A message doing the rounds on social media claims that Mahatma Gandhi, former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were top lawyers of their time, but none of them represented Bhagat Singh during his trials.
However, there are no historical records and documents to support this claim.
To understand this, it is important to know that Singh faced two trials: the Central Assembly bombing case (1929) and the murder of the British police officer John Saunders in 1928 (Lahore conspiracy case), for which he was sentenced to death.
As per the proceedings of the Lahore conspiracy case, Singh had put in an application stating that he wanted a legal adviser to watch the proceedings and give him advice on the line of cross-examination.
It clearly stated that the adviser will neither cross-examine nor address the court, and for this he chose Lala Duni Chand.
For the Central Assembly case, as per the proceedings, BK Dutt and Singh were represented by counsel Asaf Ali. But historian AG Noorani notes in his book 'The Trial of Bhagat Singh' that Singh refused to be represented by a lawyer and "wished to have the services of a legal adviser". The same was mentioned in an article published in The Hindu.
WHAT'S THE CLAIM?
A right-wing Twitter user, Rishi Bagree, tweeted, "Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Mohd Ali Jinnah were top lawyers & barristers of their time, yet none represented #BhagatSingh legally. Why?"
WHO REPRESENTED BHAGAT SINGH?
Bhagat Singh faced two trials:
Central Assembly Bombing case: Trial started on 7 May 1929
Murder of Saunders (Lahore conspiracy case): Trial began on 10 July 1929
TRIAL 1: ASSEMBLY BOMBING CASE
According to digitalised documents available on Indian Culture portal, preserved and uploaded by the National Archives of India, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were arrested for throwing bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi on 8 April 1929. The duo were arrested under IPC sections and the Explosive Substances Act.
The trial began on 7 May 1929 and ended on 12 June 1929. In this case, the nationalist counsel Asaf Ali represented both the accused, as per these records.
However, eminent historian AG Noorani notes in his book 'The Trial of Bhagat Singh, that Singh refused to be represented by a lawyer.
Speaking to The Quint, Professor Chaman Lal, honorary advisor to Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, said that Asaf Ali represented Dutt, but was only a legal counsel to Singh in Delhi case.
By law, Asaf Ali was only Dutt's lawyer, but Singh took advice from him for his case. However, Singh insisted on writing the legal statements himself. So, Ali did have a connection with Singh legally but he was just a legal counsellor.Professor Chaman Lal
TRIAL 2: MURDER OF SAUNDERS
In this case, Singh was given the death sentence, along with Sukhdev Thapar and Shivaram Rajguru, for killing Assistant Superintendent Saunders.
They were hanged on 23 March 1931.
During the trial, Singh chose to have a legal adviser. An excerpt from Noorani's book reads, "Bhagat Singh chose as his legal adviser Lala Duni Chand, one of the political leaders who had participated in the protest movement against the Simon Commission.
Another excerpt from the book carried a letter written by Singh to his father, Sardar Kishan Singh Sandhu, where he clarifies that he does not require a lawyer.
"There was no need to engage a lawyer. But I want to take legal opinion on certain matters, but they are not so important," the letter said.
We also checked digitalised documents related to the Lahore Conspiracy Case of 1930 on the Indian Culture portal.
It clearly mentioned that Singh had voluntarily put an application request only for a legal adviser and not for a lawyer, who will neither cross-examine nor address the court.
Lal further explained, "There was a lot of good lawyers in Lahore. Many of them represented many revolutionaries, some boycotted the proceedings totally, some engaged full time counsels. But Singh sought only legal adviser to advise him, while he and few others represented their own case."
Another eminent historian, S Irfan Habib, added that many leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, were in touch with Singh, but nobody raised a question of representing him since he did not wish to be represented.
"There is no question of anybody representing him. These claims are all rubbish talks to bring Nehru and Gandhi down."S Irfan Habib, Historian
WHAT KIND OF SUPPORT DID SINGH GET FROM THESE LEADERS?
"I happened to be in Lahore when the hunger strike was already a month old. I was given permission to visit some of the prisoners in the prison, and I availed myself of this. I saw Bhagat Singh for the first time, and Jatindranath Das and a few others. They were all very weak and bedridden, and it was hardly possible to talk to them much. Bhagat Singh had an attractive, intellectual face, remarkably calm and peaceful. There seemed to be no anger in it."
In Noorani's book, one chapter is dedicated to how Mohammad Ali Jinnah defended Singh in the Central Assembly meeting 1929.
The book quotes Jinnah as saying, "The man who goes on hunger-strike has a soul. He is moved by that soul and he believes in the justice of his cause; he is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of cold-blooded, sordid, wicked crime."
He added that he did not approve Singh's actions, but he blamed the "damnable system of Government" that is resented by the public which is bringing in violent reactions.
'Gandhi's Truth' chapter in the same book reveals that Mahatma Gandhi had written letters Lord Irwin asking for the Singh's execution to be suspended.
It also states that Gandhi found Singh's actions of bombing and murdering very gruesome and revolting and that is why he refrained from visiting Singh in the prison.
Clearly, the claim that takes a dig at Nehru and Gandhi for not helping Singh's legal trial are misleading. Bhagat Singh was known to have fought his legal battles on his own with legal advice from some lawyers.