Remembering a Departed Comrade: Dipankar Mukherjee
Dipankarda will be sorely missed by his comrades in the trade union movement and the broader Left democratic movement, as an untiring champion of the working class and a firm defender of India’s economic self-reliance. For those who had the opportunity to know him personally, he will leave a large void.
It is impossible to forget his extraordinary personality; his quick-wittedness, his rare ability to talk straight, his indignation towards injustice and corruption and his sharp sense of humour. From the floor of the parliament to television debates, from working class rallies to drawing room discussions – Dipankarda would always stand by his convictions and argue his heart out, unyielding on what he thought was right.
He was trained as an engineer from the Banaras Hindu University and worked for some years in the public sector fertiliser industry. It was his professional expertise, in-depth knowledge of various industries and a deep commitment towards the public sector, which made Dipankarda a formidable and revered parliamentarian from the Left (1994 to 2006). At a time when the public sector enterprises were being stridently berated from all sides, Dipankarda’s was an unapologetic voice in its defence. His interventions in the debates on BALCO privatization, Enron project, NLCL and NALCO disinvestment, Airport privatization etc. would be long cherished by all those involved in the struggles. He was particularly passionate about the revival of sick or closed PSEs and even recently, would often rue how the Union government is paying a heavy price - through costly fertiliser imports – for neglecting the domestic public sector fertiliser plants.
Dipankarda’s most noted intervention was of course in the area of petro-pricing. He was a major contributor to a Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on Pricing of Petroleum Products in 2005, which brought the issue of high indirect taxes on petro products to the fore and criticized the concept of “under-recoveries”, which was based on “import-party pricing” and not actually incurred costs. Since then, Dipankarda had made it a mission to explain these complex issues to the ordinary citizens, in order to expose the government’s flawed rationale, each time oil prices were raised. Of late, Dipankarda was closely following the issue of natural gas pricing and the matters related to the KG-D6 gas block. Many of the anomalies which were later nailed by the CAG report were initially identified by him.
Dipankarda was deeply distressed by the way natural resources of our country, like airwaves, natural gas, coal blocks etc. were being illegitimately cornered by domestic and foreign big businesses with the connivance of corrupt ministers and babus, and was determined to expose and fight it. He had deep knowledge of how the system works (or does not work). While being scathing in his criticisms of those who are corrupt, he did not hesitate in befriending honest ministers and officials. Naturally, whistleblowers gravitated towards him, passing on critical information on many issues in public interest, till long after he had retired from parliamentary life.
As a trade union leader, Dipankarda was very popular among the workers, especially those from the Hindi-speaking region. Being a probashi Bengali since childhood, he was well versed in Hindi. He could easily communicate with the workers and employees across the organised and unorganised sectors and his penchant for visiting every site of working class action in Delhi’s neighbourhood endeared him to the workers. The valiant workers of Maruti Suzuki would fondly remember his interventions in their recent struggle, especially his critique of the undemocratic Standing Orders issued by the Suzuki management.
In private conversations, Dipankarda would often invoke late Comrade Chittabrata Majumdar’s advice to him that a good trade union leader is not a rabble rouser but an educator of the working class; who would make them aware of their rights and entitlements and empower them to organize and fight their own battles. He was insistent that the growth of the trade union movement in the private organised sector is vital to the revival of the Left movement, especially in Northern India.
Though critical of economists (because he thought they lack in “techno-economic” knowledge of specific sectors as well as “accountancy”), Dipankarda had very high regards for Dr. Ashok Mitra. He would often boast of finding a favourable mention in Dr. Mitra’s celebrated biographical narrative Apila-Chapila. He regularly followed Dr. Mitra’s column in the Telegraph and sympathized with many of his arguments on economic policies, industrialization, land acquisition, the state of the Left movement etc. Dipankarda also had valuable and original insights to offer on these crucial issues.
For Left activists, Dipankarda leaves behind a remarkable legacy. While most MPs and ex-MPs from the Left are known for their honesty and simplicity, Dipankarda’s frugal lifestyle was legendary. He even refused to renovate his apartment in VP House because he considered it as wastage of public money. His self-sufficient bachelor life was an embodiment of simple-living and high thinking.
Despite being a popular face in TV debates, Dipankarda would avoid participation in such debates unless he felt that the issue was genuine. He had great disdain towards publicity-hungry politicians spending disproportionate amount of time in TV studios, shadow-boxing on inanities. He would repeatedly warn younger activists not to get swayed by the lure of the corporate media. Substance over appearances remained to be his motto, in an era when the latter is often mistaken for the former.
While bidding farewell to Dipankarda, let us pay tribute to his noble life which was dedicated to the cause of the working class and stood as a shining example of practicing what one preaches.