People's Democracy

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


No. 16

April 26, 2009



Mariam Dhawale

THE news of Comrade Ahilya Rangnekar’s demise on the morning of April 19 struck a chord of grief and nostalgia among large sections of people in Maharashtra, and especially among members of the CPI(M) and other Left and secular forces. On April 20, all major regional dailies ran extensive obituaries prominently on the first page and most of the Marathi dailies ran editorials paying homage to the extraordinary life and times of Ahilyatai, as she was popularly known all over the state. The electronic media also gave prominent coverage to her selfless life in the service of the downtrodden.

At noon on April 20, her effigy draped in the Red Flag of the Party to which she had devoted over 65 years of her life, was brought to the CPI(M) state committee office ‘Janashakti’ at Worli to enable thousands of people to take a last glimpse of their beloved leader. Just over a year ago, many of them had come for a last glimpse of her husband and another Communist stalwart, Comrade P B Rangnekar. Their sons Ajit and Abhay, daughters-in-law Alaka and Suniti, Comrade B T Ranadive’s son Uday and daughter-in-law Neelu and many other family members paid her homage.

On behalf of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau, Dr M K Pandhe and Brinda Karat, MP, were the first to offer their floral tributes. They were followed by CPI(M) Central Committee members Subhashini Ali and Sudha Sundararaman. On behalf of the CPI(M) West Bengal state committee, Central Committee member Shyamali Gupta and on behalf of the Kerala state committee, Central Committee member Josephine also placed wreaths.

The CPI(M) Polit Bureau, CITU, AIKS and AIDWA central committees, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau members Sitaram Yechury MP, S Ramachandran Pillai, K Varadarajan, Kerala chief minister V S Achuthanandan, Central Control Commission chairman N Sankaraiah, Central Secretariat member Hannan Mollah MP, CPI(M) Tamil Nadu state committee and all Central Committee members from Tamilnadu, CPI(M) Gujarat and Goa state committees, Goa CITU, progressive filmmaker Anand Patwardhan and many others had sent condolence messages or telegrams.

On behalf of the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee, state secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale and state secretariat members K L Bajaj, Kumar Shiralkar, Mahendra Singh, Krishna Khopkar, Ajit Abhyankar, Kiran Moghe and Mariam Dhawale, Party state and district committee members, AIDWA state secretariat members Sonya Gill, Sugandhi Francis, Shubha Shamim, Suman Patil, Hemlata Patil, Saraswati Bhandirge and Subhadra Khilare and hundreds of Party members and mass organisation leaders offered floral tributes to a leader whom they had loved and admired.

Ahilya’s close friends and partners in many struggles, JD(S) leader Mrinal Gore and CPI leader Kusum Nadkarni came to Janashakti in spite of their poor health to pay their last tributes. Mrinal Gore wrote a touching piece about Ahilya that appeared in several dailies. CPI leaders L S Karkhanis, Sukumar Damle and Prakash Narvekar paid their homage.

Among the wide circle of dignitaries that came to pay homage to Ahilya Rangnekar were top former police official J F Ribeiro, Union Petroleum minister Murli Deora, Milind Deora, MP and Husain Dalwai of the Congress, Sachin Ahir MLA, Sharad Rao and Vidya Chavan of the NCP (Sharad Rao placed wreaths on behalf of NCP national president Sharad Pawar and state president R R Patil) Mohan Ravle MP of the Shiv Sena, Bala Nandgaonkar of the MNS, Kapil Patil MLA of Lokbharati, Vasant Shirali of JD(S), Mohammad Khadas of SJP, Gajanan Khatu of LRM, P R Menon of NRMU, Suresh Dhopeshwarkar of AIBEA, J R Bhosale of HMS, Uday Bhat of LNP(L), M A Patil of LNP, Sundar Navalkar of ULP, Mahesh Bharatiya of BRP-BM, renowned journalists P Sainath and Dinoo Ranadive, scientist Dr Hemu Adhikari, paediatrician Dr R D Potdar, surgeon Dr Santosh Karmarkar, writer Anand Teltumbde, S A Dange’s daughter Roza Deshpande and many others. There were also hundreds of workers, hutment-dwellers and women who had been with Ahilyatai in struggles.

Amidst resounding slogans of ‘Comrade Ahilya Rangnekar Lal Salaam!’, ‘Comrade Ahilya Rangnekar Amar Rahe!’ and ‘Marxvad-Leninvad Zindabad!’ the funeral procession of thousands began from Janashakti at 4 pm. At the head of the procession were 87 red shirt volunteers, each with a red flag held at half mast – both men and women – signifying Ahilyatai’s age. The procession, after coursing through the streets of central Mumbai, from where she had been elected to the Lok Sabha in 1977 - reached the Shivaji Park crematorium at 6 pm and the condolence meeting began.

After the introduction by CPI(M) Mumbai district secretary Mahendra Singh, the condolence meeting was presided over by CPI(M) state secretary and Central Committee member Dr Ashok Dhawale and the main speaker was CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and CITU president Dr M K Pandhe. Other prominent speakers were AIDWA general secretary Sudha Sundararaman, former police commissioner J F Ribeiro, CPI(M) Central Committee members K L Bajaj and Kumar Shiralkar and several other leaders of various political parties who have been named above.

M K Pandhe, paying homage on behalf of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau and Central Committee, recalled that his long association with Ahilya began in 1948 when he met her at a student conference. She was always an epitome of the struggle against injustice in all its forms. Her entire life was spent in taking up issues for struggle. She never thought of herself and braved all forms of state repression, spending over seven years in jail. Her role in support of the naval mutiny, the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, the anti-price rise struggle and the battle against the Emergency would always be remembered. She used to place her opinions clearly and fearlessly in Party forums. As vice president of CITU, she used to stress that the problems of working women had to be taken up by the trade union movement as a whole and not only by the women’s movement. She used to insist on greater representation for women in the leadership of the Party and mass organisations. She never refused to do any particular work, however small it might be. She was fired by the ideals of economic, social and political justice and always stressed that we should build up the strength of our Party and mass organisations rapidly.

Pandhe concluded by saying that Maharashtra once had a strong Communist movement. It is necessary to work hard to build a strong movement here once again. Taking inspiration from the life and work of leaders like Ahilya Rangnekar, the younger generation in the Party must confidently strive to make this aim a reality in the days to come.

J F Ribeiro said that Ahilya was a great human being. “I was once asked if her agitations gave me any trouble. I replied that she always fought for justice. And it is the duty of the police to help this struggle for justice. She always made concrete suggestions for redressing people’s grievances. Ahilya transcended all barriers and always stood for what is right. And that is why I felt it my duty to come here and pay her my last respects.”

Sudha Sundararaman, paying tributes to this brave and beloved leader of the AIDWA, said that the mass movement that she built up was her strength. She had boundless confidence that the struggle against imperialism, feudalism and capitalism would be fought and eventually won by the working people. She fought against communalism in all its forms and for social justice. She promoted inter-religious and inter-caste marriages and fought for the rights of the backward classes. The growth of AIDWA with a countrywide membership of 1 crore 10 lakhs today is because we had many towering leaders like Ahilya at the helm of our organisation. She will always be a perennial source of inspiration for women cadres all over the country.

K L Bajaj recalled Ahilya’s prominent role in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement and the Goa liberation struggle. Her nature was very friendly and she never got irritated or angry. That is why people used to approach her for help at all hours of the day or night. She was fearless and recently met the president of India on some issue and told her that if the problem was not solved, she would lead a demonstration on the Rashtrapati Bhavan!

Kusum Nadkarni recalled the days of working together with Ahilya in the All India Women’s Conference. She had a great knack for organising women, not only from the working class but also middle class women. The joint struggles of thousands of women with rolling pins that she led in the 1970s and 1980s against price rise became legendary. She played a key role in bringing various women’s organisations together for struggle.

Dr Ashok Dhawale, while placing the highlights of Ahilya’s life and work, recalled her role in the freedom struggle against British imperialism – her unfurling of the tricolour in the Yeravada jail and her support of the RIN mutiny when she narrowly escaped British bullets, the struggle for the Hindu Code Bill under the leadership of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, her leading role in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement which prompted Acharya Atre to pen a poem on her describing her as ‘Ranaragini’ – Heroine of the Battlefield – the three and a half years incarceration during the India-China conflict, the massive joint women’s struggles against price rise, election as Mumbai municipal corporator for two decades, imprisonment during the Emergency, election to the Lok Sabha, her work as Central Committee member for nearly three decades and for a three-year period as state secretary of the CPI(M), and her pioneering role as founder of the Parel Mahila Sangh, the Shramik Mahila Sangh and later the AIDWA.

He said she was a true mass leader with an extraordinary grasp on the pulse of the people; a militant leader of people’s struggles; a spotlessly clean character which endowed her with great moral authority which intimidated the powers that be; an extremely loving and affectionate nature which endeared her to all; and at the root of all this was her unshakable faith in Marxism-Leninism and her boundless devotion to the Communist Party which kept her active in the service of the people to the very end. He paid homage to Ahilya on behalf of the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee and all Party comrades in Maharashtra.

After the gathering observed a two minute silence to pay homage to her memory, Ahilya Rangnekar was consigned to the flames amidst a tearful farewell. It marked the end of an era – an era that will be a source of perennial inspiration for many generations to come.