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Feb 5, 2015

Lucknow PWA Article


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Lucknow plays host to commemorate 1936 Progressive Writers Association conference

Fifty years ago, Lucknow was the venue for the first conference of the Progressive Writers' Association (PWA). Last month, Lucknow again played host to a gathering of progressive writers, this time in commemoration of the 1936 conference. As some 500 delegates descended on the historic city to take stock of the movement and chew the cud of reminiscences, it turned out that the 50 years had not been very kind to the PWA and the movement had lost much of its initial zeal and thunder.

For an association that spearheaded the whole progressive movement in Indian literature, the PWA stands a much weakened force today. There was a time when almost every senior writer was associated with it and the movement gave the subcontinent some of its most significant literature.

Today, however, the active participation of its senior members has dwindled to mere patronage, while most young writers are either members of the rival CPI(M)-aligned Janvadi Lekhak Sangh or of the CPI(M-L)-led Jan Sanskriti Manch. Says Hindi writer Rajendra Yadav, who was an active PWA member in his youth and is now vice-president of the Janvadi Lekhak Sangh: "It has become more and more aligned with the establishment. The progressives, on the pretext of infiltrating the system to fight it from within, have become a part of it."

Admitted Hindi writer Bhisham Sahni, the outgoing general secretary of the National Federation of Progressive Writers (NFPW) - the new name adopted by PWA in 1975: "Yes we have become weak organisationally. After Independence the PWA became a bit scattered and the initiative towards socially oriented writing became weak." PWA's only living founder-member Mulk Raj Anand, who formed the nucleus in 1935 in London along with Sajjad Zaheer and Muhammad Deen Taseer, added sadly: "It's not only the association that has become weak.

The progressive movement itself has lost momentum, largely due to sectionalism and the dispersal of the intelligentsia." Pakistani critic Sibte Hassan, one of the oldest members (who ironically died in Delhi of a heart attack soon after the conference), felt that the PWA was frittering itself away on inconsequential issues like linguistic prejudices and ideological hair splitting.

Hindi writer Asghar Wajahat says in his book Hindi-Urdu ki Pragatisheel Kavita (progressive poetry in Hindi and Urdu) that the PWA began as a broad-based group of nationalists, secularists and communists. With Independence, the nationalists became content that their goal had been achieved and left the PWA. On the other hand were those who felt that this freedom was not real and that imperialists of one kind had merely been replaced by another. Then, during the Telengana and Bengal movements, several writers were arrested and the movement started falling apart.

As a result the PWA came increasingly under the control of the Marxists, and its policies and stands became more and more left-oriented. The cracks in the PWA became deeper after the Communist Party split in 1964. The decline was precipitated in 1975 when the PWA decided to support the Emergency.

"It was a mistake," admits Bhisham Sahni, "and we regretted it. We supported the Emergency because we thought that it would suppress the rightist reactionary forces like the Jan Sangh and JP's movement." Another negative factor was that it distanced itself from other literary movements, isolating itself in the process.

PWA meetings then and now: weaklned forceUrdu poet and Chairman of the NFPW Presidium Ghulam Rabbani Taban, however, insists that the movement is in fact going strong. "Contrary to what people say," he says, "the movement in fact is growing. Organisationally too, it's strong. Three units - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar - are quite active while others are doing good work in their own limited spheres."

This is true but only in a small way. While some writers feel that the association should be made more broad based, others believe that all it needs are catalystic circumstances. As Hindi critic Namvar Singh, an active NFPW executive committee member, says: "The movement began with a sense of crisis.
This sense of crisis doesn't arise often. But now it's building up, what with the threat of nuclear warfare on the international front and the increasing regionalism, communalism and sectarianism on the national front. I guess this might give the movement fresh impetus and a new lease of life."

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