A Tribute

Sundar Navalkar

Harsh Thakor

Veteran naxalite leader Sundar Navalkar is no more .She passed away in the morning on April 9, 2021.

Ironically she perished just on the 30th martyrdom anniversary of the Sewewela martyrs belonging to the anti-communal and anti-repression front of Punjab, which was also the birthday of revolutionary singer Paul Robeson.

Navalkar was born in Dadar, Mumbai and lived there her whole life. She was born into a middle-class family of lawyers and became one herself. Though her family had connections with the Hindu Mahasabha, she broke into, first, the Freedom movement and became a communist. This proves the overpowering of environment against heredity.

She joined the Communist Party of India and later, being close to the Revolutionary Socialist Party (though never a member) she formed the Communist League. Later, being inspired by the uprising at Naxalbari, she formed the first unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in Maharastra and was its first secretary. She worked in tandem with Sunil Dighe amd Laxman Pagar.She was amongst the first group of four to be arrested as "Naxalites" in Maharashtra and spent almost seven years in jail.

Working tirelessly to organise workers, especially those who worked on contract, she was active among the contract safai kamgars of Air India who were predominantly Dalits. After many years of struggle, she won a historic victory in the Supreme Court in the case of Air India v United Labour Union in 1996. Though this judgement was subsequently reversed, it served as a beacon for contract workers throughout the country for some years.

Navalkar was simple and austere in her personal life. Living in a modest house, though she could have afforded much more, she always travelled by public transport for her trade union work, even when she was over 90. She was always seen in her trade mark white saree with a border and a white cotton blouse.

Erudite in her reading, she is credited with the translation of many of the Marxist Leninist classics and of Indian Marxist Leninist documents into Marathi. She also wrote quite often and was published in various newspapers and magazines.

No communist revolutionary from Maharashtra played such a role in sowing the seeds of Naxalbari and Mao thought, in inculcating Leninist political consciousness amongst the toilers while re-knitting the splintered Communist groups. She left no stone unturned in upholding the legacy of Chairman Mao and Socialist China and condemning revisionism of post-1978 China.

Sunder Navalkar confronted the Contract labour system at the very backbone and did more for the emancipation of contract workers than any Trade Union leader in India. It is difficult to find an adjective that could do justice to her impact in touching the workers in the very core of their souls or turn defeat into victory. In the deepest depths of despair she would elevate the morale of the working class.

No other communist revolutionary in Maharashtra contributed so much in building political schools to imbibe Leninist politics into the working. She waged a crusade against economism prevailing in the trade Union Movement with the sharpness of a sword. Sunder Navalkar illustrated more than anyone that without enshrining Leninism at the base no proletarian struggle could be won. No naxalite leader in Maharashtra more methodically mobilised workers to capture the yellow unions and raise the red flag. A hall room in a meeting conducted by Sunder Navalkar was always distinctive from that of any other trade union meeting, be it of the Congress, traditional left parties or even revolutionary groups, with workers blazing with revolutionary political class consciousness.

The political journal 'Jasood' she founded in 1973, was in circulation for almost 50 years, defending Mao thought and Naxalbari line more consistently and soundly than any journal in Maharashtra. Few journals ever in the history of India have delivered such a fitting blow to revisionism of left parties, attacking it at the very backbone. Jasood shimmerd the flame or essence or cutting edge of Naxalbari or Leninism like no other magazine in Maharashtra.

Even late Marxist revolutionary and one of the founding members of the CPI(ML), Suniti Kumar Ghosh voiced admiration for 'Jasood'. He stated that it was a privilege that he knew Sunder Navalkar.

I never saw a union with so much penetration of political grounding as those led by Navalkar,l ike the United labour Union. Few comrades ever exhibited as much mastery in establishing political fractions within the working class. She moulded many a comrade into the revolutionary ranks. No communist revolutionary leader paid so much attention to revolutionary work in urban sectors as Comrade Navalkar.

I rarely met a human being so sympathetic and understanding to comrades yearning for clarity. The same Che Guevarist type of human touch is what I experienced of my personal meetings with her in 1996 and 2010. She was greatly appreciative of my article upholding Chairman Gonzalo and Peruvian revolution in 'frontier weekly' in September 2018 ,sending me a letter.

One can't forget the intensity of her speech when former Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 where she defended Socialist ideology to the very core. In the most dire straits she would shimmer the sacred torch of Marxism-Leninism-Mao thought to deliver an effective slap to the counter revolutionaries.

She dipped ink to defend and rekindle Socialist ideology till the very end. When liberalisation and globalisation was launched with the fury of tidal wave she confronted it vocally and at ground level.

As a writer and activist she combated revisionism at its hardest point and defended Stalin's positive aspects. She had great insight into the psychology and day to day problems of the working class. The very lucidity of her language won many a worker towards her. She shaped group or moulded many social activists in streaming the documents of the Central Team. Navalkar had a big hand in producing them.

Sunder Navalkar too had her flaws. She was unable to understand or appreciate the mass line theory and practice of the Tarimela Nagi Reddy–D V Rao line of the 1970's and opposed unity of Central Team Group with the Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India in 1993-94. Navalkar was unable to comprehend the development in proletarian revolutionary line by the formation of the Communist Party Re-Organisation Centre of India (Marxist-Leninist) She went to an extent of publishing a document openly critical of the Central Team. Till the very end she was a vocal opponent of the Neo-fascism of the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Modi, feeling that fascism was a major threat. Reprints should be made of the 30th anniversary book compiling old issues of 'Jasood' and important writings of the Central Team.

One hopes some day a biography will be written on this revolutionary icon of Maharashtra.

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Vol. 54, No. 5, Aug 1 - 7, 2021