It would not have surprised anyone who knew Praful Bidwai, that the night he died he was surrounded by friends who with him represented five continents, north and south.
This gang, activist-scholars from Venezuela and South Africa, the Netherlands and Uruguay, the United States as well as his beloved India, was typical of Praful’s collaborations with activists and intellectuals, protesters and writers to build global connections, global commitments, global movements. He was an internationalist who was happiest not only writing about the whole world, but doing all his work with people who lived and worked far from his New Delhi home.
How he loved the global fellowship of the Transnational Institute. In the days before his sudden and horrifying accidental death, Praful had been at the center of a set of TNI discussions that aimed at starting a global conversation aimed at helping to shape new definitions of popular sovereignty and the challenges of neo-liberalism and the corporate capture of key institutions. He had presented an in-depth examination of India’s Aam Aadmi party, the anti-corruption “Common Man Party” newly elected in Delhi, and engaged with sharp analysis and uncompromising solidarity in discussions of parallel challenges facing Podemos in Spain and the beleaguered Syriza-led government in Greece.
While Praful’s journalism meant he produced daily and weekly columns for a host of Indian papers, his real passion was the digging in, the finding and exposing of the roots of what we see in our world – the real definition of radical, going for the roots. That’s why he was so thrilled at the prospect of the imminent publication of his new book – a comprehensive interrogation of the Indian left. Just in the last hours before his so shockingly sudden death, Praful had been cheerfully badgering each of us about ideas for broadening access to his book. He was hoping for translations in at least four Indian languages, when I asked him about an Urdu version for publication in Pakistan, his eyes lit up with excitement for what was obviously a longstanding wish. We argued about the relative value of a short primer version, for busy activists who might not be willing or have the time to read a 500-page analysis, and he grabbed our printer colleague for ideas for fonts and lay-out.
Praful’s passions for years had been centered on opposing militarism, especially nuclear weapons, and on the ravages of climate change in the context of economic injustice and inequality. He was one of the first to write about the role of Hindu Zionism in building the dangerous Indian-Israeli alliance. He wrote books and pamphlets, he spoke across India and across the globe, he protested wherever it was needed – and he helped people in uncountable numbers to understand why all those issues were at the core of what we needed to do to change the world.
Praful was always passionate – about food and his whiskey, about poetry and gifts when he returned after long absences, but especially about using his words and his work to change the world. He worked alone day to day, but never for a moment doubted that only collective action – social movements, mobilizations, engaging with power – could accomplish that goal. He gathered friends far and wide, and held them close; with his longtime comrades Achin Vanaik and Pamela Philipose at the core, he created second and third families that embraced him as their own.
TNI was privileged that he had made us one of those families. Praful belonged to all of us, and all of us – and especially the movements with which we work and struggle – are richer and more powerful for his time among us. He planted trees that now he’ll never sit under, but so many others will. Go well, Praful, we’ll carry on your work inspired by your words.