People's Democracy

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


No. 42

October 20, 2013




G P Deshpande


PROFESSOR Govind Purushottam Deshpande, playwright, scholar and academic, who passed away in Pune on October 16, 2013, was an outstanding public intellectual of the country. His father had been a respected freedom fighter and an activist of the Socialist Party, based in Rahmatpur in Satara district of Maharashtra. But he was drawn to communism by the remarkable transformation occurring in China after the revolution under the leadership of the Communist Party, with which, being an expert in Chinese Studies whose entire active life was spent teaching the subject at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, he was deeply familiar. A teacher-activist at the JNU, he was associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) all his life. His book on the Cultural Revolution in China, one of the few published in India on the subject, was a source of illumination for many readers in this country, as were his regular columns in the Economic and Political Weekly, Mumbai.


His first play Uddhvast Dharmashala, a gripping exploration of the witch-hunt of a non-conformist progressive academic in a university setting, was a trendsetter in modern Indian theatre. His other plays, all in Marathi, included It is One AM Now, Chanakya Vishnugupta and Jyotiba Phule.


GPD, as Deshpande was lovingly called, along with a few colleagues, pioneered the revival of the Marxist movement in the study of aesthetics in the country. He was a participant at the Kasauli seminar in 1979 which was the first episode in this revival and which set the stage for launching a new journal The Journal of Arts and Ideas of which he was the first editor. That initiative, though it does not survive any longer in its original form, has been the progenitor of a remarkable upsurge of cultural activism in the country, which later played a stellar role in combating the insidious spread of communal fascism. He was one of the founder trustees of Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT)


A very popular public speaker in English as well as Marathi, Deshpande travelled widely, both when he was in Delhi and after his retirement in Pune, speaking on literary, cultural and political themes. His courage and commitment to the progressive cause were exemplary. When the 1972 assembly elections in West Bengal were rigged under the shadow of the semi-fascist terror, unleashed against the Left, a signature campaign was organised in Delhi as a mark of protest. Only about half a dozen intellectuals in the capital had the courage to stand up against the authoritarianism creeping into the country’s polity. Deshpande was one of them. His death is an immense loss.


Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), sent the following message of condolence to the family of GPD on October 17, 2013


I WAS deeply grieved to hear the news of the death of Professor G P Deshpande. GPD was a man of many talents. He was a prominent Marathi playwright and critic whose plays made an important contribution to Marathi theatre. He was a scholar on China and served for many years as professor of Chinese Studies in the Jawaharlal Nehru University.


GPD was deeply committed to socialism and the cause of social justice, and this permeated all his scholarly work. He had a long association with the party and the Left movement. In his death, we have lost a Marxist scholar par excellence. I convey my heartfelt sympathy to his son Sudhanva, daughter Ashwini and other members of his family.