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N Sankaraiah ‘Father Figure of the Communist Movement’ Passes Away

Sruti MD |
The centenarian Marxist leader was laid to rest with state honours on Thursday.
Red volunteers and CPI(M) leaders put Sankaraiah’s mortal remains to rest.

Red volunteers and CPI(M) leaders put Sankaraiah’s mortal remains to rest.

Freedom fighter and communist leader N Sankaraiah, dearly known as comrade NS, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 102 years. His mortal remains were kept at the Tamil Nadu Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M) state committee office ‘P Ramamurthy Memorial’ till 10 am on Thursday, and then taken on a public procession.

Thousands of cadres and wellwishers across Tamil Nadu reached Chennai to bid their goodbyes to Sankaraiah. The cadres and sympathisers of different mass fronts and trade unions gathered at the Adyar bus depot in south Chennai and took out a kilometre-long procession to the Besant Nagar crematorium.

Slogans of sevvanakkam (red salute), veera vanakkam (revolutionary greetings) and puratchi onguga (long live revolution) reverberated throughout the procession.

In honour of the centenarian leader, hundreds of red volunteers donned redshirts and khaki-coloured trousers marched ahead of the hearse van. The marching troupe comprised children, women, and cadres of all ages.

Red volunteers leading the funeral procession.

Red volunteers leading the funeral procession.

CPI(M) leaders and leaders of other political parties in Tamil Nadu condoled Sankaraiah’s death and recollected his contributions to India’s freedom movement and to the communist movement in Tamil Nadu at the public meeting organised at the crematorium. 

The CPI(M) Tami Nadu secretary, K Balakrishnan, with tear-filled eyes and a choking voice, said, “father figure of the communist movement has fallen”. He asserted, addressing the lost leader, “We, your cadres, will tread the path paved by you and carry forward the struggle for socialism”.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said when he was active in the student movement, “comrade Sankaraiah was the preferred person to invite for conferences” because he had wide political experience.

Sankaraiah’s political life began when he was a student at the American College, Madurai, at the age of 19 years. He mobilised students against British colonial rule and was imprisoned for the same. 

Leaders observing two minutes of silence in memory of the departed leader.

Leaders observing two minutes of silence in memory of the departed leader.

Ashok Dhawale, president of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), said, “comrade Sankaraiah had a major part to play in steering the ship of the Kisan Sabha against the neoliberal policies.” Sankaraiah headed the peasant front for several years. He was the general secretary of AIKS from 1986 to 1989 and its president from 1992 to 1995.

A K Padmanabhan, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) paid tributes to the departed leader on behalf of the trade unions and the working class of the country.

Prakash Karat, P K Sreemathi and Govindan Master are a few other CPI(M) leaders who ensured their presence in the last rites.

Transport employees union carry a banner that reads “red salutes to the departed leader”.

Transport employees union carry a banner that reads “red salutes to the departed leader”.

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal, chief Thol Thirumavalavan, said, “comrade Sankaraiah did not deviate from his ideology till the end” and “although he was a leader of a particular political party, he was accepted across political lines, that is why he was honoured as Thagaisar Thamizhar.”

The Tamil Nadu government, in 2021, instituted the Thagaisal Thamizhar (distinguished Tamil) Award to honour an eminent Tamil personality. Sankaraiah was the first to receive the award. The award carried a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh, and Sankaraiah donated the amount for Covid-19 relief works.

Thirumavalavan urged the Tamil Nadu government to erect a memorial for the departed leader. Vaiko, general secretary of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), seconded the proposal.

30 bullets were fired in honour of the veteran leader.

30 bullets were fired in honour of the veteran leader.

Stating that the tall leader’s death was a big loss, Vaiko said, “It was a loss for the Madurai Kamaraj University for not being able to bestow a doctorate for Sankaraiah; it was not his loss.”

The Tamil Nadu Governor R N Ravi, in October 2023, as the Chancellor, refused to sign the file recommending an honorary doctorate to Sankaraiah at the Madurai Kamaraj University convocation.

Leaders from across the political spectrum in Tamil Nadu paid respects to Sankaraiah. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MP A Raja, D Jayakumar of the AIADMK, G K Vasan from Tamil Maanila Congress, Seeman of Naam Tamilar Katchi and M H Jawaharulla of the Manithaneya Makkal Katchi were a few of them.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin paid his respects to Sankaraiah on Wednesday in the Apollo hospital in Chennai, where the tall leader breathed his last. Sankaraiah was taken to the hospital due to fever and cold on Monday. He died of a drop in oxygen saturation levels.

A condolence rally was held in Madurai, the city where Sankaraiah’s political journey began. The city was a focal point in the freedom struggle against colonial rule. 

His political career spanned over seven decades and included nearly eight years in jail. Sankaraiah was one among the many communists who were released from jail the day before India attained independence in August 1947. The life of N Sankaraiah is not only the biography of an individual leader but also the history of the Communist movement in Tamil Nadu.

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