Looking Back

Irresponsible Death of an Activist


[The immediate impetus to this translation is Biswajit Roy's reflections on Gautam Navlakha's book published in Frontier, Autumn Number 2013. In his review article, Biswajit, while glorifying the role of K Balagopal, compared with the allegedly 'half-hearted and inconsistent critique' of Gautam Navlakha, lamented: "Unfortunately, the Human Rights (HR) movement has become poorer by his untimely demise'. He eulogized Balagopal as one of the 'two finest minds and courageous leading lights of human rights movement in the country.' Biswajit also referred to the 'honesty' of Balagopal with regard to the question of political violence. After reading Biswajit's ingenuous tribute to Balagopal, I thought of translating a critical tribute to Balagopal by a Telugu writer who had also written (in the past in Frontier) on such issues as state violence vs political violence, the role of the Civil Rights movement and the Human Rights movement, the talks between the Maoist party and the State, etc.
The Telugu original of this essay had appeared in Andhra Prabha daily in September 2009, a week after the death of Balagopal. This article was also included in Ranganayakamma's essay collection titled, If we do not know Marxism, we remain as we were born (2010). The volume since then underwent two reprints. There is literary evidence by way of bibliographical references to each and every comment which Ranganayakamma made in this article. Due to space constraints, the translator has not provided all those references.]

While Rajasekhara Reddy's death is a loss to bourgeoisie, the death of Balagopal is a loss to common man!

There are and will always be many intellectuals and political parties to serve the bourgeoisie. But there won't be that many individuals who work for social reforms in the interest of people. We may find one odd person here and another there. In the reformist movement of Rights, Balagopal had been there.

There had been instances where people told me that as a lawyer, Balagopal used to charge bare minimum towards court expenses or even advocate's fee.

The way Balagopal used to respond against violations of rights used to give solace to those who sought rights.

The reason for the death of Rajasekhara Reddy which caused loss to the bourgeoisie was either his arrogance to fly in terrible weather against incessant rain and gusty winds or his ignorance of the forces of nature. Similarly, the reason for Balagopal's death was Balagopal himself. The reason for the sudden death of Balagopal was the lack of common sense that one must have a body to participate in or lead any movement, that the body should follow certain rules of health or else it would turn useless if neglected.

The newspapers and TV channels gave us the news of his death but not the conditions that led to his death. Some said he took pain killers, others said he had an injury to his leg. Some said he had a heart attack, others said he was suffering from an ulcer in the stomach. Yet no attempts at medical treatment till the last minute.

The body does not know what is happening inside it. The dcctors alone would know about it. One has to understand the laws of nature and act accordingly. But, this has not happened in the case of Balagopal. Different people are giving different versions of what had happened on that day. Some said Balagopal has even gone to the court that day. Some said he was feeling unwell throughout the day. Yet, he left for the hospital around 9 in the night when someone insisted. When he left his flat, did he get into the lift on his own? Did he sit in the auto on his own? Did he walk into the hospital? Some said he went in an auto rickshaw and others said he himself rode the scooter to the hospital. Which means none knew the actual details. No proper information in any of the newspapers.

One doctor reported on a TV channel that he found no pulse when the patient reached the hospital. How come there was no pulse if that patient rode the scooter himself and reached the hospital? According to another report, the doctors at the first hospital had advised that the patient should be taken to 'CARE' hospital! According to yet another report, they called 108-ambulance but it did not reach early enough. Why should they wait for 108-van? Doesn't the hospital own a van? Won't the hospital have an ambulance? Don't his neighbors have cars? Can't they get a taxi? The last report was he had passed away on his way to CARE hospital. No authentic details in any of the reports!

That night, we were up reading till 12 midnight. One of our fiimily members switched on the TV for news before going to sleep and heard the following news item: 'Balagopal has passed away'. All of us watched the news item with surprise for about two hours. The TV channels repeatedly announced: 'Balagopal has passed away'. They were showing pictures of Balagopal sleeping calmly on the bed. They were showing the people, who gathered around there. They were also showing repeatedly a picture of Balagopal speaking in some meeting in the past. Despite all that we were unable to believe the news. What had happened? Did he not get proper treatment? How did it happen so suddenly to a person who was healthy? We felt as if he might recover if only he received proper treatment even then. Yet we were compelled to believe the news. We called up all those whom we remembered at that time. They woke up from their sleep and were equally surprised. What is this? Why has it happened so? We waited for more news in the newspapers next morning.

Several years ago in the past, I wrote two books (1989, 1999) and one essay (1993) criticizing Balagopal. That was the time during which he wrote haphazard articles on Marxism without understanding it properly. I don't know if there was any reference to Marxism in his writings of the subsequent period. Later on, books dealing with human rights movement started coming out. He has been doing work in that sphere which he chose. In those essays on rights, I found information about some regions and wanted to see how that Forum was working and hence sent some donation and got all those books. Once I tried to contact him over the phone in order to get some delails regarding an essay which he wrote at that time. But I could not get in touch with him. When I sent an email, he responded in Telugu using English script : "I am happy that you liked my essays".

Way before all that, about 25 years ago (in 1984), I saw Balagopal in person when I went to a meeting in Warangal to condemn police atrocities on the youth belonging to Radical Youth League [RYL]. At that time Balagopal was just released from jail along with Dr Ramanadham of APCLC. In 1995, when the police killed Dr Ramanadham, Balagopal came to our house to ask me to attend a meeting at Guntur in memory of Dr Ramanadham. When he mentioned that he was not staying at Warangal at that time in view of police repression, I asked him to stay at our house in Hyderabad. He said that he did not have any such need.

In the Guntur meeting, some people were proposing two minute silence for the sake of peace of the soul [aatma shanthi]. Then I asked Balagopal, 'what is this programme of aatma shanthi'. "Yes, I too do not like it", he said. (Now I don't remember whether it was observed or not).

Recollecting all those past incidents, we spent that night with the disbelief, 'Is it true that Balagopal has passed away?' We called different people and tried to find out what exactly had happened. Despite our attempts and despite going through several newspapers, we couldn't find any new information.

Those who visited his body informed me that his body was kept in an ice box in the cellar of the apartment. They also told that there were activists of various movements in the cellar. That the family members and visitors were in the flat. That a couple of people were going up and down to respond to TV reporters.

The cremation was over by the night.
Everything was over.

If Balagopal were a communist, his death would not have received a lot of sympathy. His death made bourgeois persons too feel sorry since he concluded Communism was useless. More people felt sorry over such a sudden demise.

Praise for Balagopal began to appear in the newspapers from the next day. He was a simple person! So simple that he did not even comb his hair! So simple that he didn't care to take even bath! So much that he didn't care even when his clothes got soiled! So much that he was not afraid of death! He was like a sage (Rishi)! He was like a saint (muni) with his silence! He was the philosopher who discovered 'gaps' in Marxism! Such was the deluge of tributes that flooded all the newspapers from the next day.

No doubt that one ought to praise a person who made even a little effort for the benefit of the people. It is very much justified. But if they shower each and every action of his with praise and compete in lavishing heaps of praises, it will soon turn into disgust and vulgarity.

Some youngsters who talked about him with great regard narrated that Balagopal used to ignore the condition of his clothing and that they used to wash his clothes when he was on tours in connection with the organizational work. According to them, he was so simple in all such aspects.

The distinction between what is 'simplicity' and what is not is erased here. In that deluge of encomiums, combing the hair became luxury and leaving the hair uncared for became simplicity! Not changing soiled clothing also became simplicity!

Maximum praise was lavished on the fact that he did not care for his health! Going for medical treatment appeared as a luxury to Balagopal. That actually cost him his own life.

He is a person who is working in the interest of the people in his own chosen way. It is the duty of such a person to be healthy and hygienic at all times. The case is different with the cadres of the underground movement. Here the situation is different. Combing hair is not a luxury and leaving hair unseemly is not simplicity. People who are engaged in movements are not exempt from hair growth. They too need to observe discipline in combing their hair and taking care of their whole body. A person who would like to set an ideal needs to set an ideal with regard to cleanliness and discipline as well. Even the combed hair does not remain intact for long. It is not a crime if the combed hair does not remain intact. Did he not comb his hair at least once a day? But they are applauding as if it is great simplicity: 'He does not comb his hair at all; he does not allow others to refer to his hair!' When close-cropped hair style is possible to keep oneself clean as in the past, if it is an ideal to grow hair till it fell on the neck without brushing it, go ahead and all of you learn the same thing. It is a very easy thing to follow, isn't it? Whether it is men or women, if they keep their hair and body disorderly and unclean and cite some reasons related to movement, it is an appropriate case for divorce.

'He didn't care about his health' is another big accolade! How could he carry on his chosen work if he didn't care about his health? What has happened now? Even after knowing the result of not caring for health, should they still eulogize : 'He didn't care for his health, he disregarded his body'?

As per the information in the newspapers, Balagopal's ill-health did not show any symptoms of losing life with suddenness. Whether it is an ulcer or heart-ailment there wouldn't be any risk if periodic tests and treatment are undertaken.

In the case of an ordinary person who is confined to domestic sphere, his carelessness and irresponsibility would impact him and his family alone; whereas in the case of a person who chose social service as his avocation, how long can he carry on his work if he is not careful about and protect his health?

When such symptoms as injury to the leg, ulcer in the stomach, fever or hiccups are seen and if the doctors were consulted at once and medicines used, what would have been the situation? The fact that one hospital advised the patient to go to another big hospital raises the question, 'Should one go to the hospital at the last minute?' Would it be possible for anyone to fly in few moments? Even if one gets rushed in a car, what would happen if his car is blocked in the traffic jam? Should an activist be so callous about his health? Is it really simplicity?

Even if symptoms of major ailment were not evident during the day, should he not get relief for whatever suffering he had? Would there be no risk of the situation becoming worse?

Even if a person is careless about his illness, people associated with him must argue with him and convince him and take care of the situation in time. True, there are some people who do not heed whatever others say. We have to persuade such patients by cajoling them. All his friends must gather around him, quarrel with him and take him for medical help before it is too late.

Think about this: What would have been the situation had Balagopal been admitted to a better hospital a couple of days earlier? There are a variety of surgeries for heart ailment. There are expert surgeons for ulcers in the stomach too. Duodenal ulcer is also not a life-threatening disease if one undergoes periodical tests and takes medicines. They may perform some suitable surgery and reduce the stomach or some such thing. There are many people who received such treatment for ulcers. Had Balagopal received treatment for his ailment and lived for another twenty five years , it would have been better for him.

What happened since he has not gone to the hospital in time? All of us know. He had to go to the graveyard. You might say, 'even if he had gone to the hospital a couple of days earlier, the same thing would have happened. That is the problem with ulcers. Death is inevitable if you have an ulcer'. Those who have religious beliefs would say, 'The duration of his life (aayush) was over at that moment'. No other argument stands a chance with such believers. But do we also put forth the same kind of argument, with reference to ulcers as well?

The whole mishap was due to the lack of timely treatment. According to a TV report he passed away on his way to the CARE hospital. Does this not mean that he did not go to the hospital in time? Would he not have recovered had he received medical treatment a couple of days before? Would he not been alive?

"He was not afraid of death!" is the topmost tribute. One should be fearless if the police catch him and prepare to kill him. If a person is not afraid of a disease that enters his body, that person would not be a sensible person but a stupid fellow. Are accolades meant for stupidity?

Majority of the people have ignored the point, 'why did he not go to the hospital right away'. No one raised this question. Each one has outwitted the other in resorting to encomiums. It can't be love for the person. Nor is it love for the movement. Like mass-hysteria, everyone is caught up in the hysteria of lavishing praise. They discovered newer phrases of praise for the one who passed away: Sage-like man! Man with ultra-simplicity! Someone who conducted experiments on himself! A saint who was not afraid of death! A philosopher who filled the gaps in social science! A perfect human being and so on and so forth! Intellectuals are always on their toes for praising others or for being praised by others eccentrically.

Just as a dire poor man, living in a remote tribal village, died in his middle age helplessly due to lack of medical facility, a great intellectual like Balagopal too, in a great city like Hyderabad, died because of his ignorance about the importance of health, his indifferent attitude towards medical treatment, and his complacency as a stoic, and not seeking and receiving timely treatment. Is there any reason other than this for his death?

Now we hear the lamentations: "He has been conducting the movement single-handedly. Now who will be the caretaker of the rights movement? Who will be the protector of people?"

Do they know the implications of the statement, 'conducting the movement single-handedly'? It means not allowing the emergence of secondary leadership! In every organization, there will be a few members. If clear-cut responsibilities are assigned to all those members, all of them would get experience in various activities of the organization. If no secondary leader exists in an organization, the question remains why such a situation arose irrespective of a great leader? Why does a situation arise whereby only one person conducts the movement single-handedly? Where is the need of an organization for a skilled person who can conduct movements single-handedly? What is the reason for a situation wherein a handful of members have not emerged as equal leaders? Why such a plight has arisen wherein they lament 'now who will be the guide to this rights movement?' It is a different matter to grieve over the passing away of a person like Balagopal. But they agonize, 'who will now be the guide of the movement?' They proclaim that he did everything single-handedly but do not ever question, 'why should there be a situation wherein a person does things single-handedly if it is an organization?'

In the past, when Balagopal was in the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC), his practice did not allow the rise of a second leader. Wherever it was necessary, he alone used to go! None else was suitable. He never assigned any responsibility to a local member in a given area. He must play the role everywhere! During those days, there was criticism against his method of functioning that he was not letting others to take up responsibilities. But this criticism did not have any effect at all on him. The same method of functioning might have continued even in the Human Rights Movement. Hence, its members put a blank face saying, 'we are worried as to how to proceed in his absence'. We find a sole leader always in bourgeois parties. There won't be an opportunity given to a second person. The same situation prevails here as well.

How will a second leader emerge if you don't assign responsibilities and allow them to grow? The same Balagopal while writing about LTTE Prabhakaran found fault that Prabha-karan did not tolerate a second leader. If Balagopal had facilitated the emergence of a second, third and fourth leaders, why do we hear such words as 'who will guide us hereafter'. Even if one leader had passed away and another had emerged, the latter would give a lot of courage to the organization.

'Human Rights!' 'Human Rights!' For each and every difficult problem, there will be temporary relief. Movements like 'Rights Movements' are meant for superficial and temporary relief. These movements too are necessary to address temporary problems. Is temporary relief a philosophy that fills gaps in Marxism? Balagopal’s philosophy does not say anything as to why rights are attacked in the society. Silence! Silence wherever it cannot say anything! A very intelligent way!

Once when I wrote a critique of the Cult of individual of Mao, I argued that a new kind of society must emerge by the new ideas which people acquire and not by worshipping a leader. But then, the same Balagopal, defended the cult of the individual. He commented that 'Gandhi's cult was wrong but Mao's cult was right'. After some time, however, when some change began in him, he started saying 'Mao's cult was wrong'. But he did not say, "I thought differently about this in the past. I thought the cult of individual communist leaders was right. I thought misguidedly then."

When I criticized that the Communist Party of China (CPC) did not hold its Congress in stipulated time, but held it after 13 years instead of once in 5 years, Balagopal defended CPC saying, 'is Communist Party a Municipality that meets whenever it wants?' When I responded again, 'does the Communist Party not have rules which even Municipality has', Balagopal kept his silence! Silence whenever he didn't have an answer. That is the secret of his silence.

For a long time Balagopal was favorable to 'Naxalite' politics. He, in fact, earned name through such opportunities. That was the beginning of his history. Later on, after many years, he began to oppose 'private violence' of the Naxalite politics. If one does not like the practice of such a party, he can remain aloof from it. He should say, 'I don't like that practice'. But, this gentleman has turned his back on Marxism itself. He discovered gaps in Marxism. He also discovered a philosophy that fills the gaps in the form of Human Rights Movement.

The Human Rights Movement in the contemporary world is something that was proposed by UNO. This is one of the ways to divert world population from Communism. This is the way that prevents people from knowing about the class distinctions. It prevents people from knowing the truth, namely that all human beings in the world are in Master-Labourer relations and the class of labourers are subjected to exploitation. By chanting the phrases 'Human Rights', 'Human Rights', it creates an illusion that the Master and the Labourer are situated in the same position.

Though there are some temporary benefits from the Human Rights Movement, people must understand its limitations. The leaders engaged in this movement ought to reveal its limitations: 'We get temporary relief from this movement. No more and no less. We must not consider this as something fundamental. As this is necessary under these conditions, we need to carry on this movement'.

We should note that the governments which violate rights themselves daily set up Human Rights Commissions at the local as well as national level. It is the governments which deprive people of the rights and it is the same governments which set up those commissions! It's a drama!

Balagopal does not answer when his fellow members in APCLC ask him, 'why have you done this?' He does not explain why he did it. He would say, 'If you want, remove me from the organization'. That's all. Who would be the second leader if they removed him? He knew that there was no leader. The democracy of the leader of the Rights Movement proceeded along those lines. He won't give anyone the right to question him. He did not discuss. He did not answer. He didn't like questions.

This democrat does not see with his eyes nor read any criticism that is leveled against him. He does not feel it is necessary to ponder over others' criticism. What is left for him to learn? He is ripe with knowledge. He is such an intellectual who realized that Marxism is wrong and useless. It is others who ought to think or learn! Why should he? Others should read and learn from his books and why should he read others? He is a great intellectual! That was the trend!

Another praising phrase! 'Balagopal practiced what he believed'. Each and everyone practices whatever one believes in. Even the religious people too practice what they believe. The question is, 'what is the nature of that belief'. What is great in practicing what one believed in. If anyone is not practicing what he says, it means that the person is speaking something without believing it. Such people say something while speaking but act in accordance with what they believe in. There is nothing great in doing what one believes. Eulogizers gathered all sorts of nonsensical words and dumped them in the arsenal of accolades.

A great homage : 'He does what he says!' If what he says is wrong, it means that he said a wrong thing and did a wrong thing! If what he said is not wrong, let all people do the same thing.

Huge praise for Balagopal's silence. Some lawyers told me that they have not seen Balagopal speaking with others even in the courts. It should be the duty of a campaigner to talk to others at every possible place and express his views. After visiting Kashmir, can't he speak about the conditions which he witnessed in Kashmir with fellow lawyers?

Of all the accolades showered on Balagopal, the ultimate praise is that the 'Nobel prize must be awarded to him'. Unless he gets that award, the mouths of the eulogizers won't be shut. The prize money is nothing but heaps of money earned by exploiting millions of workers. The money so earned was deposited in banks and those deposits accumulated heaps of interest. The devotees of Balagopal will be satisfied only when that big heap of money is given to Balagopal.

The flowers of praising Balagopal have been blossoming for a long time. Intellectual! Intellectual! Intellectual! Introvert! Apostle of silence! Sage! Saint! Stoic! Philosopher who discovered fundamental values! Yes, Balagopal is an intellectual. But he is not even a misled intellectual but a misleading intellectual! An intellectual who wanted to divert people from the path of Marxism.

If a couple of utterances came out of his silence, they were like flawless pearls! Sighting him is like sighting God! He did not have any objection even if the cigarette smoke of those who gathered in his house whirled. He welcomed different perspectives! Only one praise is left out. It has not yet been articulated. 'Build a temple for Balagopal!' This praise will also come out some time. Balagopal is now a modern Buddha Bhagawan! He is the eleventh incarnation (Avatar) after Dasavatar! They will also proclaim this sometime!

It is the revolutionary communist individuals and parties who played an important role in showering the accolades! A couple of days back a revolutionary trade union leader was overwhelmed by the words of Balagopal. Communists lost confidence in themselves. Balagopal appears to them as savior of the world!

What is the difference between M N Roy's Humanist movement and Balagopal's Human Rights Movement? Whatever may be the difference, essence of the two is the same. It is a theory that rejected the reality of classes and imagines human beings who transcend the classes. Once a reader asked Balagopal, 'what is the difference between you and M N Roy'. Then Balagopal maintained silence for a while and then said, 'you will come to know when this movement progresses'.

Why knowing later? Is he not obliged to explain to an enthusiastic person as to what lacks in Roy's theory and what is special about his theory? Yes he is obliged but he has nothing to say because there is no difference between the two. Then, what can he do except maintaining silence?

Why did communists reject Roy? Why do they adore Balagopal now? Because he has some fame and if they chant his name, they hope, they too get reflected-glory. A capitalist running coaching colleges is fond of Balagopal. He proposes that there should be lessons on Balagopal in children's text books. Do you know what they will write? 'This gentleman was an intellectual who was very simple and had courageously combated the ghost of Marxism'. There is nothing odd if a capitalist is fond of Balagopal. A gentleman who is reputed as a revolutionary fondled Balagopal by stating that Balagopal made a contribution to revolutionary movement. Will the soul of Balagopal-who raised hue and cry rejecting revolution - rest in peace if he is linked with the revolutionary movement. Will his soul rest in peace even if you observe silence for a couple of minutes?

If Balagopal's movement is something that contributes to fundamental values and rights, dear revolutionary communists, wind up all your parties! Enough! You have worked for a long time! But could not secure as much fame as Balagopal. What is left to you is the foot-steps of Balagopal! He was a perfect human being!

In the beginning I got a doubt whether that revolutionary communist-who gave the title of 'perfect human being' to a person who declared Marxism useless-has any brain. But, soon I realised the fact that he has a brain but it stopped functioning! That its theoretical sense is exhausted . What is left for such a communist is the path of that perfect human being. If all these revolutionary communists follow the path of the present-day sage-like man, this state (of Andhra Pradesh) will get rid of poverty of theory! Let whatever happen later.

If there is anything praiseworthy about Balagopal, these explosive tributes will only harm him. Of course, criticism against Balagopal was made even when he was alive. This is not new.

All this is not meant for him. This is meant for those who are gripped by mass hysterical euphoria.
(Translation: B R Bapuji Copy editing: P Sreelakshmi)

Vol. 46, No. 27, Jan 12 -18, 2014

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