Born in 1913, Putchalapalli Sundarayya become popular as the leader of peasant revolt in the Nizam of Hyderabad State, referred to as the Telangana Rebellion. At the age of 17, he joined Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement and when jailed he made initial contacts with the Communists. Mentored by Amir Hyder Khan, he came into contact with leaders like Sajjad Zaheer, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Dinkar Mehta, P. Krishna Pillai, P.C. joshi, Soli Batliwala and others. He became one of the founding members of the Communist Party of India and later the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In 1952, he was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha and became the leader of the Communist group in the Parliament.
This autobiography is an abridged version of the longer manuscript which has been edited by Atlury Murli. It gives an invaluable insight into the person and the circumstances that moulded the man enabling him to achieve recognition as the leader of agricultural labourers. The devotion and sincerity he exhibited endeared him to one and all as ‘Communist Gandhi’.
Atlury Murali did his Ph.D. in History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and moved to pursue a career in teaching. He is working as professor, Department of History, University of Hyderabad. At present he is the General Editor of the series on ‘Culture and Environment of South Asia’ and the ‘Concise Histories of Modern India States’, published by the Cambridge University Press of India, Delhi.
Putchalapalli Sundarayya was born in a rich farmer’s family on 1 May 1913, at Alaganipadu in Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh. Young Sundarayya was influenced by several social reformers like Kandukuri Veeresalingam, Gurajada Appa Rao and Komarraju Lakshmana Rao. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, at the age of 14, Sundarayya went to the Congress conference held in the then Madras state and participated in the ‘Simon Go Back’ agitation. Studying intermediate at Loyola College in Madras, he formed ‘Council of Fraternity’ along with other students with the aims of developing love for the country, understanding politics, selling khaddar on Sundays, doing exercises, eradicating social evils and educating the agricultural workers in the villages during the vacation. One day, on the birth anniversary of the great Telugu people’s poet, Vemana, Sundarayya organised a common lunch for the caste Hindus and the Harijans in his village. Opposing this, the rich farmers and orthodox people resorted to highhandedness. As a result, Sundarayya went on protest hunger strike for two days.
On the call given by Mahatma Gandhi in April 1930, Sundarayya decided to give up his education and join the freedom movement. He wrote a letter to this effect to his mother and elder brother and joined the Satyagraha camp at Bhimavaram in West Godavari district and served imprisonment for two years. After release, Sundarayya started working in villages, organising unions of agricultural workers and fighting against untouchability. He firmly believed that mere ending of the colonial rule was not enough and that apart from gaining independence, there was imminent need to eradicate the evils of class oppression and poverty from the society.
Guided by Comrade Amir Hyder Khan, Sundarayya joined the Communist Party at a time when there was a ban imposed by the British rulers on the Party. Nevertheless, he took up the task of building the Communist Party in the Southern States of Andhra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, at the instance of the Central Committee of the Party. Sundarayya, along with Comrade S.V. Ghate, was responsible for the entry of many stalwarts like E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Krishna Pillai and A.K. Gopalan into the Party. When different Communist groups came together and merged into an all-India centre in 1936, Sundarayya became the member of the Central Committee. During the same year, he established the All India Kisan Sabha and worked as its joint secretary for some time. Sundarayya took the initiative for organising a march for protection of farmers covering 1,500 miles from Itchapuram to Madras and aroused the class consciousness of peasants in about 1,500 villages. Hunted by the police, Sundarayya led underground life between 1939 and 1942. When the ban on the Communist Party was lifted in 1943, he was elected to the Central Committee in the first all-India conference of the Party held at Bombay. Since then and until his death he served the party and the Communist movement—C.P.I. and later C.P.I. (M)—in various capacities.
In the same year, Sundarayya married Leila on 27 February 1943. Both of them simply told P.C. Joshi, the then General Secretary of the Communist Party, that they would lead the life of wife and husband. Leila also became a whole timer of the Party. After two years of their marriage, Sundarayya underwent vasectomy operation, after both the wife and husband discussed the issue and came to an understanding that they would not have enough opportunity to rear their children properly. However, Sundarayya felt that the choice of having or not having children should be left to the discretion of his wife. He used to advise the cadres of the Party to get married and have limited number of children.
Sundarayya’s services to the cause of people’s struggles were extensive. He sold away the entire share in the family property and spent it on building people’s movement. Sundarayya fought a ceaseless battle for broad ideals and stood as a beacon light to the younger generation. Besides being a reformer, Sundarayya, with his scientific analysis and understanding, wrote his famous book Visalandhralo Prajarajyam (People’s Rule in the Enlarged State of Andhra), which was a landmark in the struggle for formation of Andhra Pradesh.
At the call of the Communist Party, Sundarayya gave the leadership to the heroic Telangana peasants’ armed struggle, where thousands of young men laid down their lives, leading to the dismemberment of the feudal State of Nizam. It was with this rich experience in the conduct of that struggle that Sundarayya wrote another landmark book Telangana People’s Struggle and its Lessons.
Sundarayya was elected to Rajya Sabha from the Madras Assembly constituency after the first general elections in 1952 and became the leader of the Communist group in the Parliament. Moved to the active electoral politics in the State, he served the State Assembly from 1955 to 1967 and from 1978 to 1983. As the State leader of Andhra Pradesh, Sundarayya shaped the contours of many programmes and schemes for the development of the State. Both in the Parliament and the State Assembly, he made forceful presentations packed with facts and figures, sharp criticism and constructive suggestions, thus raising the quality and content of the proceedings. His simplicity was so striking that Sundarayya used to go to the Parliament and Legislative Assembly on bicycle. Until his death on 19 May 1985, he fought for the liberation of the people from poverty and class oppression, remained a blemish-less patriot, a selfless freedom fighter, a great Communist revolutionary, and a beloved leader of the toiling masses.
At one place in the autobiography, Sundarayya aptly sums up his experience:
It is not enough if only the leaders move on. People have to move.... Also, the educational levels of the cadre have to improve tremendously. So to think of short cuts that a few individuals can bring about a revolution or a few parliamentary victories would help in that goal is very wrong. There has to be a general development of political consciousness among the people.
To capture the rich experience of Sundarayya’s life, A.P. Vithal and Vegapudi Srihari managed to record the account of his life in his own voice. Spread over 20 tapes of 90 minutes each, the autobiographical narrative covered the life of Sundarayya in minute details. Most of the narrative was in English with intermittent Telugu. The preparation of transcript was done by Safdar Ahmad and T. Venkachari. The entire project of preparing this autobiographical manuscript was supervised by C. Sambi Reddy, Secretary of Sundarayya Vignana Kendram Trust, assisted by I. Narasaiah.
I have personally read, edited and abridged the manuscript so that it fits into the ideal length of a book and yet retains the nuances of the autobiography. The Sundarayya Vignana Kendram Trust places on record its gratitude to all those who helped in the preparation of this autobiography and in particular to Professor Bipan Chandra who constantly encouraged us to submit the manuscript for publication by National Book Trust, India.
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