This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Anurag Bhaskar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why I Think We Need To Revisit Bhagat Singh And Netaji To Truly Appreciate ‘Nationalism’

By Anurag Bhaskar:

bhagat_subhasAs the certificates of ‘nationalism’ are being distributed these days, it is for us to refer to ideas and beliefs of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose, the two great revolutionaries hailed equally by all Indians. We must remember and follow the ideas of these revolutionaries. It is time for us to decide what we actually mean by nationalism and freedom?

Bhagat Singh used to read a lot. He used to study to enable himself to confront the arguments put forward by the opposition, to arm himself with reasons in favour of his cult of revolution and to study methods to change the system in India. Bhagat Singh had joined issue with the freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai more than once. He disagreed with his chauvinistic Hindu stance. Lajpat Rai, in turn, had denounced him as a ‘Russian agent’ and regarded the revolutionaries as ‘irresponsible young men’.

Kuldip Nayar, the author of the book The Life And Trial of Bhagat Singh, writes about the great revolutionary: “A revolutionary believes in the complete overthrow of any established government or political system that does not give economic equality to the people. In his scheme of things, citizens should be empowered against economic powerlessness and given individual dignity.”

The independence of India was the ultimate aim for Bhagat Singh. But the struggle for the independence of India, for Bhagat Singh, was basically a struggle for social and economic betterment. He felt that real progress would come only when opportunities are given to every individual to develop himself/herself and also to work for the whole community.

He had once written to his mother, Vidyavati Kaur:

“Ma, I have no doubt that my country will be one day free. But I am afraid that the brown sahibs are going to sit in the chairs the white sahibs will vacate.” He was convinced that no change was possible without the destruction of the antiquated system and revolution alone could do so.

In the quest for independence through revolution, Singh was attracted towards Anarchism. He studied the writings of Mikhail Bakunin, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. From May to September 1928, Kirti, a pro-independence paper, published several articles by Bhagat Singh on Anarchism. He had declared, “…The people are scared of the word anarchism” and that “[t]he word anarchism has been abused so much that even in India revolutionaries have been called anarchist to make them unpopular.” He equated the traditional Indian idea of “universal brotherhood” to the anarchist principle of “no rulers.” He wrote, “I think in India the idea of universal brotherhood, the Sanskrit sentence vasudev kutumbakam etc., have the same meaning…The first man to explicitly propagate the theory of Anarchism was Proudhon and that is why he is called the founder of Anarchism. After him a Russian, Bakunin worked hard to spread the doctrine. He was followed by Prince Kropotkin etc.”

The reason for Singh’s belief in Anarchism can be explained through his assertion that, “[t]he 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 or other worldly desires. There will be no chains on the body or control by the state. This means that they want to eliminate: the Church, God and Religion; the state; Private property.” (See Maia Ramnath, Decolonizing Anarchism: An Antiauthoritarian History of India’s Liberation (2012), pg. 149)

During a conversation with his colleagues, Bhagat Singh had said, “…We must make it clear that revolution does not mean an upheaval. Revolution necessarily implies the programme of systematic reconstruction of society in a new and better adapted basis, often necessitating complete destruction of the existing state of affairs. It was one of the illusions of each generation that the social institutions in which it lived were natural and permanent. Yet for countless years social institutions had been superseded by others adapted to temporary needs.” (See Kuldip Nayar, Without Fear: The Life and Trial of Bhagat Singh, p.51)

On June 6, 1929, Bhagat Singh released the following statement:

“By the term Revolution we mean dismissing the prevalent social system which is established on evident impropriety. Though the producers and workers are the most important component of society they are…deprived of the products of their labour and even of their fundamental rights. The farmer who produces corn for everybody has to starve with his family; the weaver who makes garments for all does not get enough clothing for himself. So until and unless this exploitation is prevented, the entire civilization would crumble down. The cry of the day is absolute transformation and those who realise it bear the responsibility to reorganise society on the basis of socialism…By Revolution, we understand the establishment of such a social system…dictatorship of the proletariat and Communist internationalism which would save humanity from Capitalism and Imperial Wars.”

When asked during his trial in Assembly Bomb Case in the lower court what he meant by word ‘Revolution’, he replied:

“By ‘Revolution’ we mean that the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice, must change. Producers or labourers, in spite of being the most necessary element of society, are robbed by their exploiters of their labour and deprived of their elementary rights. The peasant who grows corn for all, starves with his family; the weavers who supplies the world market with textile fabrics, has not enough to cover his own and his children’s bodies; masons, smiths and carpenters who raise magnificent palaces, live like pariahs in the slums. The capitalists and exploiters, the parasites of society, squander millions on their whims. These terrible inequalities and forced disparity of chances are bound to lead to chaos. This state of affair cannot last long, and it is obvious that the present order of society in merry-making is on the brink of a volcano.”

He also wrote a letter to the magazine Modern Review that sought to ridicule the slogan “Long Live Revolution!” The letter was later published in The Tribune on December 24, 1929. “[O]ne should not interpret the word “Revolution” in its literal sense. Various meanings and significance are attributed to this word, according to the interests of those who use or misuse it. For the established agencies of exploitations it conjures up a feeling of blood-stained horror. To the revolutionaries, it is a sacred phrase. We tried to clear in our statement before the Sessions Judge, Delhi, in our trial in the Assembly Bomb Case, what we mean by the word “Revolution”.

We stated therein that Revolution did not necessarily involve sanguinary strife. It was not a cult of bomb and pistol. They may sometimes be mere means for its achievement. No doubt they play a prominent part in some movements, but they do not – for that reason – become one and the same thing. A rebellion is not a revolution. It may ultimately lead to that end.

The sense in which the word Revolution is used in that phrase, is the spirit, the longing for a change for the better. The people generally get accustomed to the established order of things and begin to tremble at the very idea of a change. It is this lethargic spirit that needs be replaced by the revolutionary spirit. Otherwise, degeneration gains the upper hand and the whole humanity is led astray by reactionary forces. Such a state of affairs leads to stagnation and paralysis in human progress. The spirit of Revolution should always permeate the soul of humanity so that the reactionary forces may not accumulate (strength) to check its eternal onward march. Old order should change, always and ever, yielding place to new, so that one “good” order may not corrupt the world. It is in this sense that we raise the shout: “Long Live Revolution!””

In 1930, while he was in Lahore Central Hail, he talked about rationality by writing an essay titled ‘Why I am an Atheist‘. To quote him,

“You go against popular feelings; you criticise a hero, a great man who is generally believed to be above criticism. What happens? No one will answer your arguments in a rational way; rather you will be considered vainglorious. Its reason is mental insipidity. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking…

It is necessary for every person who stands for progress to criticise every tenet of old beliefs. Item by item he has to challenge the efficacy of old faith. He has to analyse and understand all the details. If after rigorous reasoning, one is led to believe in any theory of philosophy, his faith is appreciated. His reasoning may be mistaken and even fallacious. But there is [a] chance that he will be corrected because Reason is the guiding principle of his life. But belief, I should say blind belief is disastrous. It deprives a man of his understanding power and makes him reactionary.”

On February 2, 1931, Bhagat Singh wrote a document targeting the young political workers. The document titled ‘To Young Political Workers’ was later published by Government of India. To quote Singh,

“You cry “Long Live Revolution”. Let me assume that you really mean it. According to our definition of the term, as stated in our statement in the Assembly Bomb Case, revolution means the complete overthrow of the existing social order and its replacement with the socialist order. For that purpose, our immediate aim is the achievement of power. As a matter of fact, the state, the government machinery is just a weapon in the hands of the ruling class to further and safeguard its interest. We want to snatch and handle it to utilise it for the consummation of our ideal, i.e., social reconstruction on new, i.e., Marxist, basis. For this purpose, we are fighting to handle the government machinery. All along we have to educate the masses and to create a favourable atmosphere for our social programme. In the struggles, we can best train and educate them…

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. Whether national or the socialist, are the peasantry and the labour.”

Like Bhagat Singh, Subhas Chandra Bose was also very clear about his ideas and beliefs. While delivering the Presidential Address to the Student’s Conference held at Lahore on 19 October 1929, he clearly said, “If we are to bring about a revolution of ideas we have first to hold up before us an ideal which will galvanise our whole life. That ideal is freedom. But freedom is a word which has varied connotations and, even in our country, the conception of freedom has undergone a process of evolution. By freedom, I mean all round freedom, i.e., freedom for the individual as well as for society; freedom for the rich as well as for the poor; freedom for men as well as for women; freedom for all individuals and for all classes. This freedom implies not only emancipation from political bondage but also equal distribution of wealth, abolition of caste barriers and social iniquities and destruction of communalism and religious intolerance. This is an ideal which may appear Utopian to hard-headed men and women, but this ideal alone can appease the hunger in the soul.”

The diary Bhagat Singh left behind in jail has a number of extracts from classical writings of various philosophers. He copied in his diary from India Old and New by Sir Chirol Valentine, “How many of the Western-educated Indians who have thrown themselves into political agitation against the tyranny of the British bureaucracy have ever raised a finger to free their own fellow-countrymen from the tyranny of those social evils? How many of them are entirely free from it themselves, or, if free, have the courage to act up to their opinions?”

He had also copied a verse by James Russel Lowell and captioned it ‘Freedom’.

“…[T]rue Freedom is to share
All the chains our brothers wear,
And, with heart and hand, to be
Earnest to make others free!
They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred, scoffing and abuse,
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think:
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three”

Therefore, for Bhagat Singh, freedom meant a ‘revolution’ which, in spirit, is the longing for a change for the better. It is, therefore, necessary for every person to stand for progress, to criticise every tenet of old beliefs and to speak for the fallen and the weak. One must analyse and understand all the details. Like Bhagat Singh, Reason should be the “guiding principle of his life.”

When Bhagat Singh’s Lawyer, Pran Nath Mehta, asked him if he had any message for the nation, Singh replied, “Just the two messages – ‘Down With Imperialism!’ and ‘Long Live Revolution!'” When asked if there was anything else he desired to share, he said, “Yes, I want to be born again in the same country so that I can serve it again.”

However, if Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose were present today, they would have been criticised for their radical ideas, like is being done now. It would not have been surprising if they were declared as ‘anti-national’ by today’s pseudo-nationalists for raising their voice against the establishment for the cause of the toiling masses. It is for the Indian masses to decide whether they just want to pay lip-service to Bhagat Singh and Netaji, or follow their ideas and actions.

You must be to comment.
  1. Amit Radha Krishna Nigam

    Bhagat Singh and Bose today would have been very unhappy for the anti-India protest that took place onIndia soil (Bharat). They must be sad by seeing that people are actually standing up in support of those who praised terrorists…for him – this is just opposite to ideals of revolution. Instead, he would have wanted a revolution to throw away such shackles of free India as some section within JNU. He believed in Youth – but not the ones like these..

  2. aahaan

    You are Justifying JNU cause with longing revolution of JNU,
    BS: I want to be born again in this Country so i can serve it again
    JNU Students: BHARAT ki barbaadi tk jung rahegi…
    So what you are implying does not make any sense, the Utopia of JNU students which you support will destroy Bhagat Singhs dream.. So your connotation fails..

  3. Agni

    Really??? Please don’t give the same message that India is intolerant towards new ideas… You are comparing Bhagat Singh and Subhash Bose to misguided youth who scream clearly that their objective is “Bharat ki Barbaadi”? Fir to Kasab , Afzal koi bhi terrorist nahi sab radical ideas waale revolutionaries hai….unka goliya chalana freedom of expression hai…humne unhe faasi de di kyuki bharat unke radical ideas ke prati intolerant tha.

  4. Marry

    being from Delhi and DU student and actively participating in these protest too and closely related to jnu student and jnu too I know what’s happening..
    1) you just can’t say “I know the way right wing is handling is not done” ..its highly unacceptable as I myself got touched and beaten up by the nationalists..we are students and they are the government we elected ..just like when a child does something wrong parents need to sit down with him and ask him what’s wrong and why this attitude? Parents don’t say now you will be hanged under sedation which btw a Britisher colonial law for the people who raised voice against them. In all fairness this law is not applicable.

    2) Right to dissent has always been uncomfortable for the people who are narrow minded. If sedition law is applicable then right to dissent also is. In this concept the voice raised has always been extreme and unbearable. But slogans can be met with slogans , debates can be met with debate, slogans can not be met with punch, smacking, Thrashing, stomping , brutality, cruelty and almost killing. They are the ruling government and if they can’t handle the situation they need to told by the people that you guys are useless.

    3) if you are following the incident closely you might know not only the videos are tampered but abvp people also tried to barg in their protest and shouted Pakistan zindabad and India murdabad to create communal disharmony because by doing so they cleverly managed to escape all this and all the blame is now on those students cos its the wing of bjp so they can get away. No one bats an eye on them.

    4) the protest was against the judicial killing so slogans in favor of afzal shouldn’t be surprising. I myself not at all share umar Khalid’s views but as a citizen if this country he has the right to question to dissent and he did it within the constitutional rights and law. Mind you if he was a terrorist it would not be so naively raising his voice openly. He consider himself as Indian that’s the reason he held that protest. Now the other slogans was shouted by other students that are not visible but the paid media cleverly managed to tamper it and showing kanhaiya’s and umar’s faces simultaneously on those slogans. If this is not a conspiracy the what is it? In fact those students and abvp people should be held. Organizers didn’t raise those slogans.

    5) If people think that words and slogans can destroy this country then this country is already destroyed. Violence can’t destroy the nation as per the nationalist but slogans can. grin emoticon

    6) The hanging of afzal as per the students was a conspiracy and politically motivated move. Now at that time congress was in power so rahul Gandhi visiting the campus and saying I am with jnu is highly hypocritical. They are just taking advantage. That’s why I don’t support anyone of them not even AAP. But I will support what is right , I will praise when any political party does something good and I will be there to lampoon them when they act like autocrats!

  5. John

    Subhash Chandra bose and bhagat singh would be against how anti indian slogans were said and Gandhi would not be happy with Indian national congress today today bjp are more nationalist than the congress and other secular parties

More from Anurag Bhaskar

Similar Posts

By Imran Khan

By Dr. Manish Goutam🇮🇳

By Dr. Manish Goutam🇮🇳

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below