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Sahmat sore with CPI(M) - The Hindu

Hasan Suroor ()
1 January 1997

Title : Sahmat sore with CPI(M)
Author : Hasan Suroor
Publication : The Hindu
Date : January 1, 1997

Either glasnost has finally arrived in the CPI(M) or the right hand of the
party does not know what the left is doing, judging from its free-wheeling
approach to the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat), an organisation of
left-wing artists and writers which commemorates the death anniversary of
Safdar Hashmi tomorrow amid a controversy over its aim and some of the means
it has used to achieve them. A CPI(M) activist, Hashmi was killed while
performing a street play, critical of the Government, near Delhi on January
1, 1997.

A bitter feud between Sahmat and a section of the CPI(M) has erupted and with
the party members speaking in conflicting voices there is a great deal of
confusion, much to the glee of Left detractors. Sparks have been flying ever
since a CPI(M) member. Mr. Sudhanva Deshpande accused Sahmat of ignoring the
"radical essence" of Hashmi's agenda and reducing itself to a "single-issue"
platform against communalism.

In an article in the Economic and Political Weekly he found fault with Sahmat
for rushing to the defence of M. F. Hussain during the Shiv Sena's attack on
him for his nude painting of Saraswati; and for helping the Delhi police to
hold a "mushaira" on communal harmony. He ed Sahmat a "cultural
contractor" for the Delhi police and argued that it amounted to "endorsing
implicitly.... the Delhi police's actions on the communal issue."

The sparks turned into a raging fire when another senior CPI(M) member and
manager of the party's printing press Mr. Ajay Kumar in an article in a Hindi
weekly, "Udbhavna", which be edits called Sahmat an organisation of
"opportunists" and, worse, a "BJP puppet in the making" Sahmat, he argued,
was using communalism and the perceived threat from the BJP as a "bogey" to
promote itself. He endorsed Deshpande's description of Sahmat as a "culture
contractor" and also supported his argument that by defending Hussain, Sahmat
was actually "helping" the BJP.

"Udbhavna" also reproduced Deshpande's article and carried another pieces by
former CPI(M) activist, Sudesh Pachauri attacking Sahmat and some of its
activists by name in a language verging on the abusive. Among other things,
he accused it of "appropriating" Hashmi, of using its clout to get jobs for
its members and of "running a shop" in name of fighting communalism.

Interestingly, Mr Bhisham Sahni who is chairman of Sahmat's Board of Trustees
is also one of the consulting editors of "Udbhavna". Mr Sahni was not
available for comment, but he is reported to be upset and taken a dim view of
the "Udbhavna" attack on Sahmat.

The CPI(M) general secretary Mr Harkishan Singh Surjeet declined to be drawn
into a controversy beyond saying that what had appeared in "Udbhavna" was not
"our position." "I don't want to say anything more", he said.

However, Sahmat with whom some CPI(M) members are closely associated is
furious. Its activists want the party to "clarify" its position officially
vis-a-vis Sahmat. They see the recent attacks as an "orchestrated attempt" to
discredit Sahmat because of its refusal to toe the line of individual party
bosses, especially in the Delhi state committee of the CPI(M).

Several party members, including Hashmi's sister Shabnam Hashmi, have quit
following differences with the Delhi CPI(M) leader Mr Jogendra Sharma over
their association with Sahmat. Hashmi's younger brother Suhail, once a
senior local leader, has also not renewed his membership, though he says it
is because he took up a full-time job with a TV company.

Mr Sharma refused to discuss Sahmat or react to Sahmat's charge that he had
instructed party members not to associated themselves with it. "What happens
inside the party it out internal matter. And as for Sahmat I am not the right
person to talk, he said.

Not only are the CPI(M)'s central leadership and the state until under Mr.
Sharma appear to be divided over their attitude towards Sahmat, individual
party members also have their own views and have been expressing them openly.
Party sources admit that this is not usual for a communist party, and smile
when it is suggested if this is a sign of glasnost sweeping the party. Mr
Rajendra Prasad, a party member and an activist of Sahmat, typifies the "new"
mood as he lambasts Sahmat's critics and ignores Shabnam Hashmi's barbs
against the CPI(M).

"We insist that the party clarify its position", she says, while Mr Prasad
maintains that there is no need as Sahmat is a new experiment in political
mobilisation. Yet, there is a section in the CPI(M) which shares Mr. Hashmi's
opinion and some and understood to have met Mr. Surjeet and sought his

About the charges against Sahmat, Mr Hashmi and Mr Prasad say that those who
are making them are trying to push the "soft Hindutva" line. "Communalism is
the most important issue today and to say that we have reduced ourself to a
one-issue platform is absurd." they say. Sahmat's help to Delhi police was
limited to giving them access to progressive poets and there was no money
involved. They point out that they are willing to talk to anyone who wants to
work for communal harmony.

As for the CPI(M)'s ambiguous stand which, some feel is responsible for the
present row. Mr Hashmi's contention is: "So long as the CPI(M) doesn't throw
us out of these rooms we presume that they support us", Where does that leave
the comrades who frown upon Sahmat?

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