A Tribute

Rabindra Behera

Bhabani Shankar Nayak

Who cares about a communist's life and death in rural areas? Who cares to document their lives, sacrifices, struggles and contributions in shaping society in the age of rampant corruption and opportunism? They are silent warriors. The mainstream media ignores and ensures that their names become invisible in public memory. As their memories guide people to love and collectively fight for each other's rights and liberties. Memories of people, places and struggles are weapons for the present and future struggles in the society. It is within this context, it is important to document the sacrifice of local political workers in local struggles against capitalist exploitation and all its bigoted cultures. The reminiscences of revolutionary lives inspire social and political transformations.

In the age of consumerism and speed of social media, memories and news have short lifespan. But they have dispersed impacts on human emotion. Some news brings smiles and tears to reignite memories of belongingness in life and life in struggles. The news of the death of Rabindra Behera came as a jolt. The pain is personal, ideological and political. The working-class politics lost him at a time when he was needed the most in the struggles against neoliberal Hindutva and its dangers in Odisha.

As this writer sits down to write this tribute, memories flood with the unassuming appearance and gentle demeanour of Rabindra Behera. His firm but soft voice with sharp words echo as if it was yesterday. 'Had your food?' used to be the first question in all meetings. Then, he used to discuss about class politics, and share his concerns about society, issues faced by common people. He never spoke about himself, his family or his personal needs and desires. He literarily did not do anything for himself or for his family. From the sunrise to sunset, his life was with the masses. People's happiness was his happiness and people's distress were his own.

Rabindra Behera was one of the founding members of the Student Federation of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kendrapada, Odisha during 1970s. He made enormous sacrifice in shaping all local struggles in the Kendrapada district and strengthening left and progressive forces in the undivided Cuttack district of Odisha. His home was home for all communist activists and poor people in his locality. No human being was alien to him. His approach to mass movement was beyond narrow silo of ideological puritanism. He believed in people and their ability to be conscious,and fight for their rights. His writings depict his radical and revolutionary praxis.

Rabindra Behera was the undisputed leader of mass movements in the Kendrapada district during 1980s. He was an MLA candidate from the CPI(M) for Pattamundai seat. For him, electoral politics was a means and not an end in itself. He used election as a tool of ideological campaign for class struggle by organising farmers and unorganised workers. His life was in struggles. He continued his association with all local, regional and national struggles in the state. In later years, he was disillusioned with reactionary and revisionist state leadership in Odisha CPI(M) but never compromised with radical promises of left politics till his last breath. He was isolated within the party by the state leadership because he raised his voice against the feudal tendencies and factional deviations of the state leadership. He was never after party positions. He abhorred politics without principles. He faced many personal and political problems within the party but never deviated from the left politics. He was neither seduced by the politics of power nor enslaved by consumeristic life style. He lived his life with the principles as a revolutionary communist.

Ideologically speaking, Rabindra Behera has followed politics of essence and emancipation of people and fought against all forms of subjugation like a valiant working-class leader. His life is a testament of honesty, integrity, principles and sacrifice, which is rare in politics today. His loving and caring personality makes one feel as if he is your own. In his death, the toilers of Odisha lost one of their fearless voice and I. But he survives within people's hearts and minds to guide all present and future struggles for people in the state and beyond. In the age of ideology free political zone, Rabindra Behera was a rare breed of communist. Public memories are the best tributes to a communist's life defined by sacrifices and written within minds of the masses.

Vol. 53, No. 19, Nov 8 - 14, 2020