Suniti Kumar Ghosh

Calling White ‘White’ and....

Amit Bhattacharyya

Suniti Kumar Ghosh, one of the leading figures of the Naxalbari revolutionary movement has departed from this world on 11 May 2014 at Asansol, West Bengal at the age of 96. His was a life full of revolutionary activism and basic theoretical and academic work.

Suniti Kumar Ghosh was born on 18 February 1918 at the Sibpur area of district Howrah, West Bengal. His boyhood days were passed in his ancestral home. After passing the school-leaving examination from the B K Paul Institution, Sibpur, he got himself admitted at St. Paul's College, Kolkata with honours in English literature, got his BA from there and then his MA degree in English from the University of Calcutta. He took teaching as his profession and taught at nearly eleven colleges covering East and West Bengal as also Bihar. The colleges in which he taught were Madan Mohan College of Sylhet, Dinajpur College of Dinajpur, St. Columbus College at Hazaribagh in undivided Bihar, Barasat College, Dum Dum Motijheel College and Vidyasagar College at central Calcutta. He took part in the Tebhaga movement (l946-47) and joined the Communist Party of India(CPI). For political reasons, he was externed from East Pakistan in 1949. It thus appears that after teaching at Madan Mohan College and Dinajpur College -both in East Bengal(subsequently East Pakistan), he was externed and that forced him to move to this side of Bengal and Bihar. Thus he was forced to pass his years in the teaching profession since then in the Indian side. He got a job at the Barasat Government College. However, in those days as now, government jobs required police verification. Since he was a member of the CPI and was under the government scanner, he was asked to give a written undertaking that he would disown the CPI and all his previous linkages. At that time, the word 'Communist' was a stigma the State imposed on the dissenting voices, like the 'chin-panthi' ('Pro-Chinese') stigma during the 1962 war and 'Maoist' or 'terrorist' stigmas in the present days to legitimize all its illegal acts. Although he was not a member of the CPI at that time, he refused to give any such written undertaking and resigned the post while on probation. Vidyasagar college was the last college—a private college—where he taught till he went underground sometime in the formative phase of the Naxalbari Communist revolutionary movement.

Suniti Kumar Ghosh joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) sometime after its formation in 1964 and was associated with the editorial boards of Desh Hitaishi and People's Democracy—the two organs of the CPI(M). However, that period was shortlived and he left the party by being critical of its revisionist policies. He then became associated with a radical Bengali periodical (magazine) called Kalpurush along with Saroj Datta and others and wrote articles that reflected the new thinking of the time. That was also the period of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China and this magazine showed signs of the influence of Mao tse-tung Thought.

The 'peal of spring thunder' that crashed at Naxalbari, like so many others, stirred Sunitibabu to action. He was associated with it right from the time of the formation of the ‘Naxalbari O Krishak Sangram Sahayak Committee’ around which the process for the formation of a Communist revolutionary centre started. That was followed by the formation of the All-India Coordination Committee of Revolutionaries (AICCR) and then the All-India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR). The newly formed organs such as Deshabrati and Liberation that spread the message of Indian revolution, became highly popular. Since the inception of Liberation on 11 November 1967 till April 1972, Sunitibabu had been its editor. He performed his task to the best of his ability. Liberation had a wide range of readership not just in various parts of the country, but also in Hong Kong, Britain, Ireland, Canada, USA, Australia and some other countries.

The Naxalbari movement raised a number of fundamental questions. What is the character of the Indian State? Is the Indian society a capitalist one, or a semi-feudal and semi-colonial one? Was the Indian independence of 1947 real or sham? What is the character of the Indian bourgeoisie? National or Comprador? What is the principal contradiction in Indian society? What is the nature of imperialist control over India? Can a new democratic society be attained through the parliamentary path, or through the armed agrarian revolution? What was the nature of the Bengal Renaissance? What is the nature of the Gandhi-led Congress movement? People started to ask such questions and attempts were made to seek answers to these questions. Suniti Kumar Ghosh was one of those who sought answers to such questions through Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought as the guideline and began his painstaking study by collecting facts from books and documents of different types.

The product of years of investigation and study were eleven books and monographs—both small and large. These were:
1.    The Indian Big Bourgeoisie: Its Genesis, Growth and Character (1985);
2.   India and the Raj 1919-1947 Glory, Shame and Bondage in 2 vols. (1989,1947);
3.   India's Nationality Problem and the Ruling Classes (1996);
4.   Imperialism's Tightening grip over Indian Agriculture (2001);
5.   The Indian Constitution and its Review (2001);
6.   Bangla Bibhajaner Orthaniti Rajniti (The Political Economy of the Partition of Bengal) (2001);
7.   Development Planning in India Lumpen-development and Imperialism (2002);
8.   The Himalayan Adventure : India-China War of 1962—Causes and Consequences (2002);
9.   The Tragic Partition of Bengal (2002);
10.  Bharater Communist Party (Marxbadi): Ekti Parjalochana (The Communist Party of India (Marxist): An Assessment) (2004);
11.   Naxalbari Before and After: Reminiscences and Appraisal (2009).

Besides these, he had also prepared an anthology of Liberation of which he himself was the editor. The title was The Historic Turning-Point—A Liberation Anthology 2 vols. (1992, 1993). This anthology is regarded as a primary source for reconstructing the history of that tumultuous first phase. The books he wrote have acted as teaching material for understanding the past history of the country in an entirely new light over the years among the political workers, academicians as also general readers. The Communist revolutionary movement in India was the source of inspiration that propelled him to undertake such valuable research work; on the other hand, his research provided theoretical weapons to the movements that grew up in the subsequent phases.

It is important to point out that almost none, barring a few, of the historians, economists and social scientists of both the right and left establishments mentioned Sunitibabu's views and works in their writings or included his books in their reading lists at the end. The main reason for their silence is that the views expressed so forcefully and sharply by Suniti Ghosh had caused uneasiness in their ranks and they are at a loss how to respond. The myth they had diligently created about the nature of the Gandhian movement and about so many other things over the decades has been torn asunder by Suniti Ghosh's penetrative analysis. Thus the best way to counter him is to 'kill his views by silence'. Karl Marx's views were sought to be killed by silence by establishment philosophers, intellectuals and social scientists of his time. Such onslaughts did not bother Marx. That would not bother Suniti Kumar Ghosh either. This deliberate silence betrays not the strength, but the weakness and poverty in thinking on the part of those economists, historians and others of both right and left establishments.

Some writers have made a two-phase division in his life: political phase and the academic phase. Yes, it is true that in the years from the 1980s, he was not politically active and probably did not formally belong to any political organization also. However, the fact is that he had been guided in his academic work by the needs of revolutionary politics, to hand over theoretical weapons to those activists who have been fighting in the battlefield in the subsequent years. Many of his works are reappraisals of the past history that helped people see that in an entirely new light. Sunitibabu started this investigation right from the Naxalbari days and, apart from editorials in the Liberation, wrote at least two such essays under pseudonyms such as one on the Indian comprador bourgeoisie by Bhabani Pathak and the other on Chittaranjan Das under the penname Partha Choudhury in Liberation. In fact, his academic side and political activism are intertwined. One is dependent on the other. The root of his academic work was the Naxalbari struggle, and his academic work has in a way gave theoretical sustenance to the activists in the later phases of the revolutionary movement.

About Suniti Kumar Ghosh one thing can be asserted. He was probably the greatest example in the country of a revolutionary political personality turning into a historian-social scientist.

He appeared to this writer to be an extremely honest, simple and emotional person dedicated to his work. He boldly upheld and said what he believed in the never accepted what appeared to him to be unjust. He called white 'white' and black 'black'. When he differed with the top leadership of the CPI(ML), he criticized Charu Mazumdar; but at the same time he acknowledged Mazumdar's contribution to the revolutionary movement. For the 'left-sectarian' deviation within the CPI(ML), he did not blame any particular individual, but apportioned it mainly to collective 'inexperience' and never did he keep himself outside it.

One of the positive aspects of Suniti Kumar Ghosh's life is that he nourished revolutionary optimism throughout his life. He cherished the dream of an India free from exploitation and held that the Indian Communist revolutionary movement would be victorious sometime in near or distant future. Many of his old associates had lost belief in the future of the Indian revolution, got hesitant about the path to be followed, some even joined the reactionary camp; but he remained steadfast to his beliefs and ideals he held so dear. He believed that the sun-burnt leaves of the Kamini tree in front of his north Kolkata apartment would drop down and new green leaves would sprout in their place. Life would prevail over death. The new society that people would give birth to through immense sufferings would surely be one in which it would not be the lust for profits but human values that would prevail. Life is always greater than death and human values are greater than human cruelty. Suniti Kumar Ghosh remained true to this belief till he departed from this world after passing a really meaningful and highly fruitful life.

Vol. 46, No. 50, Jun 22 - 28, 2014