Bhagat Singh was a fervent torchbearer of the proletarian struggle. He rejected the prejudices of caste, creed, nationality, race, gender, and, of course, religion.
This September 28 marked the 105th birth anniversary of one of South Asia’s iconic revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh. His heroic struggle for a revolutionary change and overthrow of the British Raj through a militant struggle has been a source of inspiration for generations. Bhagat was executed by the imperialist despots in the wee hours of March 23, 1931 at the tender age of 23, but he had left a mark in the annals of history of the class struggle in the region. His urge to understand Marxist theory and passionately educate his comrades in prison and during intense activities to develop as revolutionary cadres is a hallmark of his relentless struggle.
Although he has been dubbed as a nationalist and anarchist by historians and analysts of the elite and the reformists, Bhagat was none of that at the end of his short but eventful life. Even when he was called from his death cell for the gallows, he was reading Lenin’s State and Revolution. The sort of independence that was achieved after a bloody partition, in which 2.7 million innocent souls perished, would have repulsed Bhagat Singh. The independence sought by him and his comrades of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) was spelt out in one of his epic speeches during the peak of their struggle. It has been portrayed superbly in Raj Kumar Santoshi’s brilliant film, The Legend of Bhagat Singh. He says, “We don’t want independence! We don’t want independence where the English rulers are replaced by the local elites. We don’t want freedom where this wretched system of exploitation and slavery continues. We are striving for an independence that would transform the whole system thorough revolutionary socialism.”
Bhagat Singh, who was initially a diehard follower of Mohandas Gandhi, had revolted against him when the latter had called off agitation against the British after the killing of some policemen in a clash with a procession of youth and workers demanding the eviction of the imperialist rulers from India. Bhagat was deeply influenced by the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in the Soviet Union and he diligently studied the works of Marxism and contemporary revolutionaries. Through his experience, he came to the conclusion that Gandhi’s politics was to preserve the system imposed by the British colonialists rather than its overthrow. He had also read The Programme of the Communist International, which was adopted at the second congress and published in September 1920. On the Indian situation the Programme stated, “Tendencies like Gandhi’s in India, thoroughly imbued with religious conceptions, idealise the most backward and economically most reactionary forms of social life. They see the solution of the social problem not in proletarian socialism, but in a reversion to these backward forms, preaching passivity and repudiating the class struggle, and in the process of the development of the revolution, they become transformed into an openly reactionary force. Gandhi’s, more and more, is becoming an ideology directed against mass revolution. It must be strongly combated by communism.”
Gandhi later came out in his true colours, revealing on the side of which class he really was. On January 15, 1948, he stressed the ownership of the capitalists and the landlords: “I will never be a participant in snatching away the properties from their owners and you should know that I will use all my influence and authority against the class war.” Bhagat, on the other hand, was a fervent torchbearer of the proletarian struggle. He rejected the prejudices of caste, creed, nationality, race, gender, and, of course, religion. One of his most celebrated works is his pamphlet: Why I am an atheist. There is an intense and controversial debate going on, especially in India, on Gandhi’s role in the conviction and execution of Bhagat Singh along with his comrades Raj Guru and Sukhdev. However, on Bhagat’s execution, Gandhi remarked in his characteristic hypocrisy, “The government certainly had the right to hang these men. However, there are some rights which do credit to those who possess them only if they are enjoyed in name only.” Gandhi and the British viceroy Lord Irwin signed the Gandhi-Irwin Pact on March 5, 1931, and yet the executions were carried out just weeks after the signing of the pact. There was immense anger and sorrow throughout the subcontinent at these executions. Just after this brutality, the annual convention of the Congress at Karachi resulted in Subhash Chandra Bose and the left taking over the leadership of the Congress despite Gandhi’s efforts. There were violent demonstrations against Gandhi at the convention. The New York Times reported at the time, “A reign of terror in the city of Cawnpore in the United Provinces and an attack on Gandhi by the youth outside Karachi was amongst the answers of the Indian extremists today to the hanging of Bhagat Singh and two fellow assassins.” Revolutionaries are always pronounced by the imperialist media as extremists and assassins.
But Bhagat Singh was extremely popular in the subcontinent. Sir Horace Williamson, Director of the Intelligence Bureau, wrote about Bhagat’s popularity years after the executions, “His photograph was on sale in every city and township and for a time (Bhagat Singh) rivalled in popularity of Mr Gandhi himself.” Although the aims, objective, ideology and ideals of his struggle have been distorted, tarnished and caricatured by the intelligentsia of the capitalist status quo, the truth cannot be concealed forever. At a seminar organised by the Punjabi University Research Scholars Association (PURSA) at the Patiala University on September 25, 2012, the main speaker, Professor Balkar Singh said, “Bhagat Singh sacrificed everything for socialist revolution...His thinking was relevant today as it was during his lifetime and he qualified to be placed among people like Lenin and Che Guevara.” After 65 years of so-called independence, the masses of the subcontinent are worse off. There is excruciating misery and deprivation through which the vast majority of the population is made to suffer by capitalist exploitation and repression. The system the British Raj imposed is very much there. Without its overthrow the emancipation of the oppressed massed can never be achieved. Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary legacy is a beacon of light for the revolutionary workers and youth of the region in struggle today. This revolutionary mission can ultimately be accomplished by the creation of a voluntary socialist federation of South Asia.
The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at email@example.com - This article was first broght in the Daily Times of Pakistan