Almost all our Freedom fighters, after their death, are conveniently dragged into current political debates, mostly by those who have little knowledge about them- or with their politics during Freedom struggle. Among many- Shaheed Bhagat Singh, in recent past, has been unfortunately invoked by the Nationalist parade of India.
Despite of Bhagat Singh being a Comrade (leftist) in his life, it is observed that the right wing political groups are more interested in exercising their copyright over him. The problem with right is that all it has to sell in politics is nationalism, while its share in creating nationalist icons since 1925, is abysmally poor. This leaves the right wing with no credible nationalist icon to look up to and their only option is to hang on to the most popular ones at the slightest opportunity.
These icons certainly deserve a lot more than being portrayed just as a nationalist or a Martyr. They are conveniently fitted into current right wing politics of nationalism and slogans. In recent days, there seems to be a habit of the latter day ‘nationalists’ to raise divisive issues to parade their patriotism.
The most recent example of this is the attack on the distinguished Indian historian Professor Bipin Chandra and his colleagues who authored the book, “India’s struggle for Independence” published back in 1988. The objection is that Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades have been described there as “revolutionary terrorists”.
The concept of Terrorism as a revolutionary struggle is actually dated back to the Russian revolutionaries fighting against the Tsarist tyranny. In past two or three decades, the vocabulary of terrorism has shifted more towards killing of innocent men, women and children. Thus, the definition has changed and is no more like the 1930’s.
In his several writings from 1926 to 1931, Singh sahib repeatedly raised the issue of terrorism, saying that the colonial rule of British can only be countered by terrorism and not by Gandhi’s ‘ahimsa‘ or non-violence. His ‘Hindustan Socialist Republican Association’ clarified terrorism as “an effective means of retaliation”.
Only those who read history in the present context can see the tag of terrorism as an insult to Bhagat Singh and others. But for them, it was actually a strategy to fight.
Why can’t we talk about Bhagat Singh’s categorical views about God, religion, caste and communalism? Besides writing a masterly article “Why I am an Atheist” during his incarceration, the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, an organisation he founded in 1926, repeatedly condemned the religious strife of the 1920s. Its manifesto, invoking Bolshevik Russia, said:
“When the great Russia is playing the role of the world’s benefactor; what are we Indians doing? The mere cutting of a branch of the Pipaltree hurts the religious feelings of the Hindus. They get excited. God (Allah) gets infuriated at the mere tearing of the paper Tazia of the Iconoclasts and they do not rest content till they shed the blood of the unholy Hindus. Man is more valuable than animals. But, here in India, we are breaking one another’s head in the name of holy animals. The morbidity of communalism has blurred our sight while the youth of the world are thinking in terms of internationalism.”
Our Nationalist friends unfortunately ignore the intelligence of Bhagat Singh and are so busy in crafting his image as a nationalist that they forget his philosophy and his revolutionary thinking.
It is understood that many of us would not like to call our freedom fighters- Bhagat Singh or Surya Sen or Chandrashekhar Azad- “terrorists”. But if we claim to be nationalists, we should not forget that there was a time when the tag of terrorism was borne with pride by people who actually gave their life for this country. And let us not politicise these great people and not demand the changes in books and display our own ignorance to the world.
S Irfan Habib, Delhi based historian and author, sums this up well- “Nationalism is not empty rhetoric – it can’t be flaunted by mere chest thumping or even by branding some fellow citizens as anti-nationals. Bhagat Singh was a nationalists because he had a serious vision for nation building. He was in the vanguard of our freedom struggle and not engaged in some apolitical and safe socio-religious reform programme. Our pluralist nationalism is an inheritance from our freedom struggle, which could only be articulated after decades of churning and was later defined in the Constituent Assembly Debates”.
Fortunately mainstream media and the social media armies are so busy in the Maratha turmoil and Indian cricket team’s victory over New Zealand that they have forgot the 109th anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
It has become a serious time pass for Indians to remove the long buried dead bodies of great heroes and colour them either according to their religion or their ideology. We have already started the process with Bhagat Singh, let us collectively end this immoral tradition and begin with a new one where we can celebrate the work done by our national heroes.
By Raj Kamble