Arun Kumar Roy was a Marxist whose understanding of Indian social conditions was so radically different that he had to work outside of the mainstream communist parties. Roy, who passed away in Dhanbad on Sunday aged 90, was a leader of the CITU who broke away from the CPM and founded the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) to further the interests of coal workers. He was thrice elected to the Bihar legislative assembly and thrice to the Lok Sabha. In the House, he was an uncompromising spokesperson for the working class while opposing the moves of legislators to extract more perks and privileges from the exchequer. He made headlines in his last term in the Lok Sabha (1989-91), when he opposed a proposal in Parliament to increase the salary and pension for MPs. For most of his life, Roy stayed at the party office and spent his last days in a party worker’s home.
Roy did not see class politics as an end in itself. He engaged with identity-centric mobilisations in undivided Bihar and spotted the liberating potential in them. He held that social justice politics could mobilise productive forces and transform social relations. In 1973, he joined hands with Shibu Soren and Binod Bihari Mahato to form the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and launch a movement for a separate state comprising the Adivasi regions of Bihar. The JMM was pitched as an alliance of peasants and workers with the slogan, Jharkhand-Lalkhand, but ambitious leaders and internal contradictions forced its founders to part ways after some years.
Incidentally, Roy was a Bengali migrant from East Bengal who had arrived in Bihar to work after completing his post graduation in Chemistry from Calcutta University. He turned to trade union work full time after he was dismissed from Projects and Development India Limited (PDIL), Sindri, for participation in a workers’ strike. The state lost a chemical engineer and the workers got a leader.