Niyamgiri and Kishen Pattnayak

“Kishen Pattnayak’s death did not make headlines. Only one news channel ran this story on September 27, the day he died. Barring a couple of Hindi newspapers and the Oriya press, the national press ignored his passing away. This newspaper carried the news of the death of this “ex-MP” in about 100 words; other “national” newspapers could spare even lesser space.

When he died he left no property. No house, no four-wheeler, no factory, no land, no plot. Rather unusual for someone who became a Member of Parliament when he was barely 32. He served the Lok Sabha only for one term and had no independent source of income thereafter. Yet he refused to accept the ex-MP’s pension and perks before he turned 60. His wife worked as a school teacher and that is how the couple met their expenses. They decided not to have kids of their own, so that they are not forced into compromises.
He represented the last shadow of the Gandhian nationalist movement that trained its followers into believing that these were the done things. You needed to have good reasons not to follow this course.

Kishen Pattnayak was widely acknowledged as the most original political thinker the socialist movement in India had produced after Rammanohar Lohia. He edited two magazines: Samayik Varta in Hindi (being published regularly since 1977) and Bikalp Bichar in Oriya. The first edition of his book, Vikalpheen Nahin hai Duniya, sold out within weeks of its publication. Virtually all non-party movement groups looked up to Kishen Pattnayak for intellectual guidance.

His thinking never suited the dominant orthodoxies of his time, right or left. His relentless focus on equality and readiness to take on the holy cows of nationalism troubled every establishment. Yet he was no Marxist and was therefore never acceptable to the Left establishment. He raised the question of the appropriate model of development, much before sustainability became the buzzword. He raised uncomfortable questions of caste, much before Mandal had forced the Left to come to terms with this phenomenon. Of late he had directed all his energy in interrogating another ideological holy cow: globalisation. No wonder he was not the darling of Delhi’s intellectual circles, not even of its tiny Lohiaite faction that did not take kindly to his refusal to invoke Lohia every now and then.

Barring a small band of (mostly Hindi) journalists who discovered him through personal encounters, he simply did not exist for the media. The record of the English media, the so called national press, was particularly poor in this respect. Their treatment of his death only symbolised how they treated him in his life, or the way they treat all the Kishen Pattnayaks of this world

No doubt he was not a model of political success. He spurned more than one offers of decent rehabilitation in the “political mainstream”. His own efforts to create a viable political alternative to the mainstream were far from successful. A small band of idealist political workers and movement groups scattered all over the country followed him, but this did not form a critical mass that could generate a robust alternative that could take on the might of the established political parties.

Let us confront a disturbing possibility: could it be that the media and the middle class that drives it did not wish to know about Kishen Pattnayak?

Perhaps because he held a mirror that all of us did not want to look at? Perhaps because his image spoilt the simple pleasures of politics bashing, our national sport after cricket? ”

-Yogendra Yadav is a psephologist and political commentator