N. Sankaraiah, one of the founding members of CPI(M), no more

N. Sankaraiah, 101, died in Chennai on November 15, 2023. File
| Photo Credit: K.V. Srinivasan

Freedom fighter, senior-most Communist leader in the country, and one of the founding members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), N. Sankaraiah, died at a private hospital in Chennai on Wednesday, November 15, 2023 aged 101.

The veteran leader had not been well for a couple of days, and had been admitted to the hospital on November 13. He is survived by two sons and a daughter.

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Sankaraiah had been active even up until 10 days ago. He had sent his greetings, in a recorded message to the party on November 7, when the statue of late leader P. Ramamurti was unveiled, and a hall in the name of former state secretary M.R. Venkatraman, inaugurated.

Born on July 15, 1922, Sankaraiah was among the 32 national council members of the Communist Party of India (CPI), who left the party over ideological differences, which led to the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964. Another surviving member is V.S. Achuthanandan, former Chief Minister of Kerala. Sanakaraiah, a three-time MLA, had also served as the State secretary of the CPI(M).

Sankaraiah was first arrested in 1941, when he was a student of American College in Madurai. He organised a protest in support of the students of Annamalai University in Chidambaram, at the instance of late Communist leader A.K. Gopalan, who was hiding in Madurai then. When the police searched the students’ hostel, they found pamphlets written by Sanakaraiah, and he was arrested. The incident put an end to his studies. He could not complete his degree, as he was lodged in prison 15 days before the final examinations. His first jail term lasted 18 months.

It was this incident that had, some months ago, prompted Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin to announce his government’s decision to confer an honorary doctorate on Sankaraiah, and the Madurai Kamaraj University had decided to confer it. However, T.N. Higher Education Minister K. Ponmudy subsequently stated that Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi had refused to give his assent to the university’s decision. Mr. Ravi, as Governor, is the Chancellor of the university.

Earlier, Sanakaraiah was conferred with the Thagaisal Thamizhar Award by Chief Minister Stalin. The veteran Marxist, however, donated the money prize of ₹10 lakh to the government for COVID-19 relief work.

Independence struggle

Sanakaraiah had also actively participated in the Quit India movement during the Independence struggle. During his long political career, he had spent eight years in prison in pre-Independence days, and later after the country won freedom as well. He was the second accused in the Madurai Conspiracy case in 1946. When the party was subjected, in 1965, to repression against Communists, he was arrested and lodged in prison for 16 months.

Sankaraiah was a powerful speaker, and late Congress leader G.K. Moopanar used to liken his speeches to the roar of an old lion. A voracious reader, Sankaraiah considered national poet Bharathi as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century and dismissed as “absurd” the view that he was a Brahmin poet. He was also against the compartmentalisation of Bharathi as a national poet and Bharathidasan as a Dravidian poet.

Sankaraiah also served as the editor of Theekathir, the official mouthpiece of the State CPI(M). Like other leaders of the Communist party, he also married outside his community. His wife Navamani was a Christian.

In an interview with Madurai Lok Sabha member Su. Venkatesan, he had expressed his admiration for lyricist Kannadasan and admired his knowledge of ancient Tamil literature that influenced his film songs. He cited the song Vaarayo En Thozhi Vaarayo and said it had been influenced by the works of Vaishnavite minstrel Andal.

Sanakaraiah always made a strong case for reading of ancient Sangam literary works. “Our creativity will dry up if we do not read Sangam literature,” he underlined.

The late leader’s mortal remains are being taken from the hospital to his home for family members to pay their respects. His body will be brought to the CPI (M) State Committee office in Chennai between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on November 15. The funeral will be held on Thursday, November 16..

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