Bhagat Singh

The Lighthouse of the Revolutionary Mindset of Indian Youth

[Below we reproduce the introduction written by Comrade Vinod Mishra to a publication by Radical Youth Association (RYA) on Bhagat Singh.]

Fiftieth year is to pass since we became independent. Casting a glance over our surroundings, we find a putrefying scene around. Particularly, the all-round degeneration of the Congress party, that claims to have led the country in the freedom struggle, raises some basic questions. During the freedom struggle, revolutionaries had raised their fingers at the ideology and working methods of Gandhi and Congress. They even had apprehensions that independence might prove to be mere transfer of power from white sahibs to coloured ones. Today, that apprehension has come true. The most resolute representative of this revolutionary stream was Bhagat Singh, whose ideals and ideology have become quite relevant in the present phase.

In 1825, at the age of 18, Bhagat Singh became the General Secretary of Naujawan Bharat Sabha, formed in Lahore in 1925 and on March 23, 1931 , after spending two years in prison, was hanged to death along with his comrades-in-arms Rajguru and Sukhdev. At the time of his martyrdom, he was only 23 years old. In such a short tenure of office and in such a tender age he organised so many revolutionary activities on the national level and studied and wrote on almost all subjects on such a vast scale that one is bound to feel astonished.

The ruthless British rulers thought it better to silence this brilliant brain, overwhelmingly popular those days. And history bears testimony to the well-known fact that rejecting the public opinion, Gandhi refused to pose cancellation of death sentence to Bhagat Singh as a precondition to the Gandhi-Irwin Pact.

Bhagat Singh's popularity was fast becoming one of the greatest challenges to the Gandhian leadership. The authentic history of the Congress party itself says, “It would not be an exaggeration to say that those days Bhagat Singh was known all over India and his name was no less popular than that of Gandhiji.” Still more important was Bhagat Singh's transformation from a revolutionary terrorist to a Marxist. It formed the main basis of the tacit agreement between British rulers and the Congress leadership to send Bhagat Singh to the gallows. Gandhi himself admitted that he dismissed the idea to make revocation of death sentence to Bhagat Singh a precondition to the agreement he entered with Irwin; rather, he stressed that the death sentence must be executed before the Karachi session of his party and it was what exactly followed.

The revolutionary terrorist current initially under the spell of strong religious sentiments gradually transformed to Marxism. Bhagat Singh proved to be the symbol of this transition and the moment he ceased to exist, this stream too breathed its last.

From Anarchism to Marxism

Bhagat Singh deeply studied all the progressive ideas till then the West imparted to India . He expressed his views on almost all problems of Indian society, be it the Brahminical attitude towards untouchables, the tendency of communalism or the form of Indian Union. In his early days, deep influence of anarchist philosophy and its ace proponent Bakunin was well discernible in him. He wrote a series of essays on anarchism, which appeared in the then Punjabi periodical Kirti from May to August 1928. These articles depict him as highly impressed by anarchist pronouncements concerning total eradication of religion, God, state and private property from the world.

In this phase, he considers religion and God as the products of human ignorance, fear and lack of self-confidence and speaks very high of Bakunin's God and the State , which severely criticises God. But in his essay Why am I an Atheist? , written on October 5-6, 1930 , firm grasp of Marxism is well discernible in his thinking on the questions of God and religion.

He writes, “Unlike certain radicals I would not attribute its origin to the ingenuity of the exploiters who wanted to keep the people under their subjection by preaching the existence of a supreme being and then claiming an authority and sanction from Him for their privileged positions. Though I do not differ with them on the essential point that all faiths, religion, creeds and such other institutions became in turn the mere supporters of the tyrannical and exploiting institutions, men and classes. Rebellion against king is always a sin according to every religion.

“As regards the origin of God, my idea is that having realised the limitation of man, his weakness and shortcomings having been taken into consideration, God was brought into imaginary existence to encourage man to face boldly all the trying circumstances, to meet all dangers manfully and to check and restrain his outbursts in prosperity and affluence. God both with his private laws and parental generosity was imagined and painted in greater details. He was to serve as a deterrent factor when his fury and private laws were discussed so that man may not become a danger to society. He was to serve as a father, mother, sister and brother, friend and helper when his parental qualifications were to be explained. So that when his parental distress having been betrayed and deserted by all friends he may find consolation in the idea that an ever true friend was still there to help him, to support him and that He was almighty and could do anything. Really that was useful to the society in the primitive age. The idea of God is helpful to man in distress.”

Here we find in Bhagat Singh the essence what Marx meant when he described religion as “the opium of the people”. Bhagat Singh proceeds, “when man tries to stand on his own legs, and becomes a realist he shall have to throw the faith aside, and to face manfully all the distress, trouble, in which the circumstances may throw him.” And it was because of this unwavering faith on materialist philosophy that he kissed the gallows with smiling face.

Bhagat Singh was not unaware of the difference of opinion between anarchists and Marxists on state power. In his articles on anarchism he says that the ultimate aim even of communism is the abolition of state. Nevertheless, he is sympathetic to the anarchist ideal of rejecting each and every type state power. Anarchists nourished the idea that complete eradication of the concept of state power alone can make freedom of mankind meaningful. Later, Bhagat Singh favours the idea of proletarian hegemony. Expounding his ideas on revolution, he said in the lower court, “By revolution we mean ultimately the establishment of a social order where one would not have to encounter such fatal hazards and proletarian hegemony is accepted and setting up of a world union, which saves human beings from the shackles of capitalism and predicaments and miseries sue to imperialist wars.”

When he got rid of the anarchist concept of elimination of private property, he understood only proletarian revolution and socialism would make it possible.

As a matter of fact, Bhagat Singh was inspired by anarchists to hurl bombs in the Assembly. Depicting anarchist activities throughout the world, Bhagat Singh writes, “of late, there have been wrongs even in Europe, anarchists had to clash increasingly with the police and the government, finally a youth named Callent, hurled a bomb in the Assembly and defending his action he roared, “To make the deaf hear an explosion is essential.” After a year, on April 8, 1929 , Bhagat Singh repeated this action in India . However, for Callent it was an act of revenge, but for Bhagat Singh it meant a way of political protest. Here it must be kept in mind that Bhagat Singh threw the bomb opposing the bills brought against the communists and the working class. The British government had tabled the two bills in the Assembly: The Public Safety Bill, meant to invest powers to drive out British or foreign communists from India on the Governor General and the Trade Disputes Bill, aimed at curtailment of trade union rights. Within moments the Speaker announced the passage of the second bill, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta sitting in the visitors' gallery hurled two bombs, raised the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad' and showered pamphlets explaining their political aims.

On February 2, 1931 , in his appeal To Young Political Workers , he advised them to study Marx and Lenin, to work among the working class and the peasantry and to arouse class consciousness among them. He favoured the Leninist concept of party building with professional revolutionaries and wrote, “The party must begin its work by conducting propaganda among the masses…It is of paramount importance to get peasants and workers organised and to garner their sympathy. The Party may be called the Communist Party”. It was the last call by Bhagat Singh to the Indian youth and is no less relevant today as it was in those days.

In independent India , the more the government institutions tried to ignore Bhagat Singh and push him to the margins in the history of independent struggle, the more Bhagat Singh found his place in the hearts of the people. Even today, Bhagat Singh's portraits are the most widely sold in the country. His portraits are seen adorning the walls of common people's houses, and thousands of martyr's columns are found in all parts of the country erected at people's own initiative. If there is a single person who can be awarded the status of people's hero in the struggle for independence, it is only Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh is not only a great source of inspiration to the revolutionary mindset of the Indian youth, he is its lighthouse too.