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The last journey


This was not even a village. Just the wayside of a highway. And this was a Ranvir Sena territory in the Jagdishpur block of Bhojpur. More than a hundred people, poor and landless labourers, from nearby villages crowd around the coffin carrying the body of Comrade VM. It is late in the night but these people have been waiting throughout the day for the convoy to arrive bringing with it the body of their dear Comrade Raju.

Scenes like this were seen throughout the long stretch that was covered from Lucknow to Patna during the last journey of Comrade VM.

A little after noon on 19 December, the last journey of Comrade VM began from Lucknow and passing through eastern UP and central Bihar, finally reached Patna two days later. Earlier the previous evening, when the body covered in a red flag was brought over to the state party headquarters, a large crowd had already gathered. It included party comrades, leaders and activists from other left and democratic parties, eminent intellectuals, workers, students and people from all sections of society.

On its way to Varanasi, the convoy had a brief halt at Jaunpur, where a huge gathering comprising mostly non-party people paid their homage. At Varanasi, a special pandal had been set up outside the Party office to place the body for all to pay tributes. Throughout the day party comrades kept on arriving in batches from villages and towns of the Poorvanchal region. By the time the convoy arrived late in the night, a crowd of more than two hundred people was waiting despite the severe chilly conditions. Among them were many prominent personalities of Varanasi and many students from the BHU. Comrade VM’s younger brother Sharad Mishra also joined the last journey from here, all the way to Patna.

The next day, 20 December, at about 11 a.m., a long motorcade had lined up to begin the next leg of the last journey. It would pass through regions where the Maley waged heroic battles of the rural poor and where Comrade VM had often toured. At the outskirts of the city, the convoy was stopped by a large gathering of people, mainly from the adjoining villages of Varanasi. Tears flooded each and every eye, and trembling but resolute voices thundered ‘Long live Vinod Mishra’. It wasn’t long ago when the people here had heard VM speak during the Party Congress rally.

The journey to Patna was a long one and the time too short, hence only brief stopovers were possible. At each halt a huge crowd would converge, and due to the tight schedule, often a few would feel disappointed for not getting a last glimpse. But none could control them. At many places people, including woman, ran along, often for more than a kilometer, with the van carrying Comrade VM’s body. There were more than two dozen stopovers that day.

Before entering into Bihar the convoy stopped at Chandauli town. A familiar place where VM had addressed many a public meeting. Finally, at about 3 p.m., the convoy entered Bhabua district. The first major stop was at Mohania. At many places comrades had been conducting public condolence meeting throughout the day till the convoy arrived. Women and old men wept uncontrollably, grieving a loss perhaps more personal than the demise of their near and dear ones. They would ask in Bhojpuri "Mishraji, ab hamani ke ke dekhi?" (Mishraji, who will look after us now?). Comrades travelling with the convoy would console the local people.

As the cortege progressed, the motorcade grew larger and larger with local comrades in jeeps and vans joining in. At Dadar in Kaimur range of Bhabua district, a village where Maley had been waging a successful land struggle, Comrade Laxmikant ‘Gunjan’ submitted a poem he had written on Comrade VM. At the small town of Kochas, a local Samajwadi Party leader who had brought along his partymen to receive the cortege, said that in the Bihar countryside VM commanded the respect of all the toiling masses irrespective of the political parties behind which they rallied. In fact, in village after village, the gathering comprised of the rural poor, intellectuals, students etc. many of them belonging to other political parties.

Next the convoy passed through Rohtas district and made brief stopovers at Dinara and Maliabad and few other villages. More than 500 people gathered at both the places to pay their last respects. Night had set in by the time the convoy entered Bhojpur, where expectedly huge crowds turned up despite the long wait they had to do throughout the day. At Sonbarsa, 25 jeeps carrying local comrades joined the convoy. By this time the motorcade had grown into a huge one, disrupting normal traffic on the national highway. At Bhador More in Bhojpur, a historic battleground of Maley where a martyr’s column has been erected, hundreds of people converged to see their leader. With short halts at Mahuari More, Nayatola and Isari in Jagdishpur block, the cortege finally reached Ara.

As the van carrying Comrade VM’s body entered the Party office at Ara, thunderous slogans rent the air. People had been waiting patiently for many hours for their beloved leader’s body to arrive. Comrades at the Ara office informed that many people from nearby villages had to return by daylight due to the unsafe conditions after dusk. The next morning, however, many more people turned up at the office. A see of humanity bid farewell to the leader as the cortege drew out of Ara office for the third and final leg of its journey to Patna.

Passing through and halting at Qaiyyumnagar and Koilwar, the convoy entered Patna district. At Koilwar, people crowded the long road bridge across the Sone.

The convoy stopped at Bihta and then at Maner. At the latter place, the gathering was huge and the comrades leading the convoy had a hard time consoling the people and requesting them to let them proceed. Still people would cling on to the coffin and weep incontrolably.

As the convoy entered the city of Patna at Sugua More, a long line of motorcyclists carrying red flags and flanking both sides of the road received the convoy. Citizens of Patna lined up along the roadside, watched the huge motorcade pass through the city.

At about noon, the convoy arrived at the Miller High School ground. The body was carried to a big pandal. And then began the unending stream of people paying floral tributes to their leader. Huge batches of people kept pouring in at the Patna railway station from all over Bihar and from many places all over the country. For the next twenty-four hours that the body was kept for display, political leaders spanning the entire spectrum of Bihar politics came to pay their homage. There were a large number of MLAs, even from the BJP. Late in the evening Comrade Madhav Nepal, General Secretary of CPN (UML) arrived from Nepal along with a delegation and paid his tributes. Comrade Ashok Manohar, General Secretary of Lal Nishan Party (Leninist) and a good friend of VM, wept uncontrollably in front of the body. Among the important leaders who came to pay their respects were Sharad Yadav, President of Janata Dal, Kapildev Singh of SP, Chaturanan Mishra of CPI and Tarakeshwari Sinha. A wreathe was also placed on behalf of the Bihar Governor by his ADC.

At about noon the next day, 22 December, the entire CC and Comrade VM’s family members gathered around the body to give their final salute to him. The body was then carried to a flower decked truck. And then began the silent funeral procession. Patna residents had witnessed to many a massive CPI (ML) rallies that Comrade VM had led but this was something that they would always remember. Media estimates put the entire procession to exceed one lakh. Many remarked that Patna hadn’t witnessed anything like this since the funerals of JP or Karpoori Thakur. The shops along the route of the procession downed their shutters as a mark of respect.

At the head of the procession was an announcement van. Behind it, a comrade carried the red flag kept at half-mast. This was followed by the flower-decked truck carrying the Comrade’s body. The members of the CC, the Central Secretariat, VM’s family members and other political leaders marched behind. And then followed what seemed like an ocean of humanity, thousands and thousands carrying red flags and marching in silence. Patna residents in thousands covered both flanks along the entire route of the procession. Traversing an otherwise busy route the procession passed besides the huge Gandhi Maidan, a historic site which had often come alive hosting mammoth rallies addressed by Comrade VM.

The procession terminated at Bansghat, where the body was to be cremated. A condolence meeting was held there. The meeting started by observing a two-minutes silence. Comrade Swadesh Bhattacharya, veteran Politburo member and a comrade-in-arms of Comrade VM since 1974, presided over the meeting. In a voice choked with emotions, he called upon the entire Party to turn this grief into our strength and give shape to the dream Comrade VM had. Madhav Nepal recalled the long association he had with VM and said that the people of Nepal were with the CPI (ML) at this hour of grief. CP Mainali, General Secretary of the CPN (ML) said that VM was not just a leader of CPI (ML), he was looked up to by all revolutionary forces of the entire South Asia. In his loss, he said, the Nepali toiling masses had lost a true friend. Comrade Ashok Manohar said that his death was as heavy a blow for his party as it was for the CPI (ML). Nihaluddin of the All India Muslim Forum, who had come down from Lucknow, said that the minority community was deeply grieved at the loss of a leader who truly stood for the emancipation of the community. Other speakers at the meeting included Chaturanan Mishra and Kapildev Singh.

Kartik Pal, PB member and long standing comrade-in-arms of VM, in a highly emotional speech recalled the innumerable hardships both of them had together suffered in building up the Party from the ashes in West Bengal. Ram Naresh Ram, PB member, said that there were reports that the Ranvir Sena in Bhojpur had distributed sweets on hearing the news of VM’s death. He cautioned that they were only suffering from the illusion that the Party would slacken after VM’s demise. Kumudini Pati, CC member and wife of Comrade VM in an emotional speech recalled that on matters of ideological struggle VM was unsparing to even his friends and close ones.

Dipankar Bhattacharya, in his speech said that Comrade VM, before departing from amongst us had given us the task of further strengthening the Party, our greatest tool in the battles of the future. Revolution was Comrade VM’s greatest passion in life, he reminded. In the last thirty years he devoted himself to strengthening the three pillars of Indian revolution i.e. the revolutionary party, the revolutionary theory and the revolutionary movement. He called upon the entire Party to rise like one man and fight for the realisation of his unfulfilled but most potent dream.

The meeting was coming to an end. It was time to bid the final farewell to our beloved leader. It was a poignant moment with a finality that everyone wished would just prolong. One by one the CCMs went up to the platform on which the body of Comrade VM had been kept and placed garlands and saluted their leader. With the tune of the Internationale and the setting sun across the Ganges, the final moments had arrived. And then there was the intense shattering cry of ‘Comrade Vinod Mishra long live’ and ‘Red Salute to Comrade Vinod Mishra’ – a million voices reverberating in an endless echo.

Those were momentous four days when intense grief of the entire Party got transformed into a reawakened collective resolve to keep alive and realise the undying dream of its beloved leader. Adieu, Comrade VM, your Party will never let you down.

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