Bhalchandra Bhai Vaidya was called Bhai Vaidya by most people. I always addressed him as Bhai. In our village, it was an accepted norm to call a father “Bhai”. I came into contact with Bhai after my father passed away — I never really missed that close connection one feels with one’s father. An invisible thread of an almost familial relationship developed between us from the very first meeting.
He died on April 2 from pancreatic cancer, shortly after he was admitted to Poona Hospital. I reached Pune on April 3 to bid a last goodbye to Bhai. His mortal body was kept for the last glimpse at Sane Guruji Smarak, the headquarters of the Rashtra Seva Dal (RSD). On reaching the crematorium, a police band played in his respect and he was also given a gun salute, after which his body was taken to the electric crematorium. This state honour was given to him due to his position as a former home minister of Maharashtra (1978-1980) and former Mayor of Poona (1974-75).
I was surprised that thousands of people participated in the last journey of a leader who was away from the corridors of power for the past three decades, who fought anonymously in remote towns and villages. Most of the people present there were not activists but those from general civil society. It was evident they were influenced by the rare personality of Bhai, a wonderful combination of love, service and compassion. Bhai had no sense of bitterness or malice towards anyone. Medieval saints have described “sahajta” (innateness) as a rare quality which, it is acknowledged that can be attained only by a rigorous practice of austerities. Bhai had attained this innate spiritual nature through great perseverance.
He participated in the Quit India movement of 1942. When some people were acting as informers for the imperialists, Bhai, then just 14 years old, was participating in the decisive battle of the Independence movement. Gandhi gave a call for the Quit India Movement, but it was led by young socialist leaders. In 1946, at the age of 18, Bhai became a member of the Congress Socialist Party (CSP). In 1948, he joined the Socialist Party, through which he continued his long political struggle that prominently includes the Goa Liberation struggle (1955-1961) and the JP Movement (1974-74). During the Emergency, he was jailed under Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) from 1975 to 1977. He had an important role in the Rashtra Seva Dal and became its president in 2001. Bhai’s wish was that the Rashtra Seva Dal should take the responsibility of cadre building for the Socialist Party so that the youth could be saved from the grip of communal politics.
In my opinion, Bhai’s political innings after 1991 is more important. That year, against the constitutional values and provisions, the Congress imposed new economic policies on the country. At that time senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that “Congress has now taken over the work of his party (BJP)”. This illegitimate decision was to breed disastrous consequences for society and nation-building. Instead of putting up a political fight to these developments, most socialists made power the goal of politics. In doing so, they not only destroyed the socialist movement but also defamed it.
However, socialist leaders/thinkers such as Kishan Patnaik, Sachchidanand Sinha, Vinodprasad Singh, Surendra Mohan, Bhai Vaidya, Justice Rajindar Sachar, Pannalal Surana, G G Parikh, initiated a big venture to create a small but new political stream as a genuine alternative.
Bhai became the general secretary of Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP), formed in 1995. When the Socialist Party was reinstated in 2011, he was made its president. At that time he was over 80 years old. He did not want to take this responsibility. But on the insistence of Justice Sachar and young socialists, he agreed to be the president. He sustained that responsibility actively. Bhai used to consider the democratic socialist ideology as an alternative to capitalism. He had firm conviction in the imminent defeat of capitalism. From this ground of faith, he continued to inspire Socialist Party workers. That inspiration is alive even after his death.
Goodbye, Bhai. You rest in peace. The struggle for equality and freedom will continue.