Talking to the comrade: Gaddar urges negotiations

New Delhi, April 8 (IANS) Carrying a bullet in his spine for more than two decades now, after he was shot six times, poet, revolutionary ballader and former Naxalite, Gaddar (Gummadi Vittal Rao), met Rahul and Sonia Gandhi when he was in Delhi to support the ‘Save the Constitution’ movement.

He remembers singing three songs in Hindi and Sonia Gandhi asking him if there were any English translations of his entire literature. “Although I sing in 14 languages, most of my songs have not been translated in English. So she asked me to send her some poems so that she could translate it,” recalled the revolutionary singer.

As his book ‘My Life is a Song’ (Speaking Tiger), a selection of extraordinary ‘anthems’ of one of India’s greatest singer-poets hit the stand recently, Gaddar smiled that though he cannot understand the English manuscript considering he stopped learning the language after quitting his engineering course, the revolutionary, in all the songs, the troubles of the people are central. “These are songs of the people which we have revolutionized. Most of these songs are sung by women folk. I thank the translator Vasanth Kannabiran for all the effort she has put in to bring out the book.”

The singer, who for decades went village to village, lived in the Dandakaranya forest for years, and voted for the first time at the age of 70 says that the recent clash between security forces and Naxalites in Chhaitishgarh in which 22 security personnel lost their lives points to the need to come to the negotiation table. Stressing that it is important to take note of the fact that tribals lost their forest, health and education – everything they had – that has become the base of the Naxalbari Movement, he feels that it is important to understand that there is a social, economical, political and cultural basis here.

“Many of our people in Andhra Pradesh made an excellent effort — several intellectuals, writers, poets went to the forest. In fact, I took so many letters to the forest squad commanders and leaders. Why don’t you initiate taking the experience of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana region to others? Let us go to the forest, meet and talk to them.”

For someone whose life has been synonymous with protest and dissent, it is important to see the ongoing farmers’ agitation from multiple perspectives. Believing that it would not be fair to look at agricultural production from merely the economical perspective and consider it a commodity, he added, “You can’t say that it is just economical or political. It is social, cultural and environmental too. Therefore, only profit can’t be pursued as a goal of agriculture. It is a main thread weaving all the movements of this country. We are talking about the issue of land that is ever living. Nobody can vanquish it. Nobody can end the struggles which have been taken up by the farmers against the centre. These struggles will continue as long as human beings are there; as long as the environment thrives and there is power.”

Gaddar feels that there are multiple reasons for the decline of communism in India. Stressing that with arms, one can gain control on the mode of production but not the minds of the people, he feels that the priority area has to be dealing with the caste system. We cannot depend only on arms. You cannot succeed with the armed revolution on religion. That’s only my dissent with the revolutionary parties, as Ambedkarite and a communist.

For someone who believes that armed revolution is just one aspect of the struggle, and not the whole of it, the revolutionary who was jailed and subjected to third-degree torture says that the demands of the people are very simple: Food, shelter and clothes and unless that is provided, revolution is inevitable. “I live for them. I went to jail for them. I have been through torture, third degree torture for them. Finally. I have taken six bullets. I have no regrets, as I represent those changes and I sing for them till my last breath.”

Talk to him about the massive decline in the popularity of mainstream communist parties, like they are not even considered rivals in West Bengal polls right now, he feels that there will be ups and downs in any movement and what is required is a cultural revolution. “Also, we cannot ignore the caste system. Unless you deal with that, the movement fails.”

For this oral poet, singer and dancer, who writes on multiple issues concerning the masses, the key is to involve people. Recalling that everytime he goes to a village, women get involved in the practice and compose tunes, the revolutionary said, “They will put all their sufferings, love and struggles and everything into the song — that is my process. I will go to the people. I will see them, I will collect the tune of their people and the languages and everything. I tell them to think how change can be brought? And that is my process.”

Ask him if he ever regrets leaving the party, he says that what really matters is the work he has done in his capacity. “Once I was in an organization, which was very systematic. But after my dissent, my playing field has expanded. Now I go to the people everyday.”

But what’s next for Gaddar? He said he wants have a meaningful ending. “However, most of the people who lived among the masses who talk through their songs, music and politics, their endings seldom help the masses. I want to write my songs and go to the people.”

The translator, Vasanth Kannabiran, who has been friends with Gaddar since 1975 said there is something incredibly tender in the way Gaddar approaches ordinary people. Adding that he never hectors his audience, she said, “He weeps with them, caresses them, and enters their lives grieving with them. He does not rant or lecture. He woos his audience. Gaddar is an incredible figure. He is an icon and there is a lot to learn from his methods. He speaks to the hearts of the people. His critique of power and his message to the people will never lose relevance. Given these violent times, we need many more Gaddars to provide vision and hope.”