What has happened to communists? They are neither here nor there, not only in India but all over, the world eking out an existence on the margins of national politics, and reduced to political beggary of the most miserable kind. At one time, they crowed about lording it over the entire world?their slogans were always international. The world has, of course, passed them by forcing the few parties that manage to survive to live on charity.
Cuba is still alive because of the alms it receives from Venezuela and North Korea because of China. And what about Kerala and West Bengal in our own backyard? But who can say they are alive?
A few weeks ago; Tatas rolled out their baby car?supposedly the cheapest car in the world?from Mumbai. The car will be produced in Gujarat and also Pantnager, but not from Singur in West Bengal. The West Bengal government is such an incompetent lot that they just blew it. This is what Communists do. They just do not understand the modern world, living as they do one whole century behind times, and end up, like the Third Force, on the dung heap of history, licking their wounds.
My experiences with Communists have been invariably negative. I was a student in Pune?then Poona?in 1942 at the time of Quit India Movement when the communists, in their wisdom, had decided to oppose it. We had a student in our class who was a party member and used to sell a rag called People'sWar near a restaurant where we used to meet. He was also armed and carried a knife. Every time we asked him why he was on the side of the British, he would show us the knife. He had no other explanation. One day, we caught him by the neck and gave a good thrashing. We then found to our great shock, that apart from the knife, he had nearly a thousand rupees on him, a great deal of money in those days, which he could never explain properly.
A couple of years later, I was in London for my studies, and used to go to our High Commission through Strand and Trafalgar Square. It was raining very hard and I took shelter under an awning near a cinema. There was another man there who looked like an Indian, so I asked him if he came from India. There were very few Indians at the time in London just after the war, and an Indian was a novelty.
?Yes and No?, he said.
I later found out that he was Rajani Palme Dutt, a communist who was a kind of Stalin'sagent in London, and whose main job was to pass on Stalin'sorders to communists in India. The Communist Party of India did not have an independent existence and was infact, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Communist Party. Dutt was actually a Scandinavian, not British, but he was also half-Indian.
It was his turn to ask me whether I was an Indian, and I said, ?Yes and No.? I was not joking. I was actually a Goan, and Goa was not a part of India at the time.
A couple of years later, also in London, I came across the doyen of Indian communists, none other than Sripad Amrit Dange, who had just returned from Moscow and was on his way back home to India. Dange was a very interesting man–he had more funny stories than Charlie Chaplin?and he took me to an Indian restaurant in one of the alleys behind Strand, not far from India House.
?What will you have?? Dange said. I was dying to have a real Indian meal, after all those fish and chips doused in vinegar, and gave my order. So did Dange and we settled down to a hearty Indian meal.
Dange was full of stories about Moscow and what a wonderful people Russians were. I asked him if they had fed him properly, for he looked very thin and emaciated. He didn'tsay anything.
When the bill came?it was not very much for things were cheap in London at the time?Dange took out his purse which was full of British pounds. I could see that he was loaded, but he had roubles too?hundreds, may be thousands?and I could see that he was not too keen to show them to me.
When we went down?the restaurant was on the first floor?I asked him, half in jest, what he was going to do with all those useless roubles.
I don'tnow remember what he said, but I could see that he was not very comfortable with my question.
Years later, seven years later to be exact, I saw Dange again, this time near the Goa border. We had travelled together from Savantwadi, a small town near the border, to Goa in a small country craft, together with a squad of Satyagrahis who were going to enter Goa near Patradevi border. Dange was his cheerful self, making jokes all the time, all at the cost of Morarji Desai, who was Chief Minister of Bombay at the time and had imposed a ban on Satyagrahis entering Goa. Incidentally, Jagannathrao Joshi, Jana Sangh leader at the time, was also with us, along with, if I remember rightly, Nath Pai, the socialist leader.
As we approached the border, shots rang out, and most of us who had already crossed the border, scurried back for safety, some with bullets in their legs. I had a slight bruise in my left ankle where the bullets had grazed my leg, but I managed to limp back as the Portuguese soldiers let off another volley. I saw Dange running for cover, as if he had seen a ghost. There was chaos all round, as the Portuguese soldiers jumped from rock to rock like monkeys, waving their guns at us, asking us to go back or else. Two Satyagrahis, a man and a woman, lay dead in front of us, but we managed to carry their bodies back into Indian territory, and that was the end of the Satyagraha.
After that, I met Dange once or twice in the Parliament, but he pretended not to recognise me. I too ignored him. I have since ignored all communists, here as well as elsewhere in the world, including one communist from East Germany who met me near the Berlin Wall, five years before it fell, and pestered me for a few dollars for a meal.
I gave him a dollar. I wonder what he did with it!