Ajit Pandey

Voice of the masses

Print edition : July 12, 2013

Ajit Pandey. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

The rebel voice of Ajit Pandey, the renowned singer and writer of protest songs, which inspired more than a generation of activists involved in the Left movement, was silenced by death on June 13. Pandey, 75, died of a heart attack.

Former Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, expressing deep grief at Pandey’s sudden demise, said: “Ajit Pandey was an extremely popular artiste. He had a tremendous ability to choose the right song for the right occasion. He was an extremely hardworking artiste and could closely mix with the most ordinary people, especially the poor. He was not only a singer, but also took part in active politics. His death has left a very big vacuum.”

In 1998, Pandey contested and won the byelection to the Bowbazaar Assembly seat on the CPI(M) ticket and served as a member of the Legislative Assembly until 2001. But it is for his music and his tireless activism through his art that he will be best remembered. From the travails of the coal miners of Chashnala in Dhanbad, Bihar, to the struggles of the peasants of the Terai in North Bengal or in Vietnam, Pandey gave voice to the protests of the marginalised and the unheard. The world around him was his stage and the common people his audience. Just as his songs inspired them in their day-to-day struggles, he himself drew inspiration from their lives. In the 1970s, at considerable risk to his own freedom, Pandey took on the Congress government in West Bengal under Siddhartha Shankar Ray and reached out to the people with his songs in whatever way he could, be it singing on trains, or travelling from place to place on foot. Pandey was a much adored artiste in Tripura as well.

Born on March 10, 1939, in Lalgola in Murshidabad district in West Bengal, Pandey was trained in music at a very young age. His family was not well-off and the early years were a struggle for the budding singer. He had to take various kinds of jobs to supplement the family income. It is said that while working in the Kesoram Rayon factory in Hooghly district, he became involved with the trade union movement; but his chosen weapon in the class struggle was music, more specifically, “ganasangeet”—music of the masses.

In 1976, Pandey cut his first album, which contained some of his most well-known songs—“Chashnala Khanitey” (Inside the Chashnala mine), “Nuruler Ma” (Nurul’s Mother), and so on.

Not just ganasangeet, he was equally adept in singing other genres of Bengali songs as well, including Rabindra sangeet (songs of Rabindranath Tagore), Nazrulgiti (songs of Kazi Nazrul Islam) and songs of Lalon Fakir, the 19th century Baul singer of the Bhakti Cult.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay