and murderers but the farmer-labourers and the middle class. They will be put behind bars without a proper trial or a jury. We must understand that such a Bill can be presented only by a corrupt dictatorial and bureaucratic government. We in the Opposition shall not take part in the voting process since that would mean legalising and accepting the norms of the jungle.”
On July 10, 1952, this notorious and draconian Bill was passed with a majority of 138-64 votes. Before the final voting, I _ representing my party as well as the entire Opposition _ strongly said that our agitation against this law would continue.
During the session, thousands of people used to come in processions almost daily to the Assembly to press for various demands on the food, labour, refugee and other immediate issues. We in the Opposition used to meet them and raise these matters in the House.
Shaken by this mass upsurge, the Congress government clamped Section 144 on the Assembly premises every morning. The processionists were routinely stopped at Esplanade East; as soon as we were informed, we immediately met them there. This happened daily.
We were always keen to maintain our links with the mass movements that were continuously taking shape outside the portals of the Assembly. It was our endeavour to take issues to the people, involve them in our work, criticise the malfunctioning of the Congress government and raise the voice of protest whenever we found injustice. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we were successful.
CHAPTER XVIII:The 1954 Teachers Agitation
Something very significant happened in February 1954 in Calcutta. The All India Teachers’ Cell called a strike in which 18,000 secondary teachers participated actively. This was the first unified stir by teachers in post-Independence West Bengal.
It is important to elaborate on this agitation. We were the single largest Opposition group in the Assembly and I was its leader. Apart from this I was also the secretary of the provincial committee of the party.
The teachers had many demands but uppermost at that point of time was the raising of dearness allowance to Rs 35 and Rs 180 instead of Rs 75 as the minimum monthly salary. This was done according to the recommendations of the Secondary Board, which was a semi-government institution and had government representatives in it. A few months earlier, the ABTA had placed a memorandum of demands to the chief minister.
Dr Roy, however, did not take any action on the memorandum. Some of us from the Opposition benches met Dr Roy and asked him to meet the representatives of the teachers. He finally agreed but no decision was taken at that meeting. The chief minister was ready to give in somewhat but would not accept the recommendations of the Board in toto.
Preparations were on for an indefinite strike by the 18,000 secondary teachers. A meeting of the ABTA decided that if the government did not accept the minimum demands by February 9 then the teachers would go on strike indefinitely from the next day onwards. Simultaneously a greater movement was also being planned.
The West Bengal Provincial Committee of our party, the RSP, Forward Bloc and the SUC, the various trade unions, farmers, students and youth organisations came forward to join the striking teachers. The ABTA tried its best to avert the strike and wanted a solution till the last. On February 4, a representative team consisting of the government and teacher members of the Secondary Board met Dr Roy, who however, again flatly refused to accede to the demands. In fact, he also said that he would not keep to the earlier pay structure that he had promised. Rallies, processions and meetings began from February 10. An all-party committee including the Communist Party and other political parties called for a general strike throughout the state on February 12.
On February 10, the historic strike by the teachers started. Students and common men came forward; all efforts to disturb the strike failed. An elderly teacher of the Bishudananda Saraswati Vidalaya was assaulted _ the police also arrested six teachers from outside the Women’s College. A total of 43 schools were closed in Calcutta. The Congress government was shaken and reacted sharply to the spontaneous and successful strike.
On February 11, the police tried to stop the striking teachers even as they were porceeding towards Writers’ Buildings. The teachers had no option but to squat in front of the Raj Bhavan throughout the night. The general secretary of the ABTA, Satyapriya Roy, said that the sit-in would continue till all the demands were met. Like many others, I also went to the Raj Bhavan to express my solidarity with their cause. I spoke on that occasion too. The public response to the strike was enormous and thousands of people could be seen rallying near the Raj Bhavan premises.
The next day, February 12, entire West Bengal shut itself down in support of the striking teachers. The students strike continued simultaneously. The sit-in of the teachers was on till February 14. The Congress government reacted as it was expected to and began indiscriminate arrests of teachers.
Deep into the night on February 14, the teachers who were on dharna at the Raj Bhavan were arrested and their camps pulled down. Raids were on in Calcutta and Howrah. Some MLAs were also arrested.
The Legislative Assembly began its session on February 15. The Opposition decided that we would stage a walkout during the Governor’s address during the joint session of the Assembly and the Legislative Council in protest against the attacks on the teachers. As the Governor rose to speak, we tried to interrupt him for some time, but walked out en masse soon afterwards.
A mass rally was to be taken out on the Assembly premises. This decision infuriated the government more than ever. On February 16, the day of the rally, the police started widescale arrests and raids. Manikuntala Sen, Satyapriya Roy, Anila Devi, Jyotish Jowardar, Sailen Roy and Kanai Bhattacharyya were among those held.
I was not present at my Hindustan Park residence but was staying with my in-laws. The police went to my Hindustan Park residence to arrest me but left when they could not find me there. This news was conveyed to me by one of our comrades at the provincial party office. He also fed us with reports of the widescale arrests and raids. The Congress government was hell-bent on scuttling the rally. At least 500 teachers and workers of Opposition parties and units were arrested that morning.
I took an instant decision that it would do us no good if I were to be arrested then. It was necessary for me to project the atrocities against the teachers on the floor of the Assembly. It would be a mistake if I allowed the police to arrest me before that. I took a taxi to a friend’s place. The Assembly was in session. I kept all the available party members informed of my decision. At the same time, I also devised a strategy of how to get inside the Assembly without being arrested. I did not know whether I would succeed but I would give it a try anyway. As like any other day, I got into a car from my friend’s place and left for the Assembly. The entire Assembly area was surrounded by uniformed policemen with rifles and detectives in plainclothes. But I entered through the main gate as I did everyday. The plainclothesmen did not even imagine that I would dare walk into the Assembly like that; if they had been a trifle more alert, I would have been arrested. Later, they realised their mistake when word spread from inside the chambers. The sleuths ran helter-skelter; high level consultations began as to whether a legislator could be arrested during Assembly proceedings. The chief minister realised that such an extreme step would not be in order. I was told that I would be arrested after I left the complex at the end of the day’s deliberations.
There was no alteration in the plans for the mass rally on February 16 on the Assembly grounds. The government enforced Section 144 on the premises; the entire area looked like a police camp. The forces were busy to foil the rally with lathis, rifles and teargas shells.
After Question Hour, I said : “At 4 o’clock this morning, the police raided my residence with an arrest warrant. This is not the first such incident; it is my good fortune and the bad luck of this government that I was not at home last night and the police could not arrest me. I know that the chief minister will have me arrested as soon as the session ends today.”
At this juncture, the Speaker asked, “From inside this chamber?” I replied : “No. I will be arrested after I leave this place. You must be aware that Manikuntala Sen, Kanailal Bhattacharyya and Jyotish Jowardar have already been arrested under the same law. Under these circumstances, I request for your permission to be allowed to stay inside the Assembly premises for a few days. The Budget session is in progress and as a legislator it is expected that I do my duty towards my constituency and the public. Till such time that the arrest warrant against me is withdrawn, I expect that you will grant me permission to stay in this chamber.”
The Speaker said: “I can assure the respected members that this chamber is not mine but theirs. If any member asks for shelter from me, then he will be safe here and not be arrested. This is applicable to all legislators. Like any other legislator, you too have this right.”
This ruling created quite a stir among the Congress members. I am told that Dr Roy had even reprimanded the Speaker for this.
Apparently, Dr Roy even consulted the advocate-general on whether I could be arrested under these circumstances. This nugget of information was passed on to me by our legislator Bankim Mukherjee. The advocate-general advised that while nothing could stop the law from arresting me, it would, however, be grossly unwise to do so.
For around a week, I stayed in the Assembly. Food used to come from my home as well as my comrades. All these days, the police camps outside the Assembly stayed put, in case I tried to give them the slip.
The police was all attention on February 16 as a 40,000-strong rally was stopped outside the Assembly gates. Even as the rallyists broke the prohibitory orders peacefully, the police attacked them. Initially, leaders like Ambika Chakraborty of the Communist Party and Subodh Banerjee of the SUC were arrested. After this, there were indiscriminate use of the lathi and teargas. There was firing too. I was witness to these incidents as they happened outside the gates of the Assembly. Six people died and 157 were wounded in the terror that the police unleashed. Section 144 was clamped on the entire city. But that did not stop the wave of protests in Calcutta.
Even the next day, the Army and the police continued with its barbaric actions. The incidents of firing continued and 160 people were arrested. Rallies and street-corner meetings were held in protests. The people formed barricades in lanes and bylanes.
On February 17, leaders of all the Opposition groups moved adjournment motions and the Speaker accepted mine. This was the first time since the Assembly was formed in 1952 that an adjournment motion had been accepted. I was supported by the entire Opposition even as I condemned the police action unequivocally. After my speech, I asked even the Congress members to join in our protest. For all those days that the police atrocities continued in the city, we acted as a responsible Opposition party inside the Assembly.
After the discussions on the Budget were over, the party decided that it was now time for me to come out of the Assembly. I had been successful in achieving what I have wanted to by that time. The arrest warrant against me was still very much in force. I took Dr Narayan Roy’s car and went towards the Maidan. Soon, our car was surrounded by some police vehicles on Red Road. I was arrested and sent to jail.
If memory serves, I was in jail for a week without trial after which I was released alongwith other detenus. On February 21, the 12-day-old strike by the teachers ended. The chief minister released all the teachers and other satyagrahi protestors.
The teachers strike was not a failure. They could proudly proclaim that while not all of their demands had been met, they had at least succeeded in getting their pound of flesh from an unwilling government. Our party had played a major role in this.
CHAPTER XIX: Agitations Unabated
It was May 22, 1954. A French Sky Master warplane bound for Indo-China suddenly landed at the Dum Dum Airport. Despite Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s protestations, such an incident by an imperialist force without permission was a major incident which had a direct bearing on national integrity and security. The French soldiers were kept at the Grand Hotel under the supervision of their consulate.
Four American planes as well as some belonging to the British government also landed at our airport during that time. It was only our party mouthpiece “Swadhinata” which carried this news with the importance and display it deserved. Bhupesh Gupta headed the editorial board and I was secretary of the West Bengal state unit of the party.
The treaty signed between Pakistan and the US in June 1954 was a direct threat to our national security. On 14 June, under the presidentship of Prof Hiren Mukherjee, a meeting was held at Wellington Square of the city. At that meeting, I said: “With the direct intervention of the Americans, Mohammed Ali Jinnah has succeeded in installing an Army Raj and deposed the democratic process in East Bengal. This is the first direct fallout of the treaty between Pakistan and US. By this, Pakistan is trying to exert pressure on India. It is this reason which should compel us to stand by the people of East Bengal and also generate a mass movement against the imperialist designs on India. I hope that the democratic people of East Bengal shall not be trampled upon for too long.”
On July 6, 1954, the Army regime in East Bengal had banned the Communist Party there. On July 25, the party was made illegal in West Pakistan too and there were widespread arrests in Lahore, Peshawar and Rawalpindi.
One of the most significant incidents in 1954 was a visit to India by China’s Prime Minister Zhou-En-Lai. He was given a grand and warm welcome in Delhi. A message went out from the Communist Party during a rally held at Wellington Square on June 28 hailing the meeting between the Prime Ministers of China and India in New Delhi. They had our best wishes. Apart from myself, Hiren Mukherjee and Bhupesh Gupta also spoke at this meeting.
On June 26, 1954, an agitation was kicked off on the retrenchment of employees belonging to the food and supplies department. A joint statement was issued by the trade union leaders, Opposition legislators and Parliamentarians asking for alternative jobs for those who had got the sack. I was also one of the signatories alongwith Hiren Mukherjee, Bhupesh Gupta, Ranen Sen, Kana Bhattacharjee, Amar Basu, Barin Ghosh (the then editor of “Basumati” magazine), Makhan Pal and Mohit Maitra.
A total of 7000 workers of the food and supplies department converged in a rally at Wellington Square. An announcement was made that the West Bengal government had been forced to withdraw the retrenchment notice on 100 workers. This created a tremendous sense of enthusiasm among those present. The government had to accept defeat in the face of a unified movement by the employees and the support they had from the Opposition parties.
The Assembly was tense on August 31. I had a fierce argument with the chief minister and the Speaker. The chief Minister, in reply to a question by Ambika Chakraborty on police atrocities on a refugee camp at the Lake barracks, said that he had nothing to add to what he had clarified before.
I protested immediately that it was the Speaker’s prerogative to decide on what question could be asked and that the chief minister could not be an arbitrator in such matters. I said that the rights of the members were being curtailed and had a long debate with the Speaker himself. Finally, I suggested that non-official matters be discussed every Friday. The Speaker said that he would look into the proposal.
Another incident comes to mind. In September 1954, Jalpaiguri district went down under floods. The BPTUC president Manaranjan Roy and the Jalpaiguri District Tea Estate Mazdoor Union secretary, Deboprasad Ghosh, went for a on-the-spot study in the flood affected areas of Nagrakata.
From their accounts, it was evident that it was not only nature which was at fault but that the white-skinned managers of the tea estate also had a major part to play in ensuring the plight of the people. We started relief work in these places.
It is important to note here that while the Teesta had always played havoc in North Bengal, government after government of the Congress had done nothing to implement the Teesta Barrage Project. It was left for the Left Front government later to put it on the priority list.
September 23, 1954 will remain an important day in the Assembly records of West Bengal. During the voting on the Development Corporation Bill, 28 Congress members cast their ballots mistakenly against the party line invalidating Clause Number 5. Dr Roy himself voted against his own proposal. However, the suicidal action by the Congress members was not sudden. The Opposition had raised its voice against this much earlier, right from the initial stages; by the torrents of protests, there was chaos in the Congress ranks. It was this confusion which led to 80 ballots being cast against the clause while 74 members voted for it. There were seven abstentions.
The food crisis was getting acute in the rural areas and the government had taken no steps to counter it. On the party’s instructions, I went on a tour of the hunger-striken areas of the Sunderbans, including Haroa, Sandeshkhali and Hasnabad. The legislator from Haroa, Sandeshkhali, Hemanta Ghosal, accompanied me. Despite the incessant rain, our public meetings were widely attended. I called for a sustained agitation against police atrocities, evictions and illegal bheries in the Hansnabad, Phulgachi and Haroa areas.
In January 1954, the government had extended the term of the black law which gave it unlimited powers to arrest. I remember addressing a rally at Wellington Square alongwith Kaka-babu, Comrade Ismail and Comrade Niranjan Sengupta. Countless Communist leaders and workers had been held without trial under this Act.
While the states had the option to use this law, it was only in 1967 when the first United Front Government came to power that we decided to stop its implementation in Bengal. The undivided Communist Party made a lot of noise in Parliament and Prof Hiren Mukherjee left no stone unturned to make the party voice relevant and readily heard in the House.
Andhra Pradesh had its first Assembly elections as a separate state in 1955. Our central committee attached great importance to this election. The main rivals were the Communist Party and the Congress. I went for a lot of campaigning to Andhra Pradesh carrying alongwith me two microphones as symbols of fraternal love that the people of West Bengal had for the southern state. We must appreciate that there was hardly any media hype in those days. I was told one day that a Communist Party candidate had been held hostage by Congressmen for two days and that he had been served an ultimatum to withdraw his nomination. But that plot failed.
I addressed two huge public meetings at Bijanagar and Vishakapatnam during January 12–13 in 1955. I remember telling these gatherings that if the Communist Party won in Andhra Pradesh, it would be victory for all the toiling masses of the country.
But the Congress won. The reasons for the defeat were discussed by the central committee. The election results were as follows :–
Total Seats — 196
Congress led United Front — 146
Communist Party — 15 PSP — 13 Swatantra Party — 22
Total voters 86,30,311; Congress-led United Front 42,65,814, and the Communist Party 29,95,562 ( which was 30 per cent of the total electorate).
In the previous election, the Communist Party, with 14 lakh votes, had won 67 seats. It is true that this defeat did create a sense of confusion among the party ranks in Andhra Pradesh.
There were several interesting incidents in the political arena during that year; the Goa liberation war, the discussion on the re-organisation of the states in the West Bengal Assembly and the agitation against the extension of the term of the black law, these took place then. All the frontal wings of our party took active part in this agitation, which helped to give a forward thrust to our movement. It was possible to bring all the Left-minded and the democratic, anti-Congress forces on the same platform under a common minimum programme.
On February 16, elections to the Bardhaman municipality were held on the basis of limited franchise. I went for campaigning there. Of the 25 seats, the Democratic Citizens’ Committee which was formed at the initiative of the Communist Party got 10, the Congress nine while Independents bagged six seats. The victory of the Democratic Citizens’ Committee under the system of limited franchise was significant.
On February 18, the local self government minister, Iswar Das Jalan, moved an amendment Bill on the Calcutta Municipal Act 1951. According to this, the term of the Calcutta Corporation would be extended to four years from the then three years with the government having the option of increasing it by another year. I said that the amendment should also include the right to vote for all as was prevalent in the Corporation elections of other states.
The government had proposed the extension of the Corporation term to keep parity with the norms prevalent in states like Bombay and Madhya Pradesh.
The Communist Party legislator Ganesh Ghosh protested strongly against this Bill, describing it as ridiculous, shameful and shallow. But naturally the Congress rushed it through.
The right to vote for all in local self-government has always been opposed by the Congress. It is we who have struggled hard to install autonomy in the municipal bodies. In fact, participating in the debate, I had categorically said that the Congress government would be forced to accede to our demand. On March 2, 1955 _ the Budget Session had just began_ 3000 women went on a rally to the Assembly asking for jobs and presented a memorandum signed by 30,000 people to the government. A total of 160 women farmers courted arrest at Wellington Square. The rally was addressed earlier by Manikuntala Sen, Sudha Roy, Bimal Pratibha Devi and other leaders. I told the chief minister that such a rally was unprecedented and protested against the deployment of armed forces, saying that it was a shame that the police had to use strongarm tactics against women. The PSP leader, Haripada Chatterjee, Hemanta Basu of the Forward Bloc, Manikuntala Sen and Ganendra Chowdhury took up the issue inside the Assembly. But a defiant chief minister in his usual style said that the police would not move from that place and he would not meet representatives of the women’s delegation in the Assembly but would talk to them at Writers’ Buildings on March 9.
I asked for an adjournment but the Speaker rejected it. After coming out from the Assembly, I addressed the women who were staging a dharna. Haripada Chatterjee, Hemanta Basu and Ganendra Chowdhury were also with me. Geeta Mukherjee was in the forefront of those present at that rally. Manikuntala Sen presented a memorandum to the deputy speaker which demanded that retrenchment of women could not be allowed in factories, offices and other business establishments, equal wages for equal work, and the creation of new work opportunities in a planned way in the cottage industry.
On January 22, more than 30,000 tea workers observed a successful one-day token strike in the Darjeeling hills against the government’s policies. The secretary of the Darjeeling Tea Estate Mazdoor Union, Ananda Pathak, and its president, Ratanlal Brahman, were among 70 leaders who were arrested for demanding bonus and hike in wages. On June 25, six workers, including two women, were killed in police firing.
A strike and protest rally were held in Darjeeling the next day against the killings. Two of those injured in the police firing died later. On June 26, the Congress government imposed Section 144 on Darjeeling town and some other tea gardens. The next day,more than 15,000 mourners took out a rally with the dead bodies and subsequently the warrants issued against Ratanlal Brahman and Ananda Pathak were withdrawn.
Some of my comrades and I went for a on-the-spot study to the Margaret Hope Tea Garden where there were reports of police atrocities. The firing on the tea workers was also raised in the Assembly by Opposition leaders. On September 2, the chief minister gave a statement in the Assembly supporting the firing. He said, “The situation at the Margaret Hope Tea Garden had become dangerous and the police had to fire in self-defence”. I attacked this statement and said : “This is sheer provocative, malintended and partially untrue”. I added that it was important that copies of the statement be circulated to all the members and a debate be allowed.
On November 29, the two Soviet Leaders, Krushchev and Bulganian, arrived in Calcutta to a tumultous welcome. The Soviet leaders were overwhelmed. I was among those who had gone to receive them at the Dum Dum Airport; the others were Dr Roy, state ministers, Communist leader Bankim Mukherjee, Assembly Speaker Saila Kumar Mukherjee and Suniti Chattopadhyay. On November 31, the two leaders were given a citizens’ reception at the Brigade Parade Grounds; according to newspaper estimates, the gathering touched around 50 lakhs! Whatever be the actual figure, the fact was that it was indeed highly impressive.
On September 7, the then labour minister Kalipada Mukherjee gave a statement in the Assembly on the strike by tea workers of Dooars and Terai regions. The statement tried to put the lid on the actual status of the tea workers. On November 20, on persistent demands by the Opposition, the Speaker allowed a two-hour debate on the issue.
Initiating the debate, I said that the statement was unilateral and that there was no point in paying any heed to it. On previous occasions, the government had tabled statements in the Assembly but we had not been allowed to speak. This was the first chance that we had go to speak.
I also said that going by the speech of the labour minister, it seemed that he was arguing on behalf of the tea garden owners; it did not sound like a minister’s statement at all. There was no sympathy for the workers. “Incidentally, Kali-babu has been a trade union leader in his time,” I said.
Not for once in his speech did the minister point out any error on the part of the owners; on the contrary, he seemed to be holding a brief for them. Not once again did he mention what went into the making of the strike, why it was organized in the first place and under what circumstances the tea workers eked out a life of shame. The minister totally ignored the reasons for the strike. A few Congress legislators also supported the minister and spoke in his defence.
CHAPTER XX: Goa Liberation War
It is necessary to elaborate on the Communist Party’s role in the Goa Liberation War. The Congress government had rejected the non-official resolution which I had initiated in the Assembly on the issue. On July 21, 1955, the Communist Party held a meeting at Wellington Square in which a call was given to liberate Goa from the Portuguese and that the people of West Bengal should also involve themselves in this movement. At this rally, I said that this last vestige of imperialism had to be rooted out from this country. Goa had to free and this agitation should be taken to a level where the Indian government should be forced to use aggression, if necessary. We also invited donations for the Goa cause. This was not a question of national honour only but involved the sovereignty of the country.
The first Communist volunteers left to join the Goa Liberation movement on July 28; they had been tutored on the significance of what they were trying to achieve. Comrade Niranjan Sen presided over the farewell meeting which was held at the party’s West Bengal unit office. Among those in the batch of volunteers were the leader of the team, Mohitosh Nandy, Prabodh Ranjan Roy, Kanti Bhowmick, Nityananda Saha, Priyanath Chatterjee, Shankar Roy and Jamini Saha. Comrade Nityananda Saha died in the war. A Communist worker from Madhya Pradesh B. K. Thorate was also killed. Mohitosh Nandy himself was injured in firing. More than a lakh converged on the spot where the last rites of Nityananda Saha and Thorate were performed in Pune. There were many others who became martyrs in that war. On August 11, I told the Assembly that we should pay our respects by observing a minute’s silence in the memory of the martyrs like Amir Chand, Babu Roy, Thorate and Saha. The Speaker said this would not be possible since the matter fell under the Centre’s jurisdiction!
I told the Speaker that I had not moved any proposal but just requested that the martyrs be honoured by this simple gesture; even that was rejected by the Speaker. After waiting for some time, all the Opposition members stood up and paid respects. But the Congress legislators did not even move. The Goa liberation agitation had by then metamorphosed into a national cause. On August 12, three lakh labourers and some thousands of students observed a strike in support of the Goa struggle. On August 14, 200 satyragrahis left for Goa from West Bengal. Speaking on the occasion, I said that the demand for the ouster of imperialists from Goa was gaining ground everyday. “Hundreds of Indians are moving towards Goa. If the empire decides to strike back, then we have to be ready for it. Mass movements are necessary and protests must spread in all factories, educational institutions, offices, courts, ports and even the local markets. We must activate our local committees at every level so that the Portuguese government realises that the entire state of West Bengal is ranged behind these 200 volunteers. The Nehru government should also be informed that the people of West Bengal will give anything to ensure the passage of these volunteers and later the Indian Army into Goa.”
The Portuguese army opened fire on the satyagrahis killing 20 defenceless Indian volunteers, including one woman. It was on Independence Day 1955. On the same day, the Communist Party called a rally at the Park Circus Maidan and called upon the Nehru government to intervene immediately in Goa.
The party policy was elaborated. Going through the records now, I see that till August 15, 1955, 31 persons had been killed, 74 injured and five missing in the Goa liberation war. A protest strike was held in Bombay which was hugely successful. On August 16, a total bandh was observed in West Bengal. The same day, around two lakh people joined a rally organised by the Goa Liberation Committee and three central trade unions.
The Communists raised the issue in Parliament and said that the government should come out with a statement. Prof Hiren Mukherjee moved the proposal while A. K. Gopalan spoke in the Lok Sabha on the matter.
The RSP leader and Parliamentarian Tridip Chowdhury played a major role in the Goa liberation movement. He had been arrested by the Portuguese police but the Nehru government had done nothing to get him released. He was tortured mercilessly in jail. On December 13, I initiated a non-official resolution which said, “This House believes that the state government should immediately request the Centre to ensure (a) the release of Tridip Chowdhury and (b) till such time that he is freed, Chowdhury should be treated with respect”.
I spoke at length. The Forward Bloc leader Hemanta Bose also made a speech. In fact, a Congress legislator too supported the motion. I said, “It is becoming increasingly apparent as to who is our real friend, at least as far as the international scenario is concerned. We understand that Pandit Nehru is trying his best to ensure a peaceful solution to the Goa question. But the Portuguese imperialists are not only ignoring him but even threatening that Goa will not be given without a war. It does not take much to understand that there is a bigger force behind the Portuguese because they themselves would not have had the gumption to challenge the Indian government in this fashion. It is now clear that the American imperialists are supporting them. We do not know how long it will take our government in Delhi to realise that only the language of aggression will work in Goa. The government must understand this. Goa has to be liberated by force. Pandit Nehru has said that he will solve the problem; the government has even issued a statement saying that the Goa would be liberated. I do not know what steps has been taken to ensure this but the fact that nothing has been done at the ground level is now out in the open. We know many political leaders are still in jail, including those who have fought for the cause of Goa.”
The Congress had tried to prevent the Goa satyagraha and the AICC working committee had adopted a resolution to this end. The party had been unmasked yet again.
However, because of the insistence by the Opposition. the Nehru government was forced to take some positive steps which ensured that held in Portuguese jails were released. Before the second general elections in 1957, mainly because of reasons political, the Indian government was forced to send the Army to Goa. Goa was liberated. We were proud that West Bengal state unit and the people of this state had taken a major initiative in the Goa movement.
Dr Roy proposed a Bill to extend the term of the arrest law on September 7, 1955. I termed the Bill as “undemocratic, dictatorial and an encroachment on fundamental rights”. I said, “For the last eight years, the people have experienced to what extent this Bill can be used against the labourers, farmers, teachers and every democratic institution. We must debate this Bill keeping this perspective in mind.” I specifically mentioned Clauses 6 and 7 (Prohibitory Orders) of the Bill by which the trade union rights of the workers at Chittaranjan and Burnpur had been usurped. Clause10 pertained to “disruptive activity”; this was used widely against the teachers’ movement. On September 8, the entire Opposition walked out in protest against the Speaker’s stand during the debate on this black Bill.
CHAPTER XXI: The Re-organisation of States
The commission going into the question of re-organisation of the states released its recommendations in December 1956. They were not to the liking of some states, including the West Bengal. Dr. Roy did not support the report but behind this disappointment was a different reason, something which we shall discuss at length later.
On December 5, 1955, Comrade Abdul Halim criticised the report in the West Bengal Legislative Council (this chamber was abolished in 1969) and said that a fresh look was necessary to maintain national unity and security and that this should be done on the basis of language, culture, regional affinity and the people’s hopes and aspirations; naturally the village had to be the lowermost unit in the demarcation system. During the debate, a huge rally proceeded towards Assembly in protest against the partiality showed against West Bengal in the report. The rally was stopped outside the limits of the premises.
On December 6, the Communist leader Ranen Sen said that the Congress government had always promised to reorganise the states on the basis of language, but had adopted double standards. The report of the commission had only toed the Congress government’s line by pushing the question of cultural and language in the background. I told the Assembly, “The Congress is entirely responsible for the poisonous atmosphere that has been created by the report. A solution can be reached only on the basis of language and regional affinity. We must not forget that India is one. This is not a question of limiting boundaries of states but a question of our national security and unity. The Centre has not done any scientific research though during the British Raj it was a same Congress which had earned the people’s mandate by promising states on the basis of language. Just setting up commissions will not do”.
I said that the commission’s report was opportunistic and the Centre was entirely responsible for its irrelevance. In fact, the Centre and the Congress government in West Bengal were at odds over the question of West Bengal’s boundary. The logic that the limits of the state be extended because of the refugee and unemployment problems did not hold water; I said that it would be impossible to solve these problems by just getting that extra mile from Bihar.
I demanded that necessary steps be taken to ensure local self-government in the Nepali areas of Darjeeling. This was our party’s stand. Naturally the Congress government had to reject this demand. At that point of time, our demand was dubbed as “anti-national”. After four decades, the Congress government has had finally to give in to this original demand of the Leftists. The Left Front government has successfully ensured this.
On December 10, Dr. Roy told journalists, “It is necessary to make some amendments to the recommendations of the States Re-organisation Committee keeping in mind the security and stability of West Bengal and aspirations of the people of neighbouring Bihar.”
Subsequently in 1956, Dr Roy and his Bihar counterpart Sri Krishna Sinha issued a joint statement advocating the merger of West Bengal and Bihar. This created a major stir in the state.
CHAPTER XXII: Party Congress at Palghat
I would like to highlight some new subjects in this chapter. We firmly believe that in order to steer the mass movements and mass struggles in the right direction, we need a powerful and influential Communist party believing in the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism. Between 1953-1956, the progress of our party was significant and this is reflected in some of the statistics detailed below :
The 7th Provincial Conference in West Bengal held between January 16-21, 1956 says that in 1953, the total number of party membership in West Bengal was 8131, including 2275 candidates for elections. Since then till January 1956, another 4126 members were enrolled. A total of 1261 memberships were not renewed while 200 new applicants could not fulfil certain criterions. In January 1956, the total party membership in West Bengal was 10,775, including 2034 candidate members. In the earlier Provincial Conference of 1953, there were 5859 full-fledged members; in November 1956 this had gone up to 8727. Obviously in the three areas under discussion there had been a significant rise in party membership but there were some weaknesses too. After scrutiny, we could make out that while the party had pushed ahead in popularity and influence, the membership had not grown in the same fashion.
There was a detailed discussion on the organisational strength and weaknesses of the party at the Seventh Provincial Conference held in Bengal and resolutions were adopted accordingly. On April 19, 1956, the report placed at the party congress at Kerala’s Palghat showed that the total party membership was more than 1.52 lakhs. Sohan Singh Josh, S. V. Ghate, Bankim Mukherjee, K. C. George, Renu Chakraborty and Acchyut Menon were elected to the secretariat at the Palghat Conference. I was also one the secretariat members but could not participate in this congress. Comrade Pramode Dasgupta could not attend this congress too because he was preoccupied with a crucial byelection being held for the Calcutta (North-West) Lok Sabha constituency and the campaign had already started. One of the key issues of this campaign was the Congress government’s proposal to merge the two states of Bengal and Bihar.
Our candidate was Mohit Kumar Maitra while the Congress was represented by Asoke Sen. Maitra was the joint candidate of all the Left, democratic and nationalist parties. Dasgupta and I jointly campaigned and did our best to ensure Maitra’s victory. After Sen’s defeat, Dr Roy must have seen the writing on the wall and did not go ahead with his absurd plan of merging Bihar and Bengal.
CHAPTER XXIII: The Second General Elections
The second general elections were nearing. On July 11, 1957, our party issued a statement appealing to all Socialist, democratic, nationalist and progressive forces to form a general front and said, “All Left forces have to come together to form governments in some states and strengthen the democratic forces in Parliament.” The West Bengal unit had always stressed the need for Left unity. We have also stood by the thesis that unity among the Left parties can only push forward the peoples’ movement both inside and outside the Assemblies and Parliament It is because of this belief that a powerful Left Front has come to stay in West Bengal. At the Seventh Provincial Party Conference in January 1956, the political and organisational report had a separate chapter on Left unity. I was then the secretary of the committee. The report said,”Left unity helps to strengthen peoples’ struggle and draws the general public towards such activity. Though the leadership of some of these parties are still not inspired to a large extent by the ideology of Left unity, the fact is that most of their members and the supporting masses believe in friendship with the Soviet Union and China, and Left unity”.
The Praja Socialist Party, Forward Bloc and RSP needed to be reasoned with and a understanding on political and economic issues was vital. The report also said that a massive communication network be established with the members and supporters of these parties and the effort should be to consolidate Left unity.
Special emphasis was laid on the relations between the PSP and CPI; the PSP was second only to the CPI in the Opposition ranks when it came to numbers. The experience of various by elections had showed that the Congress candidates had won in many occasions because of disunity between the PSP and CPI. The report also added that it was not only a question of elections; it was important that the PSP and our party work together to establish and consolidate mass movements and peoples’ organisations. The report stressed that a vital struggle against anti-Communist and anti-Soviet propaganda was necessary. This was to be a major political agitation.
Long years have passed since then. The PSP has been splintered into many groups and sub-groups. In West Bengal, because of our party’s initiative, we did have many issue-based united political agitations. For example, a joint committee of many Opposition parties was formed addressing itself to the issue of the division of states on the basis of language. This was in 1956. Other such committees were formed on the famine and the proposed merger of Bengal and Bihar. The PSP’s Suresh Chandra Banerjee, the Forward Bloc’s Hemanta Bose, RSP’s Makhan Pal and the Forward Bloc (Marxist) leader Amar Bose were all members of these various committees. Some of our party leaders, including myself, were also on these committees.
CHAPTER XXIV: A Wave of Mass Agitations
There was a massive upswing in the democratic movements in West Bengal after the first general elections. The Communist Party’s proposed programme on democratic unity adopted in November 1956 said, “Such a need to organize all the democratic forces together has never been seen in any earlier elections. This is a major step ahead in the fight against the ruling class and its improper policies.” The booklet, which contained this programme, detailed some significant peoples’ movements launched by the party between 1952–1956 in West Bengal. The first such movement began right after the first general elections on the issue of the prisoners held without trial and how the government was forced to release these detenus under the leadership of Left parties and progressive-minded people like Dr Meghnad Saha. After this, during 1953–54, the food movement was also a major step. Not to forget the agitation against the tram fare rise; this particular struggle was not only restricted to the Left parties but percolated to the people at large, cutting across party lines. The people were slowly rising against the policies of Congress. The reach of this struggle was evident in the way volunteers were sent and general strikes were observed during the Goa liberation war. Again, during the agitation against the proposed merger of states, it could be noticed that we were slowly assuming major national influence.
The Anti-Merger Agitation
I will discuss at length the plot by the then chief ministers of West Bengal and Bihar, Dr B. C. Roy and Shree Krishna Sinha, respectively to usurp the identity of Bengal and how the people of West Bengal rose against t against the merger plan. Dr Meghnad Saha, lawyer Atul Gupta and many other nationalists were with us.
An anti-merger committee was set up with Mohit Maitra as its convenor. The two chief ministers issued a joint statement on January 23, 1956, proposing the merger and attested the documents. We were told that they even named the proposed state as “Purba Pradesh”. Prime Minister Nehru also supported this and said that the two chief ministers had set an example for the country!.
On January 24, the Politburo issued a statement saying that such indiscriminate merger proposals would only accentuate differences and create disunity. Our party unit in West Bengal discussed the issue at length and unanimously decided to fight the proposal.
On June 26, I held a joint press conference with Jogindra Sharma, secretary of the Bihar unit of the party, where the merger proposal was described as “exremely reactionary, confusing and anti- democratic”. On the same day, I presided over a rally against the proposal at Wellington Square. Some of the speakers were Mohit Maitra, Jatin Chakraborty, Sunil Das and Satyapriya Banerjee. The then leader of Bolshevik Party, Barada Mukutmoni, also spoke.
On January 31, the Opposition stated a walkout in the Assembly and on February 2, over two lakhs students organised a successful strike against the merger proposal. On February 5, the Provincial Committee of the Bihar Communist Party issued a statement which said the national unity would be at stake. Before this, I had said that the Congress working committee’s proposal was totally opportunistic and did not have any fragment of natural justice.
It was only to negate West Bengal’s justified demands that the commission recommendation to ensure a division on the basis of language was ignored. The Congress government had only increased the sense of deprivation of Bengalis by keeping out large Bengali speaking areas of Purulia from outside Bengal. I called on the people to launch a sustained attack on such policies.
The joint statement issued by Sharma and myself detailed our anti-merger stand. It said that this merger would not only harm national unity but divide the Biharis and Bengalis everywhere. It was also important to realise that Bihar, which was less developed than Bengal, would become an easy hunting ground for big businessmen of Calcutta. At the same time ,reactionary forces of Bihar would try and destroy the already established Left labour forces in Bengal. There would be a tremendous rivalry between the Bengalis and Biharis and the tenet of natural justice would be given the go-by. While the rest of the country was moving towards the setting up of states on the basis of language, this merger would be a step backward. It would be a throwback on the state of affairs during the Raj regime.
The economic reasons cited against the merger said that Congress leaders of these two states were always against any development. Our statement also said that the British imperialists had made out an almost similar case while trying to divide the people. I have spelt out the almost the entire statement because of its enormous significance; while the Congress was trying to spread the seeds of communalism nationwide, it was significant that the Communists of two states tried their best to maintain national unity and integrity.
On January 14, the committee set up to go into the re-organisation of states with Mohit Kumar Moitra as its secretary and members like myself, Makhan Pal (RSP), Sunil Das (PSP), Barada Mukutmoni (Bolshevik Party), Nihar Mukherjee (SUC), Hemanta Bose (Forward Bloc), Satyapriya Banerjee (Forward Bloc-Marxist), Baren Daw (Councillor, Calcutta Corporation), Pramode Sinha Roy (CL) and Jyotish Jowardar (SP) issued a statement at the end of a special meeting which said, “This is a case of total injustice and treachery by the Congress. This is emerging as a major challenge in front of the people of West Bengal. The people will give a befitting reply.” We called upon the people to take part in a protest programme on January 21, 1956.
On February 14, while taking part in the debate on the Governor’s address in the Assembly, I said that there had been no primary and major changes in the country during the First Five Year Plan period. Farmers, labourers and middleclass salaried people continued to suffer. Since the merger issue was not mentioned in the Governor’s address, I said, “Is the Governor trying to ignore this critical life and death question of Bengal or is he against the merger..? I also said_and there are Assembly records to crosscheck _ that it was West Bengal’s good fortune and Dr Roy’s bad luck that the people of the people of the state were still alive with a sense of trust and courage. The Congress had given the go-by to the aspirations of the people nurtured for the last 50 years. The anti-merger agitation spread like wildfire not only in West Bengal but some other states too. It was certainly taking the shape of a national movement.
During the middle of all this, there was shocking news from Delhi that Dr Meghnad Saha had died of a heart attack. Dr Saha had been elected the Calcutta North-West Lok Sabha constituency as an Independent candidate with the support of Left parties. He was fiercely against the merger and played an active role in the agitation.
I clearly made out a case alongwith the PSP’s legislator Sudhir Roy Chowdhury in the Assembly on March 17 that the chief minister was gambling dangerously with the fate of West Bengal. The next day around 50000 people assembled at a massive rally at the Maidan and pledged that the merger would be resisted at all costs. This rally was presided over by veteran revolutionary leader and legislator Jyotish Ghosh. It was made clear in the proposal moved by Mohit Maitra that the agitation was not aimed against the people of any state but the policies and plot of the government to divide the people of the two states. We also advocated the cause of reorganisationb of states on the basis of language.
I said “It’s a happy day for us. Under pressure from the people, the chief minister has been forced to say in the floor of the Assembly that the merger issue will not be moved during the current session.”
I also announced that the chief minister had issued a challenge to us in the byelections which had been necessiated by DrSaha’s death. I added that we had accepted the challenge.
In the meantime, a decision was taken to stage dharnas outside various courts and collect signatures of 15 lakh people in favour of the movement by March 23. We issued an ultimatum that if the government did not relent, then there would be no stopping us, but Dr Roy remained stubborn. This, however, only served to fuel the agitation.
That the Congress and its government were slowly moving away from the people was evident from the result of another byelection. The Left supported PSP candidate Lal Bihari Das won by over 20,000 votes against the Congress nominee Bhikari Mondal from Midnapur’s Khejuri seat. The by election has been necessiated by the death of Congress member Kaustavkanti Karal. This meant that the Left had wrested a seat from the Congress with a huge margin.
On April 30, speakers at a rally held to felicitate the movement leaders at Wellington Square said that the Khejuri byelection result had calegorically proved that the merger proposal had been rejected by the people of West Bengal.
In the background of the Congress defeat in the byelection, the very next day, the chief minister had to withdraw the merger proposal. In a statement, he said, “An election is always the best indicator of the popular sentiment regarding an issue like the merger proposal. The Khejuri result may or may not be a true reflection of what the people of West Bengal think about the merger. But the overwhelming way in which the people of Calcutta have voted for Mohit Maitra, the secretary of the committee set up against the merger proposal, shows that the people of this city are not willing to accept the proposal. The people obviously have come to the conclusion that mere acres from some other state will not help solve the problems of Bengal. I thus withdraw my proposal”. It must be recalled here that Mohit Maitra _ till the day he died _ was an active party member and worked for our cause till his very end.The Left parties in a joint statement congratulated the people of Calcutta for defeating the Congress.
CHAPTER XXV: Inflation Crisis
There was a famine-like situation in the rural countryside and the food crisis as well as the price rise were assuming alarming proportions. The Communist Party took there issues up on a war- footing. We were always ready to play a positive role.
On June 5, 1956, the committee set up to protest against the price rise and fight famine organised a rally at Wellington Square. This was the its first mass programme. The Assembly unanimously adopted a proposal by which the government was asked to provide good quality rice at Rs. 17.50 per maund in Calcutta and its suburbs, open an optimum number of fair price shops, and to ensure supply of rice at Rs.10 per maund in the outer areas. Dr S Bandopadhyay, the PSP leader, presided over that rally. I was also one of the speakers. The others who spoke were Hemanta Bose, Jatin Chakraborty and Nihar Mukherjee. The general feeling at the rally was that the people’s lives had become unbearable because of the steep hike in prices of essential commodities and despite the Five Year Plan, there had been no let-up in the problem. We also insisted that foodstocks be salvaged from hoarders and distributed among the people at a low cost.
Another meeting was held at the Hazra Park in Calcutta on June 16. At a rally at Harowa Chapatala in the Sunderban area on June 13, I said that the government’s selfish policy was responsible for the inflation. I also said that a continuous and unified movement was necessary to stop the farmers from being evicted from their land and that a proper irrigation system was the need of the hour.
More than 10,000 workers and labourers took out a rally to the Assembly on July 9. When the procession neared the premises, I requested the then food minister Prafulla Chandra Sen to meet the people. I remembered that there were many among them who had walked close to 30 miles to reach the Assembly. The minister not only rejected this but ridiculed the people by saying that he did not understand how hungry people could possibly walk all those many miles! The Opposition immediately reacted to this and asked the minister to withdraw his remark. We staged a walkout after he refused to do so. However, replying to a question of our legislator, Dr Narayan Roy, in the Assembly on July 12, the food minister conceded that there had been a rise of 22.2 per cent rise in the price of rice in West Bengal.
I must mention a significant incident during that month. As we all know, the people of West Bengal had not been satisfied with the recommendations of the states reorganisation commission, On July 7, the Left parties called for a joint strike which was total.
In the meantime, the elections to the Second Lok Sabha and state Assemblies were nearing and discussions were on for seat adjustments among the various parties. The West Bengal state unit of the Communist Party decided to feel 100 candidates in the Assembly and 50 in the Lok Sabha. Our Left United Front was set up with a minimum common programme and yet again our party’s took the lead in forging this alliance.
CHAPTER XXVI: The 1957 Elections
Time simply flew and soon, the elections were on us. None of the election promises the first time round had been kept by the Congress; instead, the people were made to suffer continuously, both politically and economically.
The dream that Independence had given the country was slowly fading away under the Congress regime. The hiatus between the haves and have-nots was increasing daily. The rich were getting richer, while the poor were getting impoverished. Crisis after crisis were penetrating the system even though the country had entered the era of the Second Five Year Plan.
West Bengal was also burdened with merger problems. Compared to 1951 which marked the beginning of the Plan period, there was a slight increase in the number of factories but we must remember that while in 1951, the number of labourers was 6,54,901, in 1955, it had come down to 5,92,231; I have got this figure from the then labour minister’s statement of July 25, 1956 in the Assembly. The statement said that there had been retrenchment of 29,000 employees in the jute sector, 4000 in the engineering units while more than 2,000 workers been sacked in the tea gardens. There were no land reforms; education and public health had gone for a six, the price rice was a daily index of the government’s failure and joblessness was increasing. The government was resorting to discriminating taxation, there was no solution in sight to the refugee problem, the government sponsored welfare scheme was moving at a snail’s pace and the corruption and nepotism of ministers were making it to the front pages every other day. But whenever the people were taking to the streets in protest against these problems, the police was resorting to their usual atrocities at the instance of the state government.
We were continuously fighting and highlighting these problems inside and outside the Assembly and Parliament. The responsibility and the efforts to educate the people was a continuous process. On a national level, the elections came in handy for our cause. We jumped into the fray with our limited resources, trying all the time to bring the democratic and ant-Congress forces together. In its election manifesto released on January 3, 1957 the Communist Party of India made its views clear about the need for such unity.
The Communist Party will strive to forge unity among all Democratic forces and individuals to ensure that such representatives are elected who can fight without fear for the welfare of the people, our national manifesto said.
The process started in West Bengal also. We brought out a booklet called “The Programme of Democratic Unity” which said : “The democratic and Left parties in West Bengal have achieved significant success in ensuring unity among like-minded forces in West Bengal. The five main parties _ the Communist Party, the PSP, the RSP, Forward Bloc and Forward Bloc (Marxist) _ have already arrived at seat adjustments. “
We proposed that the following criteria be adopted while selecting nominees for coming elections. These were:
1) Only those candidates who have a mass appeal and can defeat their Congress rivals should be nominated;
2) Parties having specific and major influence in areas where they are powerful should be allotted responsibility of those constituencies; and
3) Candidates with proven track record and who were successful the previous time should be renominated.
A 37-point working programme was proposed to be implemented. It said :
“An effort should be made to ensure the common minimum programme be announced which will help the progress of West Bengal in every way and move the country forward. Only the left can ensure the implementation of such a programme. The Communist Party hopes that discussions will begin in right earnest in an attempt to establish this democratic unity and that unity should be achieved regarding the common minimum programme.”
I will quote significant extracts from this 37-point programme.
“On the agricultural front…. there should be wideranging land reforms, optimum loans for farmers, a good irrigation network and sewage facilities. Efforts to improve agricultural output and anti-flood programmes should get top priority.
“The idea should be to ensure access to the maximum level of vested land that can be distributed, a proper irrigation system _ all illegal land allotments should be stopped; the land ceiling system to be based on the family unit and not the individual; agricultural land to be brought under a certain ceiling, applicable as well to water holdings for pisciculture_the only exception being the tea gardens where an effort must be made to make as much land cultivable as possible.
“Land distribution…Farmers, land workers and bargadars, including refugees, should be allotted land through select village committees. The basis of such allotment should be logic and reason to ensure maximum benefit.
“Security to the bargadars should be one of the top priorities, though small landowners, widows and minors will have a right to get back a measure of their land. But at no cost should bargadars be made totally landless. Under these conditions, the bargadars will have a lasting right on their land which will pass from one generation to the next. The bargadars, if they take on the responsibility of supplying ploughs, buffaloes and fertilisers to the farmers, will be entitled to two-thirds of the output.
“Farm labourers … An opportunity should be made available to make as many land labourers employable as possible. They should be employed on just wages and a timeframe be fixed as work duration.
“Fishermen … They should be allowed unrestricted access to all water outlets… loans and other benefits should be ensured.
“Industry … The Centre should be told to ensure that the management rights of those tea, jute and coal units which are still with the British be transferred to the state government and legal steps be taken in this respect… steps should also be taken to ensure larger public sector growth in heavy industries, fertilisers and cement, among others… on the other land, the cottage industry, which provides the maximum employment, should not be neglected.
“Labourers and employees… The state shall accept the right of the workers to exercise their trade union rights without any prejudice. Peaceful strikes and picketing should be allowed. Permanence of jobs should be ensured… all those laws which infringe or curtail trade union activity should be withdrawn…Minimum wages and other benefits to be extended to the unorganised sector where there are no set rules of work duration or labour…
“Education … Free primary schooling to be ensured which is to be slowly extended to education at all levels. The secondary Board to be constituted by a democratic process and it be given full powers to administer the education system under its purview…. The number of schools and colleges, particularly in the backward areas, be increased, hostel facilities to be made available wherever possible, cheaper textbooks be published and fees lowered. A timeframe should be fixed by which Bengal should top the literacy as well as education growths…. Teachers’ pay should be hiked and both teachers and students be given all types of democratic rights.”
“Rights of the individual… The state shall withdraw all cases against political detenus. The right to speech and the freedom of the press should be sacrosanct. There should be no restrictions on meetings and rallies. Black laws should not be resorted to.
“Public welfare … Decentralisation should be the key and public role and participation in daily governance at every level should be kept in mind.”
Apart from these, the programme included features like taxation, refuge rehabilitation, public health, development of the Sunderbans and North Bengal, price ceiling, the backward classes, women welfare and cultural activities. After the publication of the booklet, we appealed to the people to ensure a kitty of Rs 6 lakhs for the election fund of the party. Meetings and rallies simultaneously.
On the party’s instructions, the state leadership went on tours throughout the districts. On January 6, 1957, I went to an election meeting at Dakshineswar. I said, “Pandit Nehru has said at a recent speech in Indore that the Communists were hanging on to old precepts; I do acknowledge that he has, however, moved a lot away from his earlier beliefs and accepted newer ones. That is why whatever he held forth about Socialism two decades back have now been discarded; in fact, the good words he used to have for the Soviet Union at one time are now history. At that time, he said that black laws should be withdrawn; now they seem to be absolutely necessary for the functioning of his government. In his new avatar, he wants to establish his brand of Socialism with the help of the rajas, Tatas and Birlas. But the Communists will never allow that.”
A massive rally presided over by the PSP leader Dr Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, was held on January 12, 1957 in Calcutta. General secretary Ajoy Ghosh, referring to the rally as “historic”, said, “It is only the people who can strengthen Left unity fight the misrule of the Congress in Bengal…A radical change is needed in the policies of the Congress government. The way party is ruling the country, it is apparent that only a few rich people and the zamindars are being protected”. I was also one of the speakers.
Nehru had termed Left unity as “opportunistic” but we announced at the rally that we were not after only seat adjustments and that our unity had grown out of various agitations and bloody struggles. The rally was also addressed by Hemanta Bose, Satyapriya Banerjee, Lila Roy, Mohit Maitra and Jatin Chakraborty.
In the meantime, we had published the “United Leftist Election Committee Programme”. The convenor of the Unified Leftist Election Committee, Mohit Maitra, releasing the programme on January 18, announced, ” If a Leftist Government is established in West Bengal, we will take firm steps against corruption and reform the administration, rehabilitate the landless, demarcate the administration from the judiciary, reform the education system, tackle joblessness and ensure increase in salaries of teachers, organize land reforms and distribution, create ceilings for maximum and minimum wages, improve the standard of living of the common man, ensure all-round trade union activity, protect the cottage industry and take care to demarcate land boundaries on the basis of language and geography.”
I was again a candidate in the Baranagar Assembly constituency. Since I had to move around a lot, I could not devote much time to Barangar itself but the local party comrades and people worked in my favour with unending enthusiasm. On January 19, I addressed a rally at Baranagar, saying, “Please evaluate the First Five Year Plan on the basis or your own experience. Judge your own buying capabilities and the extent of joblessness that has been created. In the Second Plan period, taxes are being imposed on the people and the indiscriminate printing of currency notes will bring disaster to the people. We should not forget this.”
During the campaign, the Congress resorted to its usual dirty politics. In 1956, there was an attempt at resurrection in Hungary. The Congress dubbed even this as a pointer to the failure of the Communist regime there though this did not cut much ice with the public. Congressmen even went to the extent of going from door to door, saying that they would be able to identify who had voted for whom and that the consequences would be dire. Reacting strongly, a joint statement signed by Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, Hemanta Bose, Amar Bose, Tridib Chowdhury (he had just been released from the Portuguese prison in Goa), Mohit Maitra and myself went out on March 31, saying, “The Congress does not stop only at terrorising people for votes. In fact, Congress leaders have been going around town saying that they would be able to identify who had voted for whom. But that is not possible… We appeal to all voters to exercise their franchise without fear.”
A sensational disclosure further embarrassed the Congress. West Bengal’s first chief minister, Dr Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, who had left the Congress to join the PSP was the joint candidate of the Left and Democratic Front in the second general elections. The Congress openly said that he had betrayed the party to join hands with the Leftists. To this, Dr Ghosh called a press conference and produced a letter written by Gandhi-ji and said that he had quit because he had refused to yield to pressure to induct a non-Bengali businessman in his ministry. The letter, which Gandhi-ji is supposed to have written and which Dr Ghosh made public, said, “Sardar (Vallavbhai Patel) has expressed his intention that a Marwari, Badri Das Goenka or Khaitan, should be inducted into your ministry. I feel that this should be done because that would be the correct thing to do.” Dr Ghosh said that he had not released the letter so far out of “politeness” but since the Congress was accusing him of betrayal, he had no other options. He added that he had told the then AICC president Acharya Kripalini that he could not possibly carry out such an instruction and was willing to resign on the issue. To add to this, the former secretary of the Congress Legislative Party, Deben Sen, who was now contesting as a PSP candidate, told a rally at Baghbazar on February 18 that most of the Congress legislators had been with Dr Ghosh but backtracked after being “influenced” by two top leaders who were “puppets” in the hands of the Birla empire. It was this letter incident which had led to the fall of the Ghosh government.
The Left United Front contested 234 seats in the Assembly. Of these, the Communist Party fielded 13, PSP 70, Forward Bloc 26, RSP 11, Forward Bloc (Marxist) seven and Independents backed by Leftists had 17 nominees. The Congress contested 251 seats. Of the 36 Lok Sabha seats from West Bengal, the CPI contested 14, PSP six, Forward Bloc four, RSP three while Independents backed by the Leftists had six nominees. The Congress fielded candidates for 35 seats. Our party nominated three women from the Basirhat Lok Sabha (Renu Chakraborty), Kalighat Assembly (Monikuntala Sen) and Panskura Assembly (Geeta Mukherjee) seats.
Just before the elections, we held another mass meeting in Calcutta on February 27 and more than a lakh attended; it was an unqualified success going by the index of those days. The rally was presided over by Syed Nausher Ali and the main speakers were Prafulla Chandra Ghosh, Mohit Maitra, Satyapriya Banerjee, Jatin Chakraborty, Moni Chakraborty and myself.
The elections were held in stages. After the first phase was over, we got news that the ballot boxes used in West Bengal could be opened without breaking the seals. I wrote to the election commissioner on March 5 saying that this had been proved at a demonstration in front of the chief presidency magistrate and a number of candidates on March 3. Saying that this had created a serious situation, I demanded that the voting process should be stopped unless valid ballot boxes were requisitioned. I also demanded reelection in all the places where polling had been held in the first phase. The Election Commissioner directed that extra precautions be taken during polling in West Bengal.
The results started coming out. I defeated the Congress candidate Kanailal Dhar by 9,415 votes. I had got 28, 267 votes to his 18,852 votes. There was a substantial increase in the number of votes polled this time by our party in Baranagar; on the previous occasion, I had got 13,968 votes which meant that this time, I had polled 14299 more votes.
Many of our leaders won, the notables among them being Renu Chakraborty (Basirhat), Kansari Halder (Diamond Harbour), Tridib Chowdhury (Behrampore), Sadhan Gupta (Calcutta North-East), Mohammed Ilias (Howrah), Hiren Mukherjee (Central Calcutta), Provas Chandra Roy (Bishnupur), Niranjan Sen (Bijpur), Harekrishna Konar (Kalna), Prafulla Ghosh (Mahishadal), Hemanta Bose (Shyampukur), Narayan Roy (Vidyasagar), Samar Mukherjee (North Howrah), Hemanta Ghosh (Hasnabad), Gopal Basu (Naihati), Ganesh Ghosh (Belgachia), Monikuntala Sen (Kalighat), Ranen Sen (Maniktala), Somnath Lahiri (Alipur), Bijoy Modak (Balagar), Benoy Chowdhury (Bardhaman), Bankim Mukherjee (Budge Budge) and Sitaram Gupta (Bhatpara).
On the other hand, the Speaker of the Assembly, Congress stalwart Saila Mukherjee, jails minister Jiban Ratan Dhar, the law and law revenue minister Shankar Prasad Mitra were defeated. The chief minister, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, faced a tough competition from our party candidate Md. Ismail in the Bowbazar Assembly constituency; with the help of postal ballots, he won by a margin of only 540 votes. This particular contest was a major talking point in the state at that time. Many of our party workers, particularly those belonging to the minorities, were attacked by Congress antisocials and the police after the result was declared. Dr Roy had been disgraced in his victory. A frustrated man in the face of public disapproval, the chief minister made a dangerous allegation against us in the Assembly on March 21. He said that supporters of Mohammed Ismail had raised slogans in support of Pakistan during the campaign. The police started mass arrests of our supporters belonging to the minorities.
I need to quote some of the relevant portions of the debate in the Assembly of March 21:
I said: “On the one hand, he (Dr Roy) says that the people should vote according to their choice. But this free will cannot be seen anywhere. We have heard such promises earlier. Wherever and whenever we have gone to the people irrespective of caste and creed, they have supported us. In most places, we have been seen to have got their support. The government has spent huge amounts of money and terrorised voters. This government should at least not talk about democracy. This is the way elections are held here. This is the way we have fought elections. This government should desist from making such grand but meaningless statements. That is all we want to say. As for the honourable chief minister, I need to remind him that he is also the home minister. I have told him about this earlier and am repeating this again; the elections are over, please at least ensure that injustice is not heaped on the people any longer. The police should not be let loose on them. We have got what we did not deserve. Some Hindus had voted for you, some Anglo-Indians have also supported you. But there are also who have not backed you. Why should you take it out on them? I am sure some Muslims have also voted for you. In fact, you have been seen moving around with Muslim goondas. “
Dr Roy: “Jyoti Basu has alleged that Muslims are being threatened. But he is not saying that they had been threatened before the elections. He has repeated time and again that Muslims have been threatened only after the elections. If I had wanted to use the police before the elections, would I have allowed my rival to get the number of votes that he finally has?… Sir, I have been told that these people had been saying that if Md. Ismail had won, then as the new chief minister, he would have ensured that the secession og Calcutta in much the same way that parts of Kashmir have already gone to Pakistan. I feel that such a campaign is anti-national, anti-India and that if the police had indeed tried to stop such slogans from being raised, then they should be praised and not criticised.
I will bring a case of rebellion against those we are conducting such a campaign. This is my plan and simple stand.”
I replied: “We did not expect this from Dr Roy…We had never imagined that he would stoop to such a level…It is extremely unfortunate that he did not get the number of votes that he expected to, which is why he had gone to the extent of saying that he had himself heard such slogans being raised. I can challenge him that he himself did not hear any such thing. Those who campaigned and voted for us have never raised any such slogans at any meeting.”
Dr Roy: “It would be wrong to say that I heard the `Pakistan Zindabad’ slogan being raised. What I want to say is that around 8.30 in the evening on March 14, a procession, with Md Ismail in a car, was taken out outside my residence. It was these processionists who raised the slogan.”
I said: “This is totally untrue.”
Hemanta Ghosal: ” A total untruth.., do not utter the untruth.”
I said: ” I want to assert here that when the demonstration passed the area, the processionists were only raising the Inquilab Zindabad slogan. No other slogan was raised. Bidhan-babu says he heard the slogan sitting in his residence… Will you, Sir, believe him? The chief minister is making untrue statements.”
On March 22, I sent a telegram to the Prime Minister saying, “I request you to kindly go through Dr Roy’s speech inside the Assembly on March 21. The West Bengal government is trying to create terror in the minds of those who have supported the Leftists in the elections. Dr Roy has been quite blatant in the coercion methods that he has been using against the Muslim community. Your intervention is absolutely necessary to check the antisocials who are being used for this purpose.”
We could not from an alternative government in the 1957 elections. It was still apparent that we had weaknesses in the organisation though we had tried our best. But compared to the previous time, the number of our seats had increased. The final tally was :
Total Assembly seats – 251
The Communist Party won 46, PSP 21, Forward Bloc four, RSP three, Forward Bloc (Marxist) two and Independents backed by the Left got five seats. The Congress was victorious in 152 seats.
There were 28 Communist members in the Assembly after the 1952 elections. This had gone up to 46. Apart from this, there were five Independent candidates backed by the party who had won. This was a major forward thrust for the democratic forces as well as our party individually. The number of votes polled by the party was almost doubled; while we had got 7,97,570 votes last time, this time the tally stood at 18,84,723 votes. The Front raised its Assembly membership to 100 from the previous 55. If only we had got some 30-odd seats more, we would have formed the government.
But we could not afford to be complacent. This was to be a time for introspection. We realised that a majority of the labour class, the Bengali middle-class and even government employees had come out in large numbers in support of the Leftists. Most of the refugees had voted for us. The farmers backed us in those areas where we had been able to unmask the so-called Congress land reforms.
Despite this, the Congress won, albeit with the far reduced margin. There were many reasons for this. The first party letter of 1945 said :
“The major reason why the Congress won despite heavy opposition and people’s resistance was that our organisation, including that of the Krishak Sabha, was weak. The people, for the lack of a viable alternative, voted widely for the Congress. It must be made clear that we lost in many areas where we thought we were strong. But we could not counter the Congress disinformation and terror tactics. The Congress had not only spent huge party funds and built new roads but also organised relief, sunk tubewells and spent money on various development excuses; we were unable to unmask this corrupt face of the Congress party. The Congress, it should be known, used the election machinery also to set the polling and counting dates according to its own whims.
“We must understand that it is vitally important and necessary to make the people aware that farmers and labourers must be united. But it must also be kept in mind that the bourgeoisie papers played no mean role in supporting the Congress. During the 1952 elections, they had at least put up a charade of impartiality. But this time, they supported the Congress directly and even resorted to disinformation against the Leftists.”
It was expected that on the basis of this experience, the unity of the struggling masses would be strengthened, farmers’ agitations and organisations be percolated to the last unit in the villages, the problems of the farmers be dealt with in a positive fashion, concerted campaigns be launched against the government’s land reforms policy, the party mouthpiece be distributed to people regularly, those sympathizers of the party who had come closer should be inducted, the trade union organisations be strengthened, and a conscious effort be made to ensure that the religious, national and linguistic minorities be given a fair deal.
While we were not successful in West Bengal at that time, Kerala was building a new history. For the first time, the people elected a Communist-led Front government to power in the country and reposed on us a new responsibility for the days ahead. I still remember it was the third week of March 1957. As soon as we learnt of the news, Kaka-babu immediately sent a telegram to Trivandrum saying, “We have just heard of the success of the Communist Party in Kerala. We congratulate you on behalf of members of the party in West Bengal and all democratic forces in the state.” The Communists got 60, Independents backed by the Communists got five, PSP nine and the Congress won 43 seats. The total number of seats was 126.
Comrade E M S Namboodiripad was elected the legislative Party leader with Achutya Menon as his deputy. E M S became the first Communist chief minister of the country. The others ministers included K. P. Gopalan, T. A. Majid, P. K. Sathan, Joseph Mundaseri, V. R. Krishna Iyer, K. R. Gouri, Dr A. R. Menon and K. C. George.
On April 7, we called a meeting at the Maidan to celebrate the formation Communist government in the country and the gaining of strength of the CPI in Bengal. The rally, which was presided over by Muzaffar Ahmed, began with a famous song which had been written in the memory of the martyrs of Kerala’s Malabar district. I proposed a resolution which said, “We have gone one step ahead with the victory of the Communist Party in Kerala. Our congratulations go out to the people of Kerala and we resolve to forge stronger ties among the democratic and peaceful forces in this state in the fight against imperialism.”
After taking over as chief minister, E M S introduced a 16-point programme including major land reforms, farmers’ rights on their land and growth of the agricultural industry. He also appealed to the industrialists to take an active role in progress of the state’s economy. The new government started work in earnest. In a matter of few days, the historic Ordinance which gave agricultural rights to 10 lakh labourers and five lakh sharecroppers came into being while one lakh acre agricultural land was distributed to landless farmers. All political detenus were released. The Kerala government also announced that the police would not be used to break any democratic agitation.
All these were noble efforts, particularly compared with the experience of long Congress regimes earlier. This was a major responsibility; on the one hand the government had to function within the bourgeoisie-zamindar political structure while, on the other hand, the onus was on the government to lend a revolutionary role to the people’s struggle.
In 1952, the Communist Party had won 27 of the 60 Lok Sabha constituencies that it had contested while out of the 122 it had contested this time, 29 had been elected. But the number of votes polled for the party had doubled.
After the elections, I was unanimously chosen as the leader of the Communist block in the West Bengal Assembly. This was not a new experience for me. However, the number of MLAs was fewer. The previous Assembly had only 30 Communist members. But now we were experiencing a greater interest in our movements with the people flocking to us at every level. The people was keeping a watchful eye on what we were doing inside the Assembly and how we were trying to project the anti-people policies of the Congress government on a day-to-day basis. Obviously, the people expected more from us now.
I was preparing myself mentally for the task ahead. It was important not to let any issue go unnoticed and veer the country’s sights and attention to Bengal whenever possible. The deputy leader of the Communist Party in the Assembly was Bankim Mukherjee, while the chief whip was Ganesh Ghosh.
We had been denied the status of Opposition party on ridiculous grounds earlier. All this was done to reduce our importance. But, however, this time good sense prevailed. The Congress government realised that they could not stop us by these tactics and that if they denied us our rightful status, they would only invite the people’s wrath.
I wrote to the new Speaker, Sankardas Banerjee, asking for the party’s recognition which was given to us on June25, 1957.
Part of the Speaker’s ruling went thus :
“In 1952, while the Communist leader had been given the status of leader of the main Opposition party, he had not been recognised as the Leader of the Opposition. We have come to know this from the ruling of Mr Speaker Mukherjee at that time. The member strength of the Communist Party then was 30. But rest of the Opposition had a total strength of 51. Hence the Communist Party could not be deemed as a single largest Opposition party. If the other Opposition groups had formed a party, then that party would have been given recognition. In the present Assembly, the total strength of the Opposition parties and groups stands at 99. Among these, the Communist Party has 51 members; thus even if all the other Opposition parties come together, the Communist Party would still be the singlelargest. In such a situation, the Communist Party fulfils all the criteria for being recognised as the main Opposition party.
“According to the directive of the ministers of the Crown Act 1957, I thus announce the name of Mr Jyoti Basu as the leader of the Opposition. The rights and privileges of the other Opposition parties shall not be impaired in any way by this announcement and they will continue to enjoy all of them.”
In the meantime, the prices had started spiralling again. In May 1957, while announcing the year’s Budget, the then Union finance minister Krishnamachari heaped major taxes on tea, coffee, sugar, paper, matchboxes, cement, kerosene and petrol. This anyway had been the trend after Independence with subsidies for businessmen and taxes for the common man being the order of the day. We started organising meetings and rallies against the anti-people tax policy of the Centre. A statement issued by Dr Suresh Banerjee and Hemanta Bose, president and secretary, respectively, of the committee set up to fight inflation and famine, said that the country had been “stunned” by the Budget.
The committee appealed to the people to observe a general strike on May 30, which was organised with great success in the state. In June, a huge rally was taken to the Assembly in protest against the rise in prices and the food crisis. We demanded the opening of the fair price shops throughout the state, wide relief measures, waiver of loans in the affected areas, farm loans on a larger scale, enaction of anti-eviction laws, immediate implementation of the anti-hoarding laws and the promised dole of Rs 25 a month for the jobless.
News started coming in from Nadia, 24-Parganas, Midnapur and Howrah and there was general concern about the food crisis. Reports of nine famine deaths came in the month of August only. The streets of Calcutta were again getting choked with hungry people who were fleeing their villages. Deben Sen, Hemanta Bose, Jatin Chakraborty and I issued a joint statement asking for a session of the Assembly before the Pujas. But this was rejected.
We discussed the food crisis at an extended meeting of the provincial committee of the Communist Party. We held discussions with the all-party committee set up to look into the famine crises. It was decided that a statewise peaceful democratic movement would be started in the middle of September. A statement was issued on behalf of the provincial committee saying that the government would have to take steps to ensure the availability of rice and meat, and other essential commodities at a fair price. The crisis was increasing in proportion by the day, we said.
Law violation programmes began. On the first day on September 16, a batch of 185 volunteers, including Harekrishna Konar and Benoy Chowdhury, were arrested. A total of 450 others were held on the second day. The numbers swelled. We organised a march to the Writers’ Buildings in which 1,100 people courted arrest. Niranjan Sen, Lila Roy, Sailaja Devi and I were arrested; we were followed by Ranen Sen, Bijoy Modak, Gopal Basu, Sounak Lahiri, Sukumar Sengupta, Samar Mukherjee, Rabin Mukherjee and Jyoti Devi. Some of us were produced before the chief presidency magistrate of Calcutta on September 19. We were to be kept in judicial custody till October 1.
The food crisis had spread its tentacles to other states too. The central committee of our party at its meeting during October 7-13 adopted a resolution that said “Famine exists in entire West Bengal, a major area of Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. There have been reports of deaths from Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The poor farmers and labourers have been hit the most. The central committee feels that this is the direct fallout of the Congress rule and its policies at the Centre and these states”. Steps to counter the crisis were chalked out.
But the Congress governments at the Centre and states remained indifferent. The only exception was the Communists-led Kerala government which had introduced many steps to alleviate the famine-like situation. One fair price shop per 500 families, the setting up of all-party food committees in the villages and introduction of family identity cards were some of these. The people of Kerala heaved a sigh of relief though that state was one of the most crisis-ridden. Prices were also checked. The central committee of the party congratulated the Kerala government on this achievement.
The refugee problem was to now rear its head in Bengal. The Congress leaders, in their hurry to get to the seat of power, had agreed to Partition and made tall promises that all the minorities of East Bengal who would cross over would be rehabilitated in the state. But the promises were made only to be broken. There was no doubt that the rehabilitation of 40 lakhs refugees was not an easy task. But the Congress leaders did not even bother to spare a thought for all those who had been forced to leave their homes and hearth and cross over.
It struck nobody as a good idea that these people would have been an asset for the state had they been brought into the mainstream of the political, economic and social agenda of the state.
But this was not to be because the Congress government was by nature against the people. Thus it never considered the refugee as an asset but on the other hand looked at them with the contempt that is deserving of a nagging beggar. Thus the policy on refugee was simple; the only way to handle a beggar was to give him some alms.
The Congress government did not lend a helping hand to the 29 lakh refugees who had already arrived; almost half of them led a niggardly life or died of hunger. Of the rest, two lakhs were housed in government camps, where good administration and availability of basic needs were given a go-by. While these people led their days amid abject poverty in these camps, lakhs of refugees who did not get a single currency note from the government formed their own colonies after a major movement against the landlord lobby. Even then the government did not agree to give them land rights over these plots.
Their problems were compounded when the Congress government said that there was no alternative but to push these refugees outside the state. No surveys were done, no planning system was adopted and suddenly the refugees found themselves to be victims of a sudden decision. Even we in the Opposition were kept in the dark about this decision. We were not even told what steps have been taken to implement the refugee rehabilitation programme. We made it clear that the government should come out with the facts and say whether it had been stretched to its last while taking this decision.
But the government continued to be indifferent. The Centre was then planning the Dandakaranya project for the rehabilitation of the refugees in West Bengal. Bijoy Singh Nahar of the Congress brought a non-official resolution in the Assembly on July 5, 1957. Dandakaranya was an area overlapping Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh and comprised about 81 square miles. The Congress legislators and leaders tried to establish the viability of this project through some ridiculous reasoning; it would be quite pointless to even discuss them now. I will only communicate what the Communist party had to say in the Assembly.
On July 25, 1957, responding to the debate on the resolution, I said “We do not even know anything about the scheme. We have only read some headlines from various newspapers. We cannot make out anything about the Dandakaranya project. We have heard about the area and its size but we have no idea about the collective planning about the project… There is nothing in this that we can welcome though this resolution says that we are all welcoming it _ where are the so-called proposals? I think it is utter callousness which has brought about these proposals. I believe that we should work to a certain plan and go step by step. We must earmark who will live where, how many people will be employed in cottage industry, who will go into big industry…We do not have any facts. We are rushing this through. We are being forced to accept that we are welcoming this. We cannot do that.
“…We must be told about the what survey has been done, how much money will be spent, what has been the planning. But Mr Bijoy Singh Nahar is saying nothing. What we say is simple _ bring these facts to us and then we can discuss the proposal.
“…If you ask me whether I am against the movement of refugees outside the state as a matter of policy, I will continue to say that I have nothing against Bengalis moving out… I do not believe in such a policy but they should go only if you can find an alternative living arrangement for them.”
“Gadadhar Dutta, MLA, Orissa Assembly Party secretary _ He has said that the Rs 5 crores which is being spent for the last two years for these refugees will go to waste since the areas are inhabitable. His letter has come out in newspapers and all of you are aware of it.
“Suddenly in the year 1957, you happen to realise that there were no places for the refugees to stay in Bengal. If that is the logic then I can say that if Prafulla Chandra Sen’s family planning scheme fails and if the population increases at this rate, then what you will do after 10 years? If there is a rise of 50 lakhs in the population, where you will send them? Will you throw them into the Bay of Bengal?…I am suddenly told that the state has reached a saturation point. Do you know the meaning of saturation point? We do not have cottage industry, we have not even tried to recover land…
“You have not gone in for any scientific planning. If you had been sincere enough, then you would have set up committees and entrusted scientists to carry on survey work. But you did not even realise the gravity of the situation. The best alternative is always to come to a solution by which the people of a certain province can be allowed to continue to stay there with the consent of the Union Government. We may be making tall claims on India being one but it is a fact that everybody would prefer to live in his own province. I know this is difficult but at least if you had made a fair attempt, then the refugees would have at least felt that you had given it an honest try. But you people did not even make any such attempt.
“… It is taking an extreme position to say that Bengal cannot afford to house a single more refugees. We must try to understand the attitude and the mental state of the refugees first. Many of their experiences outside the state have been bad. If they have to go outside, then they will have to go anyway; but we have to be first satisfied that there is no place for them in Bengal. From whatever I have studied and learnt, I cannot accept this… From whatever information I have got from the government, I am told that a mandatory 40000 square miles out of the total 80,000 square miles will have to be reserved for forests while tribals would have to live in the rest of the area. If Dandakaranya had been such a nice place, then the people of Andhra Pradesh and Bihar would not have flocked to Calcutta. In fact, people from Calcutta would have gone and stayed there. Since they do not get sufficient food there, these people are rushing in Calcutta and the industrial belt. In the last 10 years, you have not been able to improve the situation. That is why we cannot accept this proposal.”
At this time the government suddenly brought in the Amendment Bill on refugees. We protested strongly and under pressure, the government had to delete the clause relating to eviction. The agitation was partially successful. A huge procession was taken out on July 10, 1957 to the Assembly. When it reached the premises, the Opposition members came out of the chamber and congratulated the rallyists. The agitation subsequently spread its influence and grew stronger.
CHAPTER XXVII: The Post & Telegraph Strike
Preparations started in July 1957 for the nationwide post and telegraphs strike on August 8 and 9. Some major demands of the post and telegraph employees had not been met. The Centre was absolutely indifferent to the demand for the formation of Second Pay Commission. The National Federation of Post and Telegraphs employees had no other alternative but to call for a widespread agitation. They were joined in the demand for the Pay Commission by the airline employees too.
But the government took a shameful anti-democratic role upon itself. Prime Minister Nehru and the Union labour minister Guljarilal Nanda started threatening the agitators; Nehru even went on air against the strike. The then Union home minister, Vallabbhai Patel, introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha proposing that the strike be declared illegal and that strict punishment be meted out to the supporters of the strike.
We were not sitting idle in West Bengal. The joint struggle committee of the postal and telegraph employees with its joint convenors Dinesh Banerjee and K.G. Bose issued a statement appealing to the people not to give in to provocation and make the strike a success. They also castigated Nehru for his speech. I issued a statement in favour of the strikers when they approached us for help. The statement said, “This struggle is extremely significant for the welfare of the government employees and workers in non-government organizations. The Communist Party will definitely undertake to campaign in favour of the struggling masses. We feel that it is obligatory on the part of the every right-thinking citizens to support this cause.”
Editor Vivekananda Mukherjee presided over a huge rally at Wellington Square in support of the strikes where I said, “The people of Bengal have always stood by any agitation for a noble cause. The people have set up committees in every locality to make the public conscious of the just demand of the employees.” Thousands of Central Government employees took out a procession against the proposed Bill brought in the Lok Sabha.
However, the Centre pushed through the Bill in the Lok Sabha saying that it was necessary that the strike should not be allowed in emergency establishments. There was a walkout by the Opposition in the Lok Sabha on the eve of the strike. The President promulgated an Ordinance banning the strike.
But the Centre was taken aback by the strong will of the strikers, which resulted in a softer attitude. Prime Minister Nehru and the communication and transport minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, gave some positive assurances regarding the interim wages of the employees. At this, the strike was withdrawn. Though there was no strike as such, the preparations were an eye-opener that also showed up the anti-labour policy of the Congress Government in its proper perspective.
In Bengal, the state was set for another strike. In September 1957, a total of 11,000 bank employees went on a strike demanding direct negotiations instead of going to the tribunal and proper compensation. The industry of the state was badly hit. On behalf of the state unit, I issued a statement saying, “We appeal to the people of West Bengal to stand by the striking bank employees and force the owners and the government to accept their demands. We request the bank owners to relax their stand and not join the government in its policies of oppression.” Manoranjan Ray also issued a statement on behalf of the BPTUC supporting the bank strikers. On the other hand, the TU committee called for a strike on October 18 on the same issue. The Communist Party backed this strike. The state government realised that matters were going too far and the Dr Roy intervened to bring about a semblance of a solution. The bank owners agreed to hold direct talks with the strikers and the hartal was postponed. Parliamentarian and president of the Bank Workers Committee, Prabhat Kar, issued a statement withdrawing the strike. The banks reopened after 31 days.
At this time, “Swadhinata” was upgraded to eight pages from the earlier four because of its increasing popularity. The people had now seen through the blatant support given by the bourgeoisie press to the Congress and they were now tuned to “Swadhinata” for correct information. Needless to say, there was no intention on the part of the party to make any profits from the sales of “Swadhinata.” The employees of “Swadhinata” used to work either free or for a pittance. This could have been possible only in the Communist Party. It was difficult to run the paper because of financial constraints but given the situation, we had to take the decision to enlarge the scope of “Swadhinata” and appealed to the people to set up a Rs 2-lakh fund for the paper. In September 1957, I went to Assansol, Burnpur and Ranigunge for work on the fund. Comrade Harekrishna Konar also accompanied me. On December 26, 1957 we held a rally at Park Circus Maidan in Calcutta where the editor of “Swadhinata,” Comrade Saroj Mukherjee, said, “From empty coffers, Swadhinata now treasures a fund which has come about with small donations of countless people. There is no way that the progress of Swadhinata can now be stopped.”
We had called for congratulatory messages from the various Communist parties of the world on the occasion of the anniversary of “Swadhinata.” Messages came from the Soviet Union, China, Great Britain, France, Italy, the US, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Korea, Japan and Australia. The party units and other state also rushed in telegrams.
The “Swadhinata” celebrations were a major step in the progress of the Communist Party and its message on global friendship. In November 1957, the Communist parties of 64 countries met in Moscow and issued a joint manifesto on the issues of war and peace. The manifesto said, “War is not mandatory now. It is possible to stop warmongering and keep peace. The arms race must stop. There should be no nuclear weapons and alliance for the purpose of military action should not be resorted to.”
In the meantime, the Congress had started its diabolical moves to bring down the Communist government in Kerala. The law and order issue was raked up since the Kerala government refused to use the police to break the strike. Almost all bourgeoisie newspapers wrote against the E.M.S. government. They campaigned that religion and the right to property were not sacrosanct in Kerala. In fact, some papers in England and the US also spread disinformation against the Kerala government. Obviously, this campaign had the tacit backing of the Congress. Comrades M.N. Govindan Nair came to Calcutta in August 1957 from Kerala. He was the secretary of the Kerala State committee and addressed a huge meeting at Wellington Square. I presided over the meeting. But the joy of the people knew no bounds when E. M. S himself ame to Bengal. On October 27, 1957, the All-India Krishak Sabha began its eight-day session at Bongaon. Its membership was more than seven lakhs at that time. People thronged the roads between the Dum Dum Airport and the meeting venue and greeted him. This was the way Calcutta and West Bengal paid their tributes to the first Communist chief minister of the country.
More than two lakh people came for a rally at the Monument in Calcutta where we felicitated E. M. S. This was the biggest rally of that time. E. M. S made a forceful argument against the conspiracy of the Congress government and the Kerala ouster. I also spoke on the occasion.
CHAPTER XXVIII: My Tours to Moscow and China
I would like to say a few words about my foreign trips during these
times. There may be some discrepancies regarding the dates since I am writing this from memory. However, the description of the tours should be accurate.
In 1955, a representative team of Indian trade unions went on a three-week-long trip to China on the invitation of the trade union organisations there. I represented the AITUC while other trade union leaders like Mohammed Ilias belonged to the delegation. We had the good fortune of meeting top leaders like Zhou-En-Lai and discussed various issues with them. We were also impressed by the progress there. We were received with warmth everywhere that we went in China. After returning home, I discussed my China experience with my colleagues. In 1956, the central committee decided to send a delegation to Chezoslovakia which included Ranadive, Dange and myself. But the government refused to give a passport to Randive and finally, Dange and I made the trip.
Comrade Ajoy Ghosh was under treatment in the Soviet Union at that time. We spent some time with him in Moscow.
In 1964, the last congress of the undivided Communist Party of India was held at Vijaywada in Andhra Praresh. The member of the Soviet Union Communist Party’s Politburo and ideologue Susholov attended the congress. During the congress itself, it was apparent that the pary would break up. But a last-ditch effort by Ajoy Ghosh saved the day.
It was at this congress that I refused to be a member of the working committee, but agreed to join the national council. But after repeated requests from various colleagues, I finally agreed to be on the working committee.
Under the leadership of Krushchev, there was an effort throughout the world and particularly in the Soviet Union to discredit Stalin. A three-member delegation was sent by the CPI to hold talks with the Soviet leadership in Moscow, Bhupesh, Govindan Nair and I comprised the delegation.
I asked the Soviet leaders why they had not criticized Stalin when he was alive and wanted to know what their role was in the Communist movement. Susholov answered that Stalin was the leader of the international Communist movement and also that of the Soviet Union. At that time, nobody had bothered to go into the merits and demerits of Stalin’s policy.
We stayed in Moscow only for a few days and placed a report to the working committee upon my return. My evaluation of the discussions that we held in Moscow were different from those of the other two members of the delegation. It will be interesting to note here that Comrade Pramode Dasgupta represented the Communist Party of India at the 22nd congress in the Soviet Union. He was then the secretary of the Bengal state committee and a member of working committee.
CHAPTER XXIX: The Centre’s Discrimination
I would like to draw the attention of the reader to the Centre’s
discriminatory attitude towards West Bengal and the general drift of Centre-State relations. After the Left Front come to power in West Bengal in 1977, the demand for a reevaluation of Centre-State ties was made forcefully. Federalism in India had remained only in letter but not in spirit. Power has always been extremely centralised and the Congress governments in the four decades after Independence have made it even more so for their own interests. As a result, the state governments’ powers have remains confined only to certain spheres. This is a reality which we all have come to understand. The demand which we had raised when we came to power in Bengal has now become a major issue nationwide. While not many people wanted to accept what we had to say then, entire India has now come alive to this problem. There is no alternative to reevaluation of Centre-State ties for the development and uplift of remote regional areas. States must be given more powers if they are to properly implement policies within the limited format of the bourgeoisie- zamindar political system that is prevalent here. While we made this our major programme when we came to power in 1977 in West Bengal, the fact remains that even during the two previous shortlived United Front governments in this state, we had made similar demands for more powers to fight the discriminatory attitude of the Centre. We have always said that the political plot to keep more and more powers with the Centre should be exposed. Even when we were in the Opposition in the state, we had said that this was a dangerous trend. History has proved us correct.
In March 1958, the state Assembly held a discussion on this issue. The chief minister, during this speech on the Budget, raised his voice against the Centre’s discrimation time and again and said that the state must be given its due share. We must appreciate Dr Roy’s role in the context since he was a member of the highest committee of the Congress which was in power at the Centre.
On March 7, 1958, Deben Sen of the PSP initiated the debate in the state Assembly on the Second Finance Commission Report. I also took part in the debate. I extract here part of my speech:
“It is surprising and at the same time worthy of criticism that neither the Indian government nor the other Central Commissions have paid any respect to the various issues and demands of West Bengal. We do have reports and this has been said in the Assembly too that West Bengal is prone to many problems. But I wonder for how long West Bengal will have to forego its due share in the name of Indian unity and sovereignty. I would not have said all this unless Partition, particularly the creation of West Bengal, had not dealt such a severe blow to this state. We do not want sympathy from the Indian government. What we want is justice and fulfillment of our rightful demands. I will never want or demand that the needs of any other state suffer because of West Bengal. The problems have not been created by the people of this state, but this has been the price that West Bengal has had to pay because of Partition. It is unfortunate that the Central government does not want to give any special status to this problem.
“Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy has criticised the Centre on many occasions, he has also pointed out the faults in the Finance Commission’s attitude. Even then, nothing has been done. If this Assembly believes all that is being said and regards this problem as serious, then the least we can do is to take a deputation to the Union Government where we can place the case of the state. Then we will be able to tell the Union Government that this deputation has come on the strength of a consensus and it would thus be obligatory on the part of the government and the President to appoint a Finance Commission or take any other step so that the sufferings of West Bengal and its people are alleviated. Sadly, the chief minister has never given our demands any importance. I believe that if we accept this proposal, then it will only bolster his arguments and that this would be one of the few issues on which we see eye to eye with the state government.
“The chief minister has said in his speech, `It is not expected that the state governments should be a subservient to the whims and fancies of the Union Government.’ I think that this is a unanimous attitude and decision of this Assembly.”
Dr Roy’s Budget speech which referred to the Second Fiannce Commission Report was in fact quite positive. He had said, “The tax structure pertaining to the Centre and states has given rise to an excessive pressure on the industrially developed states and proved extra advantageous for the agriculturally stronger regions. To solve this imbalance, there is a need for a proper income tax distribution system. There has been talk of taxes on the jute industry with regard to West Bengal. But if we do not have access to the advantages of the income tax revenue, then this imbalance will never be corrected; in fact, it will be more accentuated.”
Dr Roy concluded saying, “The question of self-dependence has never been raised seriously and all importance has been paid only on the growth of the population.” I had congratulated Dr Roy on his Budget speech. I said, “Dr Roy’s speech is an informative criticism of the Finance Commission Report. I believe that any rational individual will accept the contents of his speech. But as far as I know, the Union government has not accepted this criticism and acted on it as of now.”
My proposal for taking an all-party deputation to the Centre was not accepted. The Congress on the strength of its majority rejected the proposal. In order to get justice from the Centre, we in the Opposition were ready to cooperate with the state government. But the Congress was not interested; in due course, history has taught the party a lesson for its treachery.
CHAPTER XXX: The Food Movement of 1959
The year 1959 was an eventful one; the food crisis reached a peak, essential commodities vanished in thin air and famines were evident in many villages. The working classes were extremely agitated and took to the streets by launching mass movements and strikes. Instead of sympathizing with the masses, the then Congress government did just the opposite and resorted to oppressive measure. The people wanted food; what they got instead were teargas and bullets. A total of 80 martyrs fell victims while many others were arrested by the then Congress government.
The food movement needs to be described in some detail. The Communist Party as well as the other Left parties had a major role to play .On February 3, 1959, on the first day of the West Bengal Budget Session, the Opposition block initiated 15 adjournment motions, including 10 by the Communist Party, alleged that the emergency laws initiated by the state government had led to the sky-rocketing of prices.
I drew the Speaker’s attention and said that a decision needed to be taken on the debate on the food crisis and a date be fixed. The Speaker promised that he would look into the proposal. The Assembly Speaker then was Sankar Das Banerjee.
On May 24, on behalf of the committee set up to check prices and prevent famine, represented by Niranjan Sen, Hemanta Bose and myself announced the launching of a fresh movement against the Congress government. On June 18, a Protest Day was observed, there was a central rally in Calcutta, memorandums were issued on various demands and the districts came alive with demonstrations. On June 25, a joint strike was observed. It was called by the freshly set up committee, the West Bengal Krishak Sabha and TUC Struggle Committee. All shops and business establishments were closed. However the PSP opposed the strike.
A total of 13 representatives resigned from the State Food Advisory Committee. They alleged that the committee was not taken into confidence with regard to major policy decisions. On August 17, the Left parties announced that the renewed agitation would begin on August 20. While we had said that the movement would be peaceful, the state government was so alarmed that the police headquarters at Lalbazar were put on alert.
The arrests and the house-to-house raids of Left leaders and workers began on the midnight of August 19. Niranjan Sen, Bhabani Sen, Indrajit Gupta, Manoranjan Roy, Ganesh Ghosh, Benoy Chowdhury, Samar Mukherjee, Rabin Mukherjee, Gopal Bose, Biswanth Mukherjee, Geeta Mukherjee, Prasanta Sur, Radhika Banerjee and Naresh Dasgupta were among those who were arrested. My house as well as Hemanta Bose’s were raided but since we were not at home, the police could not arrest us. Arrest warrants were issued against Pramode Dasgupta and Harekrishna Konar too but they also escaped the police dragnet. On instructions from the state committee, Pramode Dasgupta, Harekrishna Konar and I continued to lead the movement from hiding.
When the raids and arrests were in full swing, I was outside West Bengal on invitation of a party unit. I did not know at that time that an arrest warrant had been issued against me. However, I did have an inkling that something like this could happen. When I reached Calcutta later, I was told that the police was after me. The provincial unit leaders who had escaped arrest till then decided that it was necessary that I evade arrest to carry on work on the food movement.
A strict vigil was kept on the Dum Dum Airport. Snehangsu Acharya whisked me out of the airport and put me on a car which brought me straight to a house in Calcutta. Comrade Dinesh Roy was waiting there to take me elsewhere. He took me to a house in South Calcutta where Pramode Dasgupta and Harekrishna Konar were also present. We began work on keeping the movement alive as well as maintaining the communication channel with the leaders who had not been arrested.
In the meantime, the West Bengal government accepted some of the demands of the food movement, the arrested agitators were set free and warrants withdrawn. However, the people of West Bengal were up in arms against the oppressive measures undertaken against the Left leaders and workers. On August 18, spontaneous protests were observed in Calcutta, Howrah, Hooghly, Bardhaman, 24-Paraganas and Midnapore. Countless processions were brought out throughout the state. The oppressive measures could not dampen the spirit of the people. The second phase of the peaceful food movement thus started. At least 7000 people were arrested by August 27.
On August 31, three lakh people assembled near the Monument. The police opened fire during the subsequent march to the Writers’ Buildings. More then 1,000 people were hurt, 130 of them critically. The police resorted to lathicharge in Burdwan, Behrampore and Gangarampur.
On September 1, a students’ strike was observed. Even they were not spared. Eight people were killed in indiscriminate firing in Calcutta while 77 persons were hurt. Prohibitory orders were issued in Calcutta and the suburbs.
I issued a statement saying, “I congratulate the people of West Bengal for responding in the way they have to the call for the resignation of the state food minister. The revolutionary people of West Bengal have once again given proof of their true character.” I said that thousands of farmers had come to Calcutta challenging the state government. They had come from various areas like Howrah, 24 Paraganas, Bardhaman and Hooghly. This had been a peaceful coup against the government.
In the same statement, I said that the Congress government and its police had lost the moral battle. “The Centre’s indifference and complacent attitude towards the food crisis have been exposed by this movement. No new food policy has still been announced.” I stressed the fact that despite the obstruction and oppressive measures adopted by the police, our movement had been a great success. The entire student community had also made its anger known through the strike. All these incidents took place between August 31 and the end of September 1959.
On September 2, the Congress even brought in the Army from Barrackpore and positioned them in Calcutta. Flag marches began. Till September 2, 12 people had been killed by the police. The Army was deployed in Howrah too. At least 15 people were killed and 150 hurt in Howrah and 24 Paraganas as a result of police firing. On September 4, I issued a statement saying that the state government had embarked on a killing spree in the name of fighting antisocials.
There were 80 martyrs in the food movement and 200 people were untraced. An unforgettable silent rally was brought out in Calcutta which demanded a public inquiry into the police atrocities, proper compensation for the martyrs and the immediate resignation of the state food minister. A total of 1,859 agitators were arrested.
On September 21, the Congress and the PSP members refused to observe a minute’s silence in the memory of the martyrs. The chief minister rejected the demand for a judicial inquiry into the killings. The police minister, Kali Mukherjee, did not want to express his sympathies for those killed. There was pandemonium in the Assembly as a result of Mr Mukerjee’s attitude. I alleged that the Congress government was out to teach the people the lesson of a lifetime. On September 22, students courted arrest in various districts of the state. On September 26, a plaque was set up in memory of the food movement martyrs at Wellington Square. It was decided that August 31 would be observed as Martyrs Day every year. This has been the order since then.
On September 28, the Opposition brought a no-trust motion against the Congress government; naturally it was defeated.
The food movement launched by the Left parties and other organisations in 1959 will be written in golden letters in the history of the country.
CHAPTER XXXI: The Kerala Dismissal
This chapter will elaborate on how the constitutionally elected Communist party in Kerala was ousted from power. The party had formed the government in the state during second general elections by becoming the singlelargest party. Jawarharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister while his daughter, Indira Gandhi, was the president of the AICC. We all know how tirelessly Prime Minister Nehru and his daughter tried to prevent the Communists from coming to power in Kerala. However, they did not succeed.
E. M. S took over as chief minister amid a wave of people’s support and encouragement in Kerala. But on July 31, 1959, the President used Article 356 to dismiss the state Assembly.
There were many tactics which were adopted to prevent the Communist ministry from working to a programme. The AICC with Mrs Gandhi at its helm entered into an unholy alliance with reactionary and opportunistic forces and parties. A disinformation campaign was launched which said that the masses wanted the Kerala government to go. It isn’t exactly a top secret that Prime Minister Nehru had called E.M.S. and asked him the resign, dissolve Assembly and call fresh elections. But E.M.S. ignored the Prime Minister and thus the unrelenting efforts to dismiss the Kerala government continued.
The progressive attitude and some of the virtuous Bills on land reforms and the education system had set the cat among the pigeons in Kerala. These steps had come rudely shocked the vested interests in the state. The so-called popular “mass movement” against the Kerala government had not touched the majority of the people of the state because by the that time, an agitation to protect the state government had spread throughout the nation. The people’s demand was to get the Congress out of Kerala.
When the disinformation campaign failed and the much expected mass movement against the Kerala government did not come by, the Centre resorted to Article 356 and imposed President’s rule in Kerala.
On June 6, E.M.S. had come to Calcutta and two lakh people were there to receive him at the Maidan. Women blew conch shells to welcome the first Communist Chief Minister of the country. I was in Delhi when the decision to impose President’s rule in Kerala was announced. Bhupesh Gupta and Dinesh Roy were there alongwith me. We had gone to present a memorandum of grievances against the West Bengal government.
On August 7, a huge rally was taken out which culminated in the Maidan protesting against the action in Kerala. On July 14, a resolution was adopted at the National Council of the CPI which rejected the proposal for re-election in Kerala.
On July 15, 1959 Triguna Sen, journalist Vivekananda Mukherjee, Dr Paresh Chandra Sen, Satyajit Ray, Susobhan Sarkar, Hemanta Mukherjee, Gopal Chandra Halder, Sambhu Mitra. Mihir Sen, Binoy Ghosh, Asitbaran, Suchitra Mitra, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and other intellectuals like Nandagopal Sengupta appealed to the President and the Prime Minister in which they said, “Those who are unified to oust the Kerala government by unholy means are working to strike at the roots of Indian democracy. We request that such efforts be stopped immediately. “A separate appeal entitled” Intervention shall not be allowed in Kerala” was sent to the President by playwright Bijan Bhattarcharya, actor Bhanu Banerjee and scientist B.D. Nagchowdhury. On July 15, 1959, a letter signed by 17,336 residents of Calcutta was sent to the President carrying the same message.
On July 3, the party’s West Bengal unit held a rally at the Monument which was attended by more than one lakh people. Indrajit Gupta and I spoke on the occasion. I said that the need of the hour was not to get disillusioned but defend the forces of democracy against Congress dictatorship with fortitude and discipline. A strong movement was necessary for this. Amar Bose of the Forward Bloc (Marxist) presided over this rally. On the same day, when the demand to place the Kerala Governor’s report in the Lok Sabha was rejected, the majority of the Opposition members staged a walkout. At that time, Dangey was the leader of the Communist Parliamentary Party. On that very day, I was addressing a press conference in Delhi where I placed the views of the West Bengal State Council of the party. It was during this press conference that we got news that the Kerala government had been dismissed.
Shortly before going to Delhi, I had met Dr Roy. He had told me that he was against the tactics of the Congress in Kerala and that he did not like the way an elected government was being harassed. He had indicated this to the Congress Working Committee. I remember Dr Roy telling me that it needed a strong hand to run a government. I asked him what he would have done if he had been in E.M.S.’s shoes. The Chief Minister replied, ” I would have arrested all the agitators and taken strict administrative steps.” Needless to say, we had ourselves been subject to the “strong administrative steps” as suggested by the Chief Minister.
Bhupesh Gupta and I went to meet Firoze Gandhi after the press conference. He did not stay in the residence of the Prime Minister at that time and had shifted to one of the flats allotted to parliamentarians on North Avenue. While asking us to sit, Firoze Gandhi said “A murder has been committed today. Democracy has been killed in Kerala.” I have talked a bit about Firoze Gandhi earlier in this book; that day, he told us many other stories. That does not require mention here.
CHAPTER XXXII: The Sino-Indian Bitterness
In November 1959, problems started to develop between China and India on the border issue. Our party had always took the stand that such problems could be solved only through negotiations and that there was no other alternative.
On November 5, a proposal was made that there had to be a minimum distance of 25 miles between the two armies. Unless a solution was reached to the border issue, this status quo had to be maintained. In order to settle the administrative issues peacefully, both the sides would keep civilian administrative personnel and unarmed policemen in the region. This proposal was initiated by the Prime Minister of China, Zhou-En-Lai. Nehru was somewhat agreeable to this proposal but some other influential leaders and ministers forced him to reject it. The issue was raised in both the houses of Parliament but Nehru did not show his cards.
On November 14, the Meerut session of the Communist Party’s National Council demanded that both Nehru and Zhou should hold discussions immediately. On November 22, the Communist Party and the Forward Bloc (Marxist) held a huge rally on the same demand at the Maidan in Calcutta. I spoke at the rally.
On November 23, participating in a discussion in the Assembly on the Sino-Indian issue, I said, “The countrymen should be aware that some reactionary forces are taking advantage of the border dispute. There is no alternative to holding negotiations and come to a solution. The Prime Ministers of India and China must meet immediately.” It will be worthwhile to mention that there was a basic dissimilarity in the views of the Communist Party and other parties on the border issue. But this difference was not a stumbling block in the way of any joint action. The Congress stooped a lot to spread disinformation regarding our party’s stand on the border issue. On December 14, a Congress rally indulged in arson and torched the martyr’s plaque at Wellington Square. In a protest statement, leaders like Hemanta Bose, Amar Bose and myself said, “There can be differences in opinion regarding the border dispute. But the way in which the Congress has dishonoured the martyr’s plaque only proves that whatever they are doing in the name of the border dispute has nothing patriotic about it. The only intention behind this is to destroy the democratic agitation and poison the political atmosphere tin West Bengal.”
On April 2, the Afro Asian-unity conference began at the Mahajati Sadan in Calcutta which was presided over by Rameswari Nehru. She spoke strongly in favour of Sino-Indian amity, while I said, “The unity movement must be consolidated to oust the capitalists from Asia and Africa”.
In his message which was read out at the convention, the then Vice-President, Dr S. Radhakrishnan, said, “Both Asia and Africa want to establish relation with the entire world on the basis of unity.”
CHAPTER XXXIII: President Petitioned Against Congress Misrule
I have already said in an earlier chapter that the Communist Party of India’s West Bengal unit had sent a 14-point petition to the President against the misrule of the Congress government in the state. The petition, which was sent on July 27 1959, needs to be described further.
Bhupesh Gupta and I met the President in New Delhi. We elucidated all the complaints to him. The President listened to us with attention and showed a keen interest in the various allegations. He also promised us that he would send the allegations to respective departments of the Union government. At the same time he said that the President had no constitutional role in these matters. The petition said :
“The West Bengal state government is submitting this petition to you. It contains numerous allegations against the government led by Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy. But these allegations are not exhaustive. The people of West Bengal stand by these complaints and it is on their request that we are sending these to you…It will be obvious that the state government has gone about destroying the constitutional rights of the people and empowering itself with an extra-constitutional power in a conscious and systematic manner. It will also be obvious that far from wanting to administer and govern this state, Dr Roy’s ministry has put a huge burden on the people. The fundamental rights of the people have not been cared for and the government has gone about its rule with the intention to help individuals and vested interests. Corruption is one of the main features of this administration.”
The introduction to the petition also said the only gainers have been the people with vested interests and rich industrialists and individuals close to some of the ministers. “The people will refuse to take this any longer as there seems to be no hope left for them… We are clear about the fact that in the end it will be the people who will take it upon themselves to remove this huge burden and gain freedom.”
“The previous two general elections have proved that the brave and patriotic people of West Bengal are moving towards that end. The Constitution tells us that you have a certain honest responsibility to ensure good governance in all the states. Apart from this, we are sure that you will agree with us that in a written Constitution like ours, much depends on analysing the letter and the spirit of the statute. In this respect, the people and the country should be the final arbiters. The West Bengal government has failed to discharge its responsibility towards the Constitution, not to forget the people….
“We did not get the opportunity nor the good fortune to meet you with these allegations earlier. But there is nothing new in these complaints. We, as well as others, have time and again raised these issues both inside and outside the West Bengal Assembly but have got no redressal. The state government has continued to do just the opposite and have answered back with extreme misrule and mal-administration, thereby pushing the people to a corner. The West Bengal government cannot be allowed to get away with what it is doing.
“We believe that given the peace-loving nature and discipline of the people of West Bengal, the apparent calm should not be taken as a reflection of the contentment of the electorate. They should also not be construed as any short of acceptance of the government’s misrule by the people of West Bengal.
“We have chosen to keep ourselves confined to the period between 1948 and 1959 in preparing this petition. The reason is clear. The Congress govenment led by Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy has been administrating the state during this entire term. All the ministers now were ministers in the earlier government too; these people are walking a narrow selfish path to aggrandize themselves and create their own coterie. The government has been totally isolated from the people.” The introduction ended with an appeal to the President saying, “We hope as the President of our democracy, you will pay attention to these complaints.”
The 14-point petition was published in English, Bengali, Urdu and Hindi and sent to other states. This created a stir in many states. The Congress government tried its best to ensure that the petition did not reach the masses but failed miserably. Finally, with no way out, some of those against whom complaints were made individually, filed defamation cases against some of our state council leaders and the “Swadhinata.” Later, however, all the cases were withdrawn.
Here are some extracts from the petition. In the 14th and last section, the state committee of our party concluded, ” The Congress government has lost the right to rule West Bengal.” It also said, “The fashion in which the Congress government has run this state for the last 11 years and driven the masses to a corner with its systematic channelisation of power to protect the interests of a minority and the improper use of the administrative machinery has turned the government into den of corruption. The only conclusion that we can reach is that the Congress government in West Bengal has lost its right to rule.”
Some of the other complaints were listed thus:
“Complaint No.1: Wastage of government finance, nepotism and misuse of the administrative machinery for party ends:
“The last 11 year of Congress rule in West Bengal is a tale of failure. But this failure has not been unintentional or sudden but totally systematic and motivated.
“This government’s policies are usually derived from the necessity to protect a minority: not only vested interests but also individuals and party influences have played a role.
“Complaint No.2: The Congress has used the administration in every possible way to win elections. In the last general elections the state government’s secretary of home affairs was appointed as the Congress election officer with little respect for constitutional norms.
“Complaint No. 3: Misuse of government relief for the interest of the party: This government has kept the entire relief system within the jurisdiction and influence of the Congress party. All relief work, including state budgets have been distributed only among block Congress committees and other party units. This petition has countless authenticated proof of this misuse.”
The people were getting increasingly agitated over the misrule of the Congress and the Congress government was finding it difficult to stop the power of the people despite various oppressive measures. The Congress rulers were now desperate and this was evident in a new step which they took suddenly.
It came to our knowledge that the West Bengal government, under the excuse of protecting the rights of pedestrians, traffic and commuters was trying to bring in a law which would make rallies and processions illegal. This was in the beginning of 1960. We were also told that under the proposed law, any violation could invite imprisonment up to three years or fine, or both. The name of the proposed Bill was the West Bengal Rallies and Procession Control Bill 1960″. It was learnt that the Bill would be placed in the next Assembly session.
The promulgation of this law would mean hitting at the very basis of democracy and constitutional right. This shameful and dictatorial attitude only proved that the useless Congress government was only bent on trying to extend its tenure by any means and take away the rights of the people so that they could not organise themselves against the government nor protest against its oppressive policies. The Provincial Krishak Sabha Secretary Comrade Harekrishna Konar said in a statement, “This is a major attack on the lives of the people and their right to earn a living as also a major step to consolidate the rule of dictator.”
We started protest meeting and rallies and a central rally was called at the Maidan. More than 1.5 lakh people assembled to protest against this proposed black law. A unanimous proposal was adopted at this meeting which was introduced by me. It said this barbaric and black Bill was meant to destroy the democratic agitation against the anti-people government…The West Bengal government is under the impression that while the national attention is being focused on the border dispute and warmongers are having a field day, this black law will be passed unnoticed. This meeting warns the government that the consequences could be dangerous. This meeting also appeals to all the people to take whatever steps are necessary to thwart this Bill.”
On January 24 1960, the state observed a protest day and we formed a committee against this bill. “A total of 50,000 signatures were collected on that day; in a short time, the number had gone up to 68,000 and the memorandum was given to the government on behalf of committee by Niranjan Sen, Lakhsmi Sen, Nihar Mukherjee and Tara Dutta. The government consented to withdraw the Bill.
At the same time, the elections to the Kerala Assembly were also at hand. This was a historic moment because the polls were being held after the constitutionally-elected Communist Party had been dismissed by the Centre. On the previous occasion, the BSP was with us but this time they had joined hands with the Congress. Responding to pleas to help the party in its election funding, the people contributed more than Rs 76,000 which was handed over by Kaka-babu to EMS at a huge rally at the Maidan. Our Kerala campaign was also finalised. Bhupesh Gupta, Md Ismail, Hiren Mukherjee and I attended many meetings in Keraal and were impressed by the encouragement we received there.
But even then, we could not win the elections. Using President’s Rule as a weapon, the Congress terrorised the people with the administrative machinery and things came to such a pass that Congress antisocials even dared to attack one of our election meetings in a car. Many people were hurt. The Congress also employed another tactic and started using the communal card. I must admit that we could not fight this twin terror properly. Out of the 126 seats, the Communist party get 26, the Independents supported by Communist Party got three, Congress 63, PSP 20, Muslim League 11 ( the party was an ally of Congress) while others got three seats. The Communist Party received 44.7 per cent of the total votes, Congress polled 38.7 per cent while PSP got 12.4 per cent. Though we could not manage to get the majority number of seats to form a government, there was quite a rise in the support of the people than ever before.
CHAPTER XXXIV: The Third General Elections
The 3rd General Elections were nearing. It was almost 15 years that the British had left us. Though this may not be a long period of time in terms of history, but many things ought to have been done at the government level for the development of the nation. There had been enough time for that. But the successive Congress governments had only heaped burden upon burden on the people. Talk of socialism, equality and public welfare remained only on paper and the Congress resorted to appeasement of the monopoly houses and capitalists. The country had entered the Third Five Year Plan but there seemed to be no hope on the horizon.
Our party office was attacked though the police did intervene. The “Swadhinata” office was housed at Park Lane and we were told that Congressmen were plotting to launch an attack there also. We sent volunteers there as a precautionary measure but fortunately, no attacks took place.
In the meantime, the border skirmishes had turned into full-fledged clashes. The Chinese army reached up to the Bomdila Pass and then almost suddenly decided to draw back. Some leaders of West Bengal owing allegiance to the Dange faction had proposed to us that the editorship of “Swadhinata” be given to Somnath Lahiri instead of the then incumbent, Saroj Mukherjee. Which meant, in other words, that there was a plan to take over the editorial board and run the paper on Congress lines. However, this proposal was rejected by us. Later, taking opportunity of the widescale raids and arrests in which many leaders of “Swadhinata” had been arrested, the Dange loyalists did manage to take over the publication.
The police was keeping a strict vigil on Pramode Dasgupta, Saroj Mukherjee, Niranjan Sengupta, Harekrishna Konar and myself. We were being followed almost everywhere.
I still remember that I was invited to Snehangsu Acharya’s place the evening before I was arrested. Most probably, Pramode Dasgupta was scheduled to come. Dinesh Roy was there. Even as we were having our dinner, we saw a car outside Snehangsu’s residence. While I was leaving, Snehangsu told me that it was likely thatI would be arrested that evening only. At 3 a.m. the next morning, the police came to my residence and said matter of flatly “You are being arrested.” I replied, equally plainly, “Go ahead.”
There were massive raids throughout the state the next day. Pramode Dasgupta, Muzaffar Ahmed, Krishnapada Ghosh and many others were put behind bars. However, Samar Mukherjee, Benoy Chowdhury and leaders like Naresh Dasgupta evaded arrests on party instructions and carried on work from underground.
The police told us that we would not have to spend too many days in jail because China was in full war-cry. Incidentally, while the war continued for only 14 days, we had to spend a year in jail under totally trumped up allegations. We were released in the December of 1963.
We had been kept at the Presidency Jail. My father died during that time. My wife called up the chief secretary and requested that I be released to take part in the last rites. The government allowed me a day’s parole. It was a very uncomfortable situation with the policemen standing beside even as I talked to my wife and relatives.
Notable among those who were also arrested were Manoranjan Roy and Ganesh Ghosh. The Dange loyalists tried to take control of the party’s West Bengal unit and failed in their efforts because a majority of the members were with us. A large chunk of our leadership in West Bengal were held in October 1962 under false charges of anti-nationalism. Even after a year in jail, the police continued to keep tabs on us.
CHAPTER XXXV: The Tenali Convention
This chapter will devote itself to the formation of a new Communist Party without the revisionists. The Tenali Convention played a major part in this.
The Dange loyalists were in a majority in the party’s National Council and they used this to institutionalise their revisionist policies. Our proposals to bring back unity in the party were rejected by them time and again. The revisionists wanted unity on their terms and refused to make any compromises with those who held opposite views. On the one hand, they were talking of unity while, on the other, they went about trying break just that. In West Bengal, we were in a majority. It was decided to set up a parallel state committee. Even as EMS, Pramode Dasgupta, Harkishen Singh Surjeet and myself were holding talks with the Dange loyalists, they issued a statement saying any discussions on unity could be held only within the National Council’s jurisdiction. Thirty-two members walked out of the meeting of the National Council in protest. Incidentlly, Bhupesh Gupta also took part in this protest but did not attend the Tenali Convention.
The 32 members who were walked out of the council meeting issued a statement later describing what had prompted them to take this unprecedented step. They said that the political resolution placed at the National Council meeting had made it clear that the revisionists would not take up class struggle as a main policy and instead go in for compromise.
It was in this context that these members called for a convention at Tenali in Andhra Pradesh on behalf of CPI. During July 7-11, 1964, 146 delegates representing one lakh party members converged at the convention in Tenali. The purpose of the convention was to reevaluate the crisis facing the party on the political front because of the revisionists’ policies. Of the 146 delegates, all but 10 of them had joined the party 15 years back while the rest had joined before 1935. All of them were wellknown leaders in their respective states and had done a lot to establish the Communist movement. The appeal that was made at the convention elucidated how the Dange loyalists had imposed the policy of “Congress-Communist unity” on the entire party and how anybody who dared to oppose this had been expelled.
The convention began on July 7, 1964 at 4 p.m. Hoisting the flag of the Communist Party, one of the founder members of the party, Muzaffar Ahmed, said,” Let us all come forward to take an oath to form the real Communist Party.” A presidium comprising A. K. Gopalan, Shiv Verma and myself was formed to go into the routine activities of the convention.
After adopting some condolence resolutions, Comrade P. Sundaraiyya welcomed the delegates on behalf of the reception committee. The agenda was then set and one of them was the call to hold the seventh congress of the party. The appeal of the 32 members of the National Council ended with the words:
“Those who are worried about the results of this step may please understand that we have been forced to take this position and that this does not please us. We are still anxious to avoid taking this step. This is why we harped on unity (at a time when that could have been realised). But this endeavour of ours has only met with opposition.
“We appeal to all of you to cooperate with us. Please help us in reorganising the Communist Party to make it a unified platform of the labour class and uphold the revolutionary tradition and history of the Indian people”.
It was decided that the seventh congress of the Communist Party of India would be held during October 24-31 the same year. The agenda would be 1) Adoption of a working programme 2) Re-organising the party administration and hierarchy 3) Adoption of the political organisational report 4) Election of a new leadership and 5) Election of the Central Control Commission of the party.
It was also decided that the Congress would be based on the membership of the party till December 31, 1963. All those whose membership had expired on December 31, would be taken in as full-fledged members and those who had not renewed their membership in 1961 would be given a change for renewal. However, it would be left to the states to decide on who would be their respective representatives at the Congress. One delegate could represent 250 members per state but it was also decided that each state would have to send a minimum of five such representatives.
The Sino-Indian border dispute was also on the agenda. The resolution which was adopted said, “There is no alternative to a peaceful dialogue to solve the border dispute”. On the “First International”, the resolution said, “The CPI convention wishes to remain loyal to the global labour class and has decided that September 28, 1964 will be observed with due honour as the centenary of the formation of the first International.” August 5, 1964, was also to be observed suitably as it marked the 75th birthday of Muzaffar Ahmed.
The convention decided to set up an organising committee ahead of the party congress. Apart from the 32 National Council members, this committee also included S.S. Srivastava from Bihar, Achintya Bhattacharya from Assam, M.Y. Kolhatkar from Maharastra, Banamali Das from Orissa and another member from Karnataka. It was proposed that a kitty of Rs. 25.000 would be formed for the work of the organising committee.
The state-wise break up the Tenali Convention was as follows :-
Assam-5, Delhi-1, Tamil Nadu-2, Gujrat-1, Jammu & Kashmir-1, Bihar-7, Andhra Pradesh-23, West Bengal-23, Punjab-7, Rajestan-4, Maharashtra-10, Uttar Pradesh-10, Himachal Pradesh-1, Mysore-4, Orissa-2, Kerala-20 and Central Department-3.
CHAPTER XXXVI: The Seventh Congress
Work on the seventh congress began immediately after the Tenali Convention. It was at the Tenali Convention that a new party based on the policies and tenets of Marxism and Leninism had been set up. Meetings were held throughout the country. The State Committee meeting in West Bengal was held at the Muslim Institute in Calcutta between October 22-26, 1964. The political -organisational report adopted at this meeting said, “Let us take this oath to fulfil the enormous duty in front of us. We have gone through many struggles and the dangers ahead will not be able to stop us. Let the beacon of Marxism and Leninism guide us in this dangerous journey”. At the previous state committee meeting, our total membership was 17,465 comprising 15,827 full-fledged members and 1,638 member candidates. Before the 10th State Committee meeting in 1964, the total number of members who had contributed subscriptions and kept alive their membership was 13,494. In other words, 84 per cent of the party members were with us. The rest had not renewed their membership because of confusion over the state of affairs while some others had joined the revisionists.
The political-organisational report had mentioned, “We are proud that a majority of the comrades are with us. But we must realise that compared to the influence and the strength of our new party, the number of members are not as many as we would have like them to be. Countless workers have continued to serve the party despite the emergency situation and rallied around the philosophy of Marxism and Leninism. In the background of this reality, our party’s strength should have increased manifold.
“After two years of continuous inner-party struggle, we have grown and unified our forces keeping the revisionists behind. The foundation of a new progress has been built. The last two years have seen a major increase in the confidence and perseverance of our comrades.
“We have been educated and earned experience through this struggle. But now that our responsibility has increased, it is time for greater initiatives and shedding of complacency. It is now our duty to organise the theoretical, political and organisational philosophies of the new party. But sadly, some in the new party are still somewhat inactive. We have to take special steps to root out this inactivity.”
The historic seventh conference began at the Thyagraj Hall and a public rally was held at the Maidan near the Monument which A. K. Gopalan presided over. While I have dealt with the proceedings at the seventh party congress in detail in another chapter, what needs to be pointed out here is that the then state government led by P.C. Sen unleashed a reign of terror by resorting to widespread raids and arrests on the eve of the congress on October 30. Most of our party leadership was arrested under the National Security Act. Those who were arrested without trial were Muzaffar Ahmed, Promod Dasgupta, Harekrishna Konar, Samar Mukherjee, Niranjan Sengupta, Krishnapada Ghosh, Bijoy Modak, Naresh Dasgupta, Benoy Chowdhury, Niren Ghosh, Sukumar Sengupta, Biren Dey Sarkar and Lakshmi Sen. But the state government could not succeed in its plot to upset the congress proceedings which was held with great enthusiasm and encouragment and more than a lakh attended the public rally. Incidentally, Comrade Pramode Dasgupta had been reelected the state party secretary at the 10th State Conference. The State Secretariat had been formed when leaders like Dasgupta and Konar were in jail. This was after the party congress had been held.
I welcomed the delegates form the various other states and decried the arrests of party leaders before the congress. A.K. Gopalan hoisted the party flag. I was one of the members of the committee which was formed to convene the congress.
The congress ended after the party public rally on November 7. There were many quarters which expected that we would fall prey to inner-party squabbles. There was talk that there was no unity among members of the congress held in Calcutta and that we were united only against the Dange loyalists.
These people conveniently ignored the fact that congress had adopted unanimous resolutions about the Communist Party’s immediate and future responsibility and duties.
First, the political-organisational resolution was adopted unanimously. It was also realised before the adoption of the resolution that there was a consensus on the need to weed out the revisionists from the party; there was a commonality in views about the political and economic situations and the role of the Communist Party regarding this.
“For more than eight years, the Communist Party did not have a well-defined working programme. There had been no original plan or document on which the Communist Party should have worked. The seventh congress has overcome this major weakness and unanimously adopted a working agenda. This had been discussed at all levels and in all districts and states for the last six months. The delegates had been chosen from the various state conferences and the working agenda was discussed by them in a disciplined fashion and in depth for three days. The most significant aspect of this draft agenda is the unanimity.
“Thus a new unified party has been established through a process which has been political, work-oriented and organisationally stable. There is no doubt that this unanimity will be maintained in all discussions held within the party in the months to come.”
The amendments, which were adopted in the draft resolution, were meant only to improve the originals. It had been apparent that events in the Communist Party of Soviet Union had not affected working of the congress though some people were trying to spread this disinformation. On the contrary, it was firmly established that the Communist Party was now adopting its political and other resolutions with the Indian context in mind.
The party membership at the previous Vijaywada congress, stood at 1,76,000 while the Calcutta congress had the support of 1,04,000 members. In the April of 1964, an appeal had been made by 32 National Council members after which these 1,04,000 members had renewed their faith in us.
This piece of statistics “only confirms that the Calcutta congress is the real Communist Party and that the Dange coterie does not have any right to say the opposite.”
The Calcutta congress elected P. Sundaraiyya as the national general secretary. After the conclusion of the congress, P. Sundaraiyya made statement which was distributed on November 14, 1964. The statement said:
“On October 29, 1964, the West Bengal government arrested 31 of our leaders under the National Security Act. This was done with an eye to create disunity among the Communist ranks. But we accepted this as a challenge. The congress carried on its work without any interruption despite this provocative action by the state government. All the delegates reacted with a resolve despite the tactics of the state government and adopted all the resolutions without much interruption. On November 7, there was a huge gathering of over one lakh where the speeches of the various leaders were heard with rapt attention. This was the perfect rejoinder to the state government’s oppressive measures. The day is not far off when those who have been misled by the Dange coterie will return to the mainstream. The Dange loyalists will remain a party only in the signboards.
“For the last two years, we have been faced with this poisonous disinformation campaign. The government had also worked in tandem with these campaign-mongers. Their aim has been singular: to disrupt the functioning of a democratic, people’s movement which has resolved to fight the anti-people policies of the government. The Dange loyalists, with scant regard for the welfare of the people, has helped the government in this dangerous game. However, despite all this, the majority of the party members rallied round the seventh congress. It has been proved beyond doubt that the progress of the Communist party remained unhindered. The plot has been unsuccessful because this foundation has been based on lies and it has once again been established that the working class and the people in general have saluted the Communist Party’s effort. We believed and reposed our confidence in the fact that our party will move closer to the people and through our political and other progress, we will be able to wean away a majority section of the Indians from the reactionary forces. We will be stronger in the day to come”.
I have not mentioned this earlier but the presidium set up to convene the congress comprised A.K. Gopalan, Nagy Reddy and myself; Nagi Reddy was to later become a leader of the Naxalite movement. A 41-man central committee, including three members of the control commission, was set up after the seventh congress. Thirty-four of them were elected at the congress itself while the rest were to be filled up later. A nine-member Politburo was formed and P. Sundaraiyya was unanimously chosen the national general secretary.
Those who were elected to the central committee were :-
Muzaffar Ahmed, Promode Dasgupta, Hareykrishna Konar and Jyoti Basu from West Bengal, P. Sundaraaiyya, M. Basavapunniaha, Hanumant Rao, N. Prasad Rao from Andhra Pradesh, E.M.S Namboodiripad, A. K. Gopalan, E.K. Nayanar, Achutanandan from Kerala, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Jagjit Singh Lailapuri from Punjab, P Rammurthy from Tamil Nadu, M.R. Venkataraman, Balsubramanium, N. Shankaraiya from Tamil Nadu, Achintya Bhattacharya from Assam, Ramchandra Shroff from Jammu & Kashmir, S.B. Srivastava from Bihar, Sankardayal Tewari, Shibkumar Misra from Uttar Pradesh, Dinkar Mehta from Gujarat, M.A. Upadhyay from Karnataka, Bonomali Das from Orrisa, B.T. Randive, Kolhatkar and Paruleker from Maharashtra. Central control commission : Abdul Halim, Dr. Bhag Sing, C. Venkatraman.
Politburo : P.Sundraiyya, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Rammurthy, Pramode Dasgupta, M. Basavapunniah, A.K.Gopalan, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, Jyoti Basu and B.T. Ranadive. There were nine members.
The seventh congress ended on November 7, 1964 and I will now relate the announcements made after the convention.
The declaration of the seventh congress went thus:
“The seventh congress of the Communist Party of India declares that all those who assembled for the convention are the real representatives of the Communist movement. The Dange group does not have any right to call itself the Communist Party of India.
“A total of 422 delegates represented 1,04,421 members throughout the country; this constitutes 60 per cent of the total members who attended the sixth congress. “Conferences had been organised at the regional district and provincial levels before this congress. A scrutiny has revealed that 14 out of 19 units in the states have joined this congress. Nine of those who had joined hands with the Dange group have also attended this congress.
“We also aware that a majority of those who have not participated in this congress have not listed themselves as members of the Dange group either. We are sure that those members who are attached to the Dange group will reconsider their position. The first phase of the struggle against the revisionist policies of the Dange loyalists have begun with this congress….”
On the eve of the March 1965 Assembly elections in Kerala, we decided that we would name our new party the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This was done for the purpose of the election symbol. Since then, our party has been know by this name.
CHAPTER XXXVII: More and More Agitations
Countless Communist leaders and workers were behind bars without trial for over a year. None of the Politburo members were outside jail. The secretary of the West Bengal state committee, Pramode Dasgupta, was lodged in the Dum Dum Jail where he fell seriously ill. But no steps were taken for his medical care. Not only Dasgupta, many other leaders behind bars were medically unfit and in need of serious care. But the heartless Congress government did not do even this. Apart from the demand to release the political detenus, we thus launched another agitation on the political status of the detenus. The central committee of the party gave a call for a wide democratic movement and on February 25, 1966, a nationwide protest day was observed. A day earlier, the West Bengal government, as had become usual by then, resorted to widescale arrests. This time, the “Deshhitoishi” publication came under attack. This was the only paper which acted as our mouthpiece then. Sudhengsu Dasgupta and Susilal Roy Chowdhury , members of the editorial board, had already been arrested a year back. This time, the manager of the paper, Niranjan Bose, and another official, Santosh Chatterjee ,were arrested.
The raids and arrests were concentrated mainly in Calcutta, Howrah and 24-Paraganas. The next day, the political detenus started a hungerstrike inside the jail premises. From the Presidency Jail, I sent a letter to the then chief minister Prafulla Sen and made a copy for the Prime Minister. The letter said:
“We express our anger and protest against the National Security Act under which we have been arrested. We also believe that it is expected of a government to behave in a civil and democratic fashion with the Opposition. We are extremely agitated that the government has been incapable of checking the rise of essential commodities and the fact that the National Security Act has been used against the general people who have risen in protest. But we are happy that a part from the Congress, all other Opposition parties, eminent individuals and the public at large have decried these actions. We have decided to observe a nation wide protest day in support of all the democratic forces of the country on February 25, 1966. We request you to either release us immediately or produce us in court.”
A call was given for a general strike throughout West Bengal on March 10, but the government now arrested the head of the editorial board of Deshhitoishi, Mohit Maitra, and other leftist leaders. On the day of the strike, the police resorted to indiscriminate firing at various places, killing many agitators and hurting others. As a result of this, the demand for the release of political detenus assumed a major dimension. The Chief Minister Prafulla Chandra Sen released some leaders because of the growing pressure. I was among those freed. However, the government continued to ignore our demands. A strike call was given for April 6.
The food crisis had not abated. Cases of suicides and starvation deaths were pouring from the rural belt. The Congress government proved to be a total failure in taking measures to stem such tragedies. By this time though, the price rise and food crisis issues had fuelled the imagination of the entire country.
The rationing system had also broken down. It was apparent that unless the government changed its basic policies, there would be no solution. However, without moving towards that direction, the aim of the government seemed to be just the opposite and it went on piling oppressive measures one after another on the general public. In the food movement of 1966, the police openend fire at Basirhat killing Nurul Islam while in Baduria, Ali Hafiz and Kalu Mondal were killed. Others who became martyrs were Sukhen Mukherjee in Behala, Bablu Das in Khardah, Ananda Hait in Krishnagar, Ranjan Dutta in Konnagar, Narayan Sadhukhan in Serampore, Rabin Pal in Rishra and S.P. Singh in Hind Motor. Many of these martyrs were either boys or youths.
In the first four months of 1966 _ in the name of putting down the agitation on the release of political detenus and the food movement _ the police killed more than 50 agitators. Apart from this, raids and searches in the houses of our supporters were the order of the day. People were brought to police outposts and subjected to major atrocities. There were no limits to the oppressive measures which the Congress regime launched on us those days. Even women and children were not spared. The attacks incidentally were not only confined to our supporters but the general public too suffered a lot. But despite all this, the Congress rulers could not stop the wave of agitations let loose by the general public. A historic 48 hour general strike was observed in West Bengal on September 22 and 23; this was entirely unprecedented. Buoyed by this, we demanded that the Congress government should resign immediately. The entire state was up in arms against the state government.
Significantly, even as all this was happening, the labourer-employee section and teachers of the state decided to forge a joint movement. A united front, which came to be known as the July 12 Committee, was set up by the state and Central government employees as well as the teacher community. A historic procession in Calcutta initiated the formation of this committee. Later, this movement became more widespread with the inclusion of employees and workers of autonomous and self-governed institutions also. A joint convention was held in May 1966 and a committee was also formed. This committee gave a call for a joint public rally on July 12, 1966. People came in huge numbers at the meeting which was presided over by Satyapriya Roy. K.G.Bose and Arabinda Ghosh later took over the joint responsibility of convening the front.
The fourth general elections were near. These elections had assumed great importance given the background of agitation and movements which were sweeping the country. Add to this, the fact that the Communist Party had split and the need for a mouthpiece was felt dearly. The revisionists had already taken control of “Swadhinata” long time back. But the publication had folded up. Keeping the demands of people in mind and realising the importance of the moment, we decided to go ahead and publish an eveninger which would be called “Ganashakti;” we did have a monthly of the same name earlier. It had later become a weekly but had to fold up. On January 3, 1967, the first edition of “Ganashakti” rolled off the presses with Saroj Mukherjee as its editor and publisher. The four-page newspaper was priced at 10 paise. The first editorial of “Ganashakti” ended with these words:
“The Congress rulers will not go scot-free. The final victory has also been that of the people; that has been the primary lesson of history. But the people will have to strive hard and continue the arduous journey for this struggle. The party mouthpiece, Ganashakti, will strive to carry on this tradition. It will relentlessly disseminate the message of the struggle of the labour and working classes. All plots and conspiracies of the ruling Congress party shall unfold through these columns.”
“Ganashakti” has been carrying on this tradition. While talking of “Ganashakti,” I am reminded of “People’s Democracy.” It was the mouthpiece of the party’s central committee and began publication on June 27, 1965. Though technically the “People’s Democracy” in headquartered in the central committee office in Delhi, it was actually published form Calcutta those days. The central committee of the party was housed in Calcutta in 1965 when the “People’s Democracy” first made its appearance. On party directives, I was chosen the first editor of the “People’s Democracy.” B. T. Ranadive succeeded me.
CHAPTER XXXVIII: The First United Front Govt
It was 1967. “The anti-national and anti-people Congress government had brought about a crisis. The result was apparent in the food crisis and general suffering of the people. The successful and widespread strikes and agitation in West Bengal, Kerala, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were just a pointer to the shape of things to come. The student community had also joined in a major way.
“The government was trying to put these down by terrorising the people. But it failed to stop the barrage of pro-people democratic movements throughout the country. Major agitations were witnessed in Andhra Pradesh. The police there had resorted to lathicharge and firing to quell a restive people who wanted greater welfare of the state. Such a wave of agitation had never been seen in the country since Independence. Neither had the country been witness to such an orgy of violence unleashed by the police. It is in this context that the people are being called to exercise their franchise. The major question in front of us is whether the people will continue to repose faith in a government which is burdening the country with hunger and destroying the fundamental rights of the people. This is the basic issue.”
The election manifesto of the newly formed CPI(M) began with these words. Two decades had passed since Independence. Three Five Year Plans had gone by. But the working classes remained neglected. In the Third Plan itself, prices had soared by 30 per cent. In the last five years, the Congress government had imposed taxes of over Rs 2,600 crores. In the name of planning progress, the Congress rulers had taken foreign loans of more than Rs. 4,000 crores. The generosity shown by the Soviet Union had not been put to use to help bail out our economy. The help extended by the Soviet Union had been used as sops in dealing with the US. and obtain loans from imperialists. The Congress government did not ever react to the fact that such dependence on the imperialists was only undermining the unity and sovereignty of the country. But the people had time and again risen against the dangerous policies followed by the Congress governments. West Bengal had shown the way in this respect.
This was the first election being faced by the CPI(M) and thus there was a special importance attached to the polls this time. Elections are always the final yardstick of whether we had been able to establish ourselves as a genuine force; of whether we had been able to prove our credentials in front of people and our acceptance among the masses. It could only be gauged by our success rate at the hustings. We must not forget that the rightists among the Communists have by then created a dangerous scenario and crying for war with China. Since we had opposed this and said that there could be no compromise on the fact that talks, and not war, were the only way out, the government had come down heavily on us. Our party offices had been raided and razed to the ground at various places. Party workers had been harassed and attacked. But we had remained steadfast in our mission. The welfare of the people was foremost on our minds. It was in the backdrop of such an intimidating atmosphere that we readied ourselves for election; the ballot would be the supreme test.
Despite our policy differences with the revisionists, we still stuck to our stand that we should face the Congress unitedly. We had realised that the need of the hour was to avoid a division in anti-Congress votes and that the Congress would gain if we failed. But unfortunately, a joint election front could not be achieved.
It was the rightwing Communists who were responsible for this turn of events. The CPI(M) had democratically pointed out that the party with the major influence in a particular area should set up a candidate there. The rightwing Communists numbered eight in the Assembly. We had agreed to give them 35 seats including those eight. But they insisted on 28 more constituencies; of these they had no right to even talk about 18 seats. They had no influence whatsoever in these seats. Their insistence somehow proved that they wanted to project themselves as the real Communist party.
When the revisionists understood that we would not give in to their illogical demands, they tried to form an alternative forum under the leadership of Bangla Congress headed by Ajoy Mukherjee and the Forward Bloc. Incidentally, Mukherjee had left the Congress on the eve of the election and formed new party.
The state witnessed three-cornered contests. The United Front including the CPI(M) came to be known as United Left Front which was abbreviated as the ULF. This Front comprised the CPI(M), RSP, Marxists Forward Bloc, RCPI, SSP, SUC, and the Workers Party. We fielded candidates in 201 Assembly seats and 29 Lok Sabha constituencies. The CPI(M) had 135 nominees, the RSP 15, the Marxists Forward Bloc -1, RCPI -2, SUC -8 and the SSP-26. There were 12 seats in which Independents contested with our support. The Bangla Congress and the rightwing Communists formed the PULF which comprised the Communist Party (Rightist). Bangla Congress and the Forward Bloc. They fielded candidates in 192 seats in which Bangla Congress had 81, the Communist Party (Rightists) 62 and the Forward Bloc 32 nominees. The Congress fielded nominees in all 280 Assembly constituencies.
The CPI(M) election manifesto demanded an end to the Emergency-like situation, withdrawal of all black laws like DIR and PD Act, reestablishment of the basic rights of the people, no arrests without trial, total freedom of religion, speech, meetings, strikes and organisation, the right to move freely throughout the country and indulge in a lawful occupation, keep the secular character of the state intact, free education till the secondary stage, revision in the pay scales of teachers, free distribution of land among landless, housing facilities, proper rationing system organised by the government, low prices, definite decrease in the tax burden, a stoppage to increased US aid, nationalisation of all major industries dealing with foreign loans, the realisation of the right to indulge in trade union activity and the right to strike work, strong opposition to imperialism, particularly of the US kind, peaceful coexistence with other nations, an end to ties with the British Commonwealth, a peaceful solution to disputes with Socialist China and establishment of friendly ties with that country, good relations with Pakistan and support to the tireless struggle of the people of Vietnam.
The manifesto ended with the call to establish the rule of the labour class who would lead a people’s democratic government. The manifesto ended thus:
“The CPI(M) sees these elections as party of the tireless struggle of the people against Congress rule. This struggle is changing the entire scenario from Bengal to Kerala and from Andhra Pradesh to Punjab and thus disassociating the Congress from the masses. The future of our country and its freedom lies in the experience of the people who are going through a massive process of upheaval. Only the people can stop the US imperialists from making inroads into this country. Only the people can again foil the anti-people policies of the Congress and clear the way towards a democratic government and greater development. We salute the martyrs who have given their lives in the struggle against the Congress oppression. The CPI(M) takes this occasion to remind the people once again that it will not sit idle unless the people’s victory is achieved.”
On the eve of the elections, the usual raids and attacks on us started. But we had been exposed to this earlier. This was routine affair. There was no end also to the disinformation campaign launched by the bourgeoisie papers and the government media. The elections were just another excuse to give them fresh impetus. The Congressmen attacked our candidate from Diamond Harbour Jyotirmoy Basu. He was hurt seriously. Six of our partymen were knifed by Congressmen who suddenly attacked an election meeting at Bally. The police raided a rally at Behala. This was a daily affair but our party programmes went on, helped by the confidence, resilience and steadfastness of our comrades. We wanted to hold a rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds but this was turned down on flimsy excuses.
The Congress started making false promises. I still remember one of them. A few days before the elections, the Congress government suddenly announced that 3,000 primary schools would be opened in the state immediately and 10,000 teachers would get employment. It is necessary to add that Prafulla Sen was the then Chief Minister of West Bengal.
The elections came and we were not too happy with the results. The United Left Front won 68 seats with the CPI(M)-43, RSP-7, SSP-7, SUC-4, Workers Party-2, Forward Bloc (Marxist)-1, and Independents supported by us got four constituencies. The PULF got 65 seats of which the Bangla Congress won 34, the Communist Party (Rightist)-16, Forward Bloc-13, while Independents supported by them won two constituencies. The Congress got 127 seats. Incidentally this was the first time after Independence that the Congress had failed to get a clear majority in the state Assembly. The CPI(M) got 18.5% of the votes while our Front got 26.5 per cent, the Bangla Congress got 9.9 per cent, the Communist Party of India (Rightists) 6.2 per cent while their Front got a total of 20.3 per cent. The Congress got 39 per cent of the votes.
The scenario in the Lok Sabha elections was like this : The CPI(M) won 15 seats out of the 16 it contested (15.66 per cent of the votes), the Congress won 14 seats (39.8 per cent), the Communist Party of India (Rightist) five seats (8.9 per cent of the votes), the Bangla Congress five seats (9.87 per cent) and the Opposition tally went up to 26 in all.
In the Assembly, the CPI(M) got 18 seats out of the 30 it contested in 24 Paraganas, 7 out of 18 in Burdwan, 5 our of 15 in Calcutta, 4 out of 12 in Hooghly, 3 out of 11 in Howrah, 2 out of 5 in Nadia, 1 out of 11 in Midnapore, 1 out of 3 in Murshidabad, 1 out of 3 in Maldah and 1 out of 4 in Cooch Behar. This was the district-wise gains.
While we had not been able to defeat the Congress outright, for the first time, we had reduced the Congress to a minority. This was a significant triumph. Chinks were now being seen in the Congress armour. We started negotiations with all Left and Democratic parties after the elections. What had not been possible before the elections, now become a reality; the first United Front government was formed keeping in mind the anti-Congress sentiments in the state. The United Front government comprised 14 parties.
Another aspect of the elections this time was that we had also to fight a section of the Communists this time and take on their allies, the Congress, too. In the state Assembly, our party had increased its strength from 33 to 43; given the scenario at that time and the attacks that we had had to face, this progress was extremely significant. At a time when the Congress and the revisionists had tried to project us as anti-nationals but had been reduced to an insignificant factor themselves, the fact was that we had been able to increase our strength and emerge as the strongest force among the anti-Congress parties gave us a major boost. Through the elections, the people had once again singled out the CPI(M) as the only fighting force against the vested interests of the Congress. The Leftists were set to rule.
After an analysis of the election results, we realised that our predictions in only 30 of 280 nominations had gone wrong. Our unity talks with the Communist party (Rightist) had failed on the question of 23 seats. When the results came out, it was seen that they had no logic to claim 18 of these seats; in 12 of them they had lost their deposits, in two constituencies, they could not even put up a fight and in four places, they got much fewer votes than us.
In the rest of the five seats, votes had been divided almost equally. It was now crystal clear that it was the revisionists who had been the stumbling block in the formation of a United Front before the election, which is why the Congress had got so many seats resulting from the division in the Left votes. We saw that because of the fight between the ULF and PULF, the Congress had got almost 70 seats more than they should have.
We also realised that our evaluation and assessment of six seats were totally wrong and that we should not have asked for these seats during the unity talks. We also openly admitted that the results were not up to our expectations. The elections had not reflected the true spirit of the people.
A major task before the elections was to fight the disinformation campaign launched against us with a majority of our top leaders behind bars. There was nobody to combat this onslaught and educate the people. There was a time constraint because of the seventh congress also; much of our time went in organising the conference. On the other hand, the revisionists and the Congress government joined hands against us and used the administrative machinery widely to their advantage. It is a fact that our run-up to the campaign and finally the elections was littered with thorns.
A certain sense of complacency had also worked in our party. An impression had gathered within the party ranks that since we seen to be the only viable opposition in the state, all the people ranged against the Congress government would be with us. We failed to realise that it is an onerous responsibility to educate the people when they themselves are in danger from the rulers. It was necessary to tell the people and show them the face of a real alternative while they were getting disenchanted with the Congress government. It was also necessary to make them aware that the basic structure of the system had to change; for this, a strong political and organisational set-up was needed and this could not be achieved in a day. We had seen the situation through a myopic vision; we had taken it for granted that the anti-Congress attitude of the people would naturally go in our favour. But not many realised that the spontaneous reaction of the people had to be necessarily channelised to a greater realisation; since this could not be done, the bourgeoisie ideals prevailed.
Though this did not happen in West Bengal, the Congress got badly drubbed in Kerala. Out of the total 133 seats, the Congress got only nine; the CPI(M) 154 and the Communist Party (Rightist) 120 seats.
The fourth general elections of 1967 were a major jolt for the Congress. Out of the 17 states where elections held, the Congress lost its singlelargest majority party status in seven. These states were Kerala, West Bengal, Madras, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orrisa. In the Lok Sabha elections too, the Congress votes came down to 37.87 from the 44.72 per cent.
The CPI(M) held its central committee meeting in Calcutta in the April of 1967 to discuss the post-poll scenario. After the meeting, a statement went out congratulating the people and appealing to them to take our struggle further.
We won five Lok Sabha seats in the elections. The candidates were Jyotirmoy Basu, Diamond Harbour, Md. Ismail, Barrackpore, Ganesh Ghosh, Calcutta (South), Bijoy Modak, Hooghly and Bhagwan Das, Ausgram, Fortythree of our candidates won in the West Bengal Assembly. We formed the United Front government. This was the first non-Congress government in the state after Independence. Ajoy Mukherjee, Praffulla Ghosh, Somnath Lahiri, Hemanta Bose, Jahangir Kabir and I were the first six ministers to be sworn in. Later, the ministry was expanded with 10 other portfolios. The other ministers were Harekrishna Konar, Niranjan Sen, Biswanath Mukherjee, Sushil Dhara, Amar Prasad Chakraborty, Nani Bhattacharya, Bhibhutibhusan Dasgupta, Jyoti Bhattacharya, Subodh Banerjee and Debaprakash Rai.
The first non-Congress chief minister of the state was Ajoy Mukherjee. He was the leader of the Bangla Congress. The election results showed that the CPI(M) had emerged as the singlelargest Opposition party; by that token, the top post should have gone to the CPI(M) in the event of a non-Congress government. There was no rationale in the Bangla Congress’s claim that they had to be given the chief minister’s post. However, for the sake of unity, we accepted their demand and Ajoy Mukherjee became the chief minister. The newly-elected legislators of our state again reposed their faith in me as the leader of the legislative party.
I became the deputy chief minister of the first United Front government with added responsibility of the finance and transport departments. Konar got land revenue and refugee rehabilitation while Niranjan Sen was in charge of the prisons portfolio.
We started form scratch, taking a stand diametrically opposite to that of the Congress regimes for the last 20 years. It was a very difficult task, since the administration and the political system had remained the same. Only the ministers had changed. It was an impossible job to bring about any basic change working within such a set-up. However, it was possible to provide some relief and create an environment for the people’s movement to grow. There were no roses strewn along our path. The new era had to start within such a framework.
The United Front government, immediately on assumption of office, announced that it would not implement any black law. It was also decided that all those held without trial by the Congress government would be released immediately. Sacked trade union leaders were reemployed and a policy decision was taken that nobody would be given the marching orders on account of his political beliefs. Everybody was free to practice their own politics irrespective of party affiliation. More than one lakh temporary government employees were made permanent. Employees of the State Transport Corporation and the Tramways who had been punished because of involvement in trade union activity were also rehabilitated. The police would henceforth never be used to curtail lawful trade union actively. All these announcements and implementations were a totally new experience for the people of West Bengal. Freedom was the catchword now. What was unimaginable during the Congress rule had now become a reality.
The Front government decided that the neglected landless and small farmers would be given land. The organised farmers sector came in aid of the government, identifying illegal and unlisted land, while at the same time drawing up list of landless and poor farmers. For the first time, land reforms went beyond just government files. As a natural step, vested interests and the landords and their political protector, the Congress, became furious. But despite the stiff opposition, in a matter of few months ,2.38 lakh acres of vested land was distributed among the landless and small farmers and another 10,000 acres of unlisted land were identified for further distribution.
Irrigation has to play a major role in the agricultural scenario of a state. A high-power committee comprising experts and representatives from government and private organisations was formed to draw up a master plan on the irrigation system. High-cost deep tubewells which had been sunk earlier but where lying in a state of disuse were now brought back into operation. Major steps were taken to further the Kansabati project. Special attention was paid to the Teesta Barrage project. An agro-industrial organisation was set up through which loans were distributed to farmers.
In another major step, the United Front government took over the administration of the Calcutta Tramways Company. Empahsis were also given on the refugee problem and an eleven-point programme was sent to the Centre for consideration. Around 25,000 families in the various refugee colonies were given due recognition, 6,000 houses in refugee colonies were electrified, more than 400 tubewells sunk and the dole stopped by the Congress government was renewed.
In all the drought-hit and flood-stricken areas of the state, taxes were written off and recovery of loans were suspended. The United Front launched relief work on a warfooting in the famine-affected areas of Bankura and Purulia. An announcement was made to bring parity of dearness allowance between State and Central government employees. Additional dearness allowances were increased for teachers, non-teaching employees of School and Colleges. A Pay Commission was also appointed for government staff and teachers. The government gave a helping hand to the employees of the Calcutta Corporation and Municipal Boards. It was decided to amend the civic laws and the draft was also prepared. Labour laws were also reviewed and recommendations for a new Bill were sent to the Centre. United Front government also decided to ease the tax burden on slum dwellers. Many advisory committees were set up to help the administration; the most significant of these was the food and relief committee which was set up from the district to the block level which had representations from all political parties and local administration.
Despite the plots by vested interests, lack of funds, indifference of the Centre and general discrimination, it is a fact that in the short rule of nine months, the United Front did take up many programmes for the welfare of the people and democracy at large which had not been ever witnessed in the last 20 years of the Congress rule.
Going beyond its limitations and opposition from many quarters, the United Front was in the process of proving that this was the only government which had an honest intention to fight selfish and vested interests. The working classes were also slowly coming alive to the realisation that only the United Front government was their true friend and the perfect instrument to help them in their onward struggle. This sent shudders down the spines of the vested interests like the Congress but it was a fact that though the Congress had lost in the elections, its influence and strength was still very much evident. Since it had its own government at the Centre, the Congress was using this to its advantage to nail the United Front government. Never did it occur even once to the Congress leaders of Delhi and Calcutta that to unnecessarily needle a democratically elected government was basically doing an injustice to the people.
The Congress in the state, the Congress at the Centre, vested interests, the police and a section of the bureaucrats plotted together to throw us out. The Centre increased its discriminatory tactics against the West Bengal government with respect to distribution of finance and famine relief. In some famine-hit districts, the Centre even decided not to send the allotted stocks of foodgrains. The rationing system was on the verge of collapsing, the price of rice went sky-rocketing. There was food crisis everywhere. The state government decided to set up food and relief committees in every district with the help of all political parties. But the Congress refused to join these committees. We must admit at the same time that the food department of the United Front government was also partially responsible for the food crisis. The government failed to take corrective and preventive measures to check hoarding which was being done with active support from Congress provocateurs. The food minister at that time was Dr Prafulla Ghosh. He did not take a firm step against the big mill owners and hoarders and this added to the food crisis.
The CPI(M) continually harped on the demand that the prices of foodgrains should be fixed and that a ceiling of Rs. 1.25 per kg should be made in respect of rice. The party also demanded that rations should not be reduced. Hoarders who were indulging in the blackmarketing should be arrested immediately; wide anti-hoarding steps should be taken. People’s movements should be organised to force the Centre to send relief and that the people should be told and educated as to how and why this food crisis had occurred. But the food minister seemed to be totally insular to such demands; instead, all he did was to make a ‘fervent’ appeal to the black marketers to have a “change of heart.”
There were efforts by certain sections to incite riots on communal and provincial lines. Stray cases of rioting and arson were also reported. But the United Front dealt with these with an iron hand and gained the confidence of a large number of right-thinking people. It is important to bring to light the role of a section of the police and the bureaucrats in this plot against the government. I remember in incident an Howrah in which the CPI(M) leader Md. Illias, was assaulted by some policemen. Immediately, the leaders of the United Front as well as other district administration officials rushed to the spot. These policemen then attacked the leaders and officers, shouting anti-government slogans. The police also indulged in brickbatting. The land revenue minister, Hareykishna Konar ,was the target of such an attack. Further, the superintendent of police refused to arrest the erring policemen. Later, the chief minister also reached the spot .We came to know that the Howrah incident was not a stray one and that it had been planned earlier. A section of the top officers of the police and the administration had joined hands with Congress leaders. The intention was simple: the Howrah incident was to be turned into a state-wide police rebellion against the government.
Another plot was unearthed. There was some problem in the Naxalbari area of Darjeeling when some landowners refused to comply with distribution laws. Hareykrishna Konar and irrigation minister, Biswanath Mukherjee, however, intervened and resolved the issue. But suddenly, the top brass of the police ignored this formula and sent forces to the area. In indiscriminate firing, nine persons including six farmer women and children were killed. There was widespread discontentment in the state over this barbaric killing and our party demanded a judicial probe in the incident.
We also got information that just five days before the state government was sworn in, a plot had already been hatched to dislodge the ministry. Some officers in the rank of DIG, DC and SP alongwith top bureaucrats of the Union and state governments joined in this plot. The agenda was to create a law and order problem and impose President’s Rule on the state or split the United Front by resorting to the usual dubious means of money laundering.
The situation was slowly moving towards such precipitation. Many groups within the United Front were disoriented and disappointed after the new land reforms initiated by the government had hurt their interests. Add to this, the various enticements of other forces. Problems started surfacing during the elections to the state Legislative Council. The United Front candidate Sudin Kumar lost due to the treachery by 19 of his own MLAs. Two days later, a meeting of United Front legislators was called. A ruckus ensued; I said that we were prepared for the worst but it would be better if the chameleons and traitors came clean.
In August 1967, the crisis became severe. Using the disillusionment of the people because of the food crisis and price rise to its advantage, Congressmen almost daily disrupted the transport services including train movement. We decided that it was time that the people should be made aware of these plots. The United Front organised a general strike in West Bengal on August 24, 1967. But the worst could not be averted. Food minister Prafulla Ghosh suddenly resigned from the Cabinet. Following norms, he should have sent in his resignation paper to the chief minister; instead, Ghosh went straight to the then Governor Dharma Vira. Ghosh also announced that he had 17 United Front legislators with him. Some Front MLAs had indeed left us by then. We had a premonition that this was going to happen. The minister had not taken any positive steps to check the food crisis and had allowed the situation to drift. No minimum administrative measures were taken against blackmarketeers and hoarders who had created this food crisis. We had alerted him many times but he did not pay any heed. Finally he joined hands with the reactionary camp which had been active for sometime to dislodge the state government. On November 4, 1967, the news of the resignations were made public. An allegation was also made against chief minister Ajoy Mukherjee that he had conspired with the Congress leaders in Delhi to dislodge his own government. The very next day, the CPI (M) organised a massive rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds where an appeal went out to fight the forces working against democracy and keep the government intact. The meeting also announced that the betrayer-legislators had no right to vote inside the Assembly since they have lost the trust of the people.The only way out for them was resign and seek reelection.
The situation was discussed at an emergency meeting of the United Front. Given the situation, it was advised that the government should ask the Governor to convene a special session of the Assembly on December 18. But the Governor said that he could not wait till that date. The party secretary, Pramode Dasgupta, made a statement that mid-term elections were the only way out in West Bengal. Various democratic and people’s organisations arose against the move to install an illegal Congress government instead of the elected United Front government. We also demanded that mid-term elections should be held under a caretaker United Front government. We were adamant that the Congress should not be allowed to form the government since the people had already rejected that party. Not only that, those very people who had won the elections shouting anti-Congress slogans but had later trampled on the people’s verdict had set a disgraceful precedent which was a slur on the democratic fabric of the country. This was political opportunism at its worst; we felt that the Governor’s move to call them to form a government was totally against the basic tenets of the Constitution.
But the Governor was not willing to hear such words. Even before the Assembly session began, he dismissed the first United Front government on November 21, 1967 and called Prafulla Ghosh to form a new ministry with the help of the Congress. With scant regard for the anti-Congress verdict with which he had become a legislator, Prafulla Ghosh became the chief minister. An illegal Congress regime was foisted on the people.
But the people of West Bengal did not accept this without protest. On November 22 itself, a spontaneous strike was observed throughout the state. The chief minister gave a free hand to the police and Army to crush the protests. The entire city came under a cloud of bullets, teargas and lathis. More than 1,000 people were arrested and many lay unconscious in hospitals.
The United Front called a meeting at the Brigade Parade Grounds on November 22 and the government imposed prohibitory orders in various places so that people could not come for the rally. In fact, curfew was imposed in places like Kamarhati, Panihati, Khardah and north Dum Dum. The entire Brigade Parade Grounds was teeming with policemen who even broke down the dais build for the leaders. But the people new better. First, they tickled but in a matter of minutes, thousands of rallies converged on the Brigade.
The panicking police force launched a reckless attack on the rally. The people ran helter-skelter, many tried to enter the rally grounds but fell to police blows. Leaders like Biswanath Mukherjee and Amar Chakraborty were hurt in the police attacks. The next day also witnessed a strike. The police again fired indiscriminately. Five people were killed while more than 50 seriously hurt. A total of 2,500 people were arrested in 48 hours. It was police raj in Calcutta and its suburbs. Again, the next day, the police opened fire on a rally taken out by students. Five students, including a teenager, was killed at Sealdah and Jadavpur. Unable to cope with the rising anger of the students, the government ordered closure of all schools and colleges for a week. The chief minister warned that striking employees would have their trade union registration revoked. In a dictatorial circular issued to the state government employees, Dr Ghosh said that all those who had been employed in the last five years would have to face police investigations.
The state committee of the West Bengal demanded that the Assembly be dissolved, midterm elections be announced, political detenus be released and the police should go back to the outposts and prohibitory orders be withdrawn.
On November 29, the Speaker Bijoy Banerjee ruled Dr Ghosh’s government as anti-constitutional and adjourned the Assembly for an indefinite period. The Congress and the Ghosh loyalists received a setback. Bombs were thrown at the residence of Banerjee.
Another strike was observed on November 30. Suddenly the editor of “Ganashakti”, Saroj Mukherjee, was arrested one day. The police caught him while he was returning from office. He was released after some days.
In December, we decided to organise a state level delegate conference of the United Front. It was presided over by Saroj Mukherjee and the third phase of the people’s movement began. The Governor had earmarked February 14 as the date on which the Assembly would be reconvened. Before this, eight legislators and one Legislative Council member of the United Front were arrested. Saroj Mukherjee and the United Front convenor Sudin Kumar were arrested. Speaker Bijoy Banerjee ruled on February 14, “On November 29, 1967, this Assembly was adjourned indefinitely and since there has been no change in the situation since then, I am again adjourning this House indefinitely.”
Governor Dharma Vira had come to give his inaugural address. There was pandemonium inside the Assembly and the legislators were shoved and pushed. However, the adjournment took place in a matter of minutes. The Governor failed to deliver his address.
On February 20, despite all futile attempts, Dr. Ghosh and his PDF Ministry resigned. President’s Rule was imposed and midterm elections were announced.
The United Front congratulated the people and issued a statement. The following is the text:
“The United Front congratulates the people for the unity, resolve and courage in the face of the onslaught. The United Front believes that it is this attitude which has helped dislodge the Ghosh ministry. The great struggle which the partners of the United Front and its supporters had to face under adverse situations and an atmosphere poisoned by savagery and oppression needs to be hailed. We also salute the Honourable Speaker for the courage and steadfastness that he has shown through his historic ruling and who was not daunted by even a bomb attack on his residence.
“The falling of the Ghosh ministry signals the success and victory of the people. The Congress government at the Centre had tried to use its power and install an illegal government on the state through the backdoor. Above all, the ruling of the Honourable Speaker also proves that no Assembly session can be summoned by an unlawful government. The imposition of President’s Rule has only vindicated the basic honesty which went into the ruling. The United Front is suspending its law violation programme to discuss the current situation in the state.
“A strange silence prevails on the issue of midterm elections and the release of the political detenus, not to forget the infringement on the fundamental rights over the last few weeks. The United Front government demands that all political detenus be released immediately, prohibitory orders be withdrawn and the citizens’ rights be reestablished.
“While suspending its law violation programme, the United Front appeals to the people of West Bengal to come together and launch movement after movement till their demands are met. We appeal to the people to launch a wider programme of struggle.”
It was time for the youth to launch its own movement. The Yuva Sangha had by then fallen into the trap of revisionists and the youth festival was just another routine celebration. There was no other political programme on the agenda. There were no movement on the release of political detenus, the food crisis and the employment problems. Ridiculous excuses were shown in this context. The hopes that had swelled in the hearts of the youths after Independence had been dashed to the ground and they were now raring to launch into the arena of struggle. But the majority of the leadership was walking the path of revisionism and trying to alienate innocent minds.
During June 7-9, 1968 the Democratic Youth Federation held its first state conference; this is now one of the biggest youth organisations of the world. Even as it was born, the DYF saw imperialism and capitalism as its main enemies while freedom, democracy and socialism were its key slogans.
The founder president of the DYF was Dinesh Mazumder and its secretary was Buddhadev Bhattacharya. The youth movement had found a new voice.
CHAPTER XXXIX: Extremism and the ‘Left’ Aberrations
Extreme Left aberrations followed revisionism The party had already been divided and there was no way this could have been avoided. We were still to recover from the effect of the split. The organisational weaknesses were apparent in many places. In the midst of all this, the aberration in the form of extreme leftism provided a new danger within the party. A wrong analysis by a few people of the situation prevalent in the country was used to spread the message of instant revolution.
These people challenged the programmes of the party and opposed policy dicisions on participation in parliamentary democracy and government. They struck at the roots of a Marxist-Leninist party; unity, discipline and democratic centralism were given the go-by.
These opportunists dubbed our party programme as revisionist and termed the Indian government as neo-colonialist. They said that the land was under a “puppet regime” and the petty bourgeoisie were in power with the help of imperialists.
The Calcutta congress of 1964 debated this line and rejected it. These people believed that the bourgeoisie did not have any power of their own and were led by the imperialists. This was a wrong evaluation.They were also incorrect in their belief in that they thought that the government was a puppet regime; what they forgot was no such government could possibly have such a huge public support as had been evident in successive elections. According to them, the government had been totally alienated from the people and was being despised by the general public. The prevalent class structure was totally ignored and the need for a peoples’ democratic front was not made out strongly. This wrong assessment led them to believe that armed revolution was the only way out and that it was just a matter of time.
Driven by recklessness, these Leftists were blind to the difference between parliamentary democracy and Fascism. As a natural consequence, instead of following Lenin’s ideal of using all parliamentary institutions as weapons for greater struggle, these extremists said that any sanction for parliamentary democracy was an assertion of revisionism.
For them, all non-Congress ministries were revisionist by nature. Participation in elections were also wrong. They also rejected the concept of the United Front and the need for an alternative government. All strategies and policies were dubbed as greed for parliamentary power but, in effect, they only served to push back and ignore a major dimension in the Left movement.
We had proved the hollowness of these arguments at that time; not only that, we had also said that these people would only serve to alienate the people from the party. The central committee meeting of the CPI(M) in August 1967 which was held in Madurai detailed the party position on these aberrations. The central committee statement said,
‘‘This is nothing but an aberration borne out of anarchy which is only serving to lighten the struggle against the system. This has no relation or similarity to Leninism and serves to convert the people and the labour class into mute spectator. Slogans are being raised which will alienate not only the party but the people too from the elections and leave the people to the mercy of the Congress and other bourgeoisie parties. The significance of the defeat of the Congress, the formation of alternative governments in various states, the movement of the people towards the party and the exposure of the real face of the bourgeoisie parties have been ignored in the name of revolution. Any compromise with this line of thinking would mean sabotaging the very efforts towards which the party has been working; this strategy can never take the party forward and instead can only serve to delink it from the masses. Nothing is being said about the present level of consciousness among the people nor is any effort being made to clear the confusion among the masses about the character of the state and its machinery.’’
The statement also said, “A narrow viewpoint is being accepted as a larger strategy. There is no line of thinking on how to unite the labour class and create political consciousness. At the same time, they are also silent on how to push forward the struggle of the farmers and their uplift which are supposed to from the basis of this ‘Revolution’. They are only paying lip service to the cause of the farmers. This has unfortunately come at a time when the party is trying its utmost to take the people’s movement forward and pursuing an active policy. Those who are following the line of extremism are trying to establish that the party line is wrong… They are not realizing that state terrorism cannot be fought without an unified movement and an organized labour sector. Ignoring this aspect would mean giving into opportunism and extremism followed by some people who do not belong to the mainstream of the labour struggle.’’
In reality, these opportunists were only trying serving to prevent the unity of the labour class and the people at large and ignore the major tasks of fighting against the prevalent anti-people system and policies. While ignoring the need to establish mass organizations and fight for the rights of the labour and farmer classes, some people indulged in the worst form of extremism and sought to put an end to the people’s movement in the name of revolution. They felt that mass organizations had no role left to play and that the people’s victory would come only through so-called revolutionary steps and activities. Moreover, Marxism-Leninism has never ever based its philosophy on such premises. This was a totally wrong understanding.
Naturally, these “revolutionaries,” through their irresponsible statements and actions only harmed the cause of the people’s unity and helped the Congress in its fight against democracy. Like the revisionists who had helped the rightists in the campaign of opportunism, so also did the Left recklessness come to the aid to reactionaries and only harmed the struggle that the CPI(M) had undertaken against the anti-national and anti-democratic rule of the by the Congress. Our party was the main target now since for them, the United Front government was more reactionary than any Congress regime. Individual killings and terrorism began on a much larger scale and the unity of action and spirit between the Congress and these “revolutionaries” was now apparent, both of them were ranged against us.
Despite the hollowness of lack of understanding in these philosophy, the ultra-Leftists did manage to create some sort of influence, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and the northern part of the West Bengal. Unfortunately, some well-meaning but militant, middleclass intellectuals and youths fell victims to the glamour of this call for revolution. They said they were followers of Mao and raised the slogan, ‘‘China’s chairman is our chairman.’’ Forgetting everything else that the country stood for, they followed the China model with disastrous consequences which had no relation to Marxist philosophy. Naxalbari in Darjeeling district of West Bengal became the focal point of their activities. Preparations had begun sometimes back; bulletins and leaflets were periodically issued against the CPI(M). Secret groups were formed and printing presses were opened to carry out their campaign. They were not interested in debates and discussions within the party. Everything was kept secret and there was no way they could be identified. Everything was secretive; this was typical stray anti-party activity. Though the previous party congress had rejected their line, these erring leftists continued with their campaign. The problem was more political than organizational. Many of them were expelled from the party.
CHAPTER XXXX: The Second United Front Govt.
The mid-term elections in West Bengal were slated for February 1969. This time we contested as United Front nominess. We had not forgotten that the Congress had able to win many seats in the 1967 elections because we had not been able to form a United Front before the polls. This time, however, this was made possible and our party did not release any separate manifesto. We went to the electorate with a common minimum programme.
The perspective this time was slightly different. The people would exercise the franchise on the basis of the performance of a shortlived government. It was not as if that we had achieved much but we had left a mark all the same. Despite attacks from all sides, the CPI(M) had emerged as a party which stood for firm policies and welfare measures. It had come to be known as a symbol of hope.
The Congress was having restless nights. They realised that the people were behind the CPI (M). Thus they started a disinformation campaign against us in right earnest. The bourgeoisie press started helped them to the hilt. Statements of Congress leaders and news related to them covered the front pages of these papers. There was a certain monotony about this relentless tirade which verged on gross falsehood and distortions.
The Congress and other non-Communist forces started campaigning that the CPI(M) did not believe in the Constitution and the democratic character of the nation. Apparently, any participation of the CPI (M) in the state government would harm the polity of India. They had no opposition to any non-Congress government without the CPI (M). The Congress had become desperate by then; they were intent on destroying the unity that the people had struggled to achieve against its non-democratic policies. The Congress had also realised that it would be unable to face the uncompromising challenges held forth by the CPI(M). The strategy was to split the United Front at any cost.
The law and order sector was also targetted in the disinformation campaign. The CPI(M) was singled out as the main party responsible for the deteriorating law and order situation. In the run-up to the elections, the bourgeoisie press went overboard and carried unimaginable stories of mythical proportions. But we were used to this. Mountains were made out of molehills and even minor incidents were exaggerated in such a fashion that there could possibly be no words to describe the enormity of the lies. The intention was clear; the people were being provoked to come out against us.
But it was not as if we were not expecting this. The former United Front government had faced such attacks. We had failed to understand that a ruse was being made in the name of “deteriorating law and order;” where these self-proclaimed protectors of the law were during the oppressive regimes of the Congress government during the 50s and 60s was hard to comprehend ! But despite the relentless attacks by our enemies and disinformation campaign on the law and order situation, the people of the state knew that it was the United Front which had provided them security and safety. This was something that nobody could deny. The press thus could not harm us in any major way. In an appeal timed with the elections, we said,
“We assure the people that we will not allow any attempt to curb their independence in the name of protecting law and order. But we are sad today that the state government does not have enough powers to work for the total welfare of the people and protect their democratic rights. We have joined the United Front because we want to meet the peoples’ demand and give them permanent democratic rights. We also demand more powers for the state and pledge to work unitedly in the struggle against the government in Delhi. The importance of greater powers and federalism in the system becomes more apparent in the face of the Kerala example where the Centre misused the Constitution to corner the United Front Government because we had refused to clamp down on the agitation by Union Government employees there. We expect the wholehearted support of the people of West Bengal and appeal to others to ignore the devious plots by our opponents and the enemies of the people.”
The Congress and its newspapers started saying that they could not understand why the CPI(M) was interested in power since we had said that the state governments had limited powers. This case was made out despite the fact that we had made our stand vis-୶is participation in government absolutely clear. But the boring campaign to confuse the people continued as usual. The need for participation in government was simple; this was a clearly delineated policy by which more and more people could be drawn towards our struggle. The Congress continued to harp on this line only to confuse the people.
Some of our critics — the “Leftists” were among them too—questioned our policy about participation in government and dubbed us as opportunistic and unprincipled. Again, we had to issue a rejoinder with the state committee of the CPI (M) saying that we would form alliances with all democratic parties which were against the Congress. These alliances would be forged on the basis of a common minimum programme. While we could not possibly expect these parties to imbibe our philosophy, at the same time, we could not judge their democratic character by an unrealistic yardstick. We were only concerned about their anti-Congress antecedents and whether they were really politically inclined against the party and its policies and how far they were willing to go with us in our fight against the Congress. And finally, we had to be sure about their position and intention regarding the common minimum programme and its implementation. This was the only way that unity could be achieved among the democratic forces, given the current situation in the country. Also, this was the only practical solution to foil the plot by the Congress and other reactionary parties to alienate us from the mainstream. If we shirked this responsibility now, that would be escapism and defeatism in the face of reality. We had also realised that our search for the pure, democratic and fully socialistic party as an ally would be like hunting for the proverbial pin in the haystack.
These formulas made it clear that there would be no infringement on the philosophy and political position of the various partners; even organizationally, there would be no curbs on their functioning. This yet again indicated that while we could differ on party policies and theory, there could be a common platform from where we could fight the monopolistic Congress regime unitedly.
The Congress had by that time realized that it was losing its base and the CPI (M) was coming up sharply. The United Front platform was also turning into a symbol of the growing mass movements and the reaction could be felt throughout the country. Since the middle of the 60s, the labour, farmer and the middleclass had issued direct challenges to the upper bourgeoisie segments in Kerala and West Bengal and were vying for power. While the final goal of attaining political power was a longdrawn struggle, it was apparent that the first steps had been taken. The bourgeoisie — zamindars as well as other vested interests, epitomised by the Congress, were shaken.
The United Front announced its election programme. The 18-point plan which had been adopted by the Front in 1967, was relevant this time too. But this time, given the past experience, the programme was modified according to the new priorities. The food crisis, land, education, irrigation and agriculture were crying for immediate steps and needed to be tackled immediately. On the food policy, the Front said that it would ensure greater controls in monopoly business.
The Front stressed that
1. All big landlords would have to part with their excess crop output and that they would have to provide levy on irrigationable area of more than seven acres and non-irrigationable area of more than 10 acres; 2. There would be a ban on buying of crop from the open market; 3. Part of the crops collected would have to be sent back to the area from where they were produced (amounting to 30 per cent in surplus area and the entire amount in the low-yield areas); and 4. A regular food distribution system would be introduced in the low-yield area and later spread to other zones.
The United Front was to take up a major land reforms programme focussing on amendments to the land owning rights in favour of farmers, marginal farmers owning less than three acres of land would be spared taxes, ceiling on land would be fixed keeping in mind the size of the farmer’s family, all non-registered land would be identified and distributed, the landless and poor farmers would be given permanent rights on land recovered from big landlords, sharecropers would get recognition of their rights on bargas and their would be no eviction of bargas for at least three years.
On the education front, we said that the prevalent disorder and anarchy would have to be rooted out and that it would be free and compulsory till the Fourth Standard. Primary schools would be set up in places where there were none.
Minimum wages, employment doles and reforms in the laws relating to the payment of bonus would be implemented to help the employees and labourers.
The United Front emphasized the need for greater industrialization and assured the people that it would take all possible steps to ensure the development of the cottage and small industries. Pressure would also be created on the Centre so that all hindrance to the development of industries was removed, old age pension would be introduced and municipalities and panchayats would be further democratized.
The elections were held on February 9, 1969 and more than 70 per cent of the electorate turned out. This overwhelming response was even more significant given the boycott call by the Left opportunists. Obviously the people had rejected them. The elections had a festive air around them.
Polling was held in 280 seats. The Front got 214 while the Congress won 55 seats. The CPI (M) individually fielded candidates in 101 seats (four of them were Independents supported by us). We won 83 of these (three of the Independents backed by us went to the Assembly). The Bangla Congress won 133 seats, the CPI 30, the Forward Bloc 21 and the RSP got 12 seats.
Not only did the people rise behind the United Front, it also gave a clear signal that the CPI (M) was the undisputed leader of the Front. This was the first time that the CPI (M) had emerged as the singlelargest party after any election.
This time too, I contested from Baranagar. My rival was Amarendu Bhattacharya of the Congress who had fought against me in 1967 also. The previous time, I had won by 3,500 votes; on this occasion, while my rival got 27,669 votes, I polled 45,261 votes thus winning by more than 17,500 votes.
Problems surfaced during the constitution of the ministry. The Bangla Congress was stubborn in its demand that its leader Ajoy Mukherjee be made the chief minister. A couple of our partners supported this. They said that the CPI(M) should not be allowed to get the post of the chief minister. The Bangla Congress, never for once, gave a thought that its stand was going against the verdict of the people. The partywise influence and strength had changed a lot since the last elections and it was pertinent that this should have a reflection during ministry-making. The CPI(M) was obviously the leader of the Front but Ajoy Mukherjee said that he would not join the ministry unless he was made the chief minister. In the event, he made a personal issue of a political one.
In the larger interests of Front unity and the state’s welfare, the CPI(M) conceded the chief minister’s post to the Bangla Congress. We then proposed that the CPI(M) be given the portfolio of general administration and the home department including police affairs but the CPI wanted a share in the home portfolio. Matters became very complicated. After a lot of discussions, a solution was reached and Ajoy Mukherjee was named the chief minister. I had already been unanimously chosen as the leader of the CPI (M) legislative party. By that token, I became the deputy leader of the United Front Legislative Party. I was to become deputy chief minister with the charge of general administration and the home departments including police affairs. The other CPI (M) leaders who become ministers were Harekrishna Konar (Land and Land Revenue), Niranjan Sengupta (Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation, and Prisons), Satyapriya Rai (Education), Krishnapada Ghosh (Labour), Abdullah Rasul (Transport-Home), Provas Roy (Fisheries), Krishna Chandra Haldar (Excise) and Golam Yazdani (Passport and Civil Defence-Home)
The other ministers of the United Front were Sushil Dhara, Charu Sirkar, Bhabhatosh Saren (Bangla Congress); Somnath Lahiri, Bishwanath Mukherjee, Renu Chakraborty, Abdur Rejjack Khan (CPI); Kanailal Bhattacharya, Sambhu Ghosh, Bhaktibhusan Mondal (Forward Bloc); Nani Bhattacharya, Jatin Chakraborty (RSP); Nani Bhattacharya, Jatin Chakraborty (RSP); Subodh Banerjee, Pratibha Mukherjee (SUC); Jyoti Bhattacharya (Worker’s Party); Sudin Kumar (RCPI); Deoprakash Rai (Gorkha League); Bibhuti Dasgupta (Lok Sevak Sangha); Ram Chatterjee (Forward Bloc – Marxist) and Barda Mukutmani (Bolshevik Party). On February 25, 1969, the second United Front ministry took oath. Another opportunity had arrived to carry out our programmes with greater enthusiasm.
The first priority was land reforms. Wider participation was sought to identify land, stop eviction and all units of the provincials Krishak Sabha joined in this effort. A wide movement was witnessed in the countryside revolving around the recovery of land and their distribution. During the tenure of the United Front government, eviction was almost totally stopped. But this was just a beginning and we felt optimistic despite the fact that some landowners had successfully put a spanner in our works by obtaining court orders.
The West Bengal Land Reform (Second amendment) Bill 1969 was placed in the Assembly. West Bengal was the first state where such a Bill had been introduced. It stipulated that there would be no taxes up to a ceiling of three acres of land per family. A total of 60 lakh farmer families became the beneficiaries. The loss in revenue would be made up from the taxes to be levied on landowners with more than three acres in their possession.
Lakhs of labourers had organised movements and agitations against the wrong policies and tactics of deprivation of the owners; not for once did the United Front Government send the police to break even one of their strikes. The labourers had by then won many a battle on the issues of bonus, retrenchment and wages. The spontaneity evident during the tenure of the first United Front Government had by now transformed itself into a more organised effort. A total of 2.5 lakh jute mill workers of the state had launched a sustained movement which had helped raise their wages by Rs 30 a month while similar agitations had been pursued by more than two lakh tea garden employees, 50,000 thread factory staffers and workers of small and medium industries with some success. The state government had always given a helping hand to them instead of trying to crush their movements. One of the significant steps taken during this time was the introduction and acceptance of the Trade Union (West Bengal Amendment) Bill. This Bill gave the worker the right to elect his own trade union through secret ballot which the owner had to accept as legally tenable. Unfortunately, this Bill still awaits the Presidential assent.
The state government decided that education would be free till Class Eight and that 6,000 primary schools would be opened. The government also took some steps to help the teaching community by way of new pension rules for secondary level teachers and job security for primary teachers.
While all these positive and pro-people initiatives were being taken by the government, a conspiracy was being hatched to dislodge the ministry.The first United Front Government had been dismissed without any valid reason and the people had made their verdict clear in the ensuing snap polls. The Congress now resorted to a different strategy. They were to play their game from behind the scenes and try and blunt the pro-people character of the government while not tampering with the Front constituents as such; the effort was solely to install a puppet regime of the Congress. The genesis of this conspiracy was simple; the CPI(M) would be kept out of any future government with the Congress playing kingmaker. Apart from the Congress and the Union Government, those who were to play a major part in this plot were the Leftist “opportunists’’ and some partners of the Front itself. Such a conspiracy had been witnessed earlier in Kerala. In Bengal, similar slogans and disinformation campaigns centred around the so-called “big-brotherly’’ attitude of the CPI(M) and the “misuse’’ of the administration for party gains. It was almost a reenaction of what Goebbels had done in pre-War Germany. The Bangla Congress played a leading role in this.
The plotters found an excuse in an unfortunate incident involving a soiree at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in the April of 1969. The home department was made the subject of a sustained attack, the only reason being the fact that the portfolio was held by a CPI(M) representative. Significantly, there were no reports of any atrocities on women during the fracas in the next day’s newspapers. But after a day or two, all hell broke loose and the media started front-paging imaginary stories of people being killed and how bodies of women had been floating in the Lakes. The witchhunt had begun and “news’’ about the “total breakdown’’ of law and order in the state spread like wildfire. As home minister, I ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident. On December 16 the same year, the Ghosh Commission appointed to go into the probe placed its report which categorically stated that there had been no incident of atrocities on women during the soiree incident. Journalists had also been summoned as witnesses; only the representatives of the Statesman and the Hindusthan Standard came forward. They could not cite a single case of women being put to shame on that day.
It would be pertinent to cite the example of another case which will confirm the extent to which the plotters had gone to discredit the government. On July 29, a policeman was killed in a clash with SUCI supporters at Basanti and a procession was taken out with the body two days later. Taking this as a pretext, a group of policemen, under instructions from a section of top officers, entered the lobby of the state Assembly and indulged in unheard of hooliganism. Chairs were broken, tables upturned and photographs and statues of many great men were vandalised. Slogans like, “Dismiss the Front Government’’ and “Hang Jyoti Basu’’ rent the air. In an operation which took them only five minutes, the policemen also intruded into the Assembly chamber, uprooted microphones and even manhandled some legislators and ran riot inside the Speaker’s chamber.
One of the Congress legislators, who happened to be a woman, asked them to go to my chamber and “avenge’’ the “injustice.’’ Two of her colleagues identified my room. At that time, I was in my chamber. The group of frenzied policemen tried to force themselves in, ignoring the opposition of the guards. From inside, I asked them to be allowed in: “Let us see what they want…to what extent they can go.’’ The frenzied group barged in and one of them immediately picked up a flower stand and threw it against the wall.It broke into pieces. I remained still, rooted to my chair. May be, they were sort of thrown off balance by my composure. I said,“Is this any way to show respect to the dead? What is the meaning of such hooliganism? Why have you barged inside ? What will you do if your arms are seized?…Get out of my chamber.’’ They left, taking position in the lobby.
An anti-imperialist rally was on at Esplanade in the heart of the city. As soon as news of the police hooliganism reached the venue, thousands of people started moving towards the Assembly House. At this, the policemen sensed danger and left the premises. During the next Assembly session, I announced that those officers who had fuelled the incident would be severely dealt with. I gave sack orders to 13 policemen for their two days later.
The situation was becoming uncomfortable with the two constituents_the CPI(M) and the Bangla Congress_ taking totally polar positions. This was evident in the running of the government and was reflected in the working of the ministry. A minor incident sparked a row between Ajoy Mukherjee and myself; there was no personal animosity between the chief minister and the deputy chief minister though. I, in my capacity as home minister, had ordered the transfer of the officer-in-charge of Gajol outpost in Malda district. Ajoy-babu first stalled the transfer and subsequently revoked it altogether without even consulting me. I was aghast; this was not as important a matter or issue on which the chief minister had to use his special powers to overrule that of his deputy. I wrote to the chief minister, he replied. I wrote back again, he did the same. This was strangely turning into a debate on the basic nature of the government, the coalition, respective powers and the nitty-gritty of governance!
Ajoy-babu also did something which perhaps still remains unequalled by any chief minister; he went on a hungerstrike against the “deterioration’’ of the law and order situation, calling his own government “barbaric’’ in the process! He had never raised this issue or supplied any concrete documents on the matter at Cabinet meetings, neither had he ever suggested any administrative solution to the so-called problem even as his Congress friends cried hoarse from rooftops. The immediate fallout of his fast, which he started from December 1, 1969 at the Curzon Park, was a victory for that section of the bureaucracy which was against us; flouting of orders became routine and indifference to the work culture which we were trying to establish was the order of the day. Ajoy-babu’s party colleague and one of our ministers, Sushil Dhara, took his work as chief campaigner seriously; he seemed to be giving even Goebbels a run for his money. It was becoming impossible to keep track of the stories he was spinning every day about the “non-functioning’’ of the home department.It was becoming largely apparent that our “friends’’ wanted a change in the police policy ; that the police could not be used to break democratic movements and strikes was something which they could not accept. The allegation that the police was being ineffective was serious and significant. All these years, police effectiveness meant oppressing the common man in favour of the ruling class interests and the Congress and its allies were being deeply hurt by the Front decision to do away with “effectiveness.’’ Unfortunately, the Bangla Congress was being a party to this plot but the CPI(M), with the police department under its control, was convinced that this would not be allowed to happen. The CPI(M) was the logical target.
The right-wing Communists also joined in to dislodge the government. And started saying publicly that it was quite possible to form a government without the support of the CPI(M). Behind-the-scenes activity began. We tried our best to keep the government intact and implement our pro-people policies. But the Bangla Congress working committee decided that Ajoy-babu would resign as chief minister by December 16, 1970. Our party’s state unit secretary, Pramode Dasgupta, wrote to the various constituents of the Front in which he said,
“As you are aware, we would like the United Front to stay together and continue to govern this state according to the wishes of the people. It is also necessary that the problems that keep on surfacing from time to time among the partners be sorted out across the table and to our mutual benefit.
“We condemn the move to foist a mini-Front government on this state with the direct or indirect support of the Congress. Because we believe that would be cheating the people and be an act of gross betrayal.
“The situation has become cause for concern because of the Bangla Congress decision to withdraw from the Front. We think that it is the duty of the Front constituents to sit together immediately and thrash matters out so that the interests of the people are protected.’’
Sheer arithmetic showed that the Front government could survive without the Bangla Congress; its leader Sukumar Roy wrote to the convenor of the Front decrying the activities of Ajoy-babu and Dhara and said that many Bangla Congress leaders and workers were still with the Front and wanted the government to survive. But the CPI, Forward Bloc and the SUCI had other ideas; they were dead against the CPI(M).
On March 16, Ajoy-babu resigned. In protest, the BPTUC and the July 12 Committee led many democratic and peoples’ organisations to a successful general strike the very next day. I met the Governor and requested him to allow the CPI(M), as the single largest party, to form the government on its own and that we would give proof of our strength on the floor of the Assembly. On the other hand, the Congress, Bangla Congress, CPI, Forward Bloc and SUCI met him and advised him not to give us that opportunity.
The then Governor, Santiswarup Dhawan, did exactly that and okayed President’s Rule in Bengal. President’s Rule was imposed on March 29 but the Governor did not specify anything about the dissolution of the Assembly or mid-term elections. Thus the second United Front Government came to an inglorious end by an act of treachery and betrayal after 13 months in office.
CHAPTER XXXXI: Attacked in Patna
Two days later, I was attacked; this time, with the intention to kill. This was not a stray incident though. Attacks on CPI(M) cadres and leaders were now part of a continuous process. On March 31, I had gone to Patna on party work As the train chugged into the station around 8 am, I could see thousands of men waving red flags and festoons. I was quite overjoyed with the spread of our party’s base in Bihar. I came out of the station. Suddenly, I was blinded by a flash of fire from about 10 feet to our left. Something seemed to hit my finger before darting away. Before I could realise anything, there was a cry; a man standing behind me fell, his shirt soaked with blood. The suddenness of the incident stupefied me. My stupor was broken by a terrible commotion and some people gave chase to the assailant. But by that time, he had escaped.
The victim was identified as Ali Imam. On the way to hospital, he died. I was also told that he was a party supporter and used to work in the LIC. EMS Namboodiripad had stayed in his residence only a few days back. In fact, I was also supposed to be his guest and he had come to receive me at the station. In the bargain, he had to pay a heavy price. I was slightly wounded in my finger. As news of the shooting spread, tension gripped Patna city. A rally of around 20,000 people moved towards the state Assembly and a huge rally was organised in the evening. I spoke at the rally.
Journalists In Patna asked me who I thought was responsible for the attack I told them that I did not believe that any individual was responsible and that this was just a political conspiracy. Later, I came to know that the assailant belonged to the Ananda Marg. I went to Ali Imam’s residence and called him a martyr. He had lost his wife some years back and his daughter and son now were orphans.
Somehow, the incidents that came one after another touched me deeply. My arrival, the tumultuous welcome, the attempt on my life, the killing of Ali Imam and the orphans…all of these moved me and left a lasting impression on me.
Back home in Calcutta, more news awaited me. As soon as the news of the attempt on my life had trickled in, students had come out on the streets and even the Higher Secondary examinations had been postponed in some centres. Industry had shut down and offices had become empty in the busy Dalhousie area. It was as if the city was observing a general strike. Streams of people trooped into our party office asking about my well-being. This encouraged us greatly and became a source of renewed inspiration to carry on our programme despite the ‘‘hate campaign’’ launched against us by the Congress and its cohorts. There is nothing more valuable in life than the love of the people. We are always ready to sacrifice our lives for a greater cause. When the time comes, we should not be found wanting. Our lives should not be spent idling away our time. There should not be any regrets in having led a life of disuse. That has always been my bottomline.
Pramode Dasgupta presided over a mammoth rally at the Sahid Minar on April 1. The call went out loud and clear: those who were out to destroy our democratic movement by violent means and with intentions to annihilate us would be faced with a strong challenge through the people’s platform.
In the meantime, there seemed to be no end in sight to President’s Rule. The Congress was ruling by proxy. We kept up the tempo of our movement and the general strike on March 17 showed that West Bengal was seething with anger.
CHAPTER XXXXII: The CITU is born
In this cauldron of total political chaos and restlessness were held two important conferences where the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the Students Federation of India (SFI) were born.
Though the party had split, we were still together in the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). But the Dange loyalists were out to corner the centre of power in the union and not one single nationwide strike had been called to protest the continuing attacks on the labour class. We had thought that perhaps it would be possible to work for the people and change the union’s tilt towards reactionary policies by fighting it out within by staying within the AITUC itself. But this could not happen and on the contrary, the Dange loyalists sided with the owners’ lobby to harm the interests of the workers. But the workers could not be fooled and in soon they realised that the AITUC was not the answer to their problems. A new union, the CITU, was thus the natural result and its leaders made it clear that there would be no compromise with the welfare of the labour class.
The birth of the CITU was officially announced at an all-India conference held at the Ranji Stadium ( renamed Leninnagari for the event) between May 28 and 31, 1970. Comrade B.T. Ranadive was elected as the first president and Comrade P. Ramamurthy its general secretary.
The first conference of the SFI was held in the last week of December 1970. The All India Students Federation (AISF) had fallen into the clutches of revisionists and the immediate need was to form an alternative to save the student community which was being led astray. The SFI got a final and official shape at the Kerala conference where C. Bhaskaran Nair and Biman Bose were elected president and general secretary respectively. The strength of the SFI at its birth was slightly more than 1.2 lakhs. The flag which was designed for the new outfit was white with a red star on it with the motto, “Freedom, Democracy and Socialism’’ inscribed on it.
CHAPTER XXXXIII: Terror
During 1970-71, the strength of the state police was 60,000; add to this the CRPF and other paramilitary forces, and there were around two lakh armed men waiting to “teach’’ the people a “lesson.’’ These forces fanned out in the state and committed major atrocities on the people. Even the remotest hamlet was not spared. In the months after the imposition of President’s Rule on March 20, 1970 till the end of that year, at least 150 supporters of the CPI(M) were killed by the police, paramilitary forces and Congressmen. During the subsequent five months, another 100 men fell to these goons; more than 20,000 people had been arrested and warrants were out against another lakh.
The anti-CPI(M) conspiracy which had taken roots during the regime of the second United Front Government came out in the open after its collapse and more than 30 of our comrades were killed after the general strike which was observed on March 17 after Ajoybabu resigned as Chief Minister.
Durgapur became the focal point of major attacks and more than 60,000 workers of the industrial township began an indefinite strike on August 12,1970. More than 25,000 armed personnel, including those of the CRPF, BSF and the West Bengal State Police, were brought in to break the strike. Supplies to the township were cut off and prohibitory orders were imposed. CRPF men even entered hospitals and tried to stop doctors from treating injured labourers.
Sharecroppers and farmers were also made targets and village after village became virtual camps. Villages were first encircled, the men folk were singled out and then driven away like animals. The women were left to be either gangraped or shamed in any other possible way. After these “guardians of the law’’ left, only ghost villages stood witness to the gruesome acts of terror. The tales of torture and attacks were never-ending. And they were true.
The teaching community and students were not spared either. One example will bring out the horror aptly. Forty-nine young students were rounded up in dawn raid at Beliaghata in Calcutta and four of them were shot dead in cold blood by the forces. The MISA and the PD Act were used indiscriminatingly against the teachers and students and many schools and colleges were closed indefinitely during that period for lack of proper security.
Everything was preplanned and the Congress did not stop from even using the Naxalites and the breakaway factions of the erstwhile United Front to try and annihilate the CPI(M). The Naxalites had become more and more disoriented after getting alienated from the people and were stooping to the level of attacking teachers and students in their desperation. The CPI(M) fought back against this anarchy and mindless violence. Our enemies thus made us their main target and fueled the Naxalites in their activities. On the one hand, they labelled the Naxalites as “well-intentioned, brave young men’’, and on the other, pilloried us for attacking the Naxalites. All this, when the reality was quite the opposite.
The role of some of the former partners of the United Front was shameful’; they acted at the behest of the Congress to such an extent that finally their own identities got lost somewhere down the line and they ceased to exist as political parties in their own right.
We did lose out a lot. A total of 543 leaders and workers were killed between 1969 and 1971. Seventy-nine of them died during the tenure of the second United Front Government,, 238 during the second spell of President’s Rule, 109 during the regime of the Congress-Muslim League government and 117 cadres lost their lives during the third stint of President’s Rule. Among those who became martyrs were Comrades Jiban Maity, Niresh Thakur, Santosh Bhattacharya, Ananta Datta, Amal Thakur, Snehendu Das, B.N.Prasad,A.B. Roy, Ramchandra Rai, Bibek Panja, Sukumar Bhowmik, Kali Chakraborty, Sultan Munshi and Biswanath Ghosh.
CHAPTER XXXXIV: Anarchy and The ‘71 Polls
General elections were to take place in West Bengal on March 9,1971. The air was charged with suffocating tension which was the natural result of the preceding mindless violence and loss of countless lives. The CPI(M) had demanded elections right from the time that the second Front government had collapsed. The Congress and their other cohorts had tried to stop the elections and had even attempted to postpone the Lok Sabha elections from Bengal alongwith the rest of the country when the fifth general elections had been announced. The CPI(M) had not allowed this to happen and the sustained movements and agitations that we had started in favour of elections to the state Assembly had finally borne fruit. The Congress had to willy-nilly go in for polls.
But this had not been easy. We had to face a three-pronged attack from the armed forces, the “second front’’ comprising the CPI and other former partners of the Front and last, but not the least, the wayward Leftists who had indulged in a game of terror. So even as we rejoiced at our victory after the elections were called, it was but tinged with a certain element of sadness at the loss of many of our colleagues and co-workers.
There was a major difference between the previous elections of 1969 and this time. For one, the Left had been united on the earlier occasion but this time some of our partners had either openly sided with the Congress or formed a spurious eight-party front on an anti-Congress platform with the sole intention, however, to defeat only the CPI(M). It was going to be a tough fight this time though the realisation had seeped in that the Congress had suffered a moral defeat already.
The Congress had also split into two because of infighting and the greed for power’ now we had the Congress (Organisation) and the ruling Congress. The ruling Congress was led by Mrs Indira Gandhi; she had earned some popularity after she had abolished the privy purse and nationalsed banks, not to forget the nation’s role in the freedom struggle of Bangladesh. We supported these steps on principle.But it was at this time that the dictator in her came out in the open; we could never forget that it was she, who as the then Congress president in 1957, had organised the toppling of the Communist government in Kerala. She had centralised all power and split the Congress itself. Her role during the dark days of President’s Rule in Bengal could never be forgotten.
Belying our hopes, the terror regime continued unabated-and in fact, increased- after the announcement of the elections.The Congress had been forced to call against its wishes; now it became desperate. Our election meetings were made targets of attacks and permission was withdrawn in many places when sanction had earlier been obtained.My own constituency of Baranagar was not spared; in fact, I could not even enter the area till the day of polling. Many of our supporters had to leave their homes and take shelter elsewhere. The police did not bother. Baranagar was out of bounds for any CPI(M) man. And this was not an isolated case.There were many areas where we could not even campaign and basic election activity like putting up posters had to be given the go-by. In fact, more than campaigning, our main concern was how to protect ourselves.The administration joined in this dance of death; between January 1 and March 9, 1971, more than 70 of our comrades were murdered. The government issued an order banning the entry of three CPI(M) candidates, Robin Sen, Dilip Majumder and Gokulananda Roy, from entering their respective constituencies. Another candidate, Binoy Konar, spent the entire campaign period in jail.
I was attacked again.On January 27, 1971, I was to go to Basirhat for a meeting. As our car approached Basirhat College, bombs started raining, two of them hitting the rear engine.The car got stuck and we had to take another one to reach the meeting venue. Abdullah Rasul and some other leaders had accompanied me to that meeting.
But the Congress, sensing the mood of the electorate, was getting more and more restless. In their desperation, a plot was hatched to eliminate some of our candidates and other leaders. The idea was to heap the blame on us though it was widely known that our party, as a political entity, never ever believed in the annihilation of individuals.
The respected Forward Bloc leader, Hemanta Bose, was the first victim of this conspiracy.The veteran leader was hacked to death in broad daylight on February 20 on Shyampukur Street in North Calcutta. Though the Forward Bloc was our political rival in the elections, Hemanta-babu had not uttered a word against us in the preceding two years. He was a “most suitable candidate’’ for murder given his clean image and the respect he enjoyed with everybody.He was also “ideal’’ for the disinformation campaign that had been unleashed against us.The Naxalites had already announced that they would eliminate election candidates. But the Congress, without as much as a minor excuse, started crying hoarse from rooftops that the CPI(M) was behind the murder.The ruling Congress leader, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, was in North Bengal at that time. On stepping down from the aircraft at Dum Dum airport, he announced immediately that he was in the know of things and that the CPI(M) was indeed responsible for the ghastly crime.
We were, to put it simply, stunned. We had no words to describe the cowardice and the barbaric way in which a revered leader like Hemanta Bose had been killed, not to mention the way in which the Congress was trying to pin the blame on us. In a statement, our party general secretary, Pramode Dasgupta, said, “This is not a matter that should concern any particular political party; those who have the slightest regard for democracy should do some soul-searching.Our party expresses its distress at the killing and appeals to the people to observe a general strike in protest. We demand stringent action against all those who have unleashed this wave of violence and conspiratorial killings in the state.’’ A general strike was observed in the state on February 22.
The eight-party front had also joined in the chorus led by the Congress in condemning us for the killing but at the end of the day, most of them realised that they had made a mistake.
Elections were finally held and the people came out in numbers to exercise their franchise. Ten people were killed in police firing on election day. The results started coming in. The position was thus:
Total seats: 280
Seats which went to the polls: 277
United Left Front
CPI(M) 111; RCPI 3;
Workers Party 2; Biplabi Bangla Congress 1;
Forward Bloc (Marxist) 2;
Ruling Congress 105
The eight-party front
CPI 13; Forward Bloc 3;
SUCI 7; Gorkha League 2
Total : 25
Bangla Congress 5; Muslim League 7;
Jan sangh 1; Jharkhand 2; SSP 1;
PSP 3; Congress (Organisation) 2;
Despite the reign of terror let loose against us, the CPI(M) emerged as the single largest party; no doubt we would have fared much better had it not been for the intimidation that we had had to face prior to and during the polls. Elections were not held in the constituencies of Shyampukur, Ukhra and Dum Dum where the candidates had been killed.In the elections held to the Dum Dum and Ukhra seats three months later, our candidates, Tarun Sengupta and Lakshman Bagdi, won and the total seats of the party in the Assembly went up to 113.
Baranagar, my constituency, became the focus of all attention. I was pitted against Ajoy-babu and since almost all the other partners of the United Front supported him, it boiled down to a straight contest contest between us; the chief minister of the previous two governments was fighting his own deputy. The Congress also kept an eye on this seat and there was anarchy everywhere. CPI(M) supporters were evicted from the area and many were arrested. Even then, I won by a margin of 11,053 votes. I got 43,340 while Ajoy-babu polled 32,287 votes. In a message to my electorate, I said, “The people of Baranagar have foiled the heinous plot of traitors. I salute them for electing me. Ajoy-babu’s party has been made redundant in the state. But I do not consider this as a personal victory. The struggle of the people has been vindicated.”
The cowardly killing of Hemanta-babu had also had an impact. It was obvious that the disinformation campaign against us had swayed some of the voters and as a result, a few of our seats in Calcutta did not come our way this time.
The Lok Sabha elections had also been held simultaneously with the state polls. The CPI(M) won 20 of the total 40 seats, the ruling Congress got 13 with the RSP, Muslim League, Bangla Congress and PSP getting one apiece. The Congress-supported Communists won three seats.
The CPI(M) won Darjeeling, Malda, Krishnagar, Nabadwip, Mathurappur, Diamond Harbour, Barrackpore, Howrah, Uluberia, Hooghly, Arambagh, Ghatal, Ausgram, Asansol, Bardhaman,Katwa,Birbhum,Srirampur, Bisnupur and Bolpur.
I was chosen to lead the party as well as the new Front of Left parties in the Assembly. I wrote a letter to the Governor saying, “I have been chosen leader of the newly elected legislators of the CPI(M) as well as the Left block. I hope that you will initiate discussions with me on the formation of the new ministry at the earliest.’’ Pramode Dasgupta called a press conference and made public our claim to form the government. But the Governor had other ideas. Games were being played behind the scenes whose sole objective was not to let us assume power. He wrote to me saying that he would not call me to form the government. I replied:
“I have received your reply to my letter. Your stand regarding the huge influence and base of the Congress at the national level and the emergence of the CPI(M) as the single largest party in Bengal has not surprised anybody.However, this is a dangerous trend and could prove fatal for parliamentary democracy.Your attitude will only encourage the Congressmen who are trying to come to power by any means. Your stand may also help the perpetuation and prolonging of President’s Rule in the state. You have said that it would have been possible to call the leader of the single largest party to form the government had the state not been under President’s Rule.Such a logic is childish, irrational and untimely.
You are misusing your powers as Governor.Your job is to see whether a government can be formed.The rest has to be left to the representatives of the people; you seem to be taking over that role too. In the present context, I feel that a government can be formed. The Constitution will take its own course if this government loses the people’s mandate or an alternative government cannot be formed. But it is quite useless to tell you all this because I understand that you are working under certain pressures.The people of Bengal can take care of their own rights and have been witness to the dangerous games that have been played after the polls. There is no point in talking to you now. If you do believe in democratic norms and agree to hold talks within those parameters, then I have no reason not to discuss matters with you.”
The worst which was expected to happen took place. Under pressure from the Centre, the Governor allowed a reactionary coalition government to be formed; it was headed by the leader of the five-member strong Bangla Congress leader, Ajoy Mukherjee, in a House of 280 members. Parties like the Congress, CPI and the Froward Bloc supported him in unision.
Parliamentary democracy came under a cloud after this serious deviation by the Bangla Congress, Syndicate Congress and Muslim league who had been rejected by the people. History has proved that the subsequent rise of dictatorial rule and its extreme manifestation through the imposition of Emergency had its genesis in that act of betrayal of the people by these power-brokers in Bengal. It was as if the state had become a laboratory for wrong political experiments and a killing field where democracy was the target.
Indira Gandhi and her advisors knew fully well that the people of West Bengal would not take this lying down. A blueprint was made to further corner the CPI(M) and the attacks on our supporters grew by the day. Prohibitory orders were issued throughout the state a day after the elections and no CPI(M) meeting or rally was allowed. Secret police teams were formed to eliminate our leaders. In this backdrop, our party issued a lengthy appeal on April 7,1971. The appeal read:
“The incidents that have taken place after the installation of the present government through undemocratic methods are a matter of serious concern. The people are being faced with a frontal attack.We have been disallowed from holding rallies at the Brigade Parade grounds on March 28 and at the Sahid Minar on April 11. Such bans are being enforced in the districts and block levels too.The police, accompanied by the CRPF and Armymen, are raiding houses of our comrades with flimsy pretexts. Arrest have become routine. Binoy Konar has not been released even after he was elected, the bar orders on Dilip Majumder has not yet been withdrawn and the arrest warrant on Robin Sen is still in force. The BPSF secretary, Subhas Chakraborty, has been arrested without reason. The plot is thickening.
“The killing of our veteran leader and former MLC, Santosh Bhattacharya, is not a stray incident. The police, along with antisocials and the Naxalites, are being used with the intention to eliminate our leaders.The new ministry, at its very first meeting, has issued orders that `normal’ law and order situation must be restored at any cost.
“The ruling Congress is indulging in a diabolic game to perpetuate its regime. The Centre is helping it in every respect. They are bent on tarnishing democracy with blood. We appeal to all the democratic-minded people and the toiling classes to take up this challenge and face the onslaught to force the government to withdraw its black laws and foil its plot.
“We have always said that we are against killing of individuals.But the disinformation campaign has carried on unabated. We have been blamed for the murders of Hemanta Bose and Nepal Roy as well as the killings of the candidates in Dum Dum and Ukhra. This sustained campaign is only meant to perpetuate the terror regime and lower our prestige and image in the eyes of the people. But we believe that the people of West Bengal cannot be swayed by such propaganda. We hope that they will stand by us and foil the attempts to spread the culture of murders.’’
The people believed us and in its desperation, the Congress stooped even lower; this time, their tried to give a sort of government approval to their plot. A “secret’’ note was passed on from the detective department in Delhi to its Bengal counterpart which spoke of a conspiracy by the CPI(M) to hire mercenaries to eliminate political opponents. To give it an air of authenticity, some names were also mentioned in the note.
After we came to know of this note, I wrote an official protest letter to the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. It said,
“Such tactics have not paid any dividends before and they will not succeed this time also. They may vitiate the atmosphere temporarily but in the end such morally bankrupt politics can only be consigned to the dustbin of history. I expect and request you to go into the conspiracy being hatched against us and hope that the basic tenets of democracy are not given the go-by even in the political fight against your opponents.’’
I made out a press statement also. The report had named the Calcutta district leader, Rajdeo Goala, and 24 Paraganas leader, Lakshman Bhattacharya, as the conspirators in the killings of individuals. The CPI(M) had not cowed down in the face of such attacks and the people had always stood by us. The “secret’’ report was a desperate attempt by the Congress to finish us.
In the meantime, our state party secretariat member, Benoy Choudhury, was arrested. After being harassed through the day and into the late hours, he was released. On the other hand, Ajoy Mukherjee and his rag-tag coalition was drifting away from the Congress. The Congress, always eager to grab and enjoy sole power, was getting impatient of the government and started its typical machinations to pull the rug from under Ajoy-babu’s feet. Infighting started among the coalition partners and the Congress was convinced that the Government would be reduced to a minority during the Budget session. The rulers could not “buy’’ MLAs and all their efforts to muster a majority failed. Fearing that the Opposition would be asked to form the government in case it was defeated on the floor of the House, the government immediately recommended a dissolution of the Assembly. And the Governor, without scant regard for any democratic norm, did just that deep into the night of June 25. It was President’s Rule again Bengal.
During the regime of the coalition government, the CPI(M) had lost 101 comrades, among them Comrade Shivshanker Choudhury of Bardhaman district and veteran leader of the teaching community, Santosh Bhattacharya.
The Delhi throne, however, did not have full trust in Dhawan and instead sent a Congressman to “oversee’’ the situation during President’s Rule In Bengal. Union education minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray got additional charge of West Bengal without any portfolio. By that time, Ray had become adept in the art of political manoeuvring, opportunism and had cultivated the usual Congress syndrome of an unsatiable lust for power. Perhaps that was one reason why he was handpicked for the job by Mrs Gandhi; in trying to please his boss, Ray initiated one of the darkest periods of the political history of Bengal.
Ray posed as if he was honestly inclined to stop the era of violence in the state.To this end, he even called an all-party meeting to discuss ways and means of solving the problem. But we had no doubt about his real intentions; he had been sent to usher in the Congress by the backdoor. However, we decided to participate in the meeting all the same.
The meeting was held on July 7 and Harekrishna Konar and I, as representatives of the CPI(M), submitted a memorandum. At the cost of sounding repetitive, I shall extract parts of the memorandum.
It said,“Our party feels that soon after the fall of the United front Government in 1970, some changes were made in the administration with much fanfare on the advice of the Centre and the Congress party in Bengal.The sole intention was to strengthen the forces against the CPI(M) and other democratic parties. Insult after insult were heaped upon the CPI(M) and the real culprits were provided shelter. The government administration was given a free hand to indulge in violence openly. The stand of our party regarding these developments is wellknown. We believe that the ruling party, desperate in its attempts to crush our democratic movement, has unleashed this strategy of mindless violence. Your party has been unable to face the challenges of the immediate political scenario and has even given the police and other armed forces the green signal to provide help to the Naxalites, who are avowed votaries of individual annihilation. When the people have tried to protest such activity, then the police has also come forward to help the Naxalites. The administration has even remained totally indifferent to the killings of more than a hundred innocent policemen belonging to the lower ranks. It will not be wrong to assume that a section of policemen is also involved in this conspiracy to rattle those among them who are trying to build a democratic movement. Nobody can deny the fact that after the fall of the United Front, the cases of individual killings have been rising significantly. Unfortunately, killings did take place during the regime of the United Front Government too but they pertained to clashes related mainly to land rights and were fallout of the peoples’ movements. The party’s main concern is to safeguard our physical welfare and this is hampering our political struggle. You must remember and appreciate under what circumstances you have called this all-party meeting.
“Do you expect us to believe that you have called this meeting to punish the very same people that your administration and the police force have protected all months? We cannot but remember the way you and your party put up a smokescreen to shield the real killers of Hemanta Bose. What happened to that investigation? Tarun Kanti Ghosh and you have achieved what the police sniffer dogs could not. Do you have an answer as to why a police officer, within hours of the crime, told newsmen that the CPI(M) had committed the murder? And who killed Congressman Nepal Roy ? Who attacked Justice T.P. Mukherjee who was investigating the murder of eight youths in Barasat?Who killed Ajit Biswas and Justice K.L. Roy? Will you go into the numerous incidents when Congressmen had provided shelter to Naxalites? Have you ever wondered as to how the police have turned a blind eye to the arson, looting and murders that have been committed throughout the state? Isn’t it a fact that Congress ministers and other representatives of the Union Government have put the fear of the lord in the minds of honest policemen? Are you aware that the officer-in-charge of the Jorabagan police station and the Deputy Commissioner (north) have murder cases against them but are moving around freely with the blessings of your party leaders? The city is under police raj; in one single incident on May 29 in Netaji Colony, five people were killed. We do also remember that on June 1, even as the people of Calcutta and its suburbs were observing a strike against such atrocities, you yourself addressed a gathering where you warned us of violent retaliation and sympathised with the Naxalites? On May 22, four employees were gunned down by policemen led by the officer in charge of the Noapara police station ; their only crime had been that they had the guts to protest against the murder of one of their colleagues by antisocials. No probe has yet been ordered despite such assurances in the Lok Sabha. Thus we cannot be but wary of your intentions in calling this meeting.Your impartiality is under a cloud.
“In Bardhaman district alone, 13 of our party comrades have been killed. The administration has been reshuffled to facilitate such incidents. We must not forget that the Congress lost miserably in this district. All the assailants are wellknown in the area and the violence has always been perpetrated in broad daylight with witnesses. The police is aware of their hideouts but even then not a single killer has been put behind bars yet. More than six people have died in the hands of the CRPF and the police in Durgapur but yet again, none of the killers have been arrested.Your party organised a counter to the lawful strike by labourers in Durgapur, the likes of which have not been witnessed in any industrial township of this country. Only a few days back, the thugs of your party killed Comrade Mahadev Banerjee shortly after he alighted late at night from a train at Kalna station. No arrests have been made in this case yet. Armed hooligans of your party raid villages during the silence of the nights, but your police goes ahead and arrests innocents. However, we are not into this list your black acts. We are only trying to highlight the fact that it is your party which is responsible for this sad state of affairs in the state.
“The killings of individuals is but only a part of the problem. We would like to know how you would qualify those who, posing as Congress students and raising your party flags and festoons, routinely intimidate government employees inside Writers Buildings.How can you possibly inculcate a sense of fairness and respect for democratic functioning when a coalition government, instead of inserting advertisements and holding interviews, doles out jobs to only your party workers? How do you expect to bring the police closer to the people when all they do is to heap atrocity upon atrocity on the unsuspecting public?
“This list could have been endless. Your party has not stopped at anything. It has used its powers to dislodge a government and not allow the opposition party to form another. It is obvious that your party is willing to go by the norms of democratic functioning only as long that suit your purpose; once it ceases to be so, there is no hesitation in throwing it out of the window. And, after all this, we have to take it that you are a believer in democracy!
“But your plan has sometimes boomeranged and antisocials whom you have used for your dishonest ends have not balked at killing your men. We all stand to gain if we learn from history. In the latter half of the 19th century, terrorists were used in Paris against the socialists. After some time, these terrorists turned against the ruling class itself. So this is not a new experience. Your people are being sacrificed at your own altar of violence.We feel sorry for the victims. But the government has been a failure in educating itself from history.There is a tendency to institutionalise violence. All because of political expediency.
“You have mentioned the need to discuss the development programmes in the state. But how can such efforts ever be concretised given your history of appeasement of the landed class? How can any changes be effected if there is no fresh look at the relations between the Centre and the state and there are no fundamental alterations in the Constitution? Such important matters need time to discuss and cannot be done in a hurried, unplanned fashion. All your grand talk is meant to confuse the people and an exercise to refurbish you sagging image.
“However, despite our reservations, we shall participate in the meeting. Crying from rooftops about democracy does not necessarily make a party democratic; it is your activities which matter. We are participating because we need an answer as to what you are planning to do to bring back a sense of confidence among the people. We must state categorically that we believe that nothing can be achieved if the police raj continues and the rights of the people continue to be usurped. The Congress, if for nothing else, then at least for the sake of its own existence, has to change its policies.’’
CHAPTER XXXXV: Attack on Govt Staff
There were dark days ahead for government employees as their democratic movements became the target of attacks by the newly-appointed Governor A.L. Dias who acted on the advice of the Congress.Thirteen top leaders of the movement, including Arabinda Ghosh, Ajoy Mukherjee, Sukomal Sen, Bhabatosh, Naren Gupta, Rajendra Bhattacharya and Chunilal Dasgupta were sacked by using Section 311 (2) of the Constitution in September 1971 without any valid reason being given.The extent to which the Governor was willing to go in his authoritarian regime was evident by the language of the letter which was handed over to the sacked employees. It read, “Since the Governor is satisfied that you are not competent enough to work and since he is also sure that there is no need to probe the charges brought against you under Section 311 (2), your services stand terminated with immediate effect.’’ The Governor came down heavily on the agitating government employees as the regime had understood by then that the democratic movements could not be crushed by force and terror tactics of the Congress and its allies.
In a statement, I said that that the government had waged a war against its employees and that this was a dead giveaway of the fact that it had become increasingly isolated.On signals from the Delhi power centre, the Governor is using semi-fascist methods to finish off lawful trade union and other democratic movements.The need of the hour, I stressed, was a sustained and powerful agaitation against such tactics.
Government employees throughout the state gave vent to their anger and indefinite stoppage of work resulted right from Writers Buildings down to the block level. A successful general strike was observed on October 13.
But the Governor was not interested. Instead of softening his stand, he came down even more heavily on the employees.On October 5, 32 defence employees were sacked by using Section 310 (1) and CRPF personnel were given the responsibility of ensuring that no trouble took place when the sack letters were delivered at the Ichhapur, Dum Dum and Kashipur factories and the retrenched employees thrown out of the factory premises.Our party secretary, Pramode Dasgupta, while condemning the sackings, said that this was the “result of a deeprooted conspiracy against the state government employees.’’
During the general strike, four persons, including two farmers, were killed in the joint assault on us by Congress supporters as well as the police.At least 250 of our supporters were arrested and shanty areas of Dum Dum owing allegiance to us became the victims of arson. But despite the attacks and widespread incidents of violence against us, the strike was significant as it served to expose the character of the Congress and once again proved that the democratic-minded people of the people could not be cowed down by sheer terror.
I remember the mass killing at Kashipur in August 1971.The genesis of the incident lay in the killing of a Congress supporter by Naxalites; in an act of unprecedented vengeance, Congressmen, with total support from the police, launched a gory assault on the area for a full 24 hours. There were 40 deaths and the cases of arson went uncounted. This was another example of how far the Congress and its regime could go to perpetuate its rule.
Demands for elections were gathering momentum.Harkishen Singh Surjeet and I, on behalf of the party Politburo, met Mrs Indira Gandhi and asked for elections in the state by February 1972. But she remained totally indifferent to our demands and did not even react to the allegations of terror in Bengal.
CHAPTER XXXXVI: The Rigging Farce Of ‘72
But she was forced to call elections anyway. The date set was March 11, 1972. On January 31, we met the Prime Minister again. I represented the CPI(M) while Sudin Kumar went on behalf of the CPI, Ram Chatterjee for the Forward Bloc (Marxist) and Tridib Choudhury represented the RSP.MPs like Saroj Mukherjee, Samar Mukherjee, Bijoy Modak, Shyamaprasanna Bhattacharya, Dinen Bhattacharya, Ajit Saha, Mohd Ismail, Madurya Haldar, Niren Ghosh, Suhrid Mullick Choudhury and Arun Prakash Chatterjee also came along. We presented a memorandum to the Prime Minister detailing the atrocities in Bengal while stressing the need for a free and fair election. But Mrs Gandhi simply brushed aside all charges against her party and without even going into the merits of the allegations, said that she was anyway expecting such accusations from us. I then told her in plain terms that we had come in a deputation to the Prime Minister of a country and not to the leader of a political party. She countered by saying that it was the Leftists who were fomenting trouble in the state. But she kept quiet when we asked her to substantiate her charges.
Our 11-point memorandum was as follows: 1)The administration should be impartial and not show any favours towards the Congress;
2)Steps should be taken to rehabilitate those who had fled from their homes in the step;
3)All political parties should be allowed to hold rallies and meetings and polling agents should not be barred from election booths;
4)The voters should be allowed to exercise their franchise freely and steps should betaken to ensure that ballot papers are not snatched from polling officers at gunpoint;
5)Elections workers should not be arrested till the polling process is completed;
6)All political detenus held without trial should be released for them to participate in the elections. All fabricated cases should be withdrawn;
7)At least 30 constituencies, where the Left is strong, have been targetted by the Congress antisocials. The supporters of the Left should be allowed to move around freely in these areas;
8)The CRPF has to be withdrawn and the police should be told to work within certain parameters. Prohibitory orders should also be withdrawn;
1. 9)The “defence forces’’ made up of antisocials and Naxalites at a monthly “wage’’ of Rs 105 should be disbanded immediately;
2. 10) All those government employees who have been retrenched should be given back their jobs immediately and;
3. 11) Deterrent action should be taken against those officers who have launched a smear campaign against the anti-Congress parties.
But the Prime Minister did not pay any heed to this memorandum.
After going through the intelligence reports from Delhi, the Congress was convinced that it had no chance whatsoever in Bengal despite the tactics it had adopted. But its leaders could not accept this and thus was born one of the worst plots to defeat a legitimate demand of the people. We got wind of the conspiracy but we had zeroed in on 34 constituencies which were known as strongholds of the CPI(M) and its allies.Our candidate, Prasanta Sur, was shot at during campaigning in his constituency of Tollygunge. The target missed but one of our supporters were killed in the shootout. In Sonarpur, our candidate, Gangadhar Naskar, was also attacked but he escaped with injuries.The CITU state secretary and MP, Mohd Ismail, was attacked with bombs and another trade union leader, Haridas Malakar, was abducted and was fortunately rescued later.Binoy Konar and Dilip Dubey continued to stay in jail and could not take part in the election process.
The story in Baranagar, my constituency, was the same. Thirty four partymen had been killed, more than 150 supporters had been injured and scores were in jails with more to follow.At least 1,000 families had been uprooted. Of the 1.14 lakh voters in the constituency, we could not reach around half of the electorate.
Twelve CPI(M) supporters were dragged out and killed by the Congress-police combine only six days before the elections. Of these, the bodies of seven were buried secretly under the Baghjola canal. Fifty men were untraced.Even sick women were not spared from the atrocities.
After repeated requests, the chief election commissioner, Mr Sen Barma, deigned to visit some of the trouble spots. On one of his visits, he was accosted by a group of Congressmen, armed to the teeth. Straddling a railway track at the Miabagan area of Beliaghata, they warned him to go any further. The police requested the election offical to return; they even said that if he wished to go in, then they would not be held responsible for any physical harm to him. Our candidate in the constituency, Mr Krishnapada Ghosh, asked how the Election Commission expected the Leftist supporters to work in this atmosphere when even the chief election commissioner was not being allowed to move around freely. Such incidents occurred elsewhere too but Mr Sen Barma, in his wisdom, gave a clean chit to the administration and said that the situation was conducive to peaceful polling. This gave the Congress even greater reason to indulge in its wanton acts in destroying the democratic process and subvert the law for election gains. The atrocities continued with renewed vigour.This was a war against the electorate.The press was behind the Congress even as our party offices in the state were being razed to the ground and our men attacked.The police role was the worst; not only did they stand mute witness to the gory tale of horror, they actually joined in the violence and actively helped the Congress workers.
I met the Governor a few days before the elections and asked him whether the state would witness a free and fair elections. The indifferent Governor replied equally indifferently that he would ensure that.Let alone the Governor, even the Prime Minister was kept informed of every case of atrocity but matters became grave as the elections approached. Congress hoodlums selectively went to the houses of our supporters and warned them not to vote for the Left candidates. There were more than 600 CPI(M) men killed during the run-up to the elections, houses were torched and our election offices attacked. But thepeople were given to understand that everything was “normal’’.
We were aware that despite such atrocities, we would be able to increase our vote bank if free elections were allowed. But we were wary of that and had this sinking feeling that the Congress would be up to some mischief on polling day itself.That we were right about our apprehensions became crystal clear later on.March 11,1972 will go down in the history of our democracy as a very black day indeed.Nine of our party supporters were killed by Congressmen on election day itself. This stinging slap on the face of democracy was dealt by no less a person than the union minister in charge of the state,Mr S.S.Ray, himself. It is a fact that we had been unable to gauge the extent to which the Congress would go in its efforts to grab power at any cost. We had expected that the people would at least be allowed to vote and that the administration would take at least a seemingly impartial stand. But S.S.Ray and his men were not even thinking on those lines; in one act of power-hungry desperation, the Congress exposed itself as it had never ever before. This was all-out war and the adversary was the basic fundamental tenets of democracy. The people had finally been shown the true colours of the Congress and the CPI whose “combined operation’’ left nothing for the imagination. But there was a well-planned strategy. There was nothing sudden about what happened to democracy in West Bengal on that day.
The first step in this plan was to create an atmosphere of terror and prevent any type of potential opposition to such activities. The second stage was set for polling day itself. The Army was sent out in areas with Leftist influence and the spate of killings and political murders was unabated. Congressmen patrolled the streets in government jeeps and there was open flaunting of the fact that the administration was fully behind the Congress-CPI nexus. Paradoxically, in some places, known Congress voters were disallowed from voting since the mood had turned against the party. Things had reached such a pass.
Ballot boxes were broken open after polling and papers marked in favour of the Left candidates were either thrown away or made invalid by multiple stampings. In many polling booths, ballot papers lay strewn on the floors as mute testimony to the vandalism that had been acted out in the name of voting.
There were numerous occasions in which ballots papers, previously marked in favour of the Congress candidates, were taken in boxes to counting centres and the valid papers substituted with them.
They played havoc in my centre of Baranagar. Our polling agents were driven away from more than 100 booths of the total 135. Ballot boxes were snatched away from the presiding officers and votes were cast in favour of the CPI candidate; they were not in one and twos but in hundreds. When I reached my constituency, I saw that polling had been complete before it was even 11 am.Around 11.30 am, I wrote to the returning officer and said that free elections could not have been possible in such a situation.There was total pandemonium and the police actually helped in the process of our rivals stamping in favour of their candidate in front of the polling officers themselves. I demanded that the elections in Baranagar be postponed immediately. I made all my complaints in writing since I could not reach any officer holding any responsible position over the phone. I then went to the party office. There I was told of the widespread rigging throughout the state. By the afternoon, we were told that 32,000 voters at Manicktala, 25,000 at Entally and 50,000 at Tollygunge had not been allowed to vote.By the evening, the farce that had been conducted in the name of elections in West Bengal was public knowledge.
Our party state secretary, Pramode Dasgupta, sent an urgent message to the Election Commissioner in Delhi regarding the news in the 18 seats about which we had been informed by the early evening.By 8 pm, it was apparent that the Congress and the CPI had totally rigged the elections in more than 30 Assembly constituencies.For the next 48 hours, the news was only of repeat value; it was the same story everywhere. Out of the 280 seats, no elections had actually been held at all in 51 constituencies while another 200 had seen unmatched rigging.
After this, we were convinced that the same drama would be enacted during the counting too; we were right on target.On March 13, when the results started coming out, it was obvious that the Congress and its allies were not taking even half a chance. Almost all dishonest means were employed; ballot boxes without valid seals were opened, valid vote papers torn and even those from other constituencies were brought in to complete the crime. Some returning officers refused to be cowed down; but finally, the muzzle of the gun had its say.In some cases, bundles of ballot papers stamped in favour of the Left candidates were enclosed with those of the Congress and CPI candidates and passed off as the truth.In other cases, when it was seen that after the first round of counting, the Left candidates were ahead, the counting process was adjourned immediately, the returning officers hounded out and announcements were made after a while that the Congress candidates were winning at the end of the second round! Where Left candidates had won after counting had been over, the final version was quite different…Such was what happened in that eventful farce of an election under the proxy regime of S.S. Ray.
On the evening of March 13, we decided that there was simply no point in sending our election agents to the counting stations.Our allies also took the same decision.
I must mention one letter in this context. This letter, addressed to me from a resident of Sealdah, said, ‘Though I work for the Congress, I am writing this because I respect you. It remains a fact that we were paid handsomely for our activities. But we did not have the slightest notion that this would turn out to be so unfortunate for you. They forced me to drink and even used hundreds of hoodlums.We had been ordered not to allow any CPI(M) supporter to vote.And also that at least 70 per cent of the voting should be in place by the previous night itself. We were told that there was no need to be afraid since the CRPF would be with us. They would side with us in case of any problems.’’
On March 18, our front decided to boycott the Assembly altogether. A joint statement went out which was signed by me for the CPI(M), Makhan Pal and Jatin Chakraborty (RSP), Ashoke Ghosh (Forward Bloc), Sudin Kumar (RCPI), Nihar Mukherjee (SUCI), Jyoti Bhattacharya (Workers Party), Suhrid Mullick Choudhury (Forward Bloc-Marxist) and Nirmalendu Mukherjee ( Biplabi Bangla Congress). It said, “We have already made public our stand regarding this elections. This has been a farce of an election.We have concrete proof of the nexus among the police, administration and the Congress.
“Not stopping at constituting an Assembly through such devious methods, the rulers are now bent on attacking the student community and labourers and driving them away from their places of work and homes.There is an overt move to suppress any signs of protest.
“Under such circumstances, we have no alternative but to boycott this Assembly.We appeal to the people to realise the gravity of the situation and rise in protest.’’
The CPI(M) also made a public statement on similar lines. It said in parts, “The people of West Bengal are now faced with a more severe test.We had expected that at least the basic norms of electoral politics would be followed. But the Congress, in its desperation to convert a certain defeat into a forced victory has now destroyed democracy altogether.
“…But the enemies of the people realise that such terror cannot be perpetuated and that even if that means the ultimate sacrifice, the people will rise against such tactics.There is another major attempt to foment trouble within the minority community.A disinformation campaign is also on.It is being said that we were behind the murder of Hemanta Bose.There is every likelihood of such campaigns being given a boost.All these are but steps to give this state a Fascist regime.
“…Friends, you have to now translate your silent hatred into angry protests. You will have to reorganise your forces. Do not surrender to these enemies but keep cool and fortify yourselves with cold logic. We know this is a tough job.However extreme the danger may be, please remember that our party is with the people of West Bengal. In fact, the CPI(M) is being made the major target though attacks are being made on all true Left parties. But we are of a different mettle.Nobody has been able to or ever will be move us away from our avowed goal. We demand the annulment of these elections, an end to the Fascist attacks on the people and appeal for the unity of the people against our enemies.’’
There was another interesting aspect to these elections; the anti-Congress bourgeoise press throughout the country remained totally indifferent to the farce that had been enacted. Only the Economic Times headlined a report saying, “Hooligans captured the booths’’ though the concerned reporter was transferred after his report was published. But history did not forgive these betrayers. And the people of this land and its politics had to pay a price too. Indira Gandhi’s subsequent authoritarian attitude was fuelled by her success in Bengal; in fact, the much-hated Emergency was to be imposed on the country only three years later. But have the people actually taken a lesson from that act of history?
I met Jaiprakash Narain in Calcutta a few days after the elections. He had a lot of friends and relatives in Calcutta. He was highly agitated after the news of the farcical elections were broken to him.He met us on his own initiative. I had a personal rapport with him. He suggested that we form a commission to go into the rigging. We said that it would be a good idea and that we would supply all the evidence to nail the Congress and its allies. Siddhartha Shankar Ray thundered that he would not allow such a commission to be set up. I told Jaiprakash Narain that this was only to be expected and that he should go ahead with the commission. But he failed since the state government did not allow it to function.
Village after village was starving.Hunger deaths were routine.Land reforms had gone for a six.Prices were soaring and there were no concrete steps being taken by the state government which could not say anything against the policies of the Centre which was headed by a government of its own party.Even the bourgeoisie press, which had played a shameful role in supporting the Congress during the elections, could not keep quiet any longer. Photographs of dead bodies lying on pavements hit the front pages; reports of strange diseases – the product of people eating anything and everything that came their way-also surfaced. Begging bowls were out on the streets of Calcutta as never before. The state government continued to remain indifferent to our petitions and pleas.
In a letter to the state chief minister on October 10,1973, Pramode Dasgupta explained the reasons for the food crisis and said that there had never been such a precedent and that the government indifference was to be blamed fully for this catastrophic turn of matters. He said, “The curtailed ration quota will have to be restored.; regular distribution of foodstuff through the MRSP in the rural areas would have to be ensured; at least 20 per cent of the village population would have to be brought under the GRA; and commodities like mustard oil, kerosene, coal, sugar, cloth and daal would have to be sold at prices exisitng in 1969.’’
The deputy leader of the CPI(M) in Parliament, Samar Mukherjee, met the Prime Minister in Delhi but there was no noticeable changes in the Government’s policies and the people continued to suffer and grovel under the ordeal.
In one of his first policy decisions, chief minister Ray dissolved all the elected municipalities, including the Calcutta Corporation, and the terror regime was more than institutionalised.Thousands of CPI(M) workers were driven away from their homes.It was as if an Emergency had been declared. Tactics were changed but the endgame was the same; we suffered and continued to suffer.We could not even exercise our basic rights as an opposition party.The help of the RAW was taken to put us on hold.The Congress rulers had by then realised that the Naxalites were no longer proving to be a successful and efficient weapon to finish us off; so they fell victims of the terror too. Though we were not the best of friends, even then we protested against the attacks on the Naxalites. The entire administration was arraigned against the Naxalites and us.
One police officer _if memory serves, he was the superintendent of Bardhaman _had singlehandedly engineered the murder of 250 Leftists. Not one of these killings were probed and in fact, this officer was conferred a medal on the chief minister’s recommendations at a function in Delhi.It was getting increasingly difficult to even hold meetings. I was going for a meeting to Malda. Congress hoodlums stopped us midway and the police categorically said that they would not and could not do anything to stop “them.’’ However, that particular meeting did finally pass off without a hitch but there was a tangible sense of suspense and potential threat around us. This was but routine.
We sent a documented complaint to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva to protest this total disregard for the working classes.Till the December of 1972 since they took over earlier in the year, the Congress and its band of goons had burnt down or forcibly taken over 360 trade union offices; this pertained to only the districts of Calcutta, Nadia and Bardhaman. The extensive tea gardens of North Bengal and the industrial belts of Howrah and Hooghly were kept out of the purview of the count. In the three years which saw the ouster of the second United Front Government in March 1970 to March 1973, more than 785 trade union leaders and workers of the people’s movement had been killed. The Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO met and discussed our complaint with the Indian Government. The organisation expressed its grave concern over the situation in Bengal. The Committee, in its report published on February 19,1973, said,“The Committee feels that the attacks on the trade unionists and workers have not only been limited to just that; there has been an attempt to hit at the movement itself.From the complaints, it is apparent that while the government has been aware of the attacks on the trade unions affiliated to the CITU, it has not taken proper steps to avoid them.”
During those days of when democracy was being sacrificed at the altar of violence and power, yet another farcical event took place; the Congress held an “anti-Fascist rally’’ in Patna! Obviously, when attackers turn defenders, there has to be some motive. Here, the Congress’ chief intention was to oppose and build up some sort of a movement against the rising influence of Jaiprakash Narain.
We were soon to witness the historic nationwide railway strike. More than 20 lakh railway workers began an indefinite strike on May 8,1974 to protest the Government’s attitude and ignored all the warnings of the authorities.The NCCRS called the strike to demand industry status for the railways, legitimate DA and bonus, an end to the system of engaging casual workers and a maximum eight-hour time frame of work.The Government could have avoided this strike since it had senses the mood of the railway workers and had been cautioned many a times by MPs both in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha who had advised that discussions should be held forthwith.Only six months earlier, a “strike ballot’’ had shown that unless the grievances were met, then 93 per cent of the workers were willing to go on strike.But the Government was for a confrontation; the strike thus became inevitable. Almost 6,000 striking were held before the nation’s wheels on the train tracks came to a grinding halt. A no-confidence motion was brought against the Mrs Gandhi government. The general strike called in support of the railway workers throughout the nation on May 15 was a grand success. But the Congress did not take all this as a signal but increased the pressure on the people. There were firings in many places while sackings and suspensions continued. More than 50,000 railway workers were arrested, 20,000 sacked while at least another 40,000 were rendered homeless.But even then, the unity of the strikers remained. While the demands were not met after 20 days of the strike, treachery again came to the rescue of the Congress and the agitation was withdrawn. The deputy leader of the CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha, Samar Mukherjee, said in a statement that there was “ample scope to continue with the strike’’ and that the Government would have been forced to come to the negotiating table had it gone on.
The railway strike had not only been unprecedented in the annals of trade union activity in terms of its duration but it also proved once again that if the people stood united, then the powers of the government and the ruling classes usually came to a naught and made them more desperate.
The strike, even though it did not bear fruit as far as the acceptance of demands were concerned, left a deep impression on the nation’s psyche and provided us with fresh inspiration.This was reflected in the momentum which was spontaneously gathered by Jai Prakash Narain’s movement in Bihar and other places.