Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet was a veteran leader of the CPI(M), an outstanding figure of the Communist movement of the country and prominent national politician. Born on March 23, 1916, Comrade Surjeet died on August 1, 2008. He was 93 years old.
The seven and a half decades-long political life of Harkishan Singh Surjeet began with his staunch fight against British colonial rule. He played a pioneering role in developing the peasant movement and the Communist Party in Punjab before emerging as a national leader of the Communist Party of India and the All India Kisan Sabha. It culminated with his leading role in the CPI(M) for an eventful four decades.
Surjeet began his revolutionary career influenced by the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh. He hoisted the tricolour in March 1932 at the district court in Hoshiarpur at the age of 16. He was arrested and sent to a reformatory school for juvenile offenders. He came in touch with the early Communist pioneers in Punjab after his release. He joined the Communist Party in 1934 and became a member of the Congress Socialist Party in 1935. He was elected as the secretary of the Punjab State Kisan Sabha in 1938. The same year, he was externed from Punjab and went to Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh where he started a monthly paper, `Chingari’. He went underground after the outbreak of the second world war and was arrested in 1940. He was imprisoned in the notorious Lahore Red Fort where he was kept for three months in solitary confinement in terrible conditions. Later he was shifted to Deoli detention camp where he remained till 1944. During the partition, he tirelessly worked for communal harmony in violence-torn Punjab.
In common with the pioneering Communist leaders, Surjeet displayed amply the capacity to sacrifice and undergo difficulties. He spent ten years in jail, of which eight were in the pre-independence period; he also spent eight years underground.
Surjeet was elected to the Central Committee and Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India at the Third Congress of the Party in January 1954. He continued in the leadership of the CPI till the split in 1964. Surjeet was one of the leaders who fought against revisionism and constituted the core of the leadership who went on to form the CPI(M). His deep experience in developing the peasant movement and building the Party led him to shun Left sectarian positions whenever such deviations arose in the Communist movement.
He had a life-long association with the peasant movement. He led the anti-betterment levy struggle of the farmers in Punjab in 1959. He served as the President and General Secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha for a long period.
Surjeet was elected to the Central Committee and Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) at the Seventh Congress in 1964 and he continued in these positions till the recently-held Nineteenth Congress of the Party. In these four decades, Harkishan Singh Surjeet made a key contribution to the Party’s programmatic and tactical policies. He was a master tactician who could translate the Party’s political line into practice, implementing it with great skill and innovation.
He was elected to the Punjab Assembly twice and to the Rajya Sabha for a term.
His was a life-long fight against communalism. He was one of the first leaders who recognized the threat posed by the rise of the communal forces to the secular principle of the Indian State. He played a crucial role in 1989, 1996 and 2004 in creating the political formations and the setting up of governments which excluded the communal forces.
Surjeet played a remarkable role in the defence of national unity and in formulating policies to counter the threat from the divisive forces. His firm stance and leadership in fighting against Khalistani terrorism in Punjab and the sacrifice made by over 200 Communists in fighting extremism constitutes a glorious chapter. From the late fifties, Surjeet was involved in tackling the problems of Jammu & Kashmir. He played a role in the evolution of the Assam Accord in the eighties. Imbued with deep anti-imperialism and the values of the nationalist movement, Surjeet looked at all issues of national unity from a democratic and secular standpoint.
In the CPI(M), Surjeet headed the international department for three decades. He developed relations with all the communist and progressive parties around the world. Under his leadership, the CPI(M) expressed firm solidarity with anti-imperialist struggles and national liberation movements. He made a notable contribution to the solidarity activities during the Vietnam liberation struggle, the Palestinian movement and the Cuba solidarity campaign.
Surjeet played an important role in making the CPI(M) the largest contingent of the Left movement in the country. Surjeet absorbed Marxism-Leninism by sheer dent of self-study and learning from experience. He always stressed the fundamental importance of critically examining the Party’s ideological and political positions on the basis of Marxism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the nineteen nineties, he guided the Party in arriving at correct positions learning from the experience of the past.
He authored the books Land Reforms in India, Happenings in Punjab and the Outline History of the Communist Party. He wrote innumerable pamphlets on current political issues.
As General Secretary of the CPI(M), he became the most authoritative spokesman for the Left and democratic forces in the country. He worked tirelessly for the defence of democratic and secular values and to see that India maintained its non-aligned and independent foreign policy. His views were sought and his advice heard with respect in political circles.