The Last Word

‘Of all the obits featuring in the book, some of the subjects I knew well, others superficially, a
handful by association and the remainder, not at all. But substantial portions of them were
published before the Internet epidemic, necessitating extensive inquiry, meetings with relatives
or friends of the deceased and research in musty newspaper archives; information that is
all available today at the end of a cursor. All these years later all I can say is that the entire
exercise was a challenge and above all, gratifying as my subjects’ lives revealed India’s rich,
wide and intense human resource heritage.

‘In short, the obits are also a lesson to us all: act now. After all, as the adage goes, life is not a
dress rehearsal: make the show worthy of a racy obit.’

– Rahul Bedi

Excerpted from the book –

Harkishan Singh Surjeet
Published: 16 October 2008
Political leader: Born in Ropowal, 23 March 1916; General Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist) 1992-2005; died New Delhi 1 August 2008.

India’s veteran Marxist leader Harkishan Singh Surjeet was an astute and foxy politician who ensured that his country’s small band of Communists remained an influential political force in the world’s largest democracy. During his political career, which spanned nearly eight decades, Surjeet spent a decade in jail: eight years under the British and two years as a political prisoner under Congress Party rule in the 1970s. In 1934, he joined the Communist Party of India to better the lot of peasants in Punjab and four years later became head of the powerful state farmers’ organisation. Until Independence in 1947, he opposed the British by joining several anti-colonial movements and he edited popular nationalist journals such as Dukhi Duniya and the fiery Chingari, which greatly irked the administration.

A close friend of leading Communists around the world, Surjeet was India’s ‘bread man’ to Fidel Castro, after he sent 10,000 tons of wheat to Havana to help the island fight the blockade by the United States in the early 1990s.

His personal regimen was spartan. He lived and dressed simply in homespun cotton; and in India’s rapacious political system he was a beacon of probity and freshness.

General Krishnaswami Sundarji
Published: 10 February 1999
Born 30 April 1928; Deputy Chief of Army Staff 1981–82; General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command 1983–86; Vice Chief of Army Staff 1985–86; Army Chief 1986–88

Krishnaswami Sundarji was India’s most brilliant, ambitious and controversial chief of army staff, who during a little over two years in office committed the army to a disastrous peace-keeping campaign in Sri Lanka and on at least two occasions brought India close to war with Pakistan and China. Known as the ‘thinking general’, Sundarji also raised the mechanised infantry regiment and was responsible for reorganising the army’s functioning and laborious equipment procurement policies. Born into a high-caste Brahmin family in 1928, Sundarji graduated from Madras Christian College and joined the British-Indian army in 1945, two years before Independence. He was commissioned into the prestigious Mahar infantry regiment a year later and posted to the NWFP (now in Pakistan) to quell restive Pathan tribesmen forever at war with the colonial administration. Thereafter he was posted to the disputed, northern Kashmir state of which Pakistan forcibly occupied a third in 1947 before it was halted by the Indian army.

After two years as general officer commanding-in-chief, Western Command during which he planned Operation Bluestar, Sundarji became vice-chief of army staff, then chief in 1986.

Till he retired 26 months later he did more than any army chief before or after. Criticised by many for his naked ambition and aggression, Sundarji’s simple answer was ‘I have to aim for the moon’. After retirement he completed his master’s in defence studies at Madras University and remained in the limelight by admitting that he had been pressurized to opt for the Swedish howitzer by the government. In his 1993 book Blind Men of Hindoostan – Indo-Pak Nuclear War, he wrote a fictional account of a nuclear war between the two neighbours that came chillingly close to reality.

An engaging and charming conversationalist, Krishnaswami Sundarji was a keen gardener and a wild-life enthusiast who lived under ‘Z’, the highest category of security, surrounded by army commandos for his involvement in Operation Bluestar and in Sri Lanka.

About the Author –

Rahul Bedi has been a journalist for 38 years, beginning his career with the Indian Express in 1979. He was posted in London in the late 1980s after attending Oxford University as a Reuters Fellow. Presently, he is New Delhi correspondent for Jane’s Defence Weekly, UK, the Irish Times, Dublin, and the Daily Telegraph. He was also Assistant Master at Mayo College, Ajmer and the Doon School, Dehra Dun in the 1970s.

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