Harkishan Singh Surjeet
General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
In office
10 January 1992 – 11 April 2005
Preceded byE. M. S. Namboodiripad
Succeeded byPrakash Karat
Member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
In office
7 November 1964 – 3 April 2008
President of All India Kisan Sabha[1]
AffiliationsCommunist Party of India (Marxist)
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 partyCommunist Party of India (Marxist)
Known forCo-founder of 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 Polit Bureau from 1964 to 2008.[2]

Early life and pre-1947 career

Harkishan Singh Surjeet was born in 1916 in a Jat Sikh family in the village of Bundala, Jalandhar district of Punjab.[3] 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.[3]

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.[citation needed] 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.[2]

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. [2] 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.[2] 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
Won Net Change
in seats
Votes Votes % Change in
vote %
Eleventh, 1996 543 75 32 Decrease 03 20,496,810 6.12% Decrease 0.02% [4]
Twelfth, 1998 543 71 32 Steady 00 18,991,867 5.16% Decrease 0.96% [5]
Thirteenth, 1999 543 72 33 Increase 01 19,695,767 5.40% Increase 0.24% [6]
Fourteenth, 2004 543 69 43 Increase 10 22,070,614 5.66% Increase 0.26% [7]


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.[8] The newspaper article sparked a flurry of coverage and it was then reported by most Indian newspapers.[9] [10][11][12] 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.[13]


  1. ^ Communist Party of India (Marxist). Harkishan Singh Surjeet
  2. ^ a b c Manini Chatterjee. "Nine to none, founders’ era ends in CPM". The Telegraph. 3 April 2008.
  3. ^ a b "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).
  4. ^ "LS Statistical Report : 1996 Vol. 1" (PDF). Election Commission of India. p. 93. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  5. ^ "LS Statistical Report : 1998 Vol. 1" (PDF). Election Commission of India. p. 92. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  6. ^ "LS Statistical Report : 1999 Vol. 1" (PDF). Election Commission of India. p. 92. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  7. ^ "LS Statistical Report : 2004 Vol. 1" (PDF). Election Commission of India. p. 101. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  8. ^ Novel based on the life of CPM’s Surjeet may kick up a storm Singh, Bajinder Pal, 3 June 2008.
  9. ^ "Surjeet-Karat spat? It's fiction". Archived from the original on 25 October 2012.
  10. ^ "Breaking News India,Daily News,News Videos Online,Current Event News,Top Story India". Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  11. ^ "The conciliatory revolutionary - Indian Express".
  12. ^ [1][permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "CPI-M upset over fiction targeting Surjeet – Sulekha News". Archived from the original on 12 July 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2010.