Comrade Shahid Siddiqui

By Rajiv Shah
That’s how we used to call him. Comrade Shahid Siddiqui. It was the first half of 1970s. He was studying political science in Delhi College, while I was doing English honours in Kirorimal College in Delhi University campus. We used to look upon him as a future Marxist theoretician, someone who would, some day, replace EMS Namboodiripad. He used to talk like a Toofan mail – his style hasn’t changed even now. It terribly impressed me. He was our “leader” in the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), student wing of the CPI(M). I was his cadre, trying to understand what all he and other comrades had to say about a red revolution knocking at India’s doorsteps. He would take our study circles, teach us about pros and cons of Mahatma Gandhi. I remember how, sitting at his residence in Nizamuddin area, he told me to read EMS’s “Gandhi and the Ism”, adding a bit of his own interpretation. “In political science, Gandhi is an anarchist”, he declared. I wasn’t convinced, but didn’t care to contradict him.
The last time I met Shahid was during the Emergency, in his office of the Urdu weekly, Nai Duniya, which he used to edit, as he does now. Suneet Chopra, another young upcoming CPI(M) theoretician, had studied in Britain and come down to India to bring about a revolution. By then, I had already left the SFI, which had experienced a major split. I spotted Suneet at Mandi House, his clean-shaven face hid by a full-blown beard, which has now, I’m told, grown even bigger. Yet, I recognized him. Suneet signaled me to keep quiet. Crossing the busy road, he ran to me, and told me, “Shhh…. I’m underground. Don’t call me Suneet.” Suneet gave me a bundle, which he said, I should deliver to Shahid. “Someone may spot me, hence I can’t go to Nai Duniya office”, he said. I readily agreed, went to Shahid’s Nai Duniya office, and religiously handed over the bundle to Shahid. Shahid took a snipe at Suneet: “He loves to feel romantic about Emergency. What’s he afraid of?”, he wondered.
I found Shahid already a changed man, and never cared to meet him thereafter. I virtually lost track of him till about five years ago, when I was amused to see him on the small screen as an ardent Mulayam Singh supporter. He spoke exactly in the same way, like a Toofan mail. I liked to listen to him, only as part of my old affinity. I watched him carefully as he joined Mayawati, and left her ahead of the recent UP polls to rejoin Mulayam. A few days back, Shahid created a flutter. He came down to Gandhinagar, where I am based now, interviewed chief minister Narendra Modi, which was published in Nai Duniya. Nobody noticed it till a small, two column Times of India story on it by my colleague Harit Mehta created a big flutter. Shahid was slammed for “anti-party activities” for meeting Modi and suspended from Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party. This prompted me to renew my contact with Shahid, and also other SFI friends, just to know what they think of Shahid.
“Oh Rajiv, what a great surprise… Three decades and we haven’t met. Had I known you were in Gandhinagar, I would have certainly come down”, he sounded courteous on phone, and added, “I did nothing wrong. My father (founder of Nai Duniya), in his 80s, was jailed four times during the Emergency. Yet, I was the first person to interview Indira Gandhi after the Emergency was lifted. I just acted as a journalist, asking tough questions, then, as now.” He went on to recall our old SFI days, moving over to how his relationship with the CPI(M) came to an abrupt end when he, in Nai Duniya, sharply criticized Ayatollah Khomeini, who led an Islamic revolution in Iran. “This was quite terrible, but our CPI(M) leaders saw this as my support to the Shah of Iran. I only saw Khomeini as a revivalist of the worst type. Where was I wrong? Yet, I was charged with anti-party activity”, he told me.
This made me ask him: “You once held the view that Muslim communalism and Hindu communalism are equally dangerous. Do you still believe in it?” Like before, Shahid took no time to answer back. He told me on phone: “Yes, I still think, Hindu and Muslim communalism are equally responsible for the current social divide. If Muslim communalism acts as an ignition, Hindu communalism is a fire. Both destroy our social fabric.” He concluded, “Let me tell you as a friend. Politics is not my cup of tea. I’m not going to join politics any more. I will concentrate on journalism. I’m not thick-skinned. Political parties do not need thinking Muslims like me”. Ending about 25-minute conversation, I phoned up Iqbal Jamil, an SFI “leader” in Kirorimal. An amenable friend for the four decades, Iqbal, who runs a school in Delhi, smiled at all that Shahid had to say. “He has been changing parties like he changes clothes. His writings in his paper, which he used to send me as a complementary till few years ago, border on communalism”, he said, adding, “You can understand Shahid – he knows how to keep his Urdu readers happy.”
Others had almost the same thing to tell me. Another SFI “leader” in Kirorimal, Sohail Hashmi, is today a heritage conservationist and a columnist. He tells me that he left the CPI(M) several years ago, and believes Shahid was “never consistent”. “I do recall how he once wrote in praise of the Shah of Iran”, he said. Biswaroop Das, an SFI cadre in Kirorimal who is now professor at the Institute of Social Studies, Surat, confirmed what Sohail had to say. Be that as it may, one thing is common between all of us – whether it is Shahid, or Iqbal, or Sohail, or Biswaroop, or others, we have all “reformed” ourselves in our own ways and learned the hard way that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the Left. Most of us now think that the Left, including the CPI(M), is a spent force, and it needs to reform, maybe like we have reformed ourselves. One of us, Niaz Ahmed Farooqui, who was in the Hindu College, is now a maulana, and is with the Jamaat-e-Ulama-e-Hind. Shahid’s closest SFI man, Mohd Afzal, I’m, told is “with Congress, in fact with Sheila Dixit.” Only, Suneet Chopta remains consistently with CPI(M).

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