— Vinod Mishra
Over the last fifteen years or so, myself and Comrade Nagbhushan have been co-participants in many a conference and meeting. On many occasions — in Calcutta, Delhi, Patna, Bhuwaneswar and elsewhere — we addressed public meetings together. Alas, today as I address you, my comrade is lying there in eternal sleep. When on the night of 9th of this month I reached Chennai, he was breathing his last. Soon, the heart, which for decades after decades had been throbbing for the toiling millions of India, stopped beating.
Throughout his life Comrade Nagbhushan had been a relentless fighter against death. In the 70’s he was sentenced to death. The ruling classes conspired to kill him. But in the face of powerful protests by democratic and progressive forces throughout the country, the President of India was compelled to commute the sentence to one of life imprisonment. On his part Nagbhushan never begged the mercy of the state. On the contrary he wrote to the President, “In case any body happens to plead compassion for me, let it be put on record that I’m totally against any such move.” Yet the pressure of democratic forces was so high that the President had to reduce the sentence. While serving the life imprisonment he was kept in solitary confinement and subjected to various tortures with an eye to killing him bit by bit. But Nagbhushan refused to die. He carried on his battle. Under the tremendous pressure of democratic opinion, once again a historic decision had to be taken — this time by the Supreme Court. Comrade Nagbhushan was released on indefinite parole. Technically, therefore, he is still a prisoner.
When he came out of jail, he was virtually standing on the brink of death. Myself or whoever met him then, did not expect that he would ever again undertake tours crisscrossing the country. But precisely that became the reality before long. Fourteen years of imprisonment or the fourteen surgeries conducted on his body — nothing could dampen his spirits. For building up the Indian Peoples’ Front, he began to travel across the country. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Punjab to Bihar there was hardly any state where he did not go and address mass gatherings. He organised the IPF and in the process revitalised the party — the CPI (ML) itself. Thus with his great will power he conquered death once again.
But when he fell sick this time, the most modern treatments and the best efforts of our comrades in Chennai could not save him. His demise is not simply the death of a leader of our Party. In him the motherland lost one of her finest sons — one who devoted his entire life to the great struggle for ushering in a democratic India, a socialist India, a country where there would be no poverty, no fratricidal riots — a country which would walk in the community of nations with a head held high. Such a great son of India is no longer amongst us.
But Nagbhushan has left for us the rich legacy of his long, struggling life. He was deeply pained to see the unified CPI (ML) break into pieces. Let the party remain undivided — such was his most sincere urge. In the later phase too, he always wished that the party should preserve its unity, its discipline, and go from strength to strength. For this he fought relentlessly and this was his last wish. On behalf of the entire party I vow to Comrade Nagbhushan, that we would never let our party split. Rest assured, Comrade Nagbhushan, we shall always keep the party united, we shall always work for consolidating and expanding it. (Prolonged applause)
Comrade Nagbhushan became Nagbhushan in course of the great battle of Srikakulam – a battle that generated a mighty revolutionary wave across the land. In those early days of the ‘70s, he led the struggle of Srikakulam on issues like land, dignity and rights of the poor peasants and for seizure of political power. During his last years too, his mind was set on rekindling the fire of Srikakulam along the Andhra-Orissa border, in the Srikakulam-Koraput area. It was to this endeavour that he devoted the last phase of his life. We vow to you, Comrade Nagbhushan, that our party will always place the greatest emphasis on the struggle of poor peasants, that we shall spare no efforts to re-ignite the fire of Srikakulam, once again in the Andhra-Orissa border. This is our last homage to you. (Applause)
Nagbhushan was a front-ranking soldier both during the phase of armed struggle and that of the battle of ballots. He never endorsed the concept of pitting the ballot against the bullet or vice versa – for he regarded both as weapons to be wielded by communists depending on a concrete analysis of concrete conditions. True Marxist that he was, he taught our party that communists do not discard either of the weapons. We shall always adhere to your teaching, Comrade Nagbhushan and move forward along the path shown by you (applause).
Comrade Nagbhushan knew that it would take quite some time for the debates among the leftists – the CPI, the CPI (M), the various factions of the CPI (ML) and others – to be resolved. He wondered why despite the existing debates it was not possible for all of us to unite on the basis of a minimum programme against the bourgeoisie? To develop such a unity was his constant endeavour. A few months back, an organisation that claims to be a revolutionary one made an attempt to assault Comrade Nagbhushan. Although he was not physically harmed, mentally he was very much hurt. It was beyond his imagination that there could be a leftist organisation — and a self-proclaimed revolutionary one at that – which would launch an attack on him. Despite this anguish, he did not turn sectarian. In his cherished left unity he sought to mobilise all, including those who attacked him. We take our oath in front of you, Comrade Nagbhushan, that we shall never slacken our efforts to unite entire left forces on one common platform. (Applause)
Comrade Nagbhushan strove to unite all the progressive and democratic forces of India through the Indian Peoples’ Front. In the process he himself emerged as a symbol of united front. And after his death the entire country is paying respect to him. Tributes are flowing in from different cross-sections of people, from various strata of society and from different political parties. Now that communal forces are in power at the Centre, a broad front involving all progressive and democratic forces requires to be built up and we pledge to you, Comrade Nagbhushan, that we will spare no efforts on this score.
Comrade Nagbhushan is no longer with us. But our party and our country will never forget him. His memory will forever inspire us, his thoughts will lighten our path. His indomitable will power will embolden us to overcome all difficulties. His sacrifices will encourage us to emulate him and take deeper plunges into revolution. This is our firm pledge to him.
Comrade Nagbhushan had dreamt of a beautiful India, a democratic India. I, on behalf of the Central Committee of the CPI (ML) as well as all the members, supporters and sympathisers of the party, declare that our party will go on fighting for this dream without let-up and fearing no sacrifice. I think that would be the best tribute on our part to Comrade Nagbhushan. (Applause)
One last point I would like to make. It is commonplace in history that as long as a revolutionary leader remains alive, he is assaulted, tortured, conspired against and sought to be eliminated. But after his death, the bourgeoisie tries to project him as a demigod. We must be on our guard on this score. Comrade Nagbhushan was above all a communist revolutionary, a founder-leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). He fought for the noble ideal of communism and therefore, fought against all brands of opportunism.
Comrade Nagbhushan had many political opponents, many class enemies were ranged against him, but he had hardly one personal enemy.
Our party will forever hold high the ideal, for which Nagbhushan lived and died. That is the pledge we take in the name of Comrade Nagbhushan. Long live Indian revolution. Long live Comrade Nagbhushan! (Prolonged applause)
(Translated from Hindi by Arindam Sen)
[Excerpts from an interview published in the Onlooker (February, 1-15, 1986).]
What do you think was the turning point in your life?
I passed H.S.C. from Gunupur High School and joined S.K.C.G. College, Parlakhemundi. My subject was science but I had to take Arts against my will because of my father’s insistence. Then I left for Banaras Hindu University to do my post-graduation in maths. I think my days at BHU was the turning point in my life. It was there that I studied all the classics upto modern literature that covered history, political science, psychology, economics, and philosophy including Marxist literature. I took full advantage of the central library and, of course, I could not complete my post-graduation.
Were you in student politics in BHU?
No. I was completely confined to the library day in and day out. During my college days in Parlakhemundi I was an active member of the Student Federation and had participated in the ‘Unity Orissa’ movement, led by Girija Bhushan and H.C.Buxipatra.
When did you embrace communist ideology?
I told you that I was a member of the Student Federation. I did not pin much hope on the CPI(M). It was during my detention in Tihar Jail in 1965-66, along with almost all the top-notch leaders of the CPI(M) when the inner-party ideological struggle was going on in the context of the ‘great debate’ that had been on th international communist movement since 1956 that I became more committed. We were set at large from detention in 1966, and we committed ourselves to partaking in militant mass struggles. We joined the Balimela workers, Onkel Power House Tunnel workers etc. and also organised militant anti-price rise agitation by gheraoing the SDO’s office in Gunupur. The CPI(M)’s call to withdraw these agitations and instead, to partake forthwith in the ‘election battle’ in 1967, did not cut ice with us. Just at that time the militant Girijan peasant struggle was sweeping the hilly tracts of Parvartipuram, Kurupam, Seethampeta, Palkonda agencies of Andhra Pradesh adjoining the mountainous terrain of Gunupur and Ramnnagudh. Exactly at that time, in May 1967, the Naxalbari peasant armed struggle shook the country and chastened genuine revolutionaries all over the country including us.
As we had disassociated already from the CPI(M), the state plenum preceding the Burdwan plenum could not take place in Orissa. We organised the Orissa State Coordination Committee of the communist revolutionaries owing allegiance to the All-India Coordination Committee led by Comrade Charu Mazumdar.
When did the police arrest you?
On July 14, 1969, while I was convalescing after being operated for abdominal pain at Vishakapatnam Hospital. I was not even able to stand up and walk straight. Handcuffed, I was subjected to such ghoulish torture that is unthinkable in a civilized society.
How did you escape from the Vishakapatnam jail?
We did not want to sit idle and watch from the gallows the ‘Spring Thunder’ that was reverberating throughout the country. We were planning the escape for quite some time but on the night of October 8, 1969, we got a chance when the jail inmates and staff were totally engrossed in a cultural programme inside the compound. I was having fever when we broke open the ventilation window and escaped.
When were you rearrested?
On July 14, 1970. The Lal Bazar police, known for its notoriety, arrested me from a private clinic in Calcutta. I was sick but that did not deter them from tying my two legs and putting me under the fan upside down.
You were the prime accused in the Paravarthipuram conspiracy case ... As a lawyer, you could have defended yourself. Why did not you defend yourself and the others?
Communists dislike to conceal their political beliefs. . ...
Truth has nothing to do with the version of the prosecution. Facts, generally, work against their efforts. In the Paravarthipuram conspiracy case, about 140 people were named as accused. Much before they were brought before the magistrate, leaders like Adivatla Kailasham, P. Balkrishna, Dr. Mallikarjuna, poet Subba Rao Panigrahi, Dr. Bhaskar Rao, Panchadri Krishnamurty and his wife Nirmala, Ganapati and Rajaram Reddy and others were shot dead in so-called encounters. I was ordered to be hanged along with three others. Interestingly, later on it ended in the acquittal of the accused in this case as well as the Gunupur conspiracy case.
How did you react first to the news of the death sentence against you?
I knew what would be the judgment in the Parvartipuram conspiracy case. When the jail suprintendent passed on the information, he was not at ease. My jail inmates, confined to the solitary cells who were also ordered to be hanged broke down in tears but I consoled them. I was prepared for the gallows. Then I wrote an open letter to the President of India that before life is sniffed out of me (a) my eyes be donated to a needy poor man (b) any limb of my metabolism that can be of use to people should be appropriately dealt with, etc…
Did you ever think that your death sentence will be condoned by the President?
I never sought mercy from either the Supreme Court or the President. When my parents, wife and other relatives filed the mercy petition, I disowned them. I never expected that I would survive the hanging order. Nevertheless, Jayaprakash Narayan, Malati Choudary, Dr.H.K.Mahatab, Biju Patnaik and others mobilised public opinion and because of the popular demand, I was not hanged.
How did you spend your time in jail?
I began to write poetry. In the beginning, the jail authorities did not supply us reading and writing material. We had to fight very hard for it and whosoever visited me used to bring books and magazines.
Who is your favourite poet?
Nazrul Islam. I have read most of his writings.
Interviewed by Nageshwar Patnaik