‘She was a true Communist’
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In 2002, when the four Left parties nominated Captain Lakshmi Sehgal as their candidate against APJ Abdul Kalam in the presidential election, they knew that she would not win. But, they told Sehgal, who was then 87, that it was necessary to contest the poll for the sake of a larger political fight.
Those who spoke to her then say that she agreed only because when it came to defending what she stood for, Sehgal — the only commander of the Rani Jhansi regiment in Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army — never shied away from a fight.
"India lost a very good opportunity to have an extraordinary woman as president then. But she did not mind, because her politics was about serving people, which she was doing and continued to do all her life," says senior CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat, who knew Sehgal closely.
Born in an affluent Tamil-Brahmin family in Kerala in 1914, Sehgal realised early on that social service was her true calling. Two years after obtaining a medical degree from the Madras Medical College in 1938, she went to Singapore to treat migrant labourers from India. It was there that she got in touch with prominent leaders of the Indian independence movement like K P Kesava Menon, S C Guha and N Raghavan.
But her life changed forever in 1943, when Subhash Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore and took over the reins of the INA.
Bose wanted to form a women's wing in his army, and entrusted the job to Sehgal (then Lakshmi Swaminathan). Owing to her efforts, thousands of women joined the wing and she became became Captain Lakshmi — as she came to be known for the rest of her life.
"All her life, she was a passionate follower of Bose. At a seminar in Mumbai a few years ago, she delivered a lecture on Bose, and I saw her getting extremely emotional while speaking on him," says Debabrata Biswas, general secretary of the All Indian Forward Bloc, the Left party that Bose founded.
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