21st July brought a big shocker to the Indian politics at large, and to the Indian Left in particular, in the form of the loss of a veteran communist leader, Arun Kumar Roy alias A.K. Roy, famously known as “Rai Da” among the masses of Jharkhand. His reminiscence in the minds of millions is imbibed, more than anything else, as someone who spearheaded the fight against oppressors who tried capturing rights of the people of Jharkhand.
A.K. Roy, veteran communist leader, three-time MP and three-time MLA, breathed his last at 11:15 a.m. in Dhanbad’s Central Hospital; due to multiple organ failure he failed to revive. As a bachelor, Roy lived an extraordinarily simple life with no cash saving in hand. After deterioration in health sometime back, he was taken care of by comrade S Gorai, a party worker in Noonodih. Thousands of people joined in for his last journey with his body wrapped in a red flag and the slogan “Comrade AK Rai ko lal salaam” was in the air…
After general elections of 2019, considering the Indian Left has electorally shrunk in the Indian parliament, AK Roy’s demise is an irreparable loss.
Arun Kumar Roy was born on June 15, 1935, in Sapura village of Rajshahi district of what was then-East Bengal. His parents were Shibesh Chandra Roy and Renuka Roy. His father Shivendra Chandra Roy was an advocate.
Roy completed his Masters in Chemistry from Calcutta University in 1959 and worked for two years in a private company before he joined Projects and Development India Limited (PDIL), a constituent of Food Corporation of India (FCI) at Sindri in 1961, as a research engineer under Dr Kshitish Ranjan Chakraborty. But the exploitation of workers and indiscriminate salary fight between the management and workers made him stand in favour of the working class.
He actively participated in the Bihar Bandh 1966 agitation. He constantly opposed the then government, the PDIL management, and finally, he resigned from his job making a formal entry into politics. After this decision, he became a full-time member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
He became actively involved in labour movements and became a labour leader, floating the Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union (BCKU), affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the labour wing of the CPM. His involvement in the labour movement in Sindri and Dhanbad coal belt, the then undivided Bihar, soon made him popular among workers.
Slowly unravelling the regional politics, he steered the koylanchal (coal belt) politics of Jharkhand resonating on people’s issues for more than four and a half decades. The coal fields of Dhanbad of eastern India were a hotbed of coal mafias, but this didn’t deter Roy’s determination.
He became the Sindri MLA for the first time on a CPI (M) ticket in 1967 attaining two more consecutive victories, but as a Janwadi Kissan Sangram Samiti candidate, an outfit he founded. After 1967’s Naxalbari uprising in West Bengal, he penned down an article which did not go well with the party line that led to his expulsion from the CPI (M) in 1969.
Moving out of the nation’s largest Communist party, Roy floated the Marxist Communist Centre (MCC) and represented Dhanbad Lok Sabha constituency thrice in 1977, 1980 and 1989. Slogans of “Meri Rai, Aapki Rai, Sabki Rai, AK Rai” in the midst of emergency made him attain victory in 1977 general election. During the election, he received offers to contest on Janata Dal’s ticket headed by Jay Prakash Narayan, but Roy remained undeterred, rejecting proposals and achieving victory under the red flag.
AK Roy’s life as a communist was an exceptional journey and perhaps the unique one to have played a role in the amalgamation of principles, i.e. the Red and Green. Red stood for the rights of the labourers, whereas Green represented the rights of tribals of Jharkhand who were fighting for a separate state since the 1970s.
Along with Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) supremo, Shibu Soren, and former MP Binod Bihari Mahto, Roy began the Jharkhand movement demanding a separate state from Bihar in 1971. AK Roy’s understanding of the functionality of the leftist ideology under democracy stressed openly over class-caste interlocking, which henceforth formed the bedrock of the Jharkhand movement. He was equivocal on tribal rights with a slogan during this period, “Vote se nahi chot se lengey Jharkhand” (We shall win Jharkhand, not through votes but with a blow).
According to Roy, tribals were inborn communists as they came with the legacy of standing up against the oppressive regime of imperialism and capitalists; hence he acted as a bridge between the left movement and regional aspirations of tribals.
One can get an overview of it after going through his books namely: “Yojna aur Kranti”, “Jharkhand Se Lal Khand” in Hindi and “Birsa to Lenin”, “New Dalit Revolution” in English. “A.K. Roy was a mass leader and a thinker at the same time, which keeps him in league of stalwarts of freedom movement and independent India like Shaheed Bhagat Singh, MK Gandhi, BR Ambedkar and EMS Namboodiripad,” says Dr Sandeep Chatterjee, who did his doctorate on Labour, Identity and Politics in Jharkhand and currently is an associate professor at Satyawati College under Delhi University.
He further adds that the concept of Jai Bheem and Lal Salaam was first laid down in practice by AK Roy during the Jharkhand Movement. His write-ups and columns in the newspaper brought coal-belt politics within the national discourse.
AK Roy stands tall and unmatched in terms of leading a life of simplicity with a stern commitment to ideology. He was the first MP in the history of Indian politics who opposed the MP salary and pension bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1989 that proposed a hike in salary, allowance and pension for the parliamentarians terming it as a violation of the purpose of serving the society.
Roy was an exception among former MPs whose pension got deposited in the President’s Fund, and had no assets and liabilities as per the declaration made in nomination papers. He lived in a party office without electricity, travelled only in general class without using any government facility.
He was devoid of a house, bicycle, car, land and a bank account. Once he was robbed by a few robbers, to which he said, “They were perhaps more needy.”
AK Roy is physically no more, but principally his resonance shall reside undyingly in millions of the needy who thrived under his guardianship for years. His understanding and decisions on people’s issues and Indianisation of communistic principles need an immediate recall by none other than the mainstream left parties (CPM, CPI and CPIML).