BHAGAT SINGH: THE ‘BECOMING’ OF A SOCIALIST REVOLUTIONARYLeave a comment
26/01/2018 by socialistfight
By Akhar Bandyopadhyay
“The whole edifice of this civilization, if not saved in time, shall crumble.
A radical change, therefore, is necessary and it is the duty of those who realize it to reorganize society on the socialistic basis.
Unless this thing is done and the exploitation of man by man and of nations by nations is brought to an end, sufferings and carnage with which humanity is threatened today cannot be prevented.
All talk of ending war and ushering in an era of universal peace is undisguised hypocrisy.”
Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta, Delhi Sessions Court Statement,
6th June, 1929
Com. Bhagat Singh (1907-1931), the socialist revolutionary martyr, can be defined to the world as a young man from a village in Punjab, who strived to fight the imperialist system in un-partitioned India with a scientific revolutionary spirit. He had a very brief period of political life. Perhaps this itself is indeed a thing of wonder and awe for the prevailing mindset. Bhagat Singh’s short period of active life creates a ‘paradox’.
According to the common mindset, maturity comes with advancing age. But in the case of this lad, it was something radically different and unique. Within such a limited period of time, he was able to achieve a great lot of things, which are quite beyond the imagination and apprehension of this general mindset!
Which material factors gave the necessary revolutionary nourishment to Bhagat Singh’s mind, i.e., what were the material factors that churned up his personality? What factors revolutionized him? I will strive to deal with these problem-questions in this article.
Family Influence: Principle or Property?
In order to know about Com. Bhagat Singh, we must first have a look at his family background. Without understanding the initial environment in which he was nurtured, we would fail to understand the very basis of his revolutionary personality.
Bhagat Singh’s great-grandfather Fateh Singh held a high-profile rank in the army of Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), the patriotic warrior king of Punjab. Adequate information about Bhagat Singh’s predecessors before Fateh Singh is unavailable. Fateh Singh refused to give precedence to property over principles by declining the multiple numbers of tempting offers from the Britishers to join their occupation army. Rather, he went on to defend freedom by participating in the wars against the East India Company rulers. This is a clear manifestation of his patriotic spirit. As a result of participating in the wars against the imperialists, he had to suffer land confiscation.
But throughout his life, Fateh Singh firmly distanced himself from cooperating with the English rulers in any way. While the feudal lords were openly collaborating with the Company rulers, the “Singh” family of Khatkar Kalan village in Jalandhar/Nawanshahr in Eastern Punjab chose an alternative path and continued with their patriotic code of conduct.
Bhagat Singh’s grandfather Arjan Singh migrated from his ancestral place at village Khatkar Khalan to village Banga at Lyallpur/Faisalabad (Now in Pakistan) in western Punjab around the year 1899. S. Arjan Singh maintained the tradition of his patriotic father and he also gave relative importance to the principles over property. Despite being a big farmer, he was a great scholar of the Guru Granth Sahib— the holy book of the Sikh religion. He also mastered his skills and knowledge to become a good Unani haqim, who was ready to serve the deprived class of the society. Even while being a Jat-Sikh (an upper caste Sikh), he was able to turn against the Singh Sabha controlled by the Sikh feudal lords, and became a staunch Arya Samajist after getting inspired by the teachings of Swami Dayanand Saraswati (1824—1883), the very founder of Arya Samaj.
The Singh Sabha consisted of those Sikh Feudal lords who openly collaborated with the Britishers. On the other hand, the Arya Samajists rose up the banner of liberty against the primitive rituals, norms and blind faith; in its’ place, it promoted selfless social service. The Arya Samajists practiced and preached the removal of untouchability in day-to-day life as well. Arjan Singh practically followed these Arya Samajist principles devoutly and without hesitation. Quite aptly, this paved the way to the emergence of a completely anti-casteist outlook in Bhagat Singh.
Being a consistent proponent of social progress and reform, Arjan Singh was directly associated with the Congress party. He was also a polyglot as he had a good command over five languages – Sanskrit, Urdu, Hindi, Persian and Punjabi! He took active part in the construction of a Gurudwara or Sikh shrine at his village despite being an Arya Samajist. This proves the openness of his attitude; though according to Bhagat Singh’s perception, his grandfather was nothing more than “an orthodox Arya Samajist” (Ref. Why I am an Atheist).
But this openness and anti-status quo attitude in Arjan Singh was inherited by Bhagat Singh, who made these qualities the part and parcel of his conduct by declaring that free thinking and merciless criticism are the two indispensable attributes of a revolutionary. For Bhagat Singh, every human being who stands for progress needs to criticize and challenge each and every item of the existing faith and existing order. Do not we see the more scientific form of his childhood Arya Samajist influence?
Grandfather Arjan Singh also showed his open solidarity with the cause of Indian freedom during the Non-Cooperation movement. Arjan Singh provided his house in Lyallpur with a culturally harmonious environment and made it the ‘center’ of various revolutionary activities.
Arjan Singh’s wife and Bhagat Singh’s grandmother—Jai Kaur, a devout Sikh, served her husband selflessly. Helping him in the practice of Unani, giving asylum to revolutionaries was few of the daily practices which were carried out by her. Bhagat Singh was literally the pet of his grandmother. For Verinder Sandhu, the niece of Bhagat Singh— Arjan Singh was a flag of social revolution and Jai Kaur was the pole of that flag!
Although the Singh family had one exception, that is, Arjan Singh’s brother, Surjan Singh, who gave priority to property over principles and became a staunch supporter cum collaborator of the British imperialists.
Arjan Singh’s three sons—Kishan Singh, Ajit Singh and Swarn Singh, carried the revolutionary-patriotic legacy of their family onward.
Bhagat Singh’s father Kishan Singh began his political life by entering into the realm of social service. As a matter of fact, he soon leaned towards the radical faction of Congress, the only available political platform at that time. He was shrewd in quality and possessed a unique ‘sixth sense’ to ward off any sort of crisis, because of which he showed open sympathy to all the revolutionaries, by providing them shelter and protection from arrest. He was himself under strict police surveillance due to his ‘seditious’ activities! While being in jail, he struggled for the rights and self-respect of the political prisoners. One needs to remember that son Bhagat Singh also initiated a record-breaking hunger strike in 1929 while he was in jail for the rights of the political prisoners!
The year 1907 was marked by political turmoil in Punjab, which was caused by the 1905 Bengal Partition and the draconian anti-peasant ‘Land Colonization Act’ in Punjab. Punjab was then in the peak of peasants’ agitation. Lyallpur, the family’s home district, became the hub of that unrest. The three sons of Arjan Singh guided this movement by means of Bharat Mata Society [Mother India Society] with radical Congress leaders like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai. Soon all the three brothers were arrested and put in different jails. The good news of their release from the jails coincided with the birth of Bhagat Singh on 28th September 1907. The newborn baby was named “Bhaganwala” [‘The lucky one’], later being formally named as ‘Bhagat’ Singh!
Ajit Singh was exiled to Burma (Now Myanmar) in 1909 and Swarn Singh died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-three in 1910.
Bhagat Singh was born and was nurtured within such a political environment. Therefore, Bhagat Singh not only drank the milk of his mother Vidyawati Kaur, but also did drink deeply the milk of revolutionism. The house was the publishing cum distributing center of revolutionary-patriotic literature. Congress activists and eminent revolutionaries frequented that house and all sorts of political discussion took place. Kishan Singh had made big donations to the revolutionary Ghadr Party (formed in 1913 in America, the word ‘Ghadr’ means ‘rebellion’) as well. Kishan Singh also took child Bhagat Singh along with him to the political rallies, meetings and lectures whichever he attended.
Bhagat Singh had an elder brother named Jagat Singh, who died of illness at a very tender age of eleven years. Both Bhagat and his elder brother were pledged for serving the country against the imperialists by their grandfather Arjan Singh at the time of their janeu or sacred thread ceremony through the ritual called Yagyopavit.
Bhagat Singh engaged in conversations from his childhood with the political activists who visited his home in Lyallpur. Once four-year old Bhagat Singh told Congress activist Mehta Anand Kishore that he would sow rifles in the fields in order to reap a fruit of some fulsome crop to drive the Britishers out of the country!
This proves that the love for the oppressed many and anger against the oppressing few started to develop in Bhagat Singh’s mind from a raw age. Bhagat Singh possessed a knack for establishing bonds of friendship with almost everyone, especially with people who were much older than him, like the old tailor of their village. The reading habit in him was environmentally imbibed since the time of his childhood.
Moreover, Bhagat Singh witnessed the ever-continuing sorrow and suffering of his two aunts, Harnam Kaur (W/O Ajit Singh) and Hukam Kaur (W/O Swarn Singh). Harnam Kaur belonged to the syncretic Sufi culture of Kasur in Punjab. Bhagat Singh was emotionally more attached to both the aunts, and more particularly to aunt Harnam, who was on a never-ending wait for her exiled husband’s return. Aunt Harnam’s melancholy touched the emotional heart of Bhagat, who promised to bring back his uncle Ajit Singh by ousting the British imperialists from the country.
Bhagat Singh could be termed as being the ‘political son’ of Ajit Singh because of the fact that Ajit Singh wanted to wage an advanced ideological struggle of the peasantry on a class basis against the feudal and colonial exploiters. Bhagat Singh was able to progress logically with this revolutionary thinking of his uncle and arrived at the ultimate conclusion of choosing the line of proletarian revolution as the only means for achieving complete independence from all sorts of exploitation and oppression.
The influence of few of the previous and ongoing Indian revolutionary movements on Bhagat Singh’s matured ideological standpoint was significant enough. He got highly influenced by the Kuka movement (1872), the Ghadr movement (1914-15) and the Babbar-Akali movement (1920s) in Punjab. Ghadr party hero and revolutionary Shaheed Kartar Singh Sarabha became his role model. He had a deep respect for all the anti-imperialist revolutionary martyrs of his country.
Bhagat Singh spent his infancy and early childhood under the care and guidance of his grandfather Arjan Singh in Lyallpur as he studied in the District Board primary school from 1911 to 1917. He was sent to the boarding house in 1917 to study at the D.A.V. High School in Lahore. From this time of his adolescence, he was brought under the care and guidance of his father, Kishan Singh. According to Bhagat Singh himself, it was through the teachings of his father that he aspired to dedicate himself to the cause of freedom (Ref. Why I am an Atheist).
He had by then acquired a great command over the Sanskrit language largely due to his Arya Samajist grandfather; alongside he also learnt Hindi and Urdu languages from school, though he still had to struggle over the English language. But amazingly he acquired a fantastic grip over English finally over a period of time in his revolutionary career.
Influence of the historic events and existing circumstances
On 14th April 1919, the day after the mass slaughter took place at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in Punjab in the hands of General Dyer, twelve-year old Bhagat Singh visited the Bagh without attending his classes at the Lahore D.A.V. High School. He collected some blood-soaked mud from the Bagh inside a small glass jar and then came back home in a completely transformed mood. This event left a larger impact inside young Bhagat Singh’s mind and brought about serious changes in his attitude towards everything, though his innocent mind was already disturbed to witness the ever-continuing and shameless brutality of the imperialist rulers. His first-hand experiences of the unjust implementation of the Martial Law and merciless suppression and slaughter of the people by the British imperialists further acted as the major variables in shaping Bhagat Singh’s personality.
Due to his childhood configuration, Bhagat Singh took up the interest and habit of attending the public meetings held in Lyallpur and its’ surroundings by himself during the adolescent period, though his father always did not allow him to do so. One can observe the politically conscious mind of young Bhagat Singh as he studied the political developments of his time which was frequented by the strikes by the working people. He once wrote in a letter to his grandfather at the age of fourteen in 1921: “These days, the railway workers are preparing for a strike. It is possible that it may begin soon.”
Bhagat Singh was a compulsive letter writer during the adolescent period. We can mark a radical change in him in becoming a prolific and versatile writer gradually over the time of his revolutionary career.
Bhagat Singh also visited Gurdwara Nankana Sahib (Now in Pakistan) on 5th March 1921 at the age of fourteen, after the brutal killings of nearly 140 peaceful Sikh protestors by the corrupt priest Narain Das in collaboration with the British imperialist authorities took place on February 1921. Bhagat Singh wore a black turban to protest against this blameworthy incidence and collected a calendar commemorating the brutal killings. It was at this time that Bhagat Singh learned the Gurumukhi script and Punjabi language as well.
In 1920, Mahatma Gandhi’s call of non-cooperation came as a “ray of hope” at the time of utter tumult and confusion. Sensitive young boys across the country like fourteen-year old Bhagat Singh and fifteen-year old Chandrashekhar Azad at once left their schools and joined in this movement. But after the event of police-killing in Chauri-Chaura in Uttar Pradesh in February 1922, the movement was withdrawn by Gandhi and his promise of ‘Swaraj in one year’ ended up in a smoke. This left the young people disillusioned in the so-called ‘peaceful’ and reformist bourgeois methods and they re-initiated the radical-revolutionary movement. The failure of the non-cooperation movement thus provided a bold impetus to the whole revolutionary movement.
Bhagat Singh joined the National College in Lahore in the F.A. Class at the time of non-cooperation in 1921 at the age of fifteen years, after passing the ninth class from D.A.V. school and a pre-admission test, too. This college became a major turning point of his life. The whole atmosphere of the College was marked by a strong spirit of anti-imperialist revolutionary fervour. History and Politics were the favourite subjects of Bhagat Singh. It was here that he met some of his future comrades like Sukhdev, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Yashpal and others.
Bhagat Singh, being a good actor and singer, played the lead roles in all the historic dramas which were performed by the National Dramatic Club of his college as a part of its anti-imperialist programme.
Dwarkadas Library in Lahore became his main dwelling place during the college days. At that place, he was exposed to the rich revolutionary literature of the world – ranging from novels, poetries, political and philosophical pamphlets, statements, treatises etc. He developed the addiction of reading about the revolutionary struggles of the world. His mind started getting restructured philosophically and politically. College-mate Sukhdev turned into his best discussion-partner from that period onward.
Bhagat Singh was first enchanted by the example of Irish independence from British rule. After the unexpected failure of the non-cooperation movement (1920-22) led by bourgeois Gandhi, not only Bhagat Singh, but nearly all the disillusioned young people of those days were impressed by the recent news of Irish freedom. They came to know about the guerrilla tactics used by the Irish revolutionaries. The Indian revolutionaries decided to adopt the Irish tactics to gain freedom from colonial bondage. Later in 1924, Irish revolutionary Dan Breen’s autobiography My Fight for Irish Freedom was translated and published into Hindi by Bhagat Singh.
The Hindustan Republican Association/Army (Henceforth HRA) was created in 1923 by those young men who were greatly influenced by revolutionary Ireland. Shachindra Nath Sanyal, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Chandra Shekhar Azad and others who had left their faith in the bourgeois Gandhian ideology– belonged to this group. The HRA believed in establishing a federated republic of United States of India by means of an armed revolution.
Fearing the ever-growing manifestation of the revolutionary traits inside Bhagat Singh, his family members decided to “control him through marriage”! But by that time, Bhagat Singh was determined enough. He took the first step towards his revolutionary life by leaving his home in August/September 1923. He left a letter in the drawer of his father’s insurance office in Lahore, in which he wrote that his life had been dedicated to the noblest cause, that of the freedom of the country from imperialist rule. Therefore, there was no worldly desire that could lure him then. He was going out of the house to render service to the country, as he was pledged to do so at the time of his sacred thread ceremony by his grandfather Arjan Singh.
Even for the child Bhagat Singh earlier, marrying was not a great achievement at all; abolishing the imperialist rule was the only colossal achievement of which he dreamt of! And most importantly, he did not want to see another girl to be in sorrow like the two of his aunts.
After leaving home, Bhagat Singh went straight to Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, a working class city, and worked in different professions to sustain himself. He worked in Pratap press and learnt the art of journalism under the guidance of patriot Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi; he also worked as a newspaper vendor, served as a headmaster in National Muslim University School in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh, and also worked hardly for flood relief for some time. In Kanpur, he was introduced to the HRA fellows through Shachindra Nath Sanyal, whom he already knew in Lahore. HRA revolutionary Jogesh Chatterjee became his godfather in Kanpur. Bhagat Singh also met his future associates like Batukeshwar Dutta, Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Shiv Verma and others in Kanpur itself.
Walt Whitman’s poem ‘Europe, the 72d and 73d years of These States’ in Bhagat Singh’s handwriting, taken from his jail notebook (pp. 20-21)
Bhagat Singh joined the HRA in 1923-1924. He got back home after six months of separation after hearing the news of his grandmother’s illness and only after getting convinced that his family is not going to compel him for marriage anymore.
In 1924, the Gurudwara Jaito agitators were welcomed by seventeen-year old Bhagat Singh at his residence and the Singh family served langar or community food to honour them and Bhagat Singh also gave a fiery speech in defence of their movement. The Gurudwara Jaito agitation grew up on political grounds as a result of the dethronement of the patriotic king of Nabha. It consisted of the Akali Sikhs who had started the akhand path or uninterrupted reading of the holy book Guru Granth Sahib in reaction to the dethronement. The Britishers tried to disrupt this reading which resulted in a strong satyagraha, which is known as the Gurudwara Jaito agitation. Thus a political agitation took the shape of a religious agitation.
Because of his contacts with the Kirti revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh had also started writing for Kirti (Punjabi) magazine a series of bio-sketches of the Indian revolutionary martyrs. Later on in 1927-1928, Bhagat Singh contributed three essays on Communalism, Religious Fundamentalism and Casteism in the Kirti magazine.
The first warrants of arrest against him were issued in 1924 for serving community food to the Gurudwara Jaito agitators. He went underground at Delhi-Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Even after being suspected by the rulers, he distributed revolutionary leaflets, actively participated in political drama and agitation!
The warrants were withdrawn in 1925. Around this period of his life and at the age of sixteen-seventeen, Bhagat Singh expressed his mature mind by composing an essay in Hindi on the problem of Punjab’s language and script, for which he even won a prize.
The Kakori Train ‘Robbery’ was planned and performed by the HRA revolutionaries on 9th August 1925, though Bhagat Singh was not actively involved in that action. All the leading revolutionaries of the party except Chandra Shekhar Azad were arrested. Bhagat Singh attended the court proceedings of the Kakori case as a journalist from Akali paper, which was published from Amritsar in Punjab. Later on in December 1927, four of the Kakori accussed: Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Thakur Raushan Singh and Rajendranath Lahiri, were hanged.
This proved to be another major turning point of Bhagat Singh’s life. He himself had recollected:
“… up to that period [before the arrests of the Kakori revolutionaries] I was only romantic idealist revolutionary. Uptil then we were to follow.” [“Why I am an Atheist”, October 5-6, 1930]
The arrests of the leading HRA revolutionaries involved in the Kakori train ‘robbery’ changed everything in the political life of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. It was the time when Bhagat Singh had to rise up to the position of a leader of the party along with his comrades like Chandra Shekhar Azad. His mind was then boggled up with the question: Was not there anything ‘startling’ in our country that could have the strength to awaken the masses from their slumber?
According to Bhagat Singh, all the movements and rebellions till date have had failed to generate a long-lasting revolutionary spirit that could have brought forth popular mass movements which could have forced the British imperialists to leave the country. Bhagat Singh’s mind was in a state of helpless dilemma… romanticism and sheer mysticism was proving to be useless. Bhagat Singh believed that alienation of the revolutionary party from the masses was the chief reason behind the failure of the previous revolutionary movements.
Earlier in 1924, Bhagat Singh was taken to the Belgaon session of the Congress by his father Kishan Singh in order to make him understand the fact that studying is an essential need for becoming a leader like Subhash Chandra Bose or Jawaharlal Nehru. He was also introduced to revolutionary and mystical atheist Nirlamba Swami by his father.
In the Belgaon Congress, the debate between bourgeois leader Gandhi and HRA revolutionary Shachindra Nath Sanyal ensued on political questions. Bhagat Singh was keenly following the debate as a correspondent of Akali. He also began to hold serious political discussions with his comrades related to the problem-questions of the upcoming struggle. To say simply: he started seriously to prepare himself for the coming tomorrow.
Let us return to his state of dilemma in the post-Kakori phase in 1925-1926. He wrote:
“Now came the time to shoulder the whole responsibility. Due to the inevitable reaction, for some time, the very existence of the Party seemed impossible. Enthusiastic comrades – nay leaders – began to jeer at us. For some time I was afraid that someday I also might be convinced of the futility of our own programme.” [ibid.]
But then he might have re-remembered whatever he studied up till then, and what his father had told him about studying during the Belgaon Congress. That time of confusion and uncertainty proved to be the fertile ground for sowing the seed of his future revolutionary work based on scientific lines and thus it became a turning point of his revolutionary career. Bhagat Singh later declared:
“Study was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind. Study, to enable yourself to face the arguments advanced by opposition. Study, to arm yourself with arguments in favour of your cult. I began to study. My previous faith and convictions underwent a remarkable modification. The romance of the violent methods alone which was so prominent amongst our predecessors was replaced by serious ideas. No more mysticism, no more blind faith. Realism became our cult. Use of force justifiable when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity: non-violence as policy indispensable for all mass movements. So much about methods. The most important thing was the clear conception of the ideal for which we were to fight.” [ibid.]
One can now understand the complete transformation in his outlook. From the Gandhism of his childhood days he had made a fast transition to revolutionary anarchism and individual terrorism. But already by 1927-28, he began to move away from revolutionary anarchism and individual terrorism towards the ambit of revolutionary Marxian socialism, solely as the result of serious study in the post-Kakori phase. Because as soon as he assumed the leadership position in HRA, he got ample opportunity to study the various ideals of the world revolution due to the reason that there were no important activities in the field of action at that time.
Studying and reflecting in detail about the example of socialist Russia revolutionized him politically, and he started to gain a mature insight into the existing order of things. The words “freedom” and “revolution” started signifying a new meaning and a new spirit to him.
Let us hear directly from him about his study:
“I studied Bakunin, the anarchist leader, something of Marx the father of Communism, and much of Lenin, Trotsky and others, the men who had successfully carried out a revolution in their country. They were all atheists. Bakunin’s ‘God and State’, though only fragmentary, is an interesting study of the subject. Later still I came across a book entitled ‘Common Sense’ by Nirlamba Swami. It was only sort of mystic atheism. This subject became of utmost importance to me. By the end of 1926, I have been convinced as to the baselessness of the theory of existence of an almighty supreme being who created, guided and controlled the universe. I had given out this disbelief of mine. I began discussions on the subjects with my friends. I had become a pronounced atheist.” [ibid.]
Along with the development of a scientific socialist mindset in him, his blind attraction to Ireland was also in the process of reaching an end. Bhagat Singh said in a note to a letter written to young political workers in February 1931:
“The Irish parallel, I have to warn, does not apply in our case. In Ireland it was not sporadic terroristic activities she witnessed; it was a nationwide rising…
Ireland after all had to be satisfied with an unaccomplished movement. It has lessened the bonds but not released the Irish proletariat from the shackles of the Capitalist, native and foreign. Ireland is a lesson to India and a warning –warning how nationalistic idealism devoid of Revolutionary social basis although with all other circumstances in its favour, may lost itself in the shoals of a compromise with Imperialism. Should India, if she could imitate Ireland still?” [Notes to a Letter to Young Political Workers, February 2, 1931]
About the bourgeois-reformist Gandhian ideology, Bhagat Singh maintained:
“We should not have any illusion about the possibilities, failures and achievements of Congress movement, which should be, as it is to-day, be better stamped Gandhism. It does not stand for freedom avowedly; it is in favour of “Partnership” – a strange interpretation of what “complete independence” signifies. Its method is novel, and but for the helplessness of the people. Gandhism would gain no adherent for the Saint of Sabarmati. It has fulfilled and is fulfilling the role of an intermediate party of Liberal Radical combination fighting shy of reality of the situation and controlled mostly by men with stakes in the country, who prize their stakes with bourgeoisie tenacity, and it is bound to stagnate unless rescued from its own fate by an infusion of Revolutionary blood. It must be saved from its friends.” [ibid.]
His idea about terrorism can also be highlighted from the notes to the same letter and is as follows:
“Terrorism is a confession that the Revolutionary mentality has not penetrated down into the masses. It is thus a confession of our failure. In the initial stages it had its use; it shook the torpor out of body politic, enkindled the imagination of young intelligentsia, fired their spirit of self-sacrifice and demonstrated before the world and before our enemies the truth and the strength of the movement. But by itself it is not enough. Its history is a history of failure in every land – France, in Russia, in Balkan countries, in Germany, in Spain everywhere. It bears the germ of defeat within itself. The Imperialist knows that to rule 300 millions he must sacrifice 30 of his men annually .The pleasure of ruling may be bombed out or pistolled down, but the practical gain from exploitation will make him stick to his post. Even though arms were as readily available as we hope for, and were it pushed with a thoroughness unknown anywhere else, terrorism can at most force the Imperialist power to come to terms with party. Such terms a little more or less, must fall short of our objective – complete independence. Terrorism thus hope to wring out what Gandhism bids fair to attain – a compromise and an installment of reforms – a replacement of a white rule at Delhi by a brown rule. It is aloof from the life of the masses and once installed on the throne runs the risk of being petrified into a tyranny.” [ibid.]
Jagmohan Singh, nephew of Bhagat Singh, has remarked:
“Bhagat Singh as a revolutionary not only announced that ‘when he is convinced of a scientific principle, he lives it.’ He understood the basic scientific principles and applied these to the realities around and was thus able to effect the direction and outcome of the events qualitatively. As proclaimed by him that revolution is a social change and for that is only possible by a “Scientific, dynamic, social force“. We can see that his transcendence to a revolutionary was complete. Humanism is the basic motive force of a revolutionary. All his actions are motivated by his deep concern for the weakest person in the society and it is with his benefit in view.”[Bhagat Singh: Transcendence from Romantic to True Revolutionary]
What was Bhagat Singh’s idea of revolution?
“…revolution means the complete overthrow of the existing social order and its replacement with the socialist order. For that purpose our immediate aim is the achievement of power. As a matter of fact, the state, the government machinery is just a weapon in the hands of the ruling class to further and safeguard its interest. We want to snatch and handle it to utilise it for the consummation of our ideal, i.e., social reconstruction on new, i.e., Marxist, basis. For this purpose we are fighting to handle the government machinery. All along we have to educate the masses and to create a favourable atmosphere for our social programme. In the struggles we can best train and educate them.” [A Letter to Young Political Workers, February 2, 1931]
This proves that Bhagat Singh systematically began to understand the fact that India needed to have a proletarian revolution based on Marxist-Leninist lines to actually get rid of the imperialist system since the post-Kakori phase. It was only the revolutionary proletarian class which should become the leading force of the true revolutionary movement against imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. He comprehended:
“But if you say that you will approach the peasants and labourers to enlist their active support, let me tell you that they are not going to be fooled by any sentimental talk. They ask you quite candidly: what are they going to gain by your revolution for which you demand their sacrifices, 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! It is useless to appeal to his national sentiment. You can’t “use” him for your purpose; you shall have to mean seriously and to make him understand that the revolution is going to be his and for his good. The Revolution of the proletariat and for the proletariat… We require, to use the term so dear to Lenin – the “professional revolutionaries”. The whole-time workers who have no other ambitions or life-work except the revolution.” [ibid.]
To materialize the ideal of proletarian revolution, Bhagat Singh, along with his comrades, formed the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (henceforth NBS) in 1925-1926 based on the model of Mazzini and Garibaldi’s Young Italy. It was a mass-based organization which finalized its aim as socialism. The Punjab Students’ Union, Lahore Students’ Union, Bal Bharat Sabha and Bal Students’ Union acted as its’ other units. The NBS as a whole strived to organize the workers and peasants on a class basis; it also propagated anti-communal, anti-casteist and anti-fundamentalist revolutionary sentiments inside the people by organizing several public meetings. The NBS organized magic lantern shows, depicting the exploits of the revolutionary martyrs.
All these efforts were made solely to generate a long-lasting revolutionary spirit inside the masses, to prepare them for the final battle. Bhagat Singh made close acquaintance with the Moscow-returning Ghadrite revolutionaries during that period. Even while being in Kanpur, Bhagat Singh was already in touch with many communist leaders and working class activists of the country, including Muzaffar Ahmed, Shaukat Usmani and many others.
Investigating the ever-growing ‘seditious’ activities of the newborn NBS, the British authorities arrested Bhagat Singh in May 1927 on false charges in connection to the Dussehra Bomb Case. Actually the Britishers needed some sort of an ‘excuse’ to arrest the ‘dangerous’ revolutionary! He was released in July 1927 only after a bail bond of 60,000 rupees was paid by his father!
Bhagat Singh proceeded to re-organize the HRA and changed its name to ‘Hindustan SOCIALIST Republican Association/Army’ (Henceforth HSRA) on 8-9th September 1928 in Delhi, indicating a truly ideological development of the party agenda, which was obviously a consequence of the ideological development of the new young leader named Bhagat Singh. His comrades like Sukhdev and Bhagwati Charan Vohra are equally mentionable in this case, too.
Official Logo of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army
By that time, Bhagat Singh had wrote articles on different relevant socio-political issues in various magazines including ‘Kirti’, ‘Matwala’, ‘Maharathi’ and ‘Chand’ in a multiple number of assumed names like ‘Vidrohi’ (Rebel), ‘Ek Punjabi Yuvak’ (One Punjabi Youth), ‘Ranjit’ etc.
Whatever followed after the formation of HSRA is ‘history’ in its true sense. By means of some splendid political actions against the various institutions of the imperialist system, he came up to the political forefront of the country by winning the support of the masses and finally dedicated his life at the age of 23 years along with comrades Sukhdev and Rajguru to the cause of socialist revolution by getting hanged on 23rd March 1931. In this way he became Shaheed-e-Azam, the king of all revolutionary martyrs!
Bhagat Singh created a legend and became a household name that reverberated in all the nooks and crannies of the country- from rural areas to urban spaces. The immortal revolutionary socialist slogan: “Inquilab Zindabad” (Long Live Revolution) became popular inside the masses to an unimaginable extent, owing to his efforts. Bhagat Singh, like the other great revolutionaries of the world, was nothing but the product of his times. Still Bhagat Singh is, undoubtedly, an eternal revolutionary. The few articles, letters and statements which he composed within his revolutionary life hold magnificent relevance inside such a turbulent time. The war against all sorts of exploitation in which he participated continues even today.
“In the very near future the final battle shall be fought and final settlement arrived at. The days of capitalist and imperialist exploitation are numbered. The war neither began with us nor is it going to end with our lives. It is the inevitable consequence of the historic events and the existing environments.”
From Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru’s Last Petition to the Punjab Governor,
20th March, 1931
LONG LIVE REVOLUTION!
DOWN WITH IMPERIALISM!
1931. Singh, Bhagat. “Why I am an Atheist”. Lala Feroze Chand ed. The People (pp. 195 – 201). September 27, 1931. Lahore
2013. Lal, Chaman. Understanding Bhagat Singh. New Delhi: Aakar Books
2007. The Jail Notebook and Other Writings. Chaman Lal ed. New Delhi: LeftWord Books
2006. Singh, Jagmohan. “Bhagat Singh: Transcendence from Romantic to True Revolutionary”. www.shahidbhagatsingh.org
2014. Waraich, Malwinder Jit Singh. The Eternal Rebel. Chadigarh: Unistar Books
Colophon: Chaman Lal