A Tribute

Remembering Subhas Ganguly

Dipak Piplai

A hundred years had passed after the arrival of Lenin”—this is how Subhasda had begun his article in 1970. This was taking place in the ninth-floor canteen of Ballygunge Science College, University of Calcutta. The Ballygunge Science College campus of CU was more like a “liberated-zone” [“muktanchal” in Bengali] in those turbulent days of ’70s. The occasion was Lenin Birth Centenary. The article was taking its shape in a canteen-table; as the author was sitting on a chair. This article was not meant for publishing in the organ of Subhasda’s political organisation, National Liberation and Democratic Front [NLDF]. The piece was written for the mouthpiece of another political organisation, Communist Revolutionary Organisation [CRO], named as “Bhitti”. In those days, under the banner of CPI(M-L), sporadic killing was taking place here and there against those who had been branded as “fine revisionists”, “middle-path traders”, or “representing theoretically the ideology of feudal lords”. In reality they were all communist revolutionaries breaking with the old revisionist party.

NLDF and CRO better known as Bhitti after the name of its organ, were actively practising revolutionary politics both in urban areas (among students and workers) as well as among the peasants in the rural areas. Their line of practice was completely against the “left” deviationist line of the CPI (M-L) and ran as a parallel line opposed to CPI (ML) in the urban and rural areas. Political activists of NLDF penned a number of important theoretical articles for the political journal of CRO–“Bhitti”. NLDF’s organ, “Jatiyo Swadhinata O Ganatantrik Front”, [i.e. “National Liberation and Democratic Front”] was an irregular publication, mainly focusing on ideological debate in the communist revolutionary camp of the time. These two organisations jointly deputed whole-time political activists in the tribal areas of South Bengal so that tribal masses [or‘bunos’ as they are called in Bhadralok parlance] can be mobilised for radical social change. NLDF under the leadership of Parimal Bhattacharyay and CRO under the leadership of Sudhir (Budhu) Chatterjee, used to fight jointly the erroneous line of the CPI (M-L) and MCC (Maoist Communist Centre). As a result the hard-liners of CPI-ML and MCC began to treat NLDF and CRO cadres as their class enemies. In truth the Congress, the representative of landlords and rural gentry was all along doing the same thing.

As a part of their violent campaign against “bourgeois culture”, the CPI(M-L) leadership of south Calcutta planned to disrupt the cultural function organised by the ‘Students Union’ to be held at Ballygunge Science College Auditorium, where Shambhu Bhattacharyay was to perform his “Runner” dance while Swapan Gupta was scheduled to present his Rabindrasangeet rendition. The day before the programme, some of CPI(ML) cadres did a “reconnaissance” operation in the college, and they secretly left behind a hand-made bomb, which was actually a tin-container packed with high explosives, tied by a metal wire, in the campus. Students of PGSF [Post-Graduate Students Federation] detected and defused it on time and averted an explosion. The crude bomb was later displayed in a wooden tray in the open in the canteen to expose CPI (ML)’s sectarian and antagonistic political line to students.

All these episodes are being recalled here because Subhasda was the leader of PGSF in Ballygunge Scien- ce College campus. PGSF produced a number of efficient student leaders—Sunil Biswas, Sanat Bhattacharyay and then came Subhas Ganguly.

Subhasda was one of the most important contributors on theoretical issues in the journal “Jatiyo Swadhinata O Ganatantrik Front”. NLDF and CRO were two different political organisations having different understandings on certain ideological questions but despite differences they all along maintained cordial relations.

In the later years of his life, Subhasda’s thought had gone through a tumultuous turn. Accepting anything without a question was not his way. If one resorts to “blind faith”, everything would appear to the person as quite “normal”. His real internal dynamo was his honesty and deep quest. As a result, Subhasda kept on changing his gear throughout his life. What remained intact was his unquestionable honesty, broad-heartedness and deep quest for learning.

In the sixties of the last century, Subhas Ganguly was admitted in the Statistics Department of Presidency College as a “rustic rural” student. English was not among his best points; yet the same person, after the turn of 21st century translated 100 songs of Tagore into English, which was endorsed by the poet Sankho Ghosh, and was subsequently published by the publisher, “Papyrus” as a book. In the sixties of the last century students saw Subhas as a foot soldier of hunger strike movement of the Eden Hindu Hostel of the then Presidency College; he was an active participant of the revolutionary movement of seventies, went to jail as a “Naxal”—the same Subhas kept himself away from the direct political activities in his later years. What he said, in his later years, about his idols of the youth, Marx and Engels may provide some food for thought: “my respect about them has increased with time, but my reverence had diminished”.

For a long time, Subhasda had shunned himself away from politics. Yet, when the leaders of the movement of Kanoria Jute Mill were on a hunger strike in front of the gate of the Mill, this writer saw Subhasda, and “Surenda” (recently deceased Ratikanta Hazra, a long-standing friend of Frontier), a whole-time political activist of “Bhitti”, reached there. Why was he there at all though he was not in active politics? When the Nandigram peasant resistance commenced in 2007, Subhasda was among the first few persons who visited the place, well ahead of those self-professed human rights crusaders who went there to seek political fortunes. What propelled him to go there? From the political viewpoint, his “static stance”, never influenced his active brain, his “cerebral activeness” was unbelievable.

Years after years, nights after nights, without a break, with untiring effort he continued his never-ending quest for study. This had resulted in changing his biological clock, his circadian rhythm. All night, staying awake—all day when he was not catching up with his missed out sleeping needs. What was not in his reading list— books on statistics, mathematics, Marxism, human civilisation, philosophy, Human Rights issues, educational system, psychology, quantum mechanics and what not!

A lot of people might be irked, even angry and be quite disturbed by his viewpoint about Marxism and iconic stalwarts of the international communist movement. But it is yet to be seen somebody putting forward arguments countering his sharp and well-presented thought.

He was one of the founders of the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights [APDR]. With a lot of enthusiasm of the veteran revolutionary, late Sushil Bandyopadhyay (better known as “Dadu”, the grandpa), a bunch of few youngsters, men and women (Subhas Ganguly, Sanjay Mitra, Bharati Chatterjee, Dilip Chowdhury) literally gave the organisation a concrete shape. The role of Sanjay Mitra and Subhasda was prime. In the seventies, APDR had produced the historical document, “Bharatiya Ganatontrer Swarup” (“The Real Face of Indian Democracy”. It was authored by Subhas Ganguly. The contributions made by four individuals in creating an unparallel artistic cover design of this book must be mentioned, and they were Bharati Chatterjee, Dilip Chowdhury, Shankar Chatterjee and Hiron (Mitra). In the days of Internal Emergency in India, the printing press where the book was printed had suffered a police-raid; the police seized the “appendices” of the book along with a substantial portion of the printed pages and composed material in lead type-fonts; the owner of the press was arrested; and many other odd events had become the part of the legend of the relevant history of this book. Another phase of an absconder’s life began for Subhasda soon after. The parts of the book, which were printed before the police-raid, had been in the safe custody of now deceased Amitda-- Professor Amitava Basu of Indian Statistical Institute. The hazard-free printing of books in today’s scenario was impossible to conceive in those days! There was a huge loan that had been incurred for this printing enterprise, a whopping sum of Rs 8,000; if one compares this amount with the price of gold these days, it would have been equivalent to ten lakh Rupees. The first Joint-Secretary and one of the principal founders of APDR, Sanjayda (Mitra) later on, took recourse to giving private tuition to a number of students and finally repaid the entire loan-amount single-handedly.

At one point of time, the sensational “Archana Guha Case” was going on against the tyrant police officer, Runu Guha Niyogi in Calcutta High Court. Subhasda wrote a brilliant article covering nearly all aspects of this case in Frontier Weekly. PUCL of Delhi felicitated Subhasda with “Best Human rights Journalism Award” on an all-India basis and awarded him Rs 20,000 as the award money. After returning from Delhi, accepting the award, Subhasda donated a sum of Rs 18,000 to “Frontier” Weekly and a sum of Rs 2000 to Saumen Guha (the brother of Archana Guha) extending his cooperation. In one of the historical cases against police atrocity, Subhasda played an important role as one of the legal adviser to the tortured and aggrieved party. Subhasda had performed the entire statistical analysis part of the doctoral thesis of an internationally reputed scientist. The luring of fame—to become famous, to become a leader and seek monetary gains—is something Subhasda cared least throughout his life.

Here is one incident! This writer was down to bed then as a result of police torture resulting in a serious illness. It was in the year 1973. As they say, the condition was that of a proverbial case of “once a police touches you, you bear the brunt 36 times over”. At that time Subhasda was absconding. One day he and Dilip Chowdhury, who was ousted from his home as the muscle-men of Congress party threatened him, together they came to visit this author. Those two persons, themselves have no or very little means to survive, asked me, “hey, do you need some money?” Maybe that’s how a true camaraderie begins!

In his long experience with people, those whom Subhasda considered to be ‘‘Pathologically Honest’’, with them he was quite free, frank and comfortable with. In their company, he never kept himself locked up in his cocoon. He used to visit their home, even went for outing with them; he attended their invitation with jovial mood, took foods with a smiling face. He felt quite at ease with them.

Today many students of Subhasda are comfortably placed as scientists in the country and abroad—from MIT to many other places; they simply cry with pain as well as in reverence to the person.

It could be just a few days back before the doomsday. Cancer was taking its toll coupled with two dosages of chemotherapy. One day evening, this writer received a phone call from him, with a terribly feeble tone he said, “D-i-p-u, m-y c-o-n-d-i-t-i-o-n is r-e-a-l-l-y B-A-D”. His voice was barely audible. This was the last conversation that this contributor had with him, finishing a 56 years’ long journey with a man who will be remembered by his friends and foes alike. It would be difficult to have another “Subhasda”. Such persons are direly needed for today’s society.

[Translated from original Bengali by Subhasis Mukherjee]

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Vol 56, No. 23, Dec 3 - 9, 2023