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HVK Archives: 'It does not enhance the prestige of the Congress to talk about bringing down the govt. Let them do

'It does not enhance the prestige of the Congress to talk about bringing down the govt. Let them do - The Sunday Observer

Jay Mazoomdaar ()
2-8 February 1997

Title : 'It does not enhance the prestige of the Congress to talk about bringing down the govt. Let them do it'
Author : Jay Mazoomdaar
Publication : The Sunday Observer
Date : February 2-8, 1997

Reticence and pragmatism are keywords for Harkishen Singh Surjeet,
the most sought-after Marxist leader in the corridors of power
today. And why not? It is these qualities which have brought the
septuagenarian politician to a position where he practically holds
the prime minister's ear.

Such is the rapport between H D Deve Gowda and Surjeet that all
political and administrative gambits - to quell the endless
squabbles in the 'United' Front, checkmate its opponents (mainly
Congress President Sitaram Kesri), and decide sensitive issues
(like whether to post a new governor in Jammu and Kashmir) - are
thrashed out by the two in late-night sessions.

The gravelly-voiced Surjeet, general secretary of the Communist
Party of India (Marxist) since its 14th congress in January 1992,
is a hardliner and an unsentimental nationalist. That is why he
did not shy away from supporting K P S Gill's crackdown on the
terrorists in Punjab, or from welcoming the botched anti-glasnost
coup in the Kremlin in 1991.

Surjeet gave up studies when only 15: he was rusticated from school
for hoisting the Congress flag atop the Hoshiarpur district
headquarters, and only providentially escaped the bullets of the
Raj. "Just one year?" was his dismayed reaction when sentence was
pronounced, infuriating the judge who Promptly increased his term
to four years.

After spending some time in Delhi Jail, Surjeet was packed off to
Lahore. There he came in contact with Bhagat Singh and his group,
and was converted to the idea of armed struggle. Communism became
his life-long credo after much gentle persuasion by Sohan Singh
Josh and his own brother Harbans Singh, who has settled in the
United States.

Those were the days when involvement with diverse political groups
was quite common. Though chief of the Jalandhar city Congress,
Surjeet had close links with the Ghadar Party and the Akali Dal.
And he was elected state president of the All-India Kisan Sabha in
1938 while with the Peasants and Workers Party.

Acharya J B Kripalani once called him "a double dealer", but
Jawaharlal Nehru addressed two meetings hosted by Surjeet during
his 1936 tour of the Punjab, with the red flag fluttering along
with the Congress tricolour.

Born in a fairly well-off Jat farmer family, Surjeet inherited his
fighting spirit from his father, who left the army to join politics
after the 1919 Jallianwala Baug massacre. He was behind bars for a
total of 10 years, including in isolation cells in the Red Fort and
the Deoli concentration camp, and remained underground for a
further eight. One little-known fact about him is that 'Surjeet'
was the nom de plume he used while writing poetry in his younger

Though he can be caustic at times, Surjeet also weighs his words
carefully, as JAY MAZOOMDAAR found out in the course of this
interview. Excerpts:

How do you view your decision not to join the government now?

I don't think decisions are reviewed in such a short time. Our
decision was based on certain calculations we had made as early as
1967, when the Congress monopoly on power was broken and other
governments had arrived in the states.

We came to the conclusion that we will join a government in which
we can influence policies effectively, or else it will be harmful
to us. We have not given up that stand. We are co-operating with
the government, and we have played a significant role in bringing
this front together. We take pride in that.

Even now, though we are not liking all its steps, we are doing
everything to strengthen the front because there is no alternative.
The political situation remains as it was. Though the Congress is
talking loud, it does not change the overall situation.

Granted that you do not want to join the government until you can
effectively influence the decision-making: still you could have
used the chance of..

Chance is when you don't have strength. We believe in democracy.
We cannot try doing certain things which lack the support of a
majority of the MPs. When other parties have the strength, it is
not proper for us to impose our will on them.

In the front itself, there are 190 MPs, of whom our party has 33
and the total Left strength is 53. That cannot be really
effective, particularly when there are different viewpoints on
different issues. Now, if we had gone for the prime ministership,
which means enforcing our will on them, it wouldn't be fair in a
democratic system.

We have to believe that the intentions of the other political
parties are true.

Now, the Congress seems to be considering the possibility of
bringing down the UF government...

It does not enhance the prestige of the Congress to talk about
bringing down the government every day. Let them do it.

But what if they do?

No, let me repeat, it does not show their political maturity to
keep talking, like that. Why don't they take a decision? The fact
is that nobody is in a situation to bring down the government
today. There is no basic change in the situation which existed at
the time when they extended their support. Has the BJP danger gone?
Has any new situation matured where the Congress can approach the
electorate? What credibility has the Congress got to convince the

The only new thing is the corruption charges surfacing every day
with ministers - and even former prime ministers - standing trial.
What has been the performance that they can project? Have they
come up with any alternative in Parliament that has been rejected
by us? So on what basis can they expect the people to choose

So you find the post Narasimha Rao Congress still the same?

Not the same. I wouldn't say that. There has been a reaction
against corruption - people now say that this 'new man' has come
up. People have lost faith in Narasimha Rao. He has got isolated.
Other forces are rallying together. Some changes are definitely
there, but insufficient to go to the electorate with fresh hopes.

In Punjab, the Akalis are now going to the polls with the BJP.
Previously they were with the Congress, and with you too. What
went wrong?

Well, it's been about 10 years since the divide between the Left
and them. After Sikh extremism began, they were never with us. It
has been a long time and you are talking about a past alliance. We
cannot come to any understanding with them since they have resorted
to open communal politics.

Even now they approached us, but we refused. And I don't know how
the BJP and the Akalis can adjust together. What combination can
arise out of their association - one is advocating Hindutva and the
other the Sikh cause! They have issued a White Paper which the BJP
leadership should read.

The BJP has been accused by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak
Committee. They have openly stated that the whole thing, the
bloodbath, was because of the Hindu community maltreating Sikhs.
This has been revived, sharply attacking everybody from Nehru

How can the Akalis consent to [an alliance with] the BJP? The
Akalis want more powers for the state. The BJP, on the other hand,
is opposed to such distribution of power. I don't know how they
will reconcile.

Recently, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh observed
that the secret of the Left's success in West Bengal is
organization and not performance. Your comment?

The Bengal success lies in three basic facts. Digvijay cannot
understand that. He would have been in a soup had he tried. [Jyoti
Basu's] main success lies in the land reforms which have inspired
confidence amongst the scheduled castes, backwards, everybody.
Everybody has a piece of land, they are proud of it.

Secondly, it has been the expansion of democracy. Decentralization
has taken p lace in an effective way. All projects are being
routed through the panchayats and the district/block committees.
The bureaucracy cannot eat up the money. Accountability is there
for the panchayats to answer.

And nobody can intervene in the working-class movement. The police
cannot smother their struggle. They fight for their own rights.
Tell me, where else have these been realized? Can Digvijay do that
in his state?

Nobody has been able to do that. So, they don't realize what
projection we have given, and that is why constantly, for more than
20 years, we are there.

How do you assess the role of the CPI in the government? I won't
comment on that. You go and ask the CPI about that... (pauses)
everyone knows what role they are playing!

In 1992 the CPI-M congress had proposed changes in the party's

Yes, it was proposed in the Madras congress. The basic premise of
the programme including [our conceptions on] the State, strategy,
class, and other fundamentals remains the same. There will be no
change in that.

But certain changes are required to adjust with the changes that
have taken place in the international and national situations.
Those have to be noted. So far we have not been able to fulfil
that requirement. As you know, a special commission is already
working on it. We are likely to bring forth the proposals in the
next congress. I think we will make it, say, in one year.

How would you like the coming Union budget to be?

We had some discussion on that in the steering committee. We
wouldn't like to go into the details - it is their prerogative.
But we would certainly like to know the main direction, whether it
benefits the poor sections or favours the multinationals and the
businessmen in the country. So resource allocation and
mobilization has to be such that it benefits the common man.

We have given some proposals to reorganize the public distribution
system to neutralize the price hike, to check inflation, for 6 per
cent [of the GDP] allocation for elementary health and education

We have also requested [the government] to ensure drinking water
for all. We want the stress to be on agriculture, the rural areas,
and the unorganized sectors where the poor live.

Do you think you can strike a balance with Finance Minister P

What have I got to do with him? I am not dealing with Chidambaram.
I am dealing with the United Front. Nobody can determine the fate
of the United Front by themselves. Everybody has to bear the
burden of that.

Coming to Jyoti Basu's interview to The Asian Age. Do you really
consider it a personal matter?

No, that is over. That matter is over. No comment on that.

And do you still consider the CPI-M a revolutionary party?

Oh yes! It's the only revolutionary party in the country. Why?

Why! Because of the class struggle. Our fundamental stress is to
strengthen the class struggle, concentrating on building and
developing the working-class organizations. The main focus of our
policies has always been that and not any plotting for power.

And you feel the focus for this is still there?

Of course. Without that there can be no communist party.

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