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Praful Bidwai (1949-2015)

by Pritam Singh, 6 July 2015

print version of this article print version - 7 July 2015

Praful’ death due to cardiac arrest after choking on food is so cruel in him being snatched away like this. He was undoubtedly the best left wing commentator on South Asia. His loss is irreplaceable. He had studied science at IIT Bombay and chose journalism as a career. He put his knowledge of science to good use in becoming a leading voice in the anti-nuclear campaign in South Asia. More recently, he had moved to the perspective of ecological socialism in criticising capitalism’s incessant search for resource use, waste creation and gas emissions that are destructive of planet earth. His ecological socialist understanding led him to criticise the old Soviet style socialism also which was equally destructive of the environment because of its productivist orientation. It is Praful Bidwai’s command over many technical aspects of nuclear technology and global climate change that put him in a position to articulate his ideas that had high credibility. He was respected not only in India and other South Asian countries but also in advanced capitalist economies. His articles were published in The Guardian in the UK, Le Monde Diplomatique in France, The Nation in USA and Il Manifesto in Italy. He came to Oxford a few years ago and his lecture against nuclearisation of India and Pakistan was hugely well attended. He belonged to that rare breed of journalists whom academics also respect for the depth of their knowledge. His book (co-authored with Achin Vanaik) South Asia on a Short Fuse: Nuclear Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999, is still the best book on the subject. His last book The Politics of Climate Change and the Global Crisis: Mortgaging Our Future (2012) is a work of serious scholarship and yet accessible to non-specialists. Praful was particularly proud of this book partly because it articulated his eco-socialist vision.

Praful has been a dear friend of mine for over three decades. In 1983 when I was teaching at Panjab University Chandigarh, Prof. M.M. Puri of the department of Political Science and I organised a seminar on the 100th death anniversary of Karl Marx and at my invitation, Praful and Achin Vanaik came all the way from Bombay where they both worked with The Times of India. Their rich contribution to the seminar remained a memorable event in the intellectual history of Chandigarh. Praful and I became even closer after we both independently came to an eco-socialist understanding of the modern world. He wrote to me just a few days back thanking me for sending him greetings on his birthday and also about his forthcoming book on the Indian Left. He promised that after his meetings at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam where he was on its governing body, he would try coming to London and Oxford. Expecting to meet him and then hearing the news of his death has been deeply disturbing. It is a heavy personal loss for me.

Apart from his writings on nuclear and environmental issues, he wrote authoritatively on the divisive and ultra-nationalist politics of Hindutva. It will not be an exaggeration to say that outside India, anyone wanting to have a critical evaluation of the developments in Hindutva politics in India will turn to Praful Bidwai’s writings as the most reliable source. Because his writings were based on scrupulous research and deep insight, his columns were widely read by civil servants, policy makers and even by political opponents.

Praful Bidwai leaves a rich legacy of a whole generation of journalists and activists mentored by his erudition, moral integrity and commitment to peace and ecological sustainability. He will be deeply missed by progressive people in India and abroad but his combination of professional competence and political commitment would forever remain a shining inspiration.

Pritam Singh, 25 June 2015