The Comrade Who Brought Compassion Into Ideology
For whom the bells toll…...
Blunt, compassionate, honest, courageous, are not adjectives that one would normally associate with a political leader. But Comrade Bardhan (Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan) defied the definition and was as someone in Ajoy Bhawan said just before the funeral, “a father figure”, accessible to all; an amazingly kind soul under the brimstone, with a willing ear and straight to the point advice.
The political side of Comrade Bardhan is known to most who are even remotely associated with politics. "If India is a secular state today, it is because of the 85% Hindus who live in this country. But neither Mahatma Gandhi, nor Jawaharlal Nehru nor the hundreds of martyrs who climbed the gallows for independence, not one of them gave their lives for a Hindu nation, don't forget that," he said as he fought for secularism during the days that led to the demolition of the Babri mosque and after. He was an indomitable fighter, having joined the Communist Party of India in 1940 when it was banned, and becoming the general secretary of the party after long years of struggle in the field.
But it is Comrade Bardhan, the person who one got to know over the years who was truly phenomenal. As unlike many communists he brought a personal, compassionate touch into his dealings with people, a friendship, a kindness that was truly unique.He himself did not hesitate to share his views, often troubled about the future for the communist movement in India, worried about the Hindutva brigade, irritated with individual leaders and their dishonesty, and yet always optimistic that India would meet the challenges to her secularism and her democracy.
He had strong likes and dislikes, and did not hesitate to air these. A top favourite was the former general secretary of the CPI(M) Prakash Karat, who he always told me, was a person with rare integrity and commitment.” He is a good man,” he would say, “but there are (and he would name them) these people who are not going to let him function.” A subject we often talked about, as it was a view that I totally shared.
For a short while he seemed to be kindly disposed towards Sonia Gandhi, but given the flak this drew he was reticent about it. The admiration was mutual for the short time it lasted, with Comrade Bardhan reacting more to the person here than her politics. And this was what was amazing about him, his ability to separate the individual from the politics he or she pursued, and respond accordingly. As a result he had a large number of friends outside the party, finding it easy to converse without being overly judgemental.
Comrade Bardhan was always open to arguments and suggestions. He would scold, and rebut with irritation at times, but if he was convinced he would not hesitate to take that point of view to the party, or to the larger Left coalition for consideration. There were differences within that would pain him, and at least on two occasions I have seen him extremely troubled and upset about differences within the party that he would not talk about, but could not hide his distress.
And once a person had crossed the threshold to be counted as a ‘friend’ or protegee or whatever, the Comrade never hesitated to reach out. He would call with a “where are you” accusation cutting through the telephone connection sharply. This was a signal that he wanted to meet, and if one did not respond, the expectation would turn into hurt silence. The only way through this was with a box of chocolates that he loved , or mithai that was a second best. A smile would replace the frown and he would put away the sweets for later. Once D.Raja came in and helped himself to a box of chocolates that finally led Comrade Bardhan to protest with a “you don’t have to finish the box!”
The ideology did not rob him of his compassion, affection, and regard for individuals. There were some in the party who insisted that he was an overbearing figure, and that he did not allow leaders to flourish in the party. Maybe, maybe not. But surely if they were leaders they would have been able to carve the space for themselves just as Comrade Bardhan did when Indrajit Gupta was the general secretary. And perhaps this was just carping to hide inefficiency and a lack of commitment, certainly so when compared to the old war horse who had left comfort, family far behind and made the party his home.
He died at the age of 92 and fought to live till the last. He fought himself off the ventilator for an entire day after doctors had given up hope. And even while on it, his organs and vital signs remained normal. The will to live was visible even after his first stroke earlier that would have daunted a normal man. But Comrade Bardhan returned to Ajoy Bhawan , sat through the day in the bare office on a stiff chair, regretted that he was not performing to capacity, but despite the frail physique brought light back into the old corridors of the CPI headquarters.
As workers gathered around Comrade Bardhans body wishing him a Lal Salaam farewell, one could not help thinking that Ajoy Bhawan and the CPI will never be the same again. As the last of the great leaders has passed away, and you know what, there is no one there visible now to replace him.
As for all of us for whom he had a personal significance, for whom he was a mentor and always there to hold your hand and bring back the optimism perhaps one can find solace in Bob Dylan’s
When the storm clouds gather ’round you
And heavy rains descend
Just remember that death is not the end
And there’s no one there to comfort you
With a helping hand to lend
Just remember that death is not the end...