Prodyot Banerjee (1943-2016)

Ismail Chaudhury

Prodyot Banerjee breathed his last on August 6, 2016 in Kolkata, after a brief illness. His friends and admirers didn’t find him ‘in memoriam’ in any leftist journal, not to speak of mainstream media. After all he was not a celebrity in traditional sense. So it was unthinkable that there would be media focus on him. But he was one of many unsung radicals who had to face stress and strain in radicalising the early phase of student organising in what is now called Presidency University. In truth he was a ‘radical indigenous’, always ready to go on six cylinders in his twenties. In those days it was not that easy to contest even harmless students’ union elections in Presidency, under any shade of Red banner or as independent. Those were the days when Congress hoodlums would be hired by the powers that be to terrorise students who would refuse to knowtow and vote for their candidates of choice. On the union election day College Street Coffee House looked more like a den of anti-socials as they were waiting to have call from their masters! For all practical purposes there prevailed an atmosphere of veiled terror in the campus. On many occasions the situation became so super-charged that some present day prominent Left Front leaders who were then students simply avoided contesting Union Elections under one pretext or another, hopefully to save their skin. Some of them were out and out careerist, if not opportunist and many preferred to take shelter in ‘hungry generation’ poetry movement, if at all it can be called so. But Prodyot Banerjee remained steadfast in his endeavour to campaign for radicalisation of student movement. Ironically some of those escapists later occupied important berths in the successive CPM-led Left Front Governments.

After ‘Naxalbari’—incidentally ‘Naxalbari’ is today 50—it was quite natural for him to join the rebellion ‘Spring Thunder’, that shook the roots of status quo-ism like anything and he remained firm in his belief till the end despite so many ups and downs in the movement.

For one thing ‘Naxalbari’ created a paradoxical situation for him as he hailed from a family that was regarded as a bastion of CPM. The Marxist party used to get tremendous moral and material support from his family. He was a ‘lone monk’ in a citadel of CPM. Though he himself didn’t go to village to carry forward Charu Majumdar’s clarion call for ‘agrarian revolution’ but he always tried to keep in touch with his friends and colleagues who went to village by sacrificing their studies and career as well. His friends will always remember him as a passionate man who never said ‘No’ to professional revolutionaries at the time of acute crisis, financial or otherwise.

In the early and mid-sixties it was really very very difficult to bring out any peace march and oppose slanderous China-bashing. But once he did it though the participants, quite expectedly were a limited few. The march started at College Square and ended at Hatibagan in North Kolkata.

In the late sixties College Street area was the nerve centre of rebellious ideas that inspired an entire generation. He was not a writer but be used to encourage writers in his own way. Despite ideological disorders and crumbling of many revolutionary myths in the seventies and eighties, he never deserted his old political friends. How many apolitical students benefited from his liberal benevolence is not known. Political bonding apart this correspondent had a deep personal friendship with this man who never tried to come to limelight. He was one of the first generation of Presidency radicals, but he all along kept an understated profile. He was a liberal Marxist without being dogmatic and parochial. He was the instrument of something socially emotional.

Vol. 49, No.33, Feb 19 - 25, 2017