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Adieu, My Life Companion!

Kumudini Pati

I recall my first meeting with him. I was a student activist then and it was in Lucknow when I met him in a Party shelter. Other leading comrades of UP were also present and they introduced him as RJ, a ‘senior leader’ of the Party. He seemed so accessible, not at all intimidating. I began to ask questions to clarify my doubts. Some comrades of my committee felt I should not discuss problems that were yet to be discussed at the state level. RJ was quick to understand the hint and intervened – "Continue, no problems". I was happy to see someone so interested – not only to listen, but also to know first hand experiences from the mass movement of students. Later someone asked me – "Do you know who he was?" It didn’t take me a minute to guess — it can only be VM – a mind dealing with the most complex questions, yet simple as a child. My discussions with Comrade VM changed my entire concept of a communist party, as built through reading of popular articles about the practice of established communist parties. For the first time I could see that the Party was trying to grapple with new problems that were being thrown up by the movement. And VM’s style was unique – he never seemed to have readymade answers — rather he always insisted that we would have to do it ourselves, while only stressing that the basic Marxist principles had to be grasped better.

In the days of the IPF, VM would at times sit with us through the meetings of the executive committee. He was a patient listener. He talked very little, only intervening when it was absolutely necessary. I remember his insistence — that we should never forget that this was an experiment in united front tactics despite the fact that we did not have very many non-communist forces. Nothing should be taken for granted and the Front be developed as a concept that has yet to take off in the real sense. The constituent organizations and trends, however small, be given due respect and dealt most sensitively. Sometimes, some of us would forget and start assuming that our line of thinking was common. Comrade VM would put in a word of caution and bring in debates that for the time being seemed hypothetical, but helped a deeper understanding of the united front concept. He used no jargons, he quoted no Marxist teacher. His style was convincing and full of an urge to learn from living experiences.

During the Fourth Party Congress, I was chosen as one of the delegates but I had never expected my name to be proposed for the Central Committee. I came to understand that I did not even satisfy the conditions for a CCM. But when I asked, I was told that my role in movements and agitation, my urge to work among the toiling masses, especially the rural poor, was recognized positively. Comrade VM encouraged young comrades to take up party responsibilities. At the same time, the class orientation was always hammered at. I remember once how in the IPF conference at Vijaywada, I had placed my opinion open to debate in the house which differed from the majority opinion of the executive. Many comrades did not seem patient enough to hear what I was trying to say. Later on during a review of the conference in the Party CC, Comrade VM expressed his disapproval of the way in which a differing or minority opinion is just dismissed. He asserted that the Front would only develop better if comrades were open to debates and opinions that were in opposition to the official position. He always said "Don’t concentrate on the person who is placing the viewpoint or the manner in which it is being put forward. It is the content that should be grasped and an uncompromising struggle against the ideological deviations or alien ideas be launched, so that the entire rank and file of the party are educated. In the Central Committee VM’s interventions were always most objective ones, never doubting a comrades intentions but all the same never diluting the content of his idea. But he would be the most ruthless and bold in identifying and fighting an idea that was alien to the Communist Party. During the IPF days, the debates and discussions even extended to the home. It was during a walk or over lunch or breakfast that he would begin hammering a point. Sometimes I would feel bitter because the debates would become too intense and neither of us would be prepared to relent. Comrade VM would always end saying "Only time will help in understanding all this".

It was only once or twice that I invited the G.S. for our Party’s women’s department meetings. He seemed quite reluctant saying "I could give some suggestions, but better if you work out things yourselves. You have many experienced and promising women comrades in your leading body". I was angry in the beginning, wondering why our front was neglected. But later on I came to understand that Comrade VM wanted the women’s movement to have full autonomy. He knew that all the women comrades were on important party committees and their practice on the women front was part of the entire party practice, so the basic direction was correct. He only cautioned against random reading of a lot of feminist and liberal intellectuals without any grounding in Marxism. He stressed that we start a women’s magazine in Hindi. We had a few meetings with him in Patna to discuss the orientation and content of the magazine, and ‘Aadhi Zameen’ was born. Comrade VM stressed that the magazine should be popular but serve the purpose of an organiser. He suggested that we write about communist women leaders, about women and religion, on experiences of building the organization in new areas and so many other interesting facets. The National Women’s Convention Against Right Reaction held in Patna was the outcome of our discussions with him.

It was Comrade VM who emphasized developing women activists into promising party leaders. He suggested to launch a drive to recruit women party members and to raise the percentage of women members to correct the gender imbalance in the party. Also, the promotion of women party members to party committees (at least 10%) was important. There was a debate on whether this amounted to reservation, but VM contended it was an imbalance that was being corrected — not a favour that was being granted. He stressed that all that was going on in the normal process had not helped and concrete measures would have to be adopted to bring women comrades into leadership. At the same time I could always see his concern about involving women leaders directly in some area of class struggle, so that they were not alienated from the party’s basic practice. This was important, as he said, "Ideological sharpness does not come through the best of intentions, there has to be some objective ground to develop it".

On certain aspects of the women’s movement I had my own perceptions which I expressed often. We would enter into heated and intense debates but Comrade VM always insisted that I reach my own conclusion through my own practice. Sometimes I would not get convinced on a certain point and would express the inability to unleash my initiative. He would go on patiently hearing the differing opinions, at the same time he would emphasize on implementing party’s decisions while leaving scope for experiment. "We want the movement to develop on its own, so I don’t want to impose my ideas", he would say.

After my marriage to VM, I saw the dreamer in him; I saw the philosopher, the thinker, the disciplinarian and the poet in him. I saw the child in him and also the romantic, I saw an ardent Marxist and a true believer in the might of the common people. It is no wonder that he was the ‘dear VM uncle’ for the children, he was a conscience keeper for many a student and youth. He was a Marxist thinker for a hoard of intelligentsia and the Marxists who did not always agree with him. He was the most sensitive of human beings with whom comrades and friends shared their innermost thoughts. And, when alone, he delved into the realm of thought as a diver looking for the most precious of pearls lying at the bottom of the ocean. But, the qualities of the leader he diligently and painstakingly cultivated in himself. He changed according to the changed circumstances, he adopted himself to every new situation and he remained an avid learner till the end. I remember, when the party first came into the open, we could hardly hear our General Secretary’s speech. He had a low, base voice, without much of the style of a mass speaker. He would use a hoard of Bengali words and phrases and seemed to be shy of facing the outside world. Gradually, I saw VM answering written interviews for newspapers and magazines and meeting a few select journalists. He had no aura so to speak of. But just as a chrysalis opens up to unfold the spectacular wings of a newly born butterfly, like we saw the unfolding of the mass leader Vinod Mishra. His speeches became mature and unique in style, his interviews were eagerly awaited and he began to lend lustre to many an academic seminar. He was gradually accessible to one and all, respected and loved more and more as one the towering figures of the Indian left movement, a crusader for democracy and one of the pioneering Marxist thinkers of this country. He began to raise new hopes in the people of Bihar, as he was the one who had plunged himself to take up the challenge of building a new Bihar. He was a great visionary of democratic and secular India. And his funeral procession only proved this beyond all doubts.

He was workaholic. Often I asked him — why do you overexert yourself? He wouldn’t listen, always retorting with a smile – "I am much healthier than most of you young comrades". During the last few months I saw him working round-the-clock, little heeding to his physical needs or ailments. He was doggedly pursuing his mission without any complaints — the struggling spirit of a true communist revolutionary.

Comrade VM gives me the strength to live on and work for the Party. He was and is the epitome of life!

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