DPT: the original student hero, a true Democrat – analysis
The last time I met DP Tripathi—or DPT as it was popularly known—at his residence on the vain flat in Delhi in November, he offered, as usual, a insightful analysis of politics in both India and Nepal, a country from which I came and was deeply invested. But he was very excited about his birthday celebrations, which he planned to celebrate in early January at one of his favorite venues, the India International Centre (IIC). “Our generation doesn’t have much time,” he said poignantly.
The time came too soon. The IIC celebration will not happen. DPT died on Thursday, after a battle with cancer in recent years. With him ended a remarkable story in Indian politics.
DPT actually emerged as a public figure when he arrived at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi in 1973, became part of the Indian Student Federation (SFI), and finally the president of the UNJ Student Union. Police entered the JNU just after the emergency was declared on June 25, 1975, knocking on all doors, searching for DPT, hiding in the hostel rooms and then in a laundry colony in central Delhi. He evaded arrest and led the student movement. But then, in September 1975, he urged then-Daughter-in-law Indira Gandhi, Maneka Gandhi, who had come to college to attend a class, to respect the student strike. She was furious, the police intensified her search once again for DPT, he went underground, but was eventually arrested in November. But through this, he became a true hero of the resistance.
The DPT eventually moved away from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). In the 1980s, he became a close adviser to Rajiv Gandhi, whose mother had fought only a decade earlier. In the late 1990s, he eventually joined the nationalist Congress Party, and eventually became a Rajya Sabha member of the party earlier this decade.
But there were three threads that made his political life unusual.
The first was his deep empathy for democratic struggles in other parts of the region, particularly Nepal. This was in the great tradition of leaders such as Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia. He attended a historic meeting in Kathmandu in 1989-1990, which was a turning point for a pro-democracy movement. When the country was engaged in a civil war with Maosian rebels, it did its part to find a political solution. This opening occurred on 1 February 2005, when King Gyanendra assumed absolute power. Nepal’s political activity moved to Delhi. And DPT became a key convener of the democratic front to express solidarity with the Nepalese people. He also encouraged the efforts of Nepalese political parties, Maoism and the Indian establishment to unite against the king. When the Nepalese Parliament had its first session in 2006 after a Popular Movement forced Gyanendra to cede power, DPT was honored as a guest on the floor of the house.
The other constant in his life was a commitment to the world of ideas. He became engaged to academics, writers and poets. He edited magazines. I was constantly thinking about ways in which socialism and democracy could coexist. He had left the communist fold, but still had a deep admiration for the left. He opposed the Hindutva project, but could understand its roots. This immersion in the world of ideas and ideology meant that for the DPT, political differences were political, never personal. And that’s why DPT could pick up the phone and talk to any minister of any government, regardless of the party in power, and make a request. That’s why the dinners at his house saw leaders from all over the spectrum present, all sharing a deep affection for the host.
And finally, DPT always committed itself to the idea of protest, dissent and the power of students and their right to express themselves. His house was open to all JNU students. I was deeply disappointed by what I saw as recent efforts to change the culture of jNU.
When DPT died, thousands of people whose lives he touched grieved. A rare politician, a remarkably warm and generous human being, an empathy leader and a committed Democrat and constitutionalist. We’ll all miss you, DPT.
The opinions expressed are personal