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Tragic end of a Talented Marxist-Leninist Leader

25. July 2009

Professor Harbhajan Singh Sohi, Central Committee member of Communist Party Reorganizing Centre of India (CPRCI)-ML is no more. He passed away on 15th June unnoticed without being getting even medical help at Bathinda. He was cremated on 16th June morning in the presence of family, friends and comrades. He had returned a day before after attending some party work outside Punjab.
Sohi was born on 18th March, 1939. His ancestral village was Bhari in Sangrur district of Punjab. During his student days in Bathinda, he got involved in leftist movement. After doing his M.A. in English literature from Punjabi University Patiala, he taught for few months at Rajindra Government College Bathinda, which gave him the life long tag of ‘Professor’. He remained known as Prof. Harbhajan for long time, then added Sohi to differentiate from another Naxal activist of the same title and name. He became active in CPM and worked for few months in CPM daily paper ‘Lok Lehar’, published from Jalandhar then. During 1967 Naxalbari revolt, he was one among those, who came out of CPM. For a while, they became part of All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries of India (AICCCRI), set up by Charu Majumdar, later converted into Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969. The mass base group of popular communist leader of Andhra Pradesh, T.Nagi Reddy group was either kept out or did not join it. Group led by Harbhajan Sohi also came out of CPI (ML) opposing its individual annihilation line and supporting mass line of T. Nagi Reddy. Later they formed Bathinda –Ferozeour committee of Communist Revolutionaries, which worked in close coordination with Nagi Reddy group of Andhra Pradesh, leading to the formation of Unity Centre of Communist Revolutionaries of India (UCCRI Marxist Leninist) in 1975, led by D V Rao. UCCRI focused on building mass organization of students, workers, peasants, youth and women. In Punjab, Punjab Students Union led by popular leader Pirthipal Singh Randhawa became quite strong. Peasant organization-Wahikar Union and workers organization-Moulder&;Steel workers Union in Ludhiana also took roots. But UCCRI (ML) split in 1988, on the issue of post Mao Chinese developments. It led to the formation of Centre for Communist Revolutionaries of India (C.C.R.I.)and further leading to formation of Communist Party Reorganizing Centre of India (CPRCI-ML). But the group never attained the same popular standing among masses after this split, and the decline set in mass line follower groups of ML as well. Prof. Harbhajan Sohi remained close comrade of T.Nagi Reddy and one of the important theoreticians and leader of this group. In early seventies, he wrote a booklet on Bhagat Singh in the party name of Baldev, in which he analyzed the revolutionary legacy of Bhagat Singh.

Sohi was a literary figure too. Known as ‘Bhajan’ among family and friends, he wrote poetry and once won poetry competition prize of Language Department Punjab and feasted his friends of Bhhotwara (Ghost House) with the prize money. He wrote a touching poem on the assassination of revolutionary Punjabi poet-Paash at the hands of Khalistani terrorists in 1988, which was published in translation in reputed Hindi journal ‘Aalochna’, edited by Naamvar Singh. Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Saraswati Samman winner Punjabi author, describes him as ‘Bhajan Bathinde wala’ in her autobiography. Gyanpeeth award winner Gurdial Singh was his personal friend. He was good player of volleyball. He was tall, healthy and handsome. With other student friends, they started life with ‘Happy Home’ in Bathinda, where young boys and girls met on equal footing and later dreamt of ‘Happy India’ based on Socialist principles. During Punjabi University days, he was part of ‘Bhootwara’(Ghost House), the group of young scholars and writers, many of them like Dr. Gurbhagat Singh, Dr. Sutinder Singh Noor(Vice President, Sahitya Akademi), Harinder singh Mehboob(Sahitya Akademi award winner) Navtej Bharti and Sohi himself have earned a reputed name in Indian society.

Though ML group of Sohi never took part in violent activities, yet it never became overground. It remained underground without having any substantial cases against their activists. There is dichotomy, they professed and practiced mass line, and there was no situation of uprising to keep organization secret. Sohi has been meeting Nepal comrades, including Babu Ram Bhattrai, during my student days at JNU during 1977-82. Many of ML groups became overground and many started participating in parliamentary elections as well. Sohi’s group neither gave call for election boycott nor participated in these elections. But they did take part in student union or employee union elections in institutions. Leaders of mass organizations of the group have earned some name in society, but the leaders leading them from behind are going down in anonymity, this is rather ironic.

It was on 26th June 1975, the first day of emergency, when I was arrested along with Prof. Harbhajan Sohi by Punjab police in early morning raid at Prof. Harbhajan Sohi’s house in Bathinda, when he was overground for a brief period. He got out on bail after two months and since has been underground, more than 34 years. I spent about seven months before coming out. His memorial meeting in Bathinda is ironically being held on this 26th June. Only way to remember him for me is to think of left unity in the country. Bhajan loved life and faced all odds with confidence. Indian middle class is getting more and more fascist in its moorings. In such situation, after loosing Baba Bhagat singh Bilga, Vimla Dang in quick succession, the loss of Harbhajan Sohi in relatively early age is even more sad and damaging for the democratic movement of Punjab. Yet the life must be celebrated and the struggle to change it for the better must continue, that would be the best tribute to Prof. Harbhajan Singh Sohi.

By Chaman Lal

Professor, centre of Indian languages,
J.N.U., New Delhi