Campus politics of the 1980’s: Spotlight on Aligarh

Politics is integral to our existence and students have always taken interest in it. One need only to remember the large scale protests against American involvement in Vietnam on university campuses.  Indeed, one can go a step further. As a poster on the campus of a well known Indian university says, ‘If politics is going to decide your future, shouldn’t you decide what your politics is going to be’.

The university authorities naturally are not very happy with students involvement in political events. Young people, innocent as they are, have a tendency to ask uncomfortable questions, bluntly. Hence the argument from the establishment—colleges are meant for studies only and students should not waste their time and money in such activities.

Sir Syed, the founder of Mohammadan Anglo Oriental (MAO) College, which later metamorphosed into the Aligarh Muslim University, held similar views when it came to students participating in protests against the British. In Sir Syed’s time as the movement against the Raj, spearheaded by the Indian National Congress was gaining momentum many important leaders tried to enlist his support to the movement. But Sir Syed remained unmoved. The ‘Loyal Mohammadans of India’ would not go against the Raj and college students were advised to stay away from politics and concentrate on their studies and college activities.

While the MAO college students obeyed Sir Syed, opposition to the Congress was baffling. When Congress newspapers were banned in the college it had all the attractions of forbidden fruit. Aftab Ahmad Khan, a model of an Aligarh student (and one of the trio of famous Aligarh’s first generation; the other two being Maulana Mohammad Ali and Dr.Ziauddin Ahmed) was also baffled at Sir Syed’s opposition to the Congress. David Lelyveld, author of the famous work Aligarh’s First Generation, mentions an interesting incident about Khan who while a student in England went to meet A O Hume (one of the founders of the Congress who by then had returned to live in retirement after a long and illustrious career as a civil servant in India). After the meeting with Hume, Khan left wondering ‘what was wrong with the congress after all’.

Much as the Aligarh founders tried to keep their beloved institution isolated from politics we know things did not quite happen that way. Aligarh did get engulfed in the vortex of politics of all shades. Left activities flourished (many of the Aligarh Urdu poets were committed members of the Communist Party. Some are mentioned in my article in Kaarvan India but so did the separatist movement which ultimately culminated in the partition of British India. Rahi Masoom Raza, among the Aligarh litterateurs, has fictionalized the Aligarh students, known as ‘Black sherwani’ who fanned into the countryside with the message of Pakistan in his famous Hindi novel Adha Gaon.

The nationalist movement too had its adherents in Aligarh when a bunch of teachers and students broke away from the then (officially) very Pro-British Aligarh and created the nationalist Jamia Millia Islamia,  with the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi.

While many students got involved with protests launched by Gandhiji during the freedom struggle by the 1950’s and 60’s  politicians had discovered that student leaders, particularly in times of economic crisis and joblessness could be used to settle scores against their opponents and running in election campaigns. Thus began a phase of criminalization of politics by using youth and students, a theme dealt with finesse in some films, both of the mainstream and parallel cinema genres. Gulzar’s 1971 film Mere Apne—seemingly inspired by the Hollywood classic ‘West Side Story’, with sterling performances by Meena Kumari, Vinod Khanna and others, is one. Another is Sudhir Mishra’s 1987 film  Ye wo Manzil to nahin.

Let’s come to the 1970’s & 80’s when we were students.

Though Aligarh was not totally immune from the growing trend of criminalization in student politics, its incidence was much less compared to other universities in UP, particularly Kanpur, Lucknow, Allahabad, Meerut etc. During our times eruption of violence when student groups clashed was mostly on regional grounds. In Aligarh the two dominant groups were those of Azamgarhis and Biharis (wards from Azamgarh and Bihar, respectively). The infamous Suleiman Hall incident in 1978 happened when students belonging to these two groups clashed, leading to shooting in the hall premises. In such cases the university authorities always had a standard explanation—‘outsider’ elements have done it.

Whenever any such incidents happened they were widely reported in the mainstream national press with catchy headlines such as ‘Aligarh’s night of terror’,  ‘AMU boys on murderous rampage’ etc. Many in Aligarh complained that the press was biased towards Aligarh.

Our student days coincided with the days just after the National Emergency (June 1975—March 77) when the whole country had been plunged into a phase of political churning led by Jayaprakash Narayan’s (JP’s) andolan. Uttar Pradesh itself was in a state of political turmoil during the 70’s with a string of chief ministers, N D Tiwari and V P Singh in rapid succession, followed by periods of imposition of President’s rule. The situation therefore was just right for disturbances and communal riots.

In some North Indian cities, particularly those with a sizeable Muslim presence riots had became a regular feature. Aligarh city had come to occupy a position in the notorious ‘top five’ of most violent cities of India. Here riots took place in Oct-Dec 1978, May 1979, 17 June 1979 and August-November 1980. The 1978 riots were unprecedented in terms of scale and magnitude and were sparked off by the murder of a notorious criminal and wrestler by the name of Bhure Lal, who had connections with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). This incident, it was widely held, was at the heart of the riot, which soon assumed horrific proportions and locked the Hindu and Muslim communities in Aligarh city in direct confrontation with each other.

The tense atmosphere during the riots is not easy to forget. The imposition of curfew, when all activity came to a standstill and there was a shortage of basic necessities such as food or medicines; shoot at sight orders in parts of the city, the presence of the notorious Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), all of these still linger in the mind. At the time of riots the rumor mills immediately swung into action churning out all sorts of outlandish stories at a fast rate. Meanwhile in the university campus too one heard of all sorts of bizarre stories. For instance, that gangs of ‘people’ (read ‘Hindu mobs’/ RSS workers) were planning to launch an attack on the university, starting with the Women’s College.

In the highly surcharged atmosphere, in which many of the neta types took a lead, cries of ‘Bhaiyoon khabar-dar’ rent the air. And then, inevitably, someone would shout, ‘Islam Khatre mein hai’ (Islam is in danger). Somehow, it seemed that some people were very keen to draw a direct relationship between an imagined siege on a university campus with Islam being in danger, revoking a slogan going all the way back to the pan Islamic Khilafat movement of the 1920’s.

In my first year at Aligarh I was smitten by a desire to write and get published. An opportunity materialized when I wrote a report of the 1978 riots and an interview with Javed Habib, the then  president of AMU Student’s union  in a popular Times of India publication in those days by the name of Youth Times. The publication of this piece resulted in the editor Ms Anees Jung, to designate me as campus correspondent for the magazine. So for the next few years I remained busy chasing stories on the university campus.

In Aligarh most students (and some teachers) were seemingly polarized into two camps, that of the so called ‘conservatives’ and ‘progressives’. (In Aligarh the connotations of simple words was often quite wide. For instance, progressive could mean leftist, atheist, ‘nationalistic’, anti- Muslim etc. Similarly  for ‘conservatives’). In the former, the leader in those times was  a senior Professor by the name of Rahman Ali Khan,  while on the opposite end of the spectrum,  there was the noted Marxist historian Professor Irfan Habib, well known for his work on the Agrarian system of Mughal India. Though Prof. Khan was labeled as a conservative I think he was not really the archetype of the typical Mullah with a flowing beard and a dogmatic mindset. Perhaps the reason why he was regarded as the leader of the conservatives was more due to posturing against his rivals in the university. On the other side Prof Habib had a loyal band of supporters many of whom were from the History department.

Issues related to the Minority character for AMU kept appearing like a ghost.  The last time when things on this had hotted up in Aligarh was in  1965 when Nawab Ali Yavar Jung took charge of AMU as its Vice-Chancellor. In the meeting of the [university] Court there was a large scale protest against him. In the melee, created by the students, including stone pelting, the glasses of the union hall were broken and later an attack launched on him and several university professors. Ali Yavar Jung was seriously injured and rushed to Delhi for treatment but some other senior professors also sustained injuries.

In a nutshell, as soon as Jung had taken charge some groups within the university started a campaign against him, imputing the charge that he had sidelined the interests of the Muslims. But this was a diversion because he was disliked by a section of the [Aligarh] community, unhappy over his appointment.

And in our times the issue of minority character cropped up again. The Aligarh student netas donned black sherwanis and Aligarh cut pyjamas and gave powerful speeches appealing to emotional sentiments. The flowery language which they employed, in decorated Urdu, loaded with couplets, anecdotes, quotes etc. sounded very impressive at first. But hearing them several times over one began to realize that they were only words with very little substance.

A massive demonstration against the draconian version of the AMU’s minority character act was planned in Delhi and very mysteriously chartered buses reached all the boy’s hostels early in the morning. Hoping for a story for YT I boarded one of them and set off for Delhi. The atmosphere in the bus and conversations with fellow students distracted me and so I ignored to fact check several things. For instance, information about the sponsor of this trip to Delhi? (Follow up on the money trail). Surely somebody had to gain from getting Aligarh students in busloads to march to the parliament.

While the majority of us students- several hundreds- had travelled by those specially chartered buses, a small group had also travelled to Delhi by train. Enroute to Delhi, at a place called Dadri, local goons (widely believed to be RSS workers) had got into the compartment and beaten the Aligarh students. My friend Abid who was travelling with those students in the train had himself sustained injuries from kicks and lathi blows and was hospitalized for several days. Later in the evening when we returned to Aligarh we discovered what had taken place in the train. Understandably, the students were very angry. The atmosphere grew tense and in retaliation to the Dadri incident the Aligarh students went on a rampage. In Shamshad market shops of some Hindus were specially targeted. So very quickly the whole thing had taken a Hindu-Muslim turn whereas to begin with it had started off as a demonstration for the Minority Character of AMU.

Much was happening behind the scenes than the eyes could see. These incidents led to a tense atmosphere and eventually the university had to be closed sine die.

Round about the same period another thing happened. Prof Irfan Habib who had a long history of fighting against the obscurantist elements and was against the minority character of the university which was a very sensitive issue had in an interview to the Indian Express said exactly what his views on the subject were. One could question the timing of the interview but maybe not Prof Habib’s motives. But the interview was a godsend for the student netas who immediately launched an agitation which took the color of ousting the new VC Syed Hamid, who it was claimed was siding with Habib. This time around I saw leaders emerge out of thin air. Like worms crawling out of the woodwork. They had camped in the lawns outside the VC’s lodge.

Later VC’s, perhaps remembering this incident, took pains to elevate the boundary wall surrounding the VC lodge. As of now, one sees the VC lodge surrounded by a high (atleast 10 feet) wall with barbed wire and a line of broken glass embedded on the top.

Just as in 1965 the VC was caught in the cross fire, becoming the target of rival political ambitions in Aligarh and elsewhere this time around something similar was happening too. Everyone was playing to a script though the most visible was the role being enacted by the student netas. All being done in the name of safeguarding the interests of Indian Muslim community and protecting their beloved alma mater.

Part 2

Preceding the big demolitions in the age of faltering ideologies, the 1980’s were the lull before the storm. The fall of Berlin wall, the Babri Masjid demolition, September 11 etc were yet to happen as were the ushering in of economic liberalization policies of the Government of India, which happened in the 1990’s. Shah Bano had also not happened yet.

It was also an age of the resurgence of religion and on the university campus one encountered many people who went about on a prostelizying mission. My first encounter with people driven by a missionary zeal, known in the Aligarh lingo as ‘maulana’ now seems amusing in retrospect. I recall a group of them appearing in our hostel room one day. After first talking about fairly mundane things they suddenly assumed a serious tone by propping up a set of fundamentally disturbing questions.

Had we, they asked, thought of Akhirat— the doomsday and the Day of Judgment.  Did anyone of us, even had the foggiest idea about what was going to happen to us in the afterworld?

As we looked around sheepishly our friends had a solution for the problem which they proceeded to describe. Sadly, the solution was only for the ‘chosen ones’ and not for the entire humanity.

As campus correspondent for Youth Times magazine, I was always on the lookout for story ideas. On the university campus issues related to the minority character continued to dominate the discussions. Finding nothing greatly interesting there I decided to look elsewhere.

An idea stuck me. What about foreign students? Their issues? There was a large chunk of them in Aligarh, chiefly Arabs, Afghans, Iranians, students from south East Asian countries, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, besides a few students from African countries. Rarely did any of the locals try to reach out to them; a sentiment that was fully reciprocated by the other side who lived in their own circles. In a sense they reminded me of characters in Graham Greene’s story by the name of ‘The invisible Japanese Gentlemen’—they were there and yet not there. Always in the background. It depended upon whether you chose to see them or ignore them.

Among all the foreign students I suspect it was the black students from the African nations who had the hardest time. In the racist environment of Aligarh, they were made fun of, jeered at because of the color of their skin, their features and curly hair and I think made to feel unwelcome generally.

The Arabs, loaded with petro-dollars  had a reputation for being brash and arrogant and rode fancy motor bikes, wore fashionable clothes, and smoked foreign brand cigarettes, Dunhill, Marlborough, 555 State Express.

And, there were the Iranian students, the largest group among the foreign students.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution in Iran led by Ayatollah Khomeini had reached its peak. Events intensified as the regime of the Shah of Iran came to an end, over thrown by Khomeini’s revolution. Meanwhile, the perceptions of the West towards the Muslim world were getting transformed and this was perhaps the beginning of Islamophobia. One heard of phrases like ‘The Muslims are Coming’, ‘The Clash of civilizations’ etc. This set the stage for even bigger confrontations between the West (particularly USA) and the Muslim World, particularly Iran. A popular slogan of that time was, ‘Neither east nor west. Islam is the best’- a rejection of the two major blocks, USA and Russia, at the fag end of the Cold war.

In Aligarh the Iranian student community was restless and one day organized a protest march in the university campus against the Shah of Iran and in solidarity with the revolution. Their slogan, in English, was a simple, though effective one. With just two lines, which also seemed to rhyme very well with each other, it was:

SHAH ! SHAH ! WE HATE YOU.

KHOMEINI, KHOMEINI. WE LOVE YOU

The crowd, numbering several hundred, included men, women and even some children. The procession started from Shamshad building and travelled on the road in front of the tennis club, Meston Swimming Bath and Suleiman Hall. It travelled till the T junction of what is known as the chungi, from where it turned right, and snaked its way through the campus,  finally resting at some point on the outskirts near Dodhpur.

In Delhi, Ms Anees Jung the editor of Youth Times was keenly following all the developments all across Indian campuses and wanted a full report of the happenings in Aligarh along with interviews.

I remember, in those days there seemed to be a genuine fear among the Iranian student’s about SAVAK. This was the intelligence service which had been propped up by the Shah, with the help of CIA, and was much hated and feared for its brutal methods. Initially, many of the Iranian’s, whom I went to speak to, were reluctant to open up to me. But I persisted and after doing some research and conducting interviews I discovered that the several hundred strong Iranian student community in Aligarh was quite diverse in terms of their political inclinations. Principally there were three groups, the ‘Pro-Khomeini’ group, the Leftists and a third group, which called itself the democratic group and whose members were neither communists nor pro-Khomeini but fell between the two. In other words, they were the fence sitters. It was rumored that there were some Shah Loyalists too in hiding but one never heard of them very much.

Naturally, at that time,  the leaders of the Pro-Khomeini group were upbeat, saying that the masses were behind Khomeini and they would give 100% of their votes. They were dismissive of the leftists whom they accused of being out of touch with ground realities and themselves being split into several groups (the usual, supporters of warfare tactics and those who favored electoral approaches). The Leftists were dismissive of many of the claims of the pro-Khomeini faction saying that the Ayatollah was just a symbolic leader and his ideas were outdated. He wanted to drag Iran back to the middle ages.

A few things were characteristic of the Iranian student’s. For instance, once Khomeini had been firmly established, ending his self imposed exile in France, and the Islamization process begun, many Iranian students in Aligarh could be seen standing in public places like cross-roads, holding a bead string (tasweeh) and muttering Allah, Allah, Allah. This seemed to be a deliberate act because many Iranians whom I knew personally and about whom I was  sure that they were not prone to such public displays of religiosity were now seen openly indulging in it. I suspect they wanted to be seen, by other Iranian’s as being dutiful Muslims. I don’t know how true it was but just as at the time of the Shah agents of secret police were known to keep an eye on Iranian’s in different parts of the world, in Khomeini’s time too, secret eyes were keeping tabs on everyone. In a way things had not changed much.

But looking back one can also see how important religion was, especially for Muslims.

This was also a time when many people were travelling to the Middle East for employment. Many university Professors from Aligarh, particularly from the medical and engineering colleges made a beeline for the Gulf and when they came visiting home they brought with them audio-cassettes, two in one players, imported brands of cigarettes, perfumes and deodorants  besides petro-dollars, which were spent in building houses, buying cars and scooters  and getting their children married.

Some of them also brought a brand of hard-line Islam. This brand of Islam (Wahabi), which had always existed in India alongside other sects such as the more liberal and sufi-istic traditions of Indian Islam, now seemed to have a force behind it. It is possible that many of the prostelizying types which one encountered in Aligarh and other towns those days, those who spoke passionately on behalf of Islam, were those who had profited in some measure by the economic boom of the Middle East. Such self appointed votaries of the Islamic faith were jokingly called ‘Khuda ke faujdar’. And for the purpose of their mission some of them were frequently travelling abroad; not just to the Arab nations but even to Canada, USA, and Europe.

Mosques were also being built at a feverish pace. Even in a place like Aligarh which already had several mosques, new ones were being built, for which besides the usual local donations for a noble cause there was always, it seemed, a benefactor, sitting somewhere in the Gulf, who had sent thousands of rupees or sometimes even lakh’s of rupees for funding the construction of a masjid in his alma mater. Real estate business was booming.

Though the qutba’s— the speeches which the priests deliver from the pulpit at the time of the congregational prayers, were generally neutral but in places like the Jama Masjid of Delhi, Imam Bukhari  was known to deliver fairly political sermons, clearly exhorting the assembled folk to side with one political dispensation or the other. Leaders of political parties were found flocking to him, especially at the time of elections, for issuing fatwas in their favour. If this wasn’t ‘Pseudo-Secularism’ then what was? It wasn’t going to be long till someone came along and called a spade a spade.

Part 3

Back in those student days many of us were innocent, idealistic and wanted the world to change; rich-poor gaps to lessen, better education facilities for all to be available and not restricted to only a few. Some felt that change was just around the corner and could even happen in our lifetimes. The communists had always worked towards bringing about a change. Atleast they had written some wonderful things, especially poetry, about it.

Aligarh had always been an important place for communists, both activists and poets. Late Prof. Mushir-ul-Hasan, well known historian and public intellectual, has provided a riveting account of the left history of Aligarh (for instance his article ‘Recalling Radical days’ which appeared in the India International Centre Quarterly. Also see,  https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/4/14068/AMU-Part-2-Why-Were-So-Many-Intellectuals-in-Aligarh-Drawn-to-Marxism-).

My motives for hanging around with the Leftists in Aligarh were largely selfish. I realized that most of the conventional student leaders chose to remain isolated from national developments, mostly focusing on emotive issues related to the Muslim community or the minority character of the AMU and similar things. The communists, besides being more broad based in their approach also were good at analysis and I needed ideas for political stories.

The Aligarh communists organized study circles and discussions on topics of the day. I remember going to one about the student’s agitation in Assam in which Prof Habib, as always a pleasure to hear,  provided an analysis. But one incident which jolted the nation and galvanized us into action was the series of tortures culminating in gouging out the eyes of prisoners in the Bhagalpur jail, in 1980. Known as the ‘Bhagalpur Blindings’, these incidents shocked the nation as they were reported by every magazine, initially by India Today and later picked up by M J Akbar’s Sunday Magazine. The AMU’s SFI & AISF  workers took up the issue and initiated a poster campaign to focus attention on the atrocities of the police.

A group of us met up in a room in V M Hall and prepared the posters late into the night, shaming the police and the state administration. The posters were put at key points in the campus, such as the gate of the Library, Arts Faculty etc. However, the next morning, the university administration had removed all posters. This was after all the time when Syed Hamid was the VC and being a conservative man and an ex-administrative officer, he would not tolerate such activities.(Funnily, at the time when he had joined the student agitators had put him in the same bracket as Irfan Habib).

Since I had some friends who were members of AISF and SFI, I used to meet them at chai shops in Shamshad market. In one meeting I met a senior comrade, secretary of the local unit, bent over a book, explaining Historical Materialism and Dialectical Materialism to some youngsters, who pretended to be interested. (Later when I was at JNU, for almost four years, I used to see similar scenes in the canteen as a bearded comrade tried to lure youngsters and potential members, over a cup of coffee. Always an amusing sight). As we sat down on a nearby chair we heard him emphasizing the importance of trying to take stock of the historical context of the growth of human civilization i.e. the evolution of human civilizations, from primitive hunter gatherer tribes, to agricultural and later capitalistic modes. Then he began talking about the role of the intellectual class, students, teachers, writers etc, in bringing about ‘the rule of the proletariat’.

In those days there used to be books by a British author Maurice Cornforth, which explained Marxism in a simple manner. They seemed like keys which are used by students to pass examinations without reading too much and since they included outlines of Marxism and related things, our initiation into the Leftist fold began by studying and discussing those.

I noticed lying on the table a membership form of the SFI on which, written in bold letters were the words, Independence! Democracy!! Socialism!!! The main aims and objectives of the organization were listed out. All very noble objectives such as free and compulsory education, democratic, practical, progressive, scientific and job-oriented education etc. last but not the least there was also a mention about the need to, ‘Check imperialist infiltration in education’.

The Aligarh comrades were an interesting group. Firstly, there seemed to be an umbilical link with the History department as many of the research scholars and teachers were (or tried to project themselves as) committed communists. Then there some who could be best described as ‘hereditary communists’ because their fathers or uncles had been members or supporters of the CPI and the son had been brainwashed right from the very beginning. (One came across children with names such as ‘Stalin’, ‘Lenin’, ‘Pushkin’, ‘Tanya’ etc, in Aligarh and other places. One could be sure that while Mr. Stalin Raju, Mr. Lenin Babu, Mr. Pushkin Ahmed or Ms Tanya had nothing to do with the Left, their father or uncle had once been a supporter of the CPI or an admirer of Stalin or Lenin. In some sense the son or daughter was obliged to follow in the father’s footsteps and keep the family traditions alive. Such people were more likely to be in the CPI, the old party). Another notable thing was the affinity which many of the comrades had for Soviet Russia and its cultural capital, one aspect of which was books and propaganda material sold in book stores across India (See my article http://www.caleidoscope.in/nostalgiphilia/remembering-the-soviet-books-for-children-in-the-cold-war-years).

Every now and then the local SFI unit would organize study circles. Some of the people who led the discussions, research scholars and teachers from the History department on materialism, dialectical and historical were excellent. Sometimes, study circles were also organized in the villages around Aligarh and I participated in a few of those. The one which I remember vividly was organized in a village in Bulandsher district, neighboring Aligarh. The speaker that day was a teacher from a school in Aligarh city who I remember spoke very well, talking about the need for change, how to look at things from a material perspective and disregard superstition. The focus was to develop a scientific attitude towards life based on observation and critical thinking.

The Aligarh study circle and the comrade’s of our times were probably asking all the right questions but it could not be denied that much of what was happening was in the realm of theory and very little practice. Looking back on the several village trips we made, I cannot help feeling that such exercises ended up, more often than not, in being some form of village tourism for us, not that we needed it. On our part, no attempt was made to study the village ecosystem and its environment.

Many a times the comrades were organizing and participating in rallies in outstation towns. One was a trip made to Kanpur and another was a rally in Delhi where I remember we were shouting the slogan, ‘Lal Qile pe Lal Nishan, Maang Raha hai Hindustan’. Our first port of call in Delhi was Baliga Bhawan,  the headquarters of the CPI. There right at the entrance was the revolutionary poem of Sahir Ludhyanvi, written on a board stuck on the wall.

As young, impressionable and somewhat enthusiastic comrades we had our uses too. At the time of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the young comrades were literally ‘drafted’ to defend the invasion of a sovereign nation by a foreign power. Raza Imam, a teacher in English and a long time worker of the CPI, really pushed us to participate in a union hall debate on the Russian Invasion which we were supposed to defend it with all our might. I kept protesting, saying that I wouldn’t like to be stuck defending a party stand, but he persisted. But actually we were being asked to defend the indefensible and in the debate, we were no match for the excellent speakers who were bitterly opposed to the invasion.

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan provided an excuse for America to supply arms to Pakistan and fund the jehadi’s to fight the Soviet’s. The rest is history.

Some things were anathema for the Aligarh communists. For instance, any talk of how authoritarian some of the communist regimes (e.g. Stalin) had been, immediately brought about apologies and defenses. What did Stalin do to Trotsky? Did he not exterminate millions of people whom he perceived as a threat? Was he not, in some sense, as bad or even worse than Hitler? The Gulag! When the communists said that USA, symbol of capitalism had to be feared because of its hegemonistic designs’ and interference in internal affairs of countries (Nicaragua, Vietnam) and creating air bases in different parts of the world, the counter argument was given, what about USSR? What about the intervention in Hungary ? And in our times the Afghan invasion.

And then the big elephant in the room was the caste reality of our society. This is something which dawned upon me much later. It has been well recorded how senior communist leaders—mostly all Brahmins, treated the caste question, from Dange to Yechury. Looking back, and with the perspective of caste reality in place, it is possible to appreciate the manner in which some writers (including fiction writers) have dealt with this subject with so much sensitivity.

As time passed, some of us began to tire and the revolutionary fervor started to dry out. Some begun to see chinks in the armor.  Overall, the left movement in Aligarh seemed to be dominated by only one man and his group. The Irfan Habib centric movement became irritating and we began seeing that in actual practice the communists were not different from the rest in fundamental ways. Probably what was also happening was that we all had our life and careers to think about and our brief flirtation with the revolutionary cause was nearing an end.

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Jamil Urfi

Author: Jamil Urfi

Jamil Urfi is a writer based in Delhi. He published his book Biswin Sadi Memoirs, growing up in Delhi during the 1960’s and 70’s.