His full name was Bhalchandra Bhai Vaidya but people used to call him Bhai Vaidya. I always addressed him as ‘Bhai’. In our village, it was an accepted norm to call a father ‘Bhai’ and a majority of people followed this practice. I came in personal contact with Bhalchandra Bhai Vaidya after my father passed away, therefore I never really missed that close connection one feels with one’s father . Before the re-launching of the Socialist Party, he used to call me Professor, but I would always call him ‘Bhai’. An invisible thread of the almost familial relationship that developed between us from the very first meeting continued for all the time ever since.
While he was working in the Socialist Party for the last seven years, he considered everything suggested by me in the policy matters of the party very seriously and had an endearing sense of respect which he displayed clearly. He would give brief hints when was asked about his opinion about policy decisions, resolutions, memorandums, even press notes/releases of the party. Whether it was a government decision or a national-international incident or event, in order to send a statement of the party, he, as president of the party, used to every time send an SMS through his mobile phone from Poona, giving some directions and suggestions regarding it. I worked with him as general secretary and spokesperson of the party.
I remember when I took a stand against the so called India Against Corruption (IAC) and the Aam Aadmi Party, on the basis of the Constitution of India and the socialist ideology, Bhai always said that the party was firmly behind me. There was no deviation from any member of the Socialist Party during the deceptive headiness provoked and organized by those vested interests in defense of neo-liberalism. This unequivocal support could happen solely due to Bhai’s personality, understanding and ideological perseverance.
He died on 2 April 2018 from pancreatic cancer, shortly after he was admitted to Poona Hospital on March 26, barely three weeks after his ailment was first detected. I learnt about his illness only after he was admitted to the hospital. Dr. Abhijit Vaidya told me on phone that operation or chemotherapy at his age was not suitable. He also told that Bhai was insisting to go back home from the hospital. But this was not to be and he took his last breath in the clinical confines of the hospital. Several comrades from Poona and Maharashtra visited him there . The news of Bhai’s death was a sudden blow for the comrades our side Maharashtra.
I reached Poona on 3rd April to bid a last good-bye to Bhai. His mortal body was kept for the last glimpse at Sane Guruji Smarak, the headquarters of the Rashtra Seva Dal (RSD). There was a continuous flow of people from the morning to the late afternoon who were coming to pay their last salute. There were a large number of women among them. Sainiks and Sainikayen of the RSD kept working whole day with promptness to help and facilitate the visitors. At 4 pm the officers of police administration came and wrapped the body of Bhai in the national flag. On reaching the crematorium, a police band played in his respect and he was also given a gun salute, after which his body was taken to the electric crematorium. This state honor was given to him due to his position as a former State Home Minister of Maharashtra (1978-1980) and former Mayor of Poona (1974-75).
I was surprised that thousands of people participated in the last journey of a leader who was away from the corridors of power for the past three decades, who fought anonymously in remote towns and villages against governments bringing in neo-imperialist slavery to the nation. People thronged the funeral journey to the cremation ground, a distance of about two and a half kilometers. Among the crowds that surged to bid their last farewell and respects, the activists of the Socialist Party (SPI) and Socialist Yuvjan Sabha (SYS), forcefully raising revolutionary slogans like ‘Bhai Vaidya amar rahe’ (Bhai Vaidya will remain immortal), ‘Bhai tere sapano ko ham manzil tak pahunchayenge’ (Bhai we will bring your dreams to the destination), ‘Lokshahi samajwad – zindabad zindabad’ (democratic socialism – long live long live), ‘Bhai Vaidya ko lal salaam’ (red salute to Bhai Vaidya), ‘ladenge jeetenge’ (will fight will win), ‘samajwad lana hai – bhoolo mat bhoolo mat’ (have to bring socialism – do not forget do not forget), were merely a fraction of the milling sea of humanity.
Most of the people present there were not activists but those from the general civil society. It was evident they were influenced by the rare personality of Bhai that was an amalgam and wonderful combination of love, service and compassion. Almost all the newspapers of Marathi and English published reports on his demise. One newspaper wrote that his honesty was actually the stuff of legends. I found that like Kishan ji, Bhai had no sense of bitterness or malice towards anyone. Medieval saints have described ‘sahajta’ (innateness) as a rare quality which, it is acknowledged that can be attained only by a rigorous practice of austerities. Bhai had attained this innate spiritual nature through great perseverance in life.
He participated in the Quit India movement of 1942. When some people were acting as informers of the imperialists, then at the age of14, Bhai was participating in the decisive battle of the Independence Movement. Gandhi gave a call for the Quit India Movement, but it was led by young socialist leaders. It is natural that in 1946, at the age of 18, Bhai became a member of the Congress Socialist Party (CSP). In1948, he joined the Socialist Party, through which he continued his long political struggle that prominently includes the Goa Liberation struggle (1955-1961) and the JP Movement 1974-74). During the Emergency he remained in jail under Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) from 1975 to 1977. He had an important role in the Rashtra Seva Dal and became its president in 2001. Bhai’s wish was that the Rashtra Sewa Dal should take the responsibility of cadre building for the Socialist Party so that the youth could be saved from the grip of communal politics.
Bhai was an MA in Sociology and Political Science. He was a multi-dimensional and studious person. However, he was essentially a political person. Borne out of the womb of socialist movement, Bhai, along with Gandhi, was deeply influenced by the thoughts of Jyotiba Phule and B.R. Ambedkar. At the global level he had done a thorough study of the ideologies/systems of capitalism and communism. He used to keep him updated with the articles and books published on various subjects.
In my opinion, the political inning of Bhai that started after 1991 is more important. This year, against the constitutional values and provisions, the Congress imposed New Economic Policies on the country. At that time senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that “Congress has now taken over the work of his party (BJP)”. This illegitimate decision was to breed the disastrous consequences for the society and the nation building, to whom the society and nation are facing. It is true that instead of putting a political fight to the neo-imperialist attack, most of the socialists made power the goal of politics. In doing so, they not only destroyed the socialist movement but also defamed it.
However, the fact remains that a comprehensive and decisive ideological challenge to the neo-imperialism was put by the socialists. Socialist leaders/thinkers such as Kishan Patnaik, Sachchidand Sinha, Vinodprasad Singh, Surendra Mohan, Bhai Vaidya, Justice Rajindar Sachar, Pannalal Surana, Dr. G.G. Parikh, Sunil initiated a big venture to create a small but new political stream as a genuine alternative to neo-imperialism. It is also notable that in the mainstream politics, socialist leader Chandrashekhar had constantly opposed the New Economic Policies from the beginning.
Bhai became the general secretary of Samajwadi Jan Parishad (SJP), formed in 1995. When the Socialist Party was reinstated in 2011, he was made its president. At that time his age was eighty plus. He did not want to take this responsibility. But on the insistence of Justice Sachar and young socialists, he agreed to be the president. He sustained that responsibility actively. After 1991, Bhai’s life was spent in constant struggle against neo-imperialism. He fought a long struggle against the privatization of education.
It is not that other leaders or political organizations are not active in opposition to neo-imperialism. But they are either confused with the concept of development or they accept capitalism, the conjoined twin of imperialism, as the only path of development. Bhai clearly stated in the Socialist Party’s policy statement and in his several comments that actually communists are not ready to leave the idea and model of capitalist development. They consider industrialism as the yardstick of development. Bhai used to consider democratic socialist ideology as an alternative to capitalism. He had firm conviction in the imminent defeat of capitalism. From this ground of faith, he continued to inspire Socialist Party workers. That inspiration is alive even after his death.
Goodbye Bhai! You rest in peace but the struggle of equality and freedom will continue against neo-imperialist designs.
Prem Singh teaches Hindi at Delhi University and is president of Socialist Party (India