People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 32

August 09, 200

Comrade Surjeet As I Saw Him

 

K Varadharajan

 

COMRADE Harkishan Singh Surjeet was a great revolutionary who made his mark in Indian history during his 92 years of life. There is no other leader in the history of India who was attracted to the freedom struggle at so tender an age to fight against British imperialism.

At the age of 16, he was jailed for one year for hoisting the tricolour flag upon a court building, amidst the raining bullets of the mighty British empire. He also worked in Naujawan Bharat Sabha, an organisation started by the great martyr Bhagat Singh. Comrade Surjeet was only 15 years old when Bhagat Singh went to the gallows, displaying great courage. All such incidents further strengthened the revolutionary fervour in the young chap called Harkishan.

He joined the communist movement after realising that only a socialist society, free from exploitation, will offer a solution to the problems facing the working masses. Since then, until his last breath, he remained devoted to that incomparable ideal.

Comrade Surjeet was one of the extraordinary soldiers of our freedom struggle. Because of his activities in the freedom struggle, he was thrown out of school, underwent jail life for ten years, underwent underground life for four years, was arrested on the day of his marriage even before entering his house, and went through four months torture in a solitary cell where there was neither light nor air. There are many such hardships and sacrifices he took upon himself during his public life.

After realising that it is a basic duty of the working class to organise the peasantry and agricultural workers, he led the AIKS and worked tirelessly for it for many years. He also guided the formation and growth of the All India Agricultural Workers Union in the country.

In 1947, after the partition of the country, when communal riots engulfed the border states, he intervened courageously to safeguard the people’s unity. Similarly, whenever communalism, extremism and separatism reared its head, his role was always heroic in fighting against them and thus safeguarding the national integrity.

When an inner-party struggle began on ideological issues, Comrade Surjeet was one of the leaders who were the backbone of the party reorganised as the CPI(M) in 1964.

He was elected to the Polit Bureau of the undivided CPI in 1953. At the 14th congress held at Chennai in 1992, he was elected general secretary of the CPI(M).

National unity, anti-imperialism and achieving more and more victories for socialism were the issues that occupied a place of a top priority all through his life. His foresight on them was unparalleled. His consistent fight against the Khalistan demand, his firm reply to Gorbachev on the ‘reforms’ in the Soviet Union, saying that such policies will destroy the socialist society, are an  evidence of clarity of his thought. Surjeet led numerous struggles in our country and was a guiding force behind many movements.

His services in safeguarding the world communist movement and taking it ahead are legendary. Apart from intervening in many international issues, he organised support for the Cuban people when Cuba was facing a severe food crisis. Then the party collected funds and sent 10,000 tonnes of wheat in a ship to Cuba, which was lauded as “Indian bread to the people of Cuba.”

Similarly, his role in developing a degree of unity against the Congress in 1967 is unforgettable. As a part of these moves, he had the honour of developing the Left led governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura and guiding them to move forward on the path of progress. He also continued this effort in developing many coalition governments at the centre. He was one of the important leaders in building the present UPA (United Progressive Alliance), for the sake of a secular democratic government at the centre.

It is necessary to mention a few words of Comrade Jyoti Basu which he wrote after the demise of Comrade Surjeet. “Comrade Surjeet is no more. I pay my respectful pranams to his memory. I solemnly declare that we shall achieve the goals for which he toiled all through his life tirelessly.

“The task is enormous indeed. It may also take more time. Our struggles and movements may have to face many ups and downs on this course.  But we solemnly believe that we shall realise that goal. We shall take a lesson from his life that we shall work with all sincerity and patience.”

Born in a poor peasant family, Comrade Surjeet rose to become a great leader through many sacrifices.

After I became secretary of the Trichy district Kisan Sabha in Tamilnadu in 1974, I was also elected to the national council of AIKS. I met Comrade Surjeet personally only in 1979 when attending the national council meeting of AIKS held at Jalandhar in 1979.

In 1984, Comrade Surjeet and his wife undertook a tour to the Soviet Union; I also accompanied them during this tour.  During this month long tour, he asked many questions about the conditions of villages in Trichy district, irrigation facilities, cultivation of crops etc. I was astonished to see that a leader of his calibre was so eager to know about a district in Tamilnadu.

When such a tall leader posed these questions to me, a Kisan Sabha worker, it inspired me to search many things in order to give a proper reply to his questions. Honestly, that month long tour to the Soviet Union became a workers’ training camp for me.

His other speciality was his simplicity and thrift. Not only was he thrifty in his personal life, he also insisted that the movement follow this quality. Whenever a demand was raised to construct a building for the state Kisan Sabhas, he used to ask a series of questions concerning the number of wholetimers for the Kisan Sabha, their monthly allowance, whether it is being paid regularly, from whom the funds are going to be collected for the proposed building etc.

It was always his attitude to point out the mistakes an individual commits and make him realise them in order to make him more useful for the movement. This attitude saved many comrades from drifting away from the movement.

He was one of the Navaratnas who formed the CPI(M). The leaders who developed the party were beacons of Marxist-Leninist ideology. The speciality of Comrade Surjeet was that he had a special talent in assimilating the ideology with ground level experience. Only his labour and patience brought him up to important positions in the party.

He was the epicentre for various changes that developed in the national political arena after 1977. He was able to develop many fronts by attracting various political parties for developing an alternative to Congress and the communal forces. As a result of such endeavours, the media called him a “creator of changes.” But he always liked to call himself a poor peasant in any situation.