A little-known hero of the Emergency died in Kolkata the other day. I was looking for Dipankar Chakrabarti, the 71-year-old founder-editor of Aneek, a socio-political magazine in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, when I was told he had just succumbed to cardiac arrest. This often happens to me — someone I am keen on meeting inconsiderately chooses to bid adieu to life just then. But that’s another story. What is saddening is that more people didn’t know of Chakrabarti.
Someone at a meeting of the Association of Corporate Advisers and Executives asked me recently to recount what he called my newspaper’s heroic deeds during the Emergency. The hall burst into applause when I replied that just as there were more dispossessed East Bengal zamindars in Kolkata than there were actual zamindars in pre-partition East Bengal, there were more Emergency heroes after the Emergency than existed then. Chakrabarti wasn’t among them. Neither was he one of the glitterati who hold high positions and trot the globe while flaunting their supposedly radical ideology.
He neither sought nor received attention. But he and a colleague Sukanta Raha, whose name I learnt only this week, were arrested under the Defence of India Rules for an editorial titled “India’s annexation of Sikkim” in Aneek’s April-May 1975 special edition. They languished in jail for two years after Berhampore’s additional sessions judge refused bail because the article “seems to be calculated to prejudice the minds of the people against the territorial integrity of the Union of India”.
When I told my Sikkimese friend, Karma Topden, former Rajya Sabha member and India’s one-time ambassador to Mongolia, he asked why Chakrabarti had been singled out for a distinction denied to B G Verghese and me. “Verghese’s editorial, ‘Kanchenjunga, Here we Come’ in the Hindustan Times was very strong”, Karma said. “And you made Sikkim an international issue with your reports in The Observer in London, and your book, Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim!”
I told Karma Marxists would probably attribute the different treatment to class justice … or injustice. I’d add class understanding. District officials are less sophisticated than their metropolitan counterparts who might have made allowance for revolutionary rhetoric. Although Chakrabarti thought Sikkim’s monarchy “feudal and reactionary”, it was “the sacred task of every progressive and socially conscious” Indian “to unite shoulder to shoulder with the freedom fighters of Sikkim, so as to take effective steps to defeat the common enemies of the people of these two countries”. The enemy was the “expansionist Indian ruling clique”.
Despite the clichés, one must respect someone, especially in the moffusil, who sustained for 48 years a magazine that covered, says a Bangladeshi admirer, Farooque Chowdhury, many aspects of modern and ancient society, politics, economics, the Moscow-Beijing rift, China’s Cultural Revolution, globalisation and the environment. Chakrabarti founded the People’s Book Society and the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights. He translated Chinese revolutionary opera and essays by Paul Sweezy, the Harvard economist who wrote Demand Under Conditions of Oligopoly in 1939. Teaching economics at Berhampore’s Krishnanath College must have been one of many avocations.
So versatile a man had to be both Bangal (as East Bengalis are called) and Bolshie, Chakrabarti was born in Dhaka. He was so passionately involved in a country he left when he was six only because having been politically baptised in the Students Federation and sailed close to Communism all his life, he regarded both Bengals as a single revolutionary entity. Not content with famously saddling Lenin with saying (which he didn’t!) that the road to world revolution ran from Beijing to Paris via Kolkata, Bengali Leftists re-routed the road after 1971 to take in Dhaka.
I first heard of Chakrabarti in October 1984 after Smash and Grab was published. He wrote to The Statesman promising “support and sympathy” to “Mr Namgyal” (Prince Wangchuck Namgyal of Sikkim) who had asked apropos of my book, “Who in the world’s largest democracy will raise a voice for justice in Sikkim?” Chakrabarti replied, “It may interest him and others to know that our Bengali monthly magazine, Aneek, did precisely this.” He assured Wangchuck “that many people in India still consider the annexation of Sikkim to have been a blatant act of expansionism”.
He would have welcomed the revised edition of Smash and Grab now being prepared under Tranquebar’s imprint. It will spare readers what Chomsky called “manufactured consent” and save them from a pirated edition. I owe that to someone who paid more dearly than Verghese or I for his commitment to Sikkim’s freedom.