Obituary:  Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri

(10 April 1917- 27 May 2013)

The political life of Comrade Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri, the General Secretary of the Marxist Communist Party of India (United) who died earlier this year at the age of 96, embraced many phases of the communist movement of India. Initially his political activity was in the Congress Party; later he became a member of the illegal apparatus of the Kirti Kisan Party in Punjab. He was to be instrumental in facilitating its unity with the Communist Party of India. The CPI had directed him to help organise the open mass functioning of the Punjab Kisan Sabha while also being a member of the illegal central party organisation.

Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri was born near Samundari Tehsil of the then district of Lyallpur (now Faisalabad, Pakistan) in 1917. He received his initial education in Samundari and then in Lyallpur. He proceeded to Law College, Lahore, where he completed his LL.B. degree in the period of the Second World War. The Kirti Kisan Party directed him in 1940 to take charge of the Punjab Kisan Sabha as a number of party people had been imprisoned, which he did until the partition of the country. Lyallpur, Lahore, Raiwand, Kasur, Khanewal, Multan, Montgomery (Sahiwal) and Shaikhupura were the areas of his political work in those years before the division of India.

While a leading member of the party Lyallpuri remained a critic of the rightist and leftist errors of the CPI in the 1940s. He opposed the right- opportunist line of P.C. Joshi evident in the First Congress of the CPI held in 1943 which gravitated towards the British rulers at the time of People’s War rather than engage in an independent struggle without leaning toward the Congress Party or the colonial rulers. He assailed the CPI advocacy under the Adhikari theses of the notion of Pakistan and the Sikh homeland, (the last position being jointly drafted by Harkishan Singh Surjeet and the then Akali leader Gyani Kartar Singh), and he was critical of the slant of the CPI leadership towards Nehru. Similarly, Lyallpuri later rejected the implementation of the line of the Second Congress of the CPI of1948 which had combated the reformism of P.C. Joshi. Known as the line of B.T. Ranadive it, under the influence of the ideas of Tito and Trotsky, advocated the immediate stage of socialist revolution in India which was to be roundly criticised by Stalin three years later.

The three successive lines of P.C. Joshi, B.T. Ranadive and Basuvapunniah-Rajeshwara Rao (also known as the Andhra theses) were disastrous for the CPI. The virtual breakdown and paralysis of the party led it to seek the advice of the CPSU (b) in order to overcome these errors. In the discussions the outlines of the 1951 CPI Programme and Tactical Line were thrashed out. Both the B.T. Ranadive and Basuvapunniah-Rajeshwara Rao lines were rejected and a new course was forged which was concretised in the 1951 Programme, Tactical Line and Election Statement. The semi-colonial dependence of India was noted and a programme of people’s democracy formulated. In the tactical line Stalin argued for working towards armed struggle, the combination of the workers’ and peasants’ fights, advising that the armed revolution based on partisan warfare of the peasantry which had been successful in China had been so because of the secure rear the People’s Liberation Army enjoyed once they reached Manchuria when they were able to obtain the direct help of the Soviet Union. The CPI did not possess such an advantage.

Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri was compelled to confront rightist trends within the CPI on questions relating to the Punjab after the onset of modern revisionism. When Ajoy Ghosh unilaterally withdrew the struggle of the Punjab peasants against the betterment levy imposed after the building of the Bhakra-Nangal dam, in order not to alienate the Congress Party, the state committee successfully continued the struggle and secured the censure of Ghosh in the central committee of the CPI. Similarly when Harkishen Singh Surjeet entered into an alliance with the Congress Party in the elections to the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee in 1960 Lyallpuri was able to persuade the Punjab state committee to direct Surjeet to offer a public apology for this unprincipled alliance.

Lyallpuri was to play an important role in the all-India struggle against developing revisionism. In 1956 at the Palghat Congress of the CPI, Lyallpuri opposed the policies which were warming up to the big bourgeoisie and the Congress Party. Together with Harekrishan Konar he pinpointed the role of the big bourgeoisie which was collaborating with imperialism even when Ranadive, Sundarayya and Surjeet decided not to pursue this position in the CPI leadership. He joined hands with those in the CPI who were opposed to Soviet revisionism and the Dange forces and helped to establish the CPI M in 1964. The new party programme of November 1964 did not consistently maintain a Marxist position; for example, it rejected the understanding of Stalin that India remained a colonial country after 1947 because of the continuing preponderance of British capital. As is known, foreign capital multiplied in India in the decades after the transfer of power, indicating the deepening colonial dependency of the country. Moreover, the CPI M exaggerated, in a manner similar to the Soviet theorists inspired by the 20th Congress of the CPSU, the extent of industrial development in India. These errors revealed the biases towards social-democracy at the very foundation of the party. Nonetheless the CPI M represented an important oppositional role to the rank reformism of the CPI trend. The CPI M defended even for some years the Tactical Line document of 1951, which had had the support of the Soviet leadership including Stalin. It supported in part the international fight against Soviet revisionism although it baulked at concurring with the Albanian and Chinese criticisms of the development of a market economy in the USSR and several of the people’s democracies. The developing CPI M trend bore the brunt of the arrests of the Nehru government in the communist movement after the military clashes between India and China in 1962. S. A. Dange, leader of the CPI, was implicated in the selection of those members of the party who were to be arrested by the Indian government.

The formation of the CPI M did not resolve the question of re-establishing a communist party in India. The breaking away of the CPI ML in 1967, while representing a more militant trend in the communist movement, adopted understandings which were inimical to the working class movement. Positively the new party recognised the break-up of socialism in the Soviet Union, correctly understood the continued semi-colonial character of India and the centrality of the fight against the survivals of feudalism, but it effectively denied the party programme and the tactical line adopted in 1951 after the discussions with the CPSU (b). Its interpretation of armed struggle in India was doubly flawed as it negated the essential pre-condition of this, the participation and leadership of the armed forces of the working class in the revolution, and displaced it altogether by the practice, periodically, of individual terrorism which had dogged the Indian communist movement from its inception.

Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri was deeply concerned about the trend towards bourgeois parliamentarism in the CPI and later in the CPI M. An examination of the history of the latter organisation suggests that was there was a basic dualism in the party which persisted over decades. The party in practical terms accepted the heritage of the CPI ministry of 1957-59 in Kerala which was framed within the framework of the notion of peaceful and parliamentary transition to socialism outlined by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the CPSU and which the CPI M formally rejected. The CPI M in the left front ministries from the 1960s followed the Kerala example while arguing that these were merely instruments of struggle for establishing people’s democracy. At the same time the CPI M formally upheld the Tactical Line of the CPI of1951 which envisaged armed struggle founded on workers’ general strikes and uprisings accompanied by the partisan warfare in the rural areas. Lyallpuri noted that a considerable section of the leadership of the CPI M (Harkishan Singh Surjeet was but one star example) ‘were drawn towards the utterly revisionist path of bourgeois parliamentarism and it culminated into the position of (the) entire party organisation being involved solely in bourgeois parliamentarism’. The views corresponded to those of Sundarayya who in his letter of resignation from the general secretaryship of the CPI M in 1975 had expressedly said that the practice of the party was founded on deep-rooted parliamentary legalistic illusions and on the possibilities of peaceful development of the party and the movement for a long period to come. It was deeply embroiled, he continued, in revisionist habits, thinking and mode of functioning in all its mass fronts and party- building.

The CPI M nominally regarded the left front governments as instruments of struggle in the hands of ‘our people’ and it desired the ‘successfully running of these governments’ but in real terms Lyallpuri found the CPI M gradually coming round to supporting the governments in the centre and states which were led by the Congress Party. Lyallpuri’s demarcation from this reformist trend after 1967 led to his being removed from the central committee of the party and the central leadership of the All- India Kisan Sabha. He found that the adoption of the parliamentary path led to the abandonment of the policy of replacing the parliamentary system by a state of people’s democracy. The left front governments became models for implementing the imperialist globalisation policies which were being imposed by the Congress rulers.

In his analysis of the Emergency Lyallpuri argued in September 1975 that the party had retained its illusions of the Indira Gandhi governments despite having been their target in Kerala and West Bengal. The CPI M had not noted the implications of the fact that after the defeat of the Syndicate the majority section of these bourgeois-landlord forces had gone over to merge with the Indira Congress. The illusions about the Indira Gandhi government and the ‘counter-revolutionary positions’ of the CPSU in favour of the Congress Party, which were not forcefully confronted by the CPI M, contributed towards indecision and confusion, which prevented the party from pushing the JP movement towards democratic positions. Lyallpuri registered the reality that both the CPSU and the CPC had pushed towards a policy of detente with US imperialism by the early 1970s. He further pointed out that the party resolved that ‘a return to conditions of pre-emergency parliamentary democracy seems to be inconceivable’, which implied that it would be impossible to defeat Indira Gandhi. The party considered that the non-CPI M forces would compromise with Indira Gandhi. Lyallpuri concluded that the party adopted a defeatist position and sought to avoid confrontation with the Congress in the emergency by distancing itself from the JP movement. Lyallpuri implicitly criticised the views of Sundarayya in this period, who argued that the CPI M should not ally with the forces of the JP movement which were rightist, even fascist, and far more reactionary than the Indira Gandhi government. Lyallpuri noted that the militant party workers were arrested during the emergency while the Politburo members of the CPI M ‘enjoyed freedom during the entire period’. A.K. Gopalan, alone of the Politburo, gave a ‘smashing indictment’ of the promulgation of emergency.

Lyallpuri’s criticism of the stands of the CPI M on the Punjab question after the emergency was equally compelling and revealing. The Congress Party and Indira Gandhi after the emergency set about the isolation and weakening of the Akali Party in Punjab and the strengthening of its Hindu communal support-base in north India by building up the Sikh fundamentalist Khalistani forces around Sant Bhindranwala as a mass force. Having permitted their protege, the armed Khalistani forces, to take over the Golden Temple the state then undertook the Blue Star military action to eliminate them. Military rule was imposed in the Punjab and a cleansing operation of militant Sikh youth was embarked upon through the army and the police. The CPI M aligned itself with the Congress Party when it built up Sikh and Hindu communalism in northern India and then through Harkrishen Singh Surjeet advised the state organs, particularly through the police chief, K.P.S. Gill, on repressing the Sikh youth through dreadful atrocities and brutal murders. Surjeet was considered so trustworthy by the police establishment that he was invited to a meeting of directors-general of police from various Indian states held in Punjab in those days. The CPI M in Punjab was utterly compromised and was compelled to rely upon police protection for its existence and survival.

The alignment of the Congress Party and the CPI M continued with the massacres of the Sikh community under Rajiv Gandhi after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. B.T. Ranadive and Harkrishen Singh Surjeet chose to praise Rajiv Gandhi in the party paper ‘People’s Democracy’ as a ‘genuine and honest person’, which no doubt would have come as a great relief to the thousands killed in the Congress Party pogroms. E.M.S. Namboodripad gave an alternative voice in the same paper the next month in December 1984 in an open letter to Rajiv Gandhi recalled that Bhindranwale had been described by him as a spiritual leader without political ambitions. EMS noted that Rajiv Gandhi had failed to understand the gravity of the situation in the country after the anti-Sikh ‘riots’ and shied away from punishing the guilty. This was detrimental to the integrity of the country.

For Lyallpuri the attitude of the party to the Punjab question and the massacres of the Sikhs was the last straw. He now embarked on an open and systematic criticism of the CPI (M). He understood and pointed out that that there was a strong correlation between the revisionism of the CPSU, which under Brezhnev was glued to the Congress Party, and the opportunism of the CPI M which, less overtly than the CPI, similarly clung to the apron- strings of the Congress Party. In January 1992 Lyallpuri published a booklet entitled: ‘CPI (M), Congress Party and the State’ where he enunciated his views and called for communists to rally around the CPI M programme of November 1964. After this in March of that year a number of party members in Punjab established the Marxist Forum. In 1975 the resignation of P. Sundarayya from the general secretaryship of the CPI M had taken place and a number of the militant members of the party were removed and formed the Marxist Communist Party of India with units in many states. Sundarayya in his letter of resignation had registered the conversion of the party into a constitutional, parliamentary and social-reformist party which had abandoned the tactical line of 1951 which had supported the armed uprising of the working class with the partisan war of the peasantry. The Marxist Forum decided to merge with the MCPI, later forming the MCPI (U).

After he left the party, Lyallpuri noted that the bourgeois degeneration of the CPI M continued apace in the mid-1990s. This become apparent when the party adopted the position that it would participate in governments based on parliamentary coalitions in the centre. Thereby the earlier position of the party was reversed which had led to the central committee rejecting the offer of a number of bourgeois parties to back Jyoti Basu as prime minister, a stand Basu had publicly denounced as a Himalayan blunder. The full political conversion of the CPI M to a social-reformist party now became apparent as in the economic sphere it adopted neo-liberalism. This was epitomised by the visit of Jyoti Basu to the US in the company of representatives of 19 leading industrialists to sign memoranda of understanding with the multinationals.

The contribution of Comrade Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri to the communist movement at the time it was being overwhelmed by different revisionist trends is considerable. He maintained an open mind in his exchanges with the groups of communist revolutionaries. We may especially underscore his warm initiative to establish fraternal ties with Revolutionary Democracy which led to the journal members participating in the 2nd Congress of the MCPI (U) and releasing his political autobiography ‘My Life My Times’ in 2010 at Jodhpur. His commitments to the ties of international solidarity are evident in the invitation that he, as General Secretary of the MCPI (U), extended to Pakistan Mazdoor Mahaz to attend and participate in the same Congress.

A Red Salute to Comrade Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri!

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