COMRADE PRASANTA SUR (1923 ? 2008)
VETERAN Communist leader, state committee member of the Bengal CPI(M), one of the principal organisers of the Udbastuu Andolan (refugee movement) in Bengal, former minister in the Bengal Left Front government, and former mayor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation at a time when there was a repressive and violently anti-Communist, Congress-led union government in office, Prasanta Kumar Sur passed away on the early hours of February 29, 2008.
Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Bengal unit secretary of the CPI(M) Biman Basu and virtually the entire rank of the Bengal CPI(M) leadership paid their last respects to the departed Communist leader when his last remains were brought in the later morning hours at Muzaffar Ahmad Bhavan. In his death, the Party has lost one of its elder luminaries, said Biman Basu.
Prasantada had been ill for quite some time. What was remarkable was that he would often come out of his hospital bed to take part in Kolkata-based central programmes of the Bengal unit of the CPI(M). In particular, he would attend even if for brief periods, gently sweeping aside with his winning flashing smile, vigorous protestations of medical professionals, almost every important meeting of the state and Kolkata district units of the CPI(M).
Prasantada was a gentle person but a stern Communist who believed in discipline, and ran whatever unit he was put in charge of with Leninist principles ? he was not a comrade who would broach a political-ideological compromise anywhere. This is known to all CPI(M) workers who commenced as political fledglings their organisational apprenticeship in Bengal under the caring tutelage of Prasantada.
Coming from a humble background, Prasantada became a member of the then united Communist Party in 1953, and after some TU work, plunged himself into organising the fulminating stream of the refugees who crossed the border in search of hope and livelihood in Bengal. Several-fold tasks awaited him. He had to look for the initial settlement of the refugees in what came to be known as jabar dakhal colonies (or ?squatters? enclaves?). Then he had to approach a callous and uncaring Congress-led state government to ask for subsistence-level help for the uprooted to survive. None was offered.
Prasantada along with other stalwarts and with full and wide-ranging help of the Communist Party built up the united council of refugees that led from the front the movement for recognition of the rights of the refugees as denizens of epaar Bangla (?this side of Bengal? - across the fatuous borderline). He succeeded almost in single-handedly building up the large and bustling Netaji Nagar colony of Tollygunj at the head of the refugee council. It was the decade of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
By then a new challenge has been placed before the Communist Party, later the Communist Party of India (Marxist) ? the challenge of electoral politics.
The UF government came to office and was gone before it could really dig itself in. Nevertheless, this was not the case at the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. There the Left won the civic polls, and stayed in office until 1972 and the rigged election on that year, following which the then local government minister and the leader of the dominating fraction of the one-too-many ?Youth Congress? units, Subrata Mukherjee had the Communist-led board illegally dismissed. Prasanta Kumar Sur had become the first Communist mayor of metropolis, and commenced the move that was aimed at reorienting the developmental drive of the civic body towards the mass of the people, especially the urban poor, and the refugees who had kept coming to the city and its surroundings, all the while.
Prasantada was the urban development minister of the Left Front government from 1977 till 1982, it was under him that the then Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA, now KMDA), really got off the ground, becoming a prime agency for development from the moribund state it had been put in.
A host of roads, bridges, and the first fly-over of the metro (the Sealdah fly-over) were constructed under him despite violence opposition by both fractions of the Pradesh Congress (Subrata Mukherjee had then split from and was virtually at war with the Somen Mitra-led fraction). We recall the brutish way Prasantada was assaulted -- he carried the marks on his face well into his sunset years -- when going on a house-to-house campaign in the Sealdah region, explaining to the people the need for the fly-over to be constructed.
Prasantada was also a great success as a health minister of the LF government (1987 ? 1991), and he especially turned his attention to the development of a rural health network while strengthening the government-run hospitals and research centres in the cities, large, and small. A simple man of humble disposition, and uncomplicated lifestyle, Prasantada chose not to run for the Assembly elections thereafter and devoted himself full time to Party work.