(On Birth Centenary)
CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE OF
BHAGAT SINGH’S IDEA’S
(September 28, 1907 – March 23, 1931)
The life and work of Bhagat Singh and his death by hanging at Lahore at the hands of British imperialism on March 23, 1931, has been a great saga of inspiration to all those who cherish sovereignty, secularism and socialism – ideals for which Bhagat Singh and his comrades fought valiantly to the end.
Since September 28, 2006, Indian’s all over the world are celebrating the Birth Centenary Year of Saheed Bhagat Singh, a powerful symbol of the still ongoing struggle of the people of India and several other developing countries against imperialism, capitalism, feudalism, communalism and casteism – a struggle that is infinitely more complex but no less urgent today than it was in Bhagat Singh’s time.
The freedom of India from nearly two centuries of oppressive and exploitative British colonial rule was the cumulative result of a complex mosaic of different currents that coexisted. They were: the current of armed struggles and peasant revolts that began with the Sannyasi-Fakir rebellion of 1760; non-violent upsurges of Indian people against the British rule under The Indian National Congress, led by Mahatma Gandhi; The Communist Party of India, which was formed in 1920, advocating complete independence putting forth the goal of socialism; the social reform movement against caste and gender oppression that was led in various parts of the country by stalwarts; there was a fifth current as well, which was socially reactionary. It was represented by the Muslim League on the one hand, and by the RSS (Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the Hindu Mahasabha on the other. In a way, it helped British imperialism to execute its ‘Divide and Rule’ policy. It led to constant communal clashes and eventually resulted in the violent partition of India.
[It is no accident that the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha were both revived in 1923 and the RSS was formed in 1925. According to the Simon Commission Report, 112 major communal riots broke out in the country between 1922 and 1927. The Muslim masses were never again to join the freedom struggle in such large numbers under the Congress banner. In fact, by 1937, the communal divide would widen even further, leading to the catastrophic partition of India.]
Bhagat Singh and his comrades belonged to the first current of armed anti-imperialist fighters. Their struggle against British imperialism assumed legendary proportions. But their truly distinctive feature was that, amongst the large galaxy of thousands of armed freedom fighters spread over two centuries of the freedom struggle, it was Bhagat Singh and his comrades alone who were inexorably moving ideologically towards the third current – of Marxian socialism. It is therefore no accident that comrades of Bhagat Singh like Shiv Verma, Kishori Lal, Ajoy Ghosh, Bejoy Kumar Sinha and Jaidev Kapur became leaders of the Communist movement after their release from British jails.
Bhagat Singh and his colleagues were also conscious of the need for social justice and the overthrow of the caste system. They were bitter and uncompromising enemies of communalism in all its forms. And they were opponents of the bourgeois-landlord class.
POPULAR AND DISTINGUISHED
The name of Bhagat Singh had secured a permanent place in the minds of the Indian people. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the official historian of the Congress, wrote that “it is no exaggeration to say that at that moment Bhagat Singh’s name was as widely known all over India and was as popular as Gandhi’s.” No other revolutionary of those days struck such a deep feeling of sympathy, solidarity and oneness among the people.
Bhagat Singh’s writings on various topics and his letters to his colleagues reveal his growing reliance on the Marxist outlook. It is no surprise that he declared himself an atheist. His writings are permeated with an unfathomable sense of dedication to the cause of independence and freedom, to the cause of socialism. His study of Communist literature, of Lenin, led him to understand that India’s struggle for freedom was part of the international working class struggle for socialism.
A.G. Noorani concludes his book The Trial of Bhagat Singh – Politics of Justice with the words: “What distinguished Bhagat Singh from all others, besides his courage, patriotism and commitment to moral values, was his intellectual strength. A voracious reader, he was also willing to rethink. He had the capacity to brood and to torment his soul over the past. That led him to renounce terrorism, and to advise the young to follow suit; indeed, to counsel moderation and readiness to compromise. He was only 23 when he was hanged….”
Prof. Bipan Chandra wrote that, “Bhagat Singh was already at a young age a giant of an intellectual and thinker.” Bhagat Singh had command of four languages, without much formal training or education. He wrote in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English. His jail notebooks collect excerpts from 108 authors and 43 books including prominently Marx, Engels and Lenin, but also many others, says Dr. Chaman Lal.
While Bhagat Singh was in school, Punjab was rocked by the hanging of seven Ghadar martyrs by the British on November 16 and 17, 1915, in the First Lahore Conspiracy Case. Prominent among them were Kartar Singh Sarabha from Punjab and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle from Maharashtra. The young Bhagat Singh was deeply moved by the heroic saga and sacrifice of Sarabha, who was just 20 years old when he was hanged. Sarabha’s last words were, “My only ambition is to see my country free. I have never done anything out of hatred for any person, nation, religion or race. I only desire one thing – independence. This is my only dream.”
Bhagat Singh always carried a photo of Sarabha in his pocket. Another event that was to leave a deep impression on the young Bhagat Singh was, of course, the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar on April 13, 1919. His area of special interest was the history of revolutions.
Bhagat Singh, in his last testament To Young Political Workers, written in February 1931, crystallizes his conclusions from the events of the early 1920s, “The real revolutionary armies are in the villages and in factories, the peasantry and the labourers. But our bourgeois leaders do not and cannot dare to tackle them…..” In sharp contrast to the leadership of the national movement in India, the victory of the Russian Revolution had an even bigger impact on young armed freedom fighters in India and abroad.
It was in the background of all these historic events that Bhagat Singh reached Kanpur in 1924. There he went to his father’s friend Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, a prominent Congress leader and the editor of Pratap. It was here that Bhagat Singh met Chandrashekhar Azad, Batukeshwar Dutt, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, Shiv Verma, Bejoy Kumar Sinha and others. In Kanpur, he continued to read voraciously and completed his study of Karl Marx’s Capital. He wrote and distributed nationalist and revolutionary leaflets amongst the masses. It was in his six months stay at Kanpur that he joined the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA).
On June 12, 1929, the court sentenced Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt in the Assembly Bomb Case to transportation for life in the Andamans. But in the meanwhile the police had uncovered the details of Saunders’ assassination. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev and several others were tried in the historic second Lahore Conspiracy Case. The trial started on July 10, 1929 and continued for over a year up to October 7, 1930. Both cases drew nationwide attention, but the Lahore Case was more in the limelight.
Before and after the judgement, Bhagat Singh’s reading and writing in jail continued unabated. Shiv Verma, in an interview in Mumbai on March 5, 1991, replied to a question as to what set Bhagat Singh apart from the others, as follows, “I can tell you that in just one sentence: Bhagat Singh was our undisputed ideological leader. I do not remember a single moment when Bhagat Singh did not have a book in his pocket. The other virtues of Bhagat Singh like tremendous courage and so on were there in the other revolutionaries amongst us also. But his uniqueness lay in his great studiousness. The degree of clarity and integrity that he had about the aims of our movement, was not there in any one of us at that time.”
SECULARISM: AN ARTICLE OF FAITH
Secularism was, indeed, an article of faith with Bhagat Singh all his life. He understood the danger that communalism posed to Indian society and Indian nationalism. He often warned his comrades and followers that communalism was as big an enemy as colonialism…Religion, said Bhagat Singh, was the private concern of a person. He also believed that people must free themselves from the mental bondage of religion and superstition.
REVOLUTION IS NOT THE CULT OF BOMB?
The hearing of the Assembly Bomb Case began on May 7, 1929. Entering the court, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt raised slogans of ‘Long Live Revolution’, ‘Long Live the Proletariat’ and ‘Down with Imperialism’. Through these three slogans, Bhagat Singh and his comrades succinctly summed up their entire programme.
In their historic statement before the court on June 6, 1929, Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt, while defending their action of throwing bombs in the Central Assembly, also gave a lucid and inspiring account of what they meant by the word Revolution.
“Revolution does not necessarily involve sanguinary strife, nor is there any place in it for individual vendetta. It is not the cult of the bomb and the pistol. By ‘Revolution’ we mean that the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice must change…. Comrades, Today, we cannot ask the youth to take to pistols and bombs……
For this capture of state power is necessary. The state apparatus is now in the hands of the privileged class.”
The Statement of the Undefended Accused, drafted by Bhagat Singh, launched a scathing attack on imperialism, which can well apply even to the present situation in the world: “Imperialism is the last stage of development of insidious exploitation of man by man and of nation by nation. The imperialists, with a view to further their piratical designs, not only commit judicial murders through their law courts but also organize general massacres, devastations and other horrible crimes like war. Under the garb of custodians of ‘law and order’, they break peace, create disorder, kill people and commit all conceivable crimes.” All of this is happening today in the Middle East at the hands of U. S. A., the custodian of imperialism in the present world.
Thus, Bhagat Singh has a special relevance to contemporary India and especially underdeveloped countries at large, with the increasing aggressiveness of American imperialism bearing down on the world; with millions of workers, peasants, agricultural labourers and even sections of the middle classes becoming prime targets of the rapacious strategy of imperialist globalization; with the economic and political sovereignty of the majority of countries being threatened by the worst form of neo-colonialism; and with all kinds of communal, casteist and terrorist forces out to dynamite the unity and integrity of the communities at large.
A big toll of human life taken by the communal frenzy let free at Ayodhya, Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Punjab and in many other places in the last 20 – 25 years, establishes beyond doubt that ideas of Bhagat Singh still carry weight.
In a sense, Bhagat Singh had himself forewarned that such developments were bound to occur if one form of exploitative rule was merely replaced by another. Referring to the workers and peasants, he had asked in his last testament, “What difference does it make to them whether Lord Reading is the head of the Indian government or Sir Purshotamdas Thakordas? What difference for a peasant if Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru replaces Lord Irwin!” That is precisely what happened at the time of the transfer of power.
Bhagat Singh is an extremely powerful symbol of the freedom struggle and of revolutionary change. The four remarkable strands in the life, work and thought of Bhagat Singh and his comrades were: a) uncompromising struggle against imperialism, b) unflinching resistance to communalism and caste oppression; c) unbending opposition to bourgeois-landlord rule, and d) unshakable faith in socialism as the only alternative before society.
These are precisely the strands being championed by all patriotic and progressive forces in India and the world today. In the Bhagat Singh Birth Centenary Year, it is these strands that must be consciously taken to the people through a massive and well-organized campaign by the democratic and secular forces. Bhagat Singh is a special source of inspiration to the students and youth, who are facing serious problems of education and employment.
There is also much to learn from the magnificent qualities of character that Bhagat Singh displayed through his short life of 23 years. His courage, sacrifice, integrity, determination, studiousness, humility and comradeship have been described in the memoirs written by his comrades and by other contemporaries. These are traits that we all must constantly try to imbibe and develop, first within ourselves and then among others.
On March 23, when at around seven in the evening, a jail official came to take him to the gallows, Bhagat Singh, still engrossed in reading Lenin’s biography, said, “Wait a minute, one revolutionary is busy meeting another.” After reading for a while, he got up and embarked on his final journey. Amidst slogans of ‘Down with Imperialism’ and ‘Long Live Revolution’, the three martyrs – Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev - attained revolutionary immortality. The final song on their lips was:
Dil se niklegi na markar bhi watan ki ulfat,
Meri mitti se bhi khushbue watan aaegi.
(Love for the motherland will not leave my heart even after the death, Its fragrance will still be there in my dusty remains.)
The entire country went into mourning on hearing the news of their martyrdom.
[Bhagat Singh was born to Vidyavati and Kishan Singh on September 28, 1907, in the village Banga in Lyallpur district, now in Pakistan. His original village Khatkar Kalan is in Jalandhar district. He hailed from a patriotic family.]