By Vidyadhar Date
The widespread demonstration of solidarity displayed by various sections of people in Maharashtra in support of the murdered veteran Communist leader Govind Pansare has been most encouraging. It sows that there is silent admiration for leaders who are dedicated, simple, secular and honest. The Communist movement in Maharashtra and elsewhere has produced more such leaders than perhaps any other party has. In contrast to the heartfelt response of the masses, there was a strange silence from a large section of liberals who should be normally most concerned about attacks on liberty and freedom of expression.
Mr Pansare was well-known in the Left movement , had done immense work among the poor in his home district of Kolhapur and elsewhere and was an inspiration for activists from other parties as well. The adulation he received in death shows people do respect honesty in public life and they are thoroughly disgusted with widespread corruption in various political parties.
The killing of Mr Govind Pansare cannot be seen in isolation from the political developments in Maharashtra in the last few decades.
The killing immediately brings to mind the brutal murder of Krishna Desai, the Communist party of India MLA, in Mumbai in 1970 at the hands of Shiv Sena supporters.That murder was the turning point in politics and saw the rise of the Shiv Sena and the beginning of the ebbing of the then strong working class movement in Maharashtra. Desai was killed because he was militant and could have taken on the Shiv Sena’s violence.
Mr Pansare and his wife were shot at by two undentified gunmen near his home in Kolhapur in southern Maharashtra on February 16. He succumbed to his injuries at Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai on February 20.
Mr Pansare was brought in an air ambulance from Kolhapur and admitted to the upper class hospital at the behest of chief minister Devendra Fadanavis. A good gesture but it may have been intended to subdue the rising popular anger over the shooting.
People cutting across party lines have condemned the murder because he was a simple, popular man who came from a humble background. Strangely, very little cognizance was taken by some intellectuals on the Left and liberals who are so active on social media and who are otherwise so vocal on the issue of freedom of expression. They did well to rise in support of Teesta Setalvad, the social activist who has done remarkable work for the victims of the atrocities in Gujarat. But there was little concern for the killing of Mr Pansare and this perhaps had something to do with the class issue. Mr Pansare came from humble origins, he had even worked as a peon early in his career. He was well built, very well read and his face showed traces of years of toil spent in early days. The point is that some of the upper class intellectuals have little interest in what happens in their hinterland even as they brilliantly hold debates on what is happening in Europe. I knew Mr Pansare for the last several years and was impressed by his knowledge, commitment and the simple, persuasive way he spoke. He used to ask me to devote some time every day in Lok Vangmay Griha, the progressive publishing house. Unfortunately, I could not do that and this will be a regret. He was responsible for some excellent publications including biographies of a number of Communist leaders which will be useful for all, especially for future researchers. Kolhapur town, where Mr Pansare grew up, is socially progressive, its former princely ruler Shahu Maharaj had introduced reservations for dalits over 100 years ago. But economically it is dominated by a powerful sugar lobby of Congressmen. Mr N.D. Patil of the Peasants and Workers party, another veteran who is past 80, hails from the same district. He is the husband of Mr Sharad Pawar’s sister but is highly committed to people’s causes and different in every way from Mr Pawar.
The Congress and some academics and intellectuals in its fold are now making a lot of noise about the reactionary role of the BJP and rightly so but it cannot be forgotten that the Congress has a direct role in promoting the Shiv Sena since its inception and had a political alliance with it in the 1980s. Mr Sharad Pawar, the boss of the Nationalist Congress party, recently felicitated Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his hometown Baramati in Pune district and social media featured the Pawar family’s picture with Mr Modi on the lawns.
Mr Pansare’s killing comes at a particularly critical time when trade unions and labour are under increasing attack. Vociferous demands are being made for so called labour reforms which really means taking away legal protection to workers. It is being alleged by these sycophants of capital that laws are a hindrance to employment. But the point is employers, including powerful ones in the media industry, have long ago started flouting laws and for them them these laws are no hindrance at all.
A vast majority of workers work in the most appalling conditions. I read this heart rending report of an alleged murder committed by a worker two days ago because he had not been paid his wages. A bus cleaner Deepak Jaiswal, 21, of Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, allegedly killed the bus driver in Mumbai because the driver had employed him and not paid wages. So look at the kind of employment structure. He worked in a bus of a company but had not been hired by the company. That is the structure of jobs and employment in this country and there are millions and millions of people like him.
This is the most glaring state of labour. And yet some academics have the gall the seek curbs on labour. Indian labour regulations remain excruciatingly burdensome, declared, a `distinguished’ professor from Johns Hopkins university, Pravin Krishna , in the Economic Times on February 17. Surprisingly, even a well known Leftist academic wrote an edit page article in the Times of India last year calling for labour reforms. That was really sad.
All these smart Alecs are arguing that labour laws are a hindrance to employment and industrial growth. . But then how come Joblessness is such a major problem in the West and particularly in the U.S. where labour laws are quite lax ? The conditions are so bad in the U.S. that the former U.S. labour secretary Robert Reich recently wrote that the country was going back to the 19th century in terms of anti-labour policies.
And how central labour’s contribution to the growth of capital is clear from recent research which shows that America’s capitalism has grown mainly on the basis of extreme exploitation of labour, especially black slave labour. Because of slave labour the U.S. could produce and export huge quantities of cotton to Europe which fuelled the industrial revolution there through the textile mills. And yet this anti-labour, sabre rattling, heavily armed, nation, supporting depots is hailed by our elite as a model of democracy.
In view of the current political situation it was interesting listening to Kiran Nagarkar, well-known novelist in English and Marathi, and ardent secularist, at a lecture at the David Sassoon library in Mumbai on February 21. It was unusual to hear an English language writer in India lashing out at the Americans for their role from the time of the Vietnam war to the present in Iraq and elsewhere. He made a very politically correct speech, praising Ho Chi Minh and Castro and covering a huge ground including climate change and the threat of unbridled builder lobby.
The point is whether some people like it or not Communists have been saying these things for ages. But they were laughed at when they said these things in the sixties and seventies. Several anti-communist writers were very much on the side of the U.S. in the days of the cold war and in the forefront of upholding the philosophy of art for art’s sake. Nagarkar stressed on the word apathy in his lecture, the apathy of many of us to injustice at various levels. But when Marxists said these things years ago they were chided for bringing politics into literature and being didactic. Nagarkar’s lecture was organized by the David Sassoon library in memory of David Sassoon, textile magnate who was an Iraqi Jew. Rusheed Wadia, my friend and history scholar, said Nagarkar’s insights should help youngsters who, otherwise, were growing in a superficial culture. And he is right it is a culture of fake accents and obscurity.
One had thought that the killing of Mr Pansare would prominently feature in the lecture since it was so recent and the issue so relevant to Nagarkar’s theme of the day. Strangely he did not refer to it. It was left to Arun Naik, a critic and theatre personality, to ask him a question on Mr Pansare and then Nagarkar said how much he admired Mr Pansare and had in fact travelled with him to Borivali in Mumbai .
Mr Jairus Banaji, a prominent expert in Marxist theory, chose to remark on February 21 that the Indian Left lacked an adequate culture of internationalism. That is certainly not true in the literary field at least. Currently, Rameshchandra Patkar, a Marathi writer and researcher, is translating poems of Palestinian poets and has just published a book on the Ghadar revolutionary movement. Satish Kalsekar, a highly talented poet, has done much more than several Indian writers in English, in translating poetry from different parts of the world. There are few writers in India who are so well-read in international left wing literature. Arun Sadhu, a prominent Marathi novelist and journalist, wrote on the Chinese revolution, on Castro early in his career and translated poems of the revolutionary Telugu writer Chera Banda Raju. A class bias is also clear in the way a section of English language writers in India look down upon writers writing in native, Indian languages. Salman Rushdie’s abusing Jnanpith award winning writer Bhalchandra Nemade as a bastard on a tweet shows the low levels to which this class can descend. Some well-known English language writers have criticized Rushdie. He has never said anything so mean to them obviously because they come from the upper class. But Nemade comes from a modest background from the interior of Maharashtra. So he is targeted. But he is a big name, has taught English literature and comparative literature. The point is that people from humble, rural backgrounds like Pansare and several writers are rising with a liberal, progressive, international perspective. And above all, they love the common people of this country, identify with them.
(Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the Era of Climate Change. Walking, Cycling, Public Transport Need Priority).