(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 31 , 2008
COMRADE Surjeet is now no more with us. From the doors of our editorial office, no more would come the voice, “Keep a page for me!” No more would we hear the explanation for this demand: that the paper must carry something about something of importance that has taken place in the country or the world this week. It meant that he would write about it.
Comrade Surjeet was the founder editor of Lok Lahar. When the party, in accordance with a Salkia Plenum decision, decided to start a Hindi weekly in the beginning of 1979, the responsibility to put this decision into practice naturally came upon Comrade Surjeet’s shoulders. In this sense, Lok Lahar is his baby --- with all its limitations in fulfilling his expectations. It was not fortuitous that he was the paper’s editor till May this year, till any continuation of this arrangement began to look odd in view of his serious illness.
If the Lok Lahar’s responsibility devolved upon Comrade Surjeet, there was a reason to it. At that time he was perhaps the only member of the Polit Bureau at the party centre who not only had a grasp in the Hindi-Urdu area but also could read and write Hindi, and could dictate something in this language. However, there was yet another and important reason behind it. As an integral part of his political life, he was associated with the publication of party papers and magazines. Two episodes, of pre-Lok Lahar period, come to mind here.
First about a magazine called Chingari. When the British externed him from Punjab in a bid to curtail his political activities, he made Saharanpur in the United Province his base and began the publication of Chingari from here.
Secondly, in the mid-1960s, the party decided to start the publication of Lok Lahar from New Delhi. It was the period when the party’s reorganisation was under way and the paper, under Comrade Surjeet’s leadership, became a herald of the inner-party struggle that soon culminated in a reorganisation of the party as the CPI(M). However, the paper did not continue for long because of the extraordinary repression resorted to be the Congress government against the communists before as well as after the reorganisation. The CPI(M) headquarters later shifted to Kolkata and weekly Swadhinata began to play the role of the party’s central Hindi organ. In this sense, it was the Lok Lahar’s rebirth when its publication started from February 18, 1979, under Comrade Surjeet’s leadership.
Comrade Surjeet was one of the leaders who had imbibed the Leninist concept of a party paper as the “organiser and agitator.” Naturally, the editorial in the very first issue of the paper presented it as a “harbinger of mass struggles” and declared that the Lok Lahar would strive to play its role in strengthening the mass organisations and mass struggles and in expanding the party in the Hindi areas. In his goodwill message published in the same issue, Comrade BTR too underlined this very role of the paper, saying that “Lok Lahar would have to become a militant paper of the masses who are fighting against the forces of authoritarianism. It has to fight for the people’s economic and democratic rights, expose the ongoing conspiracies against our country and emerge as a militant guide against all the anti-worker and anti-people moves.”
No doubt, that whole generation of communist leaders could not visualise the party organisation without a party paper. And this was true not for the communists alone. In fact, there was then possibly no leader who did not take the initiative to being out a paper. Yet, there was hardly a parallel to the intensity with which Surjeet felt its need and the troubles he took for fulfilling this need. It was this truth to which Comrade E M S Namboodiripad, the then general secretary of the party, indirectly referred at the meeting organised for the release of the paper’s first issue. He said: “It is no mean thing that we have been able to put into practice the Salkia Plenum decision within one and a half months.”
If the paper has been coming out uninterruptedly in the last three decades and, despite its limitations, playing the role of the party’s authentic voice in the midst of the Hindi speaking people, this is yet another testimony to Comrade Surjeet’s extraordinary ideological, political and organisational capabilities. He had a direct and most important role in everything --- from evolving an editorial team for the paper to developing its character. True, this did not happen overnight, and he had had to make strenuous efforts for it, more so in the initial years. He had had a direct role in mobilisation and editing of the material that was to be printed in the paper.
This does not mean that, at the central leadership’s level, Comrade Surjeet alone was responsible for bringing out the paper. Nor does it mean that Lok Lahar was the beginning and the end of his editorial responsibilities. Barring the very initial period of Lok Lahar, there has always been a close link between both the central party organs --- People’s Democracy and Lok Lahar --- and it was because the central leaders of the party, particularly the Polit Bureau members functioning from the party centre, viewed the publicastion of both the papers as their collective responsibility. There was a small difference, nevertheless. Comrade MB as editor of the People’s Democracy and Comrade Surjeet as Lok Lahar’s editor did take out some time for the respective papers --- they used to come to the editorial office, discuss various issues, and this process clarified what was being written and why, or what should have been written and why. So much so that when the party office was at 14 Ashoka Road, BTR made his office in a room adjoining the editorial office.
Nothing possibly enriched the editorial comrades politically and ideologically as much as this political-organisational dialogue did. It will not be out of place to mention here that after the demise of Comrade Ramdass, executive editor of People’s Democracy since its very inception, the editors of both the papers pushed this dialogue process with the editorial comrades forward --- as if as an unannounced discussion. This played a crucial role in ensuring that the big shock of Comrade Ramdass’s demise did not harm the party organs. Comrade Surjeet was not only easily available for this dialogue but also gave it particular importance. This was despite his ever-increasing role in national politics as well as party organisation and the consequently growing preoccupations. Despite the long queues of his visitors, he always had time for the party papers and the comrades associated with them --- in office as well as at home.
I do remember an episode in this regard. When the Sangh Parivar’s incendiary Ayodhya campaign was at its peak in 1989 and the VHP had announced a date for foundation laying, a protest meeting at Faizabad was announced at the initiative of both the communist parties against this communal campaign. From the CPI(M), Surjeet was the main speaker at this meeting, and the present writer accompanied him to Faizabad for reporting in the party papers. The protest meeting was possibly not as impressive as it should have been in view of the threat. After our return, the editorial comrades had submitted a note to the Polit Bureau, saying that we were probably not putting in all-out efforts against the communal campaign. Then, at Comrade Surjeet’s initiative, a meeting of the editorial comrades with the Polit Bureau took place within two days of submitting this note, and our note was discussed there. But this was not a lone case by any means. The party leadership seriously considered every note the editorial unit gave it on political and ideological issues. This also played an important role in the political education of the editorial unit comrades.
Comrade Surjeet was a hands-on editor. His column “Sahchintan” had started as early as the 15th issue of Lok Lahar. This column was for political-ideological education of rank and file comrades through the replies to the questions sent by them. Comrade Surjeet always kept in mind the paper’s schedule. When he was on a poll campaign or any other party programme, he sent his notes from there or wrote them after coming back to Delhi. His responsibilities grew tremendously after he became the party’s general secretary; yet he always took out time to write something or, after some time, dictate something. This process of writing something for the party papers continued till he fell seriously ill.
There is hardly a place in the Hindi areas where Comrade Surjeet did not go, provided communist activists were there. On most occasions, he undertook his journey by road or by rail. Anybody accompanying him could not fail to notice that the time taken by a journey always pinched him, as the time available to him was always short compared to the demands upon it. If it was a private vehicle, he would always ask the driver to speed up. To him, to halt for food or rest somewhere was as if a kind of thievery. It is not surprising that, despite his six and a half decades of political life out of a span of 92 years, one does feel that he has left us too early.