Remembering Dr. Gangadhar Adhikari: Life, Reminiscences, Tributes, Selected Writings

Ed. Amar Farooqui, People's Publishing House, New Delhi. Pp.: 146. Price Rs. 200. 1998

S.G. Sardesai: Patriot and Communist

Ed. A.B. Bardhan et al People's Publishing House, New Delhi. Pp. 190 Rs. 150. 1998

Both from People's Publishing House, New Delhi, 1998

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That the Indian communist movement has not only managed to survive and avoid the fate of the communist parties in the rest of the world (except perhaps South Africa) is not only due to the charm that Stalinist development still holds for a socially backward and poverty ridden India. It has also been due to the large number of dedicated cadres and leaders whose resilience and commitment has been matched only by their intellectual depth and cosmopolitan outlook vis a vis rest of the political parties.

Among the long list of brilliant harbingers of the communist movement in India that comes to mind are P.C. Joshi, S.A. Dange, Bhowani Sen, B.T. Ranadive, Basavpunniah, Muzzafar Ahmed, G. Adhikari, S.G. Sardesai, Mohan Kumaramanglam and N.K. Krishnan. Some of them later shifted to the CPM after the historic split.

The CPI controlled People’s Publishing House, has brought out the two books under review. One of them is on Dr. Gangadhar Adhikari (1898-1983), and the other on S.G. Sardesai (1907-1996).

Dr. Adhikari is now primarily remembered for the Pakistan thesis that he expounded in 1945. Adhikari advocated the creation of Pakistan and therefore called for joint CPI- Muslim League action. The CPI quickly backtracked on the thesis and corrected its mistake.

Adhikari was called "The Doc" by those close to him. He was a brilliant chemical scientist who earned his Ph.D. degree in Berlin in 1927 and worked with some of the best scientists there, attending lectures by Max Plank and Albert Einstein. His colleagues there were Lee Slizard and Wigner, both of whom were later associated with the Manhattan project.

It was in Germany itself that Adhikari was attracted to Marxism and joined the German communist party. He returned to India in 1928 and joined the as yet nascent CPI. He was immediately arrested in the Meerut Conspiracy Case. Albert Einstein wrote an open letter to the British Prime Minister MacDonald seeking release of the brilliant scientist Adhikari whom he had known in Berlin.

Adhikari went on to become the leading theoretician of the party. His best years were during the second world war when he was involved not only in formulating the policies of the party but was involved in guiding its day to day activities.

He remained the party’s top most theorist till 1950 when Cominform rejected the left adventurist line that the CPI had followed under the ultra sectarian B.T. Ranadive. Adhikari had been one of the three politburo members at that time. He was hounded out of the leadership and restarted "all over again".

The book under review contains a few reminiscences, a brief biography and some articles of Adhikari. The book suffers from bad editing and a lackadaisical selection of his writings. His thesis on Pakistan is completely left out, except for a fleeting mention by Satya Pal Dang. Right or wrong, it is a historic and pioneering document on the nationalities question in India. That it has been excluded in the present selection is an unpardonable oversight on part of the editor.

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S.G. Sardesai: Patriot and Communist
Ed. A.B. Bardhan et al People's Publishing House, New Delhi. Pp. 190 Rs. 150. 1998

S.G. Sardesai’s volume is much better edited and has much more careful selections from his writings. Sardesai, like Adhikari, hailed from Maharashtra. Incidentally, he was from the famous Kirloskar family.

Sardesai too was one of the theoretician leaders of the CPI both before and after independence. Groomed in Sanskrit and a liberal Bramanic education, he became a communist around 1927 when he was 20 years old. He first gained public notice with his speeches at the Tripuri Congress in 1939.

Sardesai was well placed to write, as he later did, tracts on "Marxism and the Gita", where he provided a critical and caustic evaluation of the Gita. One observation he made was that nearly all commentaries on the Gita have been made by those with an upper caste origin (Tilak, Gandhi, Aurobindo, Radhakrishnan). Those representing the lower caste movements (including Kabir, Nanak, Tukaram, Phule) have tended to ignore Gita. He also pointed to the justification for the caste system provided in the Gita, with its bias towards the lower castes and women.

His "Progress and Conservatism in Ancient India" is an excellent and original work where he traced the absence of a social revolution in India to geographical factors.

Sardesai lived long enough to see the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was shocked. Nevertheless, even in his eighties, he frequently wrote on the socialist crisis. The present reviewer, a college student about a decade back, was enthused by the letter that Sardesai wrote to him. It was touching and inspiring to hear from him not only the need to think, but rethink Marxism in the late 20th century, even as cynicism was gaining ground all around.

The CPI has done well to bring out both the books. The party is now in its twilight years, but it has made a glowing contribution to the freedom struggle and its continuation. It has been lead by a galaxy of outstanding leaders. However, over the last two decades it has successfully managed to drive away a number of intellectuals and sympathizers who provided it with leading cadres . There are many reasons for its decline and this is not the place to go into them. But one of them has been the lack of people of the intellectual stature of Adhikari and Sardesai.

It will be good if the CPI brings out a similar volume on P.C. Joshi. He has been neglected for too long and most of his writings are no longer available except perhaps in the CPI archives. It will be a tribute to the person who more than anyone else provided a cultural and humanistic breadth of vision to the CPI, even as it perniciously remained confined, theoretically and organizationally, within Leninism and Stalinism.

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Bhupinder
February 21, 1999

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