(On the occasion of the 108th Birth Anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, a look at how the freedom fighter continues to influence Indian politics)
Twenty-two-year-old Gujarat Patel leader, Hardik Patel, has uploaded a video on YouTube which shows him posing with a rifle, a sword and a pistol. A banner on the video says “Jai Sardar”, an apparent reference to Gujarat icon Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. “If the need be we can also follow the footsteps of Bhagat Singh”, he says.
It is doubtful if he knows enough about the life and thoughts of Bhagat Singh who at the young age of 23 attained martyrdom after challenging the British rulers. A few months before he was hanged along with Sukhdev and Rajguru, Bhagat Singh told his friends in jail, “They may kill me but they cannot kill my ideas. They may crush my body but they will not be able to crush my spirit... Bhagat Singh dead will be more dangerous to the British than Bhagat Singh alive”.
Invoking Bhagat Singh
Bhagat Singh, whose 108th birth anniversary falls today, continues to be a source of inspiration eighty-four-years after his supreme sacrifice. His death at such a young age was the tipping point of the Indian freedom struggle as it revitalised the freedom movement.
It’s not just Hardik Patel but several other “revolutionary’’ young leaders who have been invoking his name to seek inspiration and to “put fear’’ in the rulers. The Punjab unit of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), for instance, has vowed to follow the principles for which Bhagat Singh had fought. The party’s leader in Lok Sabha, Bhagwant Mann, leaves no opportunity to invoke the legacy of Bhagat Singh and has organised several rallies and meetings at places associated with Bhagat Singh, including his birthplace Khatkar Kalan near Jalandhar. Mann also dons the saffron turban associated with Bhagat Singh and there is hardly any speech in which he does not remind the audience of the legacy of Bhagat Singh.
Former Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, the estranged cousin of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, too had fashioned his party on the ideology and principles elucidated by Bhagat Singh. His party, the Punjab People’s Party (PPP), could not win a single seat in the last assembly election but was able to garner about 5% of votes. An ardent fan of Bhagat Singh, Manpreet Badal formed his party at Khatkar Kalan and later organised several political rallies at places associated with Bhagat Singh. He also put up Bhagat Singh’s pictures at all party functions.
A Forgotten Hero
It is also an annual ritual for the government and its senior leaders to place floral wreaths at his memorials on his birth and death anniversaries. However, he and his dreams are soon forgotten as the government gets back to its functioning.
Bhagat Singh, who did not plead mercy after his death sentence was pronounced, demanded that he be shot dead as a Prisoner of War (POW) as he was accused of waging war against the state and should not be hanged. The rulers were, of course, too scared and hung him a day before it was earlier scheduled. They could not have taken chances with him as he had declared that “there is no crime that Britain has not committed, deliberate misrule has reduced us to paupers, has bled us white. As a race and a people, we stand dishonoured and outraged. Do people still expect us to forget and forgive? We shall have our revenge – a people’s righteous revenge on the tyrants. Let cowards fall back and cringe for compromise and peace. We ask not for mercy and give no quarter. Ours is a war to the end – victory or death”.
Yet he was not a blood-thirsty or trigger-happy revolutionary. He once wrote: “force, when aggressively used is violence and is morally unjustified. But when it is used in furtherance of legitimate cause, it has a moral justification. Elimination of force at all costs is utopian and the new movement which has arisen the country and of which we have given a warning, is inspired by the ideals which inspired Guru Gobind Singhji and Shivaji, Kamal Pasha, Washington and Garibaldi, Lafayette and Lenin”.
Reclaiming A Patriot
- Face of the protest for reservations in Gujarat, Hardik Patel the latest among politicians to invoke Bhagat Singh
- Face of Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab, Bhagwant Mann leaves no opportunity to display how party is deeply rooted in Bhagat Singh’s ideology
- Another politician from Punjab, Manpreet Singh Badal also fashions himself as an ardent Bhagat Singh admirer
- Latest rush-to-claim-legacy move includes Punjab and Haryana government agreeing to name the new airport in freedom fighter’s name
An Outstanding Revolutionary
In his article, ‘Philosophy of the Bomb’, he stated that “terrorism” (meaning violent methods of struggle) was the product of realisation by the youth of national bondage and a growing, intense, unquenchable thirst for freedom”. He wrote terrorism ‘is a phase, a necessary and inevitable phase in the revolution..... Terrorism is not a complete revolution and the revolution is not complete without terrorism” that terrorism” instils fear in the heart of the oppressors” while bringing hope to the oppressed giving “courage and self-confidence to the wavering” and shattering “the spell of superiority of the ruling class”.
After a bomb was dropped by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt in Central Assembly on April 8, 1929, without causing physical harm to anyone, they dropped posters claiming that this was the only way to make the ‘deaf hear’. They also made an elaborate statement in the trial court enunciating their concept of revolution and the slogan shouted by them after the explosion, Inquilab Zindabad, resounded throughout the country.
His death inspired hundreds of young Indians to take up the cause of the freedom movement and proved to be the turning point which finally saw the exit of the British rulers on August 15, 1947.
He continues to unite citizens from across the country, across political spectrum and ideologies. The latest instance: Punjab and Haryana, who have a fair share of differences, have agreed to name the new international airport at Chandigarh as the Bhagat Singh International Airport although there are still differences over whether to add the name Chandigarh (which Haryana is demanding) or Mohali (where the terminal is located in Punjab).
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based senior journalist)