‘Bha­gat Singh re­spected Gandhi for his im­pact on masses, but thought his ideas couldn’t bring a so­cial change for equal­ity’

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Nation -

Bha­gat Singh, a free­dom fighter who be­longed to the rev­o­lu­tion­ary strand, was ex­e­cuted in 1931 at the age of 23. His mys­tique to this day re­mains al­most un­matched and even some Pak­istani or­gan­i­sa­tions hail him as a hero. His­to­rian Chaman Lal, who put to­gether Singh’s lesser known in­tel­lec­tual out­put, un­packs his be­liefs on the eve of his birth an­niver­sary in a con­ver­sa­tion with Man­imugdha S Sharma.

Bha­gat Singh was a Marx­ist rev­o­lu­tion­ary. How do we rec­on­cile his na­tion­al­ism with Marx­ist in­ter­na­tion­al­ism?

The process of Bha­gat Singh de­vel­op­ing as a Marx­ist rev­o­lu­tion­ary be­gan with the set­ting up of Nau­jawan Bharat Sabha and the later rechris­ten­ing of HRA (Hin­dus­tan Repub­li­can Army) as Hin­dus­tan So­cial­ist Repub­li­can Army/ As­so­ci­a­tion. The ad­di­tion of the word ‘so­cial­ist’ to the ex­ist­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion was a qual­i­ta­tive ad­vance­ment in the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies’ thought process. Their rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle be­gan from the fight against Bri­tish colo­nial­ism, from the for­ma­tion of HRA in 1924, in which Chan­drashekhar Azad, Ram Prasad Bis­mil, Ash­faqual­lah and Bha­gat Singh were part. Due to con­tin­u­ous study of world rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments, es­pe­cially Ir­ish rev­o­lu­tion­ary and Bol­she­vik move­ments, Bha­gat Singh’s ideas de­vel­oped fur­ther. While he re­mained a staunch na­tion­al­ist, there was a qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence in that his na­tion­al­ism con­tained the seeds of the so­cial­ist rev­o­lu­tion of peas­ants and work­ers, which had no con­tra­dic­tion with in­ter­na­tional rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments. In fact, in a 1924 es­say, Bha­gat Singh took the In­dian idea of va­sud­haiva ku­tum­bakam (the world as fam­ily) and vi­su­alised a world fed­er­a­tion of the fu­ture.

This is the 150th birth an­niver­sary of Gandhi. What did Bha­gat Singh think about the Gand­hian move­ment?

Bha­gat Singh and his com­rades thought that the Gand­hian move­ment will end up in com­pro­mise, with­out achiev­ing much. They wrote clearly that there will be no sta­ble dis­ci­ple of the ‘Sant of Sabar­mati’. They re­spected him for his im­pact on the masses and asked rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies to learn from his con­nec­tiv­ity to the masses. But they thought that Gandhi’s ideas were il­lu­sory that couldn’t bring a so­cial change for equal­ity, es­pe­cially eco­nomic and so­cial equal­ity.

What do you think of the as­ser­tion that

Gandhi didn’t try to save Bha­gat Singh and his com­rades from the gal­lows?

Even if Gandhi had made it a point not to have the Gandhi-Ir­win Pact with­out the com­mu­ta­tion of their death sen­tences, the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies would not have ac­cepted any com­pro­mise at their end. They had a clear per­cep­tion that they had to sac­ri­fice their lives to arouse the In­dian masses for the free­dom strug­gle. Yet one can say that Gandhi did make ef­forts but not with the pas­sion of Nehru and Bose. Gandhi did not as­sert his moral po­si­tion that he is against death sen­tence, what­ever may be the crime. In the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies’ case, Gandhi should not have com­pro­mised on his prin­ci­pled po­si­tion of op­po­si­tion to cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

In a 1928 es­say, Bha­gat Singh called Sub­has Chan­dra Bose a rebel and Jawa­har­lal Nehru a rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Why?

Though Sub­has Chan­dra Bose was more at­tached emo­tion­ally to young rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, Bha­gat Singh pre­ferred Jawa­har­lal Nehru’s ra­tio­nal ideas about so­cial­ism. Sub­has Bose was also so­cial­ist, but ac­cord­ing to Bha­gat Singh, he was more emo­tional and Nehru was more of a ra­tio­nal­ist and re­al­ist. That is why he thought of Bose as a rebel and Nehru as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary. He had excellent re­la­tions with both of them, and at a per­sonal level, more with Sub­has Bose. But he wanted the youth to fol­low the ra­tio­nal think­ing of Nehru.

You say in your book that none of the com­mu­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions had spo­ken in favour of the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. Why?

It is a his­tor­i­cal fact that none of the so-called re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions or re­li­gion-ori­ented po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions spoke a word in favour of the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, either in their life­time or af­ter their hang­ing. A whole lot of peo­ple, in­clud­ing Jin­nah, spoke dur­ing Bha­gat Singh and his com­rades’ hunger strikes in jail and af­ter their hang­ing. Savarkar did not ut­ter a word at the hang­ing of the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, whereas Peri­yar not only wrote the first editorial on this in his Tamil jour­nal Ku­dai Arasu, he also ar­ranged to get the Tamil trans­la­tion of ‘Why I am an Athe­ist’ pub­lished in 1934. Only the na­tional lead­ers of Congress or Com­mu­nist par­ties ex­pressed anger and an­guish at their bru­tal treat­ment in jails dur­ing their hunger strikes or at their hang­ing.

What did Bha­gat Singh think of so­cial in­equal­i­ties? Could he be seen as an anti-caste cru­sader?

Bha­gat Singh very clearly stated his po­si­tion in the es­say, ‘ The Is­sue of Un­touch­a­bil­ity’, where he used very strong words against casteism and un­touch­a­bil­ity. From the Nau­jawan Bharat Sabha plat­form, Singh and his com­rades or­gan­ised com­mon lan­gar for all re­li­gions and com­mu­ni­ties. He asked for his last food be­fore ex­e­cu­tion to be cooked by a Dalit pris­oner named Bogha. Their goal was so­cial­ism to be built af­ter push­ing Bri­tish colo­nial­ists out. He said there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween Lord Ir­win and Sir Tej Ba­hadur Sapru if the masses are to be ruled un­der the same type of ex­ploita­tive sys­tem.

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