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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 51, December 10, 2011

A Romantic Intellectual

Monday 12 December 2011, by D.K. Giri



He was not a name to conjure with nor did he make the grade, as it is commonly perceived, in this part of the world. He was neither a Minister nor a public figure, so that one could credit him with all that is popularly known to be the virtues of good, intelligent or successful. But Pradip Bose was one of the greatest souls and most brilliant minds that one ever knew. Having known him very closely for over three decades one could confidently say that he was an embodiment of politeness, kindness, affection and comradeship and about his imaginative and inventive mind, one of the authors from Europe mentioned that, in Pradip Bose, “he had met one of the brightest brains of Asia”.

Pradip Babu was born into the famous Bose family. He was the nephew of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. But he never mentioned it to anyone and felt visibly embarrassed to be introduced as such. His book, Growing Up in India, which he wrote in 1972, when he was 45 years old, had been deeply influenced by Netaji’s ideas and approach to politics. Little wonder, Pradip Babu never mentioned Netaji by name anywhere in the book except calling him “Uncle”. Pradip Bose never carried any personal ambition, jealousy nor grudge against anyone. In my entire association with him, I never found him losing his cool even once for a fleeting second, nor speaking against anybody except ideologically. On the other hand, he was full of action, passion and optimism about life. Even when he turned eighty, he thought and behaved like a young man half his age despite his chronic and crippling asthma, which eventually took his life on November 30. The quotation with which he started his book, Growing Up in India, is reflective of his life: “Life is action and passion; therefore it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”[Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes]. No doubt, Pradip Babu shared a lot of his passion and action, low profile though, through his writings and with those with whom he interacted closely and regularly.

Pradip Babu was an ideologue and practising Social Democrat. Two experiences in his boyhood shaped his ideology: one, he was deeply moved by poverty he saw in the villages of Bihar, and two, his experience of the freedom movement, which was led so valiantly from his own family. Throughout his life, he wrote and spoke for equality and against deprivation, hunger and backwardness. That drew him to Socialism. And he always championed freedom—of choice, thought and action. That made him a Democrat. He dedicated all his life to propagation and promotion of ‘Democratic Socialism’. He was the Secretary of the International Union of Socialist Youth in the 1960s and lived in Vienna. During that period, he came to know many European Socialist youth leaders, who later became Ministers, Prime Ministers and Presidents of their countries. Pradip Babu kept in touch with many of them until his death.

In 1981 he set up a centre called “Indian Centre for Democratic Socialism” and became its founding President. Later on it was renamed Association for Democratic Socialism (ADS) and was registered as a society. During the inter-vening periods, there were other Presidents including late Madhu Dandavate, but Pradip Bose came back as its President and remained so until his death. As its Secretary-General, I came to know several top Social Democrats in India and abroad. ADS hosted many of them in the 1980s and 1990s. Pradip Babu wrote a kind of magnum opus on the history of “Socialist International”, called Social Democracy in Practice, which has been circulated widely internationally at the behest of the FES, the German Social Democratic Foundation in India.

Having known him so closely for so long, one could write at length about Pradip Bose. There may be occasions to do so. I would like to end this note by sharing his passion for ideas and ideology. As a committed democrat, he could not accept communism based on dictatorship. His exchange with E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the Communist ideologue, had been legendary. It was on dictatorship of the proletariat, an euphemism for dictatorship by the Polit-Bureau. He continued to oppose communism and had hoped and predicted in private and public that the “Soviet Empire” would collapse, followed by China. He did not live longer to see the fall of China.

I called him a romantic intellectual, as he always toyed with new ideas in his mind, a bit reckless at times, which perhaps ran in his family. Pradip Babu would be deeply disappointed with the state of affairs, at the same time incorrigibly optimistic about the change that can happen through action. He never gave up hope. A day before he was taken to the hospital, he had called me to share his action plan for 2012. That’s how I knew Pradip Babu who despite his ill-health romanced with ideas and always contemplated action.

Dr D.K. Giri is the Director, Schumacher Centre, and Secretary-General, Association for Democratic Socialism.

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