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- GS 1 || History || MODERN HISTORY 1 (Mainstream Movement) || Revolutionary Movement
Why in the news?
Shaheed Diwas, also called Martyrs’ Day, is celebrated in India on March 23 every year. On this day, Indians pay tributes to the people who had lost their lives in the struggle for India’s independence
Bhagat Singh: A brief introduction
- Bhagat Singh was born into a Sikh family in 1907 in Lyallpur District, present-day Pakistan.
- Singh’s family members were involved in the freedom struggle and he was drawn towards the Indian independence movement from a very young age.
- Initially, he supported Mahatma Gandhi and the Non-Cooperation Movement.
- However, when Gandhi withdrew the movement in the wake of the Chauri Chaura incident, Bhagat Singh turned to revolutionary nationalism.
Bhagat Singh’s contribution to National Freedom Movement:
- In 1926, he founded the Naujawan Bharat Sabha. The aim of the organisation was to encourage revolution against British rule by rallying the peasants and workers.
- Later in 1928, he established the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) along with Sukhdev, Chandrashekhar Azad and others.
- He along with his friends also attempted to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai by killing the police official J P Saunders. This was known famously as “Lahore Conspiracy Case”
- On 8th April 1929, Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw a bomb in the Central Assembly at Delhi, from the Visitors’ Gallery. They also threw pamphlets and raised pro-revolutionary slogans.
- Nobody was hurt in the incident, and it was never their intention to cause physical harm to anyone.
- Bhagat Singh was the mastermind behind the incident, and he was inspired by Auguste Vaillant, a French anarchist, who was executed by France for a similar incident in Paris.
- In the ensuing trial, both Singh and Dutt were sentenced to transportation for life.
- In the meanwhile, the murder case of J P Saunders also came up and Singh was linked to that case as well.
- Bhagat Singh was arrested and charged in the Saunders murder case, along with Rajguru, Sukhdev and others.
- In the Lahore prison where they were lodged, the young leaders started a hunger strike demanding better treatment as they were supposed to be political prisoners.
- The trio was ordered to be hanged on 24 March 1931 but the sentence was carried out a day earlier at the Lahore Jail.
- At the time of his martyrdom, Bhagat Singh was barely 23 years old
Bhagat Singh: A personality with vision
- Bhagat Singh is valorised for his martyrdom, and rightly so, but in the ensuing enthusiasm we often forgot, or consciously ignore his contributions as an intellectual and a thinker.
- He not only sacrificed his life, like many others freedom fighters, but he also had an idea of independent India.
- During the past few years, it has almost become a routine to appropriate Bhagat Singh as a nationalist icon, while not much is talked about his nationalist vision.
- Bhagat Singh was a voracious reader, who devoured anything new which was published on poverty, religion, society and global struggles against imperialism.
- He seriously debated and discussed what he read and also wrote extensively on issues of caste, communalism and conditions of the working class and peasantry.
- He left behind an intellectual legacy, a huge collection of political and social writings on burning issues of even contemporary importance like caste, communalism, language, and politics.
Salient features of his vision:
- Non-sectarian and non-divisive: He stood for a non-sectarian and egalitarian world. He never espoused any divisive idea in his short life.
- Firm commitment to Socialism: He visualised an India where 98 percent will rule instead of elite two percent. His azaadi was not limited to the leaving of the British, instead he desired azaadi from poverty, azaadi from untouchability, azaadi from communal strife and azaadi from any other discrimination/exploitation.
- Positive Nature of Social Revolution: Bhagat Singh was committed to ‘Inquilab‘ or revolution but it was not merely a political revolution he aimed at. He wanted a social revolution to break the age old discriminatory practices.
- Political ideology: He regarded Karl Marx and Lenin as his political gurus and guides and was firmly committed to the idea of positive socialism.
- Intellectual mettle: He left behind a rich legacy as a journalist who worked for Kirti, Arjun and Pratap, well known papers of their times.
- We know a little about his vocation as a scribe and the issues he dealt with in his articles. These focused on the various aspects of the nationalist struggle, combating communalism, untouchability, students and politics, world brotherhood etc.
- Communal amity but non-appeasement: Bhagat Singh and his Sabha regarded communal amity as central to their political agenda but like the Congress, it did not believe either in the appeasement of all religions or in raising such slogans as Allah o Akbar, Sat Sri Akal and Bande Mataram to prove their secularism. On the contrary, they raised just two slogans, Inquilab Zindabad and Hindustan Zindabad, hailing the revolution and the country.
- Views on atheism: One of the most profound articles by him called ‘Why I am an Atheist’ was written while he was in jail. The article was tinged with a strong rebuttal of blind faith and a zealous defence of reason.
- Separation of Religion and Politics: Bhagat Singh was convinced that religion is a tool in the hands of exploiters who keep the masses in constant fear of God for their own interests. The revolutionaries of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) realised that all moral ideals and religions were useless for an empty stomach and for him only food was God.
Relevance of Bhagat Singh’s ideology:
The Bhagat singh’s vision is spread across the themes which include socialism, communalism, patriotism, journalistic ethics, religion and politics, governance etc. which are considerably relevant even today.
- On religion: In an article on ‘Religion and our freedom struggle’ published in Kirti in May 1928, Bhagat Singh grappled with the role of religion in politics, an issue that haunts us even today.
- He talked of Tolstoy’s division of religion into three parts: essentials of religion, philosophy of religion and rituals of religion.
- He concluded that if religion means blind faith by mixing rituals with philosophy then it should be blown away immediately but if we can combine essentials with some philosophy then only religion may be a meaningful idea.
- On ethics in politics: Bhagat Singh needs to be invoked even today to bring about changes he yearned for.
- Expressing his anguish in the second article, he held some of the political leaders and the press responsible for inciting communalism.
- He believed that ‘there were a few sincere leaders, but their voice is easily swept away by the rising wave of communalism. In terms of political leadership, India had gone totally bankrupt’.
- On journalistic ethics: Bhagat Singh felt that journalism used to be a noble profession, which had now fallen from grace.
- Now they give bold and sensational headlines to incite people to kill each other in the name of religion.
- He categorically spelt out the duties of journalists and then also accused them of dereliction of this duty.
- On religious discrimination and communalism: In the June 1928 issue of the Kirti, Bhagat Singh wrote two articles titled Achoot ka Sawaal (On Untouchability) and Sampradayik Dangeaurunka Ilaj (Communal riots and their solutions).
- What Bhagat Singh wrote in 1928 looks relevant even today, which unfortunately proves how precious little has been done to resolve these questions.
- On religious conversions: For him, this discrimination was directly responsible for conversions, which was a burning issue even in the 1920s.
- Despite his anti-colonialist fervour, he did not just condemn the missionaries nor did he instigate Hindus to kill and burn all those who had accepted the new faith.
- We should remember Bhagat Singh with pride and reflect on the alternative framework of governance he had in mind where social and economic justice – and not terrorism or violence – would be supreme.
- Many of us may not find his commitment to socialism very attractive in the changing era of globalisation, yet his concern for the socio- economically deprived sections still commands attention.
- Moreover, his passionate desire to rise above narrow caste and religious considerations was never as crucial as it is today.
- Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary legacy needs to be remembered in these rancorous times, both in India and Pakistan.
- He fought most of his battles, intellectual as well as otherwise, in Lahore, till he was hanged on the outskirts of the city.
- Singh’s intellectual inheritance is our collective memory and should not be divided by political borders.