“BHAGAT SINGH is not only one more martyr. For thousands today he is the martyr”, wrote The People (English weekly from Lahore founded by Lala Lajpat Rai) soon after his execution. Subash Chandra Bose summed up Bhagat Singh as someone who is “not a person, but a symbol. He symbolises the spirit of revolt that has taken possession of the country”. As the British records also show, his martyrdom stirred people in every nook and corner of the country. 80 years after his execution in Lahore Central jail on March 23, 1931, Bhagat Singh, the Shahid-I-Azam, remains a living force as a personification of martyrdom and patriotism. The image of a handsome youth in his early twenties who took on the British imperial might with his indomitable courage, cheerfully riding the scaffold, inspires millions even today. In fact, Bhagat Singh has remained one the most adorable figures of our times. Methods and objectives of Gandhi, Bose and Nehru can be debated but when it comes to Bhagat Singh there is no dispute in the mind of the common man regarding his selfless supreme sacrifice for the motherland.
But contrary to the well established image of Bhagat Singh as a patriot and a martyr par excellence, our Marxist friends would like us to believe that Bhagat Singh must primarily be seen as a Marxist ideologue rather than a great patriot. They put great emphasis to Bhagat Singh’s attraction to Socialism in the last few years of his short life of 23 years. In their opinion, the deliberate over projection of ‘Bhagat Singh the great martyr’ has eclipsed ‘Bhagat Singh the Marxist’, the latter being more relevant today to fight the ‘communal forces’ and neo-imperialism. To hammer down their thesis they have produced a large number of publications in the recent times and especially so during the years 2006-07, the birth centenary and the 75th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh. During 2006-07 the Indian Communists launched a countrywide propaganda campaign involving their political parties, youth organisations, intellectuals and artists to project Bhagat Singh as a Left icon. In fact, every faction of the fragmented Communist movement in India is trying to project the ideology and image of Bhagat Singh in its own mould. So while the nation in general sees in Bhagat Singh a source of inspiration for every Indian, a symbol of courage and supreme sacrifice, the Indian Communists are toiling hard to present Bhagat Singh as a party icon. It is only because Bhagat Singh happens to be the most popular icon of the youth that the leftists are so eager to hijack his popularity to sell their failed and discredited ideology and policies. By laying claims on one of the most revered icons of Indian nationalism, they hope to survive the ideological disaster that Communism is facing globally.
Marxist claims on the ideology and legacy of the great martyr are based on the steadily increasing number of writings attributed to Bhagat Singh. Virender Sindhu, Bhagat Singh’s niece and the author of perhaps the best biography of the great martyr, despite her access to family documents and interaction with his colleagues and contemporaries, was able to present only 34 documents in the name of Bhagat Singh in 1975. By 2007, the total number of writings attributed to Bhagat Singh by about two dozen major and several minor compilations reached 107. Interestingly, there is no general agreement among the compilers of Bhagat Singh’s documents regarding the total number of writings being published under his name nor there is any concurrence on the authorship of some of the specific writings attributed to him. In 2006, Chamanlal in his collection Bhagat Singh Ke Sampoorna Dastavej (Complete works of Bhagat Singh) put the total number of available writings of Bhagat Singh to 73. In the very next year, i.e. in 2007, in his new compilation Bhagat Singh Dastavejon ke Aaiene Main, Chamanlal raised this number to 107, without an iota of explanation.
It seems that the compilers of Bhagat Singh’s documents are taking advantage of some inherent problems integral to Bhagat Singh’s writings. Nearly all the writings of Bhagat Singh came to light after his execution and so they could not be authenticated by the writer himself. Also, except his letters and court statements, most of his writings were written under pseudonyms or pen names such as ‘Balwant’, ‘Vidrohi’, ‘Ek Punjabi Yuvak’ and ‘BS Sindhu’ to protect his identity. Several writings attributed to Bhagat Singh, like the ones appearing in Kirti (initially a Punjabi monthly, from April 1928 an Urdu edition was also started), were originally unsigned. Original copies of many of his writings are untraceable. His jail writings are supposed to have been secretly written and then smuggled out of the jail. Lastly, several writings appeared quite late and under mysterious circumstances. For all these reasons, there is a need for a serious re-examination of all writings attributed to Bhagat Singh.
Returning to the Marxists’ daily increasing love for Bhagat Singh, not many know that during his life time and for about two decades after his execution Bhagat Singh was disowned by the Communists. Sohan Singh Josh, a veteran communist and a contemporary of Bhagat Singh, emphasised the difference between the Marxist ideology of Kirti group with the ideology followed by Bhagat Singh and his group while referring to the period when they worked together in Naujawan Bharat Sabha during 1928-1931:
“After some time two main political trends emerged in the Sabha. One represented our Kirti group—the majority Marxist trend which laid stress on organising the workers and peasants, fighting for the agrarian and economical demands and making them conscious of their political role in the freedom struggle… The other trend was represented by Bhagat Singh and his comrades. It was a minority trend, which became clear after my discussions with him. Bhagat Singh wanted to do something very quick, through the use of bombs and pistols, in order to politically awaken the slumbering youth and students who had forgotten their duty towards their motherland, something, spectacular that would make them sit up and do some thinking about the soul- crushing British enslavement of India and come forward to make sacrifices for the cause of freedom.” ( Sohan Singh Josh, My Tryst with Secularism , An Autobiography, 1991, p. 133)
Josh went on to point out the limitations of the ideology of Bhagat Singh and his group: “Such thoughts and line of action immensely appealed to the immature youth. But these are bookish revolutionary knowledge…” Josh pointed out that Marxism failed to influence Bhagat Singh and his colleagues because of the failure of Kirti Kisan Party to strike roots in Punjab. Regarding the ideology followed by Bhagat Singh and his colleagues and especially the question of the impact of the Marxism over them, Josh’s evidence at some length may not be out of place:
“They were prepared to adopt any form of struggle to end the British slavery. Violent or non violent, peaceful or non peaceful, all means were justified in their eyes provided these advanced the cause of freedom. But their preference was for individual or group action they believed in meeting British terror with patriotic counter terror…… The working class and their party has not yet struck roots in backward Punjab to influence them with Marxist ideology. They were, in effect, impatient patriots who detested any wait-and- see or go-slow policy. They could no longer stand the continuous degradation, demoralisation and dehumanisation of the Indian people under the British rule and were ready to contribute their mite in the earliest liquidation of British despotism.” (Ibid. pp. 143-144. Also see Josh, Sohan Singh, My Meetings with Bhagat Singh and on Other Early Revolutionaries, 1976, p. 19)
To deal with the question of how HSRA, of which Bhagat Singh was the ideological leader, and the contemporary Communists viewed each other, there cannot be no better judge than Ajoy Ghosh, a member of revolutionary party since 1923 who later joined the Communist Party and remained its General Secretary from 1951 to 1962. Referring to the ideological divergence between the HSRA and their contemporary communists, Ghosh wrote in 1945: “Communists considered armed actions by individuals harmful to the movement … We did not look upon communists as revolutionists – revolution for us meant primarily armed action.” (Ajoy Ghosh, Bhagat Singh and his Comrades, 1979, p. 22) It was Ajoy Ghosh who made the famous statement that “it would be an exaggeration to say that he (Bhagat Singh) became a Marxist.” (Ibid. p. 28)
Communist opposition to the line of action adopted by Bhagat Singh was derived from the Marxist theory on role of individual action versus role of the masses. There was a fundamental difference between the line of action followed by Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary colleagues and the revolution as perceived by the Marxists. It was the conviction of the revolutionary party that acts of valour and martyrdom on part of the revolutionaries will on one hand demoralize and frighten the colonial bureaucracy and on the other, will enthuse and inspire their countrymen to rise against the British rule. As Ajoy Ghosh recalled: “armed action by individuals and groups was to remain our immediate task. Nothing else, we held, could smash constitutionalist illusions, nothing else could free the country from the grip in which it was held.”(Ibid., p.20) Marxism, on the contrary, saw these acts of individual valour as acts of terror. Leading Marxist ideologues like Trotsky and Stalin saw such activities as counterproductive and inadmissible. Stalin statement in this regard is well known: “Let me explain that communists never have had, and never will have, any thing to do with the theory and practice of individual outrages, that communist never have had, and never will have anything to do with the theory and practice of conspiracies against individual persons.” (Sir Horace Williamson, India and Communism 1976, p. 229)
(The author has recently published a book on Bhagat Singh)
(To be concluded)