Bhagat Singh and his Martyrdom: Relevance Today

The primary goal of the rightwing worthies in criticizing the book was to undermine this book as it highlights the role of Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS in promoting communal politics in India and also keeping aloof from the freedom movement.

Bhagat Singh and his Martyrdom: Relevance Today
Bhagat Singh and his Martyrdom: Relevance Today

Ram Puniyani :

It is over nine decades that the one of the greatest revolutionaries committed to anti colonial struggle; Independence of India; and to socialism was hanged by the British colonialists. His life is an inspiration to those committed to a just society with peace and justice. A lot has already been written about how a young man of 23 years not only dedicated himself to the cause of the country but also how at such a young age wrote very profound ideological tracts. There are many a controversies being built around him by those who are totally opposed to his life’s mission and ideology. There are still many others who use his name to get legitimacy for themselves without following his ideological understanding.

Briefly; he joined Hindustan Republican Association, and struggled to insert the name Socialism into this organization. His role in murder of Saunders was a planned one as their group felt that death of Lala Lajpat Rai, when he was part of the protest against the Simon commission, was an insult to the nation. They planned to take revenge of this. The second major incident was throwing of the bomb in the Assembly. It was not meant to kill but was strategically planned to make the ‘deaf hear’. As their voice was not reaching the masses, the idea was to make detailed statements in the court, which will necessarily be picked up by the media and reach the people at large!

The impression that he was for violent means to overthrow the British rule has no truth. During the course of evolution of his ideas he did come to the conclusion that non violence mass movement is the core for change of system and over throw of the British rule as well. This first got reflected in the advice of Ram Prasad Bismil who advocated for giving up the “desire to keep revolvers and pistols” and instead to joins “the open movement”. Bhagat Singh himself by 1929 came to the conclusion that Marxism and broad-based mass movements were the right road to revolution, not individual heroic action. In 1931, addressing his comrades from jail, he presented his nuanced understanding of this strategy for action. 

This also gets confirmed by the advice Bhagat Singh gave to his father. His father Kishan Singh had pleaded that he should apologize to the British as he has a long life ahead. Reprimanding his father he said that he is a revolutionary and rather than apologizing he will plead for getting killed by a firing squad. This also reminds one of the incident where the ABVP put to triad of Bhagat Singh and Subhash Bose as revolutionaries to be emulated. The contrast between Bhagat Singh and Savarkar cannot be starker. Savarkar after an initial anti British stance wrote several mercy petitions and then went on to assist the British in their efforts while getting a hefty pension of RS 60 per month. (Gold that time was roughly around RS 10 for 10 grams). Another contrast is Subhash Bose, Bhagat Sing and other revolutionaries were inspired by socialism, while Savarkar was inspired by Italy’s Mazzini, who became the patron saint of Fascist ideology.

There was a criticism of the book on India’s ‘India’s Struggle for Independence’ (Bipan Chandra et al, Penguin).Their own documents referred to their path as that of revolutionary terrorism. This path was definitely abandoned by them over a period of time. The likes of Anurag Thakur and Smriti Irani criticized the book. The word terrorism had a different connotation prior to 9/11 2001. The primary goal of the rightwing worthies in criticizing the book was to undermine this book as it highlights the role of Muslim League, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS in promoting communal politics in India and also keeping aloof from the freedom movement. 

By word of mouth a rumor has been made the part of ‘social common sense’, that Gandhi did not save Bhagat Singh’s life. This is far from truth. Gandhi had written two letters to Lord Irwin to postpone or dilute the death penalty. Gandhi not only drafted the resolution criticizing British for hanging a nationalist, in Karachi Congress in 1931. At the occasion Bhagat Singh’s father Kishan Singh also spoke, “Bhagat Singh told me not to worry. Let me be hanged… He warned me against going to the Privy Council because he said slaves had no right to complain….You must support your general (Gandhi). You must support all Congress leaders. Only then will you be able to win independence for the country.”

Gandhi wrote in Navjivan, “I had interested myself in the movement for the commutation of the death sentence of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. I have put my whole being into the task.” The other fake news relates to Congress leaders not having met Bhagat Singh and his comrades when they were in jail. This is blatant lie.

There are reports in the Tribune  about Nehru visiting the jail to meet Bhagat Sing and his comrades, The reports in Tribune on August 9 and 10 of 1929, tell us about Nehru’s meeting the jailed revolutionaries, inquiring on them. Motilal Nehru had even formed a committee to demand the humane treatment for the revolutionaries on fast unto death. In his autobiography, ‘Towards Freedom’, Jawaharlal Nehru gives a very touching account of his meeting Bhagat Singh, Jatin Das and other young men, “I happened to be in Lahore when the hunger strike was already a month old. I was given permission to visit some of the prisoners in the prison, and I availed myself of this.”

How atheist Bhagat Singh would have seen today’s scenario. The very ideas of workers’ rights, farmer’s rights have been given a go bye. He criticized the misuse of religion as some people exploited it to promote blind faith and plethora of Godmen like Asaram Bapu and Gurmeet Ram Rahman have mushroomed. Faith based knowledge is being promoted by the ruling Government. How would he have responded to some political tendencies which eulogize him and spend fortunes for building temples and promoting sectarianism in the garb of religion?