Sir Horace Williamson, Director of the Intelligence Bureau, wrote about Bhagat’s popularity years after the executions, “His photograph was on sale in every city and township and for a time (Bhagat Singh) rivalled in popularity of Mr Gandhi himself.”
This 28th September marked the 105th birth anniversary of one of south Asia’s iconic revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh. His heroic struggle for a revolutionary change and over throw of the British raj through a militant struggle has been a source of inspiration for generations. Bhagat was executed by the imperialist despots in the wee hours of 23rd March 1931 at the tender age of twenty-three. But he had left a mark in the annals of history of the class struggle in the region. His urge to understand Marxist theory and passionately educate his comrades in prison and during intense activities to develop as revolutionary cadres is a hallmark of his relentless struggle.
Although he has been dubbed as a nationalist and an anarchist by the historians and the analysts of the elites and the reformists, he was none of that at the end of his short but eventful life. Even when he was called up from his death cell for the gallows he was reading Lenin’s ‘State and Revolution’. The sort of independence that was achieved after a bloody partition, in which 2.7 million innocent souls perished, would have abhorred Bhagat Singh. The independence sought by him and his comrades of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) was spelt out in one of his epic speech during the peak of their struggle. It has been portrayed superbly in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s brilliant film, ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’. He says, “We don’t want independence! We don’t want independence where the English rulers are replaced by the local elites. We don’t want freedom where this wretched system of exploitation and slavery continues. We are striving for an independence that would transform the whole system thorough revolutionary socialism.”
Bhagat Singh who was initially a diehard follower of Mohandas Gandhi had revolted against him when the later had called off the quit India movement after the killing of soldiers of the British Indian army in a clash with a procession of youth and workers demanding the eviction of the imperialist rulers from India. Bhagat Singh was deeply influenced by the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in the Soviet Union and he diligently studied the works of Marxism and contemporary revolutionists. Through his experience he came to the conclusion that Gandhi’s politics was to preserve the system imposed by the British colonialists rather than its overthrow. He had also read the programme of the Communist International, which was adopted at the second congress and published in September 1920. On the Indian situation the programme stated, “Tendencies like Ghandi’s in India, thoroughly imbued with religious conceptions, idealise the most backward and economically most reactionary forms of social life. They see the solution of the social problem not in proletarian socialism, but in a reversion to these backward forms, preaching passivity and repudiating the class struggle, and in the process of the development of the revolution they become transformed into an openly reactionary force. Ghandi’s is more and more becoming an ideology directed against mass revolution. It must be strongly combated by communism.”
Gandhi later came out in his true colours revealing on the side of which class he really was. On 15th January 1948 he stressed the ownership of the capitalists and the landlords: “I will never be a participant in snatching away the properties from their owners and you should know that I will use all my influence and authority against the class war.” Bhagat on the other hand was a fervent torch bearer of proletarian struggle. He rejected the prejudices of caste, creed, nationality, race, gender and of course religion. One of his most celebrated works is pamphlet, ‘Why I am an atheist’. There is an intense and controversial debate going on especially in India on Gandhi’s role in the conviction and execution of Bhagat Singh along with his comrades Raj Guru and Sukhdev. However on Bhagat’s execution, Gandhi remarked in his characteristic hypocrisy, “The government certainly had the right to hang these men. However, there are some rights which do credit to those who posses them only if they are enjoyed in name only.” Ghandi and the British viceroy Lord Irwin signed the Gandhi- Irwin Pact on 05 March 1931 and yet the slayings were carried out in weeks after the signing of the pact. There was immense anger and sorrow throughout the subcontinent at these executions. Just after this brutality the annual convention of the Congress at Karachi resulted in Subhash Chandra Bose and the left taking over the leadership of the Congress despite Gandhi’s efforts and treachery. There were violent demonstrations against Ghandi at the convention. The New York Times reported at the time, “A reign of terror in the city of Cawnpore in the United Provinces and an attack on Gandhi by the youth outside Karachi was amongst the answers of the Indian extremists today to the hanging of Bhagat Singh and two fellow assassins.” Revolutionaries are always pronounced by the imperialist media as extremists and assassins.
But Bhagat Singh was extremely popular in the subcontinent. Sir Horace Williamson, Director of the Intelligence Bureau, wrote about Bhagat’s popularity years after the executions, “His photograph was on sale in every city and township and for a time (Bhagat Singh) rivalled in popularity of Mr Gandhi himself.” Though the aims, objective, ideology and ideals of his struggle have been distorted, tarnished and caricatured by the creepy intelligentsia of the capitalist status coup the truth cannot be concealed forever. At a seminar organised by the Punjabi University Research Scholars association (PURSA) at Patiala University on Tuesday 25th September 2012, the main speaker, Prof. Balkar Singh said, “Bhagat Singh sacrificed everything for socialist revolution... His thinking was relevant today as it was during his lifetime and he qualified to be placed among people like Lenin and Che Guevara.” After 65 years of the so called independence the masses of the subcontinent are worse off. There is excruciating misery and deprivation through which the vast majority of the population are made to suffer by the capitalist exploitation and repression. The system the British Raj imposed is very much there. Without its overthrow the emancipation of the oppressed massed can never be achieved. Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary legacy is a beacon of light for the revolutionary workers and youth of the region in struggle today. This revolutionary mission can ultimately be accomplished by the creation of a voluntary socialist federation of South Asia.