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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 20 New Delhi May 4, 2019

Girish Mishra

Sunday 5 May 2019, by Badri Raina

Girish Mishra was my colleague and friend for over four decades.

A man of dour principle, he sought little for himself by way of preferment from this authority or that, and carried on his singular intellectual crusade on behalf of economic justice for the labouring people of India and against Right-wing, sectarian communalism in artcle after article, book after book.

Originally a member of the Communist Party of India, Girish—son of the redoubtable Congress stalwart, Bhibhuti Mishra, who was a Member of Parliament several times over during the Nehru era, and highly regarded by the latter—came in course of time to be deeply influenced by what Nehru had so cannily admonished, that the Republic had less to fear from communism but everything to fear from majority communalism, which would, unlike minority communalism, masquerade as “nationalism”. Issuing from the concrete truth of that insight, Girish came to realise that not just a pure politics of the Left but a composite secular-democratic movement could meet that challenge from a potentially fascist majoritarian “nationalism”. This obliged him to see a greater relevance in a praxis that sought to strengthen the Indian National Congress rather than mechanically equate it with the Rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party as common class enemies. Inevitably, this conviction came to cause Girish to distance himself from what he saw as a somewhat unimaginatively doctrinal stand held on to by the Left. In time he came to stand for parliamentary election from his native Motihari as a Congress candidate in the seventies, losing by a respectably small margin.

Situated as we are today, the force of that political perception must seem clearly compelling.

A scholar and teacher who frowned on frills and pretensions, Girish rarely missed a class. Thorough in his knowledge of the origins of majoritarian Rightwing politics from its inception in 1925, Girish never failed to underscore the myriad ways in which such politics sought to restrict the nation to an elite upper caste who, he saw, sought to rule the Republic through the combined clout of revanchist Hindutva and Corporate wealth.

Girish was as forthcoming in lauding good work from wherever it came as he was in castigating the scholarship of interested chicanery. On a personal note, one of my proud and humbling moments was to see that he had dedicated one of his books to me, needless to say, most undeservedly.

Girish’s intellectual and political journey has lessons for us more keenly than ever before, and it is to be hoped that we will be able to remind ourselves of the great value of his career as we seek to confront the dark forces of reaction.

I will miss my friend, Girish, with a pang.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012. Thereafter he wrote two more books, Idea of India Hard to Beat: Republic Resilient and Kashmir: A Noble Tryst in Tatters.

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