Fight out the scourge of ‘Fanatic Nationalism’
Celebrating birth anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh,
Particularly, in 1980’s, since the toppling of some socialist states and revival of neo-colonial hegemony around the world, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, along with Che Guevara a leading revolutionary of the Cuban Revolution, and his death at the hands of American imperialism on October 9, 1967, have become a powerful beacon in the anti-imperialist and anti-fascist struggles. Bhagat Singh was only 23 when he was hanged.
Shaheed Bhagat Singh remembered on 114th birth anniversary.
Being a man of wisdom and a well-read person, Bhagat Singh knew that Imperialism leads to social discrimination, damages the cultures, and strips countries off their natural resources leaving nothing for the natives; while a fanatic is a diehard sectarian and dogmatist who bind others to a particular religious practice through coercion and fear. As Bhagat Singh had the capacity and courage to rethink and brood over the past, two of the six rules of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) drafted by him were: “To have nothing to do with communal bodies or other parties which disseminate communal ideas” and “to create the spirit of general toleration among the public considering religion as a matter of personal belief of man and to act upon the same fully.”
Secularism was indeed an article of faith with Bhagat Singh all his life. In the words of an eminent historian Bipan Chandra, “More than any other contemporary leader, with the exception of Gandhi ji, 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 imperialism and colonialism.”
When Indians won their freedom from British rule in 1947, they established a pluralistic democracy based on secular principles, embracing their diversity. But the Bhartiya Janta Party’s (BJP) goal has been to redefine India according to its majority Hindu faith. The BJP’s brand of Hindu nationalism, shuns the word ‘secularism.’ Their extreme form of nationalism is continually eroding the composite culture of India. Religious minorities, particularly, such as Christians and Muslims have lived under sporadic attacks in some parts of India, over the past two decades.
As being practised today, Hindutva’s model of nationalism is narrow, impoverished and anti-plural. The other aspects of Hindutva are deeply anti-democratic–crushing dissent, calling critics as anti-national or Urban Naxal or worse, murdering authors and intellectuals because they opposed the idea of politicised Hindutva. As a result, disaffection is rife among students, sections of women, Muslims and other minorities against the various detrimental policies of the administration. There has been a furore of protests on all these issues.
(Ideology of ‘Hindutva’ is based on a booklet ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ authored by V.D. Savarkar, in 1923. Sarvakar includes all Indian religions in the term “Hinduism” and outlines his vision of a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu Nation) as “Akhand Bharat” (Undivided India), stretching across the entire Indian subcontinent.)
Consequently, in present-day India, ‘Hindutava’ politics has been charting discourse of nationalism in its own image. Today’s ultranationalists have turned more aggressive and violent in searching and punishing anti-nationals, as per their definition. Unfortunately, present, distorted version of nationalism stands at crossroads with democratic values of dissent and freedom.
Evidently, Bhagat Singh’s sense of nationalism differs from fanatic sense of politicised nationalism? His idea of nationalism was very different compared to his other contemporaries as his idea of nationalism cuts across caste, creed, race, religion and colour. His idea of nationalism was a holistic combination of patriotism, socialism and secularism. He advocated social ownership of natural resources and industries along with socialist tendencies of the State. And his vision of a progressive society was based on social justice, welfare, plurality and equality. Nationalism for Bhagat Singh meant to be free from all sorts of exploitation, injustice, may it be rich vs. poor, higher caste vs. lower caste etc. Consequently, his sense of nationalism had nothing common with leaders such as Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Lala Lajpat Rai who leaned to the right and associated religion as the basis of nationalism to fight imperialism.
In a nutshell, Bhagat Singh’s sense of Nationalism developed around the welfare for the poor, peasants, labourers and the down trodden. He was inspired by the socialist ideas of Vladimir Lenin and October revolution of 1917.
Secondly, Bhagat Singh, who became a martyr for the sake of his motherland had a comprehensive notion about freedom. He was not carried away by the conventional currents during the freedom struggle. For him freedom from the colonial rule was not an end in itself. He was unique as he took a step forward in thinking about what next after freedom from colonial bondage i.e. equal distribution of wealth, end of communalism and other barriers where as many of his contemporaries found short sighted with an only objective of seeking political freedom from the British rule. He spoke about freedom in its true sense where there was no socio-economic disparity amongst the countrymen, where caste oppression did not steal the rights of the vulnerable and where there was no bloodshed in the name of religion. He was against the right wing freedom struggle of Hindu Mahasabha which differentiated among Indians. He subscribed to socialism for redistribution of wealth. He declared himself an atheist and working for the fellow human beings was his sole motto without allegiance to any particular
God or religion.
By clarion call of’ Inquilab Zindabad’, Down with Imperialism, and lucid writings, commitment to revolution, rationality and atheism, Bhagat Singh had great impact upon the mind and hearts of peoples of India. We learn from him that true nationalism is to understand the problems a nation is facing, to solve them and keep its citizens under a unifying umbrella of welfare, freedom, equality and pluralism. In 21st century only true values of humanity can be the basis of Nationalism.
Bhagat Singh’s vision shaped the times in which he lived. He and his comrades belonged to the current of armed anti-imperialist fighters. Their truly distinctive feature was that they were moving ideologically towards socialism. Besides being conscious of the need for social justice and the overthrow of the caste system, they were uncompromising enemies of communalism in all its forms, along with opponents of the bourgeois-landlord class strategy and tactics.
Gurjit Kaur leads a jatha of women from Hoshiarpur to Singhu border.
Besides propounding revolutionary kind of nationalism, he also talked about emancipation of ‘dalits’, farmers and workers. Views expressed in his article on ‘Achoot Da Sawal’, had a major impact in shaping Dalit consciousness. He believed that “….all humans are equal without distinctions of birth or vocation……The harsh truth is that they are poor, remove their poverty and they shall be clean. Don’t we find that the poor even among the upper castes are no less unclean? (Bhagat Singh, ‘Achoot Da Swaal’, KIRTI magazine, 1929)
Similarly, as of today, there is hardly a political party or government that fails to invoke Bhagat Singh’s name and fame. His name reverberates virtually at every protest. So, it was inevitable that his face would appear at the ongoing farmers’ agitation, which has also resurrected his uncle Ajit Singh, the torchbearer of the ‘Pagdi Sambhal Jatta’ movement of 1907 that mobilised the peasantry to fight for its rights. Further, it was not unusual that, on Mahila Kisan Diwas, January 18, Gurjit Kaur Dhatt, the 68-year-old niece of Bhagat Singh, lead a jatha of 150 women from Ambala Jattan inHoshiarpur for the Singhu border, as part of the nationwide initiative of women to express solidarity with the protesters. Gurjit Kaur is a daughter of Bhagat Singh’s sister Bibi Parkash Kaur. [Tribune News Service, Jalandhar, January 18, 2021]
Waging a radical agrarian revolution, peasantry is up in-arms protesting against the three pro-corporate Farmer Ordinances/ Laws enacted by the Narendra Modi led sectarian BJP regime on 3rd June, 2020. Since they launched the agitation in November last, massive resistance has been built up by them against the anti-farmer laws and the fascist designs of the ruling classes. Celebrating Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s 114th birth anniversary, members of the ‘Samyukat Kishan Morcha’ vowed to be guided by the martyr’s progressive thought and ideals.
Under the socio-political aura of global Far-Right conservative dominance, today’s perception of nationalism is in deep sense of chaos with one version pitted against the other. Nationalism has been reduced to a political tool to garner votes and notes; while Bhagat Singh’s nationalism was selfless. It was made of different ideas which can be labelled as ‘progressive nationalism’.It accorded high value to introspection. Bhagat Singh argued that there are many inequalities in India created by emphasizing the religious, ethnic, and cultural differences. The idea of India for him was to give enough freedoms to every citizen to practice their own religion or traditions. He also believed that removal of inequalities and treating everyone, rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim, man or woman, etc. should be the first idea of India. Only and only, this was his ‘nationalism’ and this was his ‘patriotism.’ It was universal and not confined by boundaries of religion, caste, race, creed or even nation.
Therefore, with the increasing aggressiveness of American imperialismbearing down on the world; 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, casteist 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 40 years, establishes beyond doubt that ideas and vision of Bhagat Singh still carry weight. It’s irony that those who were responsible for above-said communal frenzy are appropriating Bhagat Singh’s name and fame to meet their political ends.
Bhagat Singh is an extremely powerful symbol of the freedom struggle and of revolutionary change. He remains a special source of inspiration to the students and youth, who are facing serious problems of education and employment. 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 must constantly try to imbibe and develop.
The central and state governments should uphold the spirit of the Indian Constitution and promote religious tolerance. For this we need a stronger political will rather than mere words. Taking a lead from the vision of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, it’s hoped that struggling masses of India would counter racial-cum-sectarian agenda of the fanatic nationalists with direct activism.
[NOTE: Progressive Peoples Foundation of Edmonton had scheduled a Seminar-cum-multilingual poetic symposium, on Sept 25, to celebrate Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s 114th birth anniversary. But, all of a sudden, due to a come-back of pandemic-19, program had to be postponed. We hope to re-schedule the event in the near future. Board of PPFE]
*Editor Asian Times