Skip to main content

A misleading tendency? Efforts to 'reconcile' Gandhiji’s goal with Bhagat Singh's

By Harsh Thakor* 

Bhagat Singh was one of the greatest ever revolutionaries to have treaded upon this earth. Unlike the Indian National Congress and Gandhiji, he chalked out a revolutionary anti-colonial programme. Initially he supported the path of individual terrorism and was influenced by the Irish revolutionaries but later after studying Karl Marx, VI Lenin and worldwide experiences he rejected those methods.
In all spheres be it on caste system, religion, capitalism or science Bhagat Singh’s writings had Marxian connotations. He believed that the Congress paved no genuine path for the liberation of peasants from the bondage of landlordism or of workers from capitalist slavery. And unlike the Communist Party, which believed in proletarian hegemony, Bhagat Singh thought peasants were the key to revolution in India.
Today there have been tendencies wishing to reconcile Gandhiji’s goal with that of Bhagat Singh or project their ideas as similar. Bhagat Singh has also been utilised as a symbol by RSS forces just like the Khalistani leaders did earlier. The Ambedkarites, however, recognise Bhagat Singh as a great revolutionary and wish to reconcile Dalit liberation ideology with Bhagat Singh’s writings.
Some Left-wing organisations, on the other hand, ever since 1970s, have suggested that Gandhiji betrayed Bhagat Singh. In ‘India and the Raj’ Suniti Kumar Ghosh describes how Gandhiji so much feared Bhagat Singh that he deliberately rejected commuting of the sentence. This view is also taken in the movie ‘The Legend of Shaheed Bhagat Singh' enacted by Ajay Devgan.
Written in Lahore Central jail about six weeks before he was martyred, in ‘Letter to Young Political Workers' (February 2, 1931), Bhagat Singh summarises how the revolutionary movement evolved from an embryonic stage in 1905 and the corresponding tactics in accordance to the situation in 1917. It suggests how his approach differed from that of the Congress and Gandhiji. To quote:
“We want a socialist revolution, the indispensable preliminary to which is the political revolution. That is what we want. The political revolution does not mean the transfer of state (or more crudely, the power) from the hands of the British to the Indian, but to those Indians who are at one with us as to the final goal, or to be more precise, the power to be transferred to the revolutionary party through popular support.
“After that, to proceed in right earnest is to organize the reconstruction of the whole society on the socialist basis. If you do not mean this revolution, then please have mercy. Stop shouting Long Live Revolution. The term revolution is too sacred, at least to us, to be so lightly used or misused. But if you say you are for the national revolution and the aims of your struggle is an Indian republic of the type of the United State of America, then I ask you to please let known on what forces you rely that will help you bring about that revolution.
“ national or the socialist, are the peasantry and the labour. Congress leaders do not dare to organize those forces. You have seen it in this movement. They know it better than anybody else that without these forces they are absolutely helpless. When they passed the resolution of complete independence — that really meant a revolution — they did not mean it. They had to do it under pressure of the younger element, and then they wanted to us it as a threat to achieve their hearts' desire — Dominion Status. You can easily judge it by studying the resolutions of the last three sessions of the Congress. I mean Madras, Calcutta and Lahore.”
In his draft revolutionary programme, Bhagat Singh wrote “I have said that the present movement... is bound to end in some sort of compromise or complete failure… I said that, because in my opinion, this time the real revolutionary forces have not been invited into the arena. This is a struggle dependent upon the middle class shopkeepers and a few capitalists.
“Both these, and particularly the latter, can never dare to risk its property or possessions in any struggle. The real revolutionary armies are in the villages and in factories, the peasantry and the labourers. But our bourgeois leaders do not and cannot dare to tackle them. The sleeping lion once awakened from its slumber shall become irresistible even after the achievement of what our leaders aim at.
“After his first experience with the Ahmedabad labourers in 1920 Mahatma Gandhi declared: ‘we must not tamper with the labourers. It is dangerous to make political use of the factory proletariat' (The Times, May 1921). Since then, they never dared to approach them. 
"There remains the peasantry. The Bardoli resolution of 1922 clearly depicts the horror the leaders felt when they saw the gigantic peasant class rising to shake off not only the domination of an alien nation but also the yoke of the landlords. It is clear that our leaders prefer surrender to the British than to the peasantry....”
He further said:
“The present situation demands of us a clear and responsible programme of revolution. Just before the revolution of October 1917, Lenin mentioned three necessary conditions of a successful revolution: Political and economic situation. The spirit of rebellion among the masses. 
"A revolutionary party fully trained to lead the masses at the decisive hour. In India the first condition has already been fulfilled while the other two are waiting for complete realisation. To work for their fulfilment is the first task of every fighter for freedom and the programme should be worked out with this end in view.
“An outline is given below: Abolition of feudalism. Waiver of farmers’ loans. Nationalisation of land by the revolutionary state, so that improved and collective farming can be introduced. Guaranteed houses for all. All levies on peasants to be stopped, only a unified land tax to be collected. Nationalisation of factories and setting up of new factories.Universal education. The working day to be shortened as needed.”

Not only Suniti Ghosh, DP Das also describes how Gandhiji did not strived to the utmost to get the sentences on Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru commuted. Das writes:
“Alan Campbell-Johnson, in his book ‘Lord Halifax' referred to an understanding between Gandhi and Irwin that Bhagat Singh would not get any reprieve.In his record of his meeting with Gandhi on February 1931, Irwin noted that at the end of it Gandhi casually mentioned the case of Bhagat Singh. Irwin wrote: Gandhi did not plead for commutation. But he did ask for postponement in present circumstances.”
The correctness of Irwin’s version is borne out by Gandhiji’s own report on this meeting. Das states there was a third titbit which both Gandhiji and Irwin greatly enjoyed. It was about Bhagat Singh. Das quotes Gandhiji:
“I told him: 'This has no connection with our discussion, and it may even be inappropriate on my part to mention it. But if you want to make the present atmosphere, more favourable, you should suspend Bhagat Singh’s execution.’ In reply the viceroy stated ‘Commutation of sentence is a different thing, but suspension is worth considering’.”
Further, Das says, on March 23, barely a few hours before the executions were to take place, Gandhi appealed to Irwin for commutation of sentences. Gandhi told the viceroy, “Since you seem to value my influence such as it in favour of peace, do not please unnecessarily make my position difficult as it is, almost too difficult for future work.” Das comments, “Through this belated appeal, Gandhi wished to prop up the myth that he did his level best to commute the sentences.”
Bernard De Mello’s essay in ‘Monthly Review’, “India’s Revolutionary Spiritual Urge-Bhagat Singh and the Naxalites” describes how Bhagat Singh made an ethical indictment of untouchability. In 1928 Bhagat Singh wrote: “We can worship beasts but cannot make a human being sit next to us.” De Mello says Bhagat Singh “treated and respected…[a] manual scavenger [working] in [the] jail just like his mother.”
Jaspal Jassi, editor, “Surkh Leeh”, believes Bhagat Singh was morally a Marxist-Leninist. He elaborates in an article he wrote in 2017 in Punjabi how Bhagat Singh evolved from a very embryonic stage to grasp Marxism and reject path of individual terrorism. It also summarises how in practice the Congress was in striking contrast to the virtues or ideal of Bhagat Singh. The article projects Bhagat Singh’s profound grasp of nature of revolution in colonies and imperialism on a global scale.
Bhagat Singh’s writings should be resurrected in context of liberation from the Hindutva fascism of the Bhartiya Janata Party. His essay ’Why I am an Atheist’ would be a perfect thorn in the flesh for those who want to extinguish scientific thinking and replace it with mythological ideas.
It is time Marxists and other progressive forces seriously study the experiences of Bhagat Singh. His important lessons could be imbibed on how to form genuine democratic people’s organisations. His teachings could be applied in context of globalisation, mechanisation and digital age, with the world facing the worst ever capitalist crisis.
---
*Freelance journalist

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen