A Death Heavier than the Himalayas!

[Homage to Comrade Madan Bhandari. From Liberation, June 1993.]

In the early hours of 17 May when I was in Patna, several comrades came rushing to me to draw my attention to the small report in Patna papers about a jeep accident in Nepal involving Comrade Madan Bhandari and Comrade Jeevraj Ashrit. On enquiring over the phone, we learnt Comrade Bhandariís body was yet to be located. With lots of apprehension and little hope, I left for Varanasi.

But the message received on 19th dashed all hopes and, leaving my meeting behind, I flew to Kathmandu on 20th noon. The CPN(UML) leadership briefed me about the mysterious circumstances of the accident in the airport lounge itself and from there I went straight to Dashrath Rangashala to pay my last respects to the remains of the two great leaders of the contemporary communist movement of Nepal. Streams of people kept on visiting the place all day and night with tears in their eyes. I also visited the two grief-stricken families.

Just a few months back, I had gone to Kathmandu to attend the Congress of CPN(UML). By the time I left, the Congress was in its concluding phase and despite his obvious preoccupation with the Congress deliberations he came to see me off at the airport. That was my last meeting with him. I had never thought of visiting Kathmandu in such a short period and on such an occasion.

Earlier, after his being elected the General Secretary of CPN(UML) we had a long discussion in Patna for several days. We had another chance to meet in Delhi for a few days when he invited me to have the next round of discussions in Nepal. Relations between our two parties date back to the late í70s and we had regularly been conducting central-level discussions. Ours has been an ideal fraternal relation where we exchanged our views and experiences on various matters without ever interfering in each otherís affairs. Our two parties evolved more or less on the same pattern, and in some respects of mass work their Party did precede ours.

Com.Bhandari personally came to our Calcutta Party Congress and also addressed the mass rally after the Congress. In his speech in our Party Congress he nicely put forth the necessity of bringing the Partyís role to full play and concluded by saying that we have been friends through hard days and shall remain friends forever. He was quite right.

He became quite popular with our comrades during his stay in Calcutta. In his demise, our Party has lost a great internationalist friend.

I found him a man imbued with self-confidence and a noble sense of dignity and honour.

The day before I left Nepal after attending the CPN(UML) Congress, he came to me with a newspaper in hand which carried the report of an Indian communist leaderís advice on the Tanakpur issue. He was quite agitated to see such blatant interference in his partyís internal matter. All these memories of a friendly face, of a bold and dignified personality kept haunting me through the night of 20th May.

The funeral procession was scheduled for the next day, the 1st of May. As the government of Nepal had decided to extend national honour to the departed leaders, a military band offered salute to the dead bodies and led the procession. In my life, I have never seen a funeral procession of such magnitude with unending waves of people from all walks of life surging from all sides to have a last glimpse of their leaders. It appeared as though the entire Kathmandu city had come out on the streets. Controlling this human sea was an uphill task and volunteers forming a human chain had a tough time regulating the surging waves of the masses.

Thousands and thousands of people lined the two sides of the entire route of the procession and there was not even an inch of space left on the rooftops and balconies of the roadside buildings from where women showered flowers and sprinkled water over the procession. It took the procession nearly four hours to reach the cremation ground. Comrade Emil from the Communist Party of the Philippines, Comrade Surjeet from the CPI(M), Comrade Farooqi from CPI, myself as well as leaders from the Nepal party followed the procession in a truck. Com.Emil and myself had come prepared to march on foot but according to the arrangement, we too had to board the truck. Emil was all along protesting this arrangement and eventually we decided to get down from the truck after informing Com.Madhav Nepal. We covered the last leg of our journey on foot marching with the processionists.

In my short speech at the cremation site, I pointed out that few years ago when Nepal was passing through a great historical turning point, the communist movement needed a theoretician who could integrate the universal truth of Marxism with the concrete conditions of Nepal; the democratic movement of Nepal demanded a leader who could fearlessly uphold the banner of consistent democracy; and the Nepalese nation wanted national figures who could boldly champion the national interests and aspirations of Nepal. In Comrade Madan Bhandari, all the three requirements found a unified answer and herein lay his unique contribution. I paid homage to the fallen comrades and expressed my heartfelt sympathies to their bereaved families on behalf of our Party.

Finally the pyre was lit and the flames started reducing the mortal remains of the two leaders to ashes, the ashes that were now to be distributed to different parts of Nepal. I stood then in silence, lost in my memories when someone reminded me "Itís all over, comrade!" On our way back, the Filipino comrade told me about similar funeral processions he had watched back home -- the processions of Aquinas and one of their TU leaders. We discussed how Chris Hani and Madan Bhandari have proved in their death that communism remains the most popular ideology for the downtrodden people of the world.

When in his speech at our Calcutta rally, Comrade Bhandari had accused the Indian press of blacking out and distorting their news, many of our Comrades felt that he should have, preferably, refrained from criticising the press. Soon I was astonished to see the Indian press just ignore the historic party congress of CPN(UML). And now we have seen the height of self-censorship when the Indian press chose to maintain a total silence on the biggest ever funeral-procession in Nepal. I donít know whether the Indian press is prompted by anti-communist prejudices or by hatred for a man who stood for his countryís interests against Indian ambitions, but l can now appreciate Bhandariís outburst against the Indian press.

The journey of Comrade Bhandari has come to an end. But it symbolises the beginning of a new journey for his Party, the CPN(UML) and I am confident that the Party will overcome the shock and turn it into strength in the coming days, dashing the fond hopes of its detractors. The unanimous election of the new General Secretary, Comrade Madhav Nepal, is a pointer to that.