Remembering Sunder Navalkar

Red salutes to immortal Contribution of Sunder Navalkar to emancipation of the working class who passed away on April 9th 


Veteran comrade Sunder Navalkar is no more, perishing at 10.30 in the morning on April 9th.Without doubt she was one of the greatest persons ever to have treaded the path of Communist Revolution blazing the spirit of Liberation or Mao Zedong thought and Naxalbari  till her last breadth. Comrade Navalkar may be dead but morally her soul still shimmers reverberating the light extinguishing  the darkness of Hindutva fascism. No comrade in Maharashtra ignited the spark of naxalbari or Mao thought with the intensity of Comrade Navalkar.No advocate of Mao Zedong thought so deeply penetrated the working class as Sunder Navalkar.She traversed the densest bushes and stormiest of seas in her entire life in her pursuit of creating  a liberated man.

Ironically she perished just on the 30th martyrdom anniversary of the Sewewela martyrs belonging to the anti-communal and anti-repression front. Punjab, which was also the birthday of revolutionary singer Paul Robeson..

Navalkar was born in Dadar, Mumbai and lived there her whole life. She was born into a middle-class family of lawyers and became one herself. Though her family had connections with the Hindu Mahasabha, she broke into, first, the Freedom movement and became a  communist . This proves the overpowering of environment against heredity.

She joined the Communist Party of India and later, being close to the Revolutionary Socialist Party (though never a member) she formed the Communist League. Later, being inspired by the uprising at Naxalbari, she formed the first unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) in Maharastra and was its first secretary. She worked in tandem with Comrades Sunil Dighe amd Laxman Pagar.She was amongst the first group of four to be arrested as “Naxalites” in Maharashtra and spent almost seven years in jail.

Working tirelessly to organise workers, especially those who worked on contract, she was active among the the contract safai kamgars of Air India who were predominantly. After many years of struggle, she won them a historic victory in the Supreme Court in the case of Air India v United Lbaour Union in 1996. Though this judgement was subsequently reversed, it served as a beacon for contract workers throughout the country for some years.

Navalkar was simple and austere in her personal life. Living in a modest house, though she could have afforded much more, she always travelled by public transport for her trade union work, even when she was over 90. She was always seen in her trade mark white saree with a border and a white cotton blouse and remained without affectations.

Erudite in her reading, she is credited with the translation of many of the Marxist Leninist classics and of Indian Marxist Leninist documents into Marathi. She also wrote quite often and was published in various newspapers and magazines.

No Comrade from Maharashtra played such a role in sowing the seeds of Naxalbari and Mao thought, in inculcating Leninist political consciousness amongst the working class,re-knitting the splintered Communist party or in building mass line.Sunder Navalkar confronted the Contract labour system at the very backbone and did more for the emancipation of contract workers than any Union leader. It is difficult to find an adjective that could do r justice to her impact in touching the workers in the very core of their souls or turn defeat into victory In the deepest depths of despair she would elevate the morale of the working class .

No other comrade in Maharashtra contributed so much in building political schools to imbibe Leninist politics into the working class or in practice invested so much energy into establish fundamentals of Leninist grammar in the workers. She waged a crusade against economism prevailing in the trade Union Movement with the sharpness of a sword.Sunder Navalkar illustrated more than anyone that without enshrining Leninism  at the base no proletarian struggle could be won.  No Comrade in Maharashtra more methodically mobilised workers to capture the yellow unions and raise the red flag. A hall room  in a meeting conducted by Sunder Navalkar was always distinctive from that of any other trade Union be it of the Congress, traditional left parties or even revolutionary groups, with workers blazing with revolutionary political class consciousness.

The political journal ‘Jasood’ she founded in 1973,exists for almost 50 years, defending Mao thought and Naxalbari line  more consistently and soundly than any journal in Maharashtra. Few journals ever in the history of India have delivered such a fitting blow to revisionism of left parties, attacking it at the very backbone. Jasood  shimmerd the flame or essence or cutting edge of Naxalbari or Leninism like no other magazine in Maharashtra .No journal in Mahrashtra took such balanced view on the contribution of chairman Mao and the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Few journals in world history flashed  pages of revolutionary writings  for such a long tenure in history,.Jasood shimmered ink on pages encompassing almost every sphere, like few mass political journals ever. It’s articles include the working class uprisings and phenomena of capitalist oppression in the 1970’s ,dalit panther movement, the emergency and subsequent pretence of the Janata party ,Significance of May Day,Mill workers strike of 1982,Crisis in Poland in 1981,the 11th April Maharashtra Bandh in 1982,the false nature of Indian Independence for the working class in 1986,Struggle of cotton workers in 1987,Nationality political struggle in 1987,On Leninism in 1986,On revisionism of Chandra Pulla Redy-Satya Narayan Singh in 1977,On Perstroka in 1988,On Garment workers in 1988,On Biwandi rots in 1984,On Babri Masjid demolition and riots  in 1993.,On slavery of neo-colonialsim in 1995,on autocratic nature of Indian state in 1996,On fall of Soviet Russia in1991,On Karl Marx in 1990,on Telengan anad Naxalbari in 1992,On what is Socialism in 1991,On hypocrisy of American democracy in 1981,On difference between Russia and Socialist China in 1974,On Unity of the Workers and peasantry,On Khalistani movement ,How the hoisting of red flag won victories for United labour Union in 1985,On Dalit workers liberation,on Construction workers.On pretensionsof Chandraskekar led govt in 1991.,3oth anniversary of naxalbari in 1997,tribute to chairman Mao on birth centenary etc.I also suggest readers to see the piece in commemorative issue covering the history of building of organisation of Construction workers ,

Even late Marxist revolutionary and one of the founding members of the C.P.I.(M.L.) ,Suniti Kumar Ghosh voiced admiration for ‘Jasood.’He stated that it was privilege that he knew Sunder Navalkar  as she hailed the naxalbari uprising and hosted him ,Asit Sen and Saroj Duta in 1968.In his view few political journals could boast of such a long life as Jasood. And conveyed his warmest greeting son its’ 25th anniversary. I recommend every cadre to preserve old issue of Jasood which is an integral part of the library of any Leninist or revolutionary.

I never saw a union with so much penetration of political grounding as those led by Navalkar,l ike the United labour Union. Few comrades ever exhibited as much mastery in establishing political fractions within the working class .She moulded many a comrade into the revolutionary ranks. No communist revolutionary leader  paid so much attention to revolutionary work in urban sectors as Comrade Navalkar.

My meetings with former secretary of United Labour  Union ,Mohan Bose in 1994  are entrenched in my memories forever., who was nurtured by Comrade Navalkar. In my life I had never witnessed a comrade possessing such mastery of Leninist dialectics as Comrade Mohan Bose.I also rarely met a human being so sympathetic and understanding to comrades yearning for clarity. Bose was the only comrade who told me to settle down in life first unlike any other comrade and encourage me to write a criticism of the lines of all the Maoist groups in India in which he would even help me. Such was the humanist influence of Comrade Navalkar.The same Che Guevarist type of human touch is what I experienced of my personal meetings with her in 1996 and 2010.She was greatly appreciative of my article upholding Chairman Gonzalo and Peruvian revolution  in ‘frontier weekly’ in September 2018 ,sending  me a letter .

I can’t express how touched I was to see the photographs of Sunder Navalkar leading struggles of her Union in a commemorative issue of Jasood in 2018..The very core of my soul was reached seeing photos of her leading a march to the Mumbai highcourt, of the Union May day procession,protest of workers at Nariman point protesting price rise, struggle of workers outside Shapoorji Pallonji constructions at Nariman point ,of Air India sweeper Sagya Jadhav,of Shaporji Pallanji union activist Bharat Nimbalkar and speech of Union secretary  Comrade Alvares.

I cant forget the intensity of her speech when former Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 where she defended Socialist ideology to the very core. In the most dire straits she would shimmer the sacred torch of Marxism-Leninism-Mao thought to deliver an effective slap to the bourgeoise and counter revolutionaries.

She dipped ink to defend and rekindle Socialist ideology till the very end .When liberalization and globalization was launched with the fury of tidal wave she confronted it vocally and at ground level. I never saw a woman comrade so intrinsically defend or expound the message of the Naxalbari movement and she never compromised on it’s essence.

No Leninist comrade created such qualitative work in construction workers as Navalkar or amongst Air India workers.

When she addressed workers or visited their areas to work she gave a sensation of a parched leaf turning into a rose blooming.Noone more deeply illustrated that revolution or  Leninism inculcated inner or spiritual change within a human being and was not crass materialism or spiritualism. Comrade Navalkar posesed the very human touch or spiritual qualities that comprised a genuine Marxist revolutionary. Her work depicted how she wished to transform a human being within the very soul like Comrade Che Guevera,and not reduce him to a mere economic animal. Revolutionary humanism in practice was an important part of her agenda.

Sunder Navalkar was one of the architects of the Central Team of the C.P.I.(M.L)  formed on December 8th 1977.,Arguably no political group practiced massline or Leninism so articulately which branched from the original Charu Mazumdar stream. Navalkar played a great role in shaping the line and practice of the CT group, confronting all revisionist or right opportunist trends with the sharpness of a sword cutting flesh. With the tenacity of a boulder she maintained the secrecy of the party or organization. She placed great emphasis on differentiating between the party and the mass platform and tooth and nail opposed open functioning of the party. She played big hand in shaping or formulating the documents of the Central Team .group I recommend every Leninist cadre to read the old organs of the Central Team group. They were so profound that even groups like Peoples War group used them as a reference. When writing a book on the history of the Naxalite movement the struggle waged to establish the C.T group, countering and revolting against the parliamentary trends of Satya Narayan Singh-Chandra Pulla Redy line ,could constitute an important chapter.Navlkar displayed the methodology  of a surgeon and the bravery of a soldier in stitching the wound inflicted to weave the components.

The Central Team group hit revisionism at the very core at a depth  no group did at that time .No political organisation  so profoundly, comprehensively  or dialectically defended the essence of the formation of the C.P.I. (M.L) in 1969 or made  such a cohesive and analytical criticism of the lines and practice of all other streams within the Communist revolutionary camp be it the Chandra Pulla Redy Group,Vinod Mishra Liberation Group,Central Re-Organisation Commitee ,Peoples War Group ,Party Unity Group or Maoist Communist Centre. In Punjab it published a document on the false staged encounters of comrades in the early 1970’s.Pages of it’s Central organ’ liberation ‘summarised how 1947 independence was only a transfer of power in the hands of the comprador bourgeoisie. In vivid detail it summed up the positive and negative aspects of the C.P.I.(M.L) formed in 1969 and Charu Mazumdar.I particularly suggest Marxist cadre thoroughly study the issues of  Inaugural Central organ ‘Liberation’ ‘of 1978 dealing with the re-organisation of the party ,the assessment of Comrade Charu Mazumdar  and Criticism it made of the line of the Central Re-Organisation Commitee in ‘Liberation ‘issue of 1983,and it’s criticism of the parliamentary path of revolutionary groups in1987 and  1989 issues  of ‘Liberation.’ .No Group expressed such positivity in establishing the re-organisations of the C.P.I.(M.L.) of 1969 or as consistently stressed on the re-organisation of the entire party. With the precision  of a surgeon it refuted the thesis of CRC group upholding concept of neo-colonialism and in dep depth defended concept of India being a semi-feudal, semi –colony. It also refuted CRC attributing taking Cultural Revolution or Mao thought to a new height. Central Team was critical of streams that attributed partial independence to the bourgeoisie like C.P.I. (M.L.)Party Unity and to an extent the Peoples War Group when they soft pedalled with US imperialism and even supported NTR government. In no uncertain tem sit was critical of the Maoist Communist Centre abstaining from integrating into the original C.P.I.(M.L)  as well as the Tarimela Nagi Reddy-DV Rao led Unity Centre of Communist revolutionaries of India. A most comprehensive criticism was made even of Revolutionary Internationalist Movement trend advocating formation of a new Communist International. In Leninist tradition the party maintained it’s secret organ and did not expose mass organisations. No group reflected such Leninist clarity of understanding of the method of party work as fractions within trade Unions .Stress was placed on not turning mass organisations merely into economic outfits or political forums. A most balanced analysis was also made of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and contribution of Chairman Mao. It asserted that Mao thought did not take Leninism to another stage or height or a qualitative leap. However it tooth and nail upheld the role of Chairman Mao and Cultural revolution in enriching Leninism.

I recommend all cadre to get hold of old issues of ‘Liberation’ the Central Organ of Central Team C.P.I. (M.L.) and meticulously study them. They are part of the treasury of any Leninist cadre.

As a writer and activist she combated revisionism at its hardest point and defended Comrade Stalin’s positive aspect like few comrades ever in the Naxalite stream. She had great insight into the psychology and day to day problems of the working class .The very lucidity of her language won many a worker towards her. She shaped or moulded many a comrade into the revolutionary streaming the documents of the Central Team .group Navalkar had a big hand in shaping them. I recommend every Leninist cadre to read the old organs of the Central Team group. They were so profound that even groups like Peoples War group used them as a reference. No documents so dialectically defended contribution of Charu Mazumdar or made such a balanced criticism of his mistakes. Nor did any other organisation make such an accurate self-criticism of the original C.P.I. (M.L.)

I admired her resolute defiance to Hindutva fascism in 1992-93 after the Babri Masjid demolition, guiding the workers to publish or draft a political document propagating revolutionary secularism and condemning Hindutva. No Comrade as sharply projected the essence of revolutionary class struggle to combat Hindu Communalism and the need to build mass combat forces. She also vociferously condemned Operation Green hunt, and whatever her differences defended the sacrifices and contribution of the C.P.I.(M.L)Peoples War Group., displaying great admiration for them. When I met her 25 years ago she was vocally critical of the rightist deviations of the Red Flag and Janashakti groups.I admired her open mind in for a while admiring the work of the Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India unit in Mumbai ,inspite of being a staunch critique of the Nagi Reddy line. No organisation held a public meeting with such intensity after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 as Sunder Navalkar’s United labour Union in Dadar ,which defended the glory of Socialism with the intensity of a prairie fire. Speakers were invited from four other streams in the revolutionary camp and Journal Jasood distributed. The lucidity and poise of Navalakar’s speech that day are embedded in my mind forever shimmering the spark of Leninism at the very roots. I cant forget the adulation for her in a meeting on the 3oth anniversary of Naxalbari in Dadar,when the red flag fluttered the whole hall. Air India comrades narrated how her leadership won them permanency. No other comrade in Maharashtra ignited the spark of Naxalbari with the intensity of Navalkar. In both these public meetings I thank her for letting me speak. Even if she was a great disciplinarian, she was very kind to comrades of all streams and never lost her human touch. I have hardly seen a comrade defend Naxalbari with so much conviction, intensity or methodology as Comrade Navalkar.She greatly admired the youth attached to organisations of the trend of the Peoples War Group. It also impressed me that at one stae she was appreciative of the work of the C.P.I.(M.L.) Red Flag  in 1991-92,I also felt it was positive that she appreciated every steam of the progressive left for working be it Red Star or Liberation group.When she met me in 2010 she wanted an entire set of the recent copies of the journal ‘The Comrade’ of the C.P.R,C.I.(M.L) representing Nagi Redy line, f which she was a vocal opponent. She openly suggested that I should join the ranks of the Peoples War Group.Her only differences with the Maoists was on terminology of ‘Maoism’, ‘Urban work’ and’ Nationality question.’

Navalkar is held in great esteem by many members of the revolutionary stream and made the Inaugural speech in the 1992 Conference of the third All India Revolutionary Students Federation Conference in Mumbai. Although condemning revisionism she staunchly advocated that the revisionist parties were lesser enemies than the BJP and Congress. and kept poor relations with Unions of traditional left parties. Although a vocal opponent of the Nagi Reddy-C.P.Reddy line she unhesitatingly invited such streams mass front sin public meetings .Navalkar greatly admires ‘Aspects of India’s economy ‘ or the Work of Research Unit for Political economy. Significant that later comrades like Kobadh and Anuradha Gandhy were taught and nurtured by her. Simplicity or humility were her very traits, which are essential for any Communist. She was popular all over India, particularly in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh,Bihar, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.Section s of youth were largely impressed with Navalkar in the mid 1990’s.Unlike revisionist party Union sor even sections of the Communist Revolutionary camp, the Union s sled by her never opportunistically or manipulatively extorted funds and donations to ‘Jasood’ were accepted in a most principled manner. I really wish she could have entered into a mutual dialogue with Comrades like Kobadh Gandhy on the changing perspectives in light of caste and social economy and with comrades like late Harbhajan Sohi on political polemics and theory. She held late Naxalite leader Comrade Darshan Singh Dusanjh in great esteem and even presided over the commemoration  meeting in Punjab.

Like even Marx, Lenin, Stalin  or Mao even Sunder Navalkar had her flaws. She was unable to understand or appreciate the massline theory and practice of the Tarimela Nagi Reddy-DV Rao line of the 1970’s and tooth and nail opposed unity of Central Team Group with the Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India in 1993-94.Navalkar was unable to comprehend the development in proletarian revolutionary line by the formation of the Communist Party Re-Organisation Centre of India.(Marxist-Leninist) She went to an extent of publishing a document openly critical of the Central Team comrades of  Punjab who merged into the C.P.R.C.I.(M.L.) Navalkar had scant regard for the role of the Maoist Communist Centre and also never accepted the Chandra Pula Reddy group as a component of the revolutionary stream. In 1997 she went to the extent of even boycotting a joint front with the Janashakti section. Tendency of ultra-secretism too was reflected in projecting party line or literature. I also experienced a very sectarian attitude of hers towards accepting donations for Jasood. The ultimate disintegration of the Central Team,C.P.I,(M.L) sectin which remained outside the united CPRCI, revealed the ecclectical view of Comrade Navalkar.

I can’t express how much I would miss a comrade like Sunder Navalkar in the present juncture whose bold voice and pen would have been a thorn in the flesh to the Saffron Hindu fascists  on the ideological and economic front. She would effectively counter the lies of the social media and leave no stone unturned in illustrating how globalization enstrangled the Indian masses like the tentacles of an Octopus. Till the very end she was a vocal opponent of the Neo-fascism of the Bharatiya Janta Party led by Modi,,feeling that fascism was a major threat. Reprints should be made of the 30th anniversary book compiling issues of ‘Jasood’a and important writings of the Central Team of the C,PI(M.l) from Central Organ ‘Liberation.”I also cannot forget her most analytical article refuting concept of ‘Maoism’, replacing terminology of Mao thought. We need a Sunder Navalkar today ressurected in anew form, in accordance with the prevailing situations.

I suggest every cadre read the 25th anniversary commemoration issue of Jasood in 1998, particularly articles on Railway Workers strike, Mill workers Strike, Bhiwandi riots, Babri Masjid riots,Naxalbari commemoration,Fall of erstwhile USSR.Tribute to Chairman Mao on 100th birthday,Arab-Israel question,Kashmir problem etc.Navalkar would have been invaluable in conducting study circles amongst the youth. I greatly admired here defence of Leninism and its era and her exposure of the defectiveness of thesis of ‘Maoism.’ With iron firmness she defended era of ‘Leninism.’I can’t forget the reverence for her by a comrade D.K.Rathod  from Gujarat who was a CPM cadre , by former Democratic Students Union leader,Amitabh from Bihar and even former Surkh Rekha editor and Lok Morcha secretary Amolak Singh. Even Maharashtra comrades like Sanober, Meena Meenon and Subodh More eulogise Sunder Navalkar’s contribution. In normal circumstances her funeral would have taken place with the impact of lightning or thunder. People would have thronged painting the whole venue of funeral red.

I hope some day a biography is written on this revolutionary icon or a film made which would inspire or nurture new roses to bloom, like very few ever.

Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist.Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and

[email protected]



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