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Ganti Prasadam - His Legacy Cannot Be Erased

N Venugopal (venugopalraon@yahoo.com) is the editor of Veekshanam, a Telugu monthly journal of political economy and society. 

Assassinated by the enemies of the people on July 4 in Nellore, Ganti Prasadam’s legacy, which has taken root in the political culture of the Maoist movement in Andhra Pradesh, will grow and bear fruit.  

With the ghastly assassination of Ganti Prasadam, a popular Maoist ideologue, trade unionist, writer and public speaker, on July 4 in Nellore, the state seems to have thought it has succeeded in intimidating those who question its brutalities. The horrifying murder might have been planned as a threat to all those involved in public activity through democratic forums. However, on his death bed – with two surgeries to remove the three bullets that had pierced his abdomen and spinal cord, and to treat the deep wound on his neck, the result of being hacked with a coconut knife – Prasadam said that the assassins may be able to kill him but his spirit would not die. Thus the assassins and those behind them failed; within a few hours of their dastardly act, the fact that Prasadam’s persistent spirit lived on in the movement was proved in the massive and spirited funeral procession a day later at Bobbili town, 750 kms away from the place of assassination.

Ganti Prasadam’s life stands as an example of human diversity and versatility, and his death, of the state’s violence and viciousness. For more than 45 years of the 64 years of his life, he worked both in legal, open, democratic as well as clandestine organisations. He was implicated in more than a dozen cases (in most of which he was acquitted) and spent about three years in various jails. Beginning his political life as a trade union organiser in Bobbili town in Srikakulam (currently in Vizianagaram) district in 1972, his activities extended to almost all social spheres and spread across the state – among students, youth, writers, workers, relatives and friends of martyrs, and in the party, the underground alternative press and the democratic rights movement, as also among political prisoners. At the time of his death, he was honorary president of the Amarula Bandhu Mitrula Sangham (ABMS, the Association of Relatives and Friends of Martyrs), Andhra Pradesh, all-India vice president of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF) and executive member of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP).

Born into a middle-class Brahmin family of Chakarapalle in Balijapet mandal in 1949, Prasadam had his education in Bobbili. At a young and impressionable age at the time of Srikakulam struggle, he came under its influence as he finished his graduation in 1970. The town was one of the first industrial centres in the region with thousands of workers in sugar and jute mills and vibrant trading activity. By 1972 Prasadam became an important activist in the town and founded the Kalasi Sangham (porters’ union).

On the Revolutionary Road

Prasadam’s entry into trade union politics synchronised with the reorganisation of Naxalite forces in the state in the aftermath of heavy losses in Srikakulam. Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (Virasam, the Revolutionary Writers’ Association), formed in 1970, and Jana Natya Mandali, formed in 1972, were keeping the torch of Naxalbari politics aflame and naturally Prasadam became active in both these organisations. His mentor, Mamidi Appalasuri was a follower of Charu Mazumdar and was an elected member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI (ML)] in 1970. However, the party split after the death of Charu Majumdar, and Appalasuri, along with Kondapalli Seetaramaiah (KS) continued the legacy of the CPI (ML) even though contacts with other states got cut off. By 1974 the contacts with other states were revived and the Central Organising Committee (COC) was formed and Prasadam continued to work in his trade union and in Virasam and JNM under this party’s guidance.

After a couple of arrests and attacks from police and mill owners, Prasadam had to go underground during the Emergency. He was arrested in 1977. By the time he was released, differences were building up between KS and Applasuri finally culminating in the latter remaining in COC and the former setting up the CPI (ML) AP State Committee, which became the CPI (ML) (People’s War) in 1980. Prasadam continued to be with Appalasuri as the latter merged his party with the CPI (ML) Party Unity in 1982. During this time, Prasadam became a popular trade union leader in Bobbili and formed at least 30 workers’ unions in various fields, including among hotel workers, cinema theatre workers, mill workers and khalasis, in the town, and founded a coordination committee of all these unions. With the death of Appalasuri in 1997 and the merger of CPI (ML) Party Unity with the CPI (ML) (People’s War) in 1998, Prasadam became part of People’s War and went underground once again. In the meanwhile, Prasadam’s younger brother Ganti Subrahmanyam (Rajanna, Ramesh) who was with People’s War was killed in a fake encounter in Kopardang in Rayagada district of Odisha in August 1998. Becoming a member of the AP State Committee of People’s War, Prasadam took charge of the party press, particularly Kranti, the State Committee’s monthly organ and continued in that position even after the CPI (ML) (People’s War) became CPI (Maoist), till he was arrested in May 2005.

The CPI (ML) (People’s War) was a banned party then and the ban was relaxed in July 2004 as it was invited for talks by the state government. The first round of talks were held in October 2004 and the second round, scheduled to be held in November of that year, could not take place as the state government went back on its ceasefire agreement and began repression and fake encounters. Finally in January 2005, the party announced that it was also moving away from the ceasefire. In that context, the party gave the responsibility of assessing the existing situation to Prasadam and he in turn wanted to have feedback from various sources sympathetic to the movement.

Since the state had begun heavy repression by that time, he wanted to meet his sources outside Andhra Pradesh and asked a team of four members of Virasam to come to Aurangabad to brief him about the obtaining situation. He met the team at Maharashtra Tourism Guest House in Aurangabad for a three-day conversation and at the end of the second day itself police swooped on them. All of them were blindfolded, tortured and kept in illegal custody for three days before being produced in a court in Nizamabad, charging them in what became the Aurangabad Conspiracy Case. In fact, the party was not banned then and there was nothing illegal or conspiratorial in the meeting. While he was in jail in this case, which was finally struck down in 2010, he was implicated in half a dozen other cases, including an attack on a police station and a failed attempt on a Superintendent of Police, in both of which he was acquitted later.

In the Open Front

While the trials were going on, he came out on bail in late 2006 and since then he had been working openly. He joined the ABMS and became its president. In that position he was always rushing to the spots of fake encounters, exposing the real, cold-blooded nature of the killings, consoling the family members of the deceased, and organising memorial meetings. Thus, he and the other members of the ABMS became a constant threat to the police. As he held the position of the party spokesperson before his arrest, all the mass organisations were also looking up to him for his advice and guidance in their activities. The police could not tolerate this and he was implicated in more cases so as to hamper his movements and engage him more in attending to court matters. To further restrict his movements, the police tried to keep him behind bars in fresh cases.

When a group of people, including Sireesha, the partner of Ramakrishna, Central Committee member of the CPI (Maoist) and one of the chief representatives of the party at the 2004 talks, were intercepted while going into the Odisha forests near Simliguda in Koraput district on 13 October 2010, Prasadam was accused of sending them there and he was implicated in the case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). When he was in jail, the Malkangiri collector Vineel Krishna was held hostage by the Maoist guerrillas, and during the process of negotiations, Prasadam was named as a probable candidate for continuing the talks. G Haragopal and Dandapani Mohanty, interlocutors at that time, went to meet Prasadam at Bhubaneswar jail. Haragopal recollected that Prasadam was so considerate and humane that even as one of the CPI (Maoist)’s demands was his release, he declined to come out and instead asked for the release of hundreds of tribal persons implicated in false cases.

He came out on bail after a couple of months and not only revived his work in the ABMS, but also began working in the RDF and the CRPP. He became one of the two vice presidents of the RDF at its national conference held in April 2012 in Hyderabad and within a short time the government of Andhra Pradesh imposed a ban on the organisation. He was also active in the CRPP and, in that capacity, contacted and provided for the requirements of political prisoners in almost all the jails in Andhra Pradesh.

A Committed Political Life

Prasadam was also an accomplished writer and cultural activist, beginning his career with poetry and songs and moving into theoretical and polemical writing. He penned a number of essays in Kranti without a by-line and in several other Telugu journals under his own name and various pseudonyms. In the last eight years of his public life, except for a little more than two years in jail, he gave most of his time to mass activity, writing, inspiring and organising people, mobilising people into purposeful activity, addressing meetings, sitting in protests and demonstrations, supervising post-mortems and taking over the dead bodies of those killed in encounters to hand them over them to their families, and organising humane and respectful funerals of all those martyrs, etc.

Indeed, the last three days of his life would explain what kind of life he led. On July 2 he spent hours with railway workers discussing intricate points about the forthcoming negotiations with their management and took a bus to Guntur to address a memorial meeting the next day. On July 3, it was a meeting to pay homage to a senior respected writer who spent at least ten years underground as part of the CPI (ML) (People’s War)’s press team after his retirement as a teacher. After this meeting, he travelled to Nellore where the relatives and friends of those who were martyred in a fake encounter that took place twenty years ago hold a commemorative meeting every year on the same day. Since it was also the formation day of Virasam, the revolutionary writers’ association also holds a seminar on related topics there every year. Prasadam addressed the seminar in the forenoon session and went to see the sister of a martyr who was in a hospital and almost in her last days. He was to come back to participate in the afternoon session, but while he was coming out of the hospital and walked a few yards, an assailant fired at him. To make sure he was dead, another assailant snatched a knife from a nearby coconut cart and hacked him on the neck. He was immediately rushed to the hospital and in two consecutive surgeries three bullets were removed from his body. All through he was alert and conscious, and spoke to the attending doctors.

Given this uninterrupted track record in public activity and steadfast commitment to revolutionary politics, it is but natural that he earned the wrath of the powers that be, particularly the police in Andhra Pradesh. Indeed, the track record of Andhra Pradesh police in eliminating radical voices in public life through extra-judicial methods is quite notorious. They have their own invention of “encounter” killings to “bump off” (these are the exact words used by the then home minister while ordering one of the early killings in 1969) armed cadre after catching them unarmed. For dealing with public personalities who are seen as thorns in their beds to be removed, the police have evolved another method of using hired brute forces without soiling their own hands. The list of public personalities killed in this manner is very long: Gopi Rajanna, Narra Prabhakar Reddy, and T Purushottham, all advocates, A Ramanatham and A Narayana, highly respected doctors, Japa Lakshma Reddy and Kalinga Rao, both farmers and mass organisers, Azam Ali and Kanakachary, teachers, Belli Lalitha and Ilaiah, singers, and Muneppa and Mannem Prasad, dalit activists. One can add dozens of attempts and threats to this list.

While the earliest of these murders took place in 1984 and the latest in 2005, it would be interesting to note that in all these cases, there was no investigation, no trial and no punishment of the culprits. Most of these murders were claimed by one or the other paper-organisation floated for the purpose and the police neither investigated nor publicised who were behind these organisations. It was everybody’s guess that the police bigwigs were the mentors, godfathers and protectors of these mercenaries. Keeping this history in mind, almost everybody pointed at the police for Prasadam’s murder even though a fake organisation staked claim. Strangely, this time around, the AP Police Officers’ Association came out with a statement denying their role, which ended with an open threat.

Prasadam bequeathed his legacy in a number of long-lasting tangible effects – his writings, public speeches, a sturdy organisation, and exemplary human relations. “Save me, I want to live to see the revolution” and “It seems I am going to die, but it will be the death of a single person, not of his spirit” – these were some of the precious sentences he uttered on his death bed. The unmistakable hand of the murderous state will not be able to erase this legacy.

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