Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Vietnam revolutionary nationalist party of Indo-China, which struggled for independence from France during and after the second world war, was born Nguyen Sinh Cung on May 19, 1890 in a village in central Vietnam. The French through a puppet emperor indirectly ruled the area during that time. Inheriting his father’s rebellious bent, Ho participated in a series of tax revolts, acquiring a reputation as a troublemaker. In 1911 he left Vietnam to work abroad. Toward the end of World War I he went to France where he joined the Socialist Party. In 1919 at Paris Peace conference, he unsuccessfully agitated for civil rights in Indo-China. Rebuffed, Ho joined the newly created French Communist Party and visited the USSR to study revolutionary methods. Soon Ho was roaming the earth as a covert agent for Moscow.

Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh [Illustrations by: Amarjeet Malik]
Again and again he was reported dead, only to pop up in a new place. In 1929 he assembled a few militants in Hong Kong and formed the Indo-Chinese Communist Party. During the 1930s, he lived in the USSR and China, but with the start of World War II, he returned to Vietnam.

In 1940, Japan’s legions swept into Indo-China and French officials in Vietnam collaborated with them. Ho urged his disciples to fight both the Japanese and the French. In 1941, Ho founded the Viet Minh, an acronym for the Vietnam Independence League from which he derived his name Ho Chi Minh meaning the bringer of light. What he brought was a spirit of rebellion — first against the French and later the Americans. On Sept 2, 1945, Ho proclaimed the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and became its first president. During his 24 years as president (1946-54), he led Viet Minh in eight years of warfare against France and supported (1959-75) its successor the Viet Long in fighting the anti-Communist South Vietnamese regime, established with its capital in Saigon after the 1954 Geneva Conference.

As the US, Saigon’s ally, became increasingly involved in the war, Ho maintained his role as a symbol of unity for the two Vietnams, although he was less active as his health declined after 1959. Six years after his death, the war ended in North Vietnam victory and the unification of Vietnam. Ho died on Sept 2, 1969 at the age of 79. His mausoleum in Hanoi is a national shrine.