People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11

March 13, 2005


  Naresh ‘Nadeem’


OVER to Lahore it was just a 50-minute flight. Nor does the Samjhauta Express take anything more than 10 hours. And yet, even though being so close, the two countries have been so distant from one another since the partition!


But the impression we all had was that, given the people’s pressure and initiative, this distance can well be overcome in no time. And this the first ever communist delegation to Pakistan after 1947 has confirmed beyond doubt.


Led by CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet and his CPI counterpart A B Bardhan, the five member delegation was accompanied by a five member media team from dailies Ganashakti and Prajashakti and from TV channels Akash Bangla and Kairali.


The delegation visited Pakistan at the invitation of Joint Left Front (JLF), comprising three parties. These are the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party (CMKP) and Labour Party (LP). As for us, none except Surjeet had ever been to Pakistan earlier.




The warm attitude of the Left forces in Pakistan towards the delegation, and towards the Indian Left in general, became clear as soon as the delegation landed at Allama Iqbal International Airport of Lahore at about 6 p m PST. While the delegation was still inside the airport, protocol officers told us that a big crowd was waiting for us outside and that a bevy of media persons was also there in the wings. As the rush had increased with the arrival back of a big group of Haj pilgrims, the officials chose to take us to the state lounge first.


The commotion increased as soon as the delegation, with Surjeet in front, came out. The rush became unmanageable. For, every single soul in that crowd of 500 plus wanted to meet the comrades from India and, most of all, to have a glimpse of the person who is not only a towering figure of the communist movement but was also active in Lahore in pre-partition days. Or, to put it figuratively, Surjeet was (naturally) one of their own. And these comrades were not from Lahore alone; they had come from all parts of the country, even from far flung areas.   


Surjeet, Bardhan being welcomed at Lahore airport

And the Pakistan media too was aware of the status of CPI(M) general secretary plus his Lahore background. This was why reporters and cameramen rushed forward to have a byte, though it created a problem for the comrades there, whose main concern was how to protect an aged and frail Surjeet from getting hurt. 


This caused some misunderstanding, and a bit of ruckus, as the media persons thought the comrades were not allowing them to do their job. This unfortunate misunderstanding prompted a small section of the media to announce a boycott of the JLF programmes. It took the intervention of some senior journalists, including SAFMA secretary general Imtiaz Alam, to get this misunderstanding cleared.


Anyway, it took us at least one hour and a half to reach 5 A Nisar Road, the house of Justice Rashid Rehman (Retd) whose son, Taimur Rehman, is a member of the CMKP Central Committee. The reception dinner, organised here, was attended by persons from some media organisations as well, including the Geo channel, the largest TV channel in the country. This channel prominently telecast the interviews it had had with Surjeet and Bardhan.


The hosts included CPP general secretary Qazi Imdad, CMKP chairman Sufi Abdul Khaliq Baloch and general secretary Ejaz Ghani, Labour Party general secretary Shueb Bhatti, Mansoor Saeed and Zafar (CPP), Taimur Rehman (CMKP), and Shabana (LP), apart from others. A large number of Left cadres from various parts of the country also attended the dinner.




The programme of the day included a visit to the Mughalpura railway station at 8 a m. This is the place where the police of the British raj spotted Surjeet, when he was living underground in pre-partition days. They arrested and imprisoned Surjeet, kept him in solitary confinement and tortured him. However, the visit had to be cancelled as Surjeet was overtired because of the last evening’s programmes. 


But the delegation did go to the Lahore Fort (Shahi Qila) at 10 a m PST. The fort was built by Mughal emperor Jahangir who had a fascination for the city, so much so that he spent his last days and died here. Shahdara, in the suburbs of Lahore, is the place where his and Noor Jahan’s mausoleum still stands.


The main aim of visiting the Shahi Qila was to see the Cell No. 3 where a young Surjeet suffered solitary confinement for over three months. It was therefore very natural if Surjeet sat for some time in front of the rubble that the Cell No. 3 now is, re-living his pre-partition days in Lahore and talking to a group of Pakistani comrades and also some non-party people who had gathered there to see him. 

                                                           IN SEARCH OF THE PAST: Surjeet sitting before the ruins of Cell No. 3


Unfortunately, after independence, various governments of Pakistan did not pay attention to some of the historical sites and we found only a heap of rubble in place of the cells. True, these cells were already in a dilapidated condition at the time we are talking about. Yet, given historical sense, these could certainly be preserved.


What could the reason be? According to a local comrade who accompanied me, the reason was that the government did not want to let remain anything reminding the people of Shaheed Hasan Nasir. One may note here that even though the Left is fragmented in the country, to all the Left groups Hasan Nasir stands as a symbol of protest, as their martyr. Hasan Nasir belonged to Hyderabad (Deccan) and had fought, along with Makhdoom Mohiuddin and others, in the Telangana armed struggle. After independence, he migrated to Pakistan and soon became, to the new ruling classes of the country, one of the most feared communists in Pakistan. He was arrested in 1960, put in a cell in the Fort and brutally tortured till he died. Today, there remains nothing of that cell except a wall containing a small window.


A couple of other comrades were similarly tortured to death in these cells. It was thus no wonder that the Shahi Qila became a symbol of horror in the country.


The Fort complex includes some other historic places as well. One of these is the Gurudwara Dera Sahib where the whole delegation was received with saropas. On one side of this shrine is the Guru Arjun Dev’s community kitchen (langar) and adjacent to it stands Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s samadhi.


The complex also houses Dr Iqbal’s mausoleum, and Shamim Faizee (CPI) and me made it a point to visit the place. Several others of the Indian team accompanied.


While in the Gurudwara, we met Faqeer Syed Ejazuddin whose ancestors were in charge of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s royal stores; he told us that he still has in his custody some historically valuable items and documents belonging to that period. By the way, the word Faqeer in his name gives a deceptive impression.


Faqeer Sahib and his family were also the hosts to a lunch that was organised in Lahore Gymkhana on the same day, on behalf of the religious minorities in the country. About a hundred souls or somewhat more, including a number of prominent Hindu, Sikh and Christian citizens, attended this programme. I was told that a few Qadiyanis had also come, but I could not meet any.


A unique aspect of this programme was that we came to know about and see for ourselves two booklets in Punjabi (Gurmukhi script) which Surjeet had written in pre-partition days --- one in 1937 and the other, titled Lenin, in 1942. These are preserved in Dayal Singh Research Institute & Library, Lahore, and its director, Dr Zafar Cheema, brought the original booklets as well as their photocopies to the programme. After a brief introduction, he presented the beautifully bound photocopies to Surjeet. 


I had a chance to take a glimpse of these booklets: originals as well as photocopies. The 1937 booklet (I am forgetting the title) carried the name “Harkishan Singh;” it is evident that he had not become “Surjeet” by then. The other he had published with his own money and it carried the inscription “Surjeet & Company.”


Due to indisposition, Surjeet could not attend the other two programmes on the day --- a press conference at Lahore Press Club at 5 p m, and a reception and dinner given by trade unions at 7 p m at Gulberg Industrial Area. CPI general secretary A B Bardhan was the chief guest at both these places.




The whole of the delegation, except three members, went by cars to Sahiwal (earlier called Montgomery) where Surjeet spent several years of his jail life in pre-1947 period.


Incidentally, like the Lahore Fort jail, this jail too had been notorious for the ill-treatment that was meted out to prisoners, more so to political prisoners. After 1947 too, a number of eminent figures were confined here --- including revolutionary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz during the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case days, and another revolutionary Urdu poet Habib Jalib later. 


While at Sahiwal, Surjeet also addressed a mass meeting organised by the JLF.


Those who stayed back in Lahore were A B Bardhan, Shamin Faizee and myself. We were picked up by National Workers Party chairman Abid Hasan Minto and we had some political discussion with him as well as lunch at his house in Model Town. Later he took us to several parts of the city and these included a visit to now non-existent Camp Jail where Bhagat Singh was lodged during the Second Lahore Conspiracy Case (1929-31) and where he was hanged to death along with Rajguru and Sukhdev. To our utter grief, however, nothing now remains of this jail except a wall; even the gate from where the Britishers slyly took out the bodies of these martyrs has been demolished. This jail, we were told, was once so big that the jailer used to go from one to another part in a bagghi (horse-drawn coach). But later the greed of influential ruling party leaders got the whole jail demolished and the whole land divided into plots and sold. Now, in place of the jail, there stands a sprawling residential colony called Shadman. 


After taking a look at various parts of the city, we were taken to the house of Comrade C R Aslam (95), a veteran of the movement in that part of the country --- before as well as after the partition. Thereafter we were taken to the SAFMA (South Asia Free Media Association) office and handed over to its secretary general Imtiaz Alam.


The round of the city ended with a visit to the late Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s house where we met his daughters, Saleema and Muneeza, and their husbands. Saleema’s husband, Shueb Hashmi, a professor of economics, has also been in Sahiwal jail. Both of them later came to the reception and dinner at 5 A Nisar Road where a host of media persons put their queries to Surjeet and Bardhan.

(To Be Continued)