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Vinod Mishra (1947-1998):

  • Loss of a Friend

  • India of My Dreams

  • Obituary

  • photo

    Vinod Mishra

    With the sudden and unexpected death of Vinod Mishra, an important new chapter - a chapter that he himself had largely scripted - in the history of the Indian left and democratic movement has come to an end. It is a great loss to CPI (ML) and the entire left movement in the country. With leaders like him around, people had started hoping not only for a long-awaited breakthrough for the left forces in the Hindi heartland, but also the serious progress in the tortuous process of the unification of all major left and democratic forces in the country. One had come to see him among important figures who could lead the democratic and secular forces in north India into the next century. He had the kind of rare creativity that can attract people towards the left and inspire enthusiasm among young people drawn towards leftism. He also had the stature, will and popular support to alter the course of things inside and outside the movement that he was a leader of. His cultural sensitivity, grasp of the sociopolitical situation in Bihar, in India, in south Asia and the emerging international scenario were a great asset to his party, and the left movement in general. We deeply mourn this loss.

    - South Asian Network for Alternative Media

    Loss of a Friend

    During my visit to India in November-December of 1998, I met Vinod Mishra, General Secretary of the Communist party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML). He was known as RJ, his underground name, or simply VM. We discussed about various things, especially the need for the left unity in India. On my enthusiasm and criticism he commented that to those who live far above, the earth looks a single round mass but when you are on the ground it is another picture. This kind of remark was typical of VM's sense of humor and method of interacting with comrades and friends. Second and the last time I met him on 13 December for a longer discussion. This was just 5 days before his death. He looked as spirited and confident as I had found him on numerous previous occasions.

    Vinod Mishra died while attending the Central Committee Meeting of CPI-ML at Lucknow. The funeral procession from Lucknow passed via Varanasi, Aara to Patna. Varanasi was the venue of the 1997 Congress of CPI-ML. Aara is the historic district of Bihar from where the party was revived after the setbacks in 1971-1972. The peasant struggles of this small district are portrayed in the CPI(ML) publication "The Flaming Fields of Bihar". Patna is the de facto head quarters of the party. Over 50,000 people attended his cremation on December 22, 1998.

    I joined the Communist Party of India in 1952 and have formally remained associated with the Indian communist movement ever since. During this period I have come to know of Indian and International communist leaders from personal contacts, narrated accounts and their contributions. I had gone to India in 1972 after resigning from my position at McGill to work in India and work for the Party. By this time the Naxalite groups were in a state of disarray. Charu Mazumdar, the founder leader of the party, was murdered on July 28, 1972. I started working with one of the groups, which was a depressing experience.

    I came back to Montreal in 1974 after two years. The student movement under the leadership of JP Narain had gained momentum and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was increasingly becoming autocratic. A number of Indians in different cities in North America were still inspired by Naxalbari and opposed to antidemocratic practices of Indira Gandddhi. A few of us got together in Montreal to find ways and means of supporting the democratic struggles of the Indian people. This meeting at Montreal led to the founding of Indian Peoples Association in North America (IPANA) in 1975. IPANA started the publication of New India Bulletin. While deliberations to found IPANA were going on, Indira Gandhi declared the "state of emergency". IPANA became a focal point of organizing opposition to Indira Gandhi's government and particularly the state of emergency. However, the underlying political basis of IPANA was to support Naxalbari movement, although different members of IPANA had affiliations with different fractions of CPI (ML).

    Around this time we heard of the pitched 48 hour battle between peasant revolutionaries and Indian armed forces in a village in the Aara district of Bihar. This battle was similar to the tunnel warfare in China under the leadership of Mao. Many of us were very inspired by it and the organization that led this tunnel warfare came to be known as the Aara Committee; this was a misnomer because they acted under the banner of CPI (ML) and remained loyal to the essential contribution of Charu Mazumdar. When the leader of this section of CPI (ML) Jauhar (Subrata Dutt) was killed by the police during an encounter, Vinod Mishra assumed the leadership.

    On my next trip to India in 1975, I had the opportunity to meet leaders of CPI (ML). This led to my close association with CPI-ML which I have maintained ever since. I first met VM in 1976. My first impression of him, which continued to persist all these years was that VM was a communist leader of a new type. All questions were open to him and it was always very pleasant to meet him. Indeed under his leadership the party had developed a culture that meeting any of its members was socially pleasant. It lacked the terseness and stiffness which had become a culture of communist parties and its leaders who grew under the influence of Third International and Stalin's leadership of the International communist movement. Although he inherited the leadership of the party founded by Charu Mazumdar, who was devoted to the ideological and political authority of Stalin, VM neither exhibited rage nor surprise when Stalin came under criticism within the Party and at the Party Congress. For example, my own opinion against Stalin was well-known in the Party but this had no significance in my relations with him and within the Party. On one occasion I happened to mention in his presence that Stalin instructed the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) to combine American efficiency with Soviet sense of practicality. To this he said with his usual sense of humor that then there is something good about Stalin.

    The role of VM in Indian communist movement can only be assessed in historical context. There have been two major divisions in the Communist Party. The first occurred in 1964 when CPI was divided into CPI and CPM. The second occurred in 1969 two years after the peasant uprising of Naxalbari when a substantial section of CPM departed to form the CPIML. The reasons for these splits will perhaps remain a matter of debate forever.

    The first split leading to the formation of CPI and CPIM in 1964, in my opinion, was the culmination of a debate since the early 50's on attitude towards the Indian government led by Nehru. Two fractions had clearly emerged, one for extending conditional support and the other against any support to Congress.

    The Second split, or rather the formation of CPI (ML), was the assertion of a long-standing and important question on the role of peasantry in the Indian revolution. It might be mentioned that since its formation in 1926, ironically at the same time as Hindu fascist Rashtriya Swyamsewak Sangh (RSS) was founded, Communist Party of India (CPI) had remained a urban party without an agrarian program and base despite the fact that about 80% of the population during that period lived in the countryside and feudal oppression prevailed all over the country in its most brutal form. The rebellion against this policy of the central leadership of CPI during the Telangana by district level leaders of Andhra Pradesh, of which Telangana is a region, resurfaced in 1967 in the form of Naxalbari.

    Notwithstanding the wrong assessment of the revolutionary situation in India at the time of Naxalbari and the political line formulated by Charu Mazumdar, the peasant uprising of Naxalbari unleashed unprecedented enthusiasm among revolutionary youth and took the communist movement out of slumber. The situation in India has considerably changed since then; a large section of middle peasantry of 40's and 50's have now become rich peasantry. The role of agriculture in Indian economy has considerably decreased and rural population is below 70% of the total. Although agrarian reforms and anti-feudal struggles still remain a primary objective of democratic movement, armed agrarian revolution is not a feasibility. Not withstanding these changes, Naxalbari and the formation of CPI (ML) remains a milestone in Indian communist movement. If a non-stereotype communist movement is to emerge in India, which is very likely, it will be founded on the militant spirit of CPI (ML).

    CPI (ML) faced the wrath of a strong machinery of the Indian state from its very inception and suffered severe setbacks. By 1972, nearly 10,000 of its militant cadres were brutally tortured and killed. Between 1972 to 1977, there were numerous documents flying around criticizing this or that aspect of the political/organizational line of CPI (ML). These sporadic attempts and documents merely caused utter confusion leading to multiple splits resulting in 13 factions. CPI (ML) led by Vinod Mishra was able to grasp the essence of the original CPI (ML) of 1969 and develop it into vibrant new formation. To revive the party from this setback was a formidable but attainable task and the role of VM in accomplishing this feat stands out as the foremost.

    Rethinking and redefining political line and reorganisation not only needed a clear understanding of the political situation but also a suitable organizational method. VM abided by internal party democracy and involved the whole party in this movement. Naturally this is a slow process because members with old approach have to take their time to adopt a new rational approach. Furthermore, VM never displayed impetuosity in expanding the party; he did not recruit leaders or cadres of the other factions of CPI (ML) without arriving at a clarity on political line and he was extremely perceptive of the personality of people he came in contact with. Consequently, CPI(ML) led by VM has consistently grown and never faced a split during his 23 years of leadership.


    VM had a new vision of the Indian and International communist movement. CPI (ML) has been contacted by many communist parties and organizations around the world. Although he expressed warmth towards all of them, he was acutely aware of the mass base of these organizations. For instance, during my meeting on December 13, 1998, he asked me to attend the Congress of Democratic Socialist Party of Australia, which he thought has a bigger base than many from whom invitations have been received. His basis of association with other parties was based on the potential of these organizations and openness in thinking and not some abstract irrelevant ideological or political position. Despite a warm relationship with the Communist Party of China, which dates back to his secret visit and discussions with Premier Chou En-Li, his party criticised the brutal undemocratic manner in which the Chinese Party handled the Tian-men episode.

    Most importantly, however, was his insight into the Indian political scene and his vision of the unity of the Indian communist movement. CPI (ML) had organized a meeting of 13 factions of CPI (ML) at the end of January 1981 in the hope that a single formation could be founded. The Party quickly realized that such a unity is not possible in the near future and each faction has to go through its own experience and practice. Events have proved that some of these groups have disintegrated and others have become single issue groups. Nevertheless, he continued to strive for unity and built common forums with other communist parties.

    As every one knows, emergence of Hindutva as a social-cultural-political force poses a grave threat to India. Although all left and democratic forces are opposed to Hindutva, there are serious differences among them concerning method of combating this. There is little doubt that the only organization in a position to defeat BJP in the parliament is Congress led by Sonia Gandhi. Naturally Congress as a parliamentary party cannot be considered as the main enemy. At the same time Hindutva and its fascist programs cannot be defeated by parliamentary manoeuvres. Congress has eroded the foundations of a secular democratic India. It cannot ensure the supremacy of democratic secular culture in India. The basic question therefore remains that whether the left and democratic forces depend upon Congress and offer support to it to keep BJP out of power or should they build a progressive democratic alternative. VM was quite clear that even if BJP is defeated in the next parliamentary elections, which is very likely, it cannot be written off as a political force. For this reason CPI (ML) gave a national slogan "Kesaria Hatao, Desh Bacchao!" (smash saffron (symbol of Hindutva fascism), save the nation). From my discussions with him I came to realize that VM was acutely aware that fight against Hinddutva is primarily in the civil society and not at the level of the parliament. Support for Congress, even if conditional, carries the danger of making a communist party trail behind the Congress as has happened in the past.

    The loss of VM at such a critical moment in Indian history is being felt by the entire party and the left movement. To me VM was a communist leader of the new type and a very dear friend.

    - Daya Varma

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    India of my Dreams

    Other than politics which to me means medium revealing the intricacies of society, I take a great deal of interest in cosmology where the universe unfolds itself in infinite space and time; where galaxies fast recede into the ever-disappearing frontiers of universe away from each other; where stars emerge, glow and explode to death; and where, quite apparently, motion is the mode of existence of matter. Motion, i.e., change and transformation - always from a lower to a higher order - also, incidentally, forms the modes of existence of human society.

    No idea is absolute, no society is perfect. Whenever a society has been conceived as the embodiment of the absolute idea shock waves emerging from deep within have shaken the very foundations. And then amidst the despair all around new dreams arise. Some dreams never come true as they are wild fantasies of human mind, the 'mind-in-itself'. The few which are realized are essentially abstract creations of human mind, the 'mind-for-itself'. Nonetheless, dreams, whether wild or plausible, have remained the source of human endeavour since perhaps the origin of humanity itself.

    India of my dreams is essentially an integral India where a Pakistani Muslim won't have to procure a visa in search of the roots of his evolution; where, likewise, for an Indian the great Indus Valley Civilization shall not fall in a foreign country; and where a Bengali Hindu refugee will finally shed away the bitter memories of Dacca and a Bangladeshi Muslim will not be hounded as a foreign national in India. Sounds like BJP? But then the BJP has only thrived upon the great division of the country - between a Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India, albeit not so 'pure'. As BJP continues to stretch this division to extremes with all the disastrous consequences, great thinkers will surely arise in all the three countries and remold the public opinion for a brotherly reunion. And, be sure, that will be the doomsday for the forces like BJP.

    In the India of my dreams, a Ganga and a Cauvery, and a Sindhu and a Brahmaputra will freely flow into each other Villagers and the morning shall dawn to the jugalbandi of great musical tunes of India. Some statesman will then compile his notes into a "Re-Discovery of India". India of my dreams shall rise in the community of nations as a country which the weakest of the neighbours shall not fear and which the most powerful country in the world shall not be able to threaten or blackmail. This India will rank among the first five countries of the world in economic prowess as well as in Olympic tallies. India of my dreams shall have a secular state which shall rest upon the principle of 'Sarva Dharma Varjitah' rather than 'Sarva Dharma Sambhav'.

    While not interfering with the individual's faith, the state shall actively cultivate the scientific and rational world outlook. Religion, as has rightly been said, is the expression of man's powerlessness towards his environment. Its abolition therefore demands a thoroughgoing change in the material and spiritual conditions of life where man can stand up to acquire mastery over his environment. Whenever the conservative philosophical systems have burdened the people as deadweights, there have always come up in India great reformation movements. And thus I dream of a great resurgence of rational ideas where the human essence alienated in the form of God shall retrieve itself. This great reformation of human minds shall accompany a special revolution where the producers of wealth shall also be the masters of their produce.

    In India of my dreams, glorification of pariahs as harijans will end and dalits will cease to be a category. Castes shall dissolve into classes with each of their members having their individualized expression. In India of my dreams, women shall constitute 50% of representative assemblies. Love marriages will be the rule and the divorce easier to obtain. Children will not know any misery and looking after them will be more the responsibility of the state than parents.

    In India of my dreams, every town will have its cafeterias where intellectuals shall have hot discussions over cups of cold coffee. There some anguished soul can gaze through the plumes of rising smoke conjuring up images of their heart-throbs while many insatiable hearts can be captivated by the interpretations of varied works of art and literature. While no work of art and literature will be subjected to state censorship, the smoking shall be strictly prohibited everywhere, except, of course, the coffee house.

    To return to the original theme, in India of my dreams, an Indian spaceship will wade through the deep space while Indian scientists and mathematicians will be working out equations integrating into a whole the fundamental forces of nature.

    Finally, for me the mother of all dreams is a motherland where political liberty of each of its citizens will be valued mostly where dissent will be considered legitimate and where Tiananmens of the system will be handled by the morally strong statesmen and unarmed forces of people's militia.

    India of my dreams is built upon the fundamental process at work within the Indian society and for whose realization many like me are committed to the last drop of their blood.

    - Vinod Mishra

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