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Comrade who worked out a President

  By Vijay Darda | 04-01-2016

For most Nagpurians and the rest of us in Maharashtra, from the 60s onwards Comrade Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan was a loser. He would lose election after election, but was still the CPI candidate. Yet, he is the only comrade who worked out a President of India.

Roll back to the years of the first UPA government, when the Communists were supporting the Congress at the Centre. The Congress was not willing to ‘spare’ Pranab Mukherjee who was the first choice of the Marxists. To break the deadlock, Comrade Bardhan came up with the winner of an idea. Why not have a woman as President? Then the deal got done and Pratibhatai Patil became the first woman President of India. The old connection between Bardhan and Vidarbha came alive. This is just one of the tales from a life spanning nearly 7 decades on the Indian political scene. The young student who participated in the freedom struggle and then went on to play an uninterrupted innings at different levels watching all the prime ministers and political players perform on the stage could have been the teller of countless such stories had he chosen to write his memoirs. But Comrade Bardhan was made of a different stuff. He actively discarded the idea of writing his memoirs. “Biographies are being written by all and sundry, which anyway is an exercise in self-congratulation and meant to blame others. I will not write,” he had said sitting in Ajoy Bhavan as he turned 90.

Yes, he had just a room in the party headquarters and not a complete bunglow in the Lutyens’ Zone that is generally the way politicians even with a miniscule of Comrade Bardhan’s clout spend their lives. But struggle and a puritan way of life were synonymous with Comrade Bardhan, and for decades the streets of Nagpur have been witness to all the movements and protests that have shaped the lives of the working class in this region. He may not have been winning elections but there is no doubt that he was emerging as the wise man in whose advice and genuine support you could trust. Believe me, such a man is a rare commodity in the otherwise treacherous corridors of power.

It was because of this essential strength of character that Comrade Bardhan made the transition from the state politics to the national stage first at the level of the trade union movement as the head of the All India Trade Union Congress, and then as the boss of the Communist Party of India. From the 90s, the CPI has been one of the players in the national coalition at the centre, and his interplay with leaders of various parties has been nationally significant once he took over Comrade Indrajit Gupta. 

He stayed at the helm for 16 years, and even after he stepped down his was the voice of the CPI. Primarily, because he has the courage of conviction, and did not feel shy of admitting the mistakes. For instance, he shared Comrade Jyoti Basu’s assessment that not accepting the Prime Minister’s post in 1996 was a “historic blunder” of the Left. “That was an opportunity, a lost one, to show to the country that Communist politics is different. Within the limitations of a capitalist system also, we must have tried that,” Comrade Bardhan had admitted.

Very few politicians would have the courage to admit that they have committed blunder after blunder, but not Comrade Bardhan, and for him the parting of ways with the Congress in 2008 was another “wrong move” of the Left, which triggered a series of developments that created a “vacuum that has now been occupied by rightist forces led by an authoritarian leader.” It is this element of ideological and analytical clarity that would be sadly missed in the vacuum that has been created by the passing away of this amiable politician. For him, opposition was ideological and there was never any need to use harsh words or get into ugly verbal spats.

It is here that the essentially cosmopolitan character of Nagpur — a central Indian town that was then the capital of the Hindi-speaking Central Provinces, and the Marathi speaking Berar came into play and there is a long list of public figures beginning from prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, the Shukla brothers –Shyama Charan and Vidya Charan, the Union ministers N K P Salve, Vasant Sathe,– down to the present Union minister Nitin Gadkari who have made their mark on the national scene with this persona embodying the spirit of public service in all its dimensions. Comrade Bardhan was one of the guiding icons of this spirit. Let us not forget that as ideologies the Sangh and the Communist parties have been poles apart, but the leaders of the two have come from the same place. Of course, the Congress and Nagpur have a glorious past, and that goes without saying.

Controversy and politics seem to go hand in hand. However, in Comrade Bardhan’s case there was not even a whiff of any controversy. The reason seems to be very obvious. The way in which he separated his personal and political life was at the heart of it. When in Nagpur, he lived in the simple middle class Gittikhadan colony, and his two children –Ashok and Alka — studied to be professionals like most of the Nagpur kids from such homes. He also ensured that at no stage would they come in to his public domain.

The Communist parties do not look ahead at any great future in electoral terms. But it would be churlish to dismiss the utility of the Left thinking and approach as completely irrelevant. Comrade Bardhan had the right prescription for the road ahead when he said: “For the Left to survive, it has to rediscover, reform and attune itself to the realities of the present.” The question is whether the Left leaders have this ability to rediscover themselves. Or else they would have to remain content on the side lines and never get the opportunity to make a President of India.

Before I conclude…

The terror attack at the Pathankot air base is the kind of the beginning to a New Year that would better have been shunned. But the lessons in this violence lie not just its condemnations. You do not become a powerful nation unless you learn the exercise of power in various ways. So long we seem to be powerless when Pakistan hurts us. We need to collectively get out of this mess.


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Comrade who worked out a President


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