People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 09

February 28, 2010

Tragic Death of W R Varadarajan

 

Prakash Karat

 

THE death by suicide of W R Varadrajan has shocked the entire party and a wide circle of trade union workers and supporters. WRV, as he was popularly known, was a talented trade union leader who was one of the all-India secretaries of the CITU. He was till the February Central Committee meeting a member of the Central Committee and a member of the Tamilnadu state committee. He served as a member of the state legislature for a term and was a good speaker and writer.

In the February meeting, based on the recommendation of the Tamilnadu state committee, disciplinary action was taken against WRV by the Central Committee. This resulted in his being removed from the elected positions he held in the Central Committee and the state committee. It was after this that WRV committed suicide, presumably on the night of February 11. There is a great deal of sadness within the party and amongst all of us who had worked with him, at this tragic end of a comrade who had so many qualities and who had made an important contribution to the development of the party in Tamilnadu and to the trade union movement.

It is natural that the manner of his death should raise a number of questions within the party and outside. Unfortunately, a section of the media is utilising this tragic event to launch an attack on the CPI(M) by purveying half-truths, distorting facts and by indulging in baseless speculation. The Polit Bureau felt that it is necessary to place the facts and explain how and why the disciplinary action was taken against WRV.

The Tamilnadu state committee received a complaint from a woman against WRV of alleged sexual harassment. This was in September 2009. As per the procedure in the party, since it involved a member of the state committee, the state committee decided to set up a three-member committee to enquire into the matter. The three members, who are all state committee members, included a member of the Central Committee, who was the convener and another member belonging to the state secretariat.

After the enquiry, the report of the committee was placed before the Tamilnadu state committee on November 25, 2009 for its consideration. The secretariat, on the basis of the enquiry report’s findings, recommended action against WRV. As is the practice, WRV as a member of the state committee, against whom the charges were leveled, was given an opportunity to explain his position to the state committee. After the discussion, the Tamilnadu state committee endorsed the enquiry committee’s findings and proposed that WRV be removed from all elected positions.

Since WRV was also a member of a higher committee, the Central Committee, the Tamilnadu state committee could not take the decision but sent its findings and recommendations for action to the Central Committee as per the provisions of the party.

The matter was taken up for consideration by the Central Committee at its meeting held from February 4 to 6, 2010 at Kolkata. The Tamilnadu state committee’s report and resolution and all materials pertaining to the case were circulated to the Central Committee members along with the letter sent by WRV defending his position. (Excerpts of the letter of WRV have been published in some newspapers. The letter seems to have been taken from his laptop which is with the police.)

When the matter was taken up for consideration, WRV was given the opportunity to defend his stand. After a two-hour discussion, the Central Committee decided to uphold the Tamilnadu state committee’s recommendation for disciplinary action. None of the 74 members of the Central Committee present opposed the action being taken. Five members recorded their abstention during the vote.

WRV responded to this by saying that he would submit to the decision of the Central Committee and that he would also exercise his right to appeal to the Central Control Commission.

The above narration of the course adopted in the disciplinary action against WRV is well known to the party members. But it is being spelt out to clear misconceptions which have been purveyed by some motivated reports in the media.

What are the misconceptions and half-truths being purveyed? It is alleged that WRV was driven out of the party. WRV was not expelled from the party. A disciplinary action involving removal from elected positions would mean that he would be placed in a suitable party committee. In this case, the Tamilnadu state secretariat had discussed on February 12 that he should be co-opted in the South Chennai district committee and, given his capacity, he should work on the trade union front. The purpose of this specific disciplinary action, which does not entail either suspension or expulsion from membership, was to enable WRV to continue to work in the party and contribute according to his capabilities. There are innumerable instances of party leaders and cadres who have faced disciplinary action and then worked and corrected their errors and assumed higher responsibilities in the party.

The attempt therefore to portray the disciplinary action as a “hounding to death” a party leader is not only baseless but seeks to use the tragic event to malign the party and its leadership. If the party had not taken cognisance of the complaint and the concerned woman had gone public with her charges, the same media quarters would have gone to town attacking the CPI(M) for ignoring a sexual harassment charge against one of its leaders.

The party has been accused of either being “opaque,” for not explaining the reasons for the action, or, contrarily, of having “publicly shamed” WRV. Since WRV had not been removed from the party, the Central Committee did not make the charges against him public. This was because WRV was expected to continue to hold positions in the party and discharge his responsibilities. The CPI(M) does not believe in “publicly shaming” its cadres. The effort in the case of WRV was to help him to correct his lapses and continue working for the party.

The episode has also been used to denigrate the party’s organisational principle of democratic centralism. The case of WRV has been cited as an instance of “centralism” and “authoritarian” action. In fact, the procedures cited above in the disciplinary action prove the contrary. It is the state committee, under which he was directly working, which enquired and initiated the action. The higher committee, the Central Committee, came into the picture only when the state committee requested action. The democratic procedure is also underlined by the fact that no arbitrary actions are taken on discipline. There is a proper enquiry and the comrade concerned is allowed to present his or her case and be personally heard by the committee.

The other effort being made is to link the action against WRV with the rectification campaign launched by the party. The matter concerning WRV had no connection whatsoever with the rectification campaign. In fact, the complaint was lodged before the Central Committee had adopted the rectification campaign decision. The rectification campaign is meant to pinpoint wrong trends in the party and correct them. It is not about initiating disciplinary action against individual members.

A Communist Party’s organisation gives utmost priority to its cadres, especially those who have devoted their full time and life for the work of the party. Whenever comrades err in their judgment, or commit mistakes, the party looks at the entire contribution of the comrades concerned and disciplinary action is taken as a method to correct them. It is only as a last resort that a severe action like expulsion is taken. In the case of WRV, the party expected him to overcome his problem and make his full contribution to the party and the movement. It is a matter of regret that this was not what happened.