Bhagat Singh is a unique legendary revolutionary, a product of the Indian independence struggle, popularly known as Shaheed-e-A zam (a martyr of the highest order), for making supreme sacrifice by embracing gallows at the young age of just 23, an example rarely found in the history of the world- He is widely known as an extraordinary hero of the revolutionary stream of the freedom struggle of India with virtues of the highest order of courage, conviction, commitment and unparalleled sacrifice for the cause of India's liberation from the exploitative and tyrannical grip of the British imperialistic yoke. The people, in general, are not aware of a visionary aspect of his personality and his dream of creating an egalitarian society along the lines of radical socialist principles.
There has been resurgence of interest among radical intellectuals and activists in the socio-political philosophy of Bhagat Singh, especially in the post-globalisation period, in the wake of threat to the humanity and democratic culture from nee-imperialist and capitalist forces causing miseries to the marginalised social segments and weaker nations. The peasants' suicides in different parts of the country, growing economic disparity between the rich and the poor, widening gap in terms of wealth between rural and urban regions, accelerating agitations of poor and small farmers against capitalist designs of economic developments which is exploitative in nature, and hegemonic military intervention of American imperialists in other countries, especially of Middle East and Central Asia, in the name of fighting 'global terror', necessitate revisiting anti-imperialistic and anti-capitalist radical socio-political ideology of this great immortal martyr of Indian sub-continent.
In the year of historical significance of 150th year of the First War of Indian Independence (10 May 1857), birth centenary (27 September 1907) and 75th year of martyrdom (23 March 1931) of Bhagat Singh, the Department of Civics and Politics of the University of Mumbai made an attempt to locate and re-examine the life, works and philosophy of Bhagat Singh, by organising a two-day national seminar on Bhagat Singh and Beyond: Rethinking Radicalism in Indian Society, Politics and Culture. This is, presumably, for the first time in the country that a university department has taken the initiative to discuss the revolutionary contribution and vision of Bhagat Singh and their interface with other streams of the Indian national movement with an objective to assess their role in winning freedom for the country, determine their significance, and initiate appropriate measures for building a truly representative democratic society in India. One of the objectives of the seminar was to assess the effectiveness of those measures the freedom fighters struggled for, which were kept within the purview of the Constitution of Independent India. Besides, it also examined the relevance of the socio-political ideology of Bhagat Singh and explored the possibility of evolving a suitable strategy to combat the neo-emergent menaces posed by neo-imperialist forces and dealt with the multifarious crises faced by the vulnerable social groups who form a major chunk of the Indian population.
In the seminar a number of activists, academicians, scholars and intellectuals participated and made presentations on different aspects of Bhagat Singh's life and his contribution to India's freedom struggle. Shri Prakash Karat, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) inaugurated the seminar. The Marxist theoretician and columnist P. Govinda Pillai delivered the keynote address. The success of the seminar and publication of important papers presented in it in the form of a book became possible due to committed involvement of the students, and assistance rendered by the teaching and non-teaching staff of the department. We hope that the present volume will not only be helpful for the research scholars and academics but also; inspire people, especially youth, to make genuine endeavours for transformation of Indian society for the better.
In the history of the revolutionary struggle for India's freedom, a name that symbolises radicalism not only for political independence of a country but also revolution in social, economical and cultural fields to bring about a social transformation along socialist principles for emancipation of humankind and to build a society free from exploitation and oppression is none but Bhagat Singh, whose life was a great saga of sacrifices with higher values and virtues of indomitable courage, commitment and death-defying spirit. His name creates an image of an iron-willed person whose courage and conviction could not be defeated by oppressive power of British empire. Unfortunately, less known are his enormous intellectual ability and deep sincere concern for the miseries of the poor and marginalised. His vehement opposition to the forces of exploitative capitalism and landlordism as well as oppressive caste system, especially untouchability, which had made the life of poor peasantry and working class miserable, and his vision of a free India with communist socio-political order are well known. This anthology is an endeavour to focus on various relevant issues in the light of the vision and radical ideas of Bhagat Singh.
Why do we need Bhagat Singh today? What is the relevance of his socio-political ideology? Why is he becoming so important today? Can his ideas help us solve the manifold problems of society? A large number of patriotic freedom-loving Indians, of course, had laid down their lives or suffered for the independence of the country, to whom people of India are greatly indebted to. All of them had made their contribution in their own way for the freedom and betterment of India. How was the role played by Bhagat Singh different from others? These are the few questions usually raised by those who believe in joining rat race for making quick economic gains (by adopting any means-righteous or corrupt) and leading a life of luxury and are not capable of understanding linkages between the history and current scenario, and make use of ideas and experiences gained through historical events and initiate change for better. The Department of Civics and Politics of the University of Mumbai, for the first time, made an attempt to address these questions with a view to encourage the process of social transformation based on concrete analysis of the social situation in India and setting humanist goals for a better society by organising a two-day national seminar on Bhagat Singh and Beyond: Rethinking Radicalism in Indian Society, Culture and Politics, during 28-29 March 2007. Eminent scholars, academicians and activists participated, presented papers and made enlightening deliberations. This book is a collection of selected papers discussing and highlighting the current social issues in the larger interest of society.
The need for resurrection of Bhagat Singh's ideology has been strongly felt also due to revivalism of sophisticated form of imperialism in the guise of globalisation, attacks on the sovereignty of weaker nations, through military interventions, by imperialist superpower in the name of fighting 'global terror' (or Islamic terror) destroying the elements that sustain civil society, exploitative capitalist forces, including communal fundamentalism and sectarianism along the lines of caste, creed, language and region (usually encouraged by petty politics). Bhagat Singh, who fought colonialism and imperialism uncompromisingly, fearlessly, with death-defying unflinching spirit, having highly commendable dedication to the cause of the oppressed, has become relevant today, as he was, during pre-independent India of 1920s.
Bhagat Singh distinctively differed from others of revolutionary streams of Indian national movement in aspects of religious perception (he was a confirmed atheist unlike others), intellectual ability and courage of conviction, as well as vision of a socialist society in free India. He was appalled by the miseries of the poor and marginalised, unjust caste system, especially untouchability, and communal conflicts. Most of the revolutionaries aimed at achieving merely political independence, but Bhagat Singh thought of and struggled for the independent India (with power in the hands of people) and elimination of all kinds of socio-economic and cultural evils.
The multifaceted personality of Bhagat Singh was shaped by his revolutionary family background, radical activities of the Ghadar Party, I secular with socialist character, of which his uncle was an important leader, Kuka rebellion" communist revolution in many countries in general and 1917 Bolshevik revolution in particular, his contacts with the communist leaders in the country and his readings of Marxist/communist literatures.' He was a firebrand intellectual revolutionary who had read books written by Marx, Lenin, Bakunin and Trotsky, and deeply thought over their ideas. He was a voracious reader as well as a serious thinker who had written four books (unfortunately lost), a number of essays, letters and pamphlets explaining his ideas.' His reading and writing continued even during imprisonment in Central Jail, Lahore, until execution. Bhagat Singh was hanged at the age of 23 along with his associates, Sukhdev and Rajguru in Central Jail, Lahore, on 23 March 1931, a day before the execution of the trio was to take place. His popularity had grown so much among the countrymen that the British administration could not wait for the scheduled time of his execution and hanged him one day before as the government was scared of public fury.
The Indian national movement, evolving the ways and means, values and concepts, has traversed a long path. Social reformers and liberalists, inspired by the western concept of liberalism, played an important role in creating awareness among the Indian people and helped develop the consciousness for socio-political change. Right from the moderates and extremist groups of the Congress Party to Gandhian nationalism and, socialist section within the Congress Party, contributed in their own way to the cause of Indian independence.
The Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 influenced all the streams of the Indian freedom movement directly or indirectly to a remarkable extent. A large number of emigre Indian revolutionaries either became socialist or were influenced by the communist philosophy. The Paris group of revolutionaries, led by Madame Bhikhaji Rustom, K.R. Cama and S.R. Rana, was more progressive in their outlook and close to the international working class movement compared to their counterpart in England. The Indian revolutionaries received sympathy for the cause of their country's independence from Marxist and anarchist European leaders. Lenin's suggestion to Indian revolutionaries through a letter written to Bhupendra Nath Dutta, one of the revolutionaries abroad and younger brother of Swami Vivekanand, to mobilise peasants in the Indian liberation movement influenced and inspired the Indian revolutionaries who adopted the policy of taking up the causes of workers and peasants in their struggle for India's independence. They (Indian revolutionaries) were attracted towards the communist ideology and methods of Russian Revolution as the success of the October revolution helped establish the rule of common people in Russia forming Soviet Union, and supported the cause of liberation of all enslaved nations. The Indian journals started publishing reports and articles projecting image of Soviet Union as being anti-imperialist, and supported socialist social system as well as made suggestions to the countrymen to take lessons from October revolution and enlist the support of peasantry and working class in the national liberation movement of India.
With the active support of the Third Communist International (Comintern) led by Lenin, the emigre Indian revolutionaries formed the Communist Party of India in Tashkent in October 1920. The communist groups emerged in India in the early 1920s, and the formal conference of the Communist Party of India (CPI) took place at Kanpur from 26 to 28 December 1925.5 The revolutionary stream of the independence struggle adopted violent path or the path of armed struggle (also described as nationalist-terrorism) to awaken the people of India from their deep slumber to achieve the country's freedom, many of them later on joined socialist camp. Bhagat Singh belonged to this revolutionary stream, and evolved rapidly as a radical Marxist. Towards the late 1920s, youth revolu- tionaries of the country began realising the need of focusing on Marxist principles and methods to make toiling masses the organised revolutionary force of the Indian national movement instead of emphasising on terror activities in response the state repressive-terrorist measures. As a result, many of them, including comrades of Bhagat Singh, joined Communist Party in the early 1930 and, consequently, underground organisations almost disappeared from the political scene of freedom struggle.
Agitations and revolts against the oppression and exploitation of British regime began since the days of establishment of rule of East India Company in India. Not only the kith and kin of rulers of various parts of the country and zamindars (due to reasons of their own), but peasants and soldiers (including tribals) also revolted against the alien rulers and their lackey landed interest groups on many occasions. The First War of Independence of 1857 occupies a significant place in the history of Indian freedom struggle. The formation of the Congress Party and revolution- aries' activities in the regions of Maharashtra, Bengal and Punjab accelerated the pace of the national movement. The revolutionaries were greatly influenced by the October revolution and wanted to free India with an aim of creating a socialist society. Bhagat Singh and his comrades realised that the country's independence and adopting democratic political system in free India were not enough, but the effective elimination of feudal and capitalist forces was considered essential so as to benefit the working people, the peasants and the small businessmen, irrespective of their caste, creed and other distinctions in a free socialist India. This was their cherished goal which was expressed through rechristening the name of their revolutionary organisation, the Hindustan Republican Association as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. It was Bhagat Singh, who, after the Central Assembly bomb case, using courtroom as a platform for propaganda, took the message of socialism to streets among masses.
The youth revolutionaries of 1920s, who resorted to radical activities, struggled for the liberation of the country from the chains of slavery, most of them upholding socialist ideals unlike the revolutionaries of previous generation who had generally held traditional socio-religious viewpoint. The dependence on god, immorality of soul, and spiritual deception (mysticism) were replaced by the ideology of secularism. The modern ideals of democracy and socio-political system demolished the illusion for sticking to the heritage of ancient time. Now, the liberation of the country meant democracy, liberty and elimination of exploitation of man by man. Mazzini was replaced by Marx. Bhagat Singh and his comrades became a symbol of consciousness, honour, aspirations of the people, and the struggle, to put an end to the slavery imposed by the exploitative British regime. All sections of society of India-rich and poor, peasants and labourers and politically conscious and even politically ignorant-all watched their court proceedings with eagerness and concern and raised the slogans in their praise considering their resistance as being assertion for national dignity? The accused of Meerut Conspiracy Case (communist revolutionaries) also adopted the similar strategy of using court as forum to propagate their radical and communist ideology but Bhagat Singh used this in the best possible manner, which no one did before. Bhagat Singh had even demanded to be treated as a war prisoner and to be shot instead of being hanged, in keeping with the nature of charge made against him (he was accused of waging war against the king) and as per norms of treatment applicable to the process of execution in the case of prisoner of war.
Bhagat Singh grew up in an atmosphere of disillusionment (with moderate leadership of Congress Party), in which many, especially youth in the Indian national movement, lost confidence in the effectiveness of the path shown by moderate leaders and joined the revolutionary streams of the struggle. He was profoundly influenced by the revolutionary events, particularly the movement by the Ghadar Party members (Ghadar Party was secular in character) and their trial which was caHed 'the First Lahore Conspiracy Case'. He always kept a picture of Kartar Singh Saraba, the most illustrious revolutionary and leader of the Ghadar movement, who embraced martyrdom at the age of nineteen. The revolutionaries of Punjab such as Sardar Ajit Singh, uncle of Bhagat Singh, Sufi Amba Prasad, Lala Hardayal and their associates were secular. In the beginning of the twentieth century, Indian revolutionaries were impressed and inspired by the stories of French, Russian and Italian revolutionaries. Bhagat Singh became secular and an atheist at an early age by virtues of his sharp intellect and capability of deep thinking. One is struck by the amazing intellectual ability and revolutionary spirit of Bhagat Singh and can optimistically imagine as to what he would have become, had he lived. He was secular to the core and had even criticised his mentor Lala Lajpat Rai for the latter's association with the communal elements. Though, undoubtedly, Bhagat Singh and his comrades had socialist objectives in mind but they could not put them into practice because of the unfavourable situation prevailing at that time and also due to immature understanding of the Marxist ideology. They had thought of mobilising working class, peasants, youth, middle class intellectual in their anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle but in practice they remained confined to the armed actions and violent activities.
Hindu communal organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) claim that Bhagat Singh was in favour of building a greater Hindu nation and even sought the blessings of RSS chief Hedgewar before throwing bombs in the Central Assembly. However, there is no evidence to substantiate such claims. His writings, contacts with communists, revolutionary activities, and the slogans he raised in the Central Assembly testify his fast evolution from a traditional patriotic revolutionary to a Marxist revolutionary with an international outlook. Besides being radical in his thinking and actions, he had interest in music, literature and films.
Bhagat Singh had inherited revolutionary spirit, which was continuously nourished and nurtured by the prevailing environment of oppression and atrocities perpetrated by the British regime on Indians on the one hand, and agitations, protests and revolutionary activities by the freedom-loving Indians on the other. At his very young age, he had witnessed historical incidents of executions of Ghadarite revolutionaries in 1915 and killings of innocent Indians in Jallianwala Bagh in police firing in 1919. He had participated in the Non-Cooperation Movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and left school but after the suspension of this movement by Gandhiji on the pretext of violent incident of Chauri Chaura in United Province (today Uttar Pradesh) he became disillusioned with the methods of the freedom struggle shown by Gandhiji and. turned towards the revolutionary path. Bhagat Singh left his home and came to Kanpur where he came into contact with associates of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) and became its active member. In 1926, he formed the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) on the socialist lines and tried to mobilise students, peasants and labourers. In September 1928, on his initiation, the HRA was renamed as HSRA (Hindustan Socialist Republican Association) to clearly manifest its socialist goals. After taking part in the Saunders's murder (to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai-due to the injury inflicted on him in police lathi-charge during public protest against the Simon Commission in December 1928), he volunteered to throw bombs in the Central Assembly (today's Parliament) and got himself arrested with the definite objective of using the court for the purpose of creating revolutionary consciousness among the people. He had turned court of law into a platform to spread his revolutionary ideas and aims in the country while highlighting the oppression and exploitation of Indians by British regime. He successfully used court proceedings to achieve these goals. Bhagat Singh vehemently protested against subhuman treatment of prisoners and demanded better treatment to them, especially political prisoners who were being treated like petty criminals. During his imprisonment until execution, Bhagat Singh read voraciously a number of Marxist literatures, noted down important ideas, thought over it deeply keeping in mind the prevailing social situation and evolved his vision and ideas. It would not be out of place to make mention of few of his thoughts to have an understanding of his intellectual ability and vision of a society in free India.
Bhagat Singh always seriously thought and searched for ways to achieve India's independence and create a truly emancipated society. In his letter (of 2 February 1931 from jail), he had advised young political workers of the country to work for a humanist society free from exploitation created along socialist principles. He also underlined the need of a mass mobilisation of peasants and workers under the leadership of the Communist Party while developing class consciousness among them by resorting to economic struggles with an objective to seize state power. He favoured radical transformation of society by establishing dictatorship of proletariat and elimination of all kinds of unjust discriminations and exploitations of a man by a man and of a nation by a nation. He asked the young political workers of the country "what difference does it make to them [peasants and labourers] whether Lord Reading is the head of the Indian government or Sir Purushotamdas Thakordas? What difference for a peasant if Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru replaces Lord Irwin.”
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