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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 16, April 9, 2011

Bhagat Singh — A Remembrance

Thursday 14 April 2011, by Sheel Bhadra Kumar

[(Last month the eightieth anniversary of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru’s martyrdom was observed on March 23. We offer our sincere homage to Bhagat Singh and recall his heroism while projecting his radical socialist ideas in the present context.)]

When the 80th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, March 23 [he was born on September 28, 1907 at Lyallpur Barga in the district Nawanshehar, now in Pakistan], is being observed, he has been described as an aatanki [terrorist] in two books of the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education. It is a matter of great concern and pity that our selfless, national freedom fighter, revolutionary socialist thinker and a visionary who fought and resisted the British imperialist power in his own way, is being portrayed as a terrorist. His contribution to India, the toiling humanity and global fraternity is being negated in this way and a misconception is being created in the teeming fertile and future brains of new generations. Therefore, it has become imperative to dispel the misconceptions and confusions about Bhagat Singh and critically analyse his personality and contribution in a broader perspective.

There have been three revolutionary, nationalist freedom fighters whose role and contributions to the national movement have been undermined and understated. They are Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose. It is a challenge before the researchers and students of history and the national movement to have a new look and approach to the study of Indian history without any favour or fear. Here we shall focus on Bhagat Singh and leave the other two (Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Subhash Chandra Bose) for others to delve into and investigate. Bhagat Singh was not a terrorist as the British colonialists and some of his cohorts in India woiuld try and make us believe, he was a revolutionary in the truest and correct sense of the term. His ideas are a beacon light for us and they illuminate our path in the wake of the most dangerous form of imperialist, neo-colonial, liberal and hegemonistic globalism. Even in the international arena, if Mahatma Gandhi has become a symbol of non-violent struggle of resistance for freedom, Bhagat Singh’s name comes close to great international revolutionaries like Che Guevara, Simon Bolivar, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela and many others. Bhagat Singh and his fellow freedom-fighters sacrificed their lives for the highest cause of Mother India’s liberation from the yoke of British colonial rule. He has become a symbol of the radical nationalist ideas and movements.

The Non-Cooperation Movement was suspen-ded by Mahatma Gandhi in February 1922 in the wake of the Chauri-Chaura incident at Gorakhpur in UP. This abrupt decision of M.K. Gandhi was painful and embarrassing to many leaders. Our national movement, which was gaining in momentum, was suddenly paralysed and halted. An abrupt vacuum at the top led to the growth of communal bickerings and riots. It was in this background that the younger generation of India came to the conclusion that the method adopted by M.K. Gandhi had become outdated and outlived its relevance. To take the country forward, it was necessary to launch an armed struggle and carry on propaganda through the brave deeds of heroism and effective protests to wrest power from the Britishers.

Bhagat Singh was in the forefront of such young men of India. He had been active in the revolutionary circles since the middle of his twenties, but when Lala Lajpat Rai, leading the anti-Simon Commission demonstration, was brutally assaulted at Lahore and ultimately died, there spread anger and resentment spontaneously. Bhagat Singh, a leading figure of the Hindustan Socialist Republic Army, decided to give a fitting expression to this national anger. On December 17, 1928, The Assistant Superin-tendent of Police in Lahore, J.P. Saunders, was shot dead by Bhagat Singh and Rajguru. On December 18, 1928 a leaflet disclosing the fact that Saunders had to be killed to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai was distributed in Lahore. Bhagat Singh and his comrades came to Calcutta. A suggestion came before Bhagat Singh that it was necessary for him and his comrades to leave India for the time being because in the wake of J.P. Saunders’ killing, the British Govern-ment would undertake repressive measures to nab the killers. But Bhagat Singh was unmoved. He refused to leave his motherland and decided to work and live with Indians and die for the cause they cherished. Had he been a terrorist, he would have disappeared from his motherland like a terrorist.

To curb the activities of revolutionaries and trade unionists, the British Government was determined to pass stringent Acts from the Central Legislative Assembly. On April 18, 1929, when the government spokesman rose to announce the Viceroy’s certification of the Public Safety Act and the Trade Dispute Act, Bhagat Singh, alongwith his compatriot Batukeshwar Dutt, lobbed two live bombs on the Treasury Benches. This was followed by pistol shots. No one was seriously injured. Bhagat Singh or Batukeshwar Dutt did not try to evade the police or escape. They had sufficient time to escape but they let them be caught by the police. They thought that their trial would give them sufficient time and opportunity to justify their acts and promote their ideas and missions. Had he been terrorist, he would have disappeared. He had a vision of new India. On June 6, 1929, Bhagat Singh declared in a Delhi court:

We dropped bombs on the floor of the assembly chamber to register protest on behalf of those who had no other means left, to give expression to their agony. Our soul purpose was to make the deaf hear and to give the heedless timely warning….Force when aggressively applied is violence and is therefore morally unjustifiable but when it is applied to realise a just and legitimate cause, it has its moral justification…

They were sentenced to transportation for life. Bhagat Singh’s resistance against handcuffing while facing trial, his long fast, his refusal to do anything in his defence, his shouting of revolutionary and patriotic songs made him a true patriot and revolutionary. Nabbing the two, the police produced them before the trial court in Delhi.

Bhagat Singh’s heroism and fearlessness come out most vividly in some of his letters which he wrote from his prison. He had written to Batukeshwar Dutt:
I am eagerly waiting for the day when I shall have the good fortune of being hanged for my ideals.

He had forbidden his younger brother from bringing his mother to collect his dead body because being a mother she may get nostalgic and weep. It will give a wrong message to the youth of India. Bhagat Singh was firm in his conviction. When an elderly Sikh gentleman approached Bhagat Singh and said to pray to god before execution, he humbly refused to do so because he was an atheist throughout his life and he had no intention of changing his opinion and conviction before and on fearing death. In the present situation when pernicious fascist and religious fundamentalists are exploiting the situation to their benefit, Bhagat Singh’s ideas have become immensely relevant.

Bhagat Singh was largely a self-educated man. But he had a sharp intellect and was a voracious reader. He had read and digested quite a large number of books dealing with history and politics. While in prison he wrote more than four books but the manuscripts of these have been lost. He was not merely an ardent nationalist but also a radical socialist. He was very aggrieved by the capitalistic exploitation of the peasants, labourers and the toiling class of the Indian society. To liberate the exploited class, he wished to organise Indian society on socialist lines. He wanted to end exploitation so that humanity could be saved and war averted while bringing about universal peace and goodwill.

Bhagat Singh appeared in the political sky like a meteor for a brief period. But he soon became the cynosure of millions of eyes and the symbol and aspirations of a New India. His call to fight fascism, imperialism and exploitation carried great significance. Today we are witnessing imperialism in a new garb of globalisation and privatisation weakening the very edifice of the developing societies economically, politically and culturally. Unless the exploitation of man by man and nation by nation is brought to an end, sufferings and carnage, which threaten humanity today, cannot be prevented and all talk of ending wars and ushering in an era of universal peace will be undisguised hypocrisy. In such a critical juncture Bhagat Singh has a definite message for us.

Dr Sheel Bhadra Kumar is an Associate Professor of Political Science, Government P.G. College, Maha-samund (Chhattisgarh).

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