People's Democracy

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


No. 32

August 09, 200

 Comrade Subhas: A Mass Leader


Sitaram Yechury



THE spontaneous human outpouring as the cortege carrying the mortal remains of comrade Subhas Chakrabarti passed through the streets of Kolkata was simply overwhelming. Kolkata edition of the Hindustan Times carried this banner headline: "On His Last Journey, Comrade Subhas catches up with (Rabindranath) Tagore, (Mother) Teresa and (Satyajit) Ray". It goes on to say that "one million people lined up along a hundred kilometre stretch to have one last glimpse". Such was the crowd hysteria that the funeral scheduled for 5.30 pm at the Keoratala electric crematorium finally took place well after 8.30 pm. A journey that should not have taken more than four hours took over twelve hours.


Subhasda, as he was popularly and universally known, passed away just before noon on August 3. Since the last journey would be the next day which did not permit enough time for his admirers and well wishers to reach Kolkata from other areas, the Party state committee had decided to take the funeral procession through  ten points associated with his life and work before reaching the Party office for the final journey to the crematorium. The funeral procession therefore started at 7.45 am on August 4 from the mortuary first to Barasat and then to his former residence in Dum Dum and to Motijheel College in Dum Dum. Subhasda was the general secretary from the SFI of the students union students union here. From there it proceeded to the Dum Dum party office, from where Subhasda's political grooming took place and then through his current residence in Salt Lake and then to the Salt Lake Stadium in whose construction and activities he was intimately associated with. From there it proceeded to Writers Building the seat of the state government in which he was a minister. Without interruption he had won all elections to the state assembly since 1977. The surge of the crowds was such at the Writers Building that the scheduled stay for 30 minutes to allow all his ministerial colleagues and the staff and employees to pay homage had to be cut to six minutes, fearing a stampede. From the Writers Building, the cortege proceeded to the state assembly where the former chief minister Sidharth Shakar Ray and assembly speaker Hasim Abdul Halim, amongst other leaders of other political parties paid their homage. Former Lok Sabha Somnath Chatterjee was also here to pay homage. From the state assembly the cortege proceeded to the Netaji Indoor Stadium where a large number of youth and sports clubs paid their homage. From here it proceeded to the CPI(M) state committee office via the state CITU office. Unable to handle the crowd at the Party office in Alimuddin Street where all the legendary capacities of the Kolkata CPI(M) volunteers was put to its ultimate test, the cortege left for the crematorium little after 5.00 pm.


I joined the last journey in the mid point at Park Circus. What should have normally taken us around an hour and a half to walk the eight kilometre distance took us over three hours. All along the way on both sides of the road people had lined up. On all tall buildings people were perched. Some with tears, many shouting slogans but all with a determination to carry forward, what Subhasda had dedicated his whole life for. Hundreds on the way would come up to assure that they are with us and urging the leadership to steadfastly march forward, overcoming weaknesses and by rectifying and correcting mistakes. Curiously, such spontaneous outbursts of emotion was more pronounced in South Kolkata and other parts where the CPI(M) had recently received a drubbing in the general elections.


Subhasda had this uncanny ability to cut across the political spectrum and reach out to a large canvas of public opinion and to the common people. He was truly a mass leader. This appeal was reflected in the vast cross section of people who came to pay homage. The legendary Argentinian footballer Diego Marodona sent a very moving message. The sports world including Saurav Ganguly and the entire team of Kolkata's football luminaries were all there forgetting their bitter rivalries on the field. From the world of art and culture the likes of Mrinal Sen, Mithun Chakravarty, Usha Uthup and many others came to pay their homage. Most touching however was to see those for whom Subhasda had made the crucial difference in giving them a better life - a newspaper delivery boy who maintains his family because Subhasda got him the cycle, a physically challenged athlete Masudur-Rehman, who had given up any meaningful and eventful life after having lost both his legs has recently swum across the English channel because Subhasda managed to get him artificial limbs. He was there crying because Subhasda had promised to be there when he crossed the Palk straits. Such a list was literally endless.


All along this hundred kilometre, 12 hour long journey, at various points spontaneously various youth clubs and choir groups sang revolutionary songs as well as Rabindra Sangeet. This is the curious blend of many a Bengal revolutionary. Subhasda was no exception. During our SFI days, irrespective of our protests he would insist on singing!


I had joined the SFI when Bimanda was the all India general secretary. But I had grown in the SFI when Subhasda was the general secretary. At the SFI's third all India conference in Patna in February 1979, Subhasda was relieved as the general secretary when I was elected as a joint secretary. My association with him spans over thirty five years.


It was during the last election campaign for the state assembly in 2006 that I arrived to speak seeking votes for him barely 20 minutes before the Election Commission's time deadline. Curiously, in the past three assembly elections this was the case. Our comrades however would explain that even in the event of missing the meeting due to the EC's time limit, it would matter little as Subhasda had never lost an election to the state assembly so far. In 2006 he was speaking while waiting for me and as I arrived announced that, given the Left support to the UPA government at the centre and the then political situation, the `man of the match' had arrived. I had then replied that I had arrived to seek votes for the `man of the series'.


Unfortunately, the series has ended. No, this match has ended. But the series continues, till victory, under its inspiration.