Comrade Satnam or Gurmeet Singh was one of the most original thinkers in the ranks of the democratic revolutionary movement. Rarely in recent times could we meet a human being with such a degree of intelligence or sensitivity. I met him first in December in 2015 in Patiala, staying a night at his place. He was inactive politically being compelled to nurse his mother. Tragically he commited suicide on April 28th 2016, by hanging himself from the fan. To me it was reflection on the very state of the Communist Movement as a whole, which gave scant justice in tapping the potential of an individual. To me Satnam posessed the creativity of a musical composer and analytical ability of a scientist. The expressions of his face or voice could speak for itself which was a manifestation of the glory of dissent. Few Comrades ever were so lucid or mastered the people’s language in such depth.
It may take a virtual a book to describe the twists and turns of what shaped Satnam’s life and a person with deep insight into human pyschology.In the course of his political career Satnam changed many an organisation. In his native place Amritsar he established his first links with the Naxalite movement. He received his initial baptism in the Nagi Reddy group through the Punjab Co-ordination Comitee in 1972 and then the Unity Centre of Communist revolutionaries of India under Harbhajan Sohi.With great flair Satnam could galvanise workers into movements, understanding their day to day struggles at the very root. In earlier phases he was in the forefront of organizing students and youth in ass struggles
In the 1980’s Satnam made a departure from the Nagi Reddy group to join the Communist League of India, which professed Socialist path of Revolution. He became one of it’s major architects in mobilising workers in factories and adressing the agricultural workers.Satnam became en editor of revolutionary papers ‘Jaikara’ and ‘Parcham.’Few comrades could reach out so meticulously to the working class and build revolutionary inroads.
In the late 1990’s Satnam again made an about turn and joined the C.P.I. (M.L.) Party Unity Group.Satnam moved to Delhi to become a commitee member of the All India Peoples Resistance Forum. He dipped his ink in the journal ‘Peoples Resistance’ of All India peoples Resistance Forum ,and played a major role in challenging the opression of the state on nationalities like Kashmir and Assam .Satnam was a strong advocated of Punjab nationality and felt the approach of some organizations in the revolutionary camp was very mechanical. The political colour of the democratic movement flourished with Satnam around, who infused a new spirit into comrades and people. The success of conferences of the All India peoples Resistance forum in Sangrur in 2000 and its impact in exposing the fascistic repression in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar in 1999; owe a lot to comrades like Satnam.
In mid-2000 he played an important role as an organiser on the Progressive Democratic Front of India, in terms of broadening the base of the democratic movement. In this period he also paid a visit to the jungles of Bastar and got first hand experience of the revolutionary movement. For a while he was even part of the editorial journal ‘People’s March’ which voiced the view of the C.P.I.(Maoist).
From 2001 he ventured out on a journey to engulf the forests of Bastar. In 2004 in Punjabi Satnam made a logbook of his travel experiences, in a book ‘Jangalnama’,which was a masterpiece or classic in it’s own right. It vividly narrated the barbaric opression of Operation Greenhunt, illustrating the essence of it’s fascist nature. It also conveyed the great tenacity of the Maoist guerrillas and their role in transforming man at the very roots. Perhaps more than even Gautam Navlkaha and Jan Myrdal, Satnam did justice to the revolutionary movement. In 2006 it was translated into English and in 2010 into English. .It was translated into 9 Indian languages and was even a hit abroad, Few writers ever went so much into the very thick and skin of the lives of the Adivasis in Bastar as Satnam ,who for many months set his foot on the villages and hamlets of Chattisgarh.’Jangalnama’ illuminated the very soul of the tribals and revolutionaries waging a struggle. It would even evoke the hearts of non -marxists or liberals. His work summarised the very essence of economic opression in tribals patronised by corporates.It was one of the least partisan books, penetrating every detail .One could hardly feel it was written by a Maoist or Marxist. It had powerful echoes of Edgar Snows’s Red Star over China. The simplicity of the language is adorable. Few writings were as illustrative penetrative or lucid simple for the reader. It revealed the Neo-fascist nature of the state at the very core.
In the 2004 MR-2004 Convention in Mumbai Satnam played the role of an architect making the event sweeping success.His qualities of open-mindedness and innovative ability came in handy and he gave a great supporting hand to Comrade Darshan Pal.This event projected the anti-imperialist message on an All India scale at a magnitude unprecedented. I can’t forget how people thronged from every nook and corner of India.
In 2005 in Uttar Pradesh in Bareli he was the representative of the AIPRF in a convention by Anti-Imperialist front on plight of Muslim minorities. He presented a paper on the Israeli atrocities on Palestinians in light of the Israel-Arab conflict.
In 2005 in Nagpur his presence had an important part to play in the success of a seminar on the caste question. With deep penetration he probed into this aspect and touched upon how glaringly the Communist movement neglected it.
Many at times Satnam dipped ink on pages or raised his powerful voice against Indian atrocities on people of Kashmir and on Muslims in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and other areas.
Ironically after 2009 Satnam fell out with the Revolutionary Democratic Front similar to Dr.Darshan Pal and Arjun Prasad Singh. but continued to participate in democratic seminars and protests.
When I met him in 2015 in Patiala, Satnam was firm adherent that path of Protracted Peoples War was unsuitable for India and that Punjab was a capitalist and not a semi-feudal society. He also felt that the Revolutionary Democratic Front was functioning in a very sectarian or mechanical manner, as a virtual front of the C.P.I. (Maoist).He felt it was not building a broad base in the workers front or properly expanding democratic movements. In no uncertain terms he was very critical of the trend of the T.Nagi Reddy line or CPRCI) ML) in Punjab. He firmly asserted that the organisation was practicing economism and not advancing path of revolution. Satnam was critical of late Comrade Harbhajan Sohi for never seriously adressing aspect of Protracted peoples War path .He was bitterly critical of the Nagi Reddy group for giving scant respect to the dalit or caste question and not organising anti-caste struggles.Satnam was a firm adherent of the view that India could never completely turn fascist, because of it’s great diversity and having minorities. Overall he felt that C.P.I. (M.L) New Democracy was the most progressive revolutionary group in Punjab. On the International front he was very critical of dissent being supressed in Socialist Society be it under Stalin or Mao and even had sympathies with Bob Avakian’s views on dissent within Socialist Society. Amongst all comrades he held Dr Darshan Pal in the highest awe.
I can never forget the sheer intensity of speeches in the memorial meeting paying homage to him after he expired, held in Patiala, with participation from a great variety of sections. Every section of the revolutionary camp held him in great esteem be it the Nagi,Reddy,New Democracy or Maoist trend. Jaspal Jassi of Surkh Leeh expressed how the death or suicide of Satnam is a reflection on the loopholes within the Communist movement in Punjab.Intellectual Arundhati Roy hailed him as one of the most creative voices against Neo-fascism. Doctor Darshan Pal spoke about how Satnam intervened in every sphere of society be it workers, peasants or intellectuals. He also revealed the sheer depth of knowledge of Satnam, who was a wizard on any topic be it Hindu philosophy or even theory of relativity. Few people could adress such vast range of topics with such insight. I can’t forget the love the students of Delhi University and JNU expressed for him.
Satnam may have perished, but his spirit not dead and buried. I admit I do not endorse his views on economism of Nagi Reddy group, Punjabi nationality, on mode of production turning capitalist or on Bob Avakian.To me they were diversionary from the essence of Marxism-Leninism. Still Satnam’s view of sectarian practice of the C.P.I. (Maoist) party with mass organisations or movements has a degree of credibility, particularly on the Revolutionary Democratic Front. I also feel there is some truth on weakness of practice of Nagi Reddy group as well as late Comrade HBS on not readdressing aspect of people’s war or agrarian revolution. It is pertinent that inspite of his falling out with the Revolutionary Democratic Front,Varavara Rao saluted him as revolutionary champion.
Similar to Kobad Ghandy Satnam deeply illustrated how the Indian Communist movement has not analysed the inner or spiritual aspect of man, built a sufficiently revolutionary democratic atmosphere around it, or encouraged sufficient debate. Few comrades better illustrated the need of the Indian Communist movement to break with mechanical approach and for Marxists to extricate itself from dogmatic trends.
I hope one day a biography could be written on the life of Satnam ,who was one of the most complex but yet most creative and illustrious characters ever in the Indian revolutionary movement .I would have loved his opinion on Kobad Ghandy’s book ‘Fractured Freedom’ .If his potential was properly channelized Satnam would have been one of the boldest voices against Hindutva neo-fascist tyranny and been mascot of the revolutionary democratic camp.Satnam would have been a bold crusader had he lived against Brahmanical caste tyranny and a strong supporter of the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Commitee .
Satnam may have failed to understand the essence of the mass line of late Comrade Harbhajan Sohi or of the C.P.R.C.I. (M.L), not grasped Leninist ideology completely ,not understood the semi-feudal nature of India or why Chinese path was still relevant to India. However we must understand the phenomena that bred this, more than labelling an individual. His life story perhaps is a reflection on the disintegration of the Indian Communist movement, where forces remain so scattered.
Whatever his drawbacks or ecclectical views Comrade Satnam or Gurmeet Singh was one our lands’ best ever sons, being one of it’s greatest crusaders for liberation for most of his life. .He may have been in and out of groups but at every juncture crystallized the revolutionary fervour at a crescendo doing ample justice to the saying that revolution was a festival of the masses. When active he could sharpen the edge of the sword against Saffron neo-fascism as few ever could. Few comrades more illustrated the spiritual essence of a revolutionary or the creativity inherent of a Marxist revolutionary.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist.Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com