In Bundala village, they remember a boy who played football just as passionately as he spoke of winning independence from the British. And grew up to be a committed freedom fighter and one of the tallest political figures in the country.
“Harkishan was fond of playing football in his childhood. We used to play for hours together at the village ground. And after the game, he used to tell us about his plans to motivate youth for war against the British regime. He was such a source of motivation for all the youngsters,” says Gurmej Singh, 86, Surjeet’s boyhood friend.
“He was a lion. It’s a national loss,” Gurmej added, saying Surjeet would meet him whenever he visited Bundala.
Malkeet Singh, Surjeet’s neighbour in the village, recalls the CPM leader was a good friend of his father’s. “Whenever the British raided his house, my father hid him in our house. It’s like losing a family member.”
Born on March 23, 1916 to a Bassi Jat Sikh family in Rupowal village in Phillaur, Surjeet began to idolise Bhagat Singh from a young age. He joined the national movement at the age of 15 by enrolling with the Naujawan Bharat Sabha in 1931. He joined the then illegal Communist Party in 1934.
He was jailed several times and spent 10 years in prison — eight during the British regime and two under Congress rule, after the country became independent. In addition to this, he remained underground for eight years. During Partition, he worked for communal harmony.
One of the founders of CPI(M), Surjeet got elected to the politburo in 1954. He was elected general secretary of the central committee in 1992.