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Indrajit Gupta

Indrajit Gupta (16 March 1919 - 20 February 2001) was a Communist leader who became India's Union Minister for Home Affairs in the United Front government from 1996 to 1998.[1] That was a dramatic reversal of roles, as the Ministry of Home Affairs had, since Indian independence in 1947, banned the Communist Party thrice, with many of its members, including Gupta, being sent to prison or pushed underground for long stretches.[2]


Early life

Gupta belonged to an anglicised Brahmo family of Calcutta. His paternal grandfather, Behari Lal Gupta, ICS, was the Dewan of Baroda and his elder brother, Ranajit Gupta, ICS, was Chief Secretary of West Bengal. His father, Satish Gupta, who belonged to the IA&AS was an Accountant General of India. After his schooling at Simla, where his father was posted, Gupta studied at St. Stephen's College, Delhi and later went to King's College, Cambridge.[3] While studying in England he came under the influence of Rajani Palme Dutt and joined the communist movement.[4] With a Tripos from the University of Cambridge[3] he returned to Calcutta in 1938 to join the peasants' and workers' movement.[4] He not only had to go to jail for his communist activities but was also sentenced to party jail in 1948 for adopting a soft stand within the party.[4] He went underground in India during 1948-50 when there was a crackdown on Communists.[2]


Gupta was elected to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament of India, for the first time in 1960, in a by-election. Thereafter, except for a short period from 1977 to 1980, he was a member till his death. In later years, as a result of his being the oldest member of the Lok Sabha he served as protem Speaker in 1996, 1998 and 1999. The office of protem Speaker is a ceremonial one mainly to conduct the swearing in of the newly elected members.[2]

He was a member of second and third Lok Sabha from 1962 to 1967 representing Calcutta South-West; fourth and fifth Lok Sabha from 1967 to 1977 representing Alipore; seventh and eighth Lok Sabha from 1980 to 1989 representing Basirhat; and ninth to thirteenth Lok Sabha from 1989 till his death representing Midnapore parliamentary constituencies of West Bengal.[1][5]

Gupta served on a number of parliamentary committees with distinction. He was chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on defence during 1995-1996 and was chairman of the committee on subordinate legislation from 1999 till his death. He was a member of the rules committee during 1990-1991, general purposes committee during 1985-1989 and from 1998 onwards; committee on defence from 1998-2000, committee on petitions during 1986-1987, business advisory committee from 1986-1987 and in 1989, library committee during 1990-1991 and the committee to review Lok Sabha Secretariat rules in 1990.[1]

As an opposition stalwart and leader of the CPI group, Gupta's speeches in the Lok Sabha were marked by force with moderation, criticism with reason , and earned him the admiration of even his political opponents. Though not enamoured of office, Gupta accepted the cabinet berth in the United Front Government during 1996-98. As Home Minister, Gupta was still blunt about government's failures and raised many an eyebrow among the treasury benches with his frank observations. When he was the Home Minister and the BJP the main opposition party, his favourite phrase on meeting the more vocal opposition members after a stormy day was: "If I were in the Opposition I'd have done what you did."[2]

Gupta was conferred with the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award in 1992.[1] He served the Lok Sabha for 37 years, and when he died President K.R. Narayanan paid a tribute, using three characteristics in his condolence message that suitably describes the man: "Gandhian simplicity, democratic outlook and deep commitment to values."[2]


On return to India in 1938, he wrote to the Communist Party, offering his services in any suitable capacity . During the underground phase of the party, Gupta worked under the alias Surya, given to him by the party's technical cell . In 1964, when the party split, Gupta was among the 35 members of the National Council who swore by the parent organisation led by S.A. Dange. Always sceptical about the Congress Party, he formally opposed the idea of his party joining the United Front cabinet in 1996 with its support, but caved in as the majority demanded it.[2]

Rising from the grassroots level in the Communist Party of India. Gupta was made General Secretary of CPI in 1990 at the age of 71. He held the office for six years till 1996. An active trade unionist, Gupta had earlier been General Secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress during 1980-90. He was also Vice-President of the World Federation of Trade Unions and elected its President in 1998.[2]

He was a stickler for decency. On entering politics he accepted the official code of conduct of the Communist Party from which he never deviated. He lived in a two-room quarter at the Western Court, and walked to the Lok Sabha until he became a minister. Subsequently also he led a simple life and shunned many of the facilities he was entitled to. When he was minister, he never allowed the official car to enter the airport tarmac for him after a flight. Instead he used the airline bus to reach the terminal.[2]

Personal life

He married, at the age of 62, Suraiya, the woman he had loved for many years. He waited till her earlier marriage with photographer Ahmed Ali (father of social activist Nafisa Ali) was lawfully dissolved.[3]


Capital and Labour in the Jute Industry and Self Reliance in National Defence[2]


On Left politics

The Left as it is at present is certainly not going to come to power. There is not even a ghost of a chance of that. We will continue to be a part of the Opposition. If you want to achieve the objective that you have declared, then you should try to adopt tactics that would avoid or minimise the division of anti-BJP votes to the extent possible. This strategy should be adopted in all states other than in those states where the BJP is still not a major factor at all, where we would continue to have our main conflict with the Congress. [6]

On caste-ridden politics

A caste-ridden society and a bitter caste war is a very big inhibiting factor that has held the Left back. From the beginning, we never bothered about the caste factor. In the old days the Communists never bothered about this. We were all class-wallahs. Exploitation of one class by another class is okay. But exploitation of one caste by another caste was never a big factor in our minds. But in a Hindu society, I find this (the caste system) is the dominant thing - much more than class. We have a working class in the big industrial centres where we (the Communists) were the dominant force among the workers, particularly at the trade union level. Big strikes were taking place. We were leading those strikes. But when it came to elections, the same worker who was carrying a red flag on his shoulders in order to get a higher salary or a bonus, would look towards his own caste.

I don't think the Communists, the Marxists, in this country paid sufficient attention or made a proper study of this phenomenon. It is not a phenomenon which started one day. It has been there for one thousand years. And every educated fellow, the elite of our society, goes around saying that we are above caste. This is telling lies. Read the matrimonial columns in the papers. Yes, they don't indulge in crude forms of casteism - not allowing someone to drink out of the same glass - but will they allow a Dalit to come and sit at their table and eat with them? I doubt it very much. Of course, marriage is out of the question. This thing is so deeply rooted in our psyche, this Manusmriti, this Chaturvarna (four basic castes), to get out of it will take a thousand years. [6]



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