The ethics of Indian politics are seeing a new low. Incidents of corruption, nepotism, VIP culture and money-muscle nexus have wrecked the trust of the common man in the system. In everyday language, “Raajneeti ek acchi vyavsa ban chuka hai (Politics have become a good business).”
With our socio-political sphere in crisis, we need to recapitulate a few examples of Indian politics which represented the organized Indian Left movement. There can be a long list of communist leaders who led, and still lead, a life of honesty and simplicity. I have come up with three such leaders from the state of Bihar whose struggle, sacrifice and service remain unmatched. All three of them played an unforgettable role. The austerity and simplicity of these left leaders will dwarf many present-day politicians.
Ajit Sarkar was a firebrand leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), from Purnea, Bihar, who took up the cause of the landless and the poor. For the people of Purnea, Ajit Sarkar was like a messiah. According to them, his election campaigns involved dedicated work. He never fell back on using money or muscle power. Being a legislator, he failed to own a house. He was a living example of a threat to the corruption and feudal structure of landlords who exploited the poor. I consider him as the worst victim of the ‘criminalization of politics’. Ajit Sarkar ruled the hearts of the deprived.
Born in the Chandanpur village of Begusarai, Vasudev Singh joined the 1942 Quit India movement at an early age. He came in touch with comrade Brahm Dev, a Communist Party of India (CPI) leader who had shoot-at-sight orders issued by the British against him. He joined the Communist Party in 1952 and then joined the CPI (M). He could not pursue his education after middle school due to his family’ poor finances. Only by giving tuitions to the children of well-to-do families was he able to complete his studies. And that was how he ended up as a school teacher.
Given his politics, he organised the teachers under the umbrella of Bihar Secondary Teachers Association (BSTA) and became Begusarai district secretary of that organisation. He quit his job and continued union activity. He was fielded by the CPI (M) from the Begusarai constituency in 1980, which he lost by 2,500 votes. Once again, he was the party candidate in 1990, but this time, he won defeating the state home minister. He remained an MLA from 1990-1995. During this period, his simplicity – and the persuasive manner in which he raised issues in the assembly – were noted by one and all.
Later he contested as a Member of Legislative Council (MLC) in 1996 from Darbhanga teachers constituency, comprising of four districts. He was so popular and respected among teachers that he won again from this constituency in 2002 and 2008. I recall two instances to prove simplicity of Vasudev Singh.
To quote the CPI(M)’s weekly organ, “One cannot but sympathise with the police guards at the assembly gate who refused to believe Vasudev Singh was an MLC and tried to push him away from the gate as an impostor. The poor guard, like every other guard at assembly gates, are so used to see netas zip around in flashy cars that it must indeed have been hard to believe. When Vasudev ji fell on the ground, the chief minister was shaken and had to apologise for the incident and a separate ferry service was put into service henceforth for taking this CPI(M) legislator from the gate into the assembly building.”
And the second instance was when he was speaking in the House and a few other members interrupted. While he was speaking in the House, there was an interruption from a few other members. “Please keep quiet. It’s Vasudev Babu speaking,” said chief minister Nitish Kumar.
Unlike most legislators, he never owned a house in Patna. Being a one-term MLA and three-term MLC, never owned a car. He lived in a single room given to him by the teachers’ association at Jamal Road. Almost a quarter of his bed is filled with rows of books and papers. An illustration of his voracious reading habit. His simplicity, honesty and integrity drew respect from all parties. He thought that becoming a communist was a lifelong process. One could not become a communist by just taking membership if they didn’t have feelings of comradeship. “We have to constantly strive to be a good communist,” was his advice to party members.
Arun Kumar Roy was born on 15 June, 1935, in the Sapura village of Rajshahi district of what was then-East Bengal. His parents were Shibesh Chandra Roy and Renuka Roy. He completed his primary education at a local school in Naogaon, Rajshahi in 1951. Later, he went to Belur Ram Krishna Mission School, from where he completed his secondary education. He graduated in science from Surendranath College, Kolkata and later gained a master degree in 1959 in chemical engineering from the CalcuttaUniversity. He started his vocation in an industrial house of Kolkata.
After serving there for two years, he joined as a research engineer, and worked under Dr Kshitish Ranjan Chakraborty in the newly established Projects and Development India Limited Sindri, Dhanbad He joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after being dismissed from his job as chemical engineer in the company for supporting a workers’ strike in 1966-67.
Later, he founded the Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC). He had served three times as Member of Parliament and three times as Member of Legislative Assembly. He was the first elected leader to demand to scrap the pensions of MLAs and MPs. He cited the reason that being an elected leader isn’t a service or a job. If a leader loses an election, they are eligible to fight elections again. In such a scenario there’s no retirement, so no question of pension should arise.
Three decades earlier he had kept this demand in front of the President and the Prime Minister of our nation. AK Roy is devoid of a house, bicycle, car, land and a bank account. Once he was robbed by few robbers, to which he said, “They were perhaps more needy.”
The above-mentioned names were ardent mass leaders, but they were also the epitome of simplicity. Our generation is under the impression that more money-power makes one more attractive. This keeps us from understanding the significance and purpose of an elected leader. Dress codes and fancy vocabularies are not enough to be a good politician. Our country, which has a huge marginalised population, deserves empathisers like Ajit Sarkar, Vasudev Singh and AK Roy, who have set a benchmark of leadership. They rejected the culture of corruption and show-off that is so prominent in Indian politics. Their illustration of a simple lifestyle can be regarded as the factual facet of politics which is the need of the hour.