Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Comrade in Conversation

Comrade Chaturanan Mishra, placid man in demeanor though emphatically spirited in his deeds and convictions quintessentially resemble a revolutionary in mainline. Through idea and spirit, his stout clasp over Communist ideology could be easily reckoned, along with his relentless bond with progressive ideas and practices both at personal as well as on collective level. Indeed his political journey was not came under breezed circumstances as it started during the jumbled phase of 1942, when the nation, Communist party and moreover the entire world was facing the cloud of history’s most severe trauma in terms of World WarII. His own transformation in Indian politics effaced many imperfections and remained consistent and determined to turn nostrum into real happening. Talking to this octogenarian living legend didn’t appeared daunting even for a while…very open and no frills attitude of him made my task easier to dwell with him for next few hours in a rainy afternoon at his official residence in Meena Bagh {Lutyn’s Delhi}.

Atul K Thakur:-It’s indeed a privilege for me to interact with someone who is known for all good reasons, despite remaining in politics for almost last seven decades. Would like to start here with your early life…
Chaturanan Mishra:-I was born in 1925 in village Nahar, then a part of old Darbhanga district {since 1973, in Madhubani} to a modest Maithil family. After the accomplishment of primary education, I had to move for G.M.S.S School {Madhubani} as in nearby my village, there used to be no high school for further education. So, I left the home and kept my further education continues.

Atul K Thakur:-Time was of intense pressure amidst the clamour of Indian independence from oppressive British imperialism, how you aligned yourself on those difficult times?
Chaturanan Mishra:-I came to Madhubani in early forties and in short span of time found in deep touch with Communist ideology due to prevalence of sound progressive environment created by young flamboyant revolutionary like Bhogendra Jha{who later became a very tall name in Communist party}and others like,Srimohan Jha, Tej Narayan Jha etc. This Communist group was formed by Comrade Bhogendra Jha secretly started maneuvering against the war fund in support of British…this radical opposition eventually turned stiff and grew of a plan to hoist the Indian tricolor flag in place of imperialist Union Jack on Madhubani Civil court. We successfully did it and found huge accolades from common masses and even to an extant from nationalist government servants as well. We were restless with the swift developments in 1940; I was convicted for two years-spent ten months and two months in two different terms for that charge of hoisting the national flag. Comrade Bhogendra Jha{who later became the tallest Communist Leader} was arrested in Darbhanga, besides almost of our Comrades were arrested, though our party’s {CPI} stand to remain passive with the critical Quit India Movement restrained to materialize full gain from those early initiatives. In my understanding, that was a blunder which handicapped us to come up with strong mass base on pan-India basis, though later with many good works, Communists earned mass respect but at large that blunder remained haunting us for long course of time.

Atul K Thakur: - What big changes have taken place in your life after that revolutionary quest and how you young Communist brigade were placed among the Commoner’s psyche?
Chaturanan Mishra: - As our efforts were unprecedented in terms of social representation, we received warm response from across the all caste and religion alike. That harmony was our true victory at that time besides at personal level too, it was remarkable on some counts for me. Before that incident, I was living with my lawyer cousin but his reservation against my hoisting the Indian flag on his house and particularly at court forced my self respect to shift in Azad hostel, after that I never visited him until my acquittal from jail when he remorsed vehementally and behaved placatory for his wrong behavior in past; his opinion and belief now was change in nationalistic fervor. Further in 1944, Comrade Chandrasekhar Singh came to Madhubani; Bhogendra Jha suggested him my name for trade union movement in south Bihar {now Jharkhand}. My friend Ramlakhan Panjiar and other Comrade helped me to migrate…I kept my family in dark and cited other reasons to off for two months. Finally through the material and moral support of fellow Comrades, I reached to Comrade. It was a great learning and my longest journey so far-in socio-cultural terms, it was a sort of metamorphosis for me.

Atul K Thakur:-Impact of such change could be sensed out by those who are familiar with the cultural intricacies of Mithila and its sharp differences in socio-cultural sphere with the regions of then South Bihar. How you adapted to the changed circumstances at different levels?
Chaturanan Mishra:- My oratorical ability and critical sensuality have been noticed by the senior Comrade for my new assignment in All India Trade Union Congress {AITUC}. It became my life afterward…I spent next twenty five years in Giridih and Hazaribagh struggling for the cause of mines laborers and other pertinent local issues. Challenges were multiple and being surfaced from many side, beside miners, government and local feudals; we also had to cope with our contradictory relationships with socialist group which grew even further after the attainment of Indian independence. Initially, it was very tough to convince local illiterate tribals about their plights. So, imparting a sense among them for union took time, though it succeeded even lately. It indeed worked out there and brought out positive changes in their working condition and other rights which hitherto have been denying out by their exploitative employers. It also earned great respect for Communist party…with those new consciousnesses, I have elected thrice from Giridih constituency to Bihar Legislative Council {In1969, 72 and 79}; in next course, I also served as deputy leader and leader in the house.

Atul K Thakur: - Post independence, dynamicism of Indian politics underwent through a new direction, which was essentially directed towards making an idea of modern India-how do you rate the pros and cons of your party’s responses towards those changes…
Chaturanan Mishra: - National independence was a landmark for us and it was received positively though with heavily hearts after loosing lakhs of lives, millions displaced and an unfortunate permanent line drawn on our map with the creation of Pakistan. Anyhow many unresolved issues, initially taken out critically by the CPI and often cited the independence as false, such perception started diminishing after the introduction of first two five years plans. Especially progressive second five year plan, architectured by Prashant Chandra Mahalnobis drawn huge impact in Communist party and it paved the way for streamlining with new challenges. Though lately but appropriately, we anticipated the new challenges and good works carried out by the PM Jawaharlal Nehru to cope with them. His stand on strong Public Sector Undertakings and independent foreign policies were a pragmatic approach; in those circumstances, Non-alignment was a great tool for an emerging nation like India. I have written in detail about the various facades of Indian foreign policy in my book “Recast Indian Foreign Policy”. We kept doing good work that retrieved our acceptance among the masses…in 1957; first Communist and non-Congress government was formed under the visionary leadership of E.M.S.Namboodripad; however Nehru’s growing impatience with the Communist ideology led to its expulsion in 1959. Another blunder was waiting for us, in 1962; China attacked on us-CPI opposed the move but a section of it stood in favour of China’s stand and they split as CPI {Marxist}. From that time, unification of Communist remained a pipe dream so far, though in legislative affair, we share all deals but our separate statutory entity is a matter of grave concern.I have been raising my voice time to time for the unification of Communist movement and trade union…despite hard efforts during my stint as President, AITUC {1983-89},I couldn’t succeeded to prolong it’s merge entity with Hind Mazdoor Sangthan {HMS}; due to internal hindrances, overall merger of left led trade union movement remained a pipe dream. I attribute this division as our hindrance to emerge truly as national party; today Civil rights activists like Medha Patekar, Arundhati Roy etc raising the voice in favour of issues that originally should be our concern.

Atul K Thakur: - How things changed during the Indira Gandhi regime as she had pro USSR inclination despite remaining firm with Non Align Movement. Please share some insights about CPI’s policy in respect with those times?
Chaturanan Mishra: - Cheating in PL-480 deal and unruly behaviour of USA President Nixon deplored the Indo-USA relations to unprecedented low. In strategic terms too, USA has been pushing Pakistan against the Indian interests in Kashmir, besides that China’s betrayal forced India to reorient its foreign policy. During the 1960’s, Indian ties with USSR grew to amazing height, this policy almost become a convention in the time being, even now despite a radical orientation towards market economy in both the country. CPI shared great understanding with Congress during her stint and infact did fairly well in a major state like Bihar-in that phase, north Bihar, especially Madhubani used to be known as little Moscow…besides we also strengthened our base in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. This deal with Congress naturally delinked us from confused socialist maneuverings, like JP Movement, though we morally opposed emergency but sensing the urgency of law& order restoration, CPI did support Congress-it cost us badly in following election.

Atul K Thakur: - Collapse of USSR was big blow for all alternative thinkers across the world, then as an active Communist leader and a Parliamentarian, what stuck you most in Indian case?
Chaturanan Mishra: - I think collapse of USSR happened through falling democratic culture within the machinery-of course, new economic policies like “Glasnost” and “Pristorika”fasten that unfortunate process. India being the closest strategic and trade partner, suffered most; it led to reorient strategic and trade policy in abrupt manners. End of socialist block and failure to form such alternative, even after two decades made the world an open amphitheatre of USA’s neo-imperialism…such tendencies are alarming and needed firm opposition from capable countries like India and China. On world Federation of Trade Union {WFTU}, it impacted very adversely-in changed circumstances, I tried to align our trade unions with ICFTU, and though it was USA dominated but thought to get at least chances of dwelling with labour issues at international platform; finally it’s not worked out. Overall it impacted not only the Indian Communist movement but all such movements across the world.

Atul K Thakur: - You have served for fourteen years as Parliamentarian, also rose to Union Agriculture Minister in United Front government in 1996; will you elucidate on some main points of your long stint…
Chaturanan Mishra: - In1984, my party CPI decided to nominate in upper house as I had served in Trade Union for decades. In 1990, I received another chance to remain in upper house-after that, I successfully contested Loksabha election from Madhubani constituency and became Union Minister for Agriculture in United Front government. From my own experience, I could say that, we shouldn’t have been alienated from participation in government-if Jyoti Basu could have served as Prime Minister in 1996, things would have different today. It was neither short of a blunder, we lost a big chance to convey and demonstrate politically at a larger platform. We again replicated similar mistake by not participating in UPAI government; subsequently we frisked our support from UPAI on Civil Nuclear deal; what we are doing today to pitch for better safeguards, we could did same by remaining a part of government. Peoples needed Communists intervention in key policy maneuvering, we can easily differentiate the work of UPAI and UPAII, so in my view, Communist party should give the heed to peoples mandate.

Atul K Thakur: - Our relations with neighboring countries needs a new look as our roles seems loosing touch with actual issues, what you opine over it…
Chaturanan Mishra: - Transferring the Kashmir issue to UN was a historic mistake of Nehru-even in last six decades; Indian policy instead to shaping Kashmir as our domestic issue and parting it from bilateral relations with Pakistan, kept giving heed to separatists and pro-Pakistani elements. Its dangerous stand, we should strive to ensure civil rights and contemplating plans of autonomy within Indian Union- in crux, we should directly deal with the peoples instead to relying upon incredible mediators. With Srilanka and Bangladesh, our relationship is stable now but political instability in Nepal is cause of concern. In Nepal, we need to give serious diplomatic and political push without interfering in their due processes…resolving water problem with Nepal and strengthening trade relations through the border of Bihar and UP can revamp the economy of both side. It will equally curtail the illegal trafficking after legalization of no-frill trade across the border.

Atul K Thakur: - Our mineral and agricultural policies certainly cause grave discontents from affected segments. Naxalism has lot to do with this gap prevailing over the policy enactment and existing practical plights; as a veteran politician, how you see such state of affairs?
Chaturanan Mishra: - Consistent marginalization of rural and tribal population, along with the blind exploitation of natural resources leading alienation to an unprecedented scale. Disruptive forces like Naxals getting easier by it to promote their own interests-here mainstream Communist parties needs to foray in newer territories, including in service sector. Working pattern of Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar is unfortunate as he hardly getting reasons to redress the grave issues of malnourishment, rural unemployment and indebtedness, hunger, suicides etc. Such faux pas on the Supreme Court’s recent order regarding distributing rotting foods through the Public Distribution System {PDS} is alarming; even Prime Minister too sounds in same tune now. As per another recent Supreme Court order, local peoples must be given 20%of profit from mining companies…same access based delivery system must be introduced in other sectors too. During ministerial stint, I introduced Kisan Credit Card, Corps insurance, and institutions like Krishi Vigyan Kendra to lift the status of agriculture-these programmes must be carrying on with the collaboration of Commercial banks, RRBs, and Co-operative banks which have greater footprints in the rural areas. That will sure ease the rural indebtedness and enhance employment potential in hinterlands; modernization of agriculture should be given proper place. Here we can learn a lot from Brazilian transition-how they turned up from an importer to a major exporter of agriculture and dairy products.

Atul K Thakur: - I have gone through almost your all published work-in 1940’s, you have written a Maithili novel “Kala” that covered the contemporary conservatism in Maithili society. My observation is you always come with solution either in writing or politics-should it be seen as diehard optimism?
Chaturanan Mishra: - After matriculation, I hadn’t time or resources to endure my formal education albeit I had stout wishes to learn informally, so I developed pastime for avid learning besides field trips and extensive travel across the world in my long public life enabled me to see things in right frame. I have written for many news sources, also penned all my political and practical experiences on paper…I tried to address my concern both as being a leader and a concerned citizen. Even at this stage, I think in same spirits for my country, party and birth place in Mithila region though health is not supporting now.

Atul K Thakur: - We wishes for your good health and of course better time for mainstream Communist parties…
Chaturanan Mishra: - Thanks, in my life time, I have stout wishes to see consolidation among Communist parties to cope with the massive challenges standing around the corner. Besides will suggest my fellows in party to avoid the short cuts and retrieve the old good habits of Communist ideology…struggle must be our mode for all action.
Atul Kumar Thakur
September2, 2010, Thursday, New Delhi


  1. good, atul babu neek jena gpp kelahu achhi. Sir ke vidyuta par t' kono sanke nahi .

    ekta Qus. aar puchhatiyani je apan Guru Bhogendra Jha ke paachhu k'k' kiyek Madhubani s' thar b' gelah.

    ekta prayog neek achhi 'a part of old Darbhanga district {since 1973, in Madhubani}'

  2. Thanks...glad to see your words.Some decisions are emerge through party,so we can't say that they chase each other adversly...though some disagreement was indeed a reality between them.New experiment came through passing many assymetric reporting,it's a short of reveleation-Atul

  3. Hi Atul..your posts are really worth too m from mithila region and m working in bangalore...will go through your blog...

  4. Dear Atul:

    I have read your write-ups It is indeed matured writing with profound insights. I am glad that you have grown well.
    May God bless you.
    With affections,

  5. Dear Atul:
    You really write so well that you would storm the literary world.
    May God bless both of you with long life.
    Affections to Ashutosh aswell.

  6. Dear Atul,
    it was heartening to see the blog and know how much effort you are putting into honing thoughts. of course, i would be interested in anything about kashmir, would love to know more about the book. am also forwarding an interview which you might find interesting.

    Banibrata Mahanta
    Department of English
    Faculty of Arts
    Banaras Hindu University
    Varanasi 221005

  7. It is heartening, as well as,it gives you a sense of freshness when young promising and honest professionals without loss of innocence encounter experience, age and vision of those leaders, who have been referent in some point in time.It is indeed needed.It is how public discourses create social spaces for moral and political order.
    Well done Atul.
    Ashok Kaul,bhu

  8. Dear Atulji,
    I found time to read some of your article; the interview with Chaturanan babu and plight of Bihari Muslim was of particular interest. Believe you are a student of English interested to write on socio-political situations. Bright future awaits you;
    with best wishes & regards
    brajesh jha

  9. A very useful interview indeed, and well-conducted. Congrats. Regards,

    Prof. Udaya Narayana Singh

    Pro-Vice-Chancellor and

    Director, Rabindra Bhavana

    Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan 731235

  10. Indeed a balance interview with sound journey to antecedents of modern Indian politics-Ashutosh

  11. its indeed a good piece of encounter of experience, feeling and the changing scenario of left political arena. keep it up . good piece of write up as well.
    god bless you.

  12. Dear Atul,

    I have just visited your blog. Wonderful !!!

    Pl keep it up.

  13. Please keep your phone off while in action of your multitasking.My call during the interview could be a case...though very much liked your interview and relieved to see a memorable piece-Uma Jha,New Jersy{USA}

  14. most interesting interview with the incorrigible optimist. I was very impressed by Mishra ji's sincerity when he was Union Agriculture Minister. Yes, Jyoti Basu should have become PM in 1996-- and the CPM should have joined the UPA Government in 2004.

  15. Nice reading an indepth interview with a person of strong ideological conviction.It's a piece to be reckon with-Amit Ganguly

  16. I must say this is one of the best interviews I have seen in the recent times. Truly wonderful. It makes us ponder over so many important issues. Grateful to Sri Chaturanan Mishra as also to Atul ji.

    Amitabh Thakur
    IIM Lucknow

  17. Well choreographed interview with a veteran of Indian politics-for sound introspection,such interviews are very precious...wishes for further moves.
    Rituparna Chaterjee
    New Delhi

  18. Most lively interview have gone through in recent times.The accomplishments and agony that this great leader has experienced in his career resemble the state of affairs in Indian politics.Communist movement in India is in great need of policy adaptation to the wider challenges-hope this piece would make some strong impact.
    Nikhil Dev Sen,New Delhi

  19. Dear Atul ji,
    Thanks a lot for putting such meticulous efforts behind this great dialogue with a veteran of Indian politics.I have thoroughly enjoyed it and sharpen my political grasp over a period of time by accompanying Comrade Chaturanan Mishra-Meenakshi Natrajan

  20. Alas!if Communist movement could have stuck to truly progressive ideas of Comrade Chaturanan Mishra-Communist parties in Nepal too should learn the basic peaceful way of working calss representation from Mr.Mishra.
    Dharm Lal Chhetri