Harkishan Singh Surjeet

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Harkishan Singh ‘Surjeet’ (Harkishan Singh Bassi)
Surjeet in 2003
General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
In office
Preceded by E. M. S. Namboodiripad
Succeeded by Prakash Karat
Personal details
Born(1916-03-23)23 March 1916
Bundala, Punjab, British India
Died1 August 2008(2008-08-01) (aged 92)
Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India
Political party Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Harkishan Singh Surjeet (23 March 1916 – 1 August 2008) was an Indian Communist politician from Punjab, who served as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) from 1992 to 2005 and was a member of the party's Political Bureau from 1964 to 2008. [1]


Early life and pre-1947 career

Harkishan Singh Surjeet was born in 1916 in a Sikh family in the village of Bundala, Jalandhar district of Punjab. [2] He started his political career in the national liberation movement in his early teens, as a follower of the revolutionary socialist Bhagat Singh and in 1930 joined his Naujawan Bharat Sabha. In 1936, Surjeet joined the Communist Party of India. He was a co-founder of the Kisan Sabha (Farmer's Union) in Punjab. In the pre-war years he started publishing Dukhi Duniya and Chingari. During the War, Surjeet was imprisoned by the colonial authorities. When India became independent and partitioned in 1947, Surjeet was the Secretary of CPI in Punjab. Although he sported a Sikh turban, throughout his life, Surjeet remained an atheist. [2]

Role in the Communist Party

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 farmer's 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.

Just after independence, Surjeet was forced to go underground for four years . Several other communist leaders like A K Gopalan were arrested under the preventive detention laws. In the 1950s he led the historic anti-betterment levy movement in Punjab in 1959. His work with farmers led to his election as General Secretary and then President of the All India Kisan Sabha. He also worked in the Agricultural Workers Union. When the CPI split in 1964, Surjeet sided with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Surjeet was one of the nine members of the original CPI(M) Polit Bureau. [1]

Surjeet 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 lifelong 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 a lifelong fighter against communalism[ citation needed ]. 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[ citation needed ]. 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[ citation needed ]. 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 dint 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.

Surjeet visiting the 2005 CPI congress Bardhanhss.jpg
Surjeet visiting the 2005 CPI congress

General Secretary

He continued to rise within the party until he was elected General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPI(M) in 1992, a post he held till 2005, retiring at the age of 89. Surjeet is known for his steadfast opposition to the BJP and communalism. He was instrumental in forming a number of anti-BJP coalitions in the 1990s and for ensuring left support the present UPA government. After retiring from his post as General Secretary, Surjeet continued to play an active role in Indian national politics. Many times, including after the 2004 Lok Sabha election and during the 1996-1998 United Front government, his role has been that of a cunning king-maker in parliamentary politics, mending and assembling broad coalitions.

With his health declining, Surjeet was, for the first time, not included in the CPI(M) Politburo at the party's 19th congress in early April 2008. He was instead designated as Special Invitee to the Central Committee. [1] Surjeet died in New Delhi on 1 August 2008 of cardiac arrest. Surjeet, aged 92, had been convalescing at the Metro Hospital in Noida since 25 July 2008.

Lok Sabha Election Results under leadership of Surjeet

Performance of Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Lok Sabha elections
Lok Sabha Lok Sabha
WonNet Change
in seats
VotesVotes %Change in
vote %
Eleventh, 1996 5437532Decrease2.svg 0320,496,8106.12%Decrease2.svg 0.02% [3]
Twelfth, 1998 5437132Steady2.svg 0018,991,8675.16%Decrease2.svg 0.96% [4]
Thirteenth, 1999 5437233Increase2.svg 0119,695,7675.40%Increase2.svg 0.24% [5]
Fourteenth, 2004 5436943Increase2.svg 1022,070,6145.66%Increase2.svg 0.26% [6]


A literary work in Punjab titled Bhauu, which has uncanny resemblance to the life of Surjeet was written by Darshan Singh, a close associate of Surjeet. The novel remained unknown till it was printed by the mainstream media. [7] The newspaper article sparked a flurry of coverage and it was then reported by most Indian newspapers. [8] [9] [10] [11] Though the author Darshan Singh claimed that the novel was not based on the life of Surjeet, he termed his novel "virtual reality". He did say that "novels have been written about American presidents without naming them". The main character is named Karam Singh Kirti, with Kirti meaning a worker in Punjabi - a term often used by the left wing in Punjab. The Communist Part of India (Marxist), with which Surjeet was affiliated, was unhappy at the description of Surjeet in the novel. [12]

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  1. 1 2 3 Manini Chatterjee. "Nine to none, founders’ era ends in CPM". The Telegraph . 3 April 2008.
  2. 1 2 "Surjeet, who always sported a white turban, was also passionately opposed to the Sikh separatist campaign that bled Punjab for a decade until 1993. He led a spartan lifestyle and always wore simple, even crumpled clothes." M.R. Narayan Swamy and Monobina Gupta, Indo-Asian News Service: 'Harkishan Singh Surjeet - nationalist to Communist and then kingmaker', Hindustan Times, 1 August 2008 (accessed 1 August 2008).
  3. "LS Statistical Report : 1996 Vol. 1" (PDF). Election Commission of India . p. 93. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  4. "LS Statistical Report : 1998 Vol. 1" (PDF). Election Commission of India . p. 92. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  5. "LS Statistical Report : 1999 Vol. 1" (PDF). Election Commission of India . p. 92. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  6. "LS Statistical Report : 2004 Vol. 1" (PDF). Election Commission of India . p. 101. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  7. Novel based on the life of CPM’s Surjeet may kick up a storm Singh, Bajinder Pal, 3 June 2008.
  8. "Surjeet-Karat spat? It's fiction".
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 9 December 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. "The conciliatory revolutionary - Indian Express".
  11. [ permanent dead link ]
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 July 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)