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Freedom Fighter Bhagat Singh Was A Socialist, Not Just A ‘Revolutionary’

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There is no doubt that Bhagat Singh is one of the most celebrated martyrs of the Indian freedom struggle. He has left behind a legacy that everyone wants to appropriate, yet most do not wish to look beyond the romantic image of a gun-toting young nationalist. Perhaps the reason is that this is the image that was created in the official colonial records partially, an image we inherited and conveniently accepted as truth. The colonial records told the common masses that revolutionary activities were dastardly crimes, committed for the gratification of money and bloodlust. In fact, this is clearly reflected in the contemporary consciousness, particularly the youth, who visualize Bhagat Singh as someone who ‘terrorized’ the British through his ‘violent deeds’. His ‘daring spirit’ is lauded, which has turned him into an icon. His posters are sold on pavements; stickers with his photo are pasted on car windscreens. It may be heartening to see that Bhagat Singh is still loved and venerated, but the question we need to ask is: do we really have any clue to his politics and ideas? In history the pen has not always been mightier than the sword, but at least, it has been as potent a weapon as the sword. Bhagat Singh remains one of the best examples in the Indian revolutionary movement of using the pen instead of the sword.

Bhagat Singh underwent numerous changes to master the understanding of world events in spite of the insane restrictions. He was an actor, singer, swimmer, newspaper vendor, cyclist – thus making him an individual with many ‘common traits’ but also blessed with an extraordinary caliber.  His biographical sketches of eminent revolutionary martyrs always took a center stage. He was vocal against the nexus of ‘casteism-communalism’. A pioneer thinker to put these two concepts on one platform – his understanding of ‘class consciousness’ in order to resist communalism through the unity among the ‘working class’ people remains the crux of his understanding of  ‘scientific socialism’.

Bhagat Singh And The Russian Revolution

This year marks 100 years of the October Revolution. It is, thus, the most appropriate time to highlight the ‘links’ of this iconic Indian revolutionary with the Russian revolution. Bhagat Singh was deeply influenced by the experiment of ‘scientific socialism’ in the Soviet Union. He tried his best to draw lessons from personality of Vladimir Lenin, the architect of the Russian revolution. This can be said after throwing some light on his actions. His initiative to add the word “Socialist” in the name of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) to make it the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) was his first step towards socialism. In his “Letter to Young Political Workers”, he specifically mentions about participation in Duma and quotes Lenin- “Peace and again Peace: peace at any cost – even at the cost of many of the Russian Provinces to be yielded to German War Lord.” Furthermore, he went ahead to say – “I wanted to point out compromise is an essential tool has to be wielded every now and then as struggle develops.” He is perhaps the one of the few leaders of India’s independence struggle who framed dialectics between the concepts of ‘imperialism’ and ‘revolution’ through the slogans of “Down with Imperialism” and “Long Live Revolution”.

Bhagat Singh’s efforts to know every ‘anti-colonial, anti-imperial’ strategy grew rapidly and he specifically mentions studying life-long works of Lenin. He said that his definite views on the subject of ‘compromise’ would be found in “Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder”. He was attracted towards the republican model of the United States of America, which in the near past, had defeated the British imperial power. He used to spend most of his time in understanding the socialist revolution from the phase of its evolution to its application. Bhagat Singh had repeatedly stated his firm faith not only in ‘class struggle’ but also in the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as practised by Lenin and mentioned in his “The State and Revolution”.

After his arrest in 1929, he insisted to send one of his fellow comrades Prithvi Singh Azad to the Soviet Union to study the ‘nature’ and ‘process’ of the revolution. His logic was that this would be done for the benefit of Indian revolutionaries and the Indian revolution. Though Prithvi Singh was much older than Bhagat Singh, he was touched by the earnestness and sincerity of Bhagat Singh. Lastly, the plan was executed. In his jail dairy he took notes from Irish, British, American, European and Russian literature – “The Lessons of October” by Leon Trotsky, “The Russian Experiment, 1917-1927” by K.T.Shah, “The Proletarian Revolution And The Renegade Kautsky” by Vladimir Lenin, to name a few. The respect for the ‘socialist experiment’ came into light when HSRA leaders sent a telegram to Moscow on the 6th death anniversary of Comrade Lenin, replete with slogans like “Long Live Socialist Revolution”, “Long Live The Communist International”, “Long Live People”, “Lenin’s Name Will Never Die” and “Down With Imperialism”. Even in the last hours of his death, he gave all his efforts to seriously understand Lenin’s personality by reading a book on him, named “Reminiscences of Lenin”, whose review was published in 1929. He was, thus, among the first to read this book in the country.

Bhagat Singh’s commitment towards ‘scientific socialism’ remains one of the most important parts of his personality. In short, it can be said that he aspired to be like Lenin. In his autobiographical note, “Why I am an Atheist” he says- “No more mysticism! No more blind faith! Now realism was our mode of thinking.” This proves his clear understanding of the ‘materialist philosophy’ of Marxism. In his court statement with Batukeshwar Dutt he said – “…we humbly claim to be serious students of history and conditions of our country and human aspirations and we despise hypocrisy.

Let these momentous words of a convict in British India form part of the judicial record in the last court of our democratic republic, the largest democracy in the world“, said the Supreme Court of India in the case of Bhanumati vs the State of UP. It further added: “The ideas of Bhagat Singh, even if not wholly, have substantially been incorporated in the preambular vision of our Constitution. But the dream for which he sacrificed his life has not been fulfilled and the relevance of what he said can hardly be ignored. The ground realities, if at all, changed only marginally.” The SC proceeded to quote Bhagat Singh: “It may not be out of context to remember what was said by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutta on June 6, 1929 in their joint statement in connection with the criminal trial they faced in Crown vs Bhagat Singh.” In this manner, the nation’s apex court also acknowledged Bhagat Singh’s pioneering role in emphasizing socialism.

Even when he was on the threshold of death, Bhagat Singh wanted that the mission of freeing the country from the imperialists must be accomplished. Moreover, the revolutionary movement should take a proper course enlightened by the ‘Marxist and the Communist doctrine’. Even his early faith in violence and terrorism was qualitatively different from the contemporary ‘terrorist violence’ – and he transcended that soon to espouse a revolutionary vision to transform independent India into a secular, socialist, and egalitarian society.

Bhagat Singh needs to be taken out of the iconic image of a ‘revolutionary’ as we understand it. Viewing him as a ‘revolutionary’, in commonplace terms, compels the countrymen to consider him as an ‘alien’ who can just be ‘seen’, but whose politics cannot be understood, introspected upon or practised. A mere symbolism of the martyr without a deep introspection into his mind and his stand on different issues deserves rejection. Bhagat Singh’s intellectual legacy needs to be remembered in these acrimonious times when the danger of inequality, religious fundamentalism, and discrimination based on caste, color, race, and gender is increasingly expanding its reach over the globe. The best legatee inheritors of his legacy are people who stand firmly to strengthen the bond of commonality among people of this society, nation and the world.

Down with Imperialism!

Long Live Revolution!


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