Farewell to N Sankaraiah, a pillar of the Indian communist movement and champion of the masses

N Sankaraiah, 102, spent 8 years in jail before and after Indian Independence, with an additional three years underground.

ByLaasya Shekhar

Published Nov 15, 2023 | 8:17 PMUpdatedNov 16, 2023 | 10:50 AM

N Sankaraiah

Two days after N Sankaraiah was hospitalised with complaints of fever and cold, the freedom fighter and veteran CPI(M) leader breathed his last on Wednesday, 15 November, aged 102.

His mortal remains will be taken to the CPI(M) office in Chennai for people to pay their homage. Sankaraiah is survived by two sons and a daughter.

A key figure in the CPI(M) following the split of the Indian communist movement in 1964, he played a pivotal role in the party’s Central Committee. Sankaraiah, a symbol of dedication and sacrifice, spent eight years in jail before and after Independence, and three years underground.

Sankaraiah could not complete his degree as he was arrested in 1941. He was then a final-year degree student.

It is to acknowledge his sacrifice during the freedom struggle that the Madurai Kamaraj University (MKU) decided to confer an honorary doctorate on the veteran — a move supported by the Tamil Nadu government.

However, even though the MKU Syndicate passed a resolution in this regard, and the Senate ratified it, Governor RN Ravi refused assent.

Chief Minister MK Stalin announced on X that the leader’s funeral would be conducted with state honours, recognising his roles as a freedom fighter, legislator, and political party leader.

Also Read: Amidst protests, TN Governor attends MKU convocation

A great orator

Having served the CPI(M) as its first and second general secretary since the 1940s, Sankaraiah was deeply influenced by the students’ movement and possessed a profound understanding of both Indian and international politics.

His political reports were characterised by depth and enthusiasm, sparking a new generation’s embrace of Marxism.

“My initial encounter with him occurred in 1964, during a district conference in Karur following the split with the CPI. His speech left a lasting impression, delving into the nature of contradictions within the Communist Party, their development, and the subsequent party split,” TK Rangarajan, a former member of the CPI(M), told South First.

During the Emergency, Sankaraiah would travel to Trichy for district-level meetings.

“I had not faced arrest myself. I had the privilege of meeting Sankaraiah often then. He excelled in providing constructive criticism, a trait that helped in the growth of many comrades, including me, and the party,” Rangarajan added.

Reflecting on the values Sankaraiah instilled, Rangarajan said that the freedom fighter’s commitment to ideology and holding public life over personal life stand out prominently.

Related: Governor refuses doctorate to 102-year-old freedom fighter

Champion of the masses

Arumuga Nainar, state committee member of the CPI(M), also shared poignant insights about the late freedom fighter.

Ascending from humble origins, he emerged as an all-India leader of the party.

The life and times of N Sankaraiah. (South First)

The life and times of N Sankaraiah. (South First)

A champion of the masses, he engaged in numerous battles within and outside the Assembly, advocating for the rights of the working class and the peasant movement, Nainar told South First.

Despite his simplicity in life, Sankaraiah’s extraordinary memory allowed him to remember every party member, even at the lowest rung, by name. He knew their family members as well.

“In 2021, when the Tamil Nadu government conferred him with the Thagaisal Tamizhar Award, we visited Sankaraiah at his home in Chrompet. Not only did he remember the names of the leaders, he also recollected memories with them and posed for photographs,” Nainar added.

Though not active in later years, he closely followed political and party developments, offering guidance to the CPI(M).

His demise is an irreparable loss for the party, the public, and society at large, Nainar said, paying rich tributes to his memory and highlighting Sankaraiah’s key role in reforming the Land Ceiling Act and fostering various working-class movements.

The legacy of Sankaraiah remains a profound influence on the party and the broader social fabric, he said.

Worked for welfare of farmers

Sankaraiah, a trailblazer on farmers’ welfare, was the president and general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) for a decade. According to P Shanmugam, the current AIKS national vice-president, the late leader made several impactful contributions on this count.

During MG Ramachandran’s chief ministership, Sankaraiah raised the crucial issue of establishing ration shops in every village.

“The then finance minister Nanjil K Manoharan said that the budgetary speech has already been prepared. But Sankaraiah’s perseverance was such that he suggested to MGR to include the point separately in the budget. The point about ration shops was typed and pasted separately in the 1978 budget,” Shanmugam told South First.

Sankaraiah also played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Agricultural Labourers’ Welfare Board in Tamil Nadu.

Additionally, he championed the provision of free electricity for small and marginal farmers. The Agricultural Labourers’ Welfare Board, a significant achievement, faced abolition after J Jayalalithaa assumed power in 1991.