Priya Das­munsi, the youth leader who ques­tioned San­jay Gandhi’s dom­i­nance

Un­like the Rahul Gandhi team, the lead­er­ship which emerged in Congress in the 1970s and the 1980s el­e­vated it­self from the stu­dent-youth wings of the party.

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

A few months into the Emer­gency in 1975 Indira Gandhi sug­gested to the then In­dian Youth Congress (IYC) pres­i­dent, Priya Ran­jan Das­munsi, that San­jay Gandhi be in­ducted into the Na­tional Coun­cil of the youth body. A prod­uct of strug­gle, who had won his Lok Sabha seat at the age of 26 in 1971 by de­feat­ing vet­eran Ganesh Ghose of CPM (a for­mer An­daman de­tainee), Das­munsi bluntly told the all pow­er­ful Prime Min­is­ter that while her younger son was wel­come to join IYC, he did not have the req­ui­site ex­pe­ri­ence to be el­e­vated to the Na­tional Coun­cil. Mrs Gandhi kept quiet.

Within a month, en­gi­neered with the ac­tive bless­ings of AICC gen­eral sec­re­tary P.V. Narasimha Rao, a coup was or­gan­ised in the youth wing. Das­munsi was re­placed by Am­bika Soni in Novem­ber 1975. A month later, the Na­tional Coun­cil in­vited San­jay Gandhi to join its ranks and thus be­gan a new phase in the his­tory of In­dia’s party of Free­dom.

Das­munsi was re­in­stated as IYC chief in March 1977 by the then Congress pres­i­dent, Dev Kanta Ba­rooah, after the elec­tion de­ba­cle. But that was for a short while. Congress headed for a split: a se­ri­ous ef­fort was made to op­pose Mrs Gandhi’s dom­i­nance. Th­ese ef­forts led to the sec­ond split in the party. Das­munsi emerged as a pivot of the “Other Congress”. The de­ci­sion of the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion declar­ing the fac­tion led by Mrs Gandhi as the “Real Congress” in 1982 saw many re­vert to Congress(I)— Das­munsi, A.K. An­thony, K. Brah­mananda Reddi, Sharad Pawar and a host of oth­ers were among them. Though back in the party, Das­munsi re­mained some­what side­lined in Mrs Gandhi’s life­time. The emer­gence of Ra­jiv Gandhi saw him back in the lime­light. He emerged as Ra­jiv’s most trusted lieu­tenant in the or­gan­i­sa­tion. El­e­vated as a min­is­ter in Narasimha Rao days, his real mo­ment of glory was when he served as Chief Whip of the Congress in the Lok Sabha be­tween 1999 and 2004, when the Atal Be­hari Va­j­payee-led NDA was in power. Made a min­is­ter by Dr Man­mo­han Singh and si­mul­ta­ne­ously charged as West Ben­gal PCC chief by So­nia Gandhi, Das­munsi sud­denly dis­ap­peared from the po­lit­i­cal arena when he suf­fered a stroke in Oc­to­ber 2008. He strug­gled with death for nine long years and breathed his last on 20 Novem­ber.

Congress work­ers in Ker­ala and West Ben­gal ex­pe­ri­enced Op­po­si­tion role since the 1960s—the rest of the coun­try saw the party play Op­po­si­tion only after the post-Emer­gency elec­toral de­ba­cle in 1977. Das­munsi led the stu­dents in West Ben­gal along with Subroto Mukher­jee (now a se­nior Tri­namool min­is­ter). Vyalar Ravi and P.C. Chacko were in the fore­front in Ker­ala. Ch­ha­tra Par­ishad (CP) in Ben­gal and the Ker­ala Stu­dents Union (KSU) pro­duced the crèmede-la-crème of youth lead­er­ship in Congress. In 1972, Das­munsi as IYC pres­i­dent and Vyalar Ravi were in­ducted into the Congress Work­ing Com­mit­tee. (Am­bika Soni re­placed Das­munsi in CWC in 1976.) Under Das­mun­siRavi-Chacko in­flu­ence, the Na­tional Stu­dents Union of In­dia (NSUI)—pat­terned on the Na­tional Union of Stu­dents, UK—emerged, with Ran­gara­jan Ku­mara­man­galam as its founder pres­i­dent. The director of Ra­jiv Gandhi Foun­da­tion, Mohan Gopal, who is a key ad­vi­sor to Rahul Gandhi, suc­ceeded Ku­mara­man­galam. Most front­line lead­ers of Congress, NCP, Tri­namool Congress to­day cut their teeth in pol­i­tics in the Das­munsi era. Th­ese in­clude Ghu­lam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Ashok Gehlot, Ahmed Pa­tel, Tariq An­war, Gu­ru­das Ka­mat, Ma­mata Baner­jee (and a host of her Cab­i­net col­leagues).

Be­sides pol­i­tics, Das­munsi, an ar­dent Mo­hun Ba­gan fan, served as All In­dia Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion chief for 20 long years. The Na­tional Foot­ball League was started by him. He served match com­mis­sioner of FIFA in World Cup qual­i­fiers. The re­cent FIFA U-17 World Cup suc­cess­fully hosted by In­dia is a legacy of Das­munsi.

Un­like the Rahul Gandhi team—Jy­oti­ra­ditya Scin­dia, Sachin Pi­lot, Jitin Prasada, R.P.N. Singh, Gau­rav Go­goi, etc., who emerged sans NSUI or IYC back­ground (fol­low­ing the foot­steps of their re­spec­tive fathers), the lead­er­ship which emerged in Congress in the 1970s and the 1980s el­e­vated it­self from the stu­dent-youth wings of the party. Rahul Gandhi has in­tro­duced a new par­a­digm in the man­age­ment and elec­toral process of th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions. Veter­ans say that the or­gan­i­sa­tional elec­tion pat­tern now in place ex­cludes the pos­si­bil­ity of mid­dle-class and or­di­nary work­ers from emerg­ing, as had been the case in the Das­munsi years. The dy­nas­tic pat­tern is per­co­lat­ing in the Congress youth front too, th­ese veter­ans point out.

Das­munsi’s fu­neral was a rare show. BJP’s De­fence Min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man gra­ciously pro­vided an IAF he­li­copter to carry his re­mains to his na­tive Raiganj in West Ben­gal’s Ut­tar Di­na­jpur dis­trict. Chief Min­is­ter Ma­mata Baner­jee, her­self busy in Gorkha­land re­lated par­leys in the Dar­jeel­ing hills, also lined up a he­li­copter and asked Cab­i­net col­leagues to at­tend the cre­ma­tion. State po­lice fired a gun salute and all state hon­ours were ex­tended. When the cortege reached the PCC of­fice in Kolkata Congress, Tri­namool, CPM, CPI, For­ward Bloc, RSP and even BJP lead­ers placed wreaths. Con­gress­men who have joined BJP joined the mourn­ing.

Raiganj and Kalia­ganj ob­served a bandh in his mem­ory— shops were closed, trans­port did not ply. It took seven hours for the pro­ces­sion to wind its way to the cre­ma­to­rium in a town where ev­ery­thing is within half-an­hour drive. The bat­tle cry of Congress in the Free­dom strug­gle, “Vande Mataram” rent the air as the cortege passed through dense crowd. (Both Jai Hind and Vande Mataram have their ori­gins in Ben­gal. Till date both Congress and Tri­namool use it as their bat­tle cry in that state.)

Sid­dhartha Shankar Ray had once de­scribed Das­munsi as “Sec­ond Ne­taji Sub­has”. In his death, Priya Ran­jan Das­musi seemed to jus­tify the ep­i­thet.

Be­sides pol­i­tics, Das­munsi, an ar­dent Mo­hun Ba­gan fan, served as All In­dia Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion chief for 20 long years. The Na­tional Foot­ball League was started by him. He served match com­mis­sioner of FIFA in World Cup qual­i­fiers. The re­cent FIFA U-17 World Cup suc­cess­fully hosted by In­dia is a legacy of Das­munsi.

IANS

Congress pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi con­sol­ing Deepa Das­mun­shi and her son near the mor­tal re­mains of Congress leader and for­mer Union Min­is­ter Priya Ran­jan Das­munsi at AICC head­quar­ters in New Delhi on Mon­day.

Priya Ran­jan Das­munsi

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