Hari Vasudevan and the Soviet Archives : A Personal Remembrance. By Sobhanlal Datta Gupta

NB: Hari Vasudevan passed away on May 10, 2020, aged 68. A great scholar and wonderful man, he was widely respected and loved. He will be mourned and missed by friends and students. RIP, Hari

Hari Vasudevan and the Soviet Archives : A Personal Remembrance
It was May, 1995, exactly 25 years ago. Hari Vasudevan (Calcutta University), Purabi Roy (Jadavpur University) and I myself (Calcutta University) were in Moscow for two months, working as a team sent by The Asiatic Society, Calcutta in connection with a project of collection of documents from the newly opened Soviet archives on Indo-Russian Relations : 1917-1947. This project was the result of a Protocol signed between The Asiatic Society, Calcutta and Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies. 

… as we proceeded in our work on the publication of the texts of the documents, we began to face insurmountable resistance… from a section of the Left establishment in West Bengal. We were threatened, maligned and discouraged not to proceed with this work any further and ridiculed for our research on documents which were described as “fake” and “doctored”. Eventually, after fighting a relentless battle against this calumny between 1996 and 2000 we could publish two volumes of these documents…

With extremely limited funding we were expected to prepare catalogues of as many documents as possible and bring home photocopies/microfilms of those documents which we considered most important, depending, of course, upon their accessibility. It was a Herculean job, since we had no idea of the materials we had to handle. Working on hundreds and hundreds of documents, cataloguing and copying them (in many cases because of paucity of funds and since we had no laptop, quite often we had to take down a document by hand) demanded a division of labour. While Purabidi worked in the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF), Archives of the Ministry of External Affairs (MID), Russian State Military Historical Archive (RGVIA), Hari and I worked in the former Central Party Archives, Institute of Marxism-Leninism (now known as Russian State Archive for Social and Political History or RGASPI ).

In Moscow Hari and I stayed together in the same apartment. Every morning normally we used to leave for our destination by 9AM so that we could catch the metro on time. I was struck by his culinary skill, since I was a complete novice in the art of cooking. A person of fine taste and a connoisseur of food and drinks , his presence was always so enviable everywhere ! His proficiency in Russian language and his familiarity with Moscow greatly facilitated our stay. Extremely jovial as he was, he had many friends, especially among the journalists in Moscow. He had very good contacts in the Indian Embassy too. This greatly helped us in booking our return flight to India in July, since our open ticket posed a big problem in the summer rush.

Coming to our archival work, both of us decided to work in the Comintern section, since this was the biggest repository of materials on India. Incidentally, it should be mentioned here that Hari’s primary area of research was pre-revolutionary Russia. But his encounter with the Comintern archives enthused him so much that he now became passionately interested in the activities of the Indian revolutionaries in the Soviet Union. This led him to collect materials on the Ghadar Party, training of Indians in the Communist University of The Toilers of the East (KUTV), the transcripts of the Indian Commission in Comintern, the Soviet Communist Paty’s perception of India at the time of independence, as revealed in a conversation between S.A. Dange and Yuri Zhdanov on 16 August, 1947 in Moscow. Our work in the archives was greatly facilitated by the support extended to us by R.B. Rybakov, Director, Institute of Oriental Studies, Moscow, P.M. Shastitko, T. Zagorodnikova, A. Kolesnikov and last, but not the least, M.A. Sidorov. Valuable inputs were provided by Leonid Mirokhin and M.A. Persits, two most distinguished scholars working on the period we covered, when we met them in Moscow. To cut down photocopying costs, Hari collected a vast range of material on microfilm and M.A. Sidorov was a big help in this regard…. 

read more: http://sacw.net/article14326.html

Book Review: Sankar Ray on Sobhanlal Datta Gupta’s ‘Comintern and the Destiny of Communism in India’