A.B. Bardhan: Misunderstood man in his own party (Obituary)

The tragic side in the entire political career of A.B. Bardhan, a former CPI general secretary who died on Saturday, is the fact that he never received what was due to him and always remained a much misunderstood man in his own party.

Hailing from the district of Barisal in present-day Bangladesh, Bardhan always cherished fond memories of his ancestral homeland and was active in his own way in support of the Bangladesh liberation war of 1971 although here also he was ‘outshone’ by some Oxbridge luminaries of his own party who had been operating from Calcutta.

But the most unfortunate part of Bardhan’s career was that he could never make it to parliament albeit he longed for it very much.

His only stint in the legislative arena had come in 1957 when he was elected as a member of the Maharashtra assembly from Nagpur.

In the 1967 and 1980 Lok Sabha elections, he fought unsuccessfully from Nagpur. But his defeat was not inglorious as he commanded a considerable number of votes and did a substantial justice to his reputation as a fiery trade union leader.

But this was certainly not the time for home-grown and down-to-earth leaders like him in the CPI as the party was then full of elite leaders who gradually drifted towards Indira Gandhi, enamoured as they were by the latter’s ‘progressive’ slogans and programmes.

This difference in perception became a permanent dividing line and fashioned the later days political line of Bardhan to a great extent.

CPI leaders may disagree but the fact remains that till the time he breathed his last, Bardhan was quite unjustifiably looked down upon by an influential segment of his own party as the “CPI-M’s man”.

This misjudgement comes from an immature assessment of his political activities by that segment of the CPI which considers the Congress as an indispensable tool in fighting the so called ‘communal forces’.

Like Harkishen Singh Surjeet of the CPI-M, Bardhan was also widely connected in different political spectrums and in the corridors of power in New Delhi. This had made him acceptable even to a prime minister like Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was at least outwardly criticised by the CPI.

But at the same time, this has to be admitted also that in spite of his personal integrity and sincerity, Bardhan, during his stewardship of the party, had failed to place the CPI on to the pedestal it really deserved and that the CPI had become an appendage of the CPI-M, both in national level politics and in states like West Bengal and Kerala.

It has to be admitted that in 1967 when the Left first shot into prominence electorally, the CPI was its principal component.

That the party gradually lost its prominence was due to the shortcomings of both the pro-Congress faction and the anti-Congress group to which Bardhan belonged.

In his personal life, Bardhan was a happy father and husband. His wife Padma was a school teacher. The fiery Communist leader was mature enough so as to not to mix up politics and personal life.

His daughter Alka became a doctor. Her husband was a director of the Indian Institute of Management and Bardhan’s grandson became a businessman.

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