November 26, 2023

A Tribute to the 101-Year Old Communist Leader N Sankaraiah

G Selva

ON November 7, Communists worldwide commemorate the Socialist revolution led by Lenin. This year, on the same day, the renovated state committee office of the Tamil Nadu CPI(M) was inaugurated. Simultaneously, an event to unveil the statue of P Ramamurthy, a veteran Communist leader and freedom fighter, took place.

During the valedictory event, P Ramamurthy’s daughter and renowned lawyer, Vaigai, concluding her speech, said, 'The very slogan Inquilab Zindabad terrorises this government. We must continue to raise this slogan' .

Sankaraiah, who had sent an audio message for the event, concluded his message with the powerful slogan, Inquilab Zindabad. The majesty in his voice remained almost intact. Everyone present at the event, including Vaigai on the dais, was deeply moved to tears upon hearing his voice. Sadly, within a week, Comrade Sankaraiah left us.

Comrade Sankaraiah emerged as a formidable leader in Tamil Nadu during the era of British imperialism, enduring multiple prison sentences as a result. By the age of 40, he had already spent eight years behind bars and three years underground. During the peak of the freedom struggle, Sankaraiah, a student at The American College in Madurai, rallied fellow students and actively engaged them in the movement for independence. When Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose visited Chennai, it was Sankaraiah who brought him to Madurai, to inspire a spirit of patriotism among the students.

Sankaraiah played a pivotal role in founding and guiding a student organisation dedicated to mobilising students across Tamil Nadu for the freedom struggle. Starting in Madurai, he successfully organised students in various cities across the state.

In 1964, following an ideological split within the Communist movement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPI(M), was established. Comrade Sankaraiah was one of the 32 national executive members who were instrumental in the formation of the CPI(M).

I have witnessed many remarkable qualities in Comrade Sankaraiah during my own student days. When the police resorted to lathi-charge after a protest at the Chrompet government school where I was studying, I ran to Sankaraiah’s house seeking refuge. At that time, unaware of his history as a veteran communist leader and freedom fighter, I ran inside, shouting, "Thatha, thaatha (grandfather)." His son was a Party unit leader at that time.

Later, as I grasped the significance of his stature, I was struck by the warmth he extended, transcending age differences, and how he addressed everyone as a comrade. Every time Comrade Sankaraiah got down from a train and headed home, I and my friends would stand on the road, greeting him with a heartfelt, "Vanakkam, comrade." In response, he would enthusiastically reply, "Vanakkam comrade." As a student, this filled me with a profound sense of excitement, prompting me to often stand on the road with friends just for this cherished moment. It brings me great joy that I came to understand the significance of the word 'comrade' when it came directly from him.

Comrade Sankaraiah was an exemplary disciplined person. Despite numerous tasks and responsibilities within the Communist party, he meticulously noted every event he had to attend and ensured punctuality. His commitment to timeliness extended to all occasions, whether it be a wedding or a visit to a comrade's house. Sankaraiah valued others' time as much as his own. I was always in awe of this quality of his.

At the age of 97, I had the privilege of traveling with him to a conference in Madurai. He meticulously planned every aspect of the trip, from checking train timings to deciding where to have our meals and how to return. Sankaraiah left nothing to chance and made sure I followed the same meticulous approach. Meeting him a few weeks ago, I realised that even in his advanced age, he remained unchanged in his thoughtful and disciplined manner.

Comrade Sankaraiah is widely recognised across the country as a veteran leader of the Communist party, yet he never allowed fame to manifest in his personality. A leader nonpareil, he functioned solely under the Party’s orders. Despite stepping down as the Party’s state secretary in 2002, Sankaraiah willingly accepted any responsibility entrusted to him by the Party and executed his duties accordingly.

His role as the state secretary was marked by impeccable performance. Party’s resolutions remained his guiding principles. He never granted interviews to any media outlet without explicit Party approval. He consistently read all the statements, magazines, and documents of the Party, staying well-informed about developments from the local to the global level. Sankaraiah demonstrated remarkable knowledge and a keen awareness of every struggle undertaken by the Party. During my recent visit to him last month, he inquired about the consequences at each stage of the actions the Party had taken in response to the recent forced evictions in Chennai.

Comrade Sankaraiah was proficient in English. Even during his student years, he would translate speeches by leaders such as PC Joshi (the first general secretary of the Communist Party of India) and AK Gopalan into Tamil when they visited the state. Remarkably, he could translate without the need for notes.

Self-awareness was a trait consciously cultivated by Comrade Sankaraiah. He would never accept things that he did not find palatable. He exercised restraint in the matter of food and advised other comrades to do the same as he was concerned about their health.

Sankaraiah was a leader who found joy and pride in the growth of the next generation of leaders, willingly making way for them. Despite occasionally curtailing his attendance at public events for this reason, he consistently sent congratulatory messages and articles to encourage and uplift others. Generations of Communist leaders owe a debt of gratitude to Comrade Sankaraiah. Every member of his family is a Communist worker.

His family has seen weddings between members of various castes. Sankaraiah himself fell in love and married Navamani Ammal, a Christian and his fellow traveler in the freedom struggle. Their marriage transcended both caste and religious boundaries, exemplifying an inter-caste and inter-faith marriage. Numerous such marriages have occurred within his family. Sankaraiah consistently encouraged the youth to fall in love and marry. His speeches against caste oppression instilled rationalism in the younger generation, and he ensured that his own family adhered to the principles of the Communist party.

When Comrade Sankaraiah tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to Rajiv Gandhi Hospital, the resilience with which he faced the disease and cooperated with the doctors was awe-inspiring. Perhaps his fighting spirit manifested itself against the disease even at the age of 100. In his final struggle, he battled the illness as much as he could. The Communist red sun, which had lived an admirable public life, continued to be the pulse of the Communist party until the end.

Cannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection
or reload the browser
Disable in this text fieldRephraseRephrase current sentenceEdit in Ginger