Autumn Number 2019

Book Review

Two 'Babus'–Samar Sen and Saroj Datta

Anirban Biswas

Samar Sen and Saroj Datta were two prominent left intellectuals of yesteryears. The monograph under review is a scathing discussion on them. Saroj Datta was a partyman, who became an ideologue of the CPI(ML), and was killed by the police in cold blood. Samar Sen, on the other hand, was never a party man, although he had a political mind. Particularly after founding Frontier, he worked as a non-party Bolshevik. But both were devoted to their cause in a fearless manner. The mutual interaction between the two is interesting, with Saroj Datta attacking Samar Sen's poetry and literary opinions, and Samar Sen choosing a line of self-defence, and later ignoring the attacks and even sometimes reproducing them in his weekly. A critical evaluation of the two intellectuals is necessary, and the author—Asok Chattopadhyay has attempted such an evaluation in a penetrating manner and witty admirable labouriousness, although it is difficult to agree with some of his comments, particularly those on Tagore. From Tagore's writings and activities, it is possible to find a considerable amount of anti-imperialist sentiments, which should not be ignored. For example, Tagore gave up his title of knighthood in protest against the massacre in Jalianwallabag and publicly denounced the killing of political prisoners in Hijli jail.

On Saroj Datta's politics of iconoclasm and unconditional support to the petty-bourgeois youths in this regard, the author's comments are in general justifiable, but something should preferably be added. Saroj Datta's allegation that P C Ray advised Bengalis to become successful comprador capitalists was not only ill-timed, but hollow. Those familiar with the history of Bengal Chemical, the pharmaceutical concern established by P C Ray will easily understand it. If the founder of a concern with no foreign collaboration is labelled a comprador capitalist, this only betryas either the commentator’s ignorance of the real meaning of the term 'comprador' or his ignorance of the history of the firm founded by the 'comprador'. En passant, it may be pointed out that P C Ray wrote sharply on the pernicious influence of the caste system on the growth of scientific temper in India, but Saroj Datta never thought of the subject. It is again, intriguing that Saroj Datta found nothing to write against Bankim Chatterjee, who believed that establishment of British rule would pave the way for the restoration of the 'sanatan dharma'.

Perhaps more unfortunate is Saroj Datta's role in establishing the line of left adventurism inside the CPI(ML). Besides scurrilously abusing and antagonising well-wishers,—he even equated weekly Frontier—with Eastern Frontier Rifles—he relentlessly tried to promote the authority of one single person, even calling him the guru of the Indian revolution. The acolyte was in this respect more dogmatic than the high priest. As far as this reviewer knows, Charu Majumdar got considerably shaken after the criticisms of the then Communist Party of China, although he never admitted the disastrous nature of the party line nor tried to reorganise the party in an open manner. But Saroj Datta apparently paid no heed to the fraternal suggestions of the CPC; this is proved by his upholding of Charu Majumdar's line in an article written just one day before his arrest and murder. He was killed in cold blood presumably because he openly endorsed the urban activists' attacks on policemen. In this case also, urban activists made no distinction between higher and lower strata of policemen, and Saroj Datta too did not care for such a distinction. It is futile to speculate on what he would have done, had he been put behind bars instead of being killed, or been able to elude the police till 1977. But certainly he would not have found a guru of his choice, whose teachings he could propagate. It is tragic that an intellectual wielding a powerful pen and possessing death-defying courage should have fallen into the cult of bhakti after three decades of association with the communist movement.

Samar Sen was not a party intellectual. But the long nineteen years he devoted to the publication of Frontier definitely speaks of a Bolshevik spirit. There is no point in accusing him for writting occasionally for a Bengali daily with a large circulation. What needs to be kept in mind is that he never wrote according to the dictates of the owners. Despite unjust and arrogant attacks by Saroj Datta, he did not look back in anger, but exposed the misdeed of the killing of the latter by the police. Samar Sen had no revolutionary pretensions, but when he wrote sarcastically about the declared ' march' of the People's Army that 'faith indeed can move mountains' he was objective in his assessment. History has proved him correct. If the CPI(ML) leaders had maintained a cordial relation with Samar Sen and Frontier despite their differences, the CPI(ML) would certainly have gained and many tragic events avoided.

Two interesting features of this monograph are (i) a reprint of the first Bengali poem on Lenin, written and published immediately after his death, and then republished in Swadhinata in 1959; and (ii) two interviews with Timir Basu and Sumanta Banerjee. Timir Basu is interesting and insightful. He has correctly portrayed Samar Sen's personality and his attitude to the CPI(ML)'s line of action during 1970-72. He has correctly opined that absence of direct attachment with party politics did not create any problem of outlook for Samar Sen, rather it enabled him to base his opinions on objectivity. His comment on the sectarian outlook that gripped Saroj Datta is well-merited. But his remark that Saroj Datta tried to see everything through the prism of the party, however, needs some qualification. As far as loyalty to the party was concerned, he reduced it to a blind loyalty to Charu Majumdar in the CPI(ML) phase of his political life. He was brutally killed, but it cannot be gain said that left adventurism in words and writings may sound very revolutionary, but it is scarcely good policy and can only ensure defeat, not victory.

Sumanta Banerjee's article on the relation between Saroj Datta and Samar Sen is also interesting. One noticeable feature of Banerjee's article is that he has turned the reader's attention to the old conflicting trends of thought among the educated Bengali cultural workers reared in the ideals of socialism and communism. He has also aptly pointed out that this conflict continued in the subsequent phase of the communist movement. This small book, in the opinion of this reviewer, certainly deserves wide circulation.

Saroj Datta–Samar Sen,
E Bratayatray

(In this journey of mission)
By Asok Chattopadhyay
Thik Thikana, Kolkata-700012, 192 pages, Price Rs 200

Back to Home Page

Autumn Number 2019
Vol. 52, No. 13 - 16, Sep 29 - October 26, 2019