Veteran leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan, passed away in New Delhi Saturday. He was 91.
A widely respected politician, his influence extended beyond electoral strength and geographical spread of the CPI, which he steered through highs and lows during the challenging era of coalition politics in the last two decades. He was CPI’s general secretary for 16 years from 1996.
He breathed his last at G B Pant hospital where he was admitted on December 7 after he suffered brain haemorrhage. Despite his age, he was active till he suffered the stroke. He is survived by son Ashok Bardhan, a professor at Berkeley University, and daughter Alka Barua, a retired doctor. His body would be kept at the CPI headquarters for people to pay last respects Sunday. He will be cremated Monday at Nigambodh Ghat.
Born on September 25, 1925, in Sylhet, now in Bangladesh, he embraced Communism at the age of 15 after he moved to Nagpur. He joined All India Students’ Federation (AISF) at Nagpur University in 1940. He became a member of then banned CPI the same year and became its full-time member next year. He was elected president of Nagpur University Students’ Union and later joined the trade union movement — working with electricity, railway, textile and defence workers. He held a postgraduate degree in economics and a law degree.
He moved to Delhi in the 1980s. But it was much later that he strode through national politics. He became general secretary of CPI’s trade union arm AITUC in 1994 and became deputy general secretary of CPI a year later when India was in the throes of Mandal and mandir politics.
He took over as CPI general secretary at 71 when Indrajit Gupta stepped down after joining the United Front Government as Home Minister. Initially, Bardhan largely remained in the shadows of Gupta and Chaturanan Mishra, another prominent minister in the United Front government.
He had developed a good rapport with post-Mandal players from the Hindi heartland and even with the likes of TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu during and after the United Front years. The Left was a key player in United Front governments between 1996 and 1998. The 2004 general election threw up a fractured verdict, giving a historic opportunity to the Left. While late CPM veteran Harkishen Singh Surjeet is credited with bringing Left parties closer to Congress and stitching up the UPA, Bardhan too played a significant role.
Bardhan’s moment of glory came when Congress began confabulations with outside supporters Left for a consensus on the Presidential candidate. The Left rejected many names suggested by Congress, which was not willing to spare Pranab Mukherjee, who was acceptable to CPM.
With negotiations at a dead end, Bardhan suggested that it should be a woman. The otherwise reticent Manmohan Singh suggested Rajasthan Governor Pratibha Patil. Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury and D Raja did not know much about her. Bardhan endorsed her candidature and the deal was struck. In 2012, when Congress nominated Mukherjee as Presidential candidate, Bardhan’s CPI opposed while CPM supported him. CPI abstained from voting.
He was among the first Left leaders to admit that the Left’s decision to break ties with the Manmohan Singh government on the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal was a mistake.
A prolific writer, he co-authored books with E M S Namboodiripad and others.
A puritan, he was against ideological deviations among party workers and leaders. In matters of tactics, Bardhan at times showed flexibility. His party colleagues remember he was open to contrary views. “You could defeat or convince him only on the basis of logic and reality,” CPI leader Atul Kumar Anjaan said.