People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 15

April 20, 2008


CPI(M)’s 19th Party Congress –A Volunteer’s Experience

B Uma Maheswari

WHEN I was asked by our Salem district committee of the Party as to whether I was willing to work as a volunteer to the 19th Party Congress at Coimbatore, I readily agreed. I consented because the annual exams of my kids were over and importantly, what a lifetime opportunity it was to physically contribute to the Party Congress and also to have a glimpse at the stalwarts of the Party! I along with my fellow volunteer from Salem, Shobana, left for Coimbatore on March 27 and we reported to the Coimbatore district committee of the Party. There was a festive mood there. It was buzzing with hurried phone calls, instructions, clarifications, queries from delegates regarding the venue etc. The mood, in short, was contagious. When we were informed that we were in the accommodation committee and in charge of a part of the West Bengal delegation, we were elated. Our volunteer Red T-shirts were handed over to us and we were told to be at the railway station the next day afternoon to receive the West Bengal delegation. With bits of Hindi and English we managed well and saw to it that they were comfortably accommodated in the respective lodges. Of course, on a lighter vein, we were confused with many of the delegates’ names almost sounding the same -- Chatterjees, Basus, and Ghoshes!!

The next day (March 29) was the inaugural session of the 19th Congress. We accompanied our delegates in vans to the venue and oh what an unforgettable sight it was! Mini India or so I felt. Coloured turbans, Keralite dhotis, Bengali kurtas etc. The fraternal delegate comrades from abroad, who were seated separately in a special enclosure, were the cynosure of everyone. Amidst thunderous slogans, our Party flag was hoisted. The inaugural session began with the honouring of guests and senior comrades, invocation music by the choir and homage to the martyrs. There was an air of camaraderie everywhere. The media was frantically trying to capture the mood in their cameras.

Throughout my eight days of volunteering in the Party Congress, I underwent a lot of emotional experiences and introspections which I would like to share here. There was a co-volunteer in the accommodation committee and after three days I casually inquired as to where he was from and what was he? I was stunned to know that he was a practicing advocate, a documentary film-maker and that he had already authored two books. My curiosity got aroused. I inquired about others and found that many were from various districts, some bank employees, insurance employees, railway and transport workers and even doctors! They were so engrossed in their work in respective committees that it just didn’t matter where they had worked. I wondered whether this sort of committed and devoted work could be imagined in any other Party! Almost all of them have availed leave for the whole of eight days to be a part of this great event of their lifetime.

On another occasion there was a senior delegate who had come to the venue without taking his badge. He became so restless and immediately sent his driver to the hotel to bring the same. Much more surprise was that he preferred not to enter the venue and patiently waited for his badge! He being a very senior comrade amazed and inspired me very much by his strict adherence to Party discipline. I got emboldened to believe that such discipline can never be dreamt of by any other bourgeois political party. When I saw a 3-year old boy playing around in the hall, I was puzzled. I learnt that he is the son of Mamta (who is working in People's Democracy), and whose entire family -- she, her husband, mother-in-law and father-in-law -- were attending the Party Congress. What an inspiration! What an example, for women like me and, of course, for men too!

Another evening, we had a chance to visit the exhibition and the book stalls put up at a seperate venue on the occasion of the Party Congress. I was really struck with disbelief when I could see common people (not Party cadres) coming in large numbers with their family and children. One such visitor, a father, explained to his small children about the atrocities of Hitler by showing them the pictures. I immediately asked the child nearby, “Do you know about America”? The child shot back, “Yes, they always fight”! I was wondering myself “Is there any other simple means of explaining imperialism”? The exhibition depicting American imperialism, Hitler’s fascism, Gujarat genocide, West Bengal’s 30 years of Left Front rule and the fact sheet of miscreants’ mischief at Nandigram went well into the minds of the people. The place really looked like a popular tourist spot with so many visitors thronging the stalls. Even after 9 p.m., the ground was full to its capacity to hear the lectures of Brinda Karat, M A Baby, Dr Asim Dasgupta and Prabhat Patnaik. The cultural troupes which came from all over Tamilnadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal caught the imagination of the people. The overflowing crowds at the book stalls, numerous Red volunteers, large congregation of people – it was an equally enthralling experience here too!

One is accustomed to seeing MLAs walking with their nose in the air, followed by a brigade of supporters shouting “Long Live MLA” slogans. But it was stunning for me to see various ministers, MPs, MLAs and heads of local bodies – who were delegates or observers -- waiting for their turn in queues for food and tea! What a sight of humility and discipline it was!

When we volunteers were waiting at the venue during the session, we could see each committee was busy with its meetings. The coordinators were giving instructions, receiving feedback, acting for rectifications and clarifications etc. On chatting with the co-volunteers, we could find that many were leading functionaries of student, youth, women, trade union, progressive writers’ movement etc in various districts. And there was no air in them about the position they held -- all were volunteering for a cause and that goal spurred them on to work tirelessly and efficiently. Whenever our leaders emerged after the sessions, it was a quick photo-op for many of the volunteers – they were capturing the precious moments of their life in their cameras!

And the presence of a huge contingent of media persons was witnessed during the entire duration of the Congress. There were scores of them from all over the country. Some patient and some irritable. They tried to reach out to our leaders at the gate. Each day our central leaders addressed a press conference at the media venue, which were always jam-packed. On the concluding day of the Congress, when the new central committee was elected which then elected the new Polit Bureau and general secretary, the media was allowed inside the hall. Hundreds of camera persons thronged inside the hall and I could see most of them reporting to their studios soon after. That moment strengthened my belief that my Party gets this media attention because it is the cornerstone of Indian political scene and the nation expects the Party Congress to give the lead for a change.

If I end this piece, without a word on the mammoth rally on the concluding day, I will be found wanting. The rally planned on the last day saw lakhs of people attending it. There was enthusiasm everywhere. Cadres with their families, small children with Red shirts, donning Party caps! Youth and old alike sporting Red T-shirts, slogans of CPI(M) Zindabad renting the air – it was indeed a festive atmosphere. The Red brigade of nearly 10,000 volunteers were at the front of the procession, parading immaculately to the beat of the drums. Comrades from Kerala were singing songs and shouting slogans of Lal Salaam! It was a sight that made me brim with pride. We spontaneously raised our fists in salute when two senior comrades from Kerala shouted CPI(M) Zindabad.

The 19th Party Congress was a beautiful experience for me which will be etched in my mind forever. It strengthened my conviction much more! It was an humbling experience to see all our leaders without airs! It surprised me to find that cadres from all walks of life be it a professor or an ordinary employee all saw this ideology to be the correct solution out! It moved me to see their whole hearted dedication. In short, the chance to be amidst our leaders to see or talk to them whenever time permitted to take care of our delegates were all an unforgettable and enriching experience. After seeing our last batch of delegation leave from our respective lodges, we returned home laden with memories that strengthened our conviction more. I must thank the Party for offering me this opportunity.

Just two little words to all the comrades… and also to summarize my feelings… Red Salute!