Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bhagat Singh’s Legacy

Balu S

Today is Bhagat Singh’s 86th martyrdom day. On 23 March 1931 he along with Sukhdev and Rajguru, was hanged for the assassination of a British officer P Saunders in Lahore in 1928. Bhagat Singh was a young revolutionary influenced by the 1917 Russian Revolution and the ideas of socialism. However, his legacy has been claimed by different ideological groups including the hardcore rightwing RSS and its student body ABVP. This is a dangerous trend. Bhagat Singh and his friends stood opposed to all forms of divisive and regressive ideologies including Hindutva. RSS and ABVP’s attempt to appropriate their legacy is a desperate move to gain legitimacy for their divisive and regressive politics. Present article is an attempt to reiterate Bhagat Singh’s Marxist legacy (Vikalp’s editorial team).       

The BJP is in a spree to appropriate nationalist icons. They have to resort to these cheap tactics because despite their claims of nationalism, their movement does not even have a single nationalist icon to showcase.  Their latest victim in this regard is Sardar Patel. Now despite the fact that Patel ordered for the ban of RSS post the assassination of Gandhi, there is a sense of logic in the BJP trying to appropriate Patel. Patel was the leader of the conservative section in Congress and therefore shared the same ideological position as the Sangh in many aspects. But this cannot be said in the case of Bhagat Singh at all. Today we are witnessing a situation in which right wing organizations, especially the ABVP making full fledged attempts to portray Bhagat Singh as an icon of theirs. Truth can be only far from this. Even when his most famous text,  “Why I am an atheist” is quoted against  this Sangh appropriation,  they counter it by pointing that even their ideologue Savarakar was an atheist. Atheism therefore does not become an obstacle in their appropriation of Bhagat Singh. They even go in lengths to draw parallels between Bhagat Singh and  the Kar Sevaks who were killed while attempting to destroy Babri Masjid. In the latest episode, the RSS leader Kundan Chandrawat draws an analogy between his announcement of offering bounty on the Kerala Chief Minster’s head and the bombing by Bhagat Singh and his comrades in the Central Legislative assembly. Chadrawat pointed that both these acts merely intended to open the deaf ears.

There are multiple reasons why this appropriation becomes possible. The most important one being the fact that the serious philosophical and political positions which Bhagat Singh took later in his life while in jail  have not being publicized  enough in the general discourse on the  nationalist movement. While his terrorist activities are well known to the public, they are completely ignorant about his total shift to Marxism in his later years. It is therefore important that we examine Bhagat Singh’s political ideology verbatim. Does it in anyway resemble the ideological moorings of Sagh Parivar? It does not.

The Ideological Positions of Bhagat Singh
In this section, let us examine some quotations from Bhagat Singh’s later writings. It should be pointed that these writings are a reflection of the political maturity he had reached after intensive reading on several topics.  Not only is there an open declaration of his Marxist leanings, but also is present a nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the society and the political tactics needed to achieve a Marxist revolution. Also was present his clear support for the Bolshevik revolution and the Communist International. .It becomes clear from the telegram read by Bhagat Singh on the court on January 31st 1930. He requested it to be sent to the Communist International.

“On Lenin Day we send Hearty greetings to all who are doing something for carrying the great ideas of great Lenin. We wish success to the great experiment Russia is carrying out. We join our voice to that of the international working class movement. Proletariat will win. Capitalism will be defeated. Death to imperialism”.

On the meaning of revolution

“Revolution means the complete overthrow of the existing social order and its replacement with the socialist order. For that our immediate aim is the achievement of power, as a matter of fact, the state, the government machinery is just a weapon the hands of the ruling class to further and safeguard its interest. We want to snatch and handle it to utilize it for the consummation of our ideal i.e., social reconstruction on new i.e. Marxist basis.” (From the document “To young Political workers”, written on February 2nd 1931)

“We want a Socialist revolution, the indispensable preliminary to which is the political revolution. The political revolution does not meant the transfer of state from the hands of British to  the Indian ,but to those Indians,  who are at one with us  as to the final goal, or to be precise, the power to be transferred to the revolutionary party  through popular support (from the same document)

In fact this entire document (To young political workers) shows the strong Marxist Leninist understanding   of Bhagat Sigh. In many parts of this document, he referred to Lenin’s writings on the different tactics that had to be carried out by a revolutionary organisation in order to achieve victory. He strongly advocated the idea of professional revolutionaries and the need for a Communist Party.

At the same time, Bhagat Singh in no way was a Left adventurist. He understood the importance of tactical compromises. Compromises which did not affect the revolutionary aims in the long run were important for him. They had to be snatched, but at the same time he pointed that the sight of political revolution should never be lost with these compromises. Even in this regard, he referred to the writings and political practices of Lenin. Lenins’s advocacy of the revolutionaries participating in the second Duma of 1907 was considered by Bhagat Singh as an example of a tactical compromise which did not dilute the revolutionary aims.

The future society

“in the future society, i.e the Communist society that we want to built, we are not going to establish  charitable institutions, but there shall be no needy and poor, and no alms giving and alms taking.”(From the document “Introduction to dreamland”)

Apart from his writings, a cursory look at the books which he was reading during his years in jail also reflected his strong ideological orientation. These were mostly Marxist texts including that of Lenin, Marx and many more. His jail diary consists of numerous quotations from different texts. Predictably, these are mostly from Left leaning books.

The point being that it is beyond doubt that Bhagat Singh was a Marxist. His life was cut short  by hanging on March 23rd 1931. Otherwise, he would have definitely become part of the Communist movement of our country.  By no stretch of imagination do his ideas have any resonance with that of Sangh’s. Under no semblance did cultural nationalism enter his writings. He stood for a philosophy which did not want the division of the society into religious, racial or even national prejudices.

“Let people be roused to the consciousness that basic rights of all the poor, the world over, irrespective of race, caste, colour, nationality and country are one, hence their salvation and prosperity lies in their joint struggle. They should therefore work to eradicate and remove all racial, national and religious prejudices, differences and distinctions and unite to seize for themselves, the power of governance.” ( Sampradayik Dange aur Unka Elaj)Communal riots and it remedy (Communal Riots and the Remedy) (Communal Riots and the Remedy) )

To sum up, it is therefore extremely important that we resist in every way the attempts made by Sangh Parivar to appropriate him. He does not belong to them. In every sense, he belongs to the Communist movement of our country.


The Author is Doing Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

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