( The great martyr was hanged on Marc 23, 1931 )
By Vipin Kumar*
It may be a revelation to many but Bhagat Singh, one of the greatest heroes India’s independence struggle produced, never advocated violence — except at the start of his revolutionary life.
Even when he and his fellow revolutionaries killed a British police officer to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, they expressed regret for killing the man.
Posters that surfaced in Lahore after Saunders was shot dead said: “We are sorry to have killed a man. But this man was a part of a cruel, despicable and unjust system and killing him was a necessity.
“We are sorry for shedding human blood but it becomes necessary to bathe the altar of revolution with blood. Our aim is to bring about a revolution which would end all exploitation of man by man.”
Revolutionaries in general and Bhagat Singh in particular realised that individual heroism stood no chance against the brute force of the British empire.
Bhagat Singh knew that the only way to a successful revolution was to unleash a popular broad-based movement.
It was to carry out political work among the masses that he helped found Naujawan Bharat Sabha in 1926.
Only weeks before his execution, he said: “Let me announce with all the strength at my command that I am not a terrorist and I never was, except perhaps in the beginning of my revolutionary career. And I am convinced that we cannot gain anything through these methods.”
Then why did he and Batukeshwar Dutt hurl a bomb in the Central Assembly in Delhi in 1929?
The Hindustan Socialist Revolutionary Army (HSRA) was opposed to legislation passed by the British aimed at crushing the labour movement and the Communists.
The bombs they flung were not meant to kill. Both Bhagat Singh and Dutt wanted to get themselves arrested and use the courts to counter the British propaganda that the HSRA was a bunch of brigands.
Leaflets thrown in the assembly read: “It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear. With these immortal words uttered on a similar occasion by Valliant, a French anarchist martyr, do we strongly justify this action of ours.”
By ‘revolution’ Bhagat Singh never meant violent strife but a systemic change. The HRSA manifesto in whose drafting Bhagat Singh played a key role made it clear that it was opposed to “murder and incendiarism” per se.
“Revolution is not a philosophy of despair or a creed of desperadoes. Revolution may be anti-God but is certainly not anti-Man,” the manifesto went on.
“It is a vital, living force which is indicative of eternal conflict between the old and the new, between life and living death, between light and darkness.
“There is no concord, no symphony, no rhythm without revolution.”
Bhagat Singh also underscored the grave danger communalism posed to the country and its freedom struggle.
He and his comrades opposed the suggestion that youth belonging to religious and communal groups be permitted to join Naujawan Bharat Sabha.
Religion was one’s private concern and communalism was an enemy to be fought, argued Bhagat Singh.
Bhagat Singh would not spare even Lala Lajpat Rai when he felt the latter had turned to communal politics. The revolutionary launched an ideological campaign against Lajpat Rai, calling him a “Lost Leader”.
Look at the irony. A person who all his short but glorious life denied the very existence of God is being hijacked by certain religious leaders as a martyr for their religion!
Even a few months before he was hanged, Bhagat Singh explained from jail why he was an atheist.
“Let us see how I carry on: one friend asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, ‘During your last days you will begin to believe’.
“I said, No, dear sir, it shall not be. I will think that to be an act of degradation and demoralization on my part. For selfish motives I am not going to pray.”
Unfortunately, Bhagat Singh has been grossly commercialised or romanticized. A man who always placed reason far above emotion has been made to be the ‘angry young man’ of our freedom struggle.
The sketchy image of Bhagat Singh etched in the minds of many is that of a trigger happy youth beating the hell out of the British with bombs and bullets.
Bhagat Singh was anything but this.
*Vipin Kumar is a senior journalist with IANS. He can be reached at [email protected]