P. Govinda Pillai, widely described as an organic intellectual in the Gramscian mould, died at a private hospital here late on Thursday night. He was 86.
Mr. Pillai, popularly known as ‘PG,’ was in many senses a moving encyclopaedia and one who used that knowledge to build the progressive temper of Kerala society with his extensive writings, lectures and study classes besides a long career in journalism. He breathed his last after battling age-related ailments for the past one year. His body was cremated with official honours here on Friday evening.
Standing alongside the late Marxist theoretician and statesman E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Mr. Pillai fought many an ideological battle in Kerala and played a major role in taking Marxist thought to the common people. His was a journey from asceticism to revolutionary fervour and he carried with him the critical edge to the very end of his life.
His was an intellect deeply anchored in the Marxist-Leninist ideology but, even as he remained steadfast to the principles and positions of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of which he was a member ever since its formation after the split in the Communist movement in the country in 1964, he kept an independent judgment of events and individuals.
He differed with his party when an agitation spearheaded by environment activists gathered momentum in Kerala in the last 1970s against the Silent Valley hydel project and later on the events at the Tiananmen Square. He threw his weight behind the anti-Silent Valley campaign and expressed himself against the repression at Tiananmen Square. Although he faced disciplinary action for such actions, he did not get carried away by the moment. Till ailments left him largely immobile about a year ago, he was a regular presence at the AKG Centre, the State headquarters of the CPI(M), working away on articles, pamphlets and compilations.
Born on March 25, 1926, Mr. Pillai began a student activist, was arrested for his participation in the Quit India movement. He joined the Communist Party in 1946, was arrested and remained behind bars till 1951. At 25, he got elected to the Travancore-Cochin Legislative Assembly and later to the Kerala Legislative Assembly in 1957 and 1967. As a prominent CPI (M) leader, he served as chief editor of party organ Deshabhimani from 1964 to 1983. There are as many as 37 titles to his credit, several of them testimonials to the amazing diversity of his interest in subjects ranging from religion, philosophy, politics, science, cinema, literature and the arts. His first book in English titled Bhakti Movement in India is scheduled for release a few weeks from now. He won numerous awards, including the Kerala Sahithya Akademi Award.
Books were his companions. He would forget the physical world once he entered the firmament of books. Namboodiripad said of him: “If I had read as much as PG did, I would have conquered the world.”