“Bhagat Singh did not wish to live. He refused to apologize, or even file an appeal. Bhagat Singh was not a devotee of non-violence, but he did not subscribe to the religion of violence. He took to violence due to helplessness and to defend his homeland. In his last letter, Bhagat Singh wrote, ‘I have been arrested while waging a war. For me there can be no gallows. Put me into the mouth of a cannon and blow me off.’ These heroes had conquered the fear of death. Let us bow to them a thousand times for their heroism.” – M.K. Gandhi in Young India, 29 March 1931
The book, Bhagat Singh Revisited: Historiography, Biography and Ideology of the Great Martyr, is the result of five years of meticulous research by Chander Pal Singh. The first part of the book surveys the vast literature available on Bhagat Singh; it points towards certain gaps while attempting to reconstruct the chronology, and re-examines authenticity of documents attributed to him. The second part deals with not only the family background and the formative phase of Bhagat Singh’s life, but also informs us about his relationship with the communist movement in the country and what made him one of the most popular political figures of his time; it also highlights how his statements during the court proceedings had an electrifying impact on Indian society.
Besides demolishing the myth prevailing for the last 80 years that Mahatma Gandhi did nothing to save Bhagat Singh’s life, the book also deals with the ideological debate related to him. “Intense patriotism only remained the fundamental ingredient of Bhagat Singh’s creed and independence of the motherland his cherished goal and martyrdom his lifelong passion,” writes the author.
The book talks in detail about Bhagat Singh’s Marxist connection. It highlights the fact that Bhagat Singh and his ilk were not taken to be Marxists/Communists either by themselves (as shows the views expressed by Yashpal and Ajoy Ghosh) or by Stalin, Trotsky and Indian communists. These revolutionaries were, at best, ‘terrorists’ in the eyes the communists.
So, how did Bhagat Singh become a communist? Bhagat Singh’s ideological hijacking as one of the most popular party icons was planned by the CPI in 1953 under the leadership of Ajoy Ghosh. Incidentally, it was Ghosh who, in his book Bhagat Singh and His Comrades, had stated in 1945 that “it would be an exaggeration to call Bhagat Singh a Marxist”. This change of heart had something to do with the party’s internal compulsions: In 1948, there was an abrupt drop in the number of party cadre — from 90,000 to 9,000 — and the CPI needed a credible face to save itself from extinction.
The CPI’s loss of face was understandable, as it believed that India’s Independence was not a real one. For it, the Congress, a bourgeois party, could not win a liberation war against imperialism. It, therefore, called India’s Independence a farce (“Yeh Azaadi Jhuthhi Hai”) and observed August 15 was “black day”. With an objective to capture political power through armed struggle, the party under the leadership of B.T. Ranadive, a hardliner, started a violent movement in Telangana. Moreover, there was an internal rift within the party. To get rid of these problems, several communist leaders — Ajoy Ghosh and S.A. Dange of the Soviet faction, and Rajeshwar Rao and M. Basavpunniah of the Chinese faction — clandestinely met Stalin in Moscow. The Soviet leader advised them to recognise India’s Independence, abjure the Telangana armed struggle and work for “the united front of workers, peasants, intelligentsia and the national bourgeoisie”. They were also asked to identify themselves with India’s freedom struggle since 1857. As a result, the CPI celebrated August 15 in 1951; Telangana struggle was withdrawn in October 1951; the party celebrated Gandhi’s birth anniversary that year, and, as directed by Rajani Palme Dutt on behalf of the Soviet leadership, the CPI also decided to participate in electoral politics.
Ajoy Ghosh, soon after becoming the party chief, summoned G.M. Telang, who then wrote the book, Bhagat Singh: The Man and His Ideas, under the pseudonym Gopal Thakur (Peoples Publishing House, 1953), projecting Bhagat Singh’s image in the Marxist mould. According to another CPI strategy change, by 1957, the 1857 revolt became, in the words of P.C. Joshi, “the first chapter of the history of Indian national movement against British imperialism”, as against “a reactionary and feudal outburst” as stated by M.N. Roy (India in Transition, 1922) and Rajani Palme Dutt (India Today, 1940).
The book is an eye-opener and must be read to not just know about Bhagat Singh and his life, but also how the CPI appropriated the revolutionary for the party use.
» B.B. Kumar is the editor of Dialogue Quarterly
Filed under: colonial, hindu, history, india, indian independence movement, nationalism, patriotism Tagged: | bhagat singh, british in india, freedom fighter, indian independence movement, m.k. gandhi, marxism