- 8 July 2015

Praful embodied the vision of an essentially modern Left

by Jairus Banaji, Rohini Hensman

Praful was an extraordinary human being, always deeply committed politically, starting with his days as a student at Bombay I.I.T. and also the least dogmatic and sectarian left-winger that either of us ever knew. He embodied the vision of an essentially modern Left, the Left as a secular, rationalist force, a champion of democracy in the modern world, and as opposed to the authoritarianism and repressiveness of ostensibly “leftwing” regimes as to capitalism’s wide-ranging subjugation of humanity and of nature. As someone who was thoroughly cosmopolitan and internationalist in his outlook, Praful was repelled by the espousal of nationalisms across the political spectrum. Beyond a small set of essential valuable principles he never stuck fast to any positions, he was always enquiring and open-minded, and had a razor sharp mind. Given his science background, he was an absolute expert on all matters of science and technology and used that expertise very effectively in his remarkable journalism and his ability to confront powerful “scientific” establishments in India where nationalism and the bomb came together in frightful ways. Praful also had a terrific sense of humour, an infectious laugh which would often burst forth like a volcano and leave you trembling with the same excitement. It was always great to be with him, in his company. One enjoyed his presence.

Many of those who have recently written about him and paid rich tributes to him cannot fairly be expected to know much about Praful’s early political life. More than Lal Nishan, it was of course Magowa he was with in 1972, but they were on the verge of expelling him as a ’Trotskyite’ because he had broken with the Left’s widespread illusions in Stalin and was accused by them of having established contact with elements likewise opposed to Stalinism. In 1973 Praful worked as an activist of the Workers’ Democratic Union in Bombay (along with Indira Jaising, A.C. Raghavan and D. Thankappan). I (Jairus) remember travelling repeatedly with him to Ambarnath some 40 miles away where a strike was going on in a small chemical plant. He had close personal bonds with the employees he worked with and wrote about. It was also typical of Praful that he took up cutting edge issues and dealt with them from a broadly socialist perspective.

After we left Delhi just before the emergency and moved to Bombay, Praful, along with Ram Puniyani, Javed Anand, the two of us and others formed the RBC in Bombay (Revolutionary Bolshevik Circle). This, as the name implies, was basically a study circle but launched with a view to setting up a political formation in the future. That never happened, of course, but the period of study left a profound mark on all of us, giving us a deeper understanding of both theory and politics. We also had a strong orientation towards workers in that period. That industrial orientation was largely Praful’s doing. In recent years, and especially over the past year, Praful wrote articles highly critical of the government, articulating what so many of us felt but would not have been able to get published in the mainstream media, reaching vastly bigger audiences. In an increasingly authoritarian environment, where journalists are being hounded and can easily be killed, it took a great deal of courage to keep up this steady stream of writing that was nothing short of subversive. Praful was India’s best and bravest journalist from the left.

We loved him deeply and always respected and admired him. His sudden death is not only utterly shocking and terribly sad for us, but it will leave a void both in our lives and in that small community of intellectuals, journalists and leftwingers who knew him and loved him as we did.