After five bed-ridden years during which he was gradually losing his memory, Ram Chandra Mishra passed away on Monday at the age of 72.
Ram Chandra who? It was symptomatic of how we treat the generation of real revolutionaries who struggled for our freedom that his passing got no mention in the media. Mishra was among the few true Gandhians of Nepali
politics and a pioneer of the Madhes movement.
Born into a landowning family in Mahottari's Pipra village, Mishra had a political and spiritual bent right from his schooldays. He was close to the two political stalwarts of the region, Bhadrakali and Ram Narayan Mishra, and became an active member of the NC. He had met Vinobha Bhave in India and was inspired by Gandhian ideals.
During the NC's Patna convention following the royal takeover of 1960, Mishra firmly opposed Subarna Shamsher's argument for an armed movement from Indian soil, and advocated a non-violent struggle within Nepal.
He was arrested in Janakpur soon after while participating in one of the first protests against the Panchayat system. From then on, his being imprisoned and tortured became a matter of course for Mishra and his family. In 1970, he wrote a scathing pamphlet against the Panchayat, then in its tenth year.
But he also believed in using the existing electoral system in order to expose the system. He won in 1971, but was not allowed to take his oath and was arrested again. Fifteen days before the 1979 referendum, he was brutally tortured by police and Panchayat goons. He was taken to Patna but returned before his treatment was complete to vote for the multiparty system.
Mishra was the district president of the NC in Mahottari in 1983. That year, along with Gajendra Narayan Singh and others, he set up the Nepal Sadbhavana Parishad, the precursor to the Sadbhavana Party. Girija Prasad Koirala was then the national general secretary of the NC, and he delivered an ultimatum to Mishra, forcing him to choose between Congress and the Parishad, even though the latter was only a socio-cultural organisation.
Deeply hurt, Mishra left the NC. But his commitment to democratic struggle remained, along with his stand in favour of Madhesi rights. In the 1990 movement, he was arrested again and sent to Sindhuli jail for six months.
Mishra was among the founders of the Sadbhavana Party after the restoration of multiparty democracy, and stood for elections in 1991 and 1994. But unwilling to cut any deals, Mishra lost both times. He also developed differences with Gajendra Narayan Singh's brand of Kathmandu-centric, India-influenced politics and veered away towards spiritualism, setting up an Aurbindo Ashram in his village.
Mishra's political philosophy and foresight were remarkable. He was a republican long before the Maoists. Twenty-five years before the Madhes movement, and before people like Mahant Thakur left the NC, Mishra had sacrificed a national party for a regional outfit. He showed how democracy, nationalism, and commitment to the Madhes could co-exist.
Mishra's values remain relevant for our political parties even today. He felt that Sadbhavana should have used the 1990s to remain outside power politics and build a larger Madhes movement. This is a lesson newer Madhesi parties would do well to heed. He remained committed to non-violence, despite being repeatedly at the receiving end of state violence. And he felt that the first duty of any party was towards the masses, not to the embassies.
But his biggest lesson was his uncompromising honesty and integrity. Though born into a well-to-do family, Mishra lived a life of economic hardship, with barely enough to educate his children. He was never recognised adequately for his contributions. Yet Mishra did not die a bitter man, for these were political choices he had made. To him, politics was a mission, not a cost-benefit calculation.
Those who knew him have the indelible image of a slightly built man walking along the streets of Janakpur in a khadi kurta, dhoti and chappals, bag hanging from shoulder. That image, fading with the generation of early revolutionaries, is a rare one: that of an honest man, committed to a just society.