Report By: Rajendra Sharma & Ajay Srivastav
THE eyes were wet and throats were choked. But loud were the slogans about fulfilling Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet's unfulfilled tasks. This was the way thousands of Party members, sympathisers, mass organisations' members, common people, friends and relatives bid Comrade Surjeet the last farewell. Leaders of various political parties, central ministers and chief ministers were also present on the occasion.
The last remains of the departed comrade were consigned to flames at Nigam Bodh Ghat in Delhi at about 5 p m on August 3, with full State honours, while the comrades raised slogans like “Red Salute to Comrade Surjeet” and “Long Live Comrade Surjeet.” The pyre was lit by Paramjeet Singh and Gurchetan Singh, Comrade Surjeet's sons. Police jawans fired 21 shots in salute and the police band played a sad tune. This brought an end to about 75 years long, extraordinarily eventful and impressive political life of Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet.
Apart from his wife Pritam Kaur, his daughter, his younger brother Jujhar Singh, and other family members, Dr Purushottam Lal was also present on the spot. It was in his Metro Hospital in NOIDA where Comrade Surjeet underwent treatment for a long time and where he breathed his last.
CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau members Sitaram Yechury, Brinda Karat, Nirupam Sen and K Balakrishnan, AIKS president S Ramachandran Pillai and general secretary K Varadharajan, CPI(M)'s Kerala state secretary P Vijayan, its West Bengal state secretary Biman Basu, Andhra Pradesh state secretary B V Raghavulu, CITU president M K Pandhe and general secretary Mohd Amin, and CPI(M) Central Secretariat members V Srinivasa Rao, Nilotpal Basu, Hannan Mollah, Hari Singh Kang, A Vijayaraghavan and Joginder Sharma were also present on the occasion.
Apart from Central Committee members of the Party, others who came to Delhi, to pay their last respects to Comrade Surjeet, included Kerala chief minister V S Achuthanandhan, Balwant Singh and Charan Singh Virdi from Punjab, N Varadarajan and T K Rengrajan from Tamilnadu, Uddhav Barman and Hemen Das from Assam, V J K Nair from Karnataka, Rakesh Singha from Himachal Pradesh, Badal Saroj and Ram Lakhan Sharma (MLA) from Madhya Pradesh, Inderjeet Singh from Haryana, P M S Grewal from Delhi, Arun Mehta from Gujarat, S P Kashyap from Uttar Pradesh and Vijay Rawat from Uttarakhand.
Apart from thousands of political workers, social activists, intellectuals and others, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, central ministers Shivraj Patil, S Jaipal Reddy, Saifuddin Soz, Sisram Ola, and T R Balu, former prime ministers H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujaral, UP chief minister Ms Mayawati, BSP general secretary S C Mishra, TDP president and UNPA convenor Chandrababu Naidu and TDP leader Yeran Naidu, Lok Bhalai Party president B S Ramuwalia, SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav and general secretary Amar Singh, CPI general secretary A B Bardhan and its leaders Atul Kumar Anjan and D Raja, and MDMK leader Vaiko were also present at the CPI(M) headquarters as well as the cremation ground to pay respect to the departed leader.
Prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh accompanied by his wife Gursharan Kaur called on Comrade Surjeet's wife Pritam Kaur at her residence immediately on return from SAARC summit in Colombo on the night of August 3. The prime minister offered his condolences to the family of Comrade Surjeet.
A well known freedom fighter, veteran of India's communist movement and one of the founders of the CPI(M), Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet breathed his last at 1.35 p m on August 1, after prolonged illness. Earlier, his condition had seriously deteriorated in the middle of May and he had gone into coma. But he astonishingly came out of it and was even discharged from the hospital. He was again admitted to the hospital on July 7 because of pneumonia, but could not be saved this time.
CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau members Sitaram Yechury, Brinda Karat, and S Ramachandran Pillai, and Central Secretariat members V Srinivasa Rao and Joginder Sharma rushed to the hospital as soon as they received this sad news. Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee also reached the hospital while I K Gujaral came to the Party office. Soon a large number of people thronged the hospital, while Party flags were made to flow half-mast in all parts of the country. A series of condolence meetings and processions, big or small, began at various places.
In view of the long list of Comrade Surjeet's admirers and to enable his family members and relatives to reach Delhi, it was decided that he should be cremated on August 3 evening. Hence his body, wrapped in a Party flag, was taken to the All India Medical Sciences Institute (AIIMS) for embalming, and remained there next day.
On August 2 and 3, vice president Hamid Ansari, Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal and former chief minister Amrinder Singh, RLD leader Ajit Singh, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohd Saeed, and others went to Comrade Surjeet's house to condole his demise.
On August 3 morning, Prakash Karat, other leaders and family members took the comrade's body from the AIIMS to his residence at 8, Teen Murti Lane, where a number of people had a last glimpse of the beloved leader.
The body was then brought to the A K Gopalan Bhavan, the CPI(M) headquarters, at about 9 a m, and put on a make-shift platform for the people to have a glimpse. Prakash Karat draped a Red flag on Comrade Surjeet's body.
Following it, a large number of people from all walks of life as well as from several foreign missions paid their homage to the former CPI(M) general secretary, while Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury, Brinda Karat, K Varadharajan and S Ramachandran Pillai stood in silence behind the body. Apart from members of the CPI(M) Central Committee, Polit Bureau and Central Secretariat, Kitty Menon placed a wreath on the body on behalf of the People's Democracy/Lok Lehar unit. Representatives of the CITU, AIKS, AIAWU, AIDWA, DYFI, SFI, JLS, Jan Sanskriti Group, Jan Natya Manch, CC office staff, various state committees of the Party, and various other mass organisations also placed wreaths on the body on behalf of their respective organisations.
Leaders of numerous political parties --- Udit Raj from Justice Party, Sukhbir Singh Badal from Akali Dal, Rajnath Singh, Ravishankar Prasad, S S Ahluwalia and V K Malhotra from the BJP, central ministers Laloo Prasad Yadav, P Chidambaram, A K Anthony, Ram Vilas Paswan, Vayalar Ravi, M S Gill and Ashwini Kumar, UP minister Jagdish Singh Rana, former foreign affairs minister Natwar Singh, JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit and Shoaib Iqbal (MLA), AGP leader Virendra Kumar Vaishya, TRS leader Chandrashekar Rao, socialist thinker Surendra Mohan, historian Professor D N Jha, Virendra Kumar of JD(S), Saifuddin Chowdhury of PDF, Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya (Mahatma Gandhi's grand daughter), Devendra Dwivedi (MP), numerous officials of the government of India, and a representative of the Reliance Industries also paid floral tributes to the departed leader. Wreaths were also laid on behalf of the foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee and DMK chief M Karunanidhi.
Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal as well as ambassadors from Cuba, Vietnam, China, DPR Korea, Iran and some other countries laid wreaths on Comrade Surjeet's body.
A B Bardhan and others from the CPI, Debabrata Biswas (Forward Bloc), Abani Roy (RSP), representatives from the CPI (ML - Liberation) and SUCI, Pallab Sengupta (AIYF), Annie Raja (NFIW), E P Jayarajan (Malayalam daily Deshabhimani), Aroop Sen (Bengali daily Ganashakti), Dr Purushottam Lal (Metro Hospital), Amaresh Ganguli (Bengal Association), a large number of residents of village Bandala (Comrade Surjeet's ancestral village in Jalandhar district of Punjab), representatives of the Left-led governments of West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala, and police jawans associated with Comrade Surjeet's security also placed wreaths on the body.
On the day, there could be seen outside the AKG Bhavan long queues of people who came to pay their homage to the departed leader. Comrades from Delhi and nearby states as well as those from far south or far east patiently waited for their turn despite the crushing humidity, sun and sweating, while raising loud slogan all the time. This continued from about 9.30 a m to 3 p m, i.e. for five hours and a half.
Comrade Surjeet's last journey started from AKG Bhavan at 3 p m. amid loud slogans, when his body was kept in an open vehicle, decorated with red banners, flags and flowers, and carrying huge portraits of the departed leader on both sides. In front of the vehicle walked 92 flag-bearing red-shirt volunteers, symbolising 92 years of his life. Surjeet's sons, family members and Polit Bureau member M K Pandhe were present near the body in the vehicle.
Thousands of people, apart from Party leaders, moved with the body in the long funeral procession, and many of them carried Party's flags, banners or the late comrade's portraits. Many who could not reach the AKG Bhavan, for one reason or another, directly joined the procession after having alighted at the railway stations or the inter-state bus terminals. The slogans raised by the processionists were a reiteration of their resolve to fight the forces of imperialism, communal fascism and terrorism, to foster the cause Comrade Surjeet stood for all his life.
Having left the AKG Bhavan, the procession moved through the Ram Krishna Ashram Marg, Pachkuiyan Road and the Outer Circle of Connaught Place, to reach the Government Press near Minto Road. A large number of people were present on the roofs on both sides of the route, to have a last glimpse of the leader who had played a seminal role in the country's politics. From the Rouse Avenue, a caravan of vehicles carried the people through the ITO, Delhi Gate, Rajghat and Shantivan to the Nigam Bodh Ghat on the bank of the river Yamuna, flowing on the back side of the historic Red Fort. Having consigned to flames the last remains of Comrade Surjeet, people returned to their respective places with a renewed resolve to take ahead the struggle for which their beloved leader had dedicated their whole life.