By Harsh Thakor, India
On July 18th 1979 exactly 25years ago a dedicated young revolutionary student leader by the name of Prithipal Singh Randhawa was martyred. This martyr sowed the seeds of the revolutionary student and youth movement in Punjab. The comrade lit a red flame in the hearts of the revolutionary masses.
In 1966 a redletter event took place in the history of the revolutionary student movement in Punjab. The progressive and revolutionary student comrades formed a revolutionary forum, namely the Punjab Students Union. Such founding leaders waged a bitter struggle combating the revisionist policies of the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India Marxist. The light that glowed from the great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China reflected on the students and youth of Punjab. In all areas of Punjab college students protests were launched in an isolated form. Jullundar, Ludhiana, Patiala ,Sangrur and Bhatinda were the major areas. Darshan Singh Bagi, a militant student leader played a prominent role by openly supporting the Naxalite movement.
The major turning point for the movement in Punjab was the killing of a student named Jagtar Singh in December 1968. Student strikes engulfed Punjab throughout the state. Buses were burnt all over Punjab. Student leaders were thrown into jail. The remainder went underground. It seemed that a spark had been converted into a Prairie fire.
Under the leadership of the Ferozepur–Bhatinda committee of Communist Revolutionaries that later converted itself into the Punjab Co-Ordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries the Punjab Students Union was re-activated. The ultra-left trend in the Charu Mazumar era, which called for the disbanding of revolutionary mass organizations and mass movements, played havoc to the mass movement and the Punjab Students Union had been divided. In 1972 the Punjab Students Union had it´s first state conference.
In 1974 under the leadership of Comrade Randhawa, the Punjab Students Union with the Naujavan Bharat Sabha led a famous agitation called the Moga Sangram Rally. On October 22nd 1974 a demonstration consisting of 10,000 people was organized. The Wahikar Union, in the same year organized a demonstration at Jagraon in Ludhiana District, where one peasant was killed in a police firing. Thus on November 26th 1974 an armed demonstration was held at Bhatinda jointly by the Punjab Students Union, the Wahikar Union and the Naujavan Bharat Sabha. This was attacked by the police.
In 1974 the Punjab Students Union supported the strike of the policemen launching a strong solidarity campaign. A major agitation was organized against reckless bus driving where girl students were injured. The fee hikes were also protested against. The organization also reprinted a copy of Bhagat Singh´s book, "Why I am an Atheist?" Strong propaganda was launched for democratization of the education system as well as for a secular one.
In 1975 during the emergency the organization functioned in an underground manner. Several leaders were arrested. A Guru Tegh Bahadur (a progressive Sikh religious martyr) Committee was stormed to combat the fascist policies of the ruling government.
In the post Emergency period the Punjab Students Union launched a campaign exposing the hypocrisy of the Janata Party professing Democracy. The moment of students was taken to the villages. Various student leaders and comrades worked in the villages. Rural Students created the base for the Punjab Students Union. In this period sections of Punjab Students Union were formed owing allegiance to different Marxist Leninist Groups. The most prominent Group in the revolutionary movement led by Comrade Randhawa was the one owing allegiance to the line of Tarimala Nagi Reddy. (The Unity Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India) In 1977 Comrade Randhawa played a significant role in the founding of the Association for Democratic Rights. It was the need of the hour to have a strong Democratic Rights Organization.
When the movement was at it´s peak Comrade Randhawa was slain by a group of student assisted by goondas. The aftermath of his martyrdom witnessed some of the strongest protests that have ever taken place in the history of the revolutionary movement in Indian reminiscent of a tornado. A red flame was lit all over the State. The killers were ultimately brought to the book.
After Prithipal´s death the Punjab Students Union weakened .The great Comrade was simply a pillar to the organization. Shortly after the organization led an agitation protesting against the bus fare hike.
In the 1980´s the most significant contribution of the organization was in combating the fascist communal Khalistani movement. Particularly in Ludhiana, Bhatinda districts, Amritsar and Jalandhar Districts different factions of the organisation played an important role. In Amritsar and Jalandhar districts the faction led by Dhaliwal Singh affiliated to Chandra Pulla Reddy Group played a prominent role. Their comrades jointly worked with other Fronts like the Naujavan Bharat Sabha and the Kirti Kisan Union. In Ludhiana and Bhatinda the faction following the Nagi Reddy line launched the maximum resistance. Comrade Jagpal Singh a leader of the Front against Repression and Communalism played a major role in re-organising the Nagi Reddy line Punjab Students Union. That organization joined the Front against repression and Communalism in joint protests. (Many Front leaders had their origin in the Punjab Students Union.) Comrade Zora Singh Jalajan …‘s (a famous Communist revolutionary leader in Punjab who died in October 2000 like a heroic martyr) revolutionary seeds were sown through the Punjab Students Union. Other Factions of the Punjab Students Union that combated the Khalistani Fascist dictates were the Jagtar Group and the Bisakha Group. One Punjab Student Comrade, Malkiat Singh, belonging to the faction led by the Lal Tara Group (R.C.C.I.M.L) was martyred in this period. At that Stage (he played a useful role as a mass activist) one leader of Punjab Students Union, Malwinder Singh Mali, formed a Punjab Students Union faction supporting the Khalistani Movement. This group joined the pro-Khalistani All India Sikh Students Federation. The Punjab Students Union affiliated to the All India Revolutionary Student´s Federation joined hands with the All India Sikh Students Federation and supported the Akali movement.
In the post-Khalistani movement phase in Punjab thanks to the efforts of leaders of the Lok Morcha the Punjab Students Union (Shaheed Randhawa Group) has been re-organized. In recent months it played a most significant role in a student agitation opposing the commercialization of education. The Students of Punjabi University Patiala fought a heroic protracted Struggle successfully. This struggle is a launching pad in combating the onslaught of New Economic Policies. The Punjab Govt had initiated a massive fee hike from Rs 12 to Rs.350 per month in undergraduate courses and from Rs 15 to Rs.650 in post Graduate Courses. A dalit Student, Balwinder Singh, of Moga District committed suicide in protest as his parents were unable to afford the exorbitant student fees. Various small student groups joined the Struggle. The Lok Morcha Punjab played the leading organizational role. (from Lok Morcha Punjab report)
An Important part of the agitation was the prominent participation of women comrades Shirin a prominent leader was expelled as a result of her participation. Radical Students Leader Gurnam Singh was also expelled.
The Deputy Commissioner of Patiala entered into an agreement with the Students Confederation (Umbrella of democratic Student Groups) under which the government was to release grant to the University, fee-rise to be limited between 5 to 7 percent, and rustication of students was to be revoked. However the government failed to implement their promises. On 3rd September Students organized rallies all over Punjab on the call of the Joint Front of Student Organisations. In Bhatinda thousands of Students under the banner of Punjab Students Union (Shaheed Randhawa) demonstrated in front of the District Court causing a traffic jam. On 16th September the Students confederation gave a call to the parents and leaders of fraternal organizations to assemble at the gate. Various democratic organizations joined the gathering which the police attacked. On 18th September a massive protest was launched where police barricades were broken down all over Punjab. A contingent of students protested at the Chief Ministers Residence. Again a brutal lathii charge was launched upon the student protestors. On that day in Bhatinda,students of all educational institutions held a protest march under the banner of Punjab Students Union.(Shaheed Randhwa Group). In Punjabi University campus, inspite of heavy police deployment, the students successfully burnt the Vice Chancellors effigy, took out a march and courted arrest. Afterwards this program was merged into that of the Students confederation´s program. Gate rallies were held on 24 the September while traffic was blocked on October 1st.(From Lok Morcha Punjab report)
On this day revolutionary comrades dip their blood in memory of Comrade Randhawa. He sowed the seeds o the Punjab Students union which was a precursor to later events in the revolutionary movement in Punjab .What is also significant was that he upheld the correct mass revolutionary trend in the Marxist Leninist Movement, that of Tarimal Nagi Reddy. (Unity Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India) This trend differentiated between the role of the revolutionary party and the mass organization. It stressed on the party not imposing it´s politics on the mass organisation. The Prithipal Singh Randhawa led Punjab Students Union gave utmost importance to it and implemented it. Today the same organization named after the great martyr is following that trend. It is like history repeating itself!
Long Live the revolutionary martyrdom of Prithipal Singh Randhawa!
By Harsh Thakor
Kalam, Organ of the All India Revolutionary Students Federation –1985 issue
"Insurrection to Agitation, The Naxalite Movement in Punjab" by Paramjit Judge
Lok Morcha Punjab report.
For the background see Burning Punjab - Post Mortem of Khalistani period, by Harsh Thakor