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Centurion comrade

Calcutta, Nov. 7: The CPM today felicitated former politburo member Samar Mukherjee on his 100th birthday, with Prakash Karat, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Biman Bose and other Left leaders gifting him bouquets, in a departure from communist convention.

Only once previously had the CPM celebrated a comrade’s birthday. That was in 1963 for Muzaffar Ahmed, one of the party’s founding fathers.

This morning, Mukherjee could only momentarily remember that it was his 100th birthday. A little later, he slipped into forgetfulness that comes with age.

“I was told that my party will observe my 100th birthday today. I have also heard that newspapers are carrying reports on this,” Keshab Pahari, a party wholetimer who has been looking after Mukherjee for 18 years, quoted the veteran as saying.

“A little later, Samarda said: ‘Can you tell me what will happen today? What did I eat just now? Did I sleep? Actually, I can’t remember most things these days.’”

“Even a few years ago, Samarda was pretty active, reading newspapers, talking to party comrades at length when they visited him. But the stroke he suffered three years ago left him incapable of doing such things,” Pahari said.

This evening, Mukherjee did not utter a word when the bouquets were handed over to him at a programme in front of the Dilkhusha Street party commune where he lives. He simply kept them aside.

After handing over a bouquet to Mukherjee, CPM state secretary Bose said: “In 1963, a year before the CPI split, our underground party leadership and those in jail wanted to observe Kakababu’s (Ahmed) birthday. That was to send a message to the rank and file about Kakababu’s role in the communist movement.”

“We felicitated Samarda because he is the only communist leader over 100 years old,” Bose added.

CPM general secretary Karat was effusive in his praise of Mukherjee. “Jyotibabu used to tell me that Samarda is God’s own man, meaning perfect in all respects. He is a great communist and trade union leader. We look forward to him completing many more years,” Karat said.

Mukherjee, who never married, shifted to the Dilkhusha Street commune from the Howrah commune when he was the party’s district secretary 47 years ago. Ahmed used to live in a room adjacent to his.

“That’s why we held the felicitation at the commune today,” Bose said.

Mukherjee had been actively involved in the CPM’s state and national organisational affairs. He was a member of the politburo, the CPM’s highest policy-making body, for 14 years till 1992. Mukherjee was also the chairman of the CPM control commission, which looks into complaints against erring party members.

“Samarda was fit and fine then. He was an active parliamentarian too. It was on Jyotibabu’s insistence that Samarda took up the control commission assignment,” an Alimuddin Street insider said.

Mukherjee, described by his juniors as a “disciplinarian” who would never “overeat” or “oversleep”, attended the 2008 Coimbatore party congress as a permanent invitee to the CPM central committee. He was 96 then.

Despite being unwell, Mukherjee had come to Alimuddin Street to play tribute to Jyoti Basu after the former chief minister’s death in 2010, CPM central committee leader Gautam Deb said.

CPM state secretary Bose is one of the few comrades who visit Mukherjee these days. Party sources said Bose dropped in at the Dilkhusha Street address three or four times a year to “enquire about Samarbabu’s health”.