AB Bardhan


I first met him in December 1941, at the Patna All India Students Federation (AISF) Conference – he a delegate from Punjab and I from the then Madhya Pradesh. There was something attractive about his fair, handsome, lean but wiry demeanour, with a very intelligent look, which drew attention towards him.


AISF in those days was the only student organisation. Formed in 1936, it was only five years old then, a lusty fighting and struggling baby, its hands and feet kicking and striking out, but it had already spread to all states.


War had broken out – an imperialist war between two imperialist camps. But before we convened at Patna, fascist Germany had perfidiously attacked the Socialist Soviet Union. The thousand delegates that had converged on Patna from all over the country had many things to discuss. Student activists in those days took to politics as smoothly as ducks to water. The freedom struggle drew us powerfully. Events and happenings in the world abroad deeply interested and fascinated us. All delegates plunged neck-deep in heated political debates. Had the character of the war changed following the attack on the Soviet Union? We resolved that it did. It was now an anti-fascist war of liberation. Satpal Dang emerged as a powerful debater.


After the conference, we all went back to our respective states and continued to work in the student movement. There was a Bengal famine which occupied all our energies in 1943. The Punjab contingent of AISF volunteers who organized relief work during the Bengal famine and its aftermath included a bright girl, Vimla Bakaya who later became the wife of Satpal.


In 1945, Com. Satpal Dang was elected the General Secretary of the AISF. I was its joint secretary along with such other comrades as Harish Tiwary.


This period saw the dawn of freedom in our country, but with the price that we paid in the form of partition. The days preceding freedom were tumultuous in the extreme. The AISF under the leadership of Satpal Dang frequently brought out students into the streets, for the release of INA prisoners and an end to the farcical trial of INA officers. This was followed by the widespread strikes of students and all sections of the people in solidarity with the RIN Revolt. Dang was our leader and commander in all these student actions.


In fact we can be proud and claim that through all this we were like a stream that flowed into the mighty current of the liberation movement that finally led to freedom.


After 1947, our days in the student movement were drawing to a close. But there was still one major and important task that had to be undertaken. This was the South-East Asian Youth Conference held in Calcutta in the beginning of 1948, to which Dang, Geeta Mukherjee and myself and some others were delegates representing India. Satpal Dang was the leader of our delegation.


We had now graduated to the trade union movement, to perform tasks in the wider people’s movements and struggles. There were ups and downs. There were great successes but also serious blunders and set-backs in the Communist movement to which we both belonged from the very inception of our political life.


Satpal Dang had made Chheharta in Amritsar the centre of his activities. People elected him as the president of the Chheharta municipality for a number of years. He showed us how to work in the grassroots. Later in 1967, he was elected to the Punjab State Assembly. In the United Front Government that came into existence in Punjab, he was made the Food Minister. It was he who first introduced the rationing system in the state, ensuring food security to all, first and foremost to the poorer sections of the people. He was again elected to the Assembly where his performance has remained a model for others. After he stopped contesting, Com. Vimla Dang was elected from the same constituency.


Unfortunately, in 1980, the Khalistani terrorist movement broke out in Punjab. Normal democratic life and activity became difficult. The then state secretary of the Party Com. Darshan Singh Canadian was killed in broad daylight. 200 communists fell victim to terrorism. Leaders of all parties were provided with security by the government. Com. Satpal and other communist leaders continued their work along with security. At this time I had several occasions to visit Punjab and meet Satpal. He was the originator of the slogan: “Na Hindu raj na Khalistan, jug jug jiye Hindustan!” This was both an appropriate political slogan and a call to action. It electrified all political activists and democratic masses who believed in the secular unity and integrity of the country. It was a stirring call against religious fundamentalism and in defence of secularism.


I remember Com. Satpal Dang and his few security personnel took me around Amritsar and the adjoining districts, meeting individuals and holding group meetings. In the midst of this terrorist threat we also had occasion to address two trade union conferences. For a day and night, I stayed in the Dera of Com. Arjun Singh Mastana, our militant MLA from the border constituency of Attari. A week after this, he was killed. The CPI’s political activities at this critical time will always remain a glorious page in the struggle against disruptive forces. Com. Satpal and his comrades were the inspiration for these historic activities.


My dear friend and comrade of several decades is now no more. He was my friend and colleague. He remained my ideal through all these years. He was a true communist. A good communist. A man of simple habits, modest lifestyle and courteous with all whom he met.


(The author A.B. Bardhan was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India until 2012. The current General Secretaryof CPI  is S. Sudhakar Reddy)


(Tehelka, June 19, 2013, supplied by SACW)

Top - Home