The Stormy Phase
As advised by his leaders Manoj took admission (1955) in the Madhusudan Law College at Cuttack, and then managed directly by the Utkal University under the Vice-Chancellorship of the renowned scientist Dr. Pranakrushna Parija. The period of two years at the Law College seems to have been the most action-packed time in his life so far as external events were concerned. He was by then not only the General Secretary of the All Utkal Students Federation, but also the uncontested President of the Law College Union. Though Dr. Parija was a pro-establishment administrator, it was a pleasant surprise for many that he calmly bore with several radical moves of this uncompromising youth leader.
The year 1955 witnessed an unprecedented flood, remembered as the Dalaighai catastrophe, submerging scores of villages and rendering tens of thousands of people homeless. Manoj discharged his share of relief duty, leading a group of volunteers into almost inaccessible hamlets in Jajpur area braving through slush and mud and carcasses, spending nights on inhospitable verandas of deserted houses.He had hardly recovered from the consequent ill-health when the whole of Orissa was plunged in a state of upheaval because of the States Reorganisation Committee’s report going against its demands for bringing back the Saraikala and Kharswan regions into it. There were large-scale demonstrations against the Central as well as the State governments in all the towns of the state. Manoj played a prominent role in it, as a firebrand orator addressing mammoth gatherings of agitated people in the evenings and mobilising gherao of government institutions during the daytime. The police reaction resulted in two deaths and numerous injuries. The AIR was made defunct one day under Manoj’s leadership and at the midnight meeting of the core committee directing the agitation, it was decided that he would lead the gherao of the government treasury the next day. But the police captured him early in the morning and he was put behind the bar.
Enlarged on bail after three weeks he organised a massive all-Orissa conference of students at Cuttack, surprisingly persuading the veteran Congress Chief Mnister of Orissa, Dr. H.K. Mahtab, to participate as the chief guest in that plain communist rally!
But that was also the time when he suffered a psychological turmoil on account of Khruschev’s report to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Comunist Party in February 1956. Khruschev presented a blood-curdling report of the brutal measures Stalin had been taking against his own unsuspecting comrades whom he suspected on flimsy grounds and against large populations too, news of his gruesome deeds that never crept out of the iron curtain. Like many other true believers in communist system, Manoj too believed that Stalin could do no wrong. What then happened? Who could satisfy his quest?
Before long a chance came for him to confront with his question a celebrated fellow-traveller, an ardent follower of Stalin, Comrade D.N. Aidit, the Secretary General of the ‘Partai Kommunis Indonesia’ the largest Communist Party in Asia-Africa after China. It happened like this:
In the historic Bandung Conference of the heads of Asia-African nations (1955) where the principles of Panchsheel was formulated, it had been decided to hold a conference of the Afro-Asian student leaders at the same venue the next year to popularise those lofty principles among them. Since the Communist Party of India broadly supported the foreign policy of India and the Panchsheel concerned the foreign policies of different nations, the Government of India allowed the All India Students Federation to choose a few delegates and the Federation chose Manoj along with the President and the General Secretary of the AISF.
After the conference Manoj and his two friends travelled to Jakarta. That was the time of President Soekarno’s almost autocratic rule – his personal charisma being his biggest asset. Strangely indeed, while the Communists had suffered a lot earlier, during the Prime-Ministership of Hatta so many of them being compelled to dig a pit into which they were pushed after being shot at – the episode infamous as the Madiun Affair – Aidit had endeared himself to Soekarno. In fact soon after his meeting with Manoj and his friends Aidit was ushered into Soekarno’s cabinet as a minister without portfolio.
The three friends fixed up a midnight rendezvous with Aidit. ‘What was your reaction when Khrushchev read out the de-Stalinisation report?’ they asked.
Before Aidit had formulated any answer, he spontaneously slapped his forehead a few times. Said Manoj much later, ‘Soon I forgot much of what he spoke, but his gesture indicating a total helplessness before an unforeseen course of events left a lasting impact on me. What if a believer in Stalin had died before the report? He would have died without knowing the truth, with the belief that Stalin was the embodiment of all that was good. Is there a way one could be certain that one had known the truth?’
This question, together with his realisation that the genesis of human suffering could not be necessarily traced to material or gross factors alone – there were subtler and psychological factors behind the phenomenon, drove his attention to philosophy and mysticism.
Incidentally, he and his friends narrowly escaped an attempt on their life by a fanatic anti-communist gang while at a newly launched resort at Punjchak between Jakarta and Bandung. In fact Aid it had already warned them of the possibility. The gang struck one week-end night and shooting from automatic rifles searched one after one the log-and-glass cottages that stood in a row. The first three were occupied by a Dutch, Japanese and a native family respectively. The fourth one was empty and Manoj and his friends were in the fifth and the last, the lights switched off. The terrorists must have concluded that the fifth cottage too was unoccupied. Probably they were in a hurry to leave. They crossed the hill and, when challenged by some tea garden workers, mowed seven of them down with bullets.
Two days later Manoj read in the newspaper about the gang’s identity and motive that they were looking for some foreign communists.