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Bhagat Singh remains a powerful Symbol of the struggle against Imperialism

Dr. P.R.Kalia

Saheed-E-Azam Bhagat Singh remains a powerful symbol of the ongoing struggle of the people of India against imperialism, capitalism and communalism. Today, with sections of the Indian ruling classes openly attempting to undo their legacy by reinforcing the divisive and retrograde agenda of fascism, a Bhagat Singh is needed to put the country on right track.

For his ideals, ninety years ago, Bhagat Singh along with Rajguru and Sukhdev was hanged on March 23, 1931, at Lahore jail, by the British imperialism. The life and works of Bhagat Singh has been an inspiration to all those who cherish secularism and socialism – ideals for which
Singh and his comrades fought valiantly to the end. This year, especially, martyrs Day had an added significance as fighting the barbaric scourge of
imperialism, farmers at Delhi borders and all other protest sites across Punjab, marked the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev highlighting the spoils of fascist government. Bhagat Singh’s views on exploitation of farmers and labourers were highlighted at all the protest dharnas. Further, shaking the BJP regime to its roots, motorcycle marches were taken out in many areas including Khatkar Kalan, Sunam and many other places. Decades ago, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev had highlighted the exploitation of farmer’s. Hence, even after more than 90 years they were martyred, we feel the need of such leaders as youth icons for the country.
While the protests in Punjab against 3 pro-corporate farm laws had started in June, but they had picked up in September after Parliament cleared the law and later on September 27 as they got the President’s nod —incidentally, it was September 27, when 114 years ago, Bhagat Singh was
born in the village Banga in Lyallpur district, now in Pakistan. From the very beginning, the name of Bhagat Singh had secured a permanent place in the minds of the Indian people. Even, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the official historian of the Congress, wrote that “it is no exaggeration to say that at that moment Bhagat Singh’s name was as widely known all over India and was as popular as Gandhi’s.” Also, a confidential Intelligence Bureau report of the British government, Terrorism in India (1917-1936) declared about Bhagat Singh, that “for a time, he bade fair to oust Mr. Gandhi as the foremost political figure of the day.” Bhagat Singh has always been so near and dear to the people of India that even political parties who practise capitalist exploitation do appropriate his name and fame, of course for their political ends!
The freedom of India from nearly two centuries of oppressive and exploitative British colonial rule was the result of a complex mosaic of different currents that coexisted. They were: the current of armed struggles and peasant revolts that began with the Sannyasi-Fakir rebellion of 1760; non-violent upsurges of Indian people against the British rule under the Indian National Congress (INC), led by Mahatma Gandhi; The Communist Party of India (CPI), which was formed in 1920, putting forth the goal of socialism; Bhagat Singh and his comrades belonged to the armed anti-imperialist fighters. Their struggle against British imperialism had a distinctive feature. Besides, there was a fifth current that was socially reactionary. It was represented by the Muslim League on the one hand, and by the Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Hindu Mahasabha on the other. In a way, particularly the 5th current, helped British imperialism to execute its ‘Divide and Rule’ policy. It led to constant communal clashes and eventually resulted in the violent partition of India.

[It’s no accident that the Muslim League came into being in 1906, the Hindu Mahasabha formed in 1915 and the RSS came into existence in 1925; And according to the Simon Commission Report, 112 major communal riots broke out in the country between 1922 and 1927.]

Therefore, amongst the thousands of armed freedom fighters, it was Bhagat Singh and his associates who were ideologically moving towards the Marxian socialism. They were also conscious of the need for social justice, economic equality and the overthrow of the caste system. They were uncompromising enemies of communalism in all its forms and opposed the bourgeois landlord class. Bhagat Singh’s writings saw the workers and peasants as the only truly revolutionary forces upon which the revolution could be based.

Attempts have been made, especially by the capitalist ruling classes, to distort what he really stood for; while the capitalists (Congress & the present-day BJP brand parties) project Bhagat Singh as a nationalist patriot, the Maoists attempt to assimilate the ideas of Bhagat Singh with their own. [Patriotism means devotion to one’s country, while, nationalism also stands
for devotion to a nation, but it also includes ‘exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations.’ This exclusionary aspect is not shared by patriotism.]

Here, the question arises what was the need for Bhagat Singh to remain outside the main current of socialism, which was then represented by the Communist Party of India? Indeed, the thoughts and writings of Bhagat Singh throw sufficient light on the failure of contemporary communists to
influence more of the younger generations. Under the direct command of Stalinists, since the mid 1920s, CPI’s leadership convinced itself more and more that the liberation struggle was being fought as part of the bourgeois democratic stage of the revolution. The whole focus thus remained towards pushing the national bourgeoisie more towards the left, instead of fighting against them for power.

Bhagat Singh was opposed to this theory. For him, it didn’t matter what country the ruling class came from. Colonialism and imperialism were not merely the rule of foreign capitalists to which all social classes of the subjugated nation are equally hostile to, but were the direct rule of world
capitalists as a whole upon the working masses of all nations. In his writings, Singh rejected class collaboration. As such, rather than follow the CPI, they drew their inspiration from the action and programme of the Ghadr party. He wrote the following in “Outlines of a Revolutionary Programme: A Letter to Young Political Activists.”

“If you are planning to approach the workers and peasants for active participation, then I would like to tell you that they cannot be fooled through some sort of sentimental rhetoric. They will clearly ask you what your revolution would give them, for which you are demanding sacrifice
from them. If in place of Lord Reading, Sir Purushottam Dass Thakur becomes the representative of the government, how would people be affected by this? How would a peasant be affected if Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru comes in place of Lord Irwin? The appeal to nationalist sentiments is a farce. You cannot use them for your work.”

Bhagat Singh also refused to collaborate with the programme of conciliation with national capitalists and remained consistent on this political position his entire life. Exposing Gandhi he wrote:

Bhagat Singh also refused to collaborate with the programme of conciliation with national capitalists and remained consistent on this political position his entire life. Exposing Gandhi he wrote:

“He (Gandhi) knew from the very beginning that his movement would end into some sort of compromise. We hate this lack of commitment…. What is the motive of Congress? I said that the present movement will end in some sort of compromise or total failure. I have said so because in my opinion the real revolutionary forces have not been invited to join the movement. This
movement is being conducted only on the basis of a few middle class shopkeepers and a few capitalists. Both of these classes, specifically the capitalists, cannot venture to endanger their property. The real armies of the revolution are in villages and factories — the peasants and workers. But our bourgeois leaders don’t dare take them along, nor can they do so.”

Singh’s words found their endorsement when after the Bombay action of weavers, Gandhi, the leader of the national bourgeoisie, expressed fear of the revolutionary class by saying that the

“…use of the proletariat for political purpose is extremely dangerous”.

He was convinced of the reactionary character of the national capitalists, so he had no desire to fight alongside them

Evidently, for Bhagat Singh, the revolution was a socialist revolution in which the power must fall to the hands of the working class, with the peasantry as its ally. He never dreamt of a bourgeois republic, and never allowed the possibility of sharing power between the workers and peasants on one side and capitalists on the other.

Bhagat Singh brought forward vivid explanations enriching the revolutionary theory and experience of his time. An incident vividly throws light on Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary character. When the case of hanging Bhagat Singh and his comrades was in its final stage, on September 20, 1930, Bhagat Singh’s father Kishan Singh made a written request to the Tribunal, saying that there were many facts to prove his son was innocent of Saunder’s murder and that his son be given an opportunity to prove his innocence. At this, Bhagat Singh was infuriated and wrote an open letter to his father on October 4, 1930, which was printed in the Tribune:

My life is not so precious, at least to me, as you may probably think it to be. It is not at all worth buying at the cost of my principles. …We had adopted a common policy and we shall stand to the last, no matter how dearly we have to pay individually for it. Father, I am quite perplexed. …Let me be candid. I feel as though I have been stabbed in the back. … I know you have devoted your life to the cause of Indian independence, but why, at this moment, have you displayed such a weakness? I cannot understand…. I request you to publish this letter.
Your loving son,
Bhagat Singh

His similar writings on various topics and his letters to his colleagues reveal his growing reliance on the Marxist outlook. It is no surprise that he declared himself an atheist. His study of Communist literature, particularly of Lenin, led him to understand that India’s struggle for freedom was part of the international working class’s struggle for socialism. At the same time, he was also influenced by the sacrifice of Kartar Singh Sarabha, one of the organisers of the Ghadr Party. Sarabha used political propaganda to penetrate the armed forces

and planned to cause a revolt to uproot the colonial regime, but was imprisoned at the age of 19 on the charges of sedition and waging war against the empire. He was hanged on November 16, 1915, at Lahore jail.

The hearing of the Assembly Bomb Case began on May 7, 1929. Entering the court, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt raised slogans of ‘Long Live Revolution’, ‘Long Live the Proletariat’ and ‘Down with Imperialism.’ Through these three slogans, Bhagat Singh and his comrades summed up their entire programme. In their historic statement before the court on June
6, 1929, Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt, while defending their action of throwing bombs in the Central Assembly, also gave an inspiring account of what they meant by the word Revolution.

“Revolution does not necessarily involve sanguinary strife, nor is there any place in it for individual vendetta. It is not the cult of the bomb and the pistol. By ‘Revolution’ we mean that the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice must change….For this capture of state power is necessary. The state apparatus is now in the hands of the privileged class.”

Then, in February 1931, Bhagat Singh, inviting the youth to embrace Marxism, pointed out that;

“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 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.”

And the Statement drafted by Bhagat Singh, launched a scathing attack on imperialism, which can well apply even to the present situation in the world:

“Imperialism is the last stage of development of insidious exploitation of man by man and of nation by nation. The imperialists, with a view to further their piratical designs, not only commit judicial murders through their law courts but also organize general massacres, devastations and
other horrible crimes like war. Under the garb of custodians of ‘law and order’, they break peace, create disorder, kill people and commit all conceivable crimes.”

All of this is happening in today’s world, especially at the hands of US, the custodians of Imperialism. Also this is happening in present-day India under the umbrella of democracy!
His writings were a befitting reply to opponents and his followers. In his book ‘The Trial of Bhagat Singh – Politics of Justice’ A.G. Noorani’s words aptly describe Bhagat Singh’s mind and heart: “What distinguished Bhagat Singh from all others, besides his courage, patriotism and commitment to moral values, was his intellectual strength. A voracious reader, he was also
willing to rethink. He had the capacity to brood and to torment his soul over the past. That led him to renounce terrorism, and to advise the young to follow suit; indeed, to counsel moderation and readiness to compromise. ….”
Similarly, Prof. Bipan Chandra, a renowned historian, rightly wrote that,

“Bhagat Singh was already at a young age a giant of an intellectual and thinker.” The reason being that Bhagat Singh read and write in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English. His jail notebooks collect excerpts from 108 authors and 43 books including prominently Karl Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Thomas Paine, Upton Sinclair, Victor Hugo, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky,
Spinoza, Bertrand Russell, John Stuart Mill, Kautsky, Bukharin, Burke, Lenin, Ghalib, Danton, Omar Khayyam, Tagore, Herbert Spencer and Rousseau. These books that Bhagat Singh read contributed to making him a rationalist and a socialist. According to Bhagat Singh’s biographer, M.M. Juneja, Bhagat Singh read nearly 50 books during his schooling, about
200 from his college days to the day of his arrest in 1921, and, pproximately 300 during his imprisonment of 716 days from April 8, 1929, to March 23, 1931.

He was the first revolutionary to express clearly his rejection of religion in his article, Why I am an atheist, written in prison.
His area of special interest was the history of revolutions. Secularism was, indeed, an article of faith with Bhagat Singh all his life. He understood the danger that communalism posed to Indian society and Indian nationalism. He often warned his comrades and followers that communalism was as big an enemy as colonialism…Religion, said Bhagat Singh, was the private concern of a person. He also believed that people must free themselves from the mental bondage of religion and superstition.


Therefore, with the increasing aggressiveness of American imperialism bearing down on the world– with millions of workers, peasants, agricultural labourer’s and even sections of the middle classes becoming prime targets of the rapacious strategy of imperialist globalization; with
the economic and political sovereignty of the majority of countries being threatened by the worst form of neo-colonialism; and with all kinds of communal and terrorist forces out to dynamite the unity and integrity of the communities at large– Bhagat Singh has a special relevance to contemporary India and especially underdeveloped countries at large.

A big toll of human life taken by the communal frenzy let free at Ayodhya, Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Punjab and in many other places in the last 35-40 years, establishes beyond doubt that ideas and vision of Bhagat Singh still carry weight. It’s irony that those who were responsible for communal frenzy are appropriating Bhagat Singh’s name and fame to meet their
political ends.

There is also much to learn from the magnificent qualities of character that Bhagat Singh displayed through his short life of 23 years. His courage, sacrifice, integrity, determination, studiousness, humility and comradeship have been described in the memoirs written by his comrades and by other contemporaries. These are the traits that we all must constantly try to
imbibe and develop, first within ourselves and then among others.

Thus, Bhagat Singh’s true contribution lay in trying to formulate a revolutionary philosophy and an effective course of action, taking into account the struggle of colonial subjection. Singh and his associates made a major leap in widening the definition and scope of REVOLUTION. It was no
longer termed with violence and mere militancy but beyond social order. It is tagged as end exploitation of man by man.
On March 23, around seven in the evening, amidst slogans of ‘Down with Imperialism’ and ‘Long Live Revolution’, the three martyrs – Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev – attained revolutionary immortality. The final song on their lips was:

Dil se niklegi na markar bhi watan ki ulfat,

Meri mitti se bhi khushbue watan aaegi
(Love for the motherland will not leave my heart even after the death. Its fragrance will still be there in my dusty remains.)

[Bhagat Singh was born to Vidyavati and Kishan Singh on September 28, 1907, in the village Banga in Lyallpur district, now in Pakistan. His original village Khatkar Kalan is in Jalandhar district. He hailed from a patriotic family.]

Editor, Asian Times, Edmonton

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