Tribute to Bhagat Singh

Bhagat Singh: People's Hero in the Freedom Struggle

Hawa me rahegi mere khayal ki bijli

Ye muste-khak hai fani, rahe rahe na rahe

(The fire of my ideas will remain in the air/This life's a handful of dust, no matter if it remains or not)

March 23 marks the 75 th anniversary of the martyrdom of Shaheed-e-azam Bhagat Singh, and September 28, 2007 , his birth centenary. It will be interesting to see how Manmohan Singh, having given a red carpet welcome to the leader of world imperialism George Bush, reconciles his tributes to Bhagat Singh with his glowing tributes the ‘great Raj' that hanged the ‘dangerous man' till he was dead.

It is certainly no less than a miracle that without any state patronage, rather in spite of a deliberate attempt by all the powers-that-be to dilute his ideological-political vision, Bhagat Singh`s charisma, in contrast to that of most other leaders of national movement, refuses to fade away.

It is not without reason that all political streams are trying to appropriate his legacy. The BJP website informs the nation of its discovery that a copy of the Bhagwatgita can be found in the museum at his native village Khatkarkala! But, quite understandably, it is careful not to mention his atheism-rationalism, Marxism or socialism.

The Congress government at the centre may certainly plan a sarkari tamasha in the eventful year to pay lip service to the revolutionary leader, for whom even the tallest of their leaders had at best to say ‘though we praise the courage of these brave men, we should never countenance their activities' as they will result in a ‘terrifying situation' and ‘our people will become victims of our atrocities' (Gandhi on Bhagat Singh`s martyrdom in Young India , 1931).

Our ‘official' communists, meanwhile, are urging Manmohan Singh ‘to initiate and set up a celebration committee to organize the 75 th anniversary of martyrdom of Shaheed-e-azam Bhagat Singh, to instil the lofty ideals of patriotism and self sacrifice among youth.' Isn't this the same commonsensical, clichéd portrayal of Bhagat Singh merely as a man with lofty ideals of patriotism and self-sacrificing youth, which has been propagated by the ruling classes all these years? Even with this perception, it is insult to the great national hero, to say the least, to urge Manmohan Singh, the chief architect of cotemporary national sell-out to imperialism and admirer of the ‘Great Civilising Raj', to initiate the celebrations. In fact the whole celebration, if it is not to be turned into a ritual, must be focused precisely against such ‘brown rulers' ruling in the country since independence. It is one thing to pressurize the rulers to accord our heroes their due place, while it is altogether different matter to collaborate with them in trivializing and falsifying their real legacy.

In fact, the Britishers killed Bhagat Singh physically, but their successor - the Indian rulers, did everything they could to kill his ideas. A popular myth was manufactured that reduced the whole debate between Gandhian Congress and Bhagat Singh to a difference of ‘paths' and ‘methods', i.e., ‘non-violent' and ‘violent'. Gandhi himself and the entire official historiography reinforced this myth. Behind this smokescreen, the debate, which was essentially between two alternative models of national liberation movement, was pushed to the background

However nothing could be farther from truth. Indeed, Bhagat Singh was influenced by anarchist ideas in his earlier phase, but in a remarkably short span of time he evolved into a Marxist revolutionary.

Bhagat Singh, first and foremost, was a political leader and for that matter a revolutionary political leader, waging war for national liberation, democracy and socialism. His vision of nation-building was certainly different from the Congress model. In his article ‘Draft for A Revolutionary Programme', he noted, ‘I am of the firm opinion that the present movement will either end in some kind of compromise or in an utter fiasco. What prompts me to say this is the fact that, in my opinion, real revolutionary forces are not in the battlefield today … Real revolutionary forces are in rural areas and factories - peasants and workers. But our ‘bourgeois' leaders are afraid of them. Because, if these sleeping lions are awakened from their deep slumber, they won`t stop just with the fulfilment of our leaders` objectives. In 1920, after his first encounter with Ahmedabad workers, Gandhi said, ‘We should not collaborate with the workers. Political engagement with the factory proletariat is dangerous'. Since then, he made no efforts to take this class along with his movement. It was the same with peasants. The Bardoli Satyagraha of 1922 amply proves that when leaders saw the peasant upsurge targeting not only the domination of foreigners but also the fetters of the native landlords, they became really panicky. That is why our leaders prefer to surrender before the Britishers than yielding to the peasants.'

Further explaining his orientation in the same document, he says, ‘we want socialist revolution, which is first and foremost a political revolution…And political revolution means seizure of state power by Indians from Britishers, that too, by those Indians whose strategic goal is similar to ours. More precisely - capture of state-power by revolutionary party with active and conscious participation of the people. And then we will have to engage ourselves, with utmost seriousness, to carry forward the whole society on socialist path…But if you say that your aim is national revolution to establish Indian republic, then my question is on what social forces you will rely to help advance this revolution? Whether the revolution be National or Socialist, the forces on which we must rely are peasants and workers.'

What a brilliant exposition of the essential character of the Congress, the fate of national movement under its leadership and the alternative course to be pursued by the Revolutionary Party!

In fact, one may venture to say that, born in an enlightened peasant family of freedom fighters and ‘product of our great composite culture', Bhagat Singh`s Marxism was more concrete and grounded than most of his contemporary, Oxford educated Communists from an elite background.

His theoretical-political battle stands testimony to the fact that he never harboured any illusions about the Congress, and this is all the more significant in the light of the fact that the question of assessment of and relationship with the Congress has remained an enduring and lifelong puzzle for the mainstream Communist movement in India, and is proving to be its nemesis.

He was acutely conscious about the growing menace of communalism and the serious threat it posed to the national and people's movement. At a time when even the tallest of Congress leaders were oblivious to the grave danger they were inviting for the whole nation by practicing a ‘liberal Hindutva' variety of secularism, later officially nicknamed as doctrine of ‘Sarvadharma Sambhava'; when they were using and appeasing communal sentiments, and collaborating with communal bodies at different levels, thus preparing ground for growing Muslim alienation and the great tragedy of 1947; Bhagat Singh stands out in bold relief as a modern national leader asserting that that true secularism means separation of religion from politics and state. He maintained that growth of class-consciousness was a correct way to combat communalism. Although he had great respect for Lala Lajpat Rai as a national leader, he did not hesitate to take issue with Rai when he turned to communal politics. He then launched an unrelenting ideological-political campaign against Rai, referring Lajpat Rai as a “lost leader”. In 1928, during the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) conference, he categorically opposed the idea that youth belonging to religious, communal organizations be permitted to become the members of NBS.

Barring the singular exception of Dr. Ambedkar, the approach of different streams of national movement to the extremely important question of caste oppression was pathetic, to say the least. While for most of them, it was no issue at all, for some the anti-British movement or economic struggle was to take care of all these ‘social-cultural' questions, while for yet another category, the reform of caste-system through benevolence and charity was the answer. However, Bhagat Singh, with an acute insight into the reality of Indian society, recognizes the great revolutionary potential of the dalit struggle for emancipation: ‘Rise o real servants of the people and brethren, look at your history. … Your sacrifices are inscribed in golden letters…Organise yourself, stand on your feet and challenge the whole society. You will find then that no force on earth dare refuse you your rights…You are the real proletariat… Be organized. You have to lose nothing except your fetters of slavery. Arise and rebel against the present system' However, with great foresight, he does not fail to see the pitfalls, and warns, ‘Don`t become fodder for others. Don`t look towards others. Keep in mind, never fall in the trap of the bureaucracy. Instead of helping you, it just wants to make use of you. This bourgeois bureaucracy is the main culprit in perpetuating your slavery and poverty. So, you should never collaborate with it and should beware of its traps.' Prophetic words indeed when we look upon the misery of dalits even today after 6 decades of rule by the Nehru dynasty, the Vajpeyees and Mayavatis, too! The only road to dalit liberation is still through revolutionary transformation of the society, and not through any bureaucratic dream of ‘DM or CM' in the present set-up.

Bhagat Singh, in a sense, was a continuation and development of the great tradition of 1857, our first War of Independence – its tradition of uncompromising battle against imperialism and its domestic allies; its recognition of the potential of the peasantry; its grounding in a rich tradition of composite culture. 2007 marks the 150 th anniversary of 1857, too. Let us resolve, on the occasion of this historic confluence, to carry forward the heroic legacy of 1857 and Bhagat Singh to its fulfilment.

- Lal Bahadur Singh