Obituary: Harkishan Singh Surjeet

Harkishan Singh Surjeet, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] died on 1 August 2008 at the age of 92.

Born in 1916 to a Sikh family in Bundala, Punjab, Comrade Surjeet first became politically active in the Indian national liberation movement while still in his early teens, joining Bhagat Singh’s Naujawan Bharat Sabha movement in 1930.

On the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Surjeet hoisted the Indian tricolour at the court in Hoshiarpur, during which action he was shot twice and later punished by the colonial regime. In court he stated his name as London Tod Singh (one who breaks London).

In 1936, Surjeet joined the Communist Party of India (CPI). He was a co-founder of the Kisan Sabha (Peasants Union) in Punjab. During the war, Surjeet was imprisoned by the colonial authorities, while after independence he was forced underground for several years.

At the 1954 Congress of the CPI, Comrade Surjeet was elected to the party’s Central Committee and Politbureau. When the party split in 1964, Surjeet was among the leaders who, in opposition to revisionism, formed the CPI(M). He served on the latter’s Central Committee and Politbureau until recently, and was its General Secretary for 13 years.

Although born a Sikh, Surjeet remained a life-long atheist.

The CPGB-ML has sent a letter of condolence to the CPI(M), and also conveys condolences to Comrade Surjeet’s family and friends. CPI(M) General Secretary Comrade Prakash Karat replied to our party, thanking us for our condolences.

Harpal Brar, CPGB-ML Chairman, was a speaker at a memorial meeting held in Southall, west London on 30 August. He said that it was not just an occasion to mourn the death of a revolutionary; it was also an occasion to celebrate the life of a revolutionary.

Comrade Surjeet had devoted his whole life to the liberation of the Indian masses, and, indeed, the masses all over the world. It was not possible in a few words to pay tribute and do justice to a man like that; he was more than a man, he was an institution – and institutions need a lot of analysis, a lot of discussion and a lot of time.

Comrade Brar said that he would therefore draw attention to a few important points.

The first was Comrade Surjeet’s total commitment to the fight against religious fundamentalism and regional separatism.

Having had the opportunity to work closely with him during the troubles initiated in eighties Punjab by the Khalistani separatists, Harpal paid tribute to Comrade Surjeet’s courage in risking his life and also the well-deserved popularity he gained in his home state for standing up against this reactionary movement. Comrade Surjeet swam against the tide during this difficult time, and his stand, along with that of others, had ensured a united Punjab and a united India and the continuation of the struggle for the liberation of the Indian masses on a united basis.

The second point was that, although he had not had a high formal education, Comrade Surjeet put great store by study. He understood that it is impossible to be a communist without knowledge, for the working class is the ruling class in waiting and has a duty to behave as such. Whenever Harpal had visited Surjeet’s office in Delhi, he was always engrossed in the study ofbooks and current literature from India and abroad, and always encouraged others to read widely.

Finally, Harpal paid tribute to Comrade Surjeet’s ability to continue their relationship despite differences. He always welcomed Harpal to his office and was always willing to debate and work for greater cooperation, notably in attempts to bring the two Indian Workers’ Associations in Britain closer together.

Comrade Brar pledged continued efforts to work for the unity not only of the Indian proletarians in this country, but of the whole of the British proletariat, and, indeed, of the workers of the world, in the struggle against imperialism to which Comrade Surjeet had devoted his life.

The memorial meeting was organised by the Association of Indian Communists in Britain (Marxist) and was chaired by Comrade Harsev Bains. Well over 100 people attended. It was also addressed by Comrade Robert Griffiths, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), people from various walks of life in the Indian community in Britain, and speakers from Iran and Pakistan.