CPM woos young in bid to wipe traitor slur

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 25.03.10
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(From top) Surjeet, Karat and Basu

New Delhi, March 24: The CPM is trying to “correct” history with an eye on India’s youth after years of being branded a party of “traitors” by some sections.

It has come out with the first of a series of booklets on its leaders and their role in the freedom movement.

The slim book is an easy read, light on the pocket, replete with photographs and evidently aimed at the young. It is titled Com. Harkishan Singh Surjeet: Highlights of an Inspiring Life. The late Surjeet’s wife Pritam Kaur released it yesterday on the occasion of the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev.

It was also the birth date Surjeet had chosen for himself. “There was no record of comrade Surjeet’s date of birth as was common in rural families at the time. Only the year of his birth, 1916, was known. He chose March 23 as the date of his birth symbolising his deep respect for the sacrifices of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev,” politburo member Brinda Karat said.

The biographies of the eight other founding members of the party — Jyoti Basu, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, A.K. Gopalan, P. Sundarayya, B.T. Ranadive, Promode Dasgupta, M. Basavapunnaiah and P. Ramamurthi — will follow. They will present the leaders’ role in the freedom struggle and “put facts in proper context”.

Many in the party concede it has failed to attract educated, intelligent young people.

“The booklets are aimed at the youth. We have published the booklet in English and Hindi. It will soon be translated into other languages,” general secretary Prakash Karat said, the 36-page, Rs 5-book in hand.

The communists have had an uncomfortable relationship with nationalism. In 1942, they had opposed the Quit India movement, allegedly following a Moscow diktat. In 1948, the B.T. Ranadive-led Communist Party of India had declared “yeh azaadi jhooti hai”.

In 1962, a section of the united party had dubbed India the aggressor and supported China. It eventually split the party and led to the CPM’s birth. In 1998, the CPM opposed the Pokhran nuclear test with its opponents again using the “traitor” slur to describe the party. A decade on, the CPM led the opposition to the Indo-US nuclear deal, which many felt was an anti-national move.

“The freedom struggle had three main strands — the Congress, the revolutionaries and communists. Our leaders were part of all three strands, with several of them being satyagrahis in the Congress. It is important to tell the youth about our proud legacy, and counter the propaganda about our role in 1942, 1962 etc,” former MP Nilotpal Basu said.

Surjeet’s biography details his early years, his role as a freedom fighter and his political life. On the division of the Communist Party of India in 1964 and its opposition to the war with China, it states that after 1953, a section in the party had started advocating support for the Congress while the other group disagreed.

“This formed the core of the differences which developed within the Communist Party. The Indo-China (sic) war in 1962 saw the ruling classes utilising the divisions to attack the revolutionary sections within the party. All those who were opposed to the pro-Congress line and who advocated dialogue instead of war, were imprisoned. The differences grew and a split became inevitable,” the booklet says.

It talks about Surjeet’s role in putting into shape non-Congress governments in 1989 and 1996, minus, of course, any reference to the “historic blunder” of not allowing Jyoti Basu to lead a central government. Surjeet’s role in the formation of the Congress-led UPA I also finds no mention.