Freedom fighter and Communist leader A.M. Gopu, who survived police bullets six decades ago and for whose capture the police had once announced a reward of Rs. 5,000, died here on Thursday.

He was 83 and is survived by his daughter. As per his wishes, the body was donated to the Rajiv Gandhi Government Hospital here.

Gopu’s contemporaries and comrades in the Communist movement, Vaatakudi Iranian and Sivaraman, were shot dead by the police while Kalappal Kuppu died in prison. Gopu had a miraculous escape.

When the Communist party was banned, Gopu went underground and worked among peasants in the unified Thanjavur district where feudal lords ruled the roost.

In 1950, the police caught him at Tiruvarur and shot him. Assuming he was dead, they sent him to a government hospital for ‘post-mortem examination’.

The doctors found he was alive and removed the bullets. Some pieces of shrapnel, however, were embedded in his bones and gave him constant pain.

Born A.M. Govindarasu, Gopu plunged into the freedom movement when he was in Class IX at Tiruvidaimarudur.

In 1942, he, along with three other students, went around the streets raising slogans against the British. They were arrested and kept in a juvenile home and released after 16 days.

He had to constantly leave one school for another because of his political activities. Though an outstanding student, the Maharaja College, Pudukottai, expelled him for organising a protest against the visit of Sir C.P. Ramaswami Iyer, Diwan of Travancore. He was allowed to write the first-year examinations taking into consideration his academic credentials.

He later joined the Kumbakonam College but did not complete the course. Later, CPI leader K. Balathandayutham brought him to Chennai to work for Janasakthi, the party’s official organ.

While he was underground, Gopu’s primary task was to mobilise funds to feed the families of comrades in hiding. He also organised bullets for the guns carried by Sivaraman and others.

His most daring action was the waylaying of a trolley carrying the salary of railway employees of the French Government in Puducherry.

Gopu, along with four others, threw country bombs at the security officer on the Karaikal-Kumbakonam route and decamped with Rs. 37,000 and a gun carried by the security officer.

The French Government placed a prize of Rs. 5,000 each on the head of Gopu and others.

Gopu spent four years in jail and another four years underground.

Though he was included as an accused in two murder cases and another robbery, the train robbery would have secured him a life term. But, the efforts made by Communist leaders and the intervention of Rajaji and Jawaharlal Nehru ensured that he was not handed over to the French Government.

After the split in the Communist movement, he remained with the CPI and worked actively in the AITUC, the trade union affiliated to the party.

He was AITUC general secretary and CPI National Council member.

Chief Minister’s condolences

Condoling the death of Gopu, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa described him as a great trade unionist, who fought the British during the freedom struggle and went to jail. She conveyed her condolences to the bereaved family.

In a statement, CPI (M) State secretary G. Ramakrishnan said Gopu had participated in the freedom struggle right from his student days.

When the Communist Party of India was banned in 1949-50, Gopu remained underground and worked for the party.

On one occasion, he was shot and arrested. The bullet remained in his hand till the last, Mr. Ramakrishnan said.

Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram recalled the selfless service of Gopu for the welfare of the working class.

DMK president M. Karunanidhi, CPI (M) leaders T.K. Rangarajan, State secretary G. Ramakrishnan, CPI State secretary D. Pandian, senior CPI leader R. Nallakannu, national secretary D. Raja and many others paid their last respects to Gopu.

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