Father Thomas Kocherry

Father Thomas Kocherry passed away on 3 May. Thomas Kocherry was a social activist, priest, and lawyer who helped found the independent fishworkers union, the Kerala Swatantra Matsyathozhilali Federation. He was committed to organising fishworkers against the big fishing cartels and mafias. He was also a Special Invitee at World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP) and Executive Committee Member of National Fishworkers’ Forum (NFF), India.

He had been part of the campaign for justice for Bathani Tola and Laxmanpur Bathe, and had expressed solidarity with CPI(ML)’s initiatives and struggles on many occasions.

Just hours before he passed away from a heart attack, he had written an article exposing Modi’s model of development and his communal, corporate-driven politics. When Amit Shah said the Modi wave was a tsunami, Thomas Kocherry had reminded people that fishworkers recognise and fear a tsunami as a force of destruction – and India’s people should, likewise, beware of the Modi tsunami.

CPI(ML) Liberation and all democratic movements have lost a very good friend and comrade. But Thomas Kocherry’s legacy will live on – in the struggles of working people, in movements challenging plunder and exploitation, in anti-communal struggles, everywhere.

Red Salute to Comrade Mukul Sinha

Courageous Crusader for Truth, Justice and Democracy

Activist and lawyer Mukul Sinha succumbed to lung cancer in Ahmedabad on May 12. He was 63. A trade union activist, Sinha also fought many landmark battles for civil liberties and justice – many of them in the heart of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, valiantly keeping alive the hope of justice for victims of communal pogroms and custodial murders.

As a young researcher in a university in Ahmedabad, Mukul Sinha became a trade union organiser when 133 persons were laid off from the university in 1979. Throughout the 1980s, he, along with his wife and lifelong comrade Nirjhari, organised many labour struggles. He acquired a law degree to be better equipped to take up such struggles.

He and Nirjhari formed the civil rights organization Jan Sangharsh Manch, which did sterling work in the struggle for justice for the victims of the 2002 pogrom.

Manoj Mitta, in his book The Fiction of Fact Finding: Modi and Godhra, recounts how in proceedings before the Banerjee Committee, Sinha representing the Jan Sangharsh Manch, sought evidence of the Gujarat carnage: “The upshot was that the mobile phone evidence of the Gujarat carnage became officially public. This enabled lawyers, activists and victims to cite the data…while pressing for action against influential persons such as (former Gujarat minister) Maya Kodnani, (former Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader) Jaydeep Patel, and senior police officers in carnage cases”.

Zahir Janmohamad writes of him, “After the 2002 pogrom, Sinha became known as a human rights lawyer and a Gujarat riot activist. Neither term sat well with him and he always saw himself, and his work, through the lens of a labour organiser. ‘What both 1992 and 2002 did was to fool people into believing that the communal divide is greater than the class divide,’ Sinha said. ‘As soon as you convince a society that Muslims or whatever group is the problem, you have tricked them into overlooking the real problems like labour laws, corruption, housing shortages, and poor infrastructure.’”

Mukul Sinha played an immensely courageous part in the legal struggle to expose the truth of the fake encounters in Gujarat, involving Sadiq Jamal, Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Tulsi Prajapati.

Mukul Sinha will also be remembered for assisting families of fake encounter victims in Congress-ruled Manipur to secure justice. The Supreme Court set up a high powered commission chaired by former Supreme Court Judge Santosh Hegde and two other members, former Chief Election Commisioner JM Lyngdoh and a former DGP of Karnataka, to look into some of the 1000s of custodial killings by security forces in Manipur. Assisting Manipur’s young widows’ association before the commission, Sinha conducted most of the cross examinations of the police and Manipur Rifles personnel. The result was a landmark report by the Commission that declared all the ‘encounters’ to be cold-blooded murders. Writing about the Gujarat and Manipur fake encounters, Comrade Mukul Sinha observed, “The encounters of Gujarat and the encounters of Manipur have several similar trends, but the motives appear to be quite distinct and different. While Gujarat encounters are purely politically motivated to profile the Chief Minister as a Hindu icon, the Manipur encounters are entirely in connection with the siphoning of Government grants. The common thing is that the ordinary citizens are being slaughtered for the benefit of the political leaders be it BJP or Congress.”

Mukul Sinha was among the founder members of a Left party, the New Socialist Movement (NSM).

Comrade Mukul Sinha fought so-called ‘lost causes’ in Gujarat, challenging Modi’s authoritarian regime: as a result of those battles, many of Modi’s top cops are in jail, and the battles for justice continue to be fought.

Regardless of which party forms Government after May 16th, we know that Governments will not defend democracy and fight for the rights of workers, minorities, women, activists. It will always be the Mukul SInhas of the world who are the true life and soul of our democracy. The likes of Mukul Sinha do not die – they live on in the struggles they inspired and in the courage and perseverance of other activists.

At a time when ruling class politics peddles the cult of the individual, it is worth recalling what Zahir Janmohamad says about Mukul Sinha: “Sinha was also mistrustful of the term leader because his whole life was dedicated to finding new voices and empowering them. During the many times I visited Sinha, I met some of Gujarat’s most respected judges, journalists, and activists. But just as often, I also met bus drivers, railway workers, and labourers, each of whom Mukul was training. This was perhaps his finest quality—he taught others and amplified their voices, even if it meant muting his own.” Mukul Sinha’s legacy will live on in those bus drivers, railway workers and labourers, as well as young lawyers and activists.

And Mukul Sinha’s outlook on activism – as told to Zahir Janmohamad – is a useful reminder to us all: “If you believe in a person or work against a person, you are bound to be disappointed. You will develop false hope and you will become fatigued. But if your goal is to change ideas, then this will sustain you.”

Nirmal Chandra

(Excerpt from ‘Nirmal Chandra: An Appreciation’, April 29, 2014 by Research Unit for Political Economy (rupeindia). The full piece can be read here:

Friends of the Marxist economist Nirmal Chandra, who died recently, will remember with a pang of grief many facets of his personality: his self-effacing manner and lack of egotism; his warmth and conviviality, his unstinting aid – without the least condescension – to students and others who sought his help or advice; his principled stand when he felt it necessary to distance from something wrong; his lack of malice, gossip, and careerism of the type so common in academia. He had the quality (rare among academics) of inviting and welcoming criticism of his work, and readily accepting it if he felt it was justified, not only before publication but even after.

At the same time, his death is a loss not only to those who knew and cherished him, but to causes that he held dear. One might tend to overlook this at first, for several reasons. His personality, while gregarious and generous, eschewed all flamboyance, and he never wore his sentiments on his sleeve. He was a private person in some ways, even in public. (One recalls Auden’s lines: “Private faces in public places/Are wiser and nicer/Than public faces in private places.”) In his writing, too, he typically preferred to present his investigations in detail but keep his own conclusions concise, at times almost terse.

Moreover, on the face of it, he appeared to be entirely a part of the academic world, far from the rough and tumble of political activity. He generally avoided public platforms, nor did he write for newspapers and the like; and he wrote principally for the Economic and Political Weekly and other journals read mainly by academics (an exception being his contributions to Samar Sen’s Frontier).

His pieces touched on a broad range of intertwined subjects: questions of Marxist theory (e.g., theories of unequal exchange, the peasant question), international development economics, imperialist domination of the Third World, the pattern of industrial development in India and industrial self-reliance, India’s Plans, questions of socialist construction (particularly, though not only, in the Soviet Union and China), agrarian relations in India, the living standards of the mass of people. In each piece not only was there much to chew over but there were leads to pursue further.

Only one collection of his writings appeared: The Retarded Economies: Foreign Domination and Class Relations in India and Other Emerging Nations (1988). The title, and the organisation of the work, bring out the linked themes that preoccupied him throughout: Why is it that, despite the end of colonial rule, India and similar backward economies were unable to develop satisfactorily, and instead developed new forms of dependence on imperialism? (A subsidiary and related theme was: What special conditions permitted a few countries to develop rapidly along capitalist lines in the post-War era, and what prevented such a trajectory in other countries?) What economic models should the backward countries have adopted in order to grow rapidly, in a self-reliant way, and for the benefit of the masses of people? What aspects of the internal class relations prevented an adoption of such models?

Throughout, he emphasized that the actual course of development was decided, not at the ‘purely’ economic level, but by political decisions.

He kept a close watch on positive developments or indications elsewhere, whether on the subcontinent, in China, or in Latin America. In the final analysis, he placed his faith in people’s movements. He concluded his critique of the West Bengal government’s package for Tata Motors in Singur with the following lines: “In any case, all credit should go to the peasantry of Bengal, especially of Nandigram and Singur, for having saved their own farmland and relieved the state exchequer of the burden of maintaining a white elephant.”

Those who can truly benefit from Nirmal’s work are those he referred to as “today’s radicals”. They will find there rich material. Among his recent pieces: a study meticulously documenting the drain of foreign currency resources from India, with the startling finding that it has reached levels comparable (as a share of GDP) to the drain under British rule; a comparative study of China and India’s rising concentration of wealth, poverty trends, employment trends, and consequent social unrest; a survey of ‘inclusive growth’ in India showing “the ugly reality – India is on track to become another oligarchy like post-Soviet Russia”; and much else. Nor can they afford to miss such classic earlier pieces such as “Western Imperialism and India” and “Long-Term Stagnation in the Indian Economy, 1900-75.”

Not only is each article replete with facts and insights, which provide leads for those who wish to investigate further, but they help substantiate and deepen the arguments of those struggling for the political preconditions of real development.

JK Dhaundiyal

JK Dhaundiyal, a progressive intellectual and close sympathiser of CPI(ML), passed away in a hospital in the national capital region, early in the morning on June 22. He was 66.

Hailing from the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, he had come in touch with the party as a student in Allahabad University, where he studied history. When he came to Delhi in the 1970s, he was among the many writers and young journalists influenced by the Naxalbari movement. He retained that strong sense of social and political commitment, even as he became a copyrighter in an advertising agency and a distinguished maker of ad films, especially about preserving our archaeological heritage.

He had been suffering from diabetes and cancer. CPI(ML) expresses condolences to his family. The revolutionary Left, along with progressive writers and cultural activists, will miss JK Dhaundiyal sorely, and remember him with warmth. 

Sunil Bhai

Socialist activist Sunil, better known among all people’s movement activists as Sunil Bhai, passed away following a sudden stroke on April 21st, 2014.

Sunil Bhai was the general secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad, founded by the late Kishan Patnaik. Born in Rampura, Mandsaur, his life as an activist began in the Samata Yuvajan Sabha in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, where he did an MA in Economics. 

He worked with the Lohia Manch in Hoshangabad’s Kesla in 1984. He led agitations for rehabilitation of Tawa Dam oustees in 1995 and established India’s most successful adivasi fishing cooperative in the Tawa Dam area. It was later broken up when the catchment area was absorbed by the Satpura Tiger Reserve. In the recent past, Sunil avoided merging his party with Aam Aadmi Party during the Wardha Conference of social activists in January this year, on grounds that it did not offer alternative economic and development policies.

He lived a simple life, in touch with nature, and never used his surname, for himself or his children, in opposition to casteism. Gupta was working on an editorial piece for his bi-monthly Samyik Varta when he suffered the stroke.

CPI(ML) expresses condolence to Sunil Bhai’s family and comrades. He will be sorely missed by all activists of people’s movements.