Comrade Ashok’s Revolutionary Journey

Born on 12 August 1947 in Kawakole village of Nawada district, Narendra Sah was an intelligent student from a poor family. Drawn by the spring thunder of Naxalbari into revolutionary activism since 1969 itself, he became ‘Ashokji’ and this remained his life-long name. Arrested in 1971, he escaped in a daring and successful jail break bid.

Responding enthusiastically to Charu Majumdar’s call to go to the villages, he worked as an organiser amongst the rural and urban poor of Nawada and near-by districts, and also became a member of the Bihar State Committee. Even in those early years, his life was marked by simplicity, dedication and hard work. He would cover long distances on foot, and living among poor landless peasants, he spent many a hungry day.

Ever since the reorganisation of the party in 1974, his intellectual depth and ability made him an invaluable asset for the party’s publicity work, in addition to his work in the rural areas. Since most of the party’s theoretical writings in those days were originally written in Bengali, he painstakingly learnt Bangla in order to be able to translate them. He also translated Charu Mazumdar’s and Jauhar’s collected writings for publication.

In 1978 he came to Jamshedpur as a member of the party’s central publicity team, where he was involved with work among industrial workers and also with editing ‘Lal Jhanda’ and other party publications. In this period he also had the responsibility of keeping in touch with the AP comrades. In the 80s, he was successively made the in-charge of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. In 1982, he was elected to the Central Committee at the party’s Third Congress. In the late 80s, he was in-charge of the central headquarters of the underground party in Bokaro.

After the Fifth Congress, he was given the responsibility of editing Lokyuddh, and he played an important role in stabilising and regularising the publication of Lokyuddh. He also played a major role in preparing a history of the Indian communist movement.

In the mid-90s he was once again in-charge of Maharashtra and Gujarat for a time, but the needs of the party’s publications recalled him to Delhi where he edited the weekly ML Update and Maley Samachar. When it was decided that Maley Samachar would be replaced by the weekly Lokyuddh, he once again returned to Patna to edit Lokyuddh.

In addition to Lokyuddh, he also had responsibilities in the Barsoi Assembly constituency in Katihar, and political in-charge of the party’s team of MLAs in the Bihar Assembly. Throughout his life, he remained a tireless Marxist educator, taking innumerable party classes on a range of topics.

Bidding Farewell to Comrade Ashok

On 13 November 2008 a massive procession accompanied the funeral cortege on Comrade Ashok’s final journey. From 12 November morning to 13 November noon, people streamed in to pay homage and floral tribute to Comrade Ashok. CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar said that it was difficult to believe that Comrade Ashok’s ever dynamic life had come to an end. From grassroots activist in Bihar to Party organiser in Maharashtra, from editor of Lokyuddh to political secretary of the party’s MLA team in Bihar – he performed a range of roles with the same energy and dedication. PB member Ramji Rai recalled what a remarkable scholar he was, and how he would never say ‘no’ to any task given to him by the party. Close comrade Brij Bihari Pande who shared the work of editing Lokyuddh with him for many years paid him emotional tribute. Senior comrade R N Thakur recalled how he and Ashokji began their political journey together as fellow students of Patna Science College: a journey that spanned the villages of Bihar, life in jail, and a life-long close friendship. He said that even while in jail together, Comrade Ashok never lost his interest in research and study. He would comb the jail library for study materials and would devise classes for fellow prisoners. Even in later life, he would tirelessly collect and analyse facts on a range of issues. He recalled Comrade Ashok’s daring jail break from Patna Central jail in 1971.

Leaders of various Left parties and trade unions, including CPI Bihar State Secretary Comrade Badrinayaran Lal, as well as intellectuals and cultural activists Agnipushp, Srikant, Shekhar and others paid floral tributes and joined his last journey.

In Delhi, a condolence meeting was held on 13 November at the Gandhi Peace Foundation. PB member Comrade Swadesh Bhattacharya, senior comrade Ganesan, CCM Prabhat Kumar, Delhi State Secretary Sanjay Sharma, as well as many other comrades shared memories of Comrade Ashok. Prof. Nishat Kaisar of Jamia Millia Islamia said his articles in Samkaleen Janmat under the pen-name of Martand were a seminal contribution to the Marxist discussion of caste and class and the Dalit question. Comrade Ganesan recalled that Ashokji worked energetically in Maharashtra where, initially, there was not a single party member. He was a remarkable asset to the party’s emerging mass initiatives: establishing links with Dalit panthers, working class leaders including Datta Samant, as well as Dalit writers and Left intellectuals.

On November 14, a condolence meeting was organised at Vile Parle, Mumbai, in which CPI(ML) Comrades Shyam Gohil and Dhiraj Rathod as well as Comrade Uday Bhatt of Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) shared memories of their long association with him. They recalled how in the late 70s he made contact with a range of Left and Dalit intellectuals, with the Mumbai working class movement, and also held several classes with workers of Dharavi and other slum clusters of the city. Comrades in Nagpur also paid homage to Comrade Ashok in a memorial meeting held on 15 November.

In Haldwani, a memorial meeting was held on 13 November, in which many comrades including CCM Comrade Rajendra Pratholi as well as Uttarakhand in-charge Comrade Raja Bahuguna, Girija Pathak, K K Bora, former Secretary of the Nainital Bar Association Kailash Joshi and many others paid tribute to Comrade Ashok. A condolence meeting was also organised at Jaipur, while at Gwalior, Lokyuddh readers met to hold a meeting in Ashokji’s memory.

Red Salute to Comrade Ashok!

Ten days after his most sudden and untimely demise, it is still quite difficult to believe that Comrade Ashok is no more, for he always radiated such great energy and enthusiasm, intellectual as well as physical. Ashokji can only be remembered as a comrade who brought an infectious smile and a powerhouse of energy and determination to wherever he went. Ever since his student days when he became a professional revolutionary responding to Comrade Charu Mazumdar’s call in the stormy aftermath of Naxalbari, and turned from Narendra Shah into Comrade Ashok, he never said no to any Party work, however challenging and thankless.

Comrade Ashok was a quintessential product of Naxalbari and CPI(ML). He was a promising student of Mathematics in the prestigious Patna Science College when he gave up his formal education and plunged headlong into revolutionary communist activities. In spite of his obvious intellectual calibre, he had not an iota of intellectual arrogance and his social conduct gave away absolutely no hint that he came from one of the most dominant castes in Bihar. With great humility and ideological conviction, he went about his job of getting integrated with the landless rural poor of Bihar and unleashing their revolutionary initiative.

He had a great aptitude and insatiable hunger for learning, for deriving knowledge from all sources and in all conditions. This is why he could work so easily in different states and different settings. For several years in the 1980s when he was based in Maharashtra, he delved deep into the rich history and tradition of social movements in the state and became as conversant with Ambedkar and Phule as with Lenin and Mao. His readiness to learn and respect for others enabled him to develop a wide range of contacts even while working as an underground organiser.

During the four decades of his revolutionary journey, Ashokji worked in different organisational capacities. In the 1980s he was a member of the CC. In the subsequent years, he remained involved mostly in the work of research, education and publication, away from the ‘mainstream’ committee structures in Party offices in Delhi and Patna. Yet he had no complaints, he would never grudge any work, never resent the fact that he was formally not on any leading committee of the Party. And he would be ever ready to take up any new assignment, be it looking after the election campaign in Katihar district where our Party organisation is still very weak in spite of considerable political influence and popularity enjoyed by our comrades or guiding the Party group of Bihar legislators for a more informed intervention in debates in the Assembly.

Comrade Ashok’s simplicity and dedication to work, and his tremendous energy, enthusiasm and intellectual activism will remain a shining example for all of us to emulate in our own lives. Adieu, Ashokji!

Dipankar Bhattacharya,

22 November 2008

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