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  1. 1. Akhar Bandyopadhyay BHAGAT SINGH’S SOCIALIST INDIA Portrait: Saqlain Shah
  2. 2. DEDICATED TO Our friend ABHITEJ SINGH SANDHU Human Rights activist and Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s grandnephew
  3. 3.  Shaheed Bhagat Singh as a “true revolutionary” personality, as we today know or see him, emerged out of a multiple number of intellectual ‘breaks’ or ‘ruptures’ within his short period of active political life. He went through a series of epistemological and ontological transitional phases, consisting of the influences of a multiple number of political philosophies, and finally took up a firm stand on one specific political-ideological basis.  Were these transitions from one phase to another both continuous and discontinuous at the same time?  HOW and WHY did these epistemological breaks/ruptures take place?  How did those breaks/ruptures shape Bhagat Singh’s ultimate standpoint?
  4. 4.  To deal with these questions, I am going to use some technical ‘tools’ to arrive into a scientific understanding of Bhagat Singh’s intellectual development, at a time when certain groups are busy appropriating & distorting his true revolutionary legacy for their own vested interests.  I am totally indebted to the philosophers, social theorists and historians, to name a few: Bachelard, Althusser, Frantz Fanon, Turner, Gennep, Homi Bhabha, Bipan Chandra, Malwinder Jit Singh Waraich, Jagmohan Singh, Chaman Lal, Syed Irfan Habib, Datta Desai, among others, for lending me some of the effective methodology and perception to analyze the revolutionary personality. LET US GET STARTED, THEN!
  5. 5.  Born in a family of patriot-revolutionaries, his first-hand experiences of the Jaillianwala Bagh (1919), Nankana Sahib (1921) massacres as well as the distress of the workers and peasants under British colonial rule led to Bhagat Singh’s active involvement in the national movement through the Non-Cooperation movement (1920-22), when he was just 13-14 years old.  The sudden failure of the Gandhi-led Non-Cooperation in 1922 convinced 14 year old Bhagat Singh about the invalidity of the era of “utopian non-violence”. He started to realize that Gandhian movements always tend to end either with a failure or with a compromise with the imperial power.
  6. 6.  Bhagat Singh, undergoing an epistemological break, started to incline towards the creed of romantic and idealist revolutionism after the Non-cooperation movement.  This period (1921-23) embarked during his Lahore National College days, which was marked by his scepticism regarding religious matters. Though he was still a believer and did not dare to refute the existence of God.
  7. 7.  During his college days, he poured himself in the study of history and politics in Dwarkadas Library in Lahore. He was soon inspired by the revolutionary movements in America, France, Italy, Ireland and especially Russia.  He literally used to “devour” the books in the library which soon developed his attraction towards revolutionary struggles and politics. Bhagat Singh was then engaged in a search for the ultimate theory of liberation for the suffering humanity. This ‘search’ made him lean towards revolutionary socialist praxis.
  8. 8.  “Liminality”, in anthopological terminology, is a “threshold point”, where the individual being stands betwixt one’s previous identity and forthcoming identity.  While Bhagat Singh was in college, he was inside such a threshold point, where his early Arya Samajist-Sikh nationalistic identity was confronting his newly emerging “progressive and revolutionary” identity, that was being formed through his study.
  9. 9. Around the same time,  Ireland freed itself from the shackles of British colonial rule through guerilla warfare. A handful of Indian youth, inspired by republican Ireland and disillusioned in the Gandhian ideology, formed the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA).  HRA believed in the overthrow of colonial domination through an armed revolution and establishment of a federal republic. The HRA called forth for the abolition of all “exploitation of man by man”.  Their ideal was republicanism, and all of the HRA revolutionaries were god-fearing believers.
  10. 10. In 1924, Bhagat Singh translated Irish revolutionary Dan Breen’s autobiography My Fight For Irish Freedom in Hindi and published it. This book had a great impact in shaping the destiny of the Indian revolutionary movement after the failure of the non-cooperation movement.
  11. 11.  Bhagat Singh left his college and home for Kanpur-Delhi in August-September 1923, after denying the offer of his family to bring a bride in the home. He joined the HRA in Kanpur in 1923-24. Kanpur, being an industrial city, was then the hub of communist activities. Bhagat Singh built up contacts with many significant working class leaders and activists. As a matter of consequence, his interest towards socialism continued to thrive.  Soon the Kakori rail ‘robbery’ took place on 9th August, 1925. Following the event, all the leading revolutionaries (except Chandrashekhar Azad) of the HRA were arrested, put in trial in the Kakori ‘Conspiracy’ Case and were sentenced by the
  12. 12.  This left Bhagat Singh and the entire HRA into a state of dilemma. Bhagat Singh wrote: “… up to that period I was only romantic idealist revolutionary. Up til then we were to follow.” “Why I am an Atheist”, October 5-6, 1930 All attempts by the rest of the HRA revolutionaries to free the Kakori prisoners from police custody failed.
  13. 13. Bhagat Singh, who was then compelled to assume the leadership position of the party along with his comrades, wrote: “Now came the time to shoulder the whole responsibility. Due to the inevitable reaction, for some time, the very existence of the party seemed impossible. Enthusiastic comrades, nay leaders, began to jeer at us. For some time I was afraid that someday I also might be convinced of the futility of our own programme.” [ibid.]
  14. 14.  The state of dilemma characterised by confusion and uncertainty proved to be the fertile ground for sowing the seed of his future revolutionary work based on scientific lines and thus it became a major turning point of his revolutionary career. He later declared: “Study was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind. Study, to enable yourself to face the arguments advanced by opposition. Study, to arm yourself with arguments in favour of your cult… My previous faith and convictions underwent a remarkable modification. The romance of the violent methods alone which was so prominent amongst our predecessors was replaced by serious ideas. No more mysticism, no more blind faith. Realism became our cult. Use of force justifiable when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity: non-violence as policy indispensable for all mass movements… The most important thing was the clear conception of the ideal for which we were to fight.” [ibid.]
  15. 15.  This “cry of study” marked the beginning of an ontological break and exhibited a sign of epistemological progress in Bhagat Singh’s personality. It transformed the way Bhagat Singh used to perceive his life and surroundings.  Some would like to call the “cry of study” after the Kakori phase as a “spontaneous overflow” or a “sudden outburst”, which occurred at the “spur of a moment”. But the question of ‘studying’ was already imbibed in him earlier, at the time of the Belgaon Congress, which later only manifested itself at a certain situation after the Kakori phase. His earlier study of revolutionary literature through Dwarkadas Library also had a commendable role in generating this cry.  In December 1924, Bhagat Singh was taken to the Belgaon session of the Congress by his father Kishan Singh in order to make him understand that ‘education’ is an essential need for becoming a matured revolutionary leader.
  16. 16.  In the Belgaon Congress, the debate between reformist Gandhiji and revolutionary Shachindra Nath Sanyal based on the question of “reform or revolution” was in motion. Bhagat Singh kept following the debate.  He also began to hold serious political discussions and debates with his comrades related to the problem-questions and action-plans of the forthcoming political struggle. Because as told by Bhagat Singh himself: “When you have formulated this clear-cut idea about your goals you can proceed in right earnest to organize your forces for such an action. Now there are two different phases… First, the Preparation; second, the Action.” A Letter to Young Political Workers
  17. 17.  After the Kakori phase, Bhagat Singh started to read in detail about the various ideals of the world revolution: especially the tenets of Anarchism and Marxism-Leninism became the major area of his study. He encouraged his comrades to read about ‘socialism’ as well.  As a result of his study, he made a quick transition from romantic idealist revolutionism towards revolutionary anarchism and developed belief in individual terrorism as well.
  18. 18.  Com. Jitendranath Sanyal once wrote: “Except for a short period as a reaction against the executions in the Kakori Conspiracy Case, Bhagat Singh was never a terrorist.”  Com. Shiv Verma has also written that they turned into ‘terrorists’ only within a “passing phase”.  Bhagat Singh himself had written that he was perhaps a ‘terrorist’ only at the ‘beginning’ of his political career. For matured Bhagat Singh, the history of terrorism is the history of failure in every country. It was ‘mass-action’ on which he always used to stress upon.
  19. 19.  Besides Marx and Lenin, both Bakunin (1814-76) and Kropotkin (1842-1921) also had a profound influence on Bhagat Singh’s life and ideas, after he read some of their works in between 1925 – 1928.  Bhagat Singh’s anarchist inclination (which co-existed with the terrorist phase) is reflected especially in three of his articles, all published in Kirti in the May-June-July issues of the magazine in 1928.  We must make it clear, that Bhagat Singh only had an affectionate “inclination” towards anarchism, though himself he was not an anarchist.  He had admitted: “Even having a difference of opinion with them we cannot doubt their [the anarchists’] sincerity, love for the people and truthfulness.”  Through these articles in Kirti, Bhagat Singh strived to understand
  20. 20.  Bhagat Singh said: “The word anarchism has been abused so much that even in India, that revolutionaries have been called ‘anarchist’ to make them unpopular… I think in India the idea of ‘universal brotherhood’, the Sanskrit sentence vasudhaiva kutumbakam etc., have the same meaning.”  The way in which Bhagat Singh bridged the concepts of vasudhaiva kutumbakam and anarchism, is a visible example of epistemological amalgamation, the ‘bringing together’ of different schools of thought or knowledge-systems, in this case!
  21. 21. How do the concepts of vasudhaiva kutumbakam and Anarchism have the same meaning? Bhagat Singh continued: “The ultimate goal of Anarchism is complete independence, according to which no one will be obsessed with God or religion, nor will anybody be crazy for money… There will be no chains on the body or control by the state. This means that they want to eliminate: religion, the state and private property.”
  22. 22.  We must note that Bhagat Singh’s Delhi Assembly Bomb action on 8th April, 1929, derived its motivation and inspiration from the French anarchist revolutionary martyr Auguste Vaillant (1861-1894) and his famous dictum: “IT TAKES A LOUD VOICE TO MAKE THE DEAF HEAR”.  Vaillant earlier perpetrated a similar type of political action inside the French Chamber of Deputies or French Parliament on 9th December, 1893. Vaillant’s slogans before getting guillotined were: “Long Live Anarchy” and “Death to the Bourgeoisie”!
  23. 23.  Apart from his anarchist inclination, Bhagat Singh also had a deep love for the Russian nihilist movement at that period of time.  The Nihilist movement launched an attack against all sorts of primitive rituals , blind faith and superstitions in Christian-dominated Tsarist Russia.  Bhagat Singh’s article, “Russian Nihilist Revolutionaries” (August 1928) explicitly supports this fact.
  24. 24.  In 1925-26, Bhagat Singh and his comrades formed the mass-based youth organization Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) in Lahore on the model of Young Italy and based it on socialist principles. The NBS dedicated itself to the class organization of the workers and peasants. At the same time, Bhagat Singh has established himself as an author by frequently contributing articles in various magazines like Kirti, Chand, Matwala, Maharathi, Pratap, etc., focusing on the role of the revolutionary martyrs as well as the prevailing social and political issues like Communalism, Casteism, Religious Fundamentalism etc.  Threatened by the revolutionary activities of the NBS inside the working masses, the British authorities arrested Bhagat Singh in May 1927 on false charges in connection to the Dussehra Bomb Case. He was released in July 1927 only after a bail bond of 60,000 rupees was paid by his father.
  25. 25.  Though according to Bhagat Singh’s narrative, he turned into an atheist by 1926, still this claim is refuted by a letter addressed to his friend Amar Chand after his first arrest in 1927, which finds mention of the name of the “Paramatma” or God a multiple number of times.  While being born and nurtured in a totally theist environment, becoming an atheist is truly a ‘revolutionary’ task for an individual, and perhaps only after passing through few stages of ambiguity and uncertainty such as this, that one is able to take a favourable stand towards atheism.  Moreover, Bhagat Singh was merely nineteen years old at that time! Let us salute him for the exemplary courage he has sown in taking up a firm atheist stand by 1928, when his age was only twenty years, and he never ever deserted that position after that, not even in the gallows.  His atheism was of the Marxist-Leninist variety, with a broad materialist perspective, grounded on the fact that “Religion is the opium of the masses”.
  26. 26. The “Felt-hat hero” Ideologically, Bhagat Singh was no ‘mimic-man’. His popular image with a western attire does not at all entail “black skin with white mask”. Rather, it was just a ‘strategy’ of the suppressed man adopted to camouflage his true revolutionary identity from the colonizers’ gaze. Bhagat Singh wanted to get complete access over the colonizers’ space to subvert the colonial authority itself, by utilizing it for the propagation of his communist ideal to the toiling masses. It was just the Leninist line of mixing the ‘legal’ with the ‘illegal’, and playing with them. This image is the symbol of anti-imperialism, a combined expression of revolutionary spirit!
  27. 27.  Bhagat Singh, by September 1928, not only became convinced as an atheist, but also achieved a sharp inclination towards Marxism- Leninism, while dropping his faith in the creed of ‘terrorism’ completely. As Shiv Verma puts it, that Bhagat Singh was the first Indian revolutionary to recognize ‘the call of socialism’ which was so loudly resounding in the political atmosphere, characterized by an ever-continuing capitalist commercial crisis that casted a dark shadow all over the globe.  The reorganization of the HRA to the HSRA on 8-9th September 1928 took place in the Delhi meeting of the HRA central committee, the intrusion of the word “socialist” thus became a practical and visible advancement in the ultimate aim of the revolutionary party. This was all according to the suggestions of Com. Bhagat Singh- the avid reader, Marxist thinker, writer cum revolutionary.
  28. 28.  About this phase, revolutionary Com. Shiv Verma has written: “This does not mean that we had completely understood Marxism or all aspects of scientific principles of socialism. It was our first step towards socialism. We had understood the class-basis of the [existing] society and the rule of the peasants and workers had become our aim, but we had yet not understood how could we achieve this aim…”
  29. 29. “The hope of the proletariat is, therefore, now centred on socialism, which alone can lead to the establishment of complete independence and the removal of all social distinctions and privileges.” Com. Bhagwati Charan Vohra Manifesto of the HSRA, 1929 Bhagat Singh wanted to structure the HSRA on the model of a communist party, which would take forward the final battle against all sorts of exploitation and oppression.
  30. 30.  Bhagat Singh’s matured ideological standpoint was highly influenced by the Indian martyrs and the earlier revolutionary movements.  To name a few: the Kuka Revolt (1872) and the secular-socialist Ghadar Movement (1913-15) in Punjab were two of his big inspirations.  Ghadar revolutionary Shaheed Kartar Singh Sarabha was his “hero, friend and companion”.  Since the time of his middle and late childhood, he had been reading the booklets written by revolutionaries like Sufi Amba Prasad, Lala Hardayal et al. Hardayal was the first Ghadrite to write an article on Karl Marx in India.  Apart from his grandfather and father’s influence upon him, Bhagat Singh was also deeply impressed by uncle Ajit Singh’s idea of a peasant-based class struggle. Bhagat Singh was to develop this idea into a progressive as well as logical understanding of scientific Marxian socialism.
  31. 31. 1. His Marxian atheism based on materialist considerations and 2. His clear-cut ideas regarding the form of society after gaining political independence from colonial rule, based on scientific socialist principles. His fight was not only against British imperialism, but against the capitalist system as a whole which inevitably perpetuates such an exploitative order. He was for the complete independence of the toiling masses. He envisaged a classless society or a communist society, which would be achieved by the dictatorship of the proletariat.
  32. 32.  Bhagat Singh was not talking merely of a political revolution, but talked of a socialist revolution. As we find in his jail notebook (page 42): “ A Revolution not Utopian:- A radical revolution, the general emancipation of mankind, is not a utopian dream… what is utopian is the idea of a partial, an exclusively political revolution, which would leave the pillars of the house standing.”  The author of the above quote is none other than Karl Heinrich Marx, the father of communism, of whom Bhagat Singh was an worthy follower. Bhagat Singh’s theoretical understanding of the Marxian theory of base-superstructure relation is evident through this citation.
  33. 33.  Bhagat Singh’s understanding of ‘imperialism’ as the ‘highest stage of development of the capitalist relations of production’ or the “highest level of insidious exploitation of man by man” was fully influenced by that of Lenin’s understanding of the term/concept.  It is not surprising enough to find a lot of quotes in Bhagat Singh’s jail notebook from the Communist Manifesto, Marx’s The Capital and from Lenin’s works such as Imperialism: The Highest Stage Of Capitalism as well. The jail notebook is a clear proof of the pattern of Bhagat Singh’s intellectual development on Marxist basis which he continued in greater pace while being in jail from April 1929 till March 1931.
  34. 34.  On Lenin Day (21st January, 1930) the Lahore Conspiracy Case ‘accused’ entered into the courtroom wearing red scarves. As soon as the magistrate came they raised the slogans of "Long Live Socialist Revolution", "Long Live Communist International", "Long Live People" "Lenin's Name Will Never Die", and "Down with Imperialism". Bhagat Singh then read out the text of a telegram in the court and asked the magistrate to send it to Moscow. The telegram written by Bhagat Singh reads:  “ON LENIN DAY, we send hearty greetings to all who are doing something for carrying forward the ideas of the 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. The proletariat will win. Capitalism will be defeated. Death to Imperialism.”
  35. 35.  The last book read by Bhagat Singh was Com. Clara Zetkin’s Reminiscences of Lenin, which he was not able to finish. When he was requested by the jail warder to take the name of the almighty God before hanging, atheist-Marxist Bhagat Singh declined the offer and instead passed his final hours by engaging in a conversation with Lenin. Indeed, the reading of the Reminiscences, for Bhagat Singh, was like meeting Lenin in person. As told by Bhagat Singh’s niece Verinder Sandhu: “Who was closer to Bhagat Singh than Lenin?”
  36. 36. Bhagat Singh always stood against all types of primitive racial or national hatred. He was against capital punishment, and was also firmly against the philanthropic social services or dole-economy. For him, not to rule, but to pull down the parasitic rulers from their thrones and thus put a stop to their bloodsucking exploitation should be the main motive- force of a true revolutionary mass-movement. Because nationalistic idealism without a definite scientific and social basis is bound to end up in a compromise with the exploitative ruling class. Mass mobilization is a “must” for the revolution to succeed. In Bhagat Singh’s political philosophy, mere nationalistic sentimentalism and faith crumbles down and accepts defeat at the feet of reason and proletarian internationalism. Revolution, according to Bhagat Singh, meant the abolition of the existing order and its’ replacement by the socialist order. His understanding of revolution was scientific in its real sense.
  37. 37. Bhagat Singh, more specifically, was for a proletarian revolution and his vision of revolution was not only limited to India, but applied to the world over: “The proletarian revolution is the only weapon of India to dislodge the imperialist. Nothing else can attain this object ... the rebelliousness of the masses is the motive force behind such agitation and militant mass action alone can push it to success.” Notes to a Letter to Young Political Workers February 2, 1931
  38. 38.  By the time Bhagat Singh and his comrades happily embraced death in the gallows of the Lahore Central Jail on 23rd March 1931, they were fully in support of the ongoing Soviet experiment and the international working class movement as a whole. Most of Bhagat Singh’s comrades afterwards became full-fledged communists.  The slogans publicized by Bhagat Singh and his comrades are as follows:  Long Live the Revolution!  Long Live the Proletariat!  Down With Imperialism!  These slogans, forming the “crux” of their ideas, carry with them not even an iota of ultra-nationalist fervour, communal hatred, casteist prejudice or fundamentalist dogma, but rather express a longing for revolutionary change, empathy for the struggle of the oppressed working class on the basis of humanism and condemnation of the existing imperialist order of
  39. 39. In a letter addressed to Com. Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh wrote in 1930: “I (and you too) did not give birth to the ideas of socialism and communism in this country; this is the consequence of the effects of our time and situations upon ourselves. Of course, we did a bit to propagate these ideas, and therefore I say that since we have already taken a tough task upon ourselves, we should continue to advance it…” Yes, indeed, “men make their own history”. Though not according to self-chosen circumstances, but only according to the circumstances which have been existing already…. Our Bhagat Singh never stopped his efforts to become a Marxist- Leninist…. His letters, articles and statements reveal that in every step!
  40. 40. To conclude, I must say Shaheed-e-Azam Com. Bhagat Singh was a ‘homo sacer’ or “a state of exception” He was an unique socialist revolutionary, who can be killed, cut into pieces and burnt by the state apparatus without being questioned by “the law”.
  41. 41. “Hawaon mein rahegi meri khayalon ki bijliyan, Ye musht-e-khakh hai phaani, rahe na rahe…” “The current of my ideas will stay in the air, This physical existence does not matter…” Urdu Couplet cited by Bhagat Singh in a letter to brother Kultar Singh, 3rd March, 1931 THE WAR SHALL CONTINUE!