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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 40, September 21, 2013

Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri: A Rebel
 from CPI-M

Sunday 22 September 2013

BOOK REVIEW

by Tikaram Sharma

My Life, My Times: Journey of a Revolutionary by Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri; Publisher: Unistar; 2010; pp. 270; Price: Rs 300.

As these lines were being typed, Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri passed away. The sad news disheartened me very much, as I wanted the review to appear while he was still alive. It indeed is a very big loss.

Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri was the General Secretary of the Marxist Communist Party of India (MCPI) (not to be confused with the CPI-M), and as such was a historic figure, equipped with a lot of information and history of the communist movement in India. He was one of the leading figures of the CPI-M (and then of the MCPI), who walked out of the CPI in April 1964, along with some others, to form the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in November 1964. He was one of those who drafted the party programme of the CPI-M. He was also one of those prominent figures who had challenged and rebelled against the opportunist trend in the communist movement as represented by the CPI-M.

He was thus a brave and principled comrade, though one may not agree with him on many points. He remained the General Secretary of the MCPI till the ripe age of 96.

His book is full of interesting and informative details, and hence happens to be quite valuable.

Brief Life-sketch

Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri was born on April 10, 1917 in a Sikh landlord family of Lyallpur in united Punjab, now in Pakistan. He had his primary education in his village school and shifted to Amritsar for higher education, where he passed his matriculation in 1932. His parents wanted him to become a doctor, but he was least interested and took admission in Government Law College, Lahore after acquiring the BL degree from Government College, Lyallpur. He started his political career as a Congress worker while still a student. He was also attending the All India Kisan Sabha meetings regularly. Lyallpuri completed his LL B in 1940 and obtained licence to practise law and settled in Lyallpur. At that time, the Kirti Communist Party of Punjab played a very important role in the communist movement in Punjab and India. It was an effective and widespread organisation. Lyallpuri became its prominent functionary.

In 1942 he was arrested for a short while and detained in the notorious Lahore Fort.

The party came out of the underground and set up its central office at Lahore. As Lyallpuri was already participating in Kisan Sabha activities, he was asked to abandon his practice and shift to Lahore. He was to become a top leader of the Kirti Communist Party and the Kisan Sabha.

The Kriti Communist Party later on merged with the CPI in 1944, and in this Lyallpuri played a very crucial role. He was elected Joint Secretary of the AIKS operating under the leadership of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who was its General Secretary at that time. Lyallpuri remained at the post up to 1961 and was then elected its General Secretary. He held this post up to 1968.

Opposed to BTR

Though himself appearing to adopt a sectarian understanding of the Indian situation, Lyallpuri clearly states (see pp. 79-80) that he was opposed to the B.T. Ranadive line adopted at the 1948 CPI Congress. He writes: “This new line, known as the ‘Ranadive line’, was defective and seriously wrong in its assessment of the politico-economic situation in India, in its assessment of the role of the bourgeoisie, in determining the stage of the revolution and laying down the tactics of the united front. So much so that it failed to note the historic change after the defeat of fascism in 1945… it considered the government formed under Pandit Nehru’s leadership on August 15, 1947 as a puppet government.” (pp. 79-80)

He points out that “This utterly sectarian and Left adventurist line provided the Indian National Congress rulers an opportunity to launch an attack on the party in March 1948.” According to him, “this faulty understanding was complemented by adoption of the theory of directly jumping for socialist revolution in India by skipping the inevitable prior stage of democratic revolution.” This line also made an enemy of the rich peasants, and this Lyallpuri opposed. (p. 80)

He makes the claim that “My stand regarding role of rich peasants was later vindicated by Comrade Stalin.” (p. 81).

Lyallpuri was suspended from the party for six months for his political stand and was severely discriminated against and attacked by the BTR group. He got arrested in December 1949. In his absence, his wife Jaswant carried on his work. She was also arrested and detained for six months.

Eruption of Lyallpuri’s Differences
with CPI-M

Not long after 1964, Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri and his group began to develop serious differences with the leadership of the CPI-M on ideological, political and organisational questions. He complains about and exposes the highly bureaucratic and arbitrary subjective attitude of the CPI-M leaders, and about their rank opportunism, all of which continue to be their hallmark even today. His differences with the leadership of the CPI-M erupted soon after 1967 general elections on certain political and ideological questions. According to Lyallpuri, the CPI-M began to step by step give up its ‘revolutionary’ programmatic positions after the 1967 elections and started to surrender to pro-Congress revisionist positions. It in fact became part and parcel of the bourgeois parliamentary system. (See pp. 166-68) He vehemently attacks Harkishen Singh Surjeet for hobnobbing with both the Akali leadership and the Congress. Lyallpuri and the CPI-M began to drift apart from each other from then on.

He further on says that gradually the CPI-M became a party supporting and imple-menting the policies of the globalised imperialist and capitalist economic course, as evidenced in West Bengal and elsewhere. He even criticises Jyoti Basu for it.

As a result, the CPI-M leadership ‘clipped his wings’ and removed him from the CC of the party and from the AIKS leadership.

On Emergency

On the question of the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975, Lyallpuri is not only very critical of the CPI-M leadership; he even levels serious charges against the party. He states critically: “It is obvious that the CPI-M leadership adopted a very pessimistic stand during the onslaught of Emergency rule, adopted a defeatist position and sought to avoid confrontation with the Congress rulers led by Indira Gandhi by distancing themselves from the JP movement.” Far more serious is the following charge against the CPI-M: “And conspicuously while the Congress rulers did not spare militant party workers, the PB leaders enjoyed freedom during the entire period of Emergency rule.” (p. 184, emphasis added) It is now well known that certain important top leaders of the CPI-M gave undertaking not to take part in politics in order to get released from jails.

Then Lyallpuri reveals that about one-and-a-half year after the lifting of the Emergency, the CPI-M self-critically reviewed its stand during the Emergency (in April 1978). In para 18 of its report, it stated that pessimism and sectarianism regarding the restoration of the bourgeois democratic rights inhibited the party’s struggle for allies beyond the traditional Left and democratic forces. (p. 184)

He says that during the Emergency the
CPI-M indirectly assisted Indira Gandhi. For example, in the opinion of Lyallpuri, the CPI-M gave up its basic revolutionary position on the question of the use of parliamentary institu-tions and compromised with the bourgeois parties, adopting revisionist positions. (See pp. 166-67) On Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Lyallpuri makes the following observations: “Com. Surjeet often sacrificed the revolutionary positions of Marxism-Leninism and did not hesitate to adopt positions akin to bourgeois politicians.” (p. 166)

He describes how he was humiliated by Mangat Ram Pasla, one of the lieutenants of Harkishan Singh Surjeet and the then State Secretary of the CPI-M’s Punjab unit. Pasla was later to form his own party after dissociating from the CPI-M. The separation of the Lyallpuri group was complete with the formation of the ‘Marxist Forum’ in 1992. The Forum later merged with the MCPI or the Marxist Communist Party of India at the latter’s all India conference in Punjab in 1998. Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri was elected the General Secretary of the MCPI, and remained at the post till his death.

Against CPI-M’s Opportunism

Lyallpuri exposes glaring contradictions in the policies of the CPI-M and their consequent opportunism. He says: “The revisionist drift of the CPI-M towards the ruling Congress party had started long before. Enjoying quite a prolonged peaceful atmosphere after the release of its leadership from jails in 1966 and being able to secure majority in Assemblies and form State governments in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura under its leadership, created an atmos-phere for enjoying the party organisation solely and exclusively towards the bourgeois parlia-mentary path for seeking minor reliefs through certain reforms under the overall policies of the bourgeois landlord ruling class. The drift gradually led to the path of consensus and collaboration with the ruling classes.” (pp. 249-50)

He personally criticised Jyoti Basu for accepting the offer of prime ministership in 1996. However, this could not be materialised because it was rejected by the Central Committee of the CPI-M. Jyoti Basu termed it as a “Himalayan Blunder”. He also exposes the olive branch offered by Jyoti Basu to the corporates, whose delegation he led to England. It was the conti-nuation of this very policy that led to Singur, Nadigram I, Nandigram II and others. Jagjit Singh has reproduced in the book some portions of the article regarding growing corruption and opportunism in the CPI-M written by Dr Ashok Mitra under the title, “You are not what you were”. Dr Mitra says about the CPI-M members, particularly those who joined after 1970s and 1990s: “To them ideological commitment to revolution and socialism is simply a fading folk tale. As the new ideology is development; many of them are associated with the party in search of personal development. They have come to take, not to give. They are learning different tricks so as to appropriate various privileges by aligning with the governing party. One efficient way to bag privilege is to flatter the masters. The party has turned into a wide open field for flattering and court jesters. Moreover, there has been dominance of ‘anti-socials’; they remain in the background and are called into duty at urgent times.” (p. 252)

These were the warnings that the CPI-M ignored, leading to its crushing defeat in the last elections.

The book has been written in a very simple language. Some important events under reference have either been given less space or left out deliberately or otherwise. For example, the border dispute between India and China in the 1962 war being one of the major reasons for the split in the party in 1964 is discussed in one or two pages only. The Naxalite movement or the massacre of Indonesian Communists etc. hardly gets any mention in the book. India has been held responsible for the India-China border dispute and, strangely, S.A. Dange has been baselessly blamed for the split in the party and every opportunity has been availed to tarnish his image.

Lyallpuri avoids any criticism of China and its Communist Party, and thus misses a major point. On the border conflict with China, Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri largely reiterates the CPI-M line and terms the conflict as “India-China conflict” rather than as Chinese aggression. As is well known, it was China which provoked the border tensions between the two countries and ultimately launched aggression on India, thus causing immense damage to India and the communist movement in particular.

It has to be underlined that China had border disputes with all its neighbours except Pakistan. And how can we forget that China attacked Vietnam in 1979, occupied some of its areas, and was ultimately driven out after six months of occupation by the brave Vietnamese armed volunteers? Both Lyallpuri and the CPI-M are silent on this gross act of violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty.

Lyallpuri has blamed Dange and his supporters for the split in the Communist Party. When Ajoy Ghosh died, S.A. Dange was in a comfortable position which can be seen from the fact that when EMS walked out, only 32 out of 110 National Council members followed him. Dange could have easily become the General Secretary. But in order to avoid the split a compromise agreement was concluded, a new post of Chairman was created, Dange became the Chairman and EMS was allowed to continue as the General Secretary.

By the way, it is interesting to note that B.T. Ranadive, of all persons, who later joined the CPI-M, had written an article highly praising S.A. Dange on the latter’s 60th birthday under the heading: “S.A. Dange—A Sketch”. B.T. Ranadive writes about Dange thus: “A masterly public speaker, a brilliant parliamentarian, Marxist historian, Dange is above all the biggest trade union leader that India has produced. He is perhaps the only all India leader whose name is really known to all in every nook and corner and evokes strong feelings of reverence.” Lyallpuri and his friends should have read it!

The book contains many interesting infor-mation on P. Sundarayya, BTR, Surjeet, and others, as also stories about the happenings in the Punjab CPI-M including about Pasla.

To sum up, it is not clear which way Lyallpuri wanted the revolution in India to go. We do not know the future of his party. The CPI-M in Punjab today is split into at least three major parties. Similarly, it is split into several factions elsewhere. The case of Kerala is well known. There its two major factions are fighting openly, even violently, against each other. The differences within the CPI-M, as also among those who have walked out of it, continue to grow rather than diminish.

A large number of its members, including Lyallpuri, was thoroughly disillusioned with the opportunism of the Maoist and CPI-M varieties of parties. The CPI-M itself was a product of a variety of Maoism. Lyallpuri has not gone into the evaluation of certain basic questions in this regard, and therefore the related questions have remained unanswered. He and his own party itself were in crisis.

It is sad to see that while there is a lot of talk about Left unity, which of course is welcome, the Left itself seems to continue to miss historic opportunities, such as that in West Bengal etc. The main Left party in Bengal and Kerala, the CPI-M, continues to get divided and de-ideologised, sinking deeper into opportunism, without any clear perspective. In another scenario, the Naxalite factions continue to split further into numerous factions like bacteria! At the same time the CPI-M is getting further divided. Thus, there is a growing gap between the talk of Left unity and the ground reality. The prospects for cooperation and unity seem to recede further. This is because of what Lenin termed political opportunism.

In what way the MCPI of the late Lyallpuri can fill the gap is far from clear. He has offered no solutions. He has not even made an attempt to do so.
One point is clear, though: he died a thoroughly disillusioned man.

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