New Delhi, April 14: Good that communists don’t believe in such unresolved things as spirit and soul. Otherwise, Prakash Karat would have found it difficult today to resist the temptation to wonder whether he heard a chuckle from P.C. Joshi.
But Karat, the inscrutable comrade, did allow himself the concession of recalling the “endless cups of tea” he had with the original PC.
That, for the uninitiated, is how the CPM admitted into its pantheon the undivided communist party’s Independence-era helmsman whose prophetic stand on the Congress was then pilloried but is now reluctantly practised.
“P.C. Joshi’s centenary must be observed to bring alive the glorious period of communism,” Karat said, before recalling his own association with Joshi at the Jawaharlal Nehru University canteen.
The occasion was the birth centenary of the general secretary of the undivided party, who was forced out because he wanted the communists to work with the Congress and be a part of the national mainstream — as the CPM is doing now.
“Regardless of which stream we look upon, Joshi was one of the builders of the communist movement in India,” Karat told the gathering at the party’s cultural centre, next to its headquarters at A.K. Gopalan Bhavan. On the dais with him were Congress’s N.D. Tiwari, from Uttarakhand like Joshi, and CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan.
The centenary was to have been a solo show of the CPI, the party which had rehabilitated Joshi after the split in 1964 when the hardliners went out and formed the CPM. The hawks, who thought Independence was a sham — Yeh azaadi jhoothi hai, was the slogan — and Nehru was a “running dog of imperialism”, would have nothing to do with the Joshi line.
If one PC came up with unpalatable ideas then, another is tormenting the CPM now with hard-to-digest terms such as reforms and market. But from P.C. Joshi to P. Chidambaram, the CPM has changed several of its positions.
The party is part of a national front in New Delhi that has Congress-communist unity at its core, as Joshi had wanted.
In Bengal, where it rules, it is pushing economic reforms and the teaching of English in the primary classes — policies it once denounced as “elite”, another label thrown at Joshi by the for-the-masses CPM.
Having embraced the Joshi line over the years — Jyoti Basu was the first to do it, bringing in minds like Ashok Mitra and Asim Dasgupta into his government rather than mass leaders alone — it was only fit that the CPM embrace the man himself. So, Karat informed the CPI that his party would like to be part of the year-long centenary celebrations.
“Joshi organised the communist party at an all-India level. He attracted the finest minds to the communist movement,” Karat said in the CPM’s first public acknowledgement of his contribution.
Karat, however, conceded the “major differences”. “Joshi represented a political thought opposed by many in the CPM.”
But his formal rehabilitation in CPM was a long time coming. While Basu quietly attempted to follow his line — taking care not to ruffle then Left Front chairman Pramod Das Gupta, a hardliner — Das Gupta’s successor Saroj Mukherjee publicly acknowledged Joshi’s contribution to the communist movement in his two-volume biography.
Rehabilitating leaders they have condemned before comes easily to Marxists — Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Nehru, who is now established as a leading freedom fighter, are but two examples.
What would have made it easier for Karat today is the happy time he spent with Joshi as a student. Although rehabilitated in the CPI, Joshi never quite regained his authority and increasingly withdrew from active politics after the 1964 split. He chose instead to focus on researching communist history at JNU, where Karat was a student.
“I remember my discussions with P.C. Joshi in the canteen of the Jawaharlal Nehru University where he spent a lot of time. We had endless cups of tea,” he said today.