Gurudas Dasgupta, doyen of trade union movement, passes away

Published : October 31, 2019 18:18 IST

CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta. Photo: V. Sudershan

November 23, 2006: Gurudas Dasgupta, All India general secretary of the AITUC, addressing a rally organised by the AITUC and the Bharath Kisan Mazdoor Union against price rise and the anti-labour policies of the United Progressive Alliance government, in New Delhi. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

The Communist movement in India lost one of its most dedicated and well-loved figures when Gurudas Dasgupta, a towering leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI) breathed his last on October 31, after a prolonged illness. He was 82. Not only was Dasgupta one of the most eminent parliamentarians of his time, he was also a doyen of the trade union movement in the country, and a pioneer in bringing together different trade unions on a single platform to put up a united front against a common enemy. Under his pragmatic leadership and untiring efforts, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) emerged as one of the most powerful trade unions in India.

Born on November 3, 1936, to Durga Prosanna Dasgupta and Nihar Devi in Barisal (now in Bangladesh), Gurudas Dasgupta embarked upon his political career at a young age through the students’ movement. He was the president and general secretary of the Undivided Bengal Provincial Students’ Federation from 1958 to 1960; and the West Bengal Committee of All India Youth Federation from 1967 to 1977.

The veteran CPI leader Manju Kumar Majumdar, reminiscing about his old comrade, said Gurudas Dasgupta had dedicated his whole life to the struggle for the rights of the poor and the oppressed. “I first met Gurudas da on the battlefield itself, when I was still a student taking part in the historic Food Movement in 1959. At that time I had only heard of Gurudas da but had not met him. After that I got to know him closely, fighting by his side. Whether it was at the helm of the trade union movement or conveying the message of the people on the floor of Parliament, he set an example for us. So many memories come flooding back. With his death a chapter in the communist struggle is over, but the path of struggle on to which he had set us going continues,” Majumdar told Frontline.

According to him, Gurudas Dasgupta’s legacy lies in his untiring struggle to bring about a change in society. In 1965, he was detained under the Defence of India Rules and on many occasions had to go underground. From a youth leader, he turned his focus on trade union activities in the 1970s and began to work among the labour force in the organised and unorganised sectors.

Articulate, outspoken and persuasive in his speech and manners, Gurudas Dasgupta became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1985. He soon established himself as a formidable parliamentarian and was known for his incisive speeches and observations both in the Rajya Sabha and later in the Lok Sabha. He served three terms in the Rajya Sabha—1985, 1988 and 1994—during which he was a part of many important committees and commissions, including the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Harshad Mehta stock market scam (1992).

In 2004, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Panskura seat. In 2009, he returned to the Lok Sabha, this time contesting from the Ghatal constituency. He was also elected leader of the CPI Parliamentary Party in the Lok Sabha. His second term in the Lok Sabha was marked by his role in the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G spectrum case (2011). Lashing out at the JPC chairman (P.C. Chacko of the Congress) for giving a clean chit to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, Gurudas Dasgupta had said, “The report is a cover-up operation. A fraud has been played, facts have been suppressed and it is biased to favour them (Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram). Parliament’s mandate has also been violated.”

His rebellious voice was unsparing of his own party as well. “When the party allied with the Congress and supported the Emergency, Gurudas Dasgupta played a leading role in opposing the party line. He played a crucial role in changing the line of the party,” Senior CPI leader Pallab Sengupta told Frontline.

However outspoken and formidable he may have been inside Parliament or leading protests on the streets, in his private life Dasgupta was one of the most affable and approachable political figures who was never known to turn his back on anyone seeking his advice and help. Even at the height of his power, he led an unostentatious life, staying in relatively modest quarters and never allowing himself to get alienated from the masses.

Though steadfast in his ideology, Gurudas Dasgupta was respected and admired across party lines. Upon his death, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Gurudas Dasgupta Ji was one of the most committed and articulate proponents of his ideology. He was a strong voice in Parliament, whose interventions were keenly heard across the political spectrum.”