Earlier this year on 10th February the civil liberties movement or democratic rights movement commemorated the birth centenary of Comrade KVSN Prasad Rao,,who at the time of his death was the president of the Organization for Protection for Democratic Rights(OPDR).He perished due to accidental injuries on 10th October ,1986.His contribution will shimmer forever in the annals of the civil liberties or democratic rights movement.KVSN was one of the pioneers in sowing the seeds for the rise of civil liberties movement .Few members of the middle class or advocates, rendered as a much service or made such a monumental contribution to the democratic revolutionary movement Few advocates were ever as staunch disciples of the teachings of Comrade Nagi Reddy.
At every juncture of his life he applied Marxist Leninist dialectics to confront the problems he faced when redressing people’s grievances, issues or struggles. Till his last breadth he was a crusader for people’s liberation. Very few comrades contributed in greater magnitude to the correct practice of the democratic rights movement.
During the Telengana armed struggle he took up cases on behalf of the peasantry for land, free of charge. His work was reminiscent of what activists did in the 1980’s and 90’s in Andhra Pradesh ,in exposing the staged encounters on activists of the C.P.I.(M.L)Peoples War Group.
Service to education was his great concern and he invested a great deal of his energy in setting up the Montessori Schools.KVSN set up the children’s school in Vijayawada in 1956 and later the Montessori children’s school and ,women’s college In 1958-59 he became secretary of the Vijayawada Bar’s Association.
KVSN received his baptism in the civil liberties movement when organising the first meeting for civil liberties in Vijayawada in 1961.KVSN in 1963-66 provided free legal aid to Marxist activists who were foisted in false cases. In 1965, he was the chairman of the reception Committe of the 1st ever civil liberties conference at Vijayawada.Poet Sri Sri became president ,while KVSN became vice-president.
.He stood up for elections as an independent candidate in 1967 from Kankipadu constituency ,supported by the C.P.I.(M)It made him face the wrath of Congress goondas.KVSM must also be credited for contesting the false murder case of Aita Ramulu.
Every democrat must praise the manner KVSN confronted the state repression of the 1970’s ,like a boulder weathering a gale. The legal work of comrades like him paved the path for comrades like Nagi Reddy or DV Rao to radiate the revolutionary spark. The Parvathipuarm conspiracy case is a classic example, or earlier Hyderabad conspiracy case.
In 1971 he chaired the 1st ever civil liberties meeting in Vijayawda. No lawyer was as vocal in doing justice to the democratic rights path advocated by Comrade T.Nagi Reddy .Tooth and nail he strived to adopt the correct path in the civil liberties movement, playing an instrumental role in the formation of the Organist for Protection of Democratic Rights in 1975.
In November 1971, he chaired the first Anti-repression meeting in Vijaywada, and in 1973 organised a civil liberties meeting at Krishna district.KVSN was appointed district commitee president of the new organization.
In 1973 in Guntur a conference was staged mobilising 2000 delegates and 20000 people,by the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Association.KVSN made a monumental contribution here. This event was the precursor of the formation of the Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights in 1975.
In 1974, during the nationwide Railway Strike, KVSN built a citizen’s committee at Vijayawada to assist workers who faced the wrath of government repressions. In 1975,he performed the task of the working president of a commitee that invited Jayaprakash Narayan to Vijaywada.Most heroically, on 26th June 1975,he lit the spark of the lawyers movement in Vijayawda to boycott courts against the imposition of emergency.
From 1975-80, KVSN was vice-president of the O.P.D.R,from 1981 to 1986 he played the role of a president. At the time of his death, he was president of the Vijaywada Newspaper employees Association and of the Kotnis memorial Commitee.The All India Federation of Organisations for Democratic Rights paid homage to him.
His funeral was amongst the most touching ever of activists of the civil liberties or democratic movement, with the spirit of revolutionary resistance blazing with the intensity of an inferno.350 delegates thronged in a memorial procession starting from Giripuram,a slum area, and traversed through the centre of the town, raising slogans saluting KVSN and calling for building a democratic rights movement. Earlier a commemoration meeting was held, attended by 150 delegates.
Arguably in no part of revolutionary history in India did a democratic rights organization make such a monumental contribution as the Organisation for Protection of Democratic rights .(OPDR) in the 1970’s.I can’t forget the lessons or guidance it gave to organization s like Association for Democratic Rights in Punjab and Lok Shahi Hakk Sanghatana in Mumbai.I have vivid memories of travelling with lok Shahi Hakk Sanghata na contingent in 1986 and 1990 ,and heard many reports from activists about their collectively attending conferences of OPDR and how it boosted their morale. In many ways the practice of OPDR,in the 1970’s was a model for all civil liberties organizations. I remember how activists of Lok Shahi Hakk Sanghatana in Bombay held the work of OPDR in such awe .Even late Comrade Harbhajan Sohi held it’s work in great esteem in the 1970’s.I can’t forget the debates I had with comrades from the trend supporting Peoples War Group, who felt that the practice of OPDR was incorrect. I was most impressed by how membership of OPDR was based in the ranks of the workers, peasantry and tribals,in both conferences I attended in 1986 an d 1990.
I will always complement OPDR for its exposing the falsely staged encounters of the Srikakulam Movement, which was of historic significance. It was the first report of it’s kind in India. Hundreds of Girijan families were interviewed. The organization intervened in every sphere of society to quell the proto-fascist side, particularly on attack son Girijans and the working class, as well as floods and drought. A report was also brought out on the ‘Life and Struggles of the Godavri Girijans.” as well as repression on the Sircilla peasantry.
From the period of 1982-85 OPDR investigated into sub-human living conditions of workers and into starvation conditions in certain rural pockets.
In the time of KVSN as president some very important reports were based on Starvation deaths in Kolapur Taluka in 1985,Terrorisation of drought hit rural people of Nalagonda district in 1983,Death in the life of Guntur district quarry workers in 1982,survey in the working and living conditions of quarry workers of Krshna district, in 1982and drought hit people in Narayankhed Taluka,1984.Also important fact finding was undertaken on Rape and Murder of Shakeela in 1979,and fake encounter killings in Nalgonda in 1981 and Koyuru encounter.
OPDR most consistently confronted every opressive measure by the state machinery, be it against black laws, be it against religious fundamentalism, caste male national chauvinism, supression of all democratic struggles, suppressing of struggle for self-determination of Kashmiri people etc.
In 1982 it was OPDR that hosted the founding of the All -India Federation of Organisation s for Democratic Rights ,in Guntur,in 1982..It prescribed it’s 1975 manifesto which was adopted by Lok Shahi Hakk Sanghatana,Association for Democratic Rights,Ganatantrik Adhikar Suraksha Samiti,Orissa,Peoples Union for Civil and Democrtaic Rights in Rajasthan and Janadhipitya Avakasa Samrakishana Samiti,Kerala .It was a stepping stone to later al India Sammelan’s at Udaipur in 1990 and Faridkot in 1995.
It inspired many sections of middle classes to join their ranks like teachers, doctors or engineers. It was so common those days to see a family place a poster of the OPDR in or outside their houses. Worldwide it was rare to find such a struggle oriented democratic Rights Movement.OPDR although leaving no stone unturned in condemning state repression, was critical of the armed squad actions f the C.P.I. (M.L.) Peoples War Group, which they felt was left adventurist. OPDR gave strong moral support to the re-building of Girijan Sangham s and building up trade Union solidarity platforms. A most notable campaign was launched in all sections challenging the construction of a missile base in Baliapal,in October 1986.I can’t forget gauging through the journal ‘Democratic Rights’ which printed countless reports of OPDR.No democratic organisation in the Country exposed state repression at such grassroots level as OPDR.In the late 1990 a most creditable contribution was made by OPDR on the aspect of Struggle for Kashmiri Self -Determination through ‘Undeclared War on Kashmir’ and ‘Grim Realities.’
No doubt at that time the Andhra Pradesh Civil Lberties Commitee rendered a great service with activists like Dr Ramandaham.Jappa laxma Reddy and Prabakhar Reddy falling before police bullets, after waging a crusade against staged police encounters. However still powerful tendencies remained of the Civil liberties platform used as a platform to propagate ideology of armed struggle. No doubt there was healthy development in many joint campaigns undertaken, through fact finding teams. OPDR was critical of the democratic rights platform being converted to a party or political one.
I would love a history of OPDR to be written, which reflected the 2 line struggle within the democratic rights movement whether the democratic rights platform should be used as a platform for propagating political ideology or not.OPDR defended the trend that the democratic rights movement should be broad based,pro-people and the right to struggle misy be the fundamental right. In contrast the Civil Liberties Committee supported the path of ‘armed struggle.
In 1981 a split took place in OPDR, after the expulsion of Devulapalli Venkateswara Rao from the UCCRI(ML) ,who formed another group of it’s own. That party and civil liberties organisation exists till this day.
It is debatable whether the split within the Unity Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India in 1988 with the formation of the Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India, created a setback in the All India Federation of Organisations for Democratic Rights. This was the view of C.Bhaskara Rao,General secretary of OPDR.I have no doubt that the guidance of the T.Nagi Reddy line played a great role in formulating the work of OPDR,but it was not functioning as a front organisation of the erstwhile Unity Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India(Ml).Somehow still I ask myself that when the split took place no functionary of OPDR joined the newly formed Centre off Communist Revolutionaries of India ,with the leadership still supporting the trend of Muktigami.’I was also not happy that no member of other revolutionary groups like Chandra Pulla Reddy or Peoples War group joined the ranks of the OPDR.
Without doubt in Andhra Pradesh the biggest sparkle to the line of Nagi Reddy-DV Rao was that created by the Organization for Protection of Democratic Rights. From the mid 1990’s a decline or degeneration period started with even AIFOFDR becoming defunct.
I recommend every cadre to study the evolution and history of the Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights, which was inspired by the political line of Tarimela Nagi Redy and DV Rao.Reports of OPDR are an essential part of an y treasure house for literature on civil liberties and democratic Rights. The English reports in journal ‘Democratic Rights’ bulletin too gives most comprehensively portrays the work or reports of OPDR.’ Rights on Gallows and Repression on People’ is also a must read for cadres. The 1986 issue of ‘Democratic Rights of November-December 1985 is a must read on the correct distinction of democratic rights from civil liberties.
In my view OPDR today which is a national organisation, no more adopts the correct practice of 3-4 decades ago, and turned into a frontal organisation of C.P.I.(M.L)Red Star. It plays no part in the All India CDRO.Today with globalisation and Hindutva fascsim at a crescendo, we lack the same qualitative of the civil liberties and democratic rights movement in the days of KVSN Prasad Rao or OPDR of 3-4 decades ago. I feel the weakness in the development of the Communist Party Re-Organisation Centre of India (Marxist-Leninist) which represents the mass line trend that has obstructed the path paved for correct practice in democratic rights movement. As a part of Lok Shahi Hakk Sanghatan which may not have been so numerically strong, I could appreciate the qualitative work it undertook in the basic masses, crystallising the spirit that the democratic rights movement must be struggle oriented and mass based.
It is my wish that in this very day we could resurrect new lotuses to bloom like KVSN Prasad Rao.,who in their day left no stones unturned in cutting the tumours of injustice. It is my great regret that he perished before the storm of globalisation was unleashed in the 1990/s when his guidance would have been invaluable.
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 Sulekha.com.