Received several requests to write about senior Pracharak of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Gourishankar Chakraborty, popularly known as “Gouri Da” to all who knew him, on the day he breathed the last on March 24 in the capital after prolonged illness at the age of 71.
I knew Gouri Da for nearly three decades. He used to frequent our home in Silchar, Assam as part of his public relations exercise. He had a lot of respect for my parents. Found him always a smiling and down-to-earth person.
He grew up at Jalalpur Tea Estate in southern Assam where his father used to work as a doctor and conduct the local Sakha. That is the reason why Jalalpur, near Kalain in Cachar district and not far from the Bangladesh border, is considered to be a local hub for RSS activities in the Barak Valley. Jalalpur’s legacy of nationalism was carried forward by Gouri Da as a full-time Pracharak after the completion of his studies. He did his master’s in science and a law degree from north India. He also attended the prestigious Cotton College in Guwahati.
The stature of Gouri Da’s father can be understood by the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited him at Jalalpur when he was counting his last days. Modi, then an RSS Pracharak, visited Jalalpur by boarding a train from Guwahati to Chandranathpur/Bihara, said an old-timer. That was the period of the tumultuous era of the Assam movement. The Lumding-Badarpur rail route used to be metre-gauge lines. Modi’s visit to Jalalpur was in sync with the Sangh’s tradition to pay a visit to an ailing family member.
After the Modi-led government assumed power in 2014, the highest priority was accorded to the pending works of Lumding-Badarpur-Silchar gauge conversion. At that time, Gouri Da was stationed in Guwahati. Obviously, the issue of conversion of the rail route into broad gauge lines was close to his heart. Sangh played an active role in pushing the rail gauge conversion works in the Barak Valley and later extending the broad gauge line to Tripura. People of the Barak Valley and Tripura still fondly remember the expeditious completion of the last phase of the gauge conversion works. Prime Minister Modi, sitting in New Delhi could make a connection with the ground reality due to his visit to Jalalpur.
Gouri Da’s pursuit to highlight the cause of national integration of the population living in the interior places of the South Assam and Tripura had due roles in the gauge conversion.
Gouri Da strongly believed in the idea of national integration of indigenous communities living in these areas can be achieved through the promotion of rail connectivity with mainland India. The issue of connecting Agartala and Silchar with New Delhi through the wider rail route the network is a dream come true for the boy from an unknown hamlet of the Barak Valley of South Assam – Jalalpur.
The invitation to write this piece had also a special request to highlight the role of Gouri Da as a key person from the Sangh dealing with the sensitive issues of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
I must clarify, in this context, a Prachark devotes himself to the ideology of the organisation. A Pracharak doesn’t carry forward any personal agenda. In fact, for a Prachark the sole agenda in life is to work tirelessly for the ideals of his beloved organisation. A Pracharak lives his organisation’s ideology on a real-time basis. That was precisely Gouri Da’s mandate with respect to CAA and NRC. RSS supported both the issues as it firmly held that CAA and NRC would strengthen the agenda of nationalism and protect the cultural identity of the indigenous people of Assam.
There was a challenge to synchronise the interests of Bengali Hindu migrants who owe their origins from East Pakistan and Bangladesh. RSS works for the cause of Hindus. Pracharaks like Gouri Da who had spent most of their voluntary service lives in the Brahmaputra valley worked tirelessly to promote the cause on the ground. As he spent most of his Pracharak life in the Brahmaputra Valley, Gouri Da was able to spread the Sangh ideology on Hindutva and cultural nationalism to the Assamese diaspora and its leadership at large.
By spending most of his life in the Brahmaputra Valley, Gouri Da knew the sentiments of the Assamese community well. He was respectful to the sentiments of the indigenous population of the North-east, and Assam in particular. He worked throughout the life to win the hearts of a larger section of the Assamese community for the people who have been hit by the legacy of the Partition.
Today, a larger section of the Assamese community holds a sympathetic and respectful outlook towards the displaced origin Bengali Hindu community living in Assam. Unsung heroes like Gouri Da played humble roles to integrate both the communities by spreading the spirit of nationalism on the ground.
[The writer is a Delhi-based international journalist.]