interview | R. Nallakannu Tamil Nadu

‘Communist parties should consider coming together’

Such a move is needed to unite secular forces against communalism: CPI leader

Freedom fighter and doyen of the communist movement, R. Nallakannu, known as RNK, turned 95 last week. He is among the few leaders who still link the present generation with a period when idealism and selfless spirit dominated public life. He was awarded a life sentence in the Nellai conspiracy case and subjected to police brutality. To this day, he has been unable to sport a moustache, since a police officer singed his upper lip with a cigarette butt.

In an interview, he stresses the need for the Communist parties to come together, arguing that only a united Communist party will be in a position to unite the secular forces in the country against communalism. Excerpts:

You have spent over eight decades in public life. What are the moments you continue to cherish?

As a schoolboy, I participated in the freedom movement. Thoothukudi was the nerve-centre of the freedom movement, and political leaders would travel to Thoothukudi through my native town of Srivaikuntam. I would join the local leaders in organising meetings. You should listen to Pappankulam Chockalingam speaking about the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The entire crowd would weep uncontrollably. Though I was active, I was not allowed to participate in the individual Satyagraha and Quit India movements because of my age.

At 18, I joined the communist party. I am proud that all the major resolutions of the Congress party that shaped the country were actually proposed by the communists, who were then part of the Congress. It was communist leaders who gave shape to the idea of creating linguistic States. Communist leader Jeeva wrote the book Iykiya Tamilagam. Sankaralinganar, who observed a fast-unto-death in support of the demand for renaming the State as Tamil Nadu, wrote a will stating that his body should be handed over to the communists.

Be it the Neyveli Lignite Corporation or the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, they became a reality because of the efforts made by communist leaders and communist countries.

And the moments that make you sad…

The victory of the BJP and the RSS, that murdered Mahatma Gandhi. These are challenging times, and they pain me. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar propagate the idea of varnashrama dharma. It creates a fascist tendency in the country. A weak political set-up is responsible for the trend. Both Periyar and Ambedkar had differences with Gandhi, but after he was assassinated, Periyar proposed that the country be named after Gandhi.

The five-year plans of the Congress may have had shortcomings, but instead of rectifying them, the BJP dispensed with the system altogether. We have a public sector, a private sector and a joint sector. The BJP is destroying the public sector and paving the way for the corporate sector. The nationalisation of the banks ensured development in rural areas and in the field of agriculture. But now, banks are being merged and privatised. A worldwide struggle guaranteed people eight hours of work. But today, we have lost that right, and people are having to work nine hours. Reservation is also facing a threat.

What do you think is the reason behind the domination of caste in Tamil Nadu — the land of the social reforms movement?

We do not have leaders with the same kind of commitment as shown by Periyar against casteism. Today, political leaders patronise casteism and casteist forces to retain power and strengthen their base.

A Minister may show sympathy to a person belonging to his own community, though that person is corrupt. But we should keep in mind that despite the presence of so many caste outfits, barring Kamaraj, we have had Chief Ministers who did not belong to any major community in the State. [Incumbent Edappadi K. Palaniswami belongs to a dominant caste, but is yet to face an election projecting himself as the Chief Ministerial candidate.] So casteism is stopped somewhere, and does not influence people when it comes to electing the Chief Minister of the State. But it is used to get benefits in politics and power.

What do you think should be the role of the communist parties?

The country is in the grip of right-wing politics. The role of workers is being denigrated, and trade union movements are being seen as a hindrance to growth. They argue that only the owners and employers who have capital contribute to growth and development. The communist parties should fight the trend and save the basic rights of the people guaranteed by the Constitution.

What is your view on the unification of the communist parties?

The CPI and the CPI(M) should consider unification. It may not happen overnight, since many decades have passed since the communist movement split.

Only the communist parties can bring together secular forces against the communal BJP and the Hindutva forces, and halt their march.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 3:36:33 PM |

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