With the announcement of the Ambedkar award on Saturday, the CPI has perhaps earned a distinction with two of its most important contemporary leaders — D Pandian and R Nallakannu — finding a place on the honours board. While Nallakannu was awarded in 2007, Pandian is a recipient of the award this year.
Born on May 18, 1932 as David Pandian at Vellaimalaipatti in Madurai, the incumbent state secretary of the CPI took to the ideals of Communism as a student. Having studied at the Alagappa College, in Karaikudi, he rose through the ranks of the party’s youth federations and held high offices.
It was when he took the post of lecturer at the same college that Pandian was asked by his mentor in the party, P Jeevanandam, to come to Chennai to immerse himself in party work. When the Tamil Nadu Kalai Ilakkiya Perumandram was formed by Jeeva, he anointed Pandian as its first general secretary.
The sixties and seventies saw Pandian become a major union leader which eventually led to his nomination to the CPI national council in 1970s. He was a force to reckon with in the Indian Railway Labour Union, becoming its president, and the Chennai Port Trust, where he organised number of protests for labour rights.
But the major moment in his career came in the late 1980s when Pandian, along with other important leaders such as M Kalyanasundaram, left the CPI on a controversy over taking US aid for medical centre. After the ideological battle in which they opposed the aid, factions across the country came together under the banner of United Communist Party of India of which Mohit Sen became the first general secretary. Pandian also tasted success electorally during this brief period when he made his way to the Lok Sabha.