By Sankar Ray
My mind pulls me backward to 1938 when I was not even born. A national inter-university debate competition was taking place at the University Institute Hall in Kolkata. The motion was that ‘the only way to achieve the independence of India was the Gandhian path of non-violence’. The student who was judged the best was Majhar Ali Khan of Lahore in his early twenties, having spoken against the motion. He was later an outstanding journalist of the sub-continent and was the father of Tariq Ali, the famous leader of student uprising in the late 1960s. A yet- to-complete seventeen lad became the third speaking in support of the motion. He was Jolly Mohan Kaul whose mundane innings came to a halt at 98-plus on 29 June 2020.He was the last living member of the national council of the undivided Communist Party of India at the fifth party congress (Amritsar 1958).
Incredible as it may appear, when he was 25-plus, he led the historic 87-day strike by the port and dock workers from February 1947under the Port Trust Employees’ Association, of which he was the general secretary. It was one of Calcutta’s biggest trade unions and the strike was unique for several reasons. The city had bloodstains of the ignominious‘Great Calcutta Killings’, born out of the shameful call of ‘Direct Action Day on 16 August 1946 by Mohamed Ali Jinnah, making Calcuttans and people around split asunder on communal line. But the 87-day strike whose main demand was to raise the abysmally low wage of Rs 15 a month witnessed a complete communal harmony. Workers, 60 per cent of whom were Muslims, not only fought together but there was complete ‘trade union unity’ despite communal divide on national issues. Kaul (Jollyda to us) narrated this in a separate chapter in his ‘ In Search of a Better World Memoirs, published a decade back. Workers – Muslims and Hindus together – used to go out with collection boxes to people for sustenance and got ‘tremendous sympathy’, he said and blasted the canard that workers were at least indirectly associated with the Direct Action or ‘Great Calcutta Killings’ He reasserted his abiding faith in the natural anathema of working class and trade union leadership of the time towards communal disharmony and bloodshed in a 20-minute interview with Andrew Whitehead in 1997. It is preserved in the archives of SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) University. He repeatedly told Whitehead that there was a rocklike’ trade union solidarity of the working class because of the tactics of the Communist Party.
Jollyda’s concern for the moral degradation of t trade union movement in the last decades of his life remained intact. Small wonder, he had been disillusioned with the Left movement, including the communists in India. This distaste was natural for one who wrote in his memoirs, “I had joined the Communist Party in pursuit of an ideal, the building of a new society, Sidney and Beatrice Webb termed it a new civilisation in which the evils of the capitalist system would disappear and, more importantly, a new and better human being would evolve.”
Jolly Kaul became a member of the CPI in 1941 when the party was banned. He began working in the trade union arena. Soon he became a member of Calcutta district committee of the party. He too had to pass through the trauma of the sectarian period of CPI after the Second Congress (Calcutta, 1948) of CPI when the party was banned. He was arrested along with Muzaffar Ahmed, one of the founders of CPI, Jyoti Basu, Charu Majumdar et al. That is another revealing chapter of his life , He was chosen as the secretary of Jail committee of the party in West Bengal. After the ban on the party was withdrawn, he was elected the secretary, Calcutta district committee, in 1952, a post he held until he quit the party in January 1963 ( a decision he took due to murky slandering and bitter factionalism as prelude to the party split in July 1964 at the fateful Tenali convention where the womb of a new party, CPI(M), was impregnated. He remained a member of the national council until 1963. ‘
Jollyda was married to a legendary communist, Manikuntala Sen, who was the Deputy Leader of the Communist Group in the West Bengal s State Assembly between 1952 and 1962. She passed away in 1987. Her memoirs, Sediner Katha (Narratives of those days), translated into English (In Search of Freedom: An Unfinished Journey) is another seminal narrative. She also left the party in 1963. Then they were left in the lurch without a career, income or savings. Jollyda then joined the India Press Agency, founded by Nikhil Chakravartty. But soon he chose to made forays into public relations with the Indian Oxygen Ltd. There too he made a mark and wrote a primer on public relations. He came back to journalism in 1982 when he took over as the editor of Capital weekly.
He remains a legendary – rather rarely legendary political character who distanced himself with official communists, but remained inseparably attached to ideals of communism that made him intensely humanist for whom the essence of Gandhian morality was no alien.(IPA Service)