A life dedicated to socialism

Print edition : July 21, 2001
Sailen Dasgupta, 1920-2001.

SAILEN DASGUPTA - freedom fighter, veteran leader and Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and chairman of the Left Front in West Bengal - died in a Mumbai hospital on July 10. He had earlier been operated upon for a coronary bypass. He was 81.

SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

Born in 1920 in a poverty-stricken family in a small mufassil township in the district of Barisal in what was then undivided Bengal, Sailen Dasgupta was drawn at an early age to the Anushilan Samiti, a large and organised group of activists that believed in armed struggle against the British raj and opposed the mass politics of passive resistance that characterised the practice of the Indian National Congress. In the 1930s, Dasgupta became disillusioned with the "terrorist path", and his restlessness found an outlet when he came in touch with Marxist revolutionaries like Niren Ghosh, who subsequently brought him into the fold of the Communist Party of India, in the nascent Barisal unit.

Dasgupta became a whole-time worker of the CPI soon after. He often spoke of that period, when he supplemented the small allowance he received from the Party by working the night shift in factories or production units. During this period, the young Dasgupta, who had an excellent command of English, managed to land, albeit briefly, the job of an assistant babu (or clerk) in a mercantile firm in Calcutta. But, as he would confess, he was thrown out quickly enough when he hit back, and in public, at "my boss, a fiercely racist sahib".

As a whole-time party worker, Dasgupta was given wider responsibilities in looking after the Party headquarters in Calcutta and maintaining links with the burgeoning district units, and he applied himself as well to a rigorous regime of self-education. In later years, he would speak of how he would set aside a few rupees every month from his very modest allowance and buy books on history, economics and geography, but most of all classic works of socialist theory. The books have extensive margin comments pencilled in by him, most of which attempt to relate the premises of international socialist and communist theory to the evolving reality of India. By the 1950s, Sailen Dasgupta had started to work as an important functionary of the CPI. After the CPI split in 1964, he was associated with the work of the Central Committee office of the CPI(M) in Lake Place in south Calcutta. He was also deeply involved with the work of publication of the CPI(M)'s weekly organ, People's Democracy, whose first editor was Jyoti Basu.

By the early 1970s, Sailen Dasgupta had emerged as one of the main organisers of both the CPI(M) and the Left Front in West Bengal. A member of the State Committee of the CPI(M) from 1964 and a Secretariat member from 1982, Sailen Dasgupta went on to dedicate himself fully to the tasks of building a strong organisational framework for the CPI(M) in West Bengal and, in conjunction with Jyoti Basu, Promode Dasgupta and Saroj Mukherjee, to help form and consolidate a Left Front in the State. His role in bringing together the often-disparate Left forces in West Bengal saw fruition in the massive win for the Left Front in 1977. The Left Front has, of course, famously remained in office since that year. He played a crucial role whenever differences of opinion arose within the Front. His conduct of Left Front meetings, marked by political sagacity and a generally flexible approach, shall remain models for the next generation of the Left leadership to follow.

Dasgupta was deeply concerned with the development of the rural base of the Party, seeking continually to equip the rural cadre ideologically and politically.

Dasgupta rose to become the secretary of the West Bengal unit of the CPI(M) and chairman of the Left Front when Saroj Mukherjee passed away in 1990 and he held the position till ill-health forced him to step down three years ago. He, however, continued to head the Bengal Left Front till his death. He became a member of the Central Committee of the CPI(M) in 1990 and a member of the Polit Bureau in 1991.

Jyoti Basu, with whom Sailen Dasgupta worked for decades, spoke after Dasgupta's death of how Dasgupta had worked tirelessly "both when the Party was underground and later, when it regained its status as a legal organisation". The former Chief Minister went on to call attention to "the crucial role Dasgupta played in the emergence of the Bengal Left Front".

Sailen Dasgupta was gentle and soft-spoken, a person who led a life of great personal simplicity. Among his comrades, he was renowned for his accessibility, his care and concern for individual cadre and the time he had for each of them. The Left movement in West Bengal and India is the poorer for the passing of this exceptional political-organisational worker and human being.

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