New Delhi: Born on 23March, 1916, in Jalandhar, Surjeet started his political career in the national liberation movement in his early teens as a follower of Bhagat Singh and by joining his Naujawan Bharat Sabha.
On the anniversary of Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom, he was shot twice by the British police for hoisting the Indian tricolour atop a court in Hoshiarpur. Later, he underwent a jail term. In court, he stated his name as London Tod Singh (one who breaks London).
Joined the CPI in 1936
In 1936, he joined the Communist Party of India. When the party split in 1964, Surjeet sided with the CPI(M) as one of the nine founder members. He remained its Politburo member from 1964 and became the General Secretary from 1992 to 2005.
With his declining health, Surjeet was, for the first time, not included in the Politburo at the party’s 19th Congress in April-May this year. He was designated as Special Invitee to the Central Committee.
He cobbled up an alliance to make Janata Dal leader H D Deva Gowda the Prime Minister in 1996 and then install I K Gujral as his successor. He could leverage power game anytime within the ruling dispensation with a mere call to the PM of the day -- from V P Singh to Gowda and Gujral.
Strong votary of a third front
A contemporary of Communist stalwarts like B T Ranadive, E M S Namboodiripad and A K Gopalan, Surjeet was a strong votary of the formation of a third front to fight Congress and the BJP and to bring like-minded parties on a common platform.
Surjeet firmly believed that only a strong CPI(M) can help create a viable third alternative, based on a common policy platform to conduct joint struggles rather than just an electoral alliance, to foist what he called a “people’s government” at the Centre.
Mentored leaders like Prakash Karat and Sechury
Elected as CPI(M)’s General Secretary in 1992, a post he held till 2005, he is also seen as a mentor to leaders like Prakash Karat, who succeeded him, and Sitaram Yechury besides a bridge between the old and new generation comrades. Surjeet remained a father figure for partymen till the end.
The grand old man of the Indian Communist movement was instrumental in making the Left bloc extending key outside support to the Congress-led UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh in the wake of a fractured verdict in 2004 Lok Sabha elections, thus averting the possibility of snap polls.