People's Democracy

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


No. 50

December 16, 2012


 Comrade P B Rangnekar: A Centenary Tribute


Ashok Dhawale


COMRADE Pandurang Bhaskar Rangnekar – known to all as PBR – was born exactly 100 years ago on December 18, 1912. His birth centenary falls on December 18, 2012. He passed away in Mumbai nearly five years ago on February 8, 2008, at the ripe old age of 95. He joined the Communist Party at the age of 20, way back in 1932. He thus served the Communist movement with unwavering dedication for over 75 years, which is probably a record in our state. Like many other leaders of the Communist old guard in India, the Party was his life.


There are some outstanding leaders of the revolutionary movement who shun the limelight all their lives, but whose contribution to the movement is greater and more lasting than that of many who are in the limelight. Comrade P B Rangnekar was an excellent example of such leaders.


PBR spent over ten years of his life in both British and Congress jails. He was among the veteran Communist freedom fighters from all over the country who were felicitated at the 16th Party Congress at Kolkata in 1998 and at the 17th Party Congress at Hyderabad in 2002.


He was a member of the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee for 44 years – right from the inception of the Party in 1964 until his demise. He was a member of the Party’s state secretariat for 33 years, from 1972 to 2005, when he gracefully stepped down for reasons of age and health.


The CPI(M) Polit Bureau sent one of its members, K Varadha Rajan, to attend the funeral of PBR, who was also one of the senior most leaders of the Party in the country. CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat and Polit Bureau members M K Pandhe, Sitaram Yechury, Biman Bose and V S Achuthanandan sent heartfelt condolence messages paying tributes to the departed leader. 


Prakash Karat wrote, “Comrade Rangnekar was a Marxist-Leninist to the core. All of us who knew him will remember his affectionate behaviour and life of simplicity.” Sitaram Yechury wrote, “I had the opportunity of working with Comrade Rangnekar for nearly two decades. He was a living testimony to the fact that to be a good Communist, one has to be a good human being.”


Within a year and a quarter of PBR’s demise, on April 19, 2009, Ahilya Rangnekar - his wife and comrade, former member of the CPI(M) Central Committee, one of the founders of the AIDWA and an ex-MP, also passed away. A couple that had dedicated their entire lives to the Party, was no more. There were two other such couples in Maharashtra in senior Party leadership positions. One was B T Ranadive and Vimal Ranadive. The other was Shamrao Parulekar and Godavari Parulekar.


The Rangnekars’ sons Ajit and Abhay, daughters-in-law Alaka and Suniti and all other family members supported PBR and Ahilya to the hilt in their long and difficult revolutionary journey. Outside the family and the Party, a close sympathiser Mukesh Chheda also took great care of them.




After joining the Party in 1932, PBR plunged into the freedom struggle against British imperialism and became one of the leaders of the student movement. After the formation of the AISF in 1936, he was elected the secretary of its Mumbai unit and was later elected its all India joint secretary. He was also elected the editor of the AISF journal Student Call that used to be published from Mumbai. Among PBR’s good comrades in those days was Kitty Menon, who used to fondly call him Papa.


While taking part in the student movement, he completed his MA in Economics from the Bombay University. He then made a thorough study of Marxism-Leninism under the guidance of B T Ranadive, for whom he always had the highest regard. PBR had a prodigious grasp of the Marxist classics and he had the rare ability to aptly quote from them so as to relate to the present situation.


He often told us about the huge anti-imperialist student demonstrations in Mumbai and in the rest of the country, which were an integral part of the freedom struggle, and of the British repression against them. He, along with other Communist student leaders, was jailed by the British for a number of years. All these experiences made him an anti-imperialist to the core.


With the revolt of the naval ratings in Mumbai in February 1946, and the full and active support extended to it by the Communist Party, the anti-imperialist struggle in Mumbai reached its zenith. The working class of Mumbai came out on the streets in thousands in support of the naval revolt. In the inhuman British repression that followed, more than 400 workers were gunned down.


Ahilya Rangnekar, her sister Kusum Ranadive and Kamal Donde were part of a women’s demonstration in support of the naval revolt when a British armoured van recklessly fired on it. Kamal Donde was killed on the spot, Kusum Ranadive got a bullet in her leg but survived, and Ahilya Rangnekar was saved only because she ducked just in time to escape another bullet. Those were the life and times of comrades like PBR and Ahilya, who were in the thick of the freedom struggle.




After independence, PBR participated in the huge textile workers’ struggles in Mumbai that were then led by the Girni Kamgar Union. He also took part in the Samyukta Maharashtra movement in the late 1950s, which was part of the democratic movement for linguistic states. He was a participant in the Goa freedom movement. The famous Matunga Labour Camp was close to his house. Thus PBR established close political relations with Communist stalwart R B More who was one of the closest associates of Dr B R Ambedkar, and with the members of the legendary cultural troupe Lal Bavta Kala Pathak - Anna Bhau Sathe, Amar Shaikh and D N Gavhankar.


PBR made an important contribution in the struggle against right revisionism and then against left sectarianism in the Communist movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The struggle against revisionism in Maharashtra was particularly bitter, due to the disruptive role of S A Dange and the repression of the Congress regime. PBR was among the many Party leaders in Maharashtra who were detained for three and a half years under the Defence of India Rules, from November 7, 1962 to April 30, 1966.


After the formation of the CPI(M) in 1964, and especially after he was elected to the state secretariat in 1972, PBR became a pillar of the Party in Maharashtra. He took over as office secretary of the state Party from another selfless Communist stalwart, D S Vaidya. In this capacity, it was he who was in charge of the state centre at the Party state headquarters Janashakti at Worli in Mumbai. It was a task that he fulfilled with the greatest sense of responsibility for over 30 years.


Keeping regular contact with the all India Party centre on the one hand and with the Party district centres on the other, maintaining constant touch with the political-organisational developments in the Party throughout the state, preparing the agenda for state secretariat and state committee meetings, sending out circulars of Party decisions and keeping a check on their implementation, managing the entire state committee correspondence, meeting and helping comrades coming from the districts, visiting a number of districts for Party work, handling the actual production of the state Party weekly Jeevanmarg, and most important, contributing the lion’s share to building up a large team of young cadres in the state on the student and youth fronts – these were the tasks that PBR discharged quietly but efficiently for over three decades. I myself am witness to the fact that it was this multifaceted work put in with his tremendous authority by PBR,  that made the task of our first three Party state secretaries – S Y Kolhatkar, Ahilya Rangnekar and Prabhakar Sanzgiri – much easier.


As a member of the editorial board of the Party state weekly Jeevanmarg for over three decades, he was the one who handled all the nitty-gritties of its actual production. It was he who single-handedly translated all the important articles from People’s Democracy into Marathi, who edited the news of struggles that came from the districts and who also carefully checked the proof-reading of the paper.




PBR’s biggest and most lasting contribution was in his capacity as the Party state secretariat member in charge of the student and youth fronts for a period of 20 years from 1975 to 1995. He helped to build up and ably guided the SFI and DYFI in Maharashtra ever since their inception. And he did so with complete devotion and commitment, personally visiting several districts many times for this purpose. He combined political depth with organisational skill. His assessment of activists proved to be uncannily accurate, partly because he always steered clear of personal likes and dislikes.


Looking back, one can now say that it was in the years of his guidance that both these organisations thrived. In the struggles of those years, several thousand students and youth were mobilised in statewide mass actions. There were many police lathi-charges and several police cases. With enthusiastic help and participation from all over Maharashtra, the all India conferences of the SFI and DYFI were successfully held in Mumbai in 1981 and 1991. Kerala chief minister E K Nayanar and West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu addressed the SFI and DYFI conference rallies respectively.


Hundreds of activists of both these fronts received their political, ideological and organisational education through regular state and district study camps in that period. While training cadres, PBR combined strictness with a great sense of humour, and this endeared him to the young activists. Today, most of those whom he trained are in the state and district leadership of the Party and of the class and mass organisations in Maharashtra. It gives me pride to state that I am also one of them.


While guiding us, PBR used to be sharp in his criticism, not mincing his words if serious mistakes were made; but he also used to be equally sincere in his appreciation. He never tolerated indiscipline of any kind within the Party or mass organisation. He had a prodigious memory, especially for old events in the revolutionary movement of which he had been a part. And it was a veritable treat when he used to go down memory lane with us. He also had a tremendous sense of humour and, when in the mood, used to regale us with jokes that made tears of laughter run down our cheeks.


It was during this period that PBR interacted with the then all India leadership of both these fronts, that used to regularly visit Maharashtra for SFI/DYFI conferences, rallies and meetings – Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury, M A Baby, Hannan Mollah, Nilotpal Basu, Mohd Salim and A Vijayaraghavan. All of them have fond memories of this grand old man.




Among the then Party leaders in Maharashtra, it was PBR whom I first met before joining the Party 35 years ago in 1978. I still remember the apprehension with which I climbed the two tall staircases of his house to meet him and tell him that I wanted to join the CPI(M)! He put me at ease, asked me about myself and why I wanted to join the Party, and then gave me the relevant information about the Party while replying to my queries. I had then completed my MBBS and was in medical practice, but was also doing my MA (Political Science) in Bombay University. That is why the Party asked me to work on the student front. For the next 17 years, I was one of the activists working first in the SFI and then in the DYFI. PBR was in charge of both these fronts and thus was my in-charge also.


We came closer when I gave up my medical practice and became a Party whole timer in 1983. From 1989 onwards, we worked together on the Jeevanmarg editorial board. In 1991, when I was elected to the Party state secretariat, I was directed by the Party to help PBR in the state centre. When I was elected Party state secretary in 2005, it was to PBR that I would turn for objective and dispassionate advice in difficult matters. During this entire period of three decades from 1978 to his demise in 2008, it was PBR who was my guide, philosopher, friend and mentor. It was he, more than anyone else, who taught me the ABC of Party and mass front functioning. It has stood me in good stead.


There is one piece of advice that he gave me, which I have never forgotten and have tried to follow. When I was elected to the state secretariat of the Party, there naturally used to be some occasions of differences of opinion among leading comrades on various political and organisational issues. Being a new member, in the beginning I used to keep quiet and avoid taking a stand one way or the other. PBR noticed this and told me one day, “What you are doing is wrong. You must speak and give your opinion freely and frankly, but in a balanced and controlled manner. Don’t base your stand on subjective considerations. Don’t be unduly influenced by individuals. Weigh the issue before you carefully and objectively, be it political or organisational. And always stand up for what you think is right, without fear or favour. That is the way of the Communist Party.”  That was sage advice indeed!   


Many are the fond memories that I will always cherish of my long and close association with PBR over 30 years. For lack of space, I shall relate only one, which is indelibly etched in my mind and which speaks volumes about his extraordinary determination and deep sense of responsibility.


In 2000-01, we were preparing for the all India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) state conference at Parali Vaijnath in Beed district. PBR was then nearly 90 years old, but still used to come to the Party office fairly regularly. However, due to his declining health, Krishna Khopkar and I used to share his responsibilities at the Party state centre and for the bringing out of the state Party weekly Jeevanmarg. But both Khopkar and I would have to be out for nearly two months for the AIKS district conferences and for other preparations of the state conference. It so happened that Prabhakar Sanzgiri and Suman Sanzgiri were also abroad visiting their children during that time. So we told PBR that one of us would stay to help him and the other would go out for AIKS conference work.


PBR angrily retorted, “Nothing doing! Both of you must go! I am still alive and well! I will manage everything for two months! You don’t worry!” With the assistance of K L Bajaj and Mahendra Singh, PBR ran the state centre during that time. But he single-handedly brought out the 16-page issue of Jeevanmarg every week without fail during those two months! He used to stay in the Party office every day till late night to complete this work. It was by no means an easy task at his age.


After Khopkar and I came back from the AIKS state conference, PBR proudly showed us all the eight issues of the Party weekly and said, “See! I did what I promised! I held the fort alone for two months!” He was ill and nearing 90! Tears of love and admiration came to my eyes. And then came the thought – when almost all of us are much, much younger than 90 years of age, how many of us really work for the Party with the same kind of devotion, determination and sense of responsibility that PBR showed? This truly calls for an honest self-introspection.


The 18th state conference of the Party held at Solapur in March 2005 was the last one that was attended by PBR. It was also the last state conference for three more of our senior and respected stalwarts – Prabhakar Sanzgiri, Ahilya Rangnekar and Gangadhar Appa Burande. For Krishna Khopkar, the 19th Party state conference at Nandurbar in January 2008 was his last.


In their twilight years, we made special arrangements to bring PBR and Ahilyatai from Mumbai to the inaugural session and mass rally of the 31sts national conference of the AIKS at Nashik in January 2006. They were overwhelmed after seeing the one lakh strong peasant rally there and profusely congratulated all the AIKS activists from Maharashtra whom they met.


On the occasion of the birth centenary of Comrade P B Rangnekar, on behalf of the CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee and all our Party comrades in Maharashtra, and on behalf of the editorial board of Jeevanmarg, I pay heartfelt homage to his revolutionary memory.


Truly, when comes such another?