Obituary: Muqimuddin Farooqi

Muqimuddin Farooqi, party activist: born Ambetha, Uttar Pradesh, India 1920; joined Communist Party of India (CPI) 1940, member, national council 1958, central executive 1972, central secretariat 1981; married Vimla Kapoor (one son); died New Delhi 3 September 1997.

Muqimuddin Farooqi was one of the last Indian Communist leaders. He championed the working-class movement for over four decades, firmly believing that socialism would ultimately prevail. Although the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe affected him deeply, he remained convinced that socialism was a workable science and "could not die".

As national secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI) for 25 years, Farooqi was respected even by his political adversaries for his integrity. Soft-spoken and always dressed in a white homespun pyjama and kurta, or long shirt, he was probably the most accessible leftist leader in New Delhi, who practised his ideology, living in a couple of dingy, airless rooms above the party office in the heart of the city, eating frugally and always willing to help anyone in trouble.

Age did not affect his political militancy and his last public speech, minutes before he suffered a cardiac arrest, was against the venality of the Congress Party which supports the federal 15-party United Front coalition government. In contemporary Indian politics Farooqi was a nostalgic reminder that things had not always been so rudderless and shorn of principle.

Muqimuddin Farooqi was born in 1920 in Ambetha, a small town in Saharanpur district in northern Uttar Pradesh state, into a modest Muslim household and educated locally. He moved to the prestigious St Stephen's College in Delhi for his Master's degree, became college president, and joined the Communist Party of India, then fighting the colonial government for independence.

In 1940 he was expelled for successfully organising a university strike against the arrest of Jawaharlal Nehru, then a Congress party leader, and later free India's first prime minister. The British university vice- chancellor forfeited his MA degree which, much to Farooqi's delight was restored to him at a special convocation 49 years later in 1989.

Thereafter, Farooqi became the first general secretary of the All India Student's Federation and was jailed three times by the colonial government for participating in the Quit India movement launched against the British by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942. In 1964, however, Farooqi opted to remain with the "progressive bourgeoisie" group, opposing the radical Marxists who split the CPI to form the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the CPM. Soon after, he rose to become a member of the Communist Party's central executive, its highest decision-making body. And, though the CPI joined the federal coalition after general elections last year Farooqi often broke with party discipline, lashing out at the government for its ineptitude and corruption.