Dipankar Bhattacharya, General Secretary, CPI(ML)
With the passing of Comrade Dhurjati Prasad Bakshi (fondly remembered as Pranabda since the underground days when he worked mainly in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura and as Bakshiji/Bakshibabu in the later years in Jharkhand, Odisha, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh) we have lost one of the key architects who helped rebuild the Party after the setback of the early 1970s and led its steady expansion in the subsequent decades in different parts of the country. Shortly after the Mansa Congress when Comrade Pranab was diagnosed with liver cancer we had no idea that his end would come so soon. We lost him within three months after the diagnosis and he had to spend almost half of that time in the SSKM hospital in Kolkata. Even as he remained confined to his hospital, comrades from Kolkata and adjoining districts of Bengal and from as far as Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Assam, where he had worked over the last five decades, waited outside to take their turns to visit him. And on 27 July hundreds of them rushed again to Kolkata to give their beloved comrade a tearful farewell.
Comrade Pranab was an inspiring embodiment of the zeal and resilience of the revolutionary trail blazed by Naxalbari. When the spring thunder broke out, he was studying engineering in Durgapur Regional Engineering College. Even as the air was thick with the spirit of revolution, the college environment sought to subject the students to elitist regimentation and careerist values. Comrade Pranab joined the vanguard students who revolted against this stifling college environment and plunged into the revolutionary movement, responding to Charu Mazumdar’s call to the student community to get integrated with the workers and peasants. The process of integration began with the mess workers and security staff in the campus itself and gradually extended to the colliery and steel workers of Durgapur-Raniganj-Asansol belt. Formal education of engineering ended before completion as revolutionary engineering took over. Among other Durgapur RE College students who followed the same trajectory were Comrades VM and BB Pandey.
It was not long before the first phase of the revolutionary movement suffered a major setback in the face of a massive crackdown by the state. Like many of his comrades, Comrade Pranab too got arrested and faced police torture during the Emergency. By the time he was released after the Emergency, the torture had taken its toll and his ability to walk naturally had been permanently impaired. But this physical difficulty could not deter his political will, and following the Rectification Campaign and the 1979 Special Conference that enriched the Party’s revolutionary vision and broadened its horizon of practice, Comrade Pranab took up the work of building the Party in ever newer areas. Over the years, he emerged as one of the most experienced Party leaders with direct experience of guiding the Party’s work in a whole range of states from Assam and Tripura to Jharkhand and Odisha and Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
In the early 1980s during the tumultuous days of the Assam movement, he worked in Assam and laid the foundation of a broad-based Party organisation and a vibrant revolutionary practice ranging from various segments of the working class and the peasantry to the challenging realm of nationality movement and the cultural front. He became a fluent speaker of Assamese and would always converse in Assamese with Assam comrades even long after he had stopped working there. When in the latter half of the 1980s, Party work grew on the working class front with the launching of trade unions in different sectors and industries, Comrade Pranab guided the formation of the all-India trade union centre. In the late 1980s and early 1990s when the CPI(M) suffered a split in Odisha and many comrades joined our Party, Comrade Pranab was deputed as the in-charge of the Odisha organisation. It was under his tireless guidance that the scattered pockets of work in Andhra-Odisha border region and coastal Odisha belt all came together and took the shape of a cohesive state unit.
He also looked after the Party organisation in Jharkhand since the mid 1990s to 2013 when under his leadership the Party successfully held its Ninth Congress in Ranchi. Ever eager to broaden the Party’s presence in different regions beyond the traditional pockets of Hazaribagh and Giridih districts, he made special efforts to strengthen the Party in the Adivasi areas of Chhotanagpur and Santhal Pargana as well as in the coal and steel belt of Dhanbad and Bokaro and the areas of anti-feudal peasant resistance in the Palamu region. Simultaneously, he also served as the Party’s in-charge for the southern zone, helping comrades in expanding the Party’s work in Tamil Nadu and Andhra. For several years he would combine this zonal responsibility with the task of guiding the Party’s work on the working class front, especially among Party members in the Railways. Even in the last few years when he was medically advised to reduce his travels, he continued to look after the working class department of the Party.
Comrade DP Bakshi’s political career spanning nearly five decades is a rich illustration of some of the finest qualities of a communist organiser. His style of work was thoroughgoing and comprehensive. Wherever he worked, he made a deep study of not only the socio-economic conditions of the people but also their culture and history. He would always try to combine the three cardinal dimensions of class struggle – economic, political and ideological. His focus was mainly on the working class front, but he took keen interest in developing the Party’s work among women, students and cultural activists. He would develop close ties with every activist in his area and would try and help them out whenever they needed any assistance. He would listen patiently to every comrade, and his close rapport and patience would encourage comrades to share all their problems with him. He had accumulated immense experience, but this experience would never make him a pedantic empiricist. Experience and enthusiasm are often found to be inversely proportional, but Comrade Pranab would never let his enthusiasm be weighed down by experience. He would always be hungry for more work and newer experience. He was a meticulous planner and a methodical executioner of plans, but he would never give up if plans did not work out as expected. It is this never-say-die tenacity of a communist revolutionary which defined him all through his political life.
Comrade Pranab had a chronic liver ailment and was under treatment since 2008. In the course of his prolonged treatment, he developed a close comradeship with his doctor, renowned liver specialist Dr Abhijit Chowdhury. It was really touching to see Dr. Chowdhury come to the memorial meeting of Comrade Pranab to pay tribute to his patient cum comrade who he described as an inspiring communist and a fine human being. After he underwent gall bladder surgery a couple of years ago we had lightened Comrade Pranab’s work load, delegating some of his key responsibilities to other comrades. Comrade Pranab was not very happy with this ‘divestment’. During the Mansa Congress, he reached there some ten days before the scheduled beginning to make sure that there were no last minute gaps in our organisational preparation.
His conditions did not allow him to attend the post-Congress meeting of the Central Committee held in Ranchi in end May. When we met him in Kolkata after the meeting he was quite ill, but he was keenly interested in knowing all that was discussed and decided in the meeting. In June when his conditions became slightly improved and stable, he came home from the hospital for a couple of weeks. He would be using this time not only to talk to comrades who came to visit him, but to ring all his close comrades, and even visited the Party office in Kolkata and attended the annual lecture held in memory of Dr. Abhijit Chowdury’s father, the noted communist leader Arun Chowdhury. When the West Bengal State Committee met in Bardhaman on 12-13 June in which I was present and Comrade Pranab could not attend it, he made it a point to send me a letter requesting the Party Central Committee to give him suitable work whenever he felt a little better. He ended the small letter with this statement of resolve: “Since my student days I have been active in mainstream Party work and I will try and keep it up in the coming days.”
Comrade Pranab has gone down fighting. It is now for us to carry forward his revolutionary communist legacy and take his beloved Party to new heights. We must all learn from his outstanding communist qualities and try and apply them in our own practice.