IF THERE is a politician who could relate the most to India’s winter of simmering discontent and the surprise invocation of revolutionary Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz as part of the confrontation with power, it is D P Tripathi. Rather, it was D P Tripathi. The sharp, witty and incisive Tripathi (67), who was once the face of the students’ resistance against Emergency in the mid-1970s, died on Thursday. He was battling cancer.
In a political era marked by charged debates and fraught, at times bitter, relations between leaders, Tripathi — DPT to his friends — was a class apart. He was the quintessential old-school politician who cultivated and nurtured warm personal relations with leaders across the political spectrum. From the CPI(M) to Congress and then to NCP, and a brief association with former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar in between, he switched parties, surprising even his friends, in his over four-decade political life, but remained firmly committed to left of the centre ideology. Tripathi loved poetry, especially Faiz’s writings, and literature. His love for poetry and Faiz resulted in a book ‘Celebrating Faiz’, a collection of some of the poet’s writings in different genres, in 2011.
In fact, Tripathi was one of the organisers of Jashn-e-Faiz in Allahabad when Faiz came to India in 1980. He was then a lecturer in the political science department at Allahabad University, which he left in 1988. The event brought together three literary giants on a single platform for the first time — Hindi poet Mahadevi Verma, Urdu poet Firaq Gorakhpuri and Faiz.
Politics was his lifeline. Tripathi came into prominence in the mid-1970s when words like “dictatorship” and “resistance” were high on the political lexicon. Having joined Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1973, he was president of the JNU Students’ Union (SFI) when Emergency was declared on June 25, 1975. Like many others, he went underground and waged a resistance.
Stories of how he stopped Maneka Gandhi, who was then a student of German at JNU, from attending class since the students were on a strike against Emergency, and how he had to stay in hiding in a washerman’s house behind the Statesman Building on Barakhamba Road in the Capital for a few days after that since his act had angered “those in power” are part of the resistance narrative of a different era. He was arrested in November that year, and sent to Tihar Jail, where he spent the next two years with other political detainees like Arun Jaitley.
“He led the fight against Emergency in JNU, and was jailed under MISA throughout the period of Emergency. He was a courageous leader who stood up. JNUSU was one of the few university unions which came out boldly against the Emergency… In that period, the JNUSU became a fighting students’ union; the struggle had started earlier, but the high point was that fight against the Emergency… and Tripathi symbolised that struggle,” said senior CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat.
Many of Tripathi’s contemporaries said his “sharp intellect”, “political acumen”, “brilliant oratorical skills” and erudition in Hindi, Sanskrit and Urdu literature always stood out.
Tripathi was visually challenged. “Despite that, he was very erudite… in reading and was very quick on the uptake… He had a literary flair. He was quick in coining slogans… I still remember how he came up with a slogan for my campaign (badi ladai, ooncha kaam, Sitaram, Sitaram),” said CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, who succeeded Tripathi as JNUSU president in 1977.
Politics remained his passion, but not the colour of the party flag. He left the CPI(M) and embraced the Congress three years later. Tripathi, who had become the symbol of resistance against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency at JNU and even stopped her daughter-in-law from attending a class, joined the grand old party in 1983.
When Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister, Tripathi was known to be his confidante. “I once went to his house and saw three chief ministers waiting to meet him… He was influential during those days… I remember that he managed Amitabh Bachchan’s election from Allahabad,” recalled Hindi author Akhilesh.
In 1999, when Sharad Pawar left the Congress to form the NCP, Tripathi left with him. He remained with Pawar after that, as party general secretary and spokesperson. In 2012, the NCP sent him to Rajya Sabha — he became an MP close to four decades after he entered politics.
“A firm voice who took a stand for my party as a spokesperson and general secretary. He has been with us since the establishment of the NCP and played a very important role at the national level. His demise is a personal loss to me. May his soul rest in peace,” said NCP chief Sharad Pawar.