May 24, 2020

A Revolutionary Life Dedicated to the Cause

Venkatesh Athreya

K VARADHARAJAN, an outstanding leader of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), passed away on May 16, 2020 at the age of 73. In his death, the democratic peasant movement has lost a dedicated fighter, most  of whose adult life was spent in the pursuit of the agrarian revolution in India.

KV, as Varadharajan was popularly known among his comrades and activists in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and in the AIKS, was born on October 4, 1946 in the temple town of Srirangam in Tamil Nadu. After completing his diploma in civil engineering, KV joined the state government service in the public works department. His career as a government servant was, however, very brief.  Drawn to Left politics, KV joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1969, and became a full time worker of the Party in 1970, rejecting in the interregnum an offer of employment from the Life Insurance Corporation of India since he had already made up his mind to dedicate his life to the pursuit of the people’s democratic revolution that the Programme of the CPI(M) advocated.

Political India was in ferment in the late 1960s, following the triple economic crisis of 1966 relating to food, foreign exchange and rupee resources. In 1967, the Congress was defeated in the elections to the legislative assemblies in eight states while it won the Lok Sabha elections with a reduced majority. The early years of the green revolution had seen an intensification of class contradictions in rural India and an upsurge of the peasant movement in the eastern and southern regions of the country, with the Left making some advance, especially in West Bengal and Kerala. Many young people were inspired by the militant movements of the workers and peasants that grew in scale in the decade from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. In addition to the political developments in India, the heroic struggle of the people of Indo-China (Viet Nam in particular) was a source of inspiration to many progressive young people in India. In this overall context, it is not altogether surprising that KV joined the political Left.

KV’s dedication to his chosen cause and his willingness to work hard and to learn from both practical political-organisational work and theoretical studies saw him entrusted with important responsibilities in the Communist movement. The early 1970s saw a spate of strikes as workers sought to fight anti-worker policies and attempts to impose a wage freeze. The culmination of this round of militancy was the all India railway strike.  KV was in the thick of these struggles in the district of Tiruchirapalli. The internal emergency imposed by the Indian National Congress led by Indira Gandhi from June 25 midnight in 1975 led to KV going underground to continue his political work. A year after the Emergency was lifted, KV was elected in 1978 as the secretary of the Tiruchirapalli district committee of the CPI(M). In the ensuing state conference, he was elected to the Tamil Nadu state committee of the CPI(M). In 1986, KV was elected to the Tamil Nadu state secretariat of the Party. He was elected to the Central Committee (CC) of the CPI(M) in 1998 and to its Polit Bureau (PB) in 2005. He served in the PB till 2015, and in the CC till his death.

KV played a crucial role in strengthening the CPI(M) in the Tiruchirapalli district from the mid-1970s till the late 1980s. During this period, the district saw the expansion of the agricultural workers’ movement under the leadership of the CPI(M) and the taking up of issues of caste oppression as well as class exploitation.

KV’s prime arena of mass political work was the agrarian movement. In 1986, KV was elected as secretary of the AIKS unit of Tamil Nadu. Over the next 10 years, KV played a key role in the AIKS and the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union (AIAWU) in Tamil Nadu, always alert to the programmatic understanding of the CPI(M) that the axis of the People’s Democratic Revolution in India was the worker-peasant alliance, with a focus in the countryside on poor peasants and agricultural labourers. He was elected as the general secretary of the AIKS at the national level in 1998 and served in that capacity till 2013. At the time of his death, he was one of the vice presidents of the AIKS.

Greatly influenced by the writings of EMS Namboodiripad, P Sundarayya and B T Ranadive, Comrade KV was alive to the importance of simultaneously fighting against both caste oppression and class exploitation. Implicitly, if not explicitly, KV saw the caste system as both part of the relations of production and, in terms of its brahminical ideology, of the political and ideological superstructure, though he did not necessarily articulate the issue in these terms.

Comrade KV was known for his remarkable organisational skills in the CPI(M). He was generally objective in his assessment of comrades holding important responsibilities in the Party and the mass organisations led by it at various levels, and has mentored many comrades who are currently in various leadership responsibilities. A principle that KV practised in inner party organisational challenges was that the discussions must centre on issues and not focus on persons as far as possible, though of course errors of individual comrades or of Party committees would have to be identified and rectified in such discussions and subsequent practice. He played an important role in both the CPI(M) and the AIKS as a trouble-shooter whose interventions helped resolve many organisational issues.

Despite being deeply involved in day-to-day mass work in the peasant movement and in the political tasks assigned to him in the Party, KV found time to read marxist and non-marxist literature, and tried to keep himself abreast of contemporary developments in politics, economics, culture and society. He played an important role as a Party educator. Over the several decades that he has served the Party and the mass organisations led by it, Comrade KV has taken an enormous number of political classes for the cadres of the Party and its mass organisations. He has written several books and pamphlets on political, social and cultural issues, including on Marxist philosophy and Indian philosophy.

Comrade KV played a key role in strengthening the interventions by the CPI(M) in the area of fighting caste oppression through the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch (DSMM) at the national level and the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) in Tamil Nadu.

Comrade KV was a man of multifarious interests and talents. He composed poems and skits for the street plays of the Party, and could set them to music as well. There was joy-de-vivre about him which would prompt him to dance to street theatre music at conferences of the Party and the Kisan Sabha, not in the least inhibited by the high positions of responsibility he was holding in these organisations.

A distinctive aspect of KV’s contributions to the movement to which he devoted his adult life was that he managed to involve a good section of his extended family in it. A final point to be made about KV is that he bore no malice towards anyone, and was always willing to walk the extra mile to help comrades and clear their confusions.

Adieu, Comrade KV! Just as much as you are the product of the movements that you were involved in, you have also shaped these movements with your unique style of dedicated work and modesty worthy of emulation. At a time of renewed neoliberal assault reinforced with communal hate politics, the Party, the AIKS and all progressive movements will sorely miss you.