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Champion of the downtrodden

After 80 years of struggle for the people of Punjab, an upright voice fell silent on the night of May 27. Comrade Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri, born on April 10, 1917, at Lyallpur (Pakistan), was perhaps the last Left stalwart of Punjab who actively participated in national and international politics.

punjab Updated: May 31, 2013 10:49 IST
Prof Manjit Singh

After 80 years of struggle for the people of Punjab, an upright voice fell silent on the night of May 27. Comrade Jagjit Singh Lyallpuri, born on April 10, 1917, at Lyallpur (Pakistan), was perhaps the last Left stalwart of Punjab who actively participated in national and international politics. Though his uncle was founder president of the Lyallpur district Akali Dal during the 1920s, Lyallpuri was drawn into the anti-British liberation movement led by the Indian National Congress at the age of 18.


After completing BSc from Khalsa College, Amritsar, Lyallpuri joined the Congress, though his parents wished him to do a job. Young Lyallpuri was the secretary of the reception committee of the Lyallpur district Congress Party Conference presided over by Saifuddin Kitchlew. After doing LLB from Government Law College, Lahore, in 1940 he joined revolutionary Kirti Kisan Party that had a close connection with Naujawan Bharat Sabha during the 1920s. Here he came in touch with many Ghadarites, including late Bhagat Singh Bilga.

With the beginning of World War 2, Sir Sikander Hyat's government in Punjab cracked the whip on the Kirti Party leadership and more than 50 of them were put behind bars. At this moment of crisis, Lyallpuri took over the command and started mobilising the Punjab peasantry while hiding from the government's gaze. Soon, he succeeded in recruiting about 150 active members spread over undivided Punjab. He was, however, arrested on April 25, 1942, but was released after 50 days as the War was coming to a close. Lyallpuri's commitment to national liberation and Indian revolution was so strong that he could not meet his family since 1940 for 20 months; yet, after his release from jail on June 15, 1942, he preferred to organise rallies of peasants for one month before going home.

At the age of 26, Lyallpuri was elevated to the position of joint secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) in a session held at Bhakna village (Amritsar) and he held this position for the next 18 years. He worked as general secretary of the AIKS from 1961 to 1968.

As a devout communist, he did not lose his critical sight of the Indian Marxists. For instance, he was critical of BT Randive's party line of 1948, whereby armed resistance was advocated in Telangana. When Lyallpuri, along with other comrades, was arrested in December 1949, the party leadership asked him to start riots within the prisons, followed by an indefinite hunger strike. Lyallpuri remained on fast in the prison for nine weeks and consequently fell seriously ill.

Lyallpuri was lucky to have a wife equally committed to the amelioration of the poor. Late Jaswant Kaur was arrested under the Defence of India Act in July 1948 and remained in jail for six months along with her two sons aged one and three years. She did not waver in the face of attaching of the family's property more than once out of political vendetta.

Though Lyallpuri was one of the key architects of separating the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) from the Communist Party of India (CPI) in 1964, he was also at continuous war within the CPM. He was particularly critical of the way the CPM leadership handled the Sikh question in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination.

At long last, he parted ways with the CPM in 1992 and eventually joined the Marxist Communist Party of India (MCPI). He was elected general secretary of the MCPI, a position he held till the end. Lyallpuri's unblemished political career and total dedication to the uplift of the downtrodden will remain a beacon of inspiration for generations to come.