With Vinod, Since My Childhood
Brij Bihari Pandey
I cannot exactly recall when I first met that lanky, dark complexioned, curly haired boy. May be around early 1956. His house was hardly 100 yards away from mine. The colony was built by the labour department of the UP government; where the quarters were allotted to industrial workers and non-gazetted employees. Much later, while dwelling on our common past Vinod surmised that we were fortunate enough to have spent our childhood and adolescence in this working class neighborhood that gave us the raw experience of the weal and woes in a workers life.
By the end of the 50s, a cricket team had emerged under Vinods captainship. It was not that he was the best cricketer, but a born leader, he was indeed. He was called Bade Vinod because there was a junior Vinod Shukla among us, called Chhote Vinod. There was no challenge to Bade Vinods captainship, but after two years he himself decided to quit and hand over the captainship to me. Seeing that I may not win if my rival, a braggart boy, bags votes from his block, Vinod chalked out a shrewd plan. When elections were announced he too filed his own name. Seeing this my rival did not contest. And at the last hour Vinod withdrew his name.
Those days too he took interest in playing cards but more so in chess, in which he beat us all. He was very fond of reading books, particularly detective novels, of which he was a voracious reader. At a point, hoewever, he got fed up with their content. He planned to produce a novel against whom he thought real criminals in the society, the rich and corrupt politicians, in a joint venture and proposed me to co-author it. I had started penning it but later the project was silently abandoned.
In late 58 Suren Ghosh, an apostle of Vinoba Bhave came to reside in our neighborhood. He mobilised us in a Sarvodaya club. Ghosh da had persuaded our parents to let us use their club in the daytime on working days. In the evening he held Vedic prayers and preached us about Sarvodaya. He had a vow not to touch money, so one of us had to accompany him to handle it. Initially Vinod took tremendous interest in the whole affair and this went on for about a year and a half. Parents were pleased to see their children busy receiving moral education. But soon Vinod saw through the hypocrisy and withdrew from the affair. What irked him, firstly, was an "Akhand Ramayana Path" organised by Ghosh da, which Vinod declined to participate in. Secondly, Ghosh da mobilised us to go with brooms in hand for a cleaning operation in the sweepers colony. This seemed dubious to Vinod, who had by then turned critical of Gandhian approach. What was the point in going once in the lifetime to teach cleanliness to the people who clean the whole colony? Vinod also found Ghosh da making status differentiation among us. The club winded up by the time Vinod passed his High School examination.
Good at studies and sound in morals, Vinod had so unquestionable reputation of a good boy among the parents of our neighborhood that no one ever thought he had any vices. He was a kind hearted friend who rushed to help those in need with everything at his disposal, without caring what his parents would say.
He used to think that revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad had opportunity to serve the motherland because they were born in the colonial era, but there was no such scope now. However, towards the mid-60s, when he was in the final year of his graduation, his old beliefs started crumbling and rationalism started marking imprints on his character. Not only he became an atheist, he soon started thinking about society in terms of left or socialist solution. To some extent he had realised that the root cause of problems in the society lay in exploitation by capitalists and their hold over the government. He could also recognise the backwardness of India due to the imperialist domination. But still he had no access to Marxist education.
In his heart he was eager to lay hands at a radical solution. But there was no way out. For a brief period Vinods question-packed mind made him a bit unstable. He was mentally disturbed and could not concentrate on studies. He became quite sentimental too and had a shortlived, unsuccessful love relationship. Because of the changes in his life style, his relations with parents were no more amicable as earlier.
He was 18, just adult, when he joined Christ Church College to do his M. Sc. in Mathematics. For the first time in his life he contested for the post of councillor to the students association. It was not an act of a good boy. But Vinod took chance. With a lot of difficulty he somehow mobilized the money required to get propaganda bills printed, putting his own pocket expenses, or loans from friends, all into it. He didnt have sufficient hands, so for most of it he had to propagate for himself. As was expected, he lost, but this event brought a significant change in his personality. He had started off his course as a student leader.
No more a good boy, he used to remain outside till late in the night with his new acquaintances. Transcending the neighbourhood, now he had moved out to make friends with people mostly older than us. Those days he came into contact with some left leaning persons including a poet, and also read some socialist literature available in Kanpur.
At this juncture, when the direction of our life was quite unsettled, an unexpected thing took place. Just to answer the challenge put up by the same braggart friend of us, Vinod and myself took the IIT entrance examination, and owing to our received notion that mechanical engineering was the best of all branches, both of us landed at the Regional Engineering College, Durgapur in 1966.
I joined late and by that time ragging was almost over, so I was spared of this otherwise unavoidable trouble. But Vinod thought it unfair and chalked out a plan to let me taste what other freshers had to swallow. He asked a classmate from Delhi to act as a senior. Along with classmates he too come to see the fun. While he himself posed serious, others could not hold their laughter after some time and then everything became clear.
He was very bright at Mathematics and the classmates would come to take his help in case of complicated problems. It is here that he learned to play bridge, and soon emerged as a shrewd player. Moreover, he showed his skills at chess too and only the college champion could match him.
When we were in the first year itself his mother died, but his father did not inform him immediately lest it harm his studies. A few days later when he learned the news of his mothers demise from his fathers letter, he broke in tears and immediately prepared up to leave. He did not stop crying until he boarded Kalka Mail in the night from Durgapur Station.
It was in the 2nd year (67-68) that Vinod and other leftist students could form a sort of loose group in the college. The impact of Naxalbari was being felt and Vinod was quick to adopt radical positions. One day a student told me that Mishra was saying it was India and not China who attacked and that all the disputed land did belong to China. He apprehended that ultra-nationalist students may attack Mishra. But such incidents were only to take place later.
During the vacations when we went to Kanpur, Vinod and some of us in our colony met Comrade Ram Asrey, a respected communist leader belonging to the CPI(M), in the quarter of a worker in our neighbourhood. We had a day-long meeting. We got several booklets in Hindi and English published by USSR on the occasion of 50th anniversary of Great October Socialist Revolution. We also got booklets carrying Maos articles. Going through all this material elevated Marxian politics to the level of science in our minds. But most important thing we learnt in our discussions with Comrade Ram Asrey was that the key to solutions of problems in India lay in agrarian revolution.
Vinods association with leftist students provided him the urge to learn Bengali and in a short time he could speak and read Bengali magazines. This broadened the scope of his interaction with students.
In the 3rd year (68-69), Vinod and his radical group had already forged links with the AICCCR and the political differences with CPI(M) had become clear. Mishra was one of the leaders of the group that planned to capture all the posts in the students gymkhana. He used to join night-long wall writing programmes, writing slogans related to election boycott and hailing the armed peasant struggle in Naxalbari and Srikaulam. Apart from Deshabrati, he read Maos selected writings; he read Edgar Snow, Felix Greene, Stuart Schram, John Reed, Anna Louis Strong, Neville Maxwell and many others, even books about Che Guevara and by new left writers including Regis Debrey, Hebert Marquis, Franz Fannon etc. He went through classical writings from Marx-Engels-Lenin, and even "The Capital".
It was after the police firing on the last day of our third year examinations that Vinod decided to become a wholetimer. In the 4th year he never attend any classes; he stayed in the hostel just to conduct political activities among students as well as workers in the nearby area. After I overcame my dilemma and was at last admitted to the secret leading team, I came to know that Vinod himself was the leader of the college group, and not Gautam Sen, the well-known mass leader. Later this leading body was transformed into a local committee, which enjoyed influence not only among students, but also among workers and the school students in the township. In the beginning of 70, when Bardhaman DOC decided to merge this organisation with the township local committee to form the Local Organising Committee (LOC), Mishra was appointed its secretary. Then onwards he started spending more time out of the hostel.
It was under his leadership that the ringleaders of lumpens and anti-communist elements were given an thorough drubbing in March 70. In face of workers mobilised by CPI(M) entering the campus to attack us, Vinod decided not to have a confrontation and planned a retreat, advising all others to vacate the hostel and go home. Our leading core took shelter in different areas of the township. He had decided to call a meeting after three days to plan a comeback. When we were caught by the CPI(M) following a leak-out, in the confinement an undaunted Mishra engaged in sharp debates with the CPI(M) leaders, and launched a hunger strike demanding our release.
When he was ultimately released, instead of going to Kanpur he got down at Asansol defying all threats issued by CPI(M) leaders, contacted the local organisation and started making preparation for a counterattack. And after that, when the red terror was established, in spite of the fact that the CRP was posted at the hostels and there were FIRs lodged against us all, he asked the lumpen anti-communist elements to surrender, and gradually all of them did comply.
In the March itself CM had issued his famous call to youth and students exhorting them to leave schools and colleges and plunge headlong into the revolutionary struggle. A new upsurge of students and youths came in its wake and the cities were afire with actions. Under VMs leadership, Durgapur became a live volcano of struggle. Soon came CMs twin articles "To the Working Class" and "A Few Words on Our Work among the Working Class". Comrade Saroj Datta had also come up to attend Durgapur party meeting. Putting utmost emphasis on party work among the working class, VM implemented these instruction in a most creative way; as a result the workers struggle acquired a new dimension in Durgapur, namely the struggle on the question of workers prestige. The organisation expanded among workers as well as youths. It was due to this pioneering role that he was soon coopted to the Bardhaman DC. However, he got arrested while on his way to attend the DC meeting. He withstood inhuman torture meted out by the secret police but revealed nothing. Ultimately the PVA Act was clamped on him and he was sent to Behrampur Central Jail. In the jail he learned CMs articles by rote and explained them to others.
When he was released unconditionally following the withdrawal of the PVA Act, I met him in Durgapur. First he was sent to Chittaranjan and then for some time he remained in Durgapur, awaiting his deployment in the countryside of Bardhaman district. Ifound that jail life had brought a lot of change in him. He had earned much more maturity; his resoluteness, concentration and determination towards the party and revolution had increased manifold. He talked with surprising clarity in his interpretations of the party line. Workers acquainted with him admired him deeply, he was still their leader beyond organisational considerations. Later when he left for the countryside, I happened to take shelter in a DSP workers house, where Dilip (VM) had stayed for a few days. This worker of Madhya Pradesh origin revealed that whenever he returned from the factory, he could sense that Dilip had been thinking about him all the time! He always wanted to have a live account of what had happened in the workplace.
In 1973, when I had already gone to work in Bihar countryside on my own, once I met him in Durgapur. He said he required me in his area, but the condition of the RC was such that I would have to wait. As I couldnt, so he reluctantly agreed to let me go to Bihar. Then onwards for quite sometime I had to work away from him.
In his party life, Vinod always avoided petty questions and concentrated on questions related to political line or those of major organisational importance. Nor did he ever indulge in unprincipled gossips where some people are targetted for criticism. Instead he always highlighted the positive side of the comrades and made suggestions on how to reform them. However, at times he would demolish hypocrisy with a cutting sarcasm. He always stood against narrow-mindedness and put emphasis on investigation and study. Due to all this he soon assumed leadership in his new area of work and then he was once again coopted to the Burdwan Regional Committee in the early 73.
The death of CM was a big blow to him because he strongly believed that despite all his ill health, CM would lead the Indian democratic revolution to its culmination. The formation of the new Central Committee manned by Sharma and Mahadev on 5-6 December 1972 could never energize him, because he read into the statement issued by them that they could not put politics in command. On Mahadevs insistence this CC was busy in finding out petty things like who informed about CMs shelter etc. The resolution said nothing about the last instructions of CM or developing party line in the changed conditions. He began reading into the last article by CM "Its Peoples Interest That Is Partys Interest" but its authenticity was put to doubt by Mahadev. Vinod came out with the analysis that because of his ill health Com. CM was surrounded by metaphysically self-centred persons who could not feed him with the real situation. They supplied him only their own jaundiced view. This isolation from the ranks was the real reason behind CMs arrest and his consequent death. From this he took the lesson that the leadership must have direct contact with the ranks if it desires to provide a dynamic leadership.
Following the 10th congress of the CPC, Mahadev took the position that because Lin Piao was the chosen successor to Mao, he must be hailed and that Chairman Mao had been encircled within the CPC. This implied that the CPC had turned revisionist. Vinod firmly stood against this ridiculous position and linked it with the metaphysical outlook of Mahadev, betrayed in his political practice. Thus he led the Bardhaman RC to rebel against Mahadev. However, he was always in search of an alternative centre because it was his firm belief that without a centre party could not exist. Therefore, as and when he came to know that Sharma was not at one with Mahadevs line, he asked Bardhaman RC to establish direct connection with Sharma.
Meanwhile, Sharma declared that he had changed the partys tactical line introducing the practice of open mass organisations and mass movements, he also declared that Chinas Chairman our Chairman had been taken back, etc. All this he did on the pretext that CM himself wanted to introduce these changes through his last article, but it was done arbitrarily by writing an editorial to "Lokyudh" (late 73). He never cared to take cadres at large into confidence. Vinod immediately realized that such a step will further confuse ranks and undermine their unity built around CM line. However, Bardhaman RC secretary sided with Sharma and advocated a change in the line immediately. So the RC replaced him and made Vinod the secretary. In Vinods opinion, as CMs line was adopted at a party congress, therefore any changes in the line must be made through another congress only after widest possible discussion. With this stand he went to meet Sharma. When Sharma did not pay heed to his proposal, he made another one: the Bardhaman RC would accept Sharmas leadership provided it is allowed to carry on the practice along CMs line. Quite arrogantly, Sharma turned down this proposal too. Later, in his talks with me Vinod told about the uncomradely behaviour Sharma and his comrades meted out to Bardhaman RC comrades.
Be that as it may, VM had by now lost hope of finding any readymade centre and decided to forge a new centre himself. Under his leadership the Bardhaman RC had expanded its network to several districts including the Naxalbari area. He did a lot of theoretical work in interpreting CM line in a non-dogmatic, creative way. Ultimately a state committee was formed and he became its secretary. On the other hand, he came to know that Bihar State Committee had also severed its connection with Mahadev and rejected the leadership of Sharma as well. So he tried to forge links with Comrade Johar under whose leadership the peasant movement was surging ahead in the plains of Bihar. This endeavour culminated in the formation of the Central Committee on 28 July 1974.
I cannot forget the words that he wrote to me in a long letter. Those days I was working in Bihar but had lost faith in any of the functioning centres. For all practical purposes, my circle of 7-8 wholetimers coming from Bengal was my own centre, and I had serious reservations on the partys tactical line. Some comrades of that group later joined Sharma group. Vinod was unable to resolve the questions I posed before him, he admitted, but it was his categorical assertion that only revolutionary practice can resolve them, and it would take its own time. He underlined the basics and then made a highly emotional appeal: "We have always been together in rain and shine, we have fought together, and I hope we shall win together as well". To this I couldnt but reply: "Yes comrade, I shall be with you". And in no time I started working with the party organisation in Bihar. It is correct that every person joins the party on his or her own behalf, there is no such thing like a friendship society joining a communist party en masse. Yet I cannot say whether I would have become a wholetimer at that juncture had Vinod not done so. I must concede that since the very childhood he had enjoyed such an influence over me.
Today Vinod is no more along with me in flesh and blood, but he will always remain with me at my heart as the moving spirit in our common fight and victory.