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The Life of Vinod Mishra

A Lesson In Dynamism And Dedication

Arindam Sen

The Road to Durgapur

The Mishras had their ancestral house in Meria village of Chunar block in Mirzapur district of UP. Shri Suryakesh Mishra was an office employee in an ordinance establishment at Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh when his second child Vinod was born on 24 March 1947. Shri Mishra was transferred to Kanpur in 1955 and the family settled itself in Babupurwa labour colony.

Unlike at present, Kanpur was then a thriving industrial city, a major centre of working class activism and left politics. After passing his school days at the Adarsh Banga Vidyalaya Inter College, he graduated from Kanyakubja Degree College and got admitted in Christ Church Degree College for his post-graduation in Mathematics. Grown up in a leftist political milieu young Vinod joined the Regional Engineering College at Durgapur in 1966 in the faculty of mechanical engineering.

Baptism in Fire

In the mid sixties, the left movement in West Bengal was growing from strength to strength on short supply of food, price rise, corruption and misrule of the Congress ministry and so on. Durgapur became an advanced centre of the great food movement with the youth and the workers as vanguards.

RE College, however, was sought to be kept isolated from all this. The authorities did not allow the formation of any student union and maintained barrack-like discipline.

Vinod soon associated himself with the leftist students and following Naxalbari, this assocciation turned into a Naxalite group. Soon they established links with AICCCR and started political propaganda among students. In this course they contested in student gymkhana elections and apart from staging progressive left drama, converted the traditional college magazine into one with revolutionary fervour. Besides leading a successful students’ strike in the campus, Vinod also led students’ processions against firing on workers in Kashipur and Ichapur and also in solidarity with striking working class in Durgapur. He became a wholetimer in mid-69 and, on the one hand, led the students in establishing ‘red terror’ in the campus when the reactionaries with the assistance from CPI(M) created hurdles in revolutionary propaganda, and integrating with working class on the other. In this course of this struggle once he, along with his 15 comrades, was caught by CPI(M) and was beaten too, kept in confinement for two days, but he debated with them on political line and waged a hunger strike for his relaese.

Along with Comrade Mishra, hundreds of other students in the college joined the Naxalbari stream and at one time about a hundred were ready to become wholetimers. Around 30 of them really became wholetimers and were deputed in different places by the party. A few of them - such as comrades D P Buxi and B B Pandey - are still active in the party. Scores of workers too became professional revolutionaries. Along with their student counterparts they fanned out in the countryside to organise agrarian revolution. In the post-’72 phase of reorganisation many of them took up responsible positions, including those in the central committee, and comrades like Mohan Dutt, Tarun Sarkar, Paresh Banerjee, Sudarshan Bose are still continuing as leading members of state committees in Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Comrade Mishra became the secretary of the Durgapur Local Organising Committee in early ’70. Towards the end of the same year, he was selected for co-option into the Burdwan district committee, because of his outstanding leading qualities. However, just as he was on his way to attend his first ever district committee meeting, he was arrested along with Mahadev Mukheree and other comrades. The police gave him the usual dose of merciless beating - which landed him, handcuffed, in the Asansol hospital. He was finally 1odged in the Baharampur Cemtral Jail in West Bengal. Inside jail he had a very active political life, reading out smuggled party literature and Peking Review to comrades lodged in other cells by dint of sheer lung power, clandestinely organising discussions and so on.

From Setback to Reorganisation

Comrade Mishra was released from Baharampur Jail on 20 June, 1972 unconditionally because the statutory one year of detention without trial under the PVA Act was over. He immediately contacted the party, but the district leaders were suspicious about his integrity. Why did the authorities not rearrest him immediately after the release -- as was the custom in those dark days of Siddhartha Shankar’s jungle raj in West Bengal? As a guard against enemy infilteration, those days such comrades were sent off to the countryside. After coming out of jail VM himself had opted to work in rural areas. Awaiting an "entry" (scope for deployment), for some time he was sent to Chittaranjan, from where he came back to Durgapur. Soon he was sent off to work in a rather far-off village in Agradwip area of Burdwan district. In the meanwhile, Comrade Charu Majumdar had been martyred in Calcutta Police Headquarters on 28 July 1972. The setback that had started in 1971 with brutal military repression and internal division, now led to the total fragmentation of the CPI (ML).

In such confusing scenario, Comrade Mishra maintained contact with the worker and student cadres he had developed in Durgapur and concentrated work in the rural area. He was then suffering from night blindness. It was extremely difficult for him to move in the unfamiliar countryside during night, which was the normal practice during those underground days. However, he managed it with the help of local comrades. Prominent among them was Kartick Paul. Together with the wholetimers from Durgapur, comrades Mishra and Paul tried desperately to revive the party and the peasant movement in a fairly large area extending from Bhatar to Kalna in Burdwan district. The Regional Committee, however, stood aloof from such painstaking efforts and buried themselves in all kinds of introvert debates such as whether Comrade Charu Majumdar should be referred to as "respected leader" or "respected and beloved leader".

To stem the ranks’ growing dissension against this leadership, the latter co-opted both comrades Mishra and Pal into the Regional Committee. While associating himself with all these reorganisational work, VM took a vanguard role in inner-party ideological struggle. The central committee formed in December ’72 by comrades Sharma and Mahadev split in ’73 and Mahadev as the the self-proclaimed successor of CM acquired a good hold over West Bengal. Even before he was co-opted into the Regional Committee, VM helped draft a critique of the idealist Mahadev line. Consequent to Mahadev’s ridiculous stand regarding CPC, Mao and Lin Piao following the 10th congress of CPC, the Burdwan Regional Committee decided to part ways with Mahadev Mukherjee in September 1973. Comrade VM proposed to contact the other centre led by Comrade Sharma. Soon it was found that the secretary of Burdwan RC had agreed to the changes in Party line arbitrarily introduced by Sharma through an editorial to "Lokyuddha" published by him. Therefore the RC asked him to resign from secretaryship and appointed Comrade VM as its new secretary. A state-level leading team was organised involving the party organisations of Burdwan, Nadia, Bankura, Birbhum, North Bengal and Calcutta, with VM as the secretary. After the formation of the WB state leading team, VM led a delegation to meet Comrade Sharma towards the end of 1973. The meeting was fruitless: it only led VM to draft another critique - this time against the Sharma line.

Significantly, this latter document contained an explicit recognition of the need for (open) mass movements and mass organisations, considered taboos in the dogmatic Naxalite framework. Personally VM also supported Comrade Shanta (Soumen Guha) of the state leading team when the latter planned to organise the Sahasi Bone (Brave Sisters) as a young women’s organisation. However, this positive trend towards formation of mass organisations could be consistently carried forward only after the rectification movement of 1978-79. For the time being, all emphasis was laid by VM and his close associates on developing guerrilla war to the level of mobile warfare.

This determined endeavour, and the realisation - gained in course of the polemics against the two ‘centres’ of Mahadev and Sharma - that a correct centre could only be built anew, led comrade Mishra to search out and meet comrade Jauhar (Subrata Dutta) in the early 1974. At the very first meeting, held at Bhagawatitala village in Nadanghat area of Burdwan district towards the end of 1973, VM was highly impressed by this theoretical leader and organiser of the armed peasant struggle in the plains of Bihar. Comrade Jauhar shared VM’s firm opinion that a correct and unified centre was a sine-qua-non for the reinvigoration of the party and the revolutionary movement. So the central committee of CPI(ML) was reorganised in a meeting held at Durgapur with comrades VM, Jauhar and Raghu (Swadesh Bhattacharya, a close associate of Jauhar). The date chosen was 28 July, 1974 - the second anniversary of the martyrdom of Comrade CM. Comrade Jauhar was elected the General Secretary (GS). The declared aims of the new central committee were: (a) to preserve the essence of the revolutionary line of comrade CM, (b) to unite the entire party on this basis, and (c) to unite the communist revolutionaries of India.

To begin with, the central committee’s area of work was limited to Bihar, WB, Delhi and a small part of eastern UP. But with the foundation of a consolidated centre, a solid basis was laid for the rejuvenation of the movement throughout India.

In 1974, Comrade Mishra got married to Comrade Jyotsna, a professional revolutionary. They had a son but by the late ’70s, under the stresses and stains of underground life, the marriage broke off.

Towards Rectification

The reorganisation of the CC immediately led to a new high tide in the armed peasant struggle in Bihar. Comrade VM as the WB state secretary concentrated work in North Bengal. New guerrilla squads including a women’s contingent were formed there. Illustrious commanders like Patal Singh emerged and courageous actions including seizure of rifles from enemy camps took place. State repression was further intensified. Great battles were fought at the cost of heavy sacrifices, including that of comrade Jauhar on 29 November, 1975 in Bhojpur. The CC was reorganised with 5 members in a hurriedly called meeting held at Punpun in Patna district. VM wanted Raghu to become the next GS, but had to accept the post on the insistence of the latter, supported by the others.

The first step comrade Mishra took as GS was to organise the Second Party Congress. He regarded this as absolutely necessary to strengthen collective leadership and political unity. Held clandestinely in a village in Gaya district in February 1976, it elected a 11-member CC. VM was unanimously re-elected GS. The congress did provide a great impetus and introduced a few partial amendments in policy. But essentially it continued the old metaphysical line in ideology and politics. That could be overcome only in course of a full-fledged rectification campaign initiated in the fag end of 1977.

That campaign, well-known as the rectification movement, was Vinod Mishra’s most original and perhaps the most significant contribution in the all-round development of our party. In the post-Emergency atmosphere of fresh thinking and new initiatives in all political circles, he initiated the movement with stress on overcoming certain lapses in our armed activities and our metaphysical thought process. His brief note entitled "Fight against the Metaphysical Viewpoint of Perfectionism" appeared towards the end of 1977 and the campaign was formally launched in January next year with the CC circular drafted by him, entitled "Strengthen the Party Organisation".

Throughout 1978 and early ’79, the rectification movement was vigorously carried forward in all party units. It covered the entire spectrum from philosophy and ideology to style of work and organisational procedures. By the time the movement was concluded through an all-India conference held from 26 April to 2 May 1979 in a village in Bhojpur, distortions of the past were mostly overcome, and new vistas was gained for rapid advance in theory and practice. Perhaps the most valuable and enduring achievement was a new tradition: that of introducing changes in party line, as and when required by the principle of continuously integrating the fundamentals of Marxism with the changing conditions of our country, step by step through comprehensive ideological campaigns involving the entire ranks. Comrade Mishra was the principal architect of this dynamic tradition of constant self-renewal, which became a hallmark of our party as distinct from all other communist revolutionary groups. And more than his innumerable personal qualities, it was this that ensured the party’s rock-like unity and uninterrupted development in the subsequent decades.

A major event in his life took place in this period. At Badpathujote in Phansidewa area of Darjeeling district, he was caught in police-encirclement on January1-2, 1979. After a fierce battle, his companion comrade Amal (Bakul Sen) died a martyr. VM received several bullet injuries but managed to escape with the help of Comrade Nemu Singh, the commander of armed squad who was also injured.

Comrade Mishra accompanied by comrade Raghu visited China in 1979. They undertook extensive tours as state guests and exchanged experiences with Chinese comrades. VM was highly impressed. However, he politely refused to accept any material help including the Chinese comrades’ warm offer for his kidney operation. All resources for the Indian revolution must be mobilised in India - such was his motto. Both the CPC and the CPI(ML) kept the visit a closely guarded secret until after the latter came into the open.

CR Unity and IPF

The formation of open mass organisations on almost all fronts (which was sanctioned in the 1979 party conference reversing the old CPI (ML) policy) was a great step forward in the development of our party. But VM was not satisfied. With the failure of the first non-Congress experiment at the Centre and with the restoration of the Indira regime in 1980, a national debate on a national political alternative began. VM felt the urgent need for the revolutionary proletariat to intervene in it in a befitting manner. Unity of communist revolutionaries (CRs) had already been taken up as an important task since 1979; now a specific proposa1 was moved seeking their participation in building a common political forum for the purpose. A meeting of 13 CR organisations including almost all the major factions was convened and hosted by our party in 1981. In the meeting all of them agreed to the proposition in principle, but backed out later. We went ahead and with the involvement of some intermediate forces of non-party mass movement; the Indian People’s Front was founded in April 1982.

Vinod Mishra first expressed his idea of IPF as a national political alternative in his answers to a few questions put to him by IPANA (Indian People’s Association of North America). Since then it was he who introduced such concepts as "middle forces", "mass political organisation", "transitory form towards PDF" and so on. Under his theoretical guidance, the IPF gradually developed a popular, democratic and patriotic programme and emerged as a very effective forum for the underground party to unite with other democratic forces in political actions.

But if VM was the moving spirit behind this novel experimentation, it was again he who first realised that in a changed political situation and with the party itself coming into open after the fifth congress (1992), the IPF was getting reduced to just the duplicate of CPI (ML). After democratic discussions in the IPF and the party, the former was dissolved phase-by-phase in 1993-94. Our UF moves were continued, of course, by other means.

Third to Fifth Congress

The two major achievements of the third all-India congress of the party, held in December ’82, were: (a) a green signal to the tactics of participation in elections; and (b) a comprehensive agrarian programme. Regarding the former, there were frank and fierce debates both in the pre-congress phase of discussion on drafts and during the congress itself. Thanks to the highly illuminating - often polemical - writings of VM on this subject, clarity and strong unity was achieved throughout the party. Two basic ideas he firmly hammered home were: all our parliamentary activities must be subordinated to extra-parliamentary mass struggles and revolutionary peasant struggle must be grasped as the key link.

In 1983 VM was married to Comrade Shikha, a cadre based in Calcutta. They had a son Rahul, who is now 13 years old. Unfortunately, as in the earlier case, the relation did not last long.

In the fourth party congress, held in January ’88, the GS mooted the idea of a left and democratic confederation to be based on a common programme of struggle on agreed issues while ensuring the political-organisational independence of all constituents. This was conceived as our response or alternative to the opportunist theory and practice of the CPI(M)-led Left Front. The congress also revised certain outdated notions like that of Soviet social imperialism, thus clearing the way for entering and reshaping the mainstream of Indian politics.

All this, however, encouraged a liquidationist trend to raise its ugly head within the party immediately after the fourth congress. Comrade Mishra sensed it even before it took a clear-cut shape. When he fired the first salvo against this right capitulationist trend in the form of the General Secretary’s call of Party Foundation Day (22 April) in 1988, the majority of party cadres including some 1eading cadres wondered whether this was really called for. Before long, however, the trend advocating opportunist alliance and merger with the official Left reached up to the demand for renunciation of Marxism and communist party itself. VM successfully mobilised the entire party in this struggle. A few cases of desertion notwithstanding, the party emerged out of this fierce battle more conscious, more consolidated, more united. It was in course of this struggle that he formulated the "three cardinal principles" — to be always adhered to in the midst of all the changes in the party’s tactics and policies. These are: revolutionary peasant movement, consistent struggle against parliamentary opportunism and social democracy, and the supreme importance of the leading role of the communist party in the democratic revolution.

Midway through the party’s journey from the fourth to the fifth congress, the worsening crisis of world socialism and the July crisis of the V P Singh Government made the GS feel the need for a special all-India conference. That was duly held in late July, 199C in Delhi. It was decided that to take up the challenge of defending Marxism in the face of renewed bourgeois offensive and to intervene more effectively in the rapidly changing national political scenario, the party must resume open functioning. But this was to be done only step-by-step, VM insisted, while maintaining a secret network Open party organs, seminars organised by the party in defence of Marxism, people participating in open rallies with party banners and even some of party units functioning openly - these were the main forms adopted for the switchover.

The switchover was completed in the fifth party congress, the first-ever to be held openly, organised in Calcutta in late December ’92. Comrade Mishra emerged from 25 years of underground life in a massive rally at Calcutta’s brigade parade ground on 28 December. His maiden speech was very well received in left and democratic circles throughout India. Forcefully renewing the appeal for broad left unity in the face of growing communal offensive, he criticised the tailism of the CPI and CPI(M) and called for independent and vigorous left assertion.

The first rally addressed by VM marked the beginning of a new phase in his life. Addressing public meetings - big and small, in rural areas and urban centres -attending seminars, talks, press conferences, inaugurating conferences of mass organisations -- his daily life changed abruptly. He tackled it all with ease and grace despite deteriorating health conditions. And he continued to pay utmost attention to the two tasks he always held in priority: guiding theoretical work and the party work on peasant front in Bihar. His inaugural speeches to the centra1 party schools held in 1994 and 1996 became major contributions to the development of Marxism, particularly in the Indian context.

With the party coming into the open, tremendous energies were unleashed and an a11-round expansion of our activities was quite visible. The other thing which the GS noticed, however, was that party membership was not rising at a rate commensurate with the rate of expansion of our mass influence. To understand and solve this all-important problem in a comprehensive way and to attain clarity on the different aspects of party building in the new phase, he mooted the idea of yet another special conference -- this time to concentrate on organisational questions alone. This conference was held in Diphu in July 1995 and it became a milestone in Bolshevising and expanding the party in new conditions.

In 1991 Vinod Mishra married Kumudini Pati, a CC member since 1988. The couple’s only child, four-year old Roza now lives with her mother and brother Rahul.

Varanasi Congress and After

A relentless fighter against communalism, VM led a rally in Varanasi on 25 February, ’93, with the slogan "We won’t let Ayodhya to be repeated in Kashi". Our party was alone on the Left to mount such a direct challenge on the streets against communal fascism in the wake of demolition of Babri Masjid. Prohibitory orders had already been clamped and VM was arrested along with other comrades. In the face of nation-wide protests, he was unconditionally released on the next day.

It was in this same old temple city that the red banner of revolutionary communism was unfurled again in October ’97 on the occasion of the party’s sixth congress. On every count - in terms of numbers of delegates, of party members and units represented, of foreign guests present, of CC members elected - it was the biggest congress in the history of our party. And the last to be personally guided and addressed by Vinod Mishra, once again re-elected GS. In the post-congress rally of 26 October he reiterated the party’s firm resolve to wage a determined resistance against the saffron brigade in the latter’s own home ground.

The one year after the sixth congress was one of deep bereavement for VM After the martyrdom of Anil Barua in early ’98, the demise of Nagbhusan Patnaik later in the year came as a mortal blow to him. He himself was suffering from various chronic ailments including respiratory problem. But he accompanied NB’s body in a most tiring road journey from Chennai to Bhubaneswar and on October after leadmg a long precession in the city delivered a rousing speech on the funeral ground - one that splendidly demonstrated how to turn grief into strength. At the moment nobody imagined that this would turn out to be his last public speech there.

As 1998 was drawing to a close, Vinod Mishra prepared a brief but comprehensive review of the year, setting out the tasks of the next. In precision, depth and scope this article - VM’s last - remains a masterpiece even in terms of the high standard he always set himself. During the CC meeting in Lucknow, after the second day’s session, he discussed poetry and other things in a jovial mood late into the night - actually into the early hours of 18th. After day-break he had the first cardiac attack. In twelve hours the curtain came down on the life of this most outstanding communist giant of our times.

His last words, told to a comrade in the intensive care unit during a momentary break in induced sleep in mid-day of 18 December, was: "Why are you here? Continue the meeting".

The CC did continue the meeting and resolved to continue revolutionary work with redoubled commitment - but only after bidding farewell to the dearest General Secretary, who had built the party from scratch for almost a quarter century and who sacrificed everything at the alter of Indian revolution.

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