IT is still hard to believe that Comrade Swapan is no more. He was so warm, exuberant and full of life - so easy to work with and so difficult to get angry with. The outpouring of affection and admiration we have seen in the wake of his shocking and most sudden demise bears testimony to his decades of courageous and committed activism, his friendly, communicative nature and his concern and respect for fellow comrades. As we cope with the void created by his sudden exit, the only way we can truly remember our beloved comrade at this crucial political juncture is by learning from his experience and contribution.
Like many others in his generation who were drawn into the communist movement in the turbulent years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Comrade Swapan’s revolutionary journey too began when he was a student in Delhi University and the air was thick with revolutionary hope and urge in the wake of the ‘Spring Thunder of Naxalbari.’ But history has a knack of playing truant and the dream of accomplishing Indian revolution by 1975 was eclipsed in real life by the imposition of the Emergency. This phase of setback and repression confused and demoralised many who had plunged into the revolutionary movement and changed the course of life of many comrades. But Comrade Swapan never lost his hope and conviction, he never wavered in his revolutionary commitment and most crucially even as he took up a job and stopped being a full time activist for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he retained his activist mode through his organic association with the civil liberties movement and working class struggles of the post-Emergency period. This tenacity, consistency and enthusiastic activism remained his hallmarks till the very end.
As the reorganised CPI(ML) spread its organisational network and developed work on different fronts, Comrade Swapan played the role of a key all-rounder in building and expanding the Party in Delhi and Punjab. He was quick to grasp new ideas and challenges, spot new possibilities and attract and develop new comrades. With these essential qualities of a communist leader he continued to adapt himself to the demands of the situation and played an anchor role first in the launching of the Indian People’s Front and then in the development of the AICCTU. In recent years Comrade Swapan played a key role in the formation of the All India Left Coordination in May 2010 and the broader democratic platform of All India People’s Forum in March 2015. He often represented the Party and the AICCTU in joint meetings with other Left parties and trade union centres. Alongside the responsibilities of the Trade Union front and united front work, he was also the moving spirit behind the Party’s steady expansion and consolidation in Punjab and Chandigarh and in recent years in the revival and growth of the Party in Maharashtra.
Comrade Swapan’s association with Punjab began in the turbulent years of Khalistani insurgency, when Punjab was reeling under terrorism fuelled by the acute alienation of the Sikh community in the wake of Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh pogrom of November 1984 and the systematic unleashing of state terrorism and indiscriminate suppression and persecution of the Sikh youth in the name of countering the Khalistani insurgency. While giving no ideological-political concession to fundamentalism and terrorism in the name of Khalistan, Comrade Swapan boldly championed the Party’s consistent position against state terrorism and kept up the independent profile of the Party and the IPF, holding high the banner of revolutionary democracy.
For many years the Party however remained confined to some pockets of Malwa region with limited mass strength. When the agrarian crisis deepened in Punjab and movements began to break out against forcible land acquisition, debt burden and peasant suicides on the one hand and for land and shelter rights of the rural poor on the other, Comrade Swapan led the entire Party organisation from the front to unleash a spate of sustained struggles and got arrested along with other leading comrades. The assault on Comrade Bant Singh was another instance when under Comrade Swapan’s leadership the Party in Punjab rose in bold protests leading to a countrywide mobilisation of progressive democratic forces in support of Comrade Bant Singh and CPI(ML). Thanks to his sustained and energetic efforts, contacts were established with comrades in Gurdaspur and Chandigarh and the Party today is widely recognised as a leading communist stream in Punjab. He also worked sincerely to develop unity and cooperation with other Left organisations in Punjab, playing a key role in establishing close ties with the communist organisation led by erstwhile CPI(M) leader Comrade Mangatram Pasla, currently a valued ally of the Party in the All India Left Coordination and All India People’s Forum. Similarly in Maharashtra, Comrade Swapan maintained close ties with the comrades of Lal Nishan Party (Leninist), our long-standing fraternal organisation.
When AICCTU was launched in 1990, Comrade Swapan was the natural choice as the General Secretary of the new trade union centre. Under his guidance and energetic leadership, AICCTU today has emerged as a nationally recognised trade union centre with a growing presence in several states and sectors. Comrade Swapan was not a professional trade unionist in the narrow sense of the term; he was a political leader of the working class for whom trade unions were as much a medium for defending the economic interests of the working class as mobilising and organising workers as a class to strengthen its social and political role. For him there was no Chinese wall between the two aspects, rather the two aspects were fused in a single process with the trade union movement and communist movement constantly reinforcing each other.
All through his political life, Comrade Swapan worked as a bridge for the Party with broader progressive circles. Within the Party, he had warm comradely relations with all comrades he worked with including comrades having different ideas and even opposite views, yet in inner-Party debates he always took principled political and organisational positions. In early 1988 soon after the Fourth Congress of the Party, when there was a major crisis in the Delhi Party organisation, Comrade Swapan stood firm in defence of the Party and worked hard for the expansion and consolidation of the organisation. He always provided great encouragement to young comrades. Whether in Punjab, Chandigarh or Maharashtra, he took great care to develop a new crop of young cadres. On the fateful night of 6 September when he passed away he was in the midst of our young comrades of Chandigarh and when his funeral procession started from Charu Bhawan, four young women comrades from Chandigarh and Maharashtra were the pallbearers.
Comrade Swapan was inducted in the Party Central Committee in 1993 when the Party came overground at the Fifth Congress in Kolkata, and after the Ninth Congress of the Party in Ranchi, he joined the Polit Bureau of the Central Committee. As a PBM he began to shoulder more responsibilities of the Party, making the fullest possible utilisation of his political wisdom and understanding developed through years of experience and close perceptive observation of the changing social and political reality. His absence is being felt across the Party, and the entire Party must resolve to shoulder his responsibilities and carry forward his unfinished mission with the commitment, creativity and confidence with which Comrade Swapan used to apply himself for the revolutionary cause of the Party and in defence of the rights and aspirations of the people.