June 20, 2021

Lighthouses of Maharashtra: A Landmark Online Public Lecture Series

Uday Narkar

THE CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee conducted a 21 day online public lecture series called “Maharashtrache Deepastambh” (Lighthouses of Maharashtra) that started on May 5, 2021 to mark the Karl Marx birth anniversary, and also May Day and Maharashtra Day on May 1. It was based on leading social and political thinkers and figures of Maharashtra, who had played a major role in the social reform movement, the anti-imperialist freedom struggle, the Samyukta Maharashtra movement and the worker-peasant movement towards socialism.

This series began with a lecture on the well-known Bhakti tradition of Sant Dnyaneshwar, Sant Tukaram and others. It was ably dealt with by a young scholar activist and general secretary of the Samajwadi Prabodhini, Prasad Kulkarni.

Principal Anand Mense from Belgaum dealt with the agrarian policies of the legendary King Shivaji. He spoke of how Shivaji laid out and implemented welfare measures for the toiling peasantry of his kingdom (for more on this, please see ‘Who was Shivaji’, LeftWord Books).

With the defeat of the feudal, brahminical Peshwa rule and the advent of the British Raj a new era of social rebellion was inaugurated by Jotirao Phule. Dr Uday Narkar, state secretariat member of the CPI(M), explained how Phule identified the basic dwai-varnik nature of the society and how he went on to intensify that basic contradiction.

Prof Maya Pandit, former pro vice chancellor of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, in her scholarly presentation, showed how Savitribai Phule laid the foundation of the movement for the liberation of women from the joint oppression of caste and patriarchal structures.

Prof Raja Dixit, Professor Emeritus in Savitribai Phule Pune University delivered his lecture on Justice M G Ranade’s contribution to social and political awakening in the state. He emphasized how the movement for emancipation was misunderstood by dividing the struggle in the false binary that posed the question, what is first, social liberation or political liberation.

This phase culminated in the talk on Shahu Maharaj given by principal T S Patil, a historian of the social reform movement. He dealt with various controversies generated in Shahu’s struggle against brahminical orthodoxy and his work in the uplift of dalits and downtrodden castes.

Foundational work against caste oppression was carried forward by Vithal Ramji Shinde, a Maratha who devoted his entire life for the emancipation of dalits. He recognised the need to unite various sections for both social and political liberation. He was imprisoned for his political work during the Satyagraha movement. He used the term Bahujan with political significance. This speech was delivered by Prof Sadanand More, a renowned professor of philosophy, who is also the chairman of the Maharashtra Sahitya and Sanskriti Mandal, a state government body.

Prof Suhas Palshikar, a reputed thinker and incisive political commentator, spoke on Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s legacy on four seminal counts: his comprehensive analysis of caste as a structure; his concept of democracy as responsible government striving towards social welfare; the constitution as an instrument for radical equality; and, developing the philosophy of dhamma based on the concept of dukkha as a product of current misery.

Prof Ashok Chowsalkar traced the emergence of the non-brahmin movement and explained how some of its leaders like Dinkarrao Jawalkar were being drawn to socialism.

Datta Desai, a Marxist thinker, threw illuminating light on four pioneering Marxist thinkers: D D Kosambi, D K Bedekar, G B Sardar and Nalini Pandit.


The anti-imperialist crusader yet social reactionary, Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s later trajectory towards hailing the Russian Revolution, the working class movement and socialism, and the contribution of the socially progressive G G Agarkar, were explained by the renowned journalist Kumar Ketkar, MP.

The freedom struggle was taken forward on radical lines by the Communist luminaries B T Ranadive and S A Dange, in the early phase of the latter’s life. Both these leaders, along with their numerous colleagues, led the working class movement and drew it into the freedom struggle. Their life of immense sacrifice was brought alive by Prof Ajit Abhyankar, state committee member of the CPI(M). He also brought into focus various strands in the communist movement and the inner Party struggle against right revisionism and left sectarianism.

The bridge between the struggle for political freedom and for social justice and equality was exemplified by the contribution of Shamrao and Godavari Parulekar. Shamrao, a colleague of Dr Ambedkar, joined the Communist Party. Godavari, the first woman lawyer in Maharashtra and granddaughter of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, joined the Communist Party and later became, along with Shamrao, the legendary leader of the Warli Adivasi revolt in Thane district. Both were also founders of the AIKS in Maharashtra. Their great contribution was graphically brought into relief by Ashok Dhawale, member, Central Committee of the CPI(M) and president of AIKS.

Another strong link between Dr Ambedkar’s movement and the Communist movement was R B More, the main organiser of the famous Chavdar Lake Satyagraha at Mahad in 1927. Com More also took the lead in organising the peasantry against the feudal Khoti system. R B More influenced several dalit activists to join the Communist Party. His contribution was brought to light by Shailendra Kamble, state committee member of CPI(M) and state convenor, DSMM. 

Krantisinh Nana Patil, a legend in his lifetime, led a struggle that ended in liberating an area spanning two districts of Satara and Sangli from British rule for three years during the Quit India movement. Nana Patil later joined the Communist Party and became the president of the AIKS and a two time MP of the then CPI.  A popular speaker Dr Baburao Gurav spoke on the subject.


Pioneering work in the education for the low castes was done by Bhaurao Patil. A studied speech on his contribution was delivered by a senior social worker Kishor Bedkihal.

Another important lecture by Prof Surendra Jondhale dealt with the life and work of Dadasaheb Gaikwad, a staunch follower of Dr Ambedkar, and the main organiser of the temple entry satyagraha at Nashik, who also led a major struggle for land jointly with the Communists.

Communists, during the freedom struggle and the formation of Samyukta Maharashtra, also inspired people’s art in the form of the very popular Lal Bavta Kala Pathak. Annabhau Sathe, Amar Shaikh and Datta Gavhankar used various popular folk forms to generate political awareness through their stage performances. Their legacy was enlivened by Subodh More, a cultural activist of the Party.

Another important stream of social reform, among Muslims, was addressed by eminent social worker Raziya Patel who highlighted the contribution of various reformers ranging from Savitribai Phule’s contemporary Fatima Shaikh to Hamid Dalwai to Asghar Ali Engineer.

Prof Gopal Guru, editor of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), summed up the series with an explication of the concept of the Deepastambha as a metaphor for liberating light in dark times. He referred to the seminal contributions of Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Com Govind Pansare.

The culmination of the Deepastambha Series was the concluding speech by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury on “Social Awakening and Socialism”, in which he brought together all the streams of social and political movements to bear upon the current grave challenge of corporate Hindutva facing the country.

This series, in which several renowned non-Party progressive thinkers and scholars of Maharashtra came on to the Party platform for the first time, was broadcast daily not only on our Party’s Facebook page and Youtube channel, but also by some popular parallel channels in the state. The lecture series was widely appreciated both within and outside the Party, and efforts have begun by ‘Janashakti Prakashan’ to bring out all these 21 lectures in a book form.