Com. Vilas Sonawane – A Great Loss

Vilas Sonawane

On behalf of myself and of Federation of Independent Trade Unions-FITU, I wish to place on record our whole-hearted and deep condolences at the demise of Com. Vilas Sonawane, a dedicated and respected leader and activist of several people’s movements in India, particularly in the state of Maharashtra. Com.Vilas was of 69 years age, was suffering from parkinsonism and some other ailments for some time and passed away on 2021 August 4, at Pune, the centre of his life and work.

As part of his diverse activities, Com. Vilas was also a working chairman of Indian Council of Trade Unions, ICTU, the platform founded by veteran communist and trade union leader Com Shivmangal Sidhdhantkar of Delhi, where I could have interactions with him. Thus we could get to know how intimately and closely was Com. Vilas connected with the different sections of toiling and poor masses at grass-root level with an objective to fulfil democratic, progressive and revolutionary tasks.

Com.Vilas began his political life as a students’ leader, was a founder-member and later secretary of Maharashtra state unit of Student Federation of India, SFI. Young Vilas became a convinced Marxist and was committed to the cause of people’s revolution in India for a class-less and caste-less society. He opposed Right opportunism and mere economism in Indian communist movement, resigned from CPI-M on caste question, and carried on studies and experiments on it. He studied Phule and Ambedkar with an independent mind, but remained with conviction in Marxism.

As part of his study and efforts, he found caste far beyond Hindus, studied, decades ago, caste division among Indian Muslims, built a Muslim OBC Organisation, and worked, along with others, for reservations for them. He worked for and built Muslim Marathi Sahitya Parishad. Through these activities he sought to counter Hindu communalism.

Com.Vilas had founded, led and was associated with several mass organisations and mass movements, including those related to Bhopal gas disaster and Dow Chemicals (R&D) units. As part of these activities, he went into and observed traditional varkari-Bhakti movements, and found their Marathi peasant content, and channelled them into militant movement against Dow, US MNC that had purchased Union Carbide of Bhopal Gas notoriety. The mass movement (2008-2010) finally succeeded in driving away the Dow.

With his conviction in Marxism, he maintained solidarity with communist revolutionary movement that went beyond economism and to villages to build agrarian revolution. He came in touch with the distinct agrarian revolutionary line developed by Com. D.V.Rao and Com. T.Nagi Reddy with the slogans of “abolition of landlord system” and “land to the tiller,” and saw their revolutionary potential and role in social transformation. As he was unwell, he had sent one delegation of youth who attended the Warangal (2013April) conference of Grameena Pedala Sangham (Organisation of Rural Poor, AP), that worked on those lines and built militant land struggles.

Com.Vilas himself had earlier (2010 Nov 27) addressed a State-level conference at Khammam, presently in Telangana State, of Democratic Students’ Organization (DSO-AP). In his speech, he supported the demands of DSO (‘Education and jobs to all’, Mother Tongue a medium of education, oppose feudal and imperialist values in education etc). He exposed SEZs, how MNCs and Big Business were out to grab thousands of acres of public lands. He said CPM’s true colors were exposed in the course of Nadigram and Singur movements in Bengal. He said India’s independence remained elusive, feudalism and imperialism continued in various forms, and an all India mass revolutionary movement with a correct perspective was the need of the hour. He urged students should play a revolutionary role in the society.

The above views and efforts showed his keen interest in closely observing and understanding different streams of mass and revolutionary movements in our country; and his desire for united mass movements across India.

He was one of the founders of Yuvabharat (youth) Organisation that worked in Maharashtra and in parts of North India. He devoted much energy to inspire and mobilise modern educated youth into people’s movements working from that youth platform. Enlightened and groomed by him many well educated youngsters like Com. Sashi Sonawane had come forward to work for the cause of people’s movements.

FITU had good friendly relations with Coms. Vilas and Sashi and the movements led by him. His opposition to revisionism, opportunism and class-collaborationism in Indian communist movement, his understanding of Indian society as multi-national, his support for anti-feudal land struggles and the mass movements he led remained some of the common grounds for us to have good relations with him and to continue   meaningful interaction with him in the interest of revolutionary movement.

I personally met him twice in the ICTU conferences organised by Com. Shivmangal Siddanthkar of Delhi. The interaction I had with him was educative and inspiring. He steadfastly and efficiently practiced a distinct method aimed at soberly convincing about his views on any ideological and historical  matters which made him a good friend of many despite any disagreements.

Com. Vilas had dedicated and sacrificed his life for the cause of poor, dalit and oppressed people and for conducting various people’s movements for rights and justice. He was always with and among the oppressed people. Sacrifice, simple living, high thinking, deep study and working with conviction and dedication for building movements of oppressed were the good qualities that characterised Com.Vilas.

Com.Vilas’ demise is a great loss to the people’s movements, particularly of Maharashtra. There lies a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of the  followers and friends of Com.Vilas in taking forward the people’s movements he built and in realising his dreams for a new India.

FITU, shares the grief of the associates and family members of Com.Vilas, conveys its condolences to all of them, seeks to continue fraternal relations so as to work together with them for the success of Indian people’s revolutionary mass movements.

Red salutes to Com.Vilas Sonawane!

Ch SN Murthy, General Secretary,


August 11, 2021.

(Ch.S.N.Murthy is a Trade Union Leader, General Secretary of Federation of Independent Trade Unions, FITU from Andhra Pradesh. He is a functionary of UCCRI-ML founded by veteran communist revolutionaries D.V.Rao and T.Nagireddy.  He can be reached at:  [email protected])

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