Kartik Pannalal was simply an ornament in his own right to the democratic Rights, Student and Communist revolutionary movement whose memories will shimmer forever.Kartik may be gone but his souls still sparkles in the hearts of many a well-wisher like an inextinguishable star. Today night on June 4th we commemorate his 25th death anniversary when he perished in a road accident at the conclusion of fact finding team in Kashmir.
I would have loved a Kartik reborn today with tide of Hindu communal fascism shimmering at a boiling point,corporates given patronage to plunder wealth , at an unprecedented magnitude ,Kashmir turned into a fascist state and the world in crisis of third world war as never before.
Kartik was born in a wealthy Jain family in Mumbai, which inherited extensive family trusts. A bright student in school,Kartik was forced to study engineering but later rebelled against it. His initial baptism into the revolutionary arena was through interacting with his sister Rupande , in the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 1986.This put him in touch with the social reality of the time, be it people in slums or factories.Kartik joined St Xaviers college and Stephen Rego of Vidhyarti Pragahati Sanghata had a profound impact on him.No when was introduced to the treasure house of Marxist literature. In late 1986 Kartik formally joined the Vidhyarti Praghati Sanghatana.I was no witness of Kartik’s evolution from an embryonic stage as I only met him at the end of 1988.Bastian Vailanga ‘s book Introduction to Marxism ‘ignited the spark within Kartik.
I can never forget my times with him as a college boy even if we were some kind of rivals Activists or sympathisers of that time always identify me and Karthik as the 2 students in Mumbai in 1990-91, joining the ranks of the Marxist-Leninist Movement. I first met him in the vicinity of Elphinstone college in end of 1988,when he motivated me to join to a camp in Dahanu conducted by Kashtakari Sanghatana.It was an experience that left a mark on me.to join the fold of revolutionary activism.
I have vivid memories of our mutual discussion on theoretical questions and on merits of organisations. Memories shimmer in my mind of our presence in protests or public meetings as well as mutual arguments. We never belonged to the same political group and we had sharp disagreements .Mutual clashes took place between the erstwhile Peoples War Group which his student organisation VPS identified with and the Chandra Pulla Reddy Group ,which was affiliated to PRAVIS, the student group I belonged to.
Kartik’s handling of the rape case commited by Avinash Patil in Elphinstone College in 1989 had a profound effect on me and steered many an Elphinstone student out of the morass of apathy. He displayed great familiarity with the idioms of the students and brilliantly rallied a core group to bring the rapist to the book.
Kartik from 1990-92 with surgical skill galvanised the student cadre in St.Xaviers college as a member of Vidhyarti Praghati Sanghatana ,to support the Canteen Workers Strike and abolish the contract labour system.. It was remarkable how he turned the minds of students belonging to the elite strata of society and indoctrined with conventional values of capitalist society, which generally sides with the exploiter classes ,to support struggling workers .I recollect how students would swarm at the gate of the college when Kartik arrived.Kartik pioneered the publication of magazine ;Chingaar’ which put to the table all the students issues of that day be it the Mandal Commison,fee-hikes, Communalism,New Education Policy, Privatisation of education or hotel facilities. A cadre was revolved around the magazine which with close vigil noted how a crystallisation was occurring with the advent of globalisation.
As a fellow comrade Kartik often felt when I was distributing party journal of revolutionary groups I was being used and felt that it was improper to use student cadre for selling Maoist literature. Of course this view is questionable. I can’t forget how I flitted with different groups like Lok Jagruti Kendra,Chandra Pulla Reddy Group and Red Star group in such a short duration.from age of 21-24 and how Kartik strongly felt it was an excuse to leave an organization. He was a firm adherent that an activist should struggle within the framework of one political group.
Kartik was most effective in working amongst basti residents and his humane touch won the affection of many a resident. His style was distinctive from a conventional Marxist activist, having characteristics of his very own. I can’t forget are joint participation in demonstration s defending slum dewllers.
During the 1992-93 Mumbai riots Kartik waged a sustained battle to garner all forces to orchestrate self defence commitees against riots and invested every ounce of energy in saving the Muslim community. Few activists then displayed as exemplary patience in dealing with the Muslim victims as Kartik who himself conducted a separate teaching school for them. With astute skill Kartik launched an ideological crusade on the Hindutva Shiv Sena and played a major role in testifying the Shiv Sena crimes in the tribunalKartik played a vital role in shaping the Peoples Tribunal.
Kartik was critical of the social reformist approach of the Ekta Forum led by Ashar Ali Engineer and wholeheartedly supported the Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front in Kashmir in 1990.He was convinced that India was on the threshold of turning into a Hindu fascist state.
The pinnacle of his activist life was in exposing the misdeeds of the Indian govt in Kashmir from the mid 1990’s.Karthik was one of the boldest voices as an intellectual and activists against state terror unleashed against Kashmiris fighting for self determination and how it was fast being stripped of any rights. Most bravely with the tenacity of a soldier he confronted Hindu communal elements. He was part of an All-India fact finding team first in 1995 and then in 1997.Later he even enrolled for a doctorate in studies on Kashmir.
We parted ways after 1992 when he made his journey seriously into the Civil Liberties movement after qualifying as a lawyer and was in the forefront of work in the Committee of Protection of Democratic Rights. Just shortly before his death we met in a programme commemorating Comrade Gadar in Dadar.Although we met for only a short while, i was happy he had lost none of his purity or human touch. The duration when we lost touch with each other coincided with my first job in the Taj Air Caterers from late 1994 ,which gave me insight into social labour Although I left formal activism from 1992-96 became an unofficial supporter of the CCRI from 1992 to late 94 which later merged into the CPRCI(ML) in 1995.
Kartik’s post -death commemoration meeting in Hall of Bombay Union of Journalists sprung people from all walks of life .In the view of VPS leader Arun Ferreira Karthik was in some ways a replica or incarnate of Che Guevera ,whether standing with a cigarette in his mouth when calling students in, whether adressing a press meeting or even in his contemplating or cracking a joke. I was touched to hear ex Naujwan Bharat Sabha leader Stephen Rego state “That although I taught him so much .in the end it was I who learned from him more than he learned from me. “I can never forget the tears of colleague George Jose when recounting how Kartik moulded the St Xaviers group .Late Sebastion of CPDR classified Kartik as a true friend rather than just an activist.lok Shahi Hakk Sanghatana leader Vinod Shetty expressed his great moments in working with Kartik ending with tears in his eyes .Aavhan Natya Manch activist Robert narrated how dazzled he was with Kartik’s meditative attention in adhering grievances of the Muslim community when trouble had simmered at a boiling point. during the communal riots in 1993 in Mumbai. Varavara Rao upheld Kartik’s role in the Kashmir fact finding report. Anthony Samy of Loksahahi Hakk Sanghatana praised Karthik’s perspective of advocating unity amongst civil liberties groups.
Asessment of Kartik
It was very rare to find a Student or youth of that time in Mumbai who was such a personification of revolutionary humanism, particularly in the upper middle class. In many ways his personality had overtones of Che Guevera. Kartik exuded that quality of ‘love’ so much required within a revolutionary and the spiritual aspect. Kartik was the embodiment of sensitivity within a human being.Kartik had great concern for fellow people and hated activists being turned into objects.
It was soul searching witnessing the manner he could de-condition or radicalize upper class students to bring them within the fold of democratic movements and he compassion he displayed when interacting with common workers.Kartik had deep insight into the psychology of people and would do just what he doctor ordered to inculcate a change within them. He refrained from parroting revolutionary jargon of Maoism but in almost congeal and lucid manner related politics to the students.
Notable that he did not look down on non -activists.Kartik was critical in the manner left activists were used not only by the revisionist parties but also the revolutionary groups, who he felt often gave crass respect to humanism and would convert cadres into pawns. This was noticeable in the manner cadre were pulled into rallies.
To the deepest core he opposed dogmatism, with his views akin to that of Che Guevera in important aspects. The splittism within the movement made him sick and he was determined to challenge all orthodox or conventional practices.
Kartik was an admirer of the C.P.I.(M.L)Peoples War group in Andhra Pradesh who he felt were genuinely resisting opression.However he was at considerable variance with the Leninist or Maoist concept of dictatorship of the Proletariat and questioned the vanguard role of the Party.Kartik upheld Che Guevera’s concept of moral incentives and was harshly critical of the great purges of Stalin and some practices in he Chinese Cultural Revolution.Ofcourse I disagreed with Kartik’s stands on Lenin, Stalin and Mao which opposed the collectivist Leninist spirit .He also failed to grasp how the Peoples War group made major violations in massline practice or how tactics of Boycott in parliamentary elections was sectarian. In some ways his views were flawed with infections of the New Left and Trotskyite tendencies .Kartik credited Trotsky for the formation of the Red Army and upheld aspects of Guevarist foco theory.
At the end of it all perhaps I regret that I could not do what he did in his time but remember that nobody is infallible and I had virtues in other respects as a person. We had strong differences with considerably different personalities but still had considerable mutual respect.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance Journalist from Mumbai who has travelled around India to cover mass events and from 1989-91 was part of the Marxist-Leninist Student Movement in Mumbai as member of PRAVIS. A fellow comrade of late Kartik Pannalal.