A Tribute to Narahari Kaviraj (1917-2011): Sankar Ray

Guest post by SANKAR RAY

Narahari Kaviraj, eminent Marxist historian and an ideoligue of CPI, breathed his last in the wee hours of Wednesday, the 28th of December 2011. He was born on 17 February 1917 and was the last disciple of Bhupendranath Dutta,the youngest brother of Swami Vivekananda, whom Lenin had once requested, in reply to an article (draft), to devote himself to studying and writing on agrarian issues in India. As a scholar, Narahari Kaviraj was also a favourite of Puran Chand Joshi, general secretary of CPI (1935–47). The anecdote goes that when PCJ first heard that Kaviraj’s son, Sudipta ( now a scholar of international repute as a political theorist and department chair of the Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies department at Columbia University) , joined JNU, he asked, ” Is he more brilliant than his father Narahari ?”

Kaviraj taught history for many years at several undergraduate colleges and wrote several books. Some his most widely read books include A peasant uprising in Bengal, 1783, October Revolution and National Liberation Movement of a new type (1978), Wahabi and Farazi Rebels of Bengal (1982),Gandhi-Nehru through Marxist Eyes (1988), Santal Village Community and the Santal Rebellion Of 1855 (2001) and What is Postmodernism? (2005). He was principal of the CPI’s now-defunct Lenin School of Marxist Studies in Calcutta and was a visiting lecturer at the central party school of CPI in New Delhi. He was revered by old timers in both CPI and CPI(M) as an outstanding scholar on national liberation movements.

He had differences with the present CPI leadership regarding the latter’s eagerness for merger with the CPI(M). In an article, published in Mainstream in 2005, he openly stated. “Since 1964, the CPI-M is keeping aloof from the mainstream of the communist movement, pursuing an independent line of its own, mainly based on the resolutions adopted by its own party Congresses. Before the split, the main controversy within the united communist movement centred around the question of de-Stalinisation. Khruschev’s secret speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU (1956) sparked off the controversy over the role of Stalin. After the split, when the CPI-M came into existence, the new party took a negative view of the 20th Congress and its decisions. Over these two issues, as the years rolled on, the gulf between the CPI and CPI-M became wider and wider. All this is now a part of history.I do not want to say that the CPI-M must give up its own position and return to the parent party. If they think they can better serve the people by adhering to an independent line, they are free to do so. My point is this: the CPI must not, in any circumstances, submit to that position”, he stated . On the issue of unity, he added, “I strongly support the effort of the CPI to forge unity with the CPI-M on all issues of common interest. But I am firmly opposed to any sort of merger”.

An important but untold part of Kaviraj’s political life  during the crucial years between the walk-out of 32 national council members of undivided CPI in 1964 and the formation of CPI(M) needs to be revealed. {[For those not aware of this hisory, the walkout of the 32 NC members was the final act of the dissidents who later formed the CPI(M) – AN] At this time, Jyoti Basu, Niranjan Sengupta, Saroj Mukherjee, Saroj Roy, Satyendra Narayan Majumdar, Nirmalya Bagchi, Ranadhir Dasgupta and and Khagen Roy Chowdhury formed a solidly woven group that emphasized the need for unity in the CPI and between CPC and CP of Soviet Union “in the interests of proletarian internationalism”.  (In parenthesis, I should mention that Ranadhir Dasgupta was the first and the youngest among the participants of Chittagong Armoury Raid to have joined the CPI during his exile at Cellular Jail, Port Blair, although Manini Chatterjee has not mentioned it in her book. This maybe because she depended on CPI(M) sources and  maybe because her mother-in-law Kalpana Joshi nee Dutta – her main source of information – who, despite being a prominent participant of the Chittagong Armoury Raid, was not at the Jalalabad battle, unlike Ranadhirda.)

In this period, Basu used to “express his annoyance with the CPC quite often. When the controversial articles like ‘Mirror of Revisionism’ and ‘Long Live Leninism’ were published and aired by Radio Peking with spouting venom against Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and entire Congress, Basu one day told Kaviraj – ‘ All this is too much, unacceptable’.” Prof Kaviraj told me this. This group wrote a document – mainly drafted by Kaviraj but Jyoti Basu used it opportunistically. With a footloose mindset or in pursuit of his hidden desire to climb along parliamentary path, Basu had a meeting with M Basavapunnaiah, one of the key leaders who were preparing for a split and he agreed to join the new party on two conditions. One , the acceptance of the fact that India is an independent – not semi-feudal & semi-colonial country. Two, that their document also be circulated. MB knew that enamoured of Mao’s ‘revolutionary’ role, as these members were, the document will not cut ice with them. Of the authors of the pro-unity group’s draft, Kaviraj didn’t agree to any change of position, and ceased to remain one of the signatories of the document he drafted. Kaviraj re-joined the CPI after the split in 1965 after a detailed debate with Bhowani Sen, then West Bengal state council secretary of CPI, on condition that the party would allow Kaviraj and S N Majumndar to continue publication of a quarterly, Mulyayan, which had differences with the official CPI line of ‘joint leadership’ of working class, peasantry and patriotic sections of patriotic and non-monopoly bourgeoisie. Mulyayan which carried rejoinders to politico-ideological positions of Kaviraj, Majumdar and others in the editorial board, maintained that even semblance of ‘joint leadership’ concept was found in theoretical positions international communist movement.
The rest is history JB along with E M S Namboodiripad at the Tenali Convention on 8 July 1964, his 51st birthday. As an aside, I once wanted to know in writing from JB why autobiographies are silent about what he did in the intervening period. I never got any reply.

Let me state modestly, Kaviraj was my mentor in my acquaintance with Marxism when I was a card-carrying member of CPI. My Marxist temper – or whatever of it I had – was due to him mainly, partly by S N Majumdar, Ranadhirda and Nirmalya Bagchi.

5 thoughts on “A Tribute to Narahari Kaviraj (1917-2011): Sankar Ray”

  1. I’m afraid something is missing in the penultimate paragraph, SR could you please re do it?

  2. For Namrata
    Perhaps I was too synoptic but essentially the last paragraph is OK.
    The late Prof Narahari Kaviraj was my mentor in my gravitation towards Marxism somewhat distinctively different from the cavalier fashion Marxism in official communist parties including my former party CPI. And that helped me imbibe Marxist temper – or whatever of it I had – even it was partial. Along with him I was helped by other sterling communist ideologues like S N Majumdar, Ranadhirda and Nirmalya Bagchi.

  3. Impressive!
    One thing I want to know:
    Is the book edited by Narahari Kabiraj on 19th cen. available?

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