The passing away of Gurudas Dasgupta, the veteran Communist Party of India (CPI) Member of Parliament for nearly three decades and one of the tallest leaders of the trade union movement in the country, signals the end of an era in Bengal. Curtain has fallen on an age when student movements gave birth to future leaders who took up struggles for the common people as the vocation of their entire lives, their professional and political careers blended into one heady mix of mass movements that they led from the front.
At a time when the economy is going south and the workers’ jobs and livelihoods are under unprecedented attack, Dasgupta’s death is a big loss to both the Left and the trade union movements as a whole. This former CPI Deputy General Secretary, renowned parliamentarian and veteran trade union leader not only headed All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) in various capacities, but also oversaw its immense transformation into a national-level organization at the forefront of all major labour movements, calibrating workers’ demands for justice and labour reforms in tune with the changing times.
I first met Gurudas, then a firebrand leader of the AISF, in the late fifties, as a student activist. Both in Calcutta and in Delhi during my active reporting days, the CPI leader was a major source of information on the trade union struggles and the financial improprieties being resorted to by business houses. He used to do research himself and that was how he was able to expose in Parliament many of the patently illegal activities of corporates. Dasgupta was friendly to the press—a very different beast in those days with no 24X7 TV news and no social media, just an array of newspapers with dedicated editorial desks—and he himself used to write commentaries on economic issues in the Kolkata-based English-language daily, The Statesman.