October 04, 2020

MAHA: CPI(M) Loses Two Stalwarts To Covid: Vithal More and Uddhav Bhawalkar

Ashok Dhawale

SEPTEMBER was a cruel month for the CPI(M) in Maharashtra. One of the most respected Party leaders in the state, Dr Vithal More, a former member of the state secretariat, passed away on September 18. He was 71. Less than a fortnight earlier, a fighting Party and trade union leader, Uddhav Bhawalkar, also a former member of the state secretariat, passed away on September 5. He was 68. Both were victims of Covid. The passing of both these senior leaders, who hailed from the Marathwada region, was a big blow to the Party and the Left movement in the state.

There were many common ties between them. Both of them hailed from peasant families in villages in Usmanabad district. (On August 15, 1982, the new Latur district was carved out of Usmanabad) Vithal was born on April 14, 1949 at Ganjur village in Latur tehsil. Uddhav was born on March 12, 1952 at Lakhangaon village in Kalamb tehsil. After their school education, both of them did their graduation and joined the Marathwada University at Aurangabad (later named after Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar after a bitter and protracted struggle in which the CPI(M), AIKS, SFI and other Left forces were in the lead along with various RPI and dalit groups) for their post-graduation. Vithal completed his MA in Political Science and Uddhav his MSc in Physics.

While they were at the University, there was police firing on unemployed youth at Vasmat in the then Parbhani district of Marathwada region in 1974. This led to a huge agitation all over Marathwada which became known as the Marathwada Vikas Andolan. Both of them, under the guidance of senior Party leader Gangadhar Appa Burande, had started the SFI in 1970 and they also attended the first SFI national conference at Trivandrum, Kerala in December 1970. They plunged into the Marathwada Vikas Andolan under the SFI banner and were jailed.

Both of them, along with Arun Shelke and Ambadas Dhepe, formed part of the SFI team that hosted the first state conference of the SFI at Kalamb in Usmanabad district in January 1975. This conference was attended by the then SFI president Prakash Karat, and Ahilya Rangnekar, Gangadhar Appa Burande and Kishor Theckedath were the main speakers at the public meeting. In this conference, Vithal was elected the founder state president of SFI and Uddhav was elected one of the state vice presidents. Six months later the Emergency was imposed.

Uddhav remained in the SFI till 1981, after which he became a Party whole timer and led several courageous struggles of the working class to form the CITU in Aurangabad. Aurangabad was then rapidly developing as an important new industrial centre. When building the CITU, a life-threatening attack was launched on him by goons paid by the factory owners. He was hospitalised for several days but he survived. CITU today has become an important force among industrial workers in Aurangabad. Under his leadership, the CITU spread to the neighbouring district and industrial centre of Jalna, and later to Nanded. He was also instrumental in increasing trade union work among the unorganised sections in the Marathwada region.

As a result of these pioneering efforts, Uddhav was elected state vice president of CITU and to the general council of CITU. He remained in these positions for several years till his demise. He was one of the main leaders of the Trade Union Joint Action Committee (TUJAC) in Aurangabad.

Uddhav also built up the Party and was Aurangabad district secretary of the CPI(M) for over two decades. He was a Party state committee member for several years and was elected to the state secretariat from 1997 to 2005. He was one of the prominent Left leaders in Marathwada and consistently took up issues of the development of this backward region. He completed his graduation in law while working in the trade union front. From 1992, he pioneered the building of the large Shaheed Bhagat Singh High School in Aurangabad.

Vithal continued as state president of the SFI till 1983. In 1986, in the first state conference of the DYFI held in Mumbai, he was elected its founder state president and remained so till 1993. Several large independent and joint struggles of students and youth took place during these years. Both the SFI and DYFI national conferences were successfully held in Mumbai in 1981 and 1991 respectively, when he was the state president.

Vithal was an important leader of the university and college teachers movement in Marathwada and Maharashtra. He was an office bearer for several years in both MFUCTO (Maharashtra) and MUCTA (Marathwada). Both these organisations led several successful strikes and other struggles for the rights of teachers. He contested the MLC election in 2008 from the graduates constituency of the Aurangabad region, which includes all eight districts of Marathwada. Although he did not win, he polled a remarkably large number of votes.

He was elected several times to the University Senate, Management Council and Academic Council. He was also elected chairman of the Maharashtra Political Science Teachers Association and chaired Political Science academic bodies in four universities at Aurangabad, Nanded, Amravati and Solapur. He was an excellent teacher for three decades and also served as principal of two colleges. One of them – Shaheed Bhagat Singh College - was set up with his own initiative in 1993 at Killari in Latur district after the terrible earthquake that occurred there.

Vithal’s work in the ideological field was also remarkable. He did his PhD on the subject “The Role of the CPI(M) in Maharashtra”. Based on this thesis, he wrote a very popular book on the same subject which was published by the Party’s publishing house ‘Janashakti Prakashan’. We also published his book ‘Who Was Marx’ two years ago to coincide with the Marx bicentenary; and also two biographies of the two towering leaders of the CPI(M) in Marathwada, Gangadhar Appa Burande, ex-MP, and Vithalrao Naik, ex-MLA, to coincide with their birth centenaries. He completed the second book just last month. It is a pity that he will not be there to see it. He was a prolific writer and authored many other books and articles on various subjects.

Vithal was the secretary of the Latur-Usmanabad district committee of the CPI(M) for several years. He was a member of the Party state committee from 1985 and a member of the state secretariat from 2005 to 2012. Along with all his multifarious activities, he was active in the AIKS as well, though he declined to accept any post. He was on the editorial board of the Party state weekly ‘Jeewanmarg’, and was an excellent Party teacher and an effective public speaker.

The last time that both Vithal and Uddhav were together, along with many past and present SFI leaders, was in the Golden Jubilee function of the SFI that was held at the Adarsh Vidyalaya in Mumbai on February 9, 2020. It was attended by SFI president V P Sanu, SFI general secretary Mayukh Biswas and JNUSU president Aishe Ghosh. The speeches by both these stalwarts in that function will always continue to be remembered and cherished.

The untimely demise of these two senior and remarkable comrades due to Covid has left a big void in the Party in Maharashtra, which will truly be difficult to fill. The CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee and all the mass fronts pay fond and respectful homage to their memory, and share in the deep grief of their families, comrades and friends.