I did not have the luck of being a student of Professor Randhir Singh. But I consider myself greatly fortunate that I had several opportunities of listening to him and discussing with him and even speaking alongside him in meetings during the last three decades since I moved to Delhi in connection with my political assignments. Had I not moved to Delhi in the late 1980s, I’d have probably known Randhir Singh only through his writings. That would have surely been inspiring and enlightening as all his readers will readily testify, but listening and talking to him was always a special experience, something so fondly remembered and cherished by all who have been his students and comrades.
When I came in contact with him during the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse, Punjab was caught in the crossfire between Khalistani insurgency and the counterinsurgency of state terrorism, the RSS, BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal were busy whipping up an aggressive communal frenzy around the Ram Mandir agenda, and the economic policy discourse and direction had begun to rapidly move away from the once dominant rhetoric of socialistic pattern and mixed economy to the glorification of the market and worship of private capital, the desi monopolies as well as foreign MNCs. In such difficult times, Randhir Singh continued to apply his profound Marxist scholarship and sharp analytical gaze to the study of the changing reality around us and help us achieve the clarity of understanding of complex social phenomena and political questions that must guide the thinking and action of every communist. He urged his comrades to think as Marx would have done – upholding the independent class position of the proletariat in contention with the dominating ideas of the ruling classes. His Marxism was fearless and ruthlessly critical – ‘ruthless criticism of all that exists’, criticism that is not afraid of its own conclusions, as Marx insisted. The Communist Manifesto principle which asks communists to represent and nurture tomorrow’s interests in today’s struggles was his consistent point of departure in judging every immediate struggle or tactic. Even as the Soviet Union collapsed and bourgeois ideologues the world over mounted a loud and concerted campaign against Marxism and socialism, Randhir Singh brought his Marxist scholarship to the study of the Soviet collapse and came out with a detailed treatise in defence of his Marxist commitment and the strategic vision of socialism.
In the early years of his communist journey, Randhir Singh was a full-time activist, a professional revolutionary belonging to the then undivided Communist Party of India. Later when he began teaching in Delhi University, the transition only meant for him an uninterrupted continuation of his earlier mission by other means. He brought his Marxist activism into the university teachers’ movement too, but most crucially he played the role of a tireless communist educator who popularized the Marxist outlook and analysis among generations of students through his powerful and mesmerizing lectures.
Thanks to his difference of opinion with the CPI and CPI(M), Professor Singh eventually stopped his formal organizational affiliation, but he continued to see himself as an integral part of the communist movement in the country. Never did he elevate his own formal organizational independence from any communist party into any school of partyless communist praxis. His interaction with communist parties and groups was always marked by warm comradely cooperation and criticism. He was readily available to discuss Marxism with young activists. Till his last moment he keenly followed the discussions and debates within the communist movement, even after he had largely lost his ability to speak he wanted to hear reports of ongoing political developments. He had great hopes in the advances made by the CPI(ML) in Bihar and elsewhere in the Hindi belt and the rise and growth of the AISA as the bold voice of revolutionary student movement. In what was perhaps his last appearance in a political meeting, he came to the commemoration of the centenary of the Ghadr movement in Delhi, even though we missed the opportunity to hear him speak on that occasion.
Randhir Singh’s long communist journey had begun in the 1930s a few years after the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh. The journey continued with the youthful energy, clarity of purpose, great revolutionary zeal and unwavering commitment that Bhagat Singh epitomized in India’s freedom movement. If by a quirk of history Bhagat Singh were to get a long life and compelled to become a university teacher, we would have perhaps known him as Professor Randhir Singh.