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Kobad Ghandy: The gentle revolutionary

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: September 23, 2009 14:17 IST
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Sheela Bhatt reveals a side of Maoist ideologue Kobad Ghandy -- who the Delhi police arrested on Sunday -- that only members of his family know.

"Kobad is extremely determined, tremendously self-disciplined, and a person with simple habits and lifestyle," says Sunil Shanbag, the well-known theatre personality and Ghandy's brother-in-law.

Ghandy, a member of the Communist Party of India-Maoist Politburo, was arrested in New Delhi on September 21 and has been sent to 14 days judicial custody.

His arrest has created a sensation, given his affluent origins in Mumbai and his elite Doon School -- where he was Congress leader Sanjay Gandhi's classmate -- and London education. Ghandy is an intellectual supporting the Maoists in various ways, and has no criminal record whatsoever.

Shanbag's sister Anuradha married Ghandy in 1983. Sunil has not met Kobad for many years. His sister and her husband were underground for more than 15 years.

Many years ago, Anuradha -- a graduate of Mumbai's Elphinstone College -- had told her family: 'Don't ask me about what I do and where I go.' When she died of malaria last year her family did not even know about it. The Ghandys lived life dangerously and on their own terms. Their commitment to the cause of the deprived classes was total and unshakeable.

Kobad's father was a senior executive at Glaxo, the pharmaceutical family. The Parsi family lived in an apartment on the posh Worli seaface. The Ghandys owned a hotel in Mahableshwar and a sprawling bungalow in Panchgani, both popular hill stations in Maharashtra, as well as the Kentucky's fresh-fruit ice cream brand.

Kobad did his chartered accountancy from London where he was bitten by the revolutionary bug. When his family told him to start practising accountancy he simply said, 'I want to understand my India.' He started visiting Mumbai's slums to understand slumdwellers's issues. It is here he met Anuradha Shanbag, who was also committed to the revolutionary line of thought.

Like him Anuradha too came from a remarkable background. Her parents Ganesh and Kumud Shanbag owned coffee plantations in Coorg. Her father ran away from a life of luxury to join Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army during the freedom struggle.

In the late 1970s Kobad and Anuradha helped set up the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights in Mumbai and after establishing CPDR the couple shifted to Nagpur in the 1980s where they went underground. Both their families had no idea about their whereabouts.

How did this amazing metamorphosis take place in Ghandy's life?

Says Sunil, "In Europe the 1970s were a turbulent time. There was a wave of hope for those who were fighting for justice. I can only speculate that Kobad must have been inspired while studying in London. During those years he or she could personally continue the struggle, but today it is a difficult situation."

Ghandy is a disciplined individual who would read and write regularly regardless of whether he lived in a jungle or village, even during the years when he suffered from amoebic dysentery. He was strict about his health and exercised regularly.

Anuradha and Kobad decided to not have children so they could devote their life full-time to the cause. His family members say he is gentle and affectionate, and doesn't discuss his revolutionairy work with them.

His arrest is not totally unexpected, and always lurked in the background. "His arrest is a blow, but not unexpected. It was part of our mindspace," says a family member.

Someone who sympathises with him is livid that a television news channel compared him on Tuesday night to Lashkar-e-Tayiba founder Mohammad Sayeed.

"It is ridiculous," this individual said, "TV is helping whitewash the State's violence. There is no comparison between the two. The Maoist movement is against State violence. TV anchors, who do not believe in anything but provocative news, are defending the State's unconstitutional acts. Are they not supporting violence themselves?"

Across India Kobad Ghandy's many supporters and friends are watching the situation closely in the hope that he will not end up the next Binayak Sen. Will he?

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi