Sampath Prakash Kundu, a veteran trade union leader, is much known for his role in acquittal of Parliament attack convict, SAR Geelani. A staunch socialist, Sampath calls himself a Kashmiri nationalist. A book ‘The Many Faces of Kashmiri Nationalism’ written by Nandita Haksar, to be released later this month, describes in detail the life and political activities of Sampath. In an interview with Kashmir Reader Special Correspondent, Moazum Mohammad, he talks about a host of issues including his association with the founder of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Maqbool Bhat in jail.
Moazum Mohammad: Tell us something about yourself?
Sampath Prakash: I am a resident of old city’s Rainawari area and I am among a few Kashmiri Pandits who didn’t migrate during the 1990s. I am a son of a teacher and an alumnus of the Tyndale Biscoe School.
MM: What inspired you to join a trade union?
SP: Farooq Abdullah and I joined Tyndale Biscoe School on the same day and remained bosom friends till class 10th. But Farooq joined Science stream afterwards and I opted for Arts subject. During my college days, I was elected as the president of student’s union because of my oratory skills. We organized a protest demanding bus concession, ticket concession in cinemas for the students. The then known police official, Ghulam Qadir, known as Qadir Ganderbali, cane charged us which provoked students from other colleges and they too joined us to protest against the police action.
I got in touch with Prof H N Durani in Gandhi Memorial College and he offered me a book. That book turned me into a Marxist follower and I started distributing journals ‘Soviet Land’ and Stalin pamphlets among students in colleges. Soon, I became a member of Communist Party of India, though it had no official unit in Jammu and Kashmir. The CPI had directed its leaders to work under Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s National Conference because he was friendly with communist lobby.
MM: Do you mean National Conference was a proxy of the Communist Party?
SP: Majority of the NC leaders were communists and they had a role in turning Muslim Conference into National Conference. The communist leaders drafted Naya Kashmir proposal and played a vital role during the process of Kashmir’s accession with India.However, in 1953, when Sheikh was arrested, the communist lobby backed Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad though he was not a communist. GM Sadiq, Mir Qasim, Ghulam Mohammad Rajpuri, Peer Gayas ud din, who were staunch communists, were directed by Communist Party of India to support Bakshi’s government. But Bakshi also inducted his own men in the government. In 1954, the communist lobby developed differences with Bakshi as he facilitated defeat of a comrade, Rasool Renzu, from Khanyar constituency.
The communist bloc (22 ministers) was directed by Communist Party of India to form the Democratic Nationalist Party (DNC) here. In 1959, the DNC leaders were again asked to join Bakshi again but the party suffered spilt. Some leaders including Ram Pyara Saraf from Jammu did not obey this directive and continued to run the DNC. I too joined Saraf. That time, I had finished my graduation and got a job in Custodian department in Jammu.
In 1964, I was assigned by my party to form trade union of employees and thus, JK Low Paid Employees Federation came into being during Sadiq’s regime.
He was himself a communist and wanted to have a communist-backed trade union. Sadiq cleared the registration process in three-months only. This Employees’ union was the unofficial wing of the Communist Party of India.
MM: How did you mobilise support for your organization?
SP: In 1965, trade union leader Majeed Khan and I went on a six-month leave from work and started forming the district and departmental unions. In 1966, to water test if the employees support us, we called for a one-day mass casual leave to push for enhancement of dearness allowance and constitution of pay commission. The call received a massive response and we got emboldened.
We launched another stir of employees in December 1967. Entire essential services got disrupted, forcing the government to issue arrest warrant against 17 trade union leaders under Public Detention Act. We went into hiding but the entire leadership got arrested except me because I had studied the underground revolutionary movements.
It was my responsibility to facilitate the release of the arrested leaders. I immediately went to Delhi and approached All India Trade Union for support and asked them to organize a three-day hunger strike outside Jammu and Kashmir Civil Secretariat against the detention of the leaders, which they did. Also, I invited 17 parliamentarians here. Sadiq met them and conceded the demands but didn’t cancel my arrest warrant. In the meantime, I was elected as All India State Secretary and addressed rallies in many states of India. In the meantime, when CPM received another spilt in late 1960’s, I supported CPIML led by Charu Majumdar.
MM: Were you arrested later?
SP: Sadiq wanted to punish me because he believed I had turned a Maoist. When I returned back after organizing the rallies, I headed home to see my children. But the government had permanently posted two CID men outside my residence for vigil. Every day, they would ask my two little kids if I had returned home. That day, my elder son, Lenin, was asked the same question and he nodded in affirmative. Soon, I was arrested and was questioned for a month. When the then SSP, Jaswant Singh, asked me about printing of the posters, I slapped him.
Later, I was shifted to solitary confinement in Reasi jail and spent 11-months there. During the jail term, I studied different books including the Indian Constitution. While studying the constitution, I came across the clause that the government had to provide me the grounds of detention, which they had not. I sent a handwritten habeas corpus petition to Chief Justice of India through my wife secretly. I highlighted that the Indian Preventive Detention Act (PDA) 13 of 1964 endangered the liberty of a citizen. The Supreme Court ordered the JK government to shift me to Tihar Jail immediately.
In Tihar jail, I met Natwar Lal. He wrote a writ asking Supreme Court to declare him as a pauper and the court conceded. I submitted the names of five top lawyers for my case and I objected that the constitution bench can’t decide my case under Article 19 (A) as it pertains to the full bench of the court. My plea was conceded by the court.
The court declared the Act as null and void and nearly 600 plebiscite activists held under this law were set free. I made the history.
MM: Were you active on political front as well?
SP: Yes, I opposed Sheikh-Indra accord with a cry ‘yeh amal haqeeqi sher ka nahi hain, yeh amal kagzi sher ka hain’ and called for Srinagar chalo on the May Day. The march was historic one and I attacked Sheikh and his family publicly during my speech forcing him to issue arrest warrant against me.
When I was arrested, I was taken to 16-Gupkar interrogation centre. There, I was put along with JKLF founder, Mohammad Maqbool Bhat. It was my first meeting with him and we exchanged ideas. I too was a fighter of that era.
One day, we burned down entire records of interrogation centre. After the incident, we were separated. Bhat was shifted to Tihar jail while I was shifted to a Jammu jail. There I came across chairman of Democratic Freedom party, Shabir Shah and suggested him to read books on armed struggle. I gave him the books but surprisingly, Shah didn’t read beyond two pages.
MM: What’s your connection with JKLF?
SP: I had an understanding with Ashfaq Majeed and Yasin Malik. In 1989, Ashfaq asked me to raise voice against human rights violations in Kashmir. I asked JKLF to call for parliamentary election boycott and also urged the employees to refrain from joining election duties. Thereafter, I organized 25 conferences on human rights volitions in several states of India.
MM: Are you still friends with Farooq Abdullah?
SP: Though the sphere of our activities is different, we still are great friends.
MM: Why did the trade union movements fail?
SP: Imperialism and capitalism is not easy to understand.
MM: How do you see the migration of Kashmiri Pandits?
SP: First of all, we must know that Kashmiri Pandits are a microscopic minority. Wherever you find such a minority in the world, you should know that they wouldn’t stay at a place where uncertainty prevails.Also, Kashmiri Pandits were an employee class as their day starts in the morning and ends in the evening.
Such a class would never have the revolutionary spirit. Kashmiri Pandits, you must understand, is not a community but a class and a class can never have a nationality. They are self-centered and don’t have spirit of nationalism in them.