THE birth centenary celebrations of Comrade Achintya Bhattacharyya (AB), a Central Committee member of CPI (M) from 1964 till his death in August 1993 and secretary of Assam state committee from 1964 to 1982, came to an end on August 16.
His father, Ambikacharan Bhattacharyya, belonged to Dhaka Dakshin of Sylhet district (now in Bangladesh). Having passed FA from Dhaka University, Ambikacharan got a job in the office of Deputy Commissioner, Cacher District at Silchar where he later settled with his family.
AB finished his primary education in a Silchar primary school and took admission at Silchar Government High School in 1924. The visit of Simon Commission to India in 1928 created a furore in the country and AB, then in his early teens, actively joined the boycott movement. He participated in the Gandhiji-led Salt Satyagraha struggle in 1930. In the same year, he was admitted to the Habiganj-Silchar-Agartala branch of the ‘revolutionary-terrorist’ organisation “Jugantar”. In 1931, he was elected as the Assistant Secretary of Surma Valley Students Association. In spite of his active participation in diverse socio-political movements, AB passed the matriculation examination in 1932 with distinction and obtained government stipend. He was admitted to the intermediate Science (ISC) section of prestigious Murari Chand College in Sylhet. Cachar and Sylhet were two districts of Assam and this combination was known as Surma Valley because of the River Surma flowing through both the districts.
In 1933, AB, along with several other revolutionaries, was arrested in the Grindlay Bank and Chandpur Mail robbery cases. They were transferred from Sylhet jail to Calcutta Presidency jail for trial. They had to face severe and inhuman torture at the hands of British police. Though there was no evidence against them, they were detained without trial. Later AB and several others were implicated in the Chandpur Mail robbery case for the second time and sent back to Sylhet jail. At the end of 1934, AB was released but the British government kept him at Silchar town as an intern till 1936. During detention, he passed the intermediate examination from Calcutta University in first division. Because of increased revolutionary activities AB’s academic career came to an end.
As was the practice in those days (Communists and others working in the Congress Party), AB joined the Congress Party in 1936 and was elected to the post of Assistant Secretary of Silchar District Congress Party in 1937. He joined the Jaya Prakash Narayan-led Congress Socialist Party in 1938. The Communist Party of India (CPI) was illegal at that time. However he came into contact with the Communists and joined the party in 1939.
The same year, there was a historic strike struggle by Arunabond Tea Estate workers (not far off from Silchar town) against stoppage of wages and other deprivations. The workers were on the verge of starvation when the Kisan Sabha and other mass organisations came forward to actively support the working class struggle, led by Gopen Roy, Digen Das Gupta, Achintya Bhattacharyya, Moni Roy and Sitaram Baroi -- all leading members of CPI. Digen Das Gupta was one of the founders of CPI in the Surma Valley in 1935.
In 1940, AB became a whole-timer of CPI and in 1941 he was elected as Secretary of Silchar District Congress Party. He proved his mettle by organising the freedom struggle and raised it to new heights. He continued as Secretary of the District Congress Party till 1945 when the CPI leadership decided to sever all ties with the Congress Party. AB and many other Communists quit the Congress and devoted their entire energies for building the Communist Party and its mass organisations. Though the CPI did not extend support to the ‘Quit India’ struggle of 1942 (which was later admitted by CPI to be a wrong decision), he was arrested, along with a large number of Congressmen, because he was still the secretary of the District Congress Party. He was detained at Silchar and Sylhet district jails till 1944.
In Sylhet district jail, AB and other Communist prisoners came into contact with the legendry leader of democratic mass movements in Manipur, Shri Irabat Singh. Singh (later he was popularly known as ‘Jananeta’) had been undergoing imprisonment in a fabricated sedition case for three years since 1940. There were many other leading co-prisoners from Congress Party (post the 1942 August struggle) as well as Communists like Biresh Mishra, Jyotirmoy Nandi, AB and others. Biresh Mishra was the Secretary of Sylhet District Congress Party. A tussle began between Congressmen and Communists to win over Irabat Singh ideologically. Admittedly Irabat started his life as a dedicated nationalist and took bold and active part in all kinds of agitations against the atrocities of feudal Maharaja and his British backers. Because of Irabat’s close association with the Communist co-prisoners in Sylhet jail, he was attracted to Marxism and began studying Communist literature in earnest, and on his release from the jail in 1943 he traveled straight to Bombay where the 1st All India Party Congress of the CPI was being held. He greeted the Party Congress on behalf of the struggling people of Manipur and persuaded the CPI leadership to enroll him as a party member. In the meantime, the British government debarred him from entering Manipur. He had to settle down in undivided Cachar (presently Barak Valley) district in 1943-44 and started organising the peasants and other toiling masses. At the time of Independence, Sylhet district, barring three police station areas, being Muslim majority became part and parcel of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). There was spurt of activities and the party and mass organisations got strengthened because of unrelenting efforts made by AB and Irabat Singh, along with dedicated work of district party leaders. In the last Assembly elections in British India in 1942, Irabat contested on behalf of CPI from the Silchar seat against rich and powerful Congress candidate Satindra Mohan Deb (father of former Union Minister Santosh Mohan Deb). Even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru visited Silchar to campaign for the Congress candidate, but did not utter a single word against Irabat who lost the seat by three thousand votes. In 1946-48, a section of the peasantry in Cachar district started the Tebhaga movement and the police fired on them killing six Communists including a woman in Barkhola.
In the populous part of Assam, viz the Brahamputra Valley (Dhubri, Goalpara to Dibrugarh Lakhimpur District), students and the section of middle class intellectuals, inspired by the Communist ideology, started preparation to from Communist Party in 1940-41. Though Surma Valley was in the state of Assam, the Surma Valley branch of CPI formed in Calcutta in 1935 was under the influence of undivided Bengal Party. Several activists from different parts of Bramhaputra Valley congregated in the house of Khargeswar Tamuli of Goalghat in Upper Assam at the fag end of December 1942 and first two days of January 1943. The conference was conducted by student leader and Communist Pranesh Biswas in presence of CPI Central Committee member Biswanath Mukherjee. An eight-member Assam state committee was elected with Jadu Saikia as secretary. AB could not attend the meet because he was incarcerated in Sylhet jail in 1942-44.
Comrade AB’s life as a whole-timer of the Party covered a span of 53 years. Those were the days when the Communist Party suffered from acute dearth of money to run the organisation. There was no question of any wage for the whole-timers and they suffered extreme hardship, sometimes having one meal in 24 hours. Their dedication and sacrifices combined with work by part timers and mass organisation members carried the day and inspired tens of thousands from all over India to join the Communist Party and its mass organisations which are now leading workers, peasants and the middle classes to bring about a basic change in our political and social system through peoples’ democratic revolution.
AB was elected a member of Assam state committee of CPI in 1946. In 1948, CPI was banned and he went underground in Kolkata to evade arrest and continued his political activities. During this period, in March 1951, he was married to Biswarani Bhattacharyya who was employed as a schoolteacher in Kolkata. She was also a Communist and was actively engaged in party activities among women. The following year he was arrested and released on appeal in 1954. The same year, he was elected as president of Assam State Kisan Sabha and became a member of Central Kisan Council of the All India Kisan Sabha. In 1958, he was elected to the National Council of CPI in the Party Congress held at Amritsar.
In 1962, during the India-China border clashes, he was arrested and detained at Berhampur jail (Odisha) for 18 months, only because the Communists firmly advocated for the path of solving the border dispute between India and China through dialogue. Again during the India-Pakistan war in 1965, AB was detained in Assam jail for another 18 months.
When the Communist Party was split on ideological grounds in 1964, AB’s contribution in the struggle against revisionists and rightwing opportunism was significant. After the formation of CPI (M), when most of the leaders and cadres of CPI remained in the parent body, in Assam, AB, Nandeswar Talukdar, Gopen Roy, Biresh Mishra, Suren Hazarika and others waged untiring struggle to build the party and mass organisations. AB was elected secretary of the CPI (M) Assam State Committee in 1964 and continued to discharge this responsibility till 1982. In the midst of difficult political situation arising out of disruptions in the Party organization, AB and his close associates were able to build the Party and mass organisations, and launched struggles on various issues facing the common people. At the same time, the Party adopted programme to educate the cadres in a systematic way, AB explained the strategy and tactics of newly adopted Party Programme in simple and lucid terms and wrote many articles exposing the anti-Marxist propaganda of the enemy classes and opportunistic and compromising stand of the revisionists.
In 1967-69, the party was struck with another deviation viz. the Left sectarian and adventurist deviation propagated by the Naxalites which affected a small portion of party members in States like Andhra Prades, West Bengal and Assam. The State unit with AB as secretary stood like a rock and achieved success in fighting both right and left deviations.
During the period 1967-75, the historic strike as well as State government employees struggle and agitation by college and high school teachers took place in Assam, many leaders and activists of CPI (M) were arrested and imprisoned. The CPI (M) State unit took up the challenges and participated in the struggles thus widening and strengthening the base of our Party among the kisans, workers and toiling middle classes. Amidst such struggles, the political situation turned in our favour and our party in Cachar district under advice from Comrade Promod Das Gupta, decided to fight the 1974 by-election to the Silchar parliamentary seat. Noorul Huda was selected as the Party’s candidate against former minister and Rajya Sabha member Mahitosh Purakayastha of the Congress Party. Mahitosh was a member of CPI in the late 30’s during his student days and left the Party to join the Congress. However, almost all party members and sympathisers in hundreds worked with fervour and zeal and attracted the support of rural masses and urban middle class to a great extent. The CPI (M) won the by-election in February 1974 by a margin of 20,000 votes. However during the national emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975, Noorul Huda and many other party members and cadres were detained under the MISA for 18-and-a-half months. It was the first time that a CPI (M) candidate won a parliamentary seat in Assam.
During the emergency, AB went underground. Many leading comrades and cadres were arrested or detained. AB and the comrades in the underground directed the district committee leaders to work strenuously and keep all channels of communication intact when the party worked in new vigour and built up Kisan Sabha, CITU and other mass organisations. The movements also gained strength. In such a situation, the state assembly election took place in 1978 and the CPI (M) got 11 MLAs and one supported candidate was also elected; CPI won in six seats, RCPI in four, SUC in two and one Naxalite was elected to the Assembly. It was a golden opportunity for the Left in Assam. However, these successes frightened the bourgeoisie and all reactionary elements at home and abroad. In 1979, the attack came from the ultra-nationalists who coined the slogan of driving out all foreigners and outsiders. CPI (M) was targeted and nearly 50 of its valuable cadres, both from the Party and mass organisations, were killed mercilessly. Our Party was totally against the harmful and divisive slogan of driving out foreigners/outsiders without taking recourse to legal and constitutional channels.
Since 1971, Comrade AB was the patron of Assamese quarterly progressive journal ‘Natun Prithibi’ (the new world). He contributed many articles in the journal. He was supportive of a regular annual function where ‘Natun Prithibi’ organisers, writers and readers would meet and discuss about how to move forward to challenge the most regressive ideas and ideology of the reactionary, provided by capitalists and chauvinist circles. He was the editor of Party’s weekly organ, ‘Saptahik Ganashakti’, where he regularly wrote on the current national and international events. He developed cordial relationship with progressive writers, activists and the intelligentsia. Though his mother tongue was Bengali, AB was a prolific writer in Assamese and English also. As a Party’s senior leader, he had toured Soviet Russia, Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany) and People’s Republic of China and wrote about his impression about these countries.
Comrade AB made friends with senior party leader and editor of Bengali weekly Deshahitaishee, Sudhangshu Das Gupta. AB contributed a number of articles in the weekly on the problems and other significant developments in Assam and the North-eastern Region. He also wrote on “History of tea workers in Assam, their struggles and problems”, which was published in Bengali as a pamphlet.
In his long political career, AB led a disciplined, principled and ideal life. His lifestyle was very simple, he had the most sincere and cordial relationship with Party comrades and other cadres. He had a sense of humour. With all these qualities AB could inspire not only Party members but also cross sections of people not directly connected with the Party. He distinguished himself as Marxist ideologue, party teacher, good speaker, social thinker, freedom fighter and advanced leader of Communist movements. He refused to accept ‘Tamrapatra’ and freedom fighter’s pension from the government.
Today when values have degenerated and Communists are facing an adverse situation, Comrade AB’s life and struggle would act as a guiding spirit and would surely inspire many young and progressive Communists and their life struggle.
Homage to this unique revolutionary thinker and life-long activist.