Mahendra Singh: A Steadfast Revolutionary Leader
IT came like a bolt from the blue – the news of Mahendra Singh’s sudden demise by heart attack in Mumbai on the morning of July 4, 2021. It was unbelievable and shattering. Just the previous evening he had guided a CITU meeting at the Bhandup office. A week ago, on June 26, he led the joint demonstration at the historic August Kranti Maidan in Mumbai to mark the ‘Save Agriculture, Save Democracy’ nationwide call and led the delegation that met the governor of Maharashtra. He told the governor to his face that his BJP-RSS central government was running an undeclared emergency. In a stirring speech, he called for a massive struggle against the BJP-RSS central government. Nobody then imagined that this would be his last public speech.
True, Mahendra Singh had been affected by Covid a few months ago. But fighter that he was, he surmounted even that malady in his advanced age of 77. And in a few weeks, he became as active as before. When another, even more senior 92 year old comrade, Ashok Banerjee, contracted Covid and recovered, it was Mahendra Singh, who had recently recovered from Covid himself, who accompanied Banerjee along with other comrades, while admitting him to hospital and bringing him back home. This was only one of the numerous instances that showed the sterling qualities of Mahendra Singh – a fine human being and a great comrade.
Mahendra Singh, whose family originally hailed from the Almora region of Uttarakhand state, was born on October 1, 1943. He trained as an engineer and started working in the late 1960s in a factory at Dombivli in Thane district. His inborn rebellious streak against injustice made him organise the workers in his own factory against the management. As retribution, the company promptly transferred him to another of its plants in Kolkata. Kolkata in the late 1960s was the hotbed of the Left movement and it was here that he came into contact with the CPI(M). Strongly influenced by his Kolkata sojourn, he came back to Mumbai and joined the CPI(M) in 1971. This year, he completed a half century of his Party life.
Mahendra Singh joined the Andheri centre of the Party and CITU, which had recently been formed in 1970. In 1974, he left his job and became a Party whole timer. K L Bajaj, who later became a member of the CPI(M) Central Committee in 2008, and a national vice president of CITU, was his mentor. Other comrades in the centre at that time were Radhakrishna Nambiar, Ashok Banerjee, M V Gopalan, Nandu Ghosh, P M Vartak and others. All of them together built up the CITU Andheri centre and the Western Suburban Mumbai taluka of the Party.
Mahendra Singh was a militant trade union leader. In 1985, the management of the Aristocrat company, where the CITU-affiliated union was leading a bitter struggle, sent its goons to make a murderous assault on Singh. He miraculously survived, but was in hospital for several weeks.
Apart from his work amongst industrial workers, a few years ago he organised the hawkers in Mumbai under the CITU banner. The Janwadi Hawkers Sabha was the result of his efforts. He was elected vice president of the CITU Maharashtra state council many years ago and was later elected to the CITU general council. Apart from his important contribution to the CITU in Mumbai, K L Bajaj and Mahendra Singh also greatly helped the CITU in Thane-Palghar districts.
DYFI IN STATE
Mahendra Singh had begun a unit of the Democratic Youth Federation in the 1970s, even before it became an all India organisation. With his consistent efforts put in after the formation of DYFI at the national level in 1980, first in Mumbai and then in other districts of Maharashtra, the first Maharashtra state conference of the DYFI was held in Mumbai in May 1986. Mahendra Singh was elected its first general secretary and Vithal More its first president. Singh spared no efforts to expand the DYFI in the state, going to several districts innumerable times.
The SFI and DYFI led many large and impressive struggles in Maharashtra during the 1980s and 1990s. Statewide rallies of tens of thousands of students and youth were held in Mumbai. Several ministers were gheraoed in Mantralaya, the state secretariat. There were clashes with the police. In the huge SFI-DYFI nationwide rally at the Boat Club in Delhi on September 23, 1987, over 10,000 students and youth from Maharashtra took part. The DYFI 4th All India Conference was held in Mumbai in October 1991, and the huge rally at the Shivaji Park Maidan was addressed by Jyoti Basu. Mahendra Singh was one of the leaders who made all this possible. Even after he was relieved from the DYFI in 1989, he always paid special attention to the student-youth movement, knowing well that this was the key to the future of the Left.
In the early 1970s the CPI and CPI(M) in Mumbai faced the heinous attacks of Shiv Sena hoodlums, some of whom went to the extent of killing CPI sitting MLA and AITUC leader Krishna Desai on June 5, 1970. It was the first political assassination in Mumbai since independence. CPI(M) and CPI comrades and offices were also attacked at many places. After that in 1975, the CPI(M) had to face the Emergency crackdown of the then Congress regime. Party leaders like Ahilya Rangnekar, Krishna Khopkar, Gangadhar Appa Burande, Vithalrao Naik, V G Padmanabhan, Kishore Theckedath, Kisan Surti and many others were imprisoned during the Emergency. Mahendra Singh, although he was a relatively new Party member during those years, played a role in the collective resistance against both these attacks. At that time the Party also fully supported the radical Dalit Panthers movement in Maharashtra.
In 1987, Mahendra Singh was elected to the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee, in 1991 to the state secretariat, and in 2015 to the Central Committee. For over 20 years from 1994 to 2015, he was elected as the Mumbai district secretary of the Party. His contribution to the sustenance and development of the Party and the class and mass fronts in Mumbai was immense. He was never a leader who operated from ivory towers. He used to lead from the front. He used to go directly to the grassroots, to the Party branches, understand their problems and solve them. He used to regularly visit the districts in his charge.
Politically, ideologically and organisationally, he always remained firmly with and by the Party. He fearlessly fought against all kinds of deviations. He never compromised on the Party’s principles. He was the treasurer of the Maharashtra Party for the last several decades and carried out this responsibility with great rectitude and transparency.
His simple living, honesty, integrity and loyalty, sense of responsibility, capacity for hard work, iron discipline, firm yet caring and loving nature, made him a true and ideal Communist leader.
Wrapped in a red flag, he was given a tearful farewell by thousands of people. All leaders and activists of the CPI(M) and leaders of other Left and secular parties were present. On July 6, the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee organised an emotional online condolence meeting in his memory, which was addressed by 21 leaders of the Party and mass fronts. On July 23 evening, a large physical condolence meeting will be organised at the Adarsh Vidyalaya in Mumbai.
Last red salute to Comrade Mahendra Singh! Long live Comrade Mahendra Singh!