Saturday evening, veteran communist leader and former general secretary of the CPI, Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan, passed away in Delhi. The 92-year-old leader had suffered a stroke in early December and was in the hospital since then.
After the news of his illness had spread, a video clip from Anand Patwardhan’s celebrated documentary Ram Ke Naam went viral on the social media – the clip featured Comrade Bardhan making a rousing speech at a CPI rally in Patna in 1990, challenging the BJP’s campaign to demolish the Babri Masjid.
It is perhaps a defining image of AB Bardhan which will remain etched in people’s memory – a tireless champion of secularism and communal harmony. Comrade Bardhan has departed at a time when secularism and tolerance are once again coming under strain in India, which had disturbed him immensely.
Bardhan belonged to that generation of the communist leadership which had matured in the trade union movement. He became a MLA from Nagpur in 1957. Later he rose to become the general secretary of the AITUC, the CPI’s trade union wing.
His was a lifelong commitment to the cause of the working class. Having worked closely with the workers of the power sector, Bardhan had keen interest in the sector. He made a trenchant critique of privatisation of power supply and suggested several pro-people reforms to the Electricity Act 2003.
Bardhan was a spirited advocate of Left unity. Having lived through the era of splits and bitterness within the Left in the 1960s, he espoused the coming together of all left and communist forces under a single umbrella in the present era. That penchant for unity, however, never stopped him from being forthrightly self-critical, whenever he thought the Left had committed a mistake, like in Nandigram. He would continue to remind us that Left politics cannot be pursued without an accurate moral compass.
Prasenjit Bose is an economist and Left activist