By the time I reached Ahmedabad on the twelfth evening, Mukul Sinha’s body had been donated to the cancer research foundation, in his death too he left a lesson in socialism. He was my baba, the man who gave a new meaning to the struggle for justice, be it his unrelenting crusade to get an impartial judgement for the 2002 riot victims, or to expose the politico- criminal face of the fake encounters in Gujarat. He was above all one of the finest human beings I have ever known whose passion and desire to lead a meaningful life was unmatched.
From being a brilliant scientist, a lawyer with an enviable track record, a connoisseur of music and art, a fabulous cook and a mentor, friend and guide to all those he met and interacted with, he was an individual par excellence. Many considered him a rival, an enemy, he had none- he could not bear the thought of being antagonistic to even his worse detractors. “They are not against me, they are against the illusion that I hate them, I need to be more considerate towards them” he once told me.
I met him first in 2008 in a case of false implication of local boys from Muslim dominated areas from Gujarat who were labelled as terrorists. Within two hours of our discussion he had demolished the entire charge sheet of the Gujarat police with facts and numbers. That was the genius of the man, his colleagues in court and at the Jan Sangharsh manch looked up to him, the judges argued with him on his submission but came around mostly, often conceding that very few could have disagreements with him where law was concerned. He was a delight to watch in a court room, where his humor and tactful questioning kept the courtroom including most journalists who were willing to eat out of his hands
He was gifted with an equally compassionate son who would help him run the revelational “Truth of Gujarat” website , most of the articles on which have been posted in the nine months of his brave fight with small cell cancer, that which has the least chance of survival. The day he was diagnosed with the disease, he was aware that he could only postpone the end for a few months, but the end was inevitable. Such was his desire for justice, that a day before his demise while he was being admitted into the ICU, he called his colleagues from the legal fraternity to represent the hearing in the Ishrat Jahan case, instructed his coworker, partner and wife of 40 year;s Nirjhari to get access to all legal documents in the fake encounters case.
Mukul had a desire for a girl child , so I became his Natasha, a name which he intended to give his daughter. On his cell phone, I was listed as chutki, the little one and on mine he was baba - the man I was privileged to call my father. He was the first person who I would call after my first panic attack on a Delhi – Mumbai flight post which I faced a rather traumatic time. He would counsel me, gently talk me out of my fear, empathise with my situation, infuse a remarkable calm, he knew the perils of fighting the good fight.
He was the man who taught me to walk the treadmill, who introduced me to the joys of Bengali food at the durga pooja in Ahmedabad. He was the man who taught me to smile at adversities, to listen to a Rafi number the day I would be worn out by ethical dilemmas of the profession, and cook grilled fish for me while humming his favourite Bengali number.
You did not have to be baba’s favourite to like him. I have never seen a man so deeply revered by the masses. On one occasion, my taxi driver having noticed, that I was visiting ‘Mukul Sinha’ requested if he could meet him. Baba promptly stepped out on hearing the request, my driver took his hands and kissed them. He had tears in his eyes, “Saheb, this state needs more messiahs like you” he spoke in Gujarati. The IIT graduate who hailed from Bilaspur left his home state decades ago and had touched a chord with the common Gujarati.
There is a misconception that Mukul fought only riot cases or that he represented just one community. He represented several trade unions in the state including the Gujarat Mazdoor Sabha and the Gujarat Federation of Trade Unions. Despite having landed several corrupt and criminal cops behind bars, there used to be a beeline of cops at his residence cum office to address their issues. Despite his health receiving a major setback in the form of a severe heart attack in 2003, it had no impact on Mukul’s tireless struggle and his contribution to the socialist movement which attracted some of the finest minds from across the country. Not just did he expose the role of cops and politicians for their complicity in criminal cases – including the Ishrat Jahan, Tulsi Prajapati, Sadiq Jamal and several other fake encounters, his shrewd, tactical cross questioning of officers in the Manipur encounters had the commission of enquiry declare the spate of encounters in the state as fake.
I still cannot get over the image of watching Mukul undergoing a painful chemo therapy at a local hospital, with needles and pipes inserted in his left hand and answering questions of a foreign journalist with his right hand with unaffected enthusiasm. Throughout his agonizing series of chemo therapies he would dictate posts to his son Pratik for the “Truth of Gujarat” website, discuss elections, listen to songs of trade unions from across the world. His recent favourite was a number sung by a Pakistani artist on the rights of daily wage workers killed in a factory. I have never seen Mukul having a tough time with his temper, his zeal to live each moment of its life in its beauty was evident when inspite of being in deadening pain, he would make an effort to cheer up the medical attendant looking after him. In a state like Gujarat where religion and hatred was used to polarize the two communities, in a state where the political alternatives like the BJP and the Congress had refused to heal the schism, Mukul's socialism played a major role in beginning the healing process - not in the developed zones of Gujarat, but in the villages, in the slums, who needed his compassion the most.
The last time I spoke to Baba was a day before my birthday, the first of May, just days before his death. He was frail and spoke in between bouts of painful cough that which had been keeping him awake for nights through his agonizing cancer - “I wont be able to do much on labour day this time chutki” (referring to the rallies that he organised for the rights of the working class). I asked to see him. “I will call you soon” he promised. He never did. I landed at his residence the evening he had left us, there was nobody to call out “chutki”, nobody to pull my cheek and usher me inside.
Baba has left us at one of the most challenging times, he fought tooth and nail for justice but there is a lot to be done. The world was a richer place because men like he lived and worked in it
The man who charged the movement has left us, left us when the change he most detested is about to take over the country. He has left at a time when the divisive politics he so resented is being given a new spin and shape which promises to raise its ugly head again.
But he has left back a legacy for those who he inspired, those whose lives he touched, those his ideology reached. In a video message that he has recorded months ago, he signs off with a smile of optimism and ‘We shall win’ phrase when asked about the idea of Indian democracy and the challenges it faced . As for me, his chutki, I have his memories, his email that he sent me at a very painful period in my life. Attached to the mail was a Simon and Garfunkel number which he used to often sing “Bridge over troubled water”
We needed you now, more than ever baba, they don’t make people like you anymore.