December 21, 2014
Comrade P R Menon

Ashok Dhawale

VETERAN leader of the railway workers of India, former general secretary and president of the National Railway Mazdoor Union (NRMU), former vice president of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), one of the senior most members of the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee and chairman of the Comrade B T Ranadive Memorial Trust, Comrade P R Menon passed away in Mumbai at the age of 81 on December 5, 2014. P R Menon was born on April 15, 1933 at the Tirur village of Mallapuram district of Kerala in a peasant family. After finishing his matriculation at his native place he took up a job in Mumbai as a commercial clerk in the Central Railway. Here he joined the National Railway Mazdoor Union (NRMU) under the guidance of senior leaders like D S Vaidya and G H Kale. He became active in the union and joined the strike actions in 1960 and 1968, due to which he was first suspended from service and later transferred to a remote area. It was in 1960 that he met another railway worker C Radhakrishnan – also from Kerala - and their team effectively led the railway workers movement in Central Railway for the next half a century. In 1969 at the young age of 36, P R Menon was elected president of the NRMU in a secret ballot. The early seventies were a tumultuous period in Indian history with massive people’s struggles against price rise and corruption that were later led by Jayaprakash Narayan. That was also the period of the great and historic All India Railway Workers Strike which began on May 8, 1974. P R Menon and others were at the forefront of that strike which lasted for 20 days till May 27 when it had to be withdrawn. Perhaps no other working class struggle in Independent India met with the kind of fierce state repression that was used to crush the 1974 railway workers strike. Under the Congress central government then led by Indira Gandhi, thousands of workers all over the country were physically attacked, put behind bars, dismissed, suspended or were given service breaks. Menon and his colleagues were also victimised, arrested and dismissed from service. The next authoritarian step of the same regime was the imposition of the hated Emergency on June 25, 1975. It was only after the defeat of the Emergency and of the Indira Gandhi regime in the Lok Sabha elections of 1977, the victory of the Janata Party and the ascension of socialist leader Madhu Dandavate as railway minister, that all the victimisation in connection with the 1974 railway strike was withdrawn. Menon and others were reinstated in railway service after a dismissal period of three and a half years. In 1980, the panel led by P R Menon defeated the panel led by George Fernandes in the NRMU conference elections and Menon was elected general secretary of the NRMU for the first time. He retained this post with great credit and mass support for the next 33 years till he stepped down in 2013. Under his leadership, the NRMU became much stronger in all fields. Several massive struggles of railway workers ended in victory. Thousands of temporary workers, apprentices, vendors, catering employees etc were made permanent. In 2003, Menon took the initiative to start the ‘Rail Theka Mazdoor Union’ (RTMU) to deal with the problems of the thousands of contract workers who were being greatly exploited. These workers won their demands like minimum wages, pay slips, medical benefits and other social security measures due to their unity and struggle under the RTMU banner. Under the leadership of Menon, the NRMU Constitution was amended to provide for women representatives at every level of the union, from the branches right up to the headquarters. This had a major and welcome impact in increasing women’s participation in union activities. Similarly several special programmes used to be organised every year by the union for women workers and also for SC/ST and minority sections of railway workers. The NRMU stood first and won both the elections for recognition of railway unions by secret ballot that were held all over the country in 2007 and 2013. The NRMU twice won the elections held for the Konkan Railway Employees Union. Similarly, the NRMU regularly won the elections to the large and transparently managed co-operative society of railway workers on Central Railway. All these victories were a result of the dedicated work put in by the NRMU team forged by P R Menon, C Radhakrishnan, Y G Joshi and other leaders. The massive help of literally several crores of rupees collected by the NRMU from railway workers and the general public and distributed to help people affected by natural and man-made calamities like earthquakes, cyclones, floods, droughts and so on is truly a legendary saga. A large part of the credit for it must go to the humanitarian initiative of P R Menon. Menon played a major role in the joint struggles of the working class under the banner of the Trade Unions Joint Action Committee (TUJAC) in Maharashtra and also in the activities of the All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF). P R Menon used to attribute whatever he was able to do to his Party, the CPI(M). “It is my Party that has instilled in me the Marxist ideology and it is due to this inspiration that I have been able to do whatever little I could in the service of the working class and the people.” Menon joined the CPI(M) way back in 1955 and thus had a long Party life of nearly 60 years. His identification with, and his dedication to, the CPI(M) was complete. He was a respected and senior member of the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee for the last several decades. His sense of duty and discipline, tremendous work efficiency, care for activists, love for the working people, simple living, modesty, selflessness and his great sense of comradeship are qualities that will always be remembered by all those who were fortunate to know him. P R Menon’s family was an important source of his strength. His wife Satyabhama (who passed away a few years ago), his daughters Lata and Shaila, son Subodh and his sons-in-law and grandchildren stood by him like a rock through thick and thin and in his last illness. CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau members Sitaram Yechury, S Ramachandran Pillai, Brinda Karat, A K Padmanabhan and M A Baby, CPI(M) Central Control Commission chairman Sukomal Sen, CPI(M) Central Secretariat member Nilotpal Basu and other CCMs sent warm and heartfelt messages condoling the death of Comrade P R Menon. On December 6, thousands of railway workers, leaders of the CPI(M), CITU, NRMU and all members of his family gathered at Comrade Menon’s residence at Nahur in Mumbai to bid him a last tearful farewell. After brief condolence speeches by veteran NRMU leader C Radhakrishnan and CPI(M) state secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale, the cremation took place amidst resounding chants of “Comrade P R Menon Ko Laal Salaam!” and “Comrade P R Menon Amar Rahe!”