In the death of Anil Biwas the communist movement has lost a standard-bearer.
TO a communist, the interest of the working class is much more important than the interest of any individual, including himself. To him, again, since the Communist Party embodies the interest of the proletariat, party interest has the upper-most position. And so it was with Anil Biswas, West Bengal State secretary and Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who passed away on March 26 in Kolkata after a brief illness.
His departure was almost as quiet as the manner in which he built up over the years a very efficient party apparatus, an effective party newspaper (Ganashakti), and an invincible election machinery.
Yet this architect, who followed in the tradition of his mentor Pramod Dasgupta, preferred the anonymity of a dedicated foot soldier rather than project himself among the generals on the national political stage. This unassuming, diminutive, reticent yet gentle human being was considered the Chanakya of West Bengal politics because of his organisational skills, his mass base, his cool and unflappable temperament and his ability in conflict management. The respect he commanded and the affection he enjoyed both from within and outside the party were brought out by the encomia bestowed on him by all, including leaders of rival parties. Former West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu said: "Anil's sudden death is a huge loss not just to the State, but to the party all over the country."
Even Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, the main political adversary of the Left Front in the State, said after visiting the nursing home where he died: "Though he was my political opponent, I always respected Anil Biswas. He was a good man."
Born on March 1, 1944, in a peasant household from erstwhile East Pakistan in Karimpur, Nadia district, Biswas attended the local primary and secondary schools. While in high school he was drawn to the Left movement in the region.
When he joined the Krishnanagar Government College in 1961, he came under the influence of student movement leaders such as Harinarayan Adhikari and Dinesh Mazumdar, and became an active member of the Students Federation. He soon emerged as one of the most promising student leaders, winning college elections three times in succession. After taking an Honours degree in political science, he shifted to Kolkata to pursue his academic career.
At that time, in 1965, he became a member of the CPI(M). The same year he was arrested under the Defence of India Rules (DIR), and was detained for 11 months. It was from jail that he appeared and passed his Master of Arts in Political Science. Anil Biswas maintained his academic interest until the very end. During his last days he was researching the situation developing in Iran and its ramifications.
In 1969, he became a whole-timer of the CPI(M) and joined Ganashakti as a reporter. He was one of those young partymen handpicked by the then State secretary, Pramod Dasgupta, who believed that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose and Anil Biwas would lead the party in his absence. Biswas' close association with Ganashakti continued until 1998, and it was during his editorship (1983-1998) that the newspaper reached the height of its glory. In 1998 he took charge of the State secretary from the ailing Sailen Dasgupta. In the same year, he became a member of the Polit Bureau. He had been a member of the Central Committee of the party from 1985. But his journalistic endeavours continued. He became the Editor of the State Committee's quarterly ideological magazine Marxbadi Path (The Road of the Marxist).
He has more than 20 books - in Bengali and English - to his credit, most of them dealing with politics, ideology and political philosophy. Two of his best-known books are Democracy and Marxism and Marxism and Nation Building. He was also a consummate essayist and contributed regularly to the different party publications. His essay on the Maoist terrorism in West Bengal, published in Marxbadi Path last year, is considered a defining analysis on the problem. In the last years of his life, he was compiling the history of the CPI(M) as a member of the party's History Commission.
A staunch opponent of imperialism, Biswas laid a lot of stress on the study of Marxist-Leninist thought. Of late, when he realised that the traditional habit of academic reading and discussion was waning among party neophytes, he organised seminars and classes for them regularly.
Although he livid in a small flat an austere life like his other party colleagues, his real address was 31 Alimuddin Street - the CPI(M) State headquarters. Party general secretary Prakash Karat can stand testimony to Biswas' indefatigability: "It had come to the point where it was a habit with me to consult Anil Biswas on any political development, national and international. And whatever the time, however late, he could be found at the party office in Alimuddin," he said in his condolence speech. What was most amazing was that although Biswas never turned down a visitor, he could still snatch some time for his family, his wife Gita and daughter Ajanata.
The continuous burden of his workload took its toll on his health and he had been suffering for quite some time from kidney ailments and fluctuating blood pressure.
What was most significant was his sangfroid in all situations. When he took over the reins of State secretary, the anti-incumbency factor, coupled with the rising popularity of Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamul Congress, was a major cause of concern for the Left Front government. To meet this challenge, Biswas was the ideal choice as he brought with him a totally unconventional approach, founded on the one hand on the principles of collective leadership and democratic centralism and, on the other, on the resolve not to compromise on the essential principles of Marxism-Leninism. He had the unique ability to give a patient hearing to people - both within and outside the party - who held a completely different view, at the same time remaining steadfast in his convictions.
Biswas was a past master in harmonising contradictions right from his young age. This rare ability made him perhaps the ablest negotiator within the party. He played a leading role, for example, in the smooth transition from the chief ministership of the veteran Jyoti Basu to the younger Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Similarly, when some party hardliners expressed reservations about Bhattacharjee's reformist endeavours recently, it was Anil who smoothened the ruffled feathers.
Biswas was not a demagogue. Oratory was not his forte. He left these tasks to his more charismatic colleagues like Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. But he was a thorough man, who never spoke without checking his facts, nor was he ever guilty of shooting off his mouth and embarrassing the party. His deadpan face concealed a subtle dry humour, a dangerous weapon that he used very effectively against the Opposition. He was as unflappable facing uncomfortable questions from the press as he was when facing Opposition fire. In spite of being one of the most powerful men in West Bengal and in spite of his enormous workload, right till his end Anil Biswas remained one of the most approachable leaders in the State. He would never refuse to give an appointment and however hectic his schedule might be he would always manage to squeeze in at least 10 minutes of his time.
As West Bengal goes to the polls on April 17, the detractors of the Left wistfully speak of the CPI(M)'s predicament without Anil Biswas the election manager. But they are perhaps unaware that the master strategist never left anything to chance. In 2003, he had donated his eyes and his body for medical research. The poet in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee summed it up most succinctly when he bid adieu to his dear comrade, saying, "Anil's departure will steel our resolve to win."