H.K.S. Surjeet - the architect of coalition politics is dead (Roundup)

August 1st, 2008 - 9:29 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, Aug 1 (IANS) An era in Indian politics that started 92 years ago in 1916 ended Friday with the death of Indian Communist leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the man who was sometimes called the ‘uncrowned prime minister of India’ for his role in putting together various coalition governments through the years. Surjeet, who had towered over the country’s communist movement for over seven decades, lost the battle to multiple ailments at 1.35 p.m. in the Metro Hospital, Noida.

His funeral will be held Sunday, with the body kept for public viewing at the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) headquarters before that.

Surjeet, who was born in a Punjab village and was general secretary of the CPI-M from 1992 to 2005, is survived by wife Pritam Kaur, two sons and a daughter.

As news of his death came in, condolence messages started pouring in for the white turbaned leader of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) who bridged the years between the heady days of the freedom struggle and the modern India of today.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in an emotional statement from Colombo where he had gone to attend the SAARC Summit: “(Surjeet was) a great political leader, a true patriot, a man committed to the welfare of the downtrodden, a great Indian and above all a dear friend.”

The prime minister, who described him as one of the “architects” of his United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, said he had always valued Surjeet’s advice.

His party comrade, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, broke down when he reached the hospital on the outskirts of the capital.

Amongst his other colleagues who reached the hospital were CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat as well as politburo members Brinda Karat, Sitaram Yechury and S. Ramachandra Pillai.

Describing his death as an “irreparable loss” to the country, Prakash Karat said he was a man who “never wavered in his faith in Marxism even after the collapse of the Soviet Union”.

“In his death, the communist movement and progressive and secular forces have suffered an irreparable loss,” Karat said.

Other leaders like former prime minister I.K. Gujral - Surjeet helped form the United Front governments of H.D. Deve Gowda and Gujral in 1996 and 1997 — paid their respects at the party office.

Said Deve Gowda: “His forceful and principled stand on issues concerning the nation and his straightforwardness won him admirers from across the political spectrum and respect even from his ideological and other opponents.”

Pointing out that Surjeet had championed the cause of the farmers, poor and the downtrodden, Vice President Hamid Ansari said he had earned the admiration of the people for his dedication and sense of public service.

“In his death, the country has lost an eminent personality who was always sensitive to the social concerns of our times,” Ansari said.

The CPI-M remembered Surjeet as a “master tactician, who could translate the party’s political line into practice, implementing it with great skill and innovation. His was a lifelong fight against communalism.”

CPI-M leader Nilotpal Basu said: “He played a pivotal role in bringing together different political parties and changing the political scenario.”

Condoling the death of Surjeet, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said the nation has lost a towering leader, who has inspired a generation.

The communist leader, who once tore down the Union Jack during British rule in Hoshiarpur in his native Punjab and hoisted the tricolour to mark the first anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh and happily went to prison for the act, had been ailing for a long time.

“He was in the intensive care unit of our hospital on life support systems. His condition was slowly deteriorating and he passed away a little after 1.30 p.m.,” a doctor at the Metro Hospital, in Noida, said.

The CPI-M offices across the country flew the party flags at half-mast as supporters thronged the offices to pay tribute to the leader.

Back in Bundala Manjki village where he was born and spent his childhood, his legacy was remembered.

“He may have died today but his memory and his ideology will live on in the minds of the people, particularly in his village,” said Balbir Kaur, former village headwoman.

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