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MEMORIES: The Ones That Have Lasted
Translated from original Bengali ‘Jatadur Mone pore’
By senior journalist, Abhijit Dasgupta
There have books and books on Jyoti Basu, Five decades in active politics, longest serving Chief Minister of the world. It is not a small span of life. The first autobiography ‘Janaganer Sange‘ (With the People) was published in two volumes spanning a great part of his carrier. A more intimate ‘Jatadur Mone pore‘ was published this year. Both have been in Bengali. There has been an ‘authorised biography’ in English, but this is the first time his personal Autobiography is being published on-line in English (Upto 1972)
PUBLISHED IN: www.ganashakti.com from 16th November 1998 to October 1999.
WEBBOOK FORMAT CREATED BY
ON 05.07.08, Calcutta.
MEMORIES: The Ones That Have Lasted
(A political autobiography)
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
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.
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.
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.