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.

 

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One response to “CHAPTER VI: In The Legislative Assembly

  1. This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

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