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Vinod Mishra (1947-98)

What Mao Tse-Tung was to the Chinese, Vinod Mishra, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was for millions in Bihar. And when he died in late December 1998, more than 50,000 of them gathered in Patna to bid goodbye to their leader: journalists, poets, academics, activists, politicians and thousands of peasants and landless labourers.

It had been a long time since Patna had seen such a large turnout at a funeral. The long route from the CPI (ML) Liberation office at Veer Chand Patel Marg to Bans Ghat, the cremation spot, was a sea of humanity. And when the crematorium was switched on at 4:45 pm amidst the slogan of "Comrade Vinod Mishra Ko Lal Salaam [Red Salute]", the setting sun also turned a deep crimson.

Born in Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, "VM", as he was commonly addressed, became involved in the communist movement in his college days. It was the decade of the 1960s, a time of great turmoil for the Left in India. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) had split from the Communist Party of India in 1964. But soon there was dissension within the CPI (M) as well, over the question of Maoist strategies and their application in India. In 1967, Charu Mazumdar led a rebellion against the official line of CPI (M) and began the Naxalbari uprising in West Bengal.

The flames of Naxalbari soon reached the Regional Engineering College at Durgapur in Bihar, where Mishra was enrolled. Together with two friends, VM launched a student magazine to spread Maoist thought. The college authorities were alarmed, and promptly expelled all three. VM's saga of resistance had begun.

By 1969, the rebels within the CPI (M) had formed the CPI (ML) Liberation group. The Naxalbari revolt was brutally suppressed by the state in West Bengal, but the group found a new lease of life in Bihar under the leadership of Subrata Dutt (known as Jauhar), a close associate of Charu Mazumdar. VM joined the CPI (ML) in 1973 and, following Jauhar's death in 1975, became its General Secretary.

The most important initiative taken under VM's leadership was abandoning the path of 'annihilation' with which most Naxalite streams are identified. In 1992, VM prepared the CPI (ML) to come aboveground to participate in parliamentary politics. This historic decision was a major point of departure for a party that had its origins in the Naxalite movement. VM's death can, in a way, be said to mark the end of an era of a particular brand of red politics in India in general and in Bihar in particular.

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Himal Southasian