“Appa, the Left has to do serious introspection. The Left is in a deep crisis. It has to redefine its positions on many issues and rework its strategies. It has to radically change its style of functioning and reach out to the people in order to reassert its relevance in the changing situation.” That was my daughter Aparajitha. She was furious and upset after the 2014 general election. I shared her comment with Comrade Bardhan. Without any hesitation, he said she was absolutely correct. That was Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan, general secretary of the CPI for 16 years.
After the party’s Puducherry Congress last year, Bardhan resumed discussions with me on the very same issues that my daughter had raised. On December 26, 2015, our party completed 90 years. Ironically, the RSS is also 90 years old.
The RSS, which is the Indian right, has moved to occupy centrestage in the Indian polity. With the BJP forming the government at the Centre, the RSS is not only tightening its grip on the state apparatus but increasingly infiltrating and influencing state functions. The Indian right is desperate and determined to redefine the Indian nation and nationhood in accordance with Hindutva, he said.
Bardhan was disturbed at this development. Since its inception, the Indian communist movement and the Indian Left have been projecting an idea of India as one that represented the ideals of secularism, social justice and socialism. The battle of ideas — and for political power — has become even more intense.
Is the Indian Left in the reckoning to alter the country’s political course? Can the Left become the rallying centre of all progressive democratic forces? Is the Left capable of mobilising the masses into action? If the present situation continues, what is the future of India, of the Left and the communists? These questions haunted Bardhan, who had led one of the most powerful trade unions in the country, the All-India Trade Union Congress, and the CPI for many years.
Bardhan was not merely a party functionary. He was a revolutionary with a restless soul. During his last days, he used to sit alone in deep thought and continued his studies. He focused on concretising the theoretical foundations for a future course of action and was engaged in updating the party programme accordingly.
I worked closely with Bardhan for three decades. In 1985, he asked me to move to the national centre to lead the youth movement. I was then the general secretary of the All-India Youth Federation (AIYF) in Tamil Nadu and a member of the CPI state executive. In September the same year, I became the national general secretary of the AIYF and an invitee to the CPI national council. This was the beginning
of my journey in the national political arena. C. Rajeshwar Rao was the general secretary of the CPI when I started working at the CPI national centre. Later, I got the opportunity to work with Indrajit Gupta and Bardhan. It was a tumultuous period in the nation’s history.
The balance of political forces shifted in these years and the Left played a crucial role as coalition government became the norm at
Bardhan took over as the CPI general secretary when Indrajit Gupta became Union home minister in 1995. I worked closely with Bardhan, attending crucial meetings at critical moments that influenced the course of political developments in the country, the formation of governments, the election of presidents and vice presidents and the formulation of programmes and policies. Bardhan’s honest and straightforward approach, his clarity on issues, his grip over facts and willingness to listen to other views earned him great respect and admiration. He attractedeven activists like Kobad Ghandy and Professor Saibaba, who differed with him politically, to interact with him
and look to him for help and guidance. Social and cultural activists and scholars regularly met him.
As he grew old, he developed the habit of holding my hand while walking. After three decades of close interaction, I wonder: What was the nature of our relationship? Was it that of a leader and a cadre? The party general secretary engaging with a secretary? Or a senior colleague engaging with his junior? Two comrades? Was it a relationship between a father and a son?
I feel Bardhan holding my hand. I feel a closeness of minds. It will remain so forever.