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A man called Mohit Sen

Marxist ideologue, Mohit Sen, died recently. A tribute by SACHIDANANDA MOHANTY.


A communist with nationalist sympathies ... Mohit Sen.

RENOWNED Marxist intellectual and communist ideologue for more than half a century, Mohit Sen died in his sleep on May 3, at his Somajiguda residence, Hyderabad. Two days earlier, in a well-attended literary gathering, there was a reading of abstracts from Sen's last work, a memoir, A Traveller and The Road.

Towards the end of his life, Mohit Sen had embraced near seclusion, especially after the death of his wife, distinguished mathematician and educationist Vanaja Iyengar. A near expulsion from the Communist Parties aggravated his isolation. He remained the General Secretary of the United Communist Party of India (UCPI), a splinter organisation without much backing.

In Jawaharlal Nehru's words, "Mohit Sen was a communist with nationalistic sympathies." It is a combination of traits that might seem natural today. However, in the first part of the last century, it is worth recalling, that the movement was largely international in character and communists fought shy of nationalistic sympathies!

Sen's life story, full of drama, and action of epic proportions, are enacted on a wide national and international stage. Cambridge, Moscow, Beijing, Budapest, Prague and many other cities of the world, known for intellectual and cultural life form part of his itinerary, shaped his personality and ideological thinking. He met some legendary figures of his time: E.M Forster, Bertrand Russell ("a combination of intellect with sexuality") F.R Leavis, ("known for his lectures and strong opinions including defence of D.H. Lawrence") Rajani Palme Dutt, ("the father figure of Indian Marxist" ), Mao Tse Tung, Leo Tsao Chi, P.C. Joshi, ("who accepted that India was, indeed, free in 1947 and was disgraced later by the party bosses at the behest of the Communist Party of Soviet Union") Kalpana Dutta,(former associate of Surya Sen the architect of Chittagong Armory Raid) Jaya Prakash Narayan, Indira Gandhi... Born on March 24, 1929 in Kolkata, Mohit Sen came from an upper middle class, well-connected Bhadralok, Brahmo Samaj background. From his father A.N. Sen, a high court judge and mother Mrinalini Sen, a well-known singer and social worker, early in life he learnt the virtue of a life idealism, generosity of spirit and nobility of action — traits that took him logically, as he says, to the communist movement.

Mohit Sen was, undoubtedly, aware of many of the horrors of the Bolshevist/Stalinist philosophy itself: its promotion of the Party (in effect, those who speak in the name of the Party, we must remember Milovan Djilas's The New Class) as the vanguard of revolutionary action, its "liquidation" of class enemies, its drive towards political, economic and social centralisation, its denial of faith and general disparagement of Religion/Spirituality as reactionary world views.

However, he treats these as aberrations of Marxism and not defects fundamental to the Marxist worldview. He considers Arthur Koestler's The God That Failed, containing the testimony of several of the revolutionary writers like George Orwell and Andre Gide who fought in the Spanish Civil War as Cold War propaganda In fact, these were early warnings of the colossal aberrations that were taking place inside the Soviet Union in the name of the Revolution. Ironically, Sen himself talked about how his book release in Delhi recently was ignored by the Party bosses, barring A.B. Bardhan.

Thus, according to Sen, it is their bigotry, arrogance and self-righteousness that have obstructed the realisation of the goal of a society based on equity. In future, the movement will be more humane, more charitable with a greater respect for dissenting opinion, there will be less purges and more accommodation. Communism will be a more humane kind. It will promote the cause not by competitive extremism but by a larger coalition with like-minded individuals and groups. Isaac Deutscher, a communist dissident-intellectual who had a great influence upon Mohit Sen, during his Cambridge days, had written a path breaking book entitled Heretics and Renegades, "Heretics," Sen said, "are essential to civilisation and I sincerely hope there are more heretics in future and communism is tolerant of heretics." Two days later, Sen died!

The writer is a Professor of English Literature at the University of Hyderabad.

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