With the passing of Comrade BB Pandey, we lost the last member of the famous Durgapur trio - Comrades Vinod Mishra, Dhurjati Prasad Bakshi and BB Pandey - who played such a key role in the revival of the CPI(ML) after the setback of early 1970s. Comrades VM and BBP had come to study engineering in Durgapur in 1966 after finishing school in Kanpur. Comrade DP Bakshi was from Chinsura (Chunchura) in Hooghly district and had joined Durgapur Regional Engineering College the year before. Of the Durgapur trio, Comrade VM was the first to depart most prematurely in December 1998, DP Bakshi died just four months after the party's Tenth Congress held at Mansa, Punjab in March 2018, and BBP who passed away on 26 August, 2021.
Those were tumultuous times. Nehru had just passed away in 1964, two years after India's shock defeat in the hands of China in the 1962 India-China war. Lal Bahadur Shastri who followed Nehru too died soon after the 1965 India-Pakistan war and Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister leading eventually to a split in the Congress. Two successive wars, two successive prime ministerial changes, confusion and split in the ruling party and deepening crisis in the economy triggered a period of mass disillusionment and the air was thick with the spirit of change. In 1967, the Congress lost power in nine states. West Bengal was one of those nine states. Additionally, West Bengal was also the state of Naxalbari.
The authorities of Durgapur RE College wanted the college to remain insulated from all the struggles and changes happening all around. They imagined that the liberation war of Vietnam or the peasant uprising of Naxalbari meant nothing to the students of Durgapur who would only bother about their courses and job prospects. The campus culture was designed to keep the students regimented in barrack-type living. Real life however did not comply with the calculations and diktats of the authorities. Students began to defy and revolt and with this the social and institutional boundaries also started getting breached. Students joined mess workers in the campus and industrial workers in the steel town of Durgapur.
The radical student movement in Naxalbari-era Durgapur has not really been adequately discussed. The brewing student revolt within the campus and its growing organic connection with the militant working class movement in the district and the communist revolutionary stirrings in the state produced a powerful steel foundation for revolutionary communist ideology and organisation. Most sensitive among students left the campus and their engineering courses to join the revolutionary movement as full time organisers while scores of their comrades grew into committed supporters.
Durgapur was also a key laboratory and theatre for the working class dimension of the Naxalbari movement. Naxalbari was all about integration of students and workers with the landless poor and vanguard workers and trade union activists of Durgapur responded passionately to this call along with revolutionaries emerging from college and university campuses. While we lost the trio from the Durgapur RE College campus, some of the worker leader comrades are still alive and active. Along with the anti-feudal social upheaval in Bihar and some other parts of rural India, this Durgapur steel foundation contributed immensely to the rise and consolidation of the CPI(ML) Liberation since the re-organisation of the party Central Committee on 28 July, 1974.
Today once again we are witnessing powerful movements on India's streets. Movements in defence of citizenship rights and our constitutional Republic, movements to save India's agriculture from corporate plunderers, movement to save India's strategic resources from being mortgaged to corporate extortion, movement for freedom from all kinds of social, cultural and political subjugation, freedom from fascism. Once again we see great potential of convergence of struggles with students fighting not just for their own immediate future but for the collective interests of the people and for the realisation of the unfulfilled dreams of the architects of modern India. Let the revolutionary legacy of the Durgapur trio inspire us to face today's challenges.
Comrade Brij Bihari Pandey’s sudden demise in Patna on 26 August 2021 due to complications following colon surgery in Patna has been a heavy blow to the entire party.
Hundreds of CPIML activists bid a final farewell to their beloved leader Comrade Brij Bihari Pandey on 27 August 2021 with the pledge to carry forward the struggle for change. The final journey started from the legislative party office in Patna at 3 pm and proceeded through various parts of the city to reach Baans Ghat.
Accompanying the final journey were CPIML General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya as well as senior party leaders and leaders and activists from Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, West Bengal, Jharkhand and other states who had worked closely with Comrade BB Pandey. Earlier, a condolence meeting was organized at the legislative party office which was also attended by Mahagathbandhan leaders including former Bihar Assembly Speaker and RJD leader Shri Udaynarayan Chaudhury, Vrishan Patel, CPI leaders Vijay Narayan Mishra and Ghaznafar Nawab, CPI-M leaders Arun Kumar Mishra and Rampari, RJD MLA from Makhdumpur Satish Das, Forward Bloc leader Amerika Mahto, SUCI(C)leader Suryakar Jitendra, Pushpendra and Mahendra Suman (Patna TIMS), physician Dr PNP Pal and former MLA Ramesh Kushwaha.
Party leaders who paid tribute to Comrade BB Pandey included senior leader Swadesh Bhattacharya, Nandkishore Prasad, UP party in-charge Ramji Rai, senior leader from West Bengal Kartik Pal, Jharkhand State Secretary Janardan Prasad, Bagodar MLA Vinod Singh, Central Control Commission member Uma Gupta, Comrade BB Pandey's wife and AIPWA leader Vibha Gupta, daughters Aditi and Riya, family members, CPIML Bardhaman District Secretary Surendra Singh, IREF leader Kishanu, AIARLA National President Shriram Chaudhury, Bihar State Secretary Kunal, Amar, Dhirendra Jha, Meena Tiwari, Shashi Yadav, Madhu, KD Yadav, Pawan Sharma, RN Thakur, Santosh Sahar, Aleem Akhtar, PS Maharaj, central Committee and State Committee members, party MLAs, and many District Secretaries.
Speaking at the condolence meeting, General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said that 2020-21 has been an extremely sad period for us as we have lost many of our comrades. We lost Comrades Arvind Kumar and Ramjatan Sharma some days ago and now we have gathered here to bid our final farewell to Comrade BB Pandey. Comrade BB Pandey had worked for the party for the past 50 years in various areas and on various fronts, discharging all his responsibilities with utmost dedication. He was a childhood friend of Comrade Vinod Mishra and came into contact with the party while studying in college. Both he and Comrade Vinod Mishra turned their studies into a struggle for people's freedom. Another of his comrades in this campaign was Comrade DP Bakshi whom we had lost in 2018. Many students and industrial workers from the Durgapur region joined them in this drive. Later, Comrade BB Pandey played an important role in the re-organization of CPIML.
Comrade BB Pandey and his comrades did the work of taking the party forward, expanding party activities, and running the party. He played a huge role in giving impetus to party publications. He was consistently active in Lal Jhanda, Liberation, Janmat and Jansanskriti Manch where his intellectual capabilities were invaluable. His was a rare combination of an intellectual and a dedicated and disciplined party soldier and it was due to this quality that he became Chairman of the party's Central Control Commission. He played the role of teacher to students in the party and also outside the party and taught them to practise Marxism.
A condolence meeting was also held in Delhi at the party’s central office on August 29. At the meeting, many comrades shared their warm memories of Pandeyji. Comrades recalled how Pandeyji was a polyglot with an encyclopaedic mastery of a vast range of subjects. Along with English, Hindi, and Bengali, he could also speak a fair bit of Punjabi, and even understand some Tamil. From science to literature and culture to politics and history – Pandeyji had an abiding interest in it all, and would quickly gain command over whichever subject to which he turned his attention. He had the rare quality of patience to accompany this intellectual wealth: which made him an ideal teacher and mentor. Innumerable young comrades – from editors of party publications to activists on the range of mass fronts – availed of his generously offered mentorship. He would gladly be as willing to teach a novice to use a computer; or to discuss quantum physics with a student of physics, or the latest interesting novel or volume of poetry with comrades of Jan Sanskriti Manch; as he was to discuss any knotty problem a comrade faced in her everyday organising work.
Prof Gopal Pradhan recalled how he met Pandeyji as a student at JNU and learnt a lot about politics and life from spending time translating materials from Hindi to English with Pandeyji. Comrade Rooplal remembered the day the infamous Operation Bluestar took place and the armed forces entered the Golden Temple at Amritsar. He and other working class comrades in Delhi did not know anything about this episode. That night Comrade Pandeyji (whom comrade Rooplal then knew as “Jayant ji” explained what policies of Indira Gandhi’s government had brought Punjab to the point of insurgency. He also recalled how at an event in Delhi, Pandeyji noticed that a slogan in Urdu was misspelt on a banner, and promptly took up a brush and paint, knelt down and corrected it even as the program continued undisturbed. Comrade Dipankar, Comrades Prabhat, Sanjay Sharma and Kavita Krishnan shared their memories, as did Comrades Srikant, Ranjan Ganguly, Awadhesh, Uma Gupta and many other comrades. CPIML Delhi Secretary Ravi Rai presided over the meeting, and CCMs Comrade Rajendra Pratholi and Rajiv Dimri were also present.
(Memoir written by Brij Bihari Pandey in tribute to Comrade Vinod Mishra on the latter’s death in December 1998. Edited and excerpted from Liberation January 1999.)
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 neighbourhood.
By the end of the 1950s, a cricket team had emerged under Vinod’s 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.
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, however, 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 1958 Suren Ghosh, an apostle of Vinoba Bhave came to reside in our neighbourhood. 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 a 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, in which Vinod declined to participate. 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 differentiations among us. The club winded up by the time Vinod passed his High School examination.
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, he began thinking about society in terms of a socialist solution. But still he had no access to Marxist education.
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 a 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 didn’t 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 purs, 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.
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.
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 Mao’s articles. The 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. Vinod’s 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 Srikakulam. Apart from Deshabrati, he read Mao’s 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 read the works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin.
It was after the police firing on the last day of our third year examinations that Vinod decided to become a whole-timer. 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 a thorough drubbing in March ’70. In the 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, in 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 we gained control of the campus 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 youth came in its wake and the cities were afire with actions. Under VM’s leadership, Durgapur became a live volcano of struggle. Soon came CM’s 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 youth. It was due to this pioneering role that VM 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 studied CM’s articles 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. I found 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 worker’s 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 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 Mahadev’s insistence this CC was busy in finding out petty things like who informed about CM’s shelter etc. The resolution said nothing about the last instructions of CM or developing the party line in the changed conditions. He began reading the last article by CM "Its People’s Interest That Is Party’s Interest" but its authenticity was put to doubt by Mahadev. Vinod came out with the analysis that because of his ill health Comrade 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 CM’s 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.
VM had by 1973 lost hope of finding any readymade party 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 whole-timers coming from Bengal was my own centre, and I had serious reservations on the party’s 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 couldn’t 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 whole-timer 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.