T S Sankaran at one of the many public consultations of Lok Raj Sangathan
Memories of T S Sankaran
January 6, 2013
I am unable to be present at this meeting in memory of T S Sankaran. I would like to present a few thoughts on what I learnt from him.
The unresponsiveness and callousness of Indian state towards the poor and oppressed is legendary and any aam admi can attest to that. It clearly needs a thorough renewal. Its colonial attitudes and procedures need to be jettisoned. While such a demand may seem very reasonable and necessary in the interest of democracy, the weight of vested interests in the status quo will resist such changes tooth and nail and make such a logical and democratic demand require a massive revolutionary effort.
However does that mean that there is no place for mass agitation towards legislative reform, administrative reforms, new social security schemes to give some relief to the downtrodden? We all know that in our parliamentary democracy dozens of bills can be passed in a single day without a figment of a debate, because there is a consensus among ruling circles about them. But anyone who has made bold to suggest small reforms in the system in favour of the poor and oppressed, leave alone a radical new law, knows how the system can deaden all your good and reasonable ideas, even if backed by large mobilization of democratic opinion and people.
This inertia for change in the oppressive status quo has historically pushed a large number of socially active individuals towards revolutionism and even armed resistance with no better results to show.
How does one strike a balance between the tenacious, persistent effort to reforms in favour of aam admi and dreaming of, and organising for, a real democratic and responsive governance in the future, where people are empowered, where there is direct democracy? These are the problems that haunt a person who is socially active for any considerable length of time.
T S Sankaran through his life and work showed all of us, how to do both with his own example.
In the last three decades we have been through extraordinary times in our polity and economy, replete with: insurgencies; state terrorism; pogroms of minorities; violence against all democratic movements; draconian laws that sanctify violent and arbitrary activities by state agencies against the life and liberty of people; destruction of livelihood of many; extreme rise in the cost of living and at the same time an ardent desire rising among increasing number of people that there is a necessity for change; that we need to be empowered in this polity to realize our individual and collective dreams.
T S Sankaran responded to these events and developments as an upright individual. Moreover, he also worked with other likeminded people, to build organisations and work as a team, to sacrifice ones individuality to an extent and come under a collective discipline for the greater good of society.
All these values were reflected in his work in the working class particularly among the “unorganized” informal sector; in his leadership role in the Committee for People’s Empowerment and Lok Raj Sangathan; his relentless championing of democratic rights, trade union rights, human rights, rights of nationalities; the movement for electoral reforms; the movement to raise awareness about direct forms of democracy with a fully empowered citizenry and so on.
He not only exercised leadership through his enlightened ideas and proposals for action, but also in his method, as a leader, of dealing with difference of opinion that are bound to be there in any gathering or a meeting.
He did not exercise tolerance.
He actually respected others’ views and not just tolerate them. He was always a considerate listener. He was a living example of the Indian tradition, which believes in the relativeness of truth, of partial nature of truth understood by different individuals. He followed the tradition that expects a full understanding of the other view, the poorva paksh, and a humble presentation of one’s own views to carry the dialogue forward.
This did not mean endless debate and paralysis but one was always aware of the partial nature of one’s understanding, which itself brings in humility and destroys the hubris of certainty.
He practiced this profound approach in every meeting, which led to united action despite at times differing perceptions. That is what made him a unifying leader.
He was a father figure, who many like me affectionately called Mama. His wise presence will be greatly missed but his memories and lessons from his life and work will remain.