Com G Veeraiyan: A Remarkable and Inspiring Life

Venkatesh Athreya

THE life of Comrade G Veeraiyan, who passed away on November 18, 2018 at the age of 86 years, is a record of exemplary courage and revolutionary commitment over a span of seven decades. Com GV, as he was called by lakhs of  agricultural labourers and poor peasants in the districts of Nagapattinam, Tiruvarur and  Thanjavur (all three of which together comprised the old undivided Thanjavur district),  and by activists of the Kisan Sabha and Agricultural Workers’ Union all over the state of Tamil Nadu, was  a comrade who dedicated his entire life to the empowerment of agricultural labourers and poor peasants in the state in general and the undivided Thanjavur district in particular. He has inspired thousands of women and men in the state of Tamil Nadu to join the class and mass movements led by the Communist Party.

GV was born on November 20, 1932 to the couple Muthuletchumi and Govindasami in the town of Tiruvarur located in the Kaveri delta of Tamil Nadu. GV’s father worked on the estate of a landlord of Serukalathur village for a monthly wage. He also acted as the caretaker for the lands of the estate in the village of Sithadi, and was cultivating on a share rent lease four acres of land belonging to the estate in Sithadi. From a childhood of considerable work - tending cattle, other farm work, household chores and so on – and little formal education – GV had less than four years of formal schooling – Com GV went on to become one of the tallest leaders of the peasant and agricultural workers’ movements and of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Tamil Nadu. His life - that of a man with little formal education, facing constant economic deprivation, leading class and mass movements in rural Tamil Nadu, now overground, now underground, now in jail, now at large, constantly harassed and targeted by the police at the behest of the landlords of undivided Thanjavur district, yet able to outwit, with the help and collective wisdom of the Communist Party, the class enemies and serve with distinction the cause of the working people – is an object lesson for all comrades.

While he was working as a poor peasant and agricultural labourer in his teens, GV was approached by a relative of his, Com Kuppusamy, to join the Kisan Sabha and the Party. The comrade was truly persistent. It took him several years to wean away GV from loyalty to the landlord of the estate for which GV’s father toiled and to eventually get him to join the Communist Party which at that time (in 1948) had just been declared illegal. It was characteristic of GV that while he took his time to join the Party, and finally did so after deep reflection, once convinced, he threw himself into the movement with unwavering dedication. GV was hardly sixteen years of age when he joined the undivided CPI. The 1950s were years of intense class struggle in the region where Com GV lived and worked. The Kisan Sabha was seeking to mobilise the tenants (many of whom came from the backward castes), who were constantly facing insecurity and the threat of eviction in a rural economy and polity dominated by big upper caste landlords, around their basic demands. Under the leadership of the Party, it was also mobilising in a powerful way agricultural labourers (many of whom were dalits) on issues of fair wages. Besides, the Party was empowering the dalits to fight against the social oppression by caste Hindu landlords which took some of the most barbaric and cruel forms in undivided Thanjavur district. During the period that the Party was banned (1948-51), GV played a key role in keeping the fledgling party/mass organisation together and minimising losses from police repression and landlord hoodlums as a leader of the Kisan Sabha. By the end of the 1950s, the struggle for land reforms had moved beyond security for tenants against eviction by the landlords, to the issue of implementation of land ceilings and the carrying out of land reforms. Though successive governments in the state, of Congress till 1967 and the DMK and AIADMK after 1967, proved most unwilling to carry our comprehensive land reforms by identifying and redistributing ceiling-surplus lands to the landless, the relentless struggles of the Kisan Sabha in Thanjavur district led eventually to the landless and the poor peasants becoming owners of over five lakh acres of agricultural lands. This achievement was in no small measure due to the sagacious leadership of the Party in the district which not only conducted militant and uncompromising struggles against landlordism and caste oppression, braving police repression and frequent imprisonment, but also evolved flexible yet principled tactics to weaken landlordism while strengthening the unity of the working poor, cutting across caste lines. All the while, the Party did not compromise on the issue of fighting caste oppression. In the shaping and steeling of this sagacious leadership at several levels from the district to the village, Com GV played an exceptionally important role as a leader who commanded the utmost respect from both Party and Kisan Sabha cadre and the mass of rural working people in undivided Thanjavur district.

The year 2018 marks the fiftieth year since the massacre, on December 25, 1968, of 44 children, women and men of the village of Keezhavenmani in Nagappattinam district by the goons of landlords. Despite our Party leader Meenatchisundaram writing to then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Annadurai as early as December 10 of 1968 stating that the landlords were threatening to set fire to the houses of agricultural labourers in the village of Keezhavenmani and seeking government protection, nothing was done to avert the gory and inhuman orgy of premeditated violence let loose by landlords. The landlord terror was not an isolated or accidental event. Their calculation was that a body blow of this kind will lead to the collapse of the militant struggles for wages and land and to the destruction of the morale of the activists of the CPI(M) who were leading the struggles. It was an extremely testing time for the Party. Com GV played a key role, along with others in the Party leadership, in ensuring that the morale of the Party cadre was kept high and that the struggles went on with redoubled vigour, resulting in a series of significant victories over landlordism in the district in the years that followed.

Com GV was not only unwavering in all the grass roots struggles and ideological and political struggles carried out by the Party, he was also adept at evolving tactics uniquely suited to each conjuncture that the movement had to deal with, in the long span of his active political life of seven decades. He was also a fine Party organiser who solved with great skill and in a principled way many inner party organisational and political/ideological issues during his long stint as a Party leader at various levels. Twice elected to the legislature, a member of the Party state committee for 37 years and of the state secretariat for 27 years, general secretary of AIKS – TN for 17 years, member of the Central Kisan Council for 18 years – GV wore all these and more distinctions lightly even as he did full justice to all his responsibilities. Com GV will remain an inspiration to the activists of the democratic movement for generations to come. Red Salute, Com GV!

 

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