Red Salute, Comrade AB Bardhan

(25 September 1924 – 2 January 2016)

(CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya pays tribute to veteran CPI leader Comrade AB Bardhan)

AS 2016 began its journey, Comrade AB Bardhan bade goodbye to his countless comrades and admirers. His long march in the communist movement had begun in the 1940s when he was a student and continued ceaselessly for nearly eight decades with youthful energy, activism and optimism till the very end. Comrade Bardhan breathed his last soon after the CPI observed a series of programmes across the country to mark the party's 90th foundation anniversary. Comrade Bardhan's last public appearance was in the international communist seminar held on this occasion in the CPI headquarters in Delhi followed, a few days later, by a symposium against communal fascism.

For a large part of his communist life, Comrade Bardhan worked on the trade union front. He was a communist organizer and leader of the working class who paid as much attention to the task of imparting political education and popularizing Marxist ideology among workers as to the task of defending the immediate economic interests and political rights of the working class. As the General Secretary of AITUC, he played a key role in forging a broad fighting unity of Left trade unions and other mass organisations to resist the neo-liberal policy offensive during its initial phase. Many of our trade union and other mass organization leaders have fond memories of interacting with Comrade Bardhan in joint meetings and campaigns during this period.

In the later phase after Comrade AB Bardhan took over as General Secretary of the CPI, our interaction with him became less frequent as the CPI along with CPI(M) moved towards structured coordination and cooperation with the UPA government at the centre. But after Singur and Nandigram when the LF government became hugely discredited in West Bengal Comrade Bardhan often publicly criticised the mistakes and called for course correction which however was never to happen in West Bengal.

Following the UPA-Left rupture in the wake of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the scope of united action between the CPI and CPI(ML) again increased in Bihar. In 2009 and 2010 our two parties fought the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections together. I remember an election meeting in Begusarai during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections which we had jointly addressed. In that meeting I took the opportunity to make an open public request to Comrade Bardhan to see that the unity between our two parties continued at least in Bihar even if we had differences in some other states. Speaking just after I had finished Comrade Bardhan said the CPI was committed to Left unity not only in Bihar but in other states too.

But as it turned out the CPI moved closer to Nitish Kumar after he parted ways with the BJP and in 2014 the CPI fought the Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the JDU. I had an opportunity later to remind Comrade Bardhan of his Begusarai speech and he said yes the Left must remain united in Bihar. In the 2015 Assembly elections, the CPI indeed returned to the path of Left unity in Bihar and in what would become his last public meeting in Patna, Comrade Bardhan addressed the united Left ranks in a jam-packed SK Memorial Hall and called upon the Left movement in Bihar to march together in bold and resolute steps. He was very happy that the Left had managed to get united on a big scale and asked us to nurture this great possibility with all our strength.

As we all know, the elections saw a sharp polarisation between the NDA and the newly formed RJD-JDU-Congress alliance and the Left performance was below expectation. Yet when we all met at Ajay Bhawan after the elections, I got a warm hug from Comrade Bardhan for our victory in three seats. 'You have kept the red flag flying', he told me with great affection and confident optimism. Despite his failing health, he sat through that meeting and insisted that we chalked out a joint programme on December 6, the Babri Masjid demolition day that coincided with the death anniversary of Dr. Ambedkar.

A great orator in English and Hindi, a comrade who could always overcome the age barrier and generation gap with warm affection and witty humour, and above all, a dedicated communist who gave his all to the movement with tireless activism for decades on end, Comrade AB Bardhan will be fondly remembered for a long time to come. And it will be a memory that will continue to inspire us to keep the flag flying even in the darkest of times.

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