Veteran Indian communist leader A B Bardhan is no more!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
India’s veteran leader of The Communist Party of India (CPI) A B Bardhan passed away in New Delhi at the G B Pant Hospital veteran on December 02 night after prolonged illness, and his body will kept at the party headquarters on Monday for his followers and admirers to have a last glimpse before the final rites were conducted in the afternoon. Bardhan, who steered the party during the turbulent period of coalition politics at national level in 1990s, was hospitalized after he lost consciousness on December 7.
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.
Bardhan, a leading figure of the trade union movement and Left politics, had rose to become the General Secretary and then President of All India Trade Union Congress, the oldest trade union in India. Bardhan entered the electoral politics in 1957 when he won as an Independent candidate in Maharashtra Assembly polls but there failed to achieve success in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha polls. He moved to Delhi politics in the 1990s and became the Deputy General Secretary of CPI. He succeeded Indrajit Gupta who was a cabinet minister as General Secretary of the party in 1996.
CPI national secretary D Raja said the cremation will take place at electric crematorium here at 3 PM tomorrow. Before that, his body will be kept at the party headquarters, Ajoy Bhawan, where leaders of Left and other political parties can have his last glimpse, Raja added. “Comrade Bardhan was the senior-most and tallest leader of the Left nationally and commanded respect cutting across party lines. We expect party activists and leaders of other parties to turn up here tomorrow. “His body will be brought to the party headquarters around 10 AM tomorrow so that people can have his last glimpse before we proceed towards electric crematorium at the Nigambodh Ghat at around 1:30 AM,” Raja said. He said Bardhan’s family members including his son Ashok and daughter Alka Barua were already in the city.
92-year old Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan was born on September 25, 1925, in Sylhet, now in Bangladesh, he embraced Communism at the age of 15 after he moved to Nagpur in Maharashtra. He joined All India Students’ Federation (AISF) at Nagpur University in 1940. He held a postgraduate degree in economics and a law degree. He became a member of the 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 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 make Pranab Mukherjee the president, 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. Left parties supported the “profit Bill” of Congress party and burnt their fingers in the elections. Both CPM and CPT were defeated in West Bengal (where the new Trinamool Congress won the poll) and Kerala where the Congress won the poll. Bardhan 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.
Among those who paid tributes to Bardhan were Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury, BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The CPI leader said messages from leaders cutting across party lines expressing their grief over Bardhan’s demise have been received by the party. “Union Minister Harsh Vardhan of BJP also spoke to me over phone and expressed grief over Comrade Bardhan’s demise,” he said.
The CPI (Marxist), in a message, expressed deep grief over the death of Bardhan saying the Left movement in the country has lost an “invaluable” leader, as it underscored his role in building unity amongst communist and Left parties. “The Politburo expresses its deep grief at passing away of Bardhan, veteran leader of Communist and working class movement of India. Comrade Bardhan, as the General Secretary of CPI, helped build Left unity. He played a key role in strengthening relations with CPI (M). Comrade Bardhan’s life and work was that of a dedicated Communist leader. In his death, the CPI and the Left movement have lost an invaluable leader,” it said in a statement.
Despite his age, he was active till he suffered the stroke. Bardhan, who lived in the CPI headquarters in the national capital, is survived by son Ashok Bardhan, a professor at Berkeley University, and daughter Alka Barua, a retired doctor. His wife, a professor in Nagpur University, died in 1986.
A prolific writer, he co-authored books with the first ever elected communist CM in India from Kerala 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.