Remembering Comrade Swapan

Comrade Swapan who was always so lively is now dead. What an irony! I always chose to sit near him in CC and PB meetings, since he would translate from Hindi, ensuring that I missed no nuance of exchanges that took place in Hindi.

At times Swapan and I exchanged books. I remember when Comrade Swapan’s wife came to party office during a PB meeting to give me a book, Chinaman, a novel by Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka, which I very much wanted to read and which was highly recommended by Comrade Swapan. Swapan and I would often discuss the problems and challenges faced by the Party and the Left movement. This year Swapan was the Party’s Central Observer for TN state conference. We were exchanging our concerns about revolution ceasing to be a profession for some comrades, the spread of sedentary middle class life styles and comrades getting more and more into the zone of families.

At that time Comrade Swapan told me about the poetry of Avtar Singh “Pash”. Comrade Swapan, I will not forget you or the poem of “Pash” which you brought to me.

“Most dangerous is

to be filled with dead peace

not to feel agony and bear it all

leaving home for work

and from work return home

most dangerous is the death of our dreams.”

Comrade Swapan, I know for sure that your dreams were alive until your last moment. Your comrades will fight hard to realize our cherished common communist dreams.

I remember that All India Coordination Committee of Central Trade Unions was formed in Dhanbad in 1987 which gave birth to the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU). Comrade Subba Rao was then the President. Comrade Suvendu Chatterjee was the General Secretary. Comrade Daras Ram Sahu (from Chhattisgarh, later martyred) and I were the joint secretaries. At that time Party was underground. India’s youngest left TU centre AICCTU was formed in 1989 at the Madras founding conference. There began my closer association with Swapan, who was elected General Secretary. I worked along with him as one of the secretaries, then in various capacities as vice president, working president and as president of AICCTU. Our long shared journey traversed the years after the advent of the neo-liberal regime in India.

The Soviet Union had collapsed. One particular socialist model failed. Hindutva forces were gaining political currency. Other than Congress and the Left, every political stream was breaking bread with them. Even a section of the Left was supporting a government supported by Sangh Parivar. During this period capitalist restructuring also took shape in a big way. While it was in the form of international division of labour, back home, it was contractualisation, casualization of work force and outsourcing of jobs. The so called social contract with the public sector at the commanding heights of the economy and the Nehruvian legacy all came tumbling down. Even new social forces which gained political ascendancy have all steadily become a part of the grand consensus of liberalization, privatization and globalization.

AICCTU’s growth trajectory corresponded with those times. During those difficult but promising decades Com. Swapan was the General Secretary of AICCTU and had a big role in steering the ship. After Suvendu Chatterjee’s initial short stint at the coordination stage Swapan was the founding General Secretary in the first conference of AICCTU. Then for a brief period Comrade Dipankar was the General Secretary. After Comrade Dipankar became the party General Secretary it was again Comrade Swapan’s turn to be the General Secretary of AICCTU. Comrade Swapan was AICCTU’s General Secretary for an uninterrupted 17 years from 1998 to 2015 when Comrade Rajiv Dimri took over from him. Even then Comrade Swapan was playing an active role as vice-president in his concern to help AICCTU in its transition stage. Every national councillor of AICCTU will remember Comrade Swapan’s enthusiastic role in the last Pune national council meeting and his passionate appeal for making the September 2 all-India general strike a big success. He did this inspite of being visibly tired. I remember Comrade Swapan asking me before the Pune meeting as to whether it was absolutely necessary for him to attend the meeting, and my telling him to decide whether he felt well enough to attend.

Comrade Swapan encouraged and led AICCTU in its attempts towards forming coal, steel, construction, municipal and contract employees’ federations. He made serious efforts to coordinate our government employees’ work and our work among ASHA and anganwadi workers. Comrade Swapan had very close bonds with Delhi transport workers. It was during Swapan’s tenure as General Secretary that AICCTU became a centrally recognized TU and spread its wings throughout the country. Swapan had a big role in shaping Bhilai work and he took a keen interest in developing AICCTU’s Jharkhand work. He was once our candidate in the working class constituency of Dhanbad in the Loksabha elections. Comrade Swapan was immensely happy about AICCTU’s growth in Karnataka.

Swapan’s role in Punjab and Maharashtra are quite remarkable. A central leader of a TU center played a key role in organizing and leading the struggle of rural poor in Punjab. He went to jail for them and with them. This created serious political pressure for the Punjab government. Such a role for a central TU leader is unprecedented in recent decades. Swapan’s role in bringing Chandigarh in our map and his active leadership in the PGI workers’ struggle are high points in AICCTU’s history.

Swapan added depth to our united front work with his dedication, commitment, and his ability to forge strong bonds and lasting friendships with activists from very varied backgrounds. Our AILC and AIPF work owes much to Comrade Swapan interactions with the CPI-M Punjab, Lal Nishan Party (Leninist), NTUI and other forces. He interacted with other left parties, left TUs and other TU centers.

Swapan had the knack of reaching out to ongoing social movements and upcoming, emerging forces. He kept abreast of and remained updated with all the economic, political and social churning that was taking place. The young women comrades from Chandighar, Punjab and Maharashtra, the youth and students of Delhi who functioned as the pall bearers bore witness to his comradely interaction with the new generation of comrades.

Whenever and wherever the Party asked him to go to any place in India, Swapan readily obliged. The last such instance was his responsibility in Odisha. His continued travel has also taken a toll on his body and health. He travelled long and hard to solve our problems, to build our organisations. But he did not complain. He worked to transform things in the ‘given conditions.’

I cannot but conclude this without narrating Swapan’s direct interaction with Pricol struggle. In 2009, the Pricol management tried to falsely implicate me as well as Pricol union members in a criminal case. The capitalist class was baying for blood and they tried to impose a siege to break down the movement and the struggle. I had to avoid arrest and seek anticipatory bail. TN AICCTU comrades were slowly and steadily organizing the resistance. Comrade Shankar chipped in with help and guidance. At that stage Comrade Swapan’s presence and role in Coimbatore and TN reflected the time-tested qualities of a working class leader. He contacted central TUs, met the press and the government officials. He interacted with worker vanguards. He addressed a big convention of workers. He interacted with TN comrades in a purposeful way and lent a very solid and steady hand while they rebuilt everything block by block. At that time Swapan had a meeting with a very highly placed police officer of TN. While comrades were coming out, that officer stopped Swapan for a moment and spoke to him in Hindi, saying that there is pressure on the department to stage an encounter and that he will not be a party to it and then he asked Swapan to expedite the anticipatory bail process. Swapan could not share this information with the other comrades at that stage but still had to guide them.

When thousands of Pricol workers and their family members participated in the Pricol workers’ family festival on 10.10.10, Swapan was the chief guest in that program.Comrade Swapan along with Comrade Shankar was present in Coimbatore in 2015 on the day the trial court judgment was expected in the Pricol case, in case of any eventuality. They also addressed the Press Conference after the judgment meting out double life imprisonment to 8 Pricol workers.

It was in the fitness of things that Comrade Gurusami from Coimbatore, a leader of the Pricol workers’ struggle joined comrades from all over India in bidding final farewell to Swapan.

Red Salute, Comrade Swapan.