VETERAN leader of the Indian Workers’ Association (Great Britain) and poet, Com Avtar Singh Sadiq, passed away at his home in Leicester on January 28. He was 77. Avtar Sadiq, one of the most popular faces of the Indian Marxists in the UK, was elected as the national general secretary of the IWA at its Golden Jubilee in 1988 and then as the national president from 1993 to 2004. He was also the secretary of the Association of Indian Communists from 1995 to 2012.
Recalling his contributions to the Communist movement, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, Robert Griffiths, said, “Avtar was a lifelong activist and Communist campaigner -- both in his local community and with the Indian Workers’ Association. He was recognised as a leader, nationally and internationally, and was one of the best known and longest serving cadres of the Association of Indian Communists here in Britain. He would be everywhere and you knew that his contributions were well thought-through and well carried out. He was a warm figure who was known to so many Communists in Britain and his energy will be sadly missed.”
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, in his condolence message, said, “The CPI(M) deeply regrets the passing away of a dedicated Communist. Avtar Singh Sadiq served the party through the Association of Indian Communists in Great Britain and the Indian Workers’ Association and immensely contributed to the consolidation of these organisations. Comrade Avtar will be sorely missed and will always remain amongst the ranks of dedicated Communists to work to establish an exploitation-free society.”
Born in a remote village, Chak (now in Pakistan), on April 13, 1941, Avtar Sadiq graduated from DAV College in Hoshiarpur in 1961 and completed his postgraduate teacher training from a college in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar in Punjab. After a short stint as a teacher, Sadiq, like many of his generation coming from the poorer sections of peasantry, left the spartan comforts of life in Punjab in search of a brighter economic future in England. He migrated to Britain in 1964 and made Leicester his home till his last breath.
Avtar Sadiq faced the harsh reality of racial discrimination and economic austerity of life in Leicester, as he started to build a new life as a factory worker with Dunlop and other plastic manufacturers. From his association with like-minded people including Dharam Singh and Harkewal Singh Kewal, he joined the local unit of the Indian Workers’ Association in 1965. His keen interest in poetry and literature was soon recognised and Avtar Sadiq was elected as the cultural secretary of the Leicester unit. He was also elected as the secretary of the local writers’ unit in 1966.
Avtar Sadiq saw this as the formative years of the political life that was to follow. He was given the responsibility to form the Progressive Writers’ Association in 1968. Years later, he recalled this association with pride, stating that “it’s because of the IWA(GB) that my voice reached out to the people and as a result I received recognition as a writer and freelance journalist.”
The IWA, in turn, recognised the talents of the gifted Avtar Sadiq, said his lifelong comrade Mohinder Farma. “Sadiq was instrumental in setting up youth groups, teaching folk dance, mentoring budding poets and writers, encouraging and inspiring Communist activists. He was a remarkable role model for his peers and the next generation in impeccable socialist behaviour.”
Avtar Sadiq was elected as the national general secretary of the IWA at its Golden Jubilee in 1988 and then as the national president from 1993 to 2004. He was influenced by the progressive movement and the writings of Marx and Lenin which attracted him to the Communist ideology. He joined the Association of Indian Communists, formed in 1967. He was elected to the AIC Executive Committee in 1970, to its secretariat and eventually as the secretary in 1995. He held the top post of the AIC until 2012, when he passed on the responsibilities due to failing health.
Avtar Sadiq became a familiar figure on working class platforms. He, with the support of his comrades in Leicester, regularly organised creative events to raise funds for the Morning Star as well as solidarity funds for the national liberation struggles in Palestine, Vietnam and South Africa, supporting the defence of the revolution in Cuba and the toiling masses of India.
“His going is such a great loss to the AIC, the IWA, his community, and the progressive movement in Leicester and the whole country. I can't believe that never again will we hear Avtar patiently and cogently guiding us on the right path to combat imperialism,” said a veteran leader of the Communist Party of Britain, David Grove of Lincolnshire.
For Hardev Dosanjh, one of the founder-members of the IWA, “Sadiq’s poetry symbolised the struggles of the working class for freedom, a world free of exploitation, with social and economic equality and a yearning for the alternative to neo-liberalism -- socialism.”
His quest for this social order was recognised at an international gathering of eminent Punjabi academics at a conference in Punjab in what was to be his last visit to his native homeland in November 2017. Avtar Sadiq became quite ill at the conference but was not deterred and delivered his address before returning to England. Upon returning to Leicester his health further deteriorated, yet in his normal manner, he remained focused on championing the struggle against the rising menace of the RSS-led Hindutva fascism and was planning a series of events for the summer.
Avtar Sadiq had an insatiable appetite for study and self-development. He quit full-time employment in 1977 to study youth and community work at Leicester University and went on to study for a Master’s Degree in Sociology from Warwick University. He used his newly acquired skills and knowledge to advance his career as an employment officer and became a senior executive officer at the time of his retirement in 2001 with the Race Equality Council in Nottingham and Leicester respectively.
“Sadiq’s academic background and powerful intellect infused with the anti-imperialist ideology of the working class resonated through his writings and speeches. Equally comfortable in Punjabi and English, Sadiq would manipulate social and economic information and provide simple examples to explain the complexities of dialectical materialism,” recalled Dyal Bagri, national president of the IWA(GB).
“Avtar Sadiq was a brilliant student, exemplary teacher and the epitome of revolutionary leadership,” remembers Harsev Singh, secretary of the Association of Indian Communists GB.
By the time of his death, Avtar Sadiq had published four books on poetry, three story books and a travelogue on his visit to Cuba. He also has couple of more pending publications. He initially used Avtar Singh “Komal” as his pen-name, but later changed it to Avtar Sadiq as suggested by renowned Punjabi writer Gurbax Singh Preetlari to personify his dedication to a secular, democratic and socialist ideology.