Puchalapalli Sundarayya (1913 – May 19, 1985) was a founding member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a leader of the peasant revolt in the former Hyderabad State of India, called the Telengana Rebellion. He is popularly known as Comrade PS.
Fired by Communist ideals and egalitarian values, he changed his name from Sundararami Reddy by dropping his caste suffix, Reddy. He was so dedicated to the upliftment of the poor and downtrodden that he and his spouse chose not to have children, for the purpose of social service. He directly participated in the Telangana armed struggle against the cruel rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
Sundarayya was born in Alaganipadu in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh, India. In 1930, at the age of 17, Sundarayya stopped studying in the entry level class in the college and joined Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement. He was arrested
and was lodged in a Borstal school in Rajahmundry, from where he made initial contacts with the communists. On his release, he organized agricultural workers in his village to fight against bonded labour. He was mentored by Amir Hyder Khan who prompted him to join the Communist Party of India, which was then proscribed. In the 1930s, prominent communist leaders like Dinkar Mehta, Sajjad Zaheer, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, and Soli Batliwala became members of the national executive of the Congress Socialist Party. Sundarayya also joined for sometime and rose to the position of the Secretary of the Congress Socialist Party.
In Communist Movement
After the arrest of Amir Hyder Khan, following the directions of the Central Committee, the task of building the Party in South India fell on his shoulders. During this period, he motivated transition of prominent communist leaders of Kerala like E. M. S. Namboodiripad and P. Krishna Pillai to join the Communist Party of India from the Congress Socialist Party. In 1936, Sundarayya became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India. During the same year, he became one of the founders of the All India Kisan Sabha and was elected as its joint secretary. When the Party was banned, he went underground between 1939 and 1942.
When the ban on the Party was lifted in 1943, the first Party Congress was held at Bombay. He was again elected to the Central Committee in the second party Congress held at Calcutta.
In that Congress, the Communist Party of India adopted a line advocating armed struggle, that came to be known as ‘Calcutta thesis’. It was closely identified with its main proponent and the then General Secretary, B.T. Ranadive. It called upon its cadre to take on weapons to fight against injustice. As a result insurgencies took place in Tripura, Telangana, West Bengal and Travancore.
The most important rebellion took place in Telangana, against the Nizam of Hyderabad state. Sundarayya, was one of its important leaders. He went underground between 1948 and 1952. He was re-elected to the Central Committee in 1952 when a special party conference was held. He was also elected to the Polit Bureau, the highest forum in the Party. He was re-elected to Central Committee and the Polit Bureau in the third party congress in Vijayawada and in the fourth congress held at Palakkad.
In Communist Party of India (Marxist)
He was elected to the Central Executive and the Central Secretariat of the Party at the fifth Party Congress at Amritsar. This was the time when the internal strife within the Communist Party of India had heightened. The Party leadership under S.A. Dange were in favor of supporting the Government headed by Indian National Congress at the time of the Sino-Indian War. Also following the Sino-Soviet differences of International Communist Movement, the Party leadership under Dange was pursuing the USSR line, which the pro-Chinese leadership within the Party like P. C. Joshi and B.T. Ranadive called revisionist. The group under Dange was referred to as the rightists, and the other group, leftists. Sundarayya was a prominent leader of the leftist group and he resigned his the positions conferred upon him during the Amritsar congress of the Party, protesting against the policies of the dominant leadership of the Party. He was arrested and imprisoned during November 1962 at the time of India-China border war.
The split came out in open and the leftists organized the Seventh Party Congress in October–November 1964 and forming a new Party called the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Sundarayya was elected as its General Secretary.
Immediately after this conference, several Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders including Sundarayya were arrested by the ruling Congress government and detained till May 1966. Again, he went underground to evade arrest during the period of the then Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, who evoked Emergency provisions of the Indian Constitution, between 1975–1977, to suspend Constitutionally guaranteed ‘fundamental rights’.
Sundarayya continuously remained Party’s General Secretary till 1976. In that year, which fell during the Emergency, he resigned from the General Secretaryship and Polit bureau membership, for what he called the ‘revisionist habits’ acquired by the Party.
Telengana People’s Struggle and Lessons
In December 1972, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) published a comprehensive report prepared by Sundarayya, the then General Secretary, called Telengana People’s Struggle and Lessons. Apart from narrating the socio-economic background of the Telengana Rebellion, Sundarayya went on to enunciate the Party’s line on the question of partisan struggles.
In 1952, he was elected to the Upper House of the Indian Parliament, the Rajya Sabha from the Madras Assembly constituency and became the leader of the Communist group in Parliament. He was elected to the State assembly and remained a member of that House till 1967. After a long gap he contested again and got elected to the State assembly 1978. He continued till 1983.
At the time of his death, he was holding party’s state Secretary post in Andhra Pradesh and was member, Central Committee of the Party. His wife late Lila Sundarayya too was a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).