(May 1927 – September 2010)
Vasant Gupte would have been 84 this May. These tributes, one by his family and the second by his comrades and colleagues, celebrate his life and life philosophy.
Nana, to one and all
Vasant Gupte wanted to be an engineer by profession, but was sent to Baroda for his studies in Arts because his father wanted him to take over his practice. Soon after completing his LLB, Nana (who had been active in the Socialist Party since his school days) announced that he had no intention of taking up private practice as a lawyer, but wanted to serve people. Upon the advice of Sane Guruji, the leader he most revered, Nana moved to Bombay and joined the Mill Mazdoor Sabha in 1950. This is where he met his life partner, our mother Shalini Patil. The two married in April 1952 and two children, Manisha and Girija.
Nana, our father, became our mother too after the death of our mother in 1978. He always taught us through his own practice, never through lecturing – about the equality of the humankind, and no discrimination of any sort was ever allowed, whether on the basis of gender, caste, religion, literacy or race. He never made us see ourselves as his daughters, but treated us as his children — no fears, no inferiority complex was ever introduced for being girls. He gave us complete independence in making our choices in careers, marriage/no marriage and our political paths. Further still, he showed confidence in us and stood steadfastly by all our decisions. Even though he never introduced us to any education in religion, he did not impose his atheism on us. Our atheism came to us of our own choice.
He was one of the few men of his time to ensure that the flat we lived in (his only piece of property to the very end of his life) was in his wife’s name, our mother’s name. To encourage our mother in playing an active role in politics and social work, he would take over cooking and other household responsibilities, something rarely seen among men of his generation. Thus, men’s participation in household work came to us as almost a natural thing. It was probably the beginning of seeds of gender equality sowed in us.
Nana must have been one of the first trade unionists to extend training to workers in law, and in negotiations. This made the workers capable of handling their problems themselves and decision-making at the local level instead of depending on the union leadership each time. It showed his sense of understanding the need for workers taking initiative in their own hands. This was his strong sense of practice of democracy in the union.
He did not differentiate between workers belonging to his union and others. It is with this principle that even after organized sector unions were fading, he continued his contact with unorganized sector workers by helping out the BSES workers with their PF cases, negotiations of Tata Power Company project workers after the self-immolation of 2 workers, ready-made garment workers’ union, etc.
He gave special emphasis on projecting women activists in the union, going to the extent of forming a women’s committee at the national level of the HMS. This was also with the aim of women activists’ participation in decision-making at the local and national levels. He was full of excitement when he saw any woman activist working among workers and always gave them support for continuing with their work because he knew of the hardships women have to face from their families and from society at large when they enter into the trade union field. He had the capacity of understanding the capabilities of women. He would often give examples from China where he had seen a woman mechanic working under a train at midnight and women operating huge cranes in the USSR to show women’s capabilities. He was also very impressed with the women translators of Europe who he often felt had the job of translating long, boring speeches in several languages, and yet they did it with such patience and efficiency.
Nana was one of the few leaders to encourage youth to take over important positions in the union. He also involved new youth in labour research in the Maniben Kara Institute and trained them by treating them as his equals. Together, Nana and the researchers of MKI conducted several very important studies.
Nana’s interest in science continued throughout his life. Hardly ever did he give us anything but books as gifts on our birthdays. He always insisted on our reading the Science Today, bought us encyclopedias, literary works and classics, made us listen to music, watch plays. He would carry out experiments on Sundays – probably trying to realize his initial dream of wanting to become an engineer. Holidays for us were always family holidays, travelling to various parts of the country on shoe-string budgets. Everytime he returned from his international tours, he brought us literature from the countries he had visited, coins and notes, all to enhance our knowledge of the world. He gave us detailed accounts of his interactions with the ordinary people he had met there. Never once were any of those descriptions biased on the basis of culture, race, religion, gender or morality.
He always maintained a routine. His day began with making his own cup of tea and ended with about 3 hours of reading, writing and translating works of other authors from the English language into Marathi. He translated some of Oscar Wilde’s short stories and made an abridged translation of Evelyn Reed’s Woman’s Evolution, both of which were much appreciated by people and thus reprinted. There is a tendency among the middle-class to write about their travel endeavours. After his second trip to the USA, Nana wrote about the liberation struggles of the blacks.
He had varied and practical ideas on energy conservation. One such idea was to get people to pool in cars for everyday commuting. He would often suggest that cars with even numbers should be allowed to ply on one day and with odd numbers the next day to ensure that half the number of cars stayed off the roads everyday. Another such idea was to have taps with push buttons (something he had seen in the USSR) so that people only used as much water as was absolutely necessary. A third was to have sea transport for everyday commuting in Mumbai, because it would take the pressure off the railways and roads, be more convenient for people and would of course be cheap.
During the worst of personal crises in life, Nana stood invincible. The death of our mother was a major blow to him. He was only 51 years of age then, but never once did he show his grief to anybody. His love for her was expressed in his continuing with their marriage for 32 years after her death, till his own death. Even though he believed in the socialist ideals to the very end of his life, he was disillusioned with the political behavior prevalent among his ex-comrades. So he hung on to his political views as a socialist, but stopped participating in active party politics. He continued with his socialist ideals to the end of his life in wanting to donate his body after his death, either by someone needy using his organs or through research.
Girija Gupte, with Manisha Gupte, Ramesh, Prateek and Priya Awasthi.
Corresponde nce: Girija Gupte email@example.com
Salute to VG!
Vasant Gupte was born to Adv. Nilkanth and Laxmibai Gupte on May 9, 1927 at Panvel in Maharashtra and had his school and college education at Panvel, Baroda, Mumbai and Pune. He took his Law Degree from Law College, Pune in the year 1949. Although Vasant Gupte (VG) was born and brought up in staunch Congressman family, he was inspired by thoughts and writings of Sane Guruji from his school days and became an active member of Rashtra Seva Dal and Praja Socialist Party. Coincidentally, VG worked for and led Mill Mazdoor Sabha as General Secretary and President for last 60 years whose founder was none other than Sane Guruji.
He joined Mill Mazdoor Sabha (MMS) in the year 1950 as full time Secretary and started his trade union career by doing legal, organisational and trade union education work. He was elected as General Secretary of the Mill Mazdoor Sabha in 1971 and continued discharging his duties and responsibilities as General Secretary of the Union till the year 1998. In 1998, he was elected as President of Mill Mazdoor Sabha, the post that he held until his last. During his 6 decades of trade union career, he has contributed immensely for the well-being of the working class and trade union movement in general and textile workers in particular in his various capacities. During his long association with Mill Mazdoor Sabha, he was involved in various struggles and strikes and was instrumental in conducting various successful negotiations on behalf of textile workers.VG fought many battles on road and in courts for the cause of workers. He was in forefront of historic textile strike of 1950 for Bonus. MMS’s landmark achievements, like 100% DA to silk textile industry, was a result of VG’s meticulous preparation of claim and exposing intellectually the feeble pleas of employers. He worked wholeheartedly for the cause of workers not only in Maharashtra but also in the other states of India. He was General Secretary of the Textile Workers Federation of India (HMS).
MMS was a founder member of Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS). VG professed and practised the philosophy of keeping TU free from the control of the government employer and political parties including the Socialist Party. His humility, sincere and hard work, special skill in negotiations and TU educational activities endeared him to all his seniors and he was first time elected as National Secretary of HMS in its conference held at Calcutta in the year 1974. He was the Secretary of HMS from 1974 to 1978. He was re-elected National Secretary in the year 1981 at HMS conference held at Cochin. He was Secretary of HMS for over one and half decades and finally step down from the Secretary-ship position in 2006 as he wanted to devote more time for trade union education and research work. During his long association with HMS, he strived for strengthening the organization in various ways and travelled extensively within India and abroad. His untiring service to the labour movement for over the period of six decades was well recognized nationally and internationally. He visited several countries including most of the countries in Europe, Asia and in Northern Africa for attending conferences, meetings and seminars. He has also attended ILO Conferences held in Geneva three times in a row as a member of the Indian delegation and HMS representative during the period 1990-93.
Research and Education, MKI
He was a great scholar, thinker and voracious reader and a fine human being. He was fond of academic work and very passionate about trade union education and research work. He was involved in conducting trade union education programmes for textile workers from very beginning of his trade union career. So, in the year 1981 when HMS established its labour research and education institute viz. Maniben Kara Institute, he was a natural choice and was appointed as its Director and held that post till his last. During his tenure, the Institute has not only been able to expand its activities in the area of trade union education and research, but also achieved national and international recognition in these said areas through research studies on labour like the Labour in Free India, Minimum Wages in India, Profile of 100 TU Leaders, Service Conditions in Public Sector etc. All these manuals and research studies are guides to TU activists.
He had been regular guest lecturer for post-graduate courses on Labour Welfare, Personnel Management, Industrial Relations and Trade Unionism conducted by prestigious Institutes like the Maharashtra Institute of Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Bhawan’s College. He was also permanent faculty member for Trade Union education courses organized by the Central Board of Worker’s Education, Indian Institute of Worker’s Education and by other private institutions and trade unions.
He was a special invitee of the prestigious Administrative Staff College of India at Hyderabad in 1964 for its three months course for the top executives. He was awarded two year Senior research fellowship by the Ford Foundation for doing research on Labour issues under Shri Ram Centre for Industrial Relations, New Delhi. During that period (1968-70), he wrote a number of papers and manuals simplifying labour laws for the use by trade union activists.
He participated in a number of Seminars (National and International) organized by Governments and Labour institutions. He worked on many committees appointed by the Maharashtra State and Central Government. He was a regular paper setter and examiner for the Bombay University for Post Graduate examinations in labour and welfare. He has to his credit over 3 dozen books/manuals/literatures on various subjects particularly in the area of trade union and also over 50 articles in English and Marathi on various topics on labour.
Practice of Politics
VG was a diehard Socialist and organized many struggles under PSP and was jailed on several occasions for politial activities. He started a branch of socialist party in Panvel and campaigned for socialist party candidates during elections although his father was a congress leader.VG was one amongst TU leaders who opposed Emergency. He as per directives of seniors tactfully avoided arrest and done a herculean job of guiding workers throuought India and fighting legal battles in courts for defending TU and workers’ rights which were under various attacks
Vasant Gupte had devoted his entire life to protect and promote the interest of the downtrodden and working class. His passion and commitment towards the trade union movement and his zeal to work for the workers education was unmatched. He was one of the disciplined soldiers of the movement who discharged his duties and responsibilities towards it throughout his life with utmost sincerity and honesty. His services to the working class and trade union movement will always be an inspiration and guide for the trade union activists in times ahead.