April 27, 2014

Homage to Comrade K L Bajaj

Ashok Dhawale

WITH the demise of Comrade K L Bajaj on April 18, 2014, the Left and the working class movement in Maharashtra have lost one of their stalwarts. For the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the loss of Comrade K L Bajaj is irreparable. At the time of his death at the age of 79, Bajaj was a member of the CPI(M) Central Committee and the Maharashtra state secretariat, and was the vice president of the CITU at both the national and the state level. He was one of the convenors of the Trade Union Joint Action Committee (TUJAC) in Maharashtra. His faith in Marxism-Leninism and his dedication to the communist movement was total. Above all, he was a wonderful and large-hearted human being, who was universally liked and respected. CPI(M) Central Committee member and CITU general secretary Tapan Sen, MP, was among those who attended Comrade Bajaj’s funeral on April 19, 2014 --- a day that happened to be the fifth death anniversary of Comrade Ahilya Rangnekar, another of our party stalwarts. Kishanlal Amrutlal Bajaj was born on October 24, 1935 at Quetta in the Balochistan province which is now in Pakistan. His father was a fruit merchant who used to travel widely in connection with his business. In the early 1940s, before Partition, the family shifted to Dehradun where Kishanlal completed his schooling. Those were the days of the freedom struggle against British imperialism and his father Amrutlal owed allegiance to the Congress. But for a young Kishanlal, immortal martyrs like Bhagat Singh were the idols and this brought him in touch with revolutionary groups. In the early 1950s, after a visit to Kolkata he joined the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI). FOR GOA’S FREEDOM AND A SAMYUKTA MAHARASHTRA In 1954 K L Bajaj came to Mumbai with the intention of becoming a screenplay writer in Hindi films. But with his natural bent against injustice, he was drawn into the Goa freedom struggle against Portuguese imperialism. The Congress government, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, had then ruled out any Army action to liberate Goa, Daman and Diu. This led to public anger, and people’s satyagrahas led by communists and socialists were the order of the day. Bajaj joined one such satyagraha in Mumbai in 1954 and was detained for a few days. In June 1955, a group of 140 volunteers from all over the country, led by socialist leader Madhu Limaye, actually entered Goa to offer satyagraha. Bajaj, then just a 20 years old youth, was part of this team. The satyagrahis were brutally attacked by the Portuguese police and were beaten black and blue. They were almost starved for five days and were then thrown out of Goa. The injuries sustained by them were so severe that Bajaj and others had to be hospitalised for over two months in Belgaum and Pune in order to recover. Bajaj later received official recognition as a Goa freedom fighter. In the special issue of the Maharashtra CPI(M)’s state level weekly Jeevan Marg, brought out in 2008 to commemorate 61 years of India’s Independence, Bajaj wrote an excellent article outlining his experience of this struggle. The 1950s were marked by another massive struggle --- the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. This was part of the democratic struggle for linguistic states. In Maharashtra, this movement was led jointly by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Peasants and Workers Party and the Republican Party. 106 martyrs --- mostly workers and peasants --- were killed in the course of this movement as a result of brutal police firing in Mumbai and elsewhere. As a member of the RCPI, Bajaj joined this struggle and was detained for several months. Bajaj spent two years of his life in Congress jails. On May 1, 1960, this movement resulted in victory and the state of Maharashtra with Mumbai as its capital came into being. FIGHT AGAINST REVISIONISM By this time Bajaj had started activity in the trade union field of Mumbai which was then dominated by the struggles of the textile workers under the leadership of the All India Trade Union Congress. Bajaj joined the AITUC, and P K Kurane, P R Krishnan, S M Dalvi, Srinivas Murthy and Sundar Navalkar were his earliest associates. In a national conference of the AITUC that was held in Kerala in the early 1960s, Bajaj, strongly backed by S Y Kolhatkar and P K Kurane, was one of the few delegates who went up to the dais, courageously challenged the revisionist thesis placed by S A Dange of ‘Demand and Settle,’ and proposed the alternative of ‘Demand, Negotiate, Struggle and Settle.’ This was greatly appreciated by the militant sections within the AITUC. Realising that the RCPI was a small and ineffective force, Bajaj applied in 1963 for membership of the CPI. He was told by the then CPI state leadership to issue a statement condemning China for the 1962 India-China border clash. Several top communist leaders in Maharashtra like B T Ranadive, Shamrao Parulekar, Godavari Parulekar, D S Vaidya, L K Oak, P K Kurane, Ahilya Rangnekar, Prabhakar Sanzgiri, P B Rangnekar, Dr A B Savant, Gangadhar Appa Burande, Narendra Malusare, Krishna Khopkar, B P Kashyap, Ramchandra Ghangare, L B Dhangar, L S Kom and many others were in jail from November 7, 1962 to April 30, 1966 on this very India-China border conflict issue which they said should be settled by talks. Bajaj was in political agreement with these leaders --- not only on the India-China border issue, but also on the much larger ideological struggle that they and several other communist leaders all over the country were waging against revisionism in the Indian and international communist movement. Hence he refused point blank to issue any such statement condemning China. The CPI therefore refused to give him party membership. Bajaj once told me an interesting anecdote. In order to try to win Bajaj over to the revisionist side, Dange once called him to his house and offered to send him to the Soviet Union in a trade union delegation! This used to be a common ploy at that time. But Bajaj refused the offer outright. MAJOR CONTRIBUTION TO WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT After the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964, Bajaj was given membership in the new party in 1965. He worked for the party with great devotion and was elected to the Mumbai district committee in 1977; to the Maharashtra state committee in 1982; to the Maharashtra state secretariat in 1991; and to the Central Committee at the Coimbatore party congress in 2008. Bajaj attended the foundation conference of the CITU at Kolkata in May 1970. Along with S Y Kolhatkar, P K Kurane, Prabhakar Sanzgiri, Krishna Khopkar, Narsayya Adam and others, Bajaj played a leading role in organising the CITU in Maharashtra in its early years. It was in recognition of this role that he was elected state general secretary of the CITU from 1985 to 2006 and its state president from 2006 to 2010. He was elected to the general council of the CITU in its third conference in 1975 and was elected national vice president in its seventh conference in 1991. Apart from Bajaj’s own Andheri centre of the CITU, which was started by Nambiar (who was attacked by Shiv Sena goons in the late 1960s) and where he was ably assisted by comrades like Ashok Banerjee and Mahendra Singh, he always extended valuable help to CITU unions in Aurangabad, Jalna, Nashik, Solapur, Pune, Raigad, Thane and other districts. One of his crucial contributions was as one of the convenors of the Trade Union Joint Action Committee (TUJAC) in Maharashtra. In this capacity over the last several decades, Bajaj strove to make a success of all the joint trade union struggles, including nationwide and statewide strikes on both working class and political issues. It would be no exaggeration to say that Bajaj was the pivot of the united working class movement in Maharashtra. Similarly, in the joint meetings of the Left and secular political parties too, his was a respected voice. To all of us in the party --- and to me personally --- Comrade Bajaj was always a tower of strength. I came to know him fairly well after I was elected to the party’s Mumbai district committee and became a party wholetimer on the student front in 1983. Over the last three decades, our relationship grew closer and deeper, especially after 1991 when he, Mahendra Singh and I were elected at the same time to the state secretariat of the party. On innumerable occasions I sought his advice which he always gave objectively. Like Comrades P B Rangnekar and Krishna Khopkar, he was my guide, philosopher and friend --- offering genuine appreciation when good work was done and frank criticism when mistakes were made. His speciality was his nature --- generous and large-hearted; dildaar was the word in Hindi accurately used by many to describe him. Along with his politics he had an abiding love for Hindi literature which he used to cherish. When we used to travel to the party’s Central Committee meetings together, it was a pleasure to discuss both political and literary issues with him. He will be sorely missed by all of us in the challenging days ahead. On behalf of the CPI(M)’s Maharashtra state committee and all our party comrades in Maharashtra, I pay heartfelt homage to Comrade K L Bajaj and join his wife Prabhatai, daughter Deepa, sons Sachin and Manish, and his grandchildren in their deep sorrow. Long Live Comrade K L Bajaj!