ON THE EDGE
E had reached his eighty five. Not an unusual age for a natural death. No wonder then that an octogenarian in him breathed his last on Thursday, 17 December.
Even a decade ago, people in Silchar were used to a regular sight. An ex-MLA and ex-MP walking down the Central Road with a cloth bag suspended from his shoulder. He was the first communist member from Assam to step into the Lok Sabha.
He would always take a bus from Silchar to reach Guwahati. By then, this man was a CPI-M Central Committee member, a member of the state secretariat of his party. But he would be seen struggling his way to find some room in a crowded and ramshackle bus to reach Sonai or Lakhipur or some obscure destination in Cachar district to attend a Krishak Sabha meeting.
He was never imposing. He never exuded the kind of confidence the so called charismatic political leaders of contemporary India are identified with. He did not hold regular Press conferences to issue updates on what he was doing for the hoi polloi. He did not know the tricks of media management.
Press also did never make a beeline for his photo ops. His arrival from Delhi was never advertised in the local newspapers. Hence, he never saw his fans jostling around him at airports or railway stations to get a feel of his skin.
He did not have a financial fortune. So he could not keep the Durga Puja organisers in good humour. He did not believe in religion in the usual sense of the term. People liked him. But they perhaps did not approve of his agnosticism.
There was information on the grapevine that the Hindu Bengali wife of this Manipuri Muslim communist leader could freely practise her rituals at home. Those were the days when the people of Barak Valley could differentiate between private practise and public appearance.
Heresy was actually not an issue in the political discourse of those times in Barak Valley. Rationalism was not decried. Free speeches and even radical views could coexist with the orthodoxy.
Money and muscle power had begun to show its sway over electoral outcomes. But there were people, not negligible in number, who still held that polls should be won and lost on ideological plank.
Student politics in the premier colleges of the Valley then was dominated by real political discourse. The Left organisations had a sound strength and acceptance among the college goers.
The parameters of the political debates then were not communal, sectarian or xenophobic. Chat shows on the television channels did not chart the agenda for the country in those ages.
Brilliant students then took to politics rather than taking entrances for IITs or RECs alone. Their guardians, though tough in dealing with errant children outwardly, were proud of the ideological commitment of their progeny in the abyss of their hearts.
And this bunch of meritorious and avid readers of the youth knew for themselves what the nation should be like. So they did not require a smart looking Oxford-tutored television anchor to tell them at the top of his accented voice what the ‘nation needs to know.’
This is actually the tale of a time that has long disappeared. This communist leader was the product of that time. He or his party could not afford a master tactician Prashant Kishor to win elections for him. Moreover, he did not consider elections to be battles, which required strategists to win.
In those days, individual opponents were not important. Political ideologies and policies were. Voters were not treated as sample units in statistical studies, or customers in buying and selling process that they were to be spoofed to win the hustings.
This tall, plainly dressed and with unassuming looks, but with a bright pair of eyes happened to be a brilliant student in his schools and colleges. He did his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering with a first class from the College of Engineering and Technology in Kolkata, which later became Jadavpur University, in the early fifties.
He got plush jobs in some reputed organisations as well. He could have continued with that cozy life. But he decided against it.
In 1966, he came back to Barak Valley, his home ground, to work for the people and bring in qualitative change in their lives through his communist politics.
The Communist Party of India was on the brink of bifurcation then. When that actually happened, he opted for the breakaway faction, CPI-M, and continued with it till his last.
In that epoch, political lexicon did not include fashionable jargon, ‘aam aadmi’. He always worked for the common people-the toiling, deprived, marginalised sections who were yet to get the taste of independence. He called them masses. They constituted his political constituency.
The Polit Bureau of his party has mentioned in the condolence message after his demise that he ‘selflessly worked throughout his life for the upliftment (sic) of the Indian people’. A true epithet is that. He indeed did do.
He contested as many as eleven elections in Barak Valley, won only twice. But he was always a formidable candidate in all other electoral frays. He was handed over a glorious legacy of communism when he joined the Valley politics. And he carried that on with much greater vigour and vivacity on his broad shoulders.
People loved him, and loved from the core of their heart. His simplicity, his commitment to the ism he espoused for, his role as a people’s leader had all earned him that adoration. He was revered even by his political adversaries.
His party diktat had summoned him to Delhi a decade ago. These ten long years have seen the fast deterioration in the political culture of the Valley. The anti-Congress communist space has been completely appropriated by the pro-Hindutva brand of BJP politics.
His party had long lost the electoral relevance. But his departure sealed the ideological relevance also. He was increasingly becoming a loner in the changed political culture of the Valley. But he loved walking. He loved the people.
Silchar or Delhi, he did not stop his walking. He perhaps knew his destination was still a far cry. But that did not deter him.
Barak Valley finally lost that leader who they knew would walk even a lonely road for them. People might have rejected him in electoral politics, but he would never desert his people.
(Joydeep Biswas is an associate professor of economics at Cachar College, Silchar, Assam. To see all his previous articles, click here)
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