People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 41

October 10, 2004


 B T Ranadive


Comrade BTR (right) with Comrade AKG in a group photo of the first PB

IT is difficult to recall the memory of Comrade AKG without emotional disturbance and overwhelming feeling. Perhaps no other leader of the Communist movement, of the CPI(M), had endeared himself to Party ranks, leaders and the masses alike, as our beloved AKG had. And no other leader evoked such admiration and praise from others outside the Party and the Communist movement as AKG did. With his passing away, his colleagues of the Polit Bureau of CPI(M) felt themselves bereft of a sustaining power and a prop, of a vital link that kept the leadership of the Party in touch with the masses and their chang­ing moods. And the masses themselves felt deprived of a guiding hand, a trust­worthy friend and counseller, a leader who never failed them.


Gopalan’s life story is the story of the people’s struggle in which he participated and which he later on led. His life is indistinguishable from the history of the times he lived in, times which he tried to shape according to his convictions based on Marxism-Leninism. Since his early childhood he was attracted towards service in the cause of the people. Consi­deration of personal advancement and ambition did not touch him. He writes in his autobiography: “I had no ambition of becoming a lawyer, a judge or a doctor. The only kind of job that attracted me was one in which I would be free and available to work amidst the people.”


Gopalan started life as an ordinary school teacher, but his rebellious spirit, his consciousness of the enslaved status of his people made him look upon his job as a social responsibility. He writes: “I taught for about seven years. The work was pleasing and exhilarating. Little innocent children, the knowledge that I was the guardian of all, many holidays, opportunities for public activities, a chance to earn the love and regard of the people, a situation in which I could forget the heavy cares of life and play and live with children –– these exhilarated me.”


Gopalan, the patriot, the future revolutionary and Communist, turned his teacher’s job into one of devotion to the younger generation and the enslaved people. “My interest in teaching work was increasing. From being a teacher working for money, I became a teacher working as a friend of the people. From daybreak until 9 o’clock, I would visit students in their homes and talk to their guardians but would be at school in time for the class. After a hurried lunch, I would coach backward pupils. Evenings I would set apart for games with students and holidays for public work.” Gopalan here was following in the footsteps of many of his compatriots who, in the midst of millions of illiterates, looked upon spread of education as an instrument of national salvation, of overcoming the enslaved status of the country.


But he went further. His ardent anti-imperialist soul took to directly promoting national feelings and practice. He writes: “A teacher’s life is wholly a kind of public service. Just as a reactionary teacher can turn his pupils into puppets of the present ruinous educational system, a revolutionary teacher can instil patriotism, a sense of freedom and the courage and stamina to fight against oppression and social vices in the minds of boys who are to become citizens of the future. A teacher can of course turn his wards into bureaucrats by insisting on blind loyalty to superiors. He can also make them soldiers of war in the battle to salvage the country from the present educational, economic and political morass. The greatest service that I rendered as a teacher was to instil political conscious­ness in my students. I was particularly loyal to the boys who wore Khaddar and the Gandhi cap.” Thus Gopalan, full of re­bellious spirit, began his service in the course of the anti-imperialist struggle for national freedom.


Gopalan’s sense of justice was roused by the horrible conditions imposed by caste distinctions and especially the inhuman treatment of the untouchables. As a young boy he had to face corporal punishment at the hands of his parents for daring to dine with the “lower castes.” “Besides I was fond of attending Thiyya (Ezhava) marriages. I publicly ate there, though in fear. Father would come to know of this, and I was badly thrashed by my father and uncle. Uncle’s beating was of a new type. He would first beat me with a stick, then throw it away and beat me with his hand and then again with the stick….. This beating toughened me and this in a sense helped me with­stand the rigours of my way of life.”


If he faced corporal punishment at home on the question of caste, he was to face physical assault in the public on the same question. A procession led by him to assert the right of the untouchables to enter the Guruvayoor Temple was attacked by an angry people. “The people of Kandoth knew about the procession. They therefore made necessary arrange­ments beforehand. When the procession neared the road, a large mob of old and young people, men and women, rushed forward and started beating us. The women carried heavy wooden poles..... Keraleeyan and I fell down unconscious. We were taken to hospital in a car. There we lay unconscious for some hours.” This was the baptism of young Gopalan in his struggle against the tyranny of the Hindu caste system – Gopalan who was later to enter movement after movement and jail after jail in quest of the freedom of his country from foreign domination and for democratic rights for his people.


Gopalan was destined to create trouble for the authorities everywhere and the authorities were the British, then ruling India. In his first encounter with the British jail, Gopalan created trouble and got himself into trouble, defying the jail officials. He writes: “After a few days. I was summoned to the office and was told that I was to be transferred to Cuddalore Jail. I was transferred on a report from the Superintendent that I was the cause of all the trouble and that I should be given severe punishment.” He was transferred to the lunatic ward in the Cuddalore Jail – the jail authorities sought to wreak vengeance on the rebellious young leader. “A group of prisoners did not even hide their nakedness, some were poor prisoners who had become lunatics and semi-lunatic as a result of the miseries of jail life and the blows inflicted by wardens. I was greeted with the words “Hey, Congress lunatic”. I could not eat. I was lodged with them at night. I could not sleep. Every five minutes they would start wrangling with each other. One would bite the ear of the other. The wardens would immediately start beating us all. I felt certain that my life was in danger. However, I was ready to suffer anything.”


He again fought, went on a hunger strike till the authorities agreed to put him in a separate room. This was the fate of a large number of freedom fighters during the British regime; beatings and humiliations in jail, sharing barracks or rooms with mental patients, or tuberculosis or leprosy patients. During the Emergency, the dictatorial Indira regime gave the same sadistic treatment to some of the arrested persons.


Gopalan had to struggle against these injustices of the British rule along with other patriots during the days of the freedom struggle and had again to undergo similar sufferings under the Congress rule. The younger generation should know that the earlier Communist leaders were forged through this fire of struggle and suffering, through continuous confrontation with imperialist savagery.


The life story of Gopalan is the story of struggle of the people, of their woes, sufferings and triumphs. He suffered along with the people in the fight against the British.


He celebrated along with the people the victory of the Indian people when they gained independence –– a victory for which he had undergone several imprisonments, beatings and hunger strikes. He again picked up the gauntlet against Congress misrule and defended the people, the workers and peasants against exploitation, against suppression of their democratic rights.


Gopalan entered political life as a Congressman and ended as a valiant and brilliant leader of the CPI(M). The evolution of Gopalan followed the historical law of consistent anti-imperialist patriots ending as Marxist-Leninists, because Marxism-Leninism alone provided the ideology and weapons to fight the im­perialist-imposed slavery and the poverty engendered by feudal and capitalist rela­tions. In a country like India, Marxism-­Leninism with its materialist anti-religious outlook alone could weld together anti-imperialism with the fight against feudal caste exploitation and the struggle against poverty to reach socialism.


Gopalan started as a Congressman. His passion for the poverty-stricken masses soon led him to identify himself with the left wing in the Congress – the Congress Socialist Party. He founded the new Party in 1934 and inspired by the objective of socialism, worked tirelessly among the workers and peasants. He organised a number of peasants’ struggles and workers’ strikes in Kerala, learning from the masses the truth of the class struggle.


In 1935 he led the historic march of unemployed and landless from Cannanore to Madras covering the 250 miles distance on foot. This was an unprecedented event bringing home to the people the growing scourge of unemployment and peasant evictions. The revolutionary spirit of Gopalan could not remain enchained to the Congress Socialist Party, its ideology and its organisational failures. A serious revolutionary that Gopalan was, he had perforce to choose a revolutionary ideology and give up the framework of Congress Socialism. “After the start of the Second Imperialist War, the CSP ceased to have anything to do with socialism and the policies of the working class in the international context. Not realising the importance of the Soviet-German provisional treaty, they opposed it as a Nazi alliance. The Red Army’s entry into Poland was criticised as evidence of Soviet imperialism. The CSP leaders who prided themselves on being Marxists failed to see even what Churchill, the principal enemy of the Soviet Union, saw. Moreover, they followed a policy of breaking up class organisstions and struggles. They created a split in the All India Students’ Federation, the All India Kisan Sabha and the Bihar Kisan Sabha.


“Instead of setting up a secret organisation necessitated by the war conditions, they snapped all ties with Communists and threw out all those known to be Communists’ from the Socialist Party. As a result of this people like me who had risen from the ranks of the national struggle and joined the CSP got closer to Communism and the leaders remained with Gandhism. The Socialist parties of Malabar, Tamilnadu and other places started functioning as units of the Communist Party.”


Gopalan at last found a Party which could give full play to his revolutionary abilities, and his fighting capacities, in the cause of freedom and revolution. Now onwards he found full scope to display his personal courage and his incessant desire to be active among the people, free from all the inhibitions of bourgeois ideology.


Joining the Communist Party, he switched over to underground work till March 1941 when he was arrested. But jail could not hold this revolutionary for long. He decided to escape and carry on the revolutionary battle. He writes: “Around 3 o’clock at night in torrential rain, we bade farewell to the jail walls and came out. As we emerged from the hole, we found the warden sitting about 50 yards away in good light with his revolver. Small sounds were inaudible in the sound of the rain. This was a blessing. Reaching the fence, we went crawling through the jail garden…..we  crawled for about half a furlong and reached the barbed wire fence. We jumped over it in darkness and cut our legs and bellies in the hurry…….”


This signalised the metamorphosis of CSP Gopalan into Communist Gopalan.


Joining the Communist Party, Gopalan was in and out of jail several times during the freedom struggle and later on under the Congress regime. He was in Congress jail during the first four years of independence. By now he had led innumerable peasant struggles and worker strikes in Kerala.


The first Parliament elected after freedom found this tested fighter in the Parliament. Anyone else in his place, without command over English and with lack of experience of parliamentary debate, would have turned a failure. But not Gopalan. As the leader of the united Communist Party of India, Gopalan made his mark by his utter sincerity, by the genuine feeling he poured into everything he said when he defended the underdog. He was the leader of the Opposition under the CPI and later on under the CPI(M), in Parliament till his passing away. An incorruptible revolutionary, he used the Parliament as a forum for the people’s cause, without fear and vacillation and in the bargain gained many friends. He was the most conscious parliamentarian, individually replying to the huge dak he daily received and representing people’s grievances to the authorities.


Parliament, however, was too small a forum for his activities. He was most active as the president of the Kisan Sabha which he headed since 1951. As leader of the Kisan Sabha, as leader of the opposition in Parliament, Gopalan campaigned all over the country and became the most well-known all-India leader of the Party and the kisans. He was sought after by all those who were in action. Gopalan would be present where people were repressed and terrorised; his would be the voice to protest against police killings. He would be the mainstay of a people repressed by the bureaucracy. It was he who helped the Punjab peasants during the anti-betterment levy struggle which saw many killings. It was he who carried word of encouragement to the people of Maharashtra and Gujarat when they were agitating for a separate state.


Parliamentary activity and devotion to the struggles of the workers and peasants did not relax Gopalan’s vigilance in defending the theoretical purity of the Communist Party. Soon after the first Parliament elections, the canker of revisionism began to corrode the united Party from inside. The opportunism and carreerism of some leaders and revisionist tendencies began to manifest and an inner-party struggle started step by step. Gopalan sided with the revolutionary Marxist trend inside the Party and opposed revisionist manifestations. During the days of India-China conflict, the revisionist bourgeois-chau­vinist leadership joined hands with the Congress government and virtually supported the arrest of Party leaders representing the uncompromising revolutionary trend. Among those arrested and kept in jail for four years was AKG. The revisionists did not even protest against his arrest.


Gopalan continued to maintain his international outlook and carried on his fight against the revisionists. In 1964, he along with several of his colleagues parted company with the revisionists and founded the CPI(M). He would not lower the Marxist-Leninist banner.


Such was the extraordinary individual, the most beloved leader of the CPI(M), a leader who was perennially with the masses, who thought only of them and the revolution and who firmly held aloft the banner of Marxism-Leninism.


(This article was published in the AKG Memorial Souvenir brought out by the AKG Memorial Committee, Mumbai in 1979.)