By Arb Goswami
Today is my Koka, Sri Gaurisankar Bhattacharyya’s birth centery. And many memories come flashing by.
Memories of time spent with him, listening to him talk about politics and social issues in his study on the ground floor in Ulubari. Memories of time spent listening to him speak at length on his core life philosophy of “simple living and high thinking” a philosophy that he not just espoused but lived and breathed. Memories also come flashing today of Koka taking me fishing to his “pukhuri” in Ulubari where he would himself wade into waist deep water and throw the fishing net with a sense of abandon and sheer joy. And of course memories of the pride and joy I felt when he wrote a letter to Professor K Satichandan of the Sahitya Akademi in Delhi asking me to receive his Sahitya Akademi Award on his behalf in New Delhi in September 1999. My hand quivered when I went up to receive the award, and that day remains one of the high points of my life.
Many years after his demise, the legend of Sri Gaurisankar Bhattacharyya continues to grow. But the one thing that almost everyone mentions was his simple lifestyle and rooted ture. In a recent meeting that I had with President Prab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President recollected his days as a senior Congress leader touring Assam. He shared anecdotes about how Gaurisankar Bhattacharyya would campaign on a cycle with little or no funds, and yet would make a bigger impact on the voters who would move around in cavalcades. The very fact that the President remembered Koka’s grounded political approach shows how genuine his impact was on people around him, even those who were his political rivals.
Koka’s long and distinguished career in public life was marked by a clear and focused dedication to Leftist ideology. Many political parties tried to woo him on many occasions, but Koka remained steadfast to the ideology that he began his political career with. Right from the time that he was President of the All Assam Students Federation and member of the working committee of the All India Students Federation (AISF) and later as a leading member of the tiol Council of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Koka was a committed and dedicated Leftist. During his 26 year long stint in the Assam assembly and his stellar tenure as Leader of the Opposition in the Assam Assembly, Koka remained committed to serving the disenfranchised, the poor, the economically deprived. Not once did he waver from his worldview or retune it to the changing political realities. In the harsh and turbulent world of politics, his idealism made him stand apart.
At a persol level, I feel his leftist worldview was influences and evolved through his years of persol struggle, from fighting poverty to achieve academic and professiol excellence, and his journey from Brahmansamarkuchi village in lbari district to Cotton College and Presidency College Calcutta where he did his masters in history and Law, all funded by scholarships. My great-grandfather Souridutta Siddhantabagish Bhattacharyya was a renowned Sanskrit scholar who didn’t have the means to support Koka’s education. But inspired by his parents to strive for the highest education, Koka fought against the greatest of odds to top the SC School Fil Exams in Assam, only to learn that his mother had passed away before he could share the news with her. These were the difficult circumstances that strengthened his resolve, and played a role in shaping his resolute persolity in later years.
Few people in Assam may remember it today, but Koka was the first person to launch a regiol political party in Assam. In 1969, he launched the Peoples Democratic Party of Assam (PDPA) the first regiol party with a firm leftist slant. The launch of the PDPA was a result of the churn that followed the Chinese aggression of 1962. Gaurisankar Bhattacharyya was the first politician from Assam to foresee the importance of creating a regiol identity within the framework of tiol politics. The interplay between tiolism and regiolism was, for Gaurisankar Bhattacharyya, a continuous process, and not contradictory. In his book ‘Assam: An Epitome of India’ he wrote: “tiol Unity and Integrity is not a static thing. It grows or decays due to situation grown out of history which carries the transient values of the past and bears the embryo of the future. Man is not a passive element in this process. He is not only a creature but a creator of circumstances. He not only alyses or philosophises but also creates history. It is a conscious contribution. It is with this understanding and perspective that we have to peep into the history of India and Assam”.
If you alyse these words carefully, one thing that comes out clearly is Koka’s intellectual open-mindedness. He was a leftist who loved listening and debating with those who had contrarian views. My parents tell me of the great and often charged chats he would have with my paterl grandfather, Rajani Kanta Goswami, who like him was a freedom fighter but a staunch Congressman. Koka would travel from Ulubari to my father’s home in Bharalumukh to debate and discuss political issues. I wish I had the opportunity to hear the two gentlemen locked in debate, but even today such stories tell me that the political climate in the 50s, 60s and 70s must have been far more wholesome than the divisive, ideologically deprived political fights we have today.
Filly, on a persol level, Koka was my greatest supporter when I started out in jourlism. I remember the excitement with which he bought a black and white TV when I told him I had started reporting and my reports would be shown in DD Metro. My late uncle, Dhruba Sankar Bhattacharyya, got one specially installed for him near his bedside so he could tune in if I did an interesting report or reported on a major political development. Koka was delighted when I interviewed his contemporary and fellow comrade Jyoti Basu after the 1998 General Elections. If there is someone who showed me the joy in the words of letters and communication, it was Koka. I remember how, when his eyesight was failing, I would read the main articles in the newspapers aloud for him whenever I was in Ulubari for holidays. We would then talk and debate on the developments and Koka would encourage a free flowing conversation. That is where my interest in news grew.
All these memories come rushing past on his birth anniversary. And I am sure all of Assam, and certainly me as his eldest grandson, will cherish the memory of the legend that Gaurisankar Bhattacharyya was and always will be. For me, he will always be a persol hero and an intellectual idol.