Santosh Rana (1942-2019): Tireless Fighter For Dignity and Democracy for the Oppressed

THE peasant upsurge of Naxalbari had truly resonated like a spring thunder in India’s communist movement in the late 1960s. It had empowered the oppressed people with a new sense of confidence and strength and opened the floodgates of their latent energy and initiative to secure their own freedom and change the face of the country. It had also acted as a magnet to draw the student community and significant sections of the urban intelligentsia to the villages to side with the fighting peasantry. It gave us a new definition of patriotism – love for the country is first and foremost love for the oppressed and fighting people of the country.

Comrade Charu Mazumdar’s clarion call to the students to go to villages and get integrated with the landless rural poor inspired thousands of sensitive young people in West Bengal and across the country to take the plunge. Defying the repressive measures of the state, these young ambassadors of revolution had spread to every corner of West Bengal and in the bordering areas of Bihar and Odisha. Santosh Rana was a brilliant representative of that young generation of the 1960s and 1970s whose eyes glowed with the dreams of ‘liberation of the beloved motherland’, whose hearts danced to the drumbeats of revolution.

Santosh Rana’s award-winning autobiographical writing ‘Rajnitir Ek Jibon’ (A Life of Politics) gives us a detailed account of his years of growing up in post-Independence rural Medinipur in the 1950s and 1960s. The flow of rural life, the structure of the rural society marked by class division as well as caste hierarchy, the rural economy and the education system – we get a clear picture of changes brewing in this south-western part of rural Bengal. From Medinipur, Santosh Rana came to Kolkata in search of college education. And even as he devoted himself seriously to the study of Physics, in the wake of Naxalbari the call of revolution became too urgent to be ignored or delayed.

Santosh Rana went back to Medinipur as an organiser of the newly founded revolutionary party, the CPI(ML). And soon West Bengal found another centre of revolutionary peasant movement in the Debra-Gopiballavpur belt of Medinipur. Those were the early years of CPI(ML). Even before the new party could entrench itself organisationally and politically, it had to face a brutal crackdown by the state.  Amidst barbaric massacres of activists and supporters, serial killings of Party leaders in police custody and fake encounters and indiscriminate mass arrest and detention without trial of thousands of members, the CPI(ML) suffered a massive setback.

Comrade Santosh Rana too spent years in jail. The lifting of the Emergency did not lead to an automatic release of political prisoners. It took a powerful countrywide democratic campaign to secure the release of most arrested activists. But in the case of Santosh Rana, he came out of jail as a victorious MLA. He had contested the 1977 elections to the West Bengal Assembly from within jail and got elected from the Gopiballavpur constituency.

Gopiballavpur marked the first electoral victory of a CPI(ML) leader. Twelve years later, Comrade Rameshwar Prasad would be the first representative of the Naxalbari movement to win a parliamentary election from the Ara Lok Sabha seat of Bihar. That was the first election when the landless Dalits defied feudal terror en masse to exercise their franchise; the feudal lobby retaliated by perpetrating a brutal massacre killing nearly two dozen men, women and children, but could not stop the fighting rural poor from sending their first representative to Parliament. Gopiballavpur in 1977 and Ara in 1989, both brought to the fore the spread and depth of the Naxalbari movement in the electoral arena.

After coming out of jail, Santosh Rana joined hands with SN Singh and Bhaskar Nandi and worked for a long time under the banner of the Provisional Central Committee, CPI(ML). In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the PCC had evoked good response among students and emerged as a well known ML trend in Assam. Beyond his own organisation, Santosh Rana remained keenly involved in several democratic initiatives and wrote extensively in various magazines on a range of issues till his last days before cancer claimed his life.

In all his writings and initiatives, the following concerns remained close to his heart – (i) the question of democratic rights against state repression and political terror, (ii) social justice and caste oppression, (iii) the assertion of oppressed nationalities and defence of federalism, (iv) communalism and the threat to diversity and pluralism, and (v) people’s resistance to corporate plunder and the fight for pro-people development. With the rise of the fascist threat under the Modi regime, these issues have assumed increased importance. The mass dynamism and activism of Comrade Santosh Rana will remain an enduring source of encouragement and inspiration in the ongoing battle for democracy, dignity and pro-people development.

- Dipankar Bhattacharya,
General Secretary,
CPIML Liberation