Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bhagat Singh and the Anti imperialist Struggle
(On the occasion of 105th Birthday of Bhagat Singh)
Roma and Ashok choudhury
Translation by Avijeet chatterjee

South Asia, which is home to the maximum number of impoverished people eking out a bare minimum existence, ascendant capital and its current neo liberal policies of tightening the noose of the grip of capital on the lives of people, has deepened the crisis of unemployment, ecological balance and the overall lives of the people of the subcontinent (as it has all over the globe).Some social movement based mass organizations and trade unions of Pakistan and India have come together to commemorate the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh – the still now not fully known or realized icon , who was the first person from this part of the sub continent to have endeavored to understand Capitalism from the sub-continents perspective and challenged imperialist forces – by naming Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk. This was the place where he was hanged until dead. This is planned to be done on 28th September – Bhagat Singh’s birthday. These organizations from India and Pakistan clearly refuse to confine Bhagat Singh within the precincts of either Pakistan - India friendship, Indian nationalism, or even Sikh nationalism. They see him and his organized political activities as possibly the only organization from the undivided Indian sub-continent/ south Asia to have really shown the way for the liberation of the impoverished souls from the choking oppression of deeply entrenched feudalism, Indian elite/dominant classes and of course British colonial/imperial subjugation.

Bhagat Singh was undoubtedly a revolutionary of Himalayan proportions. By commemorating his martyrdom by renaming Shadman chowk as Bhagat Singh chowk, these organizations from Pakistan and India actually want to unfurl a new phase in the world wide anti- Capitalist struggle, especially from the South Asian perspective. It must be realized that Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom was just not for India’s freedom from the British colonialists; but for the freedom of the entire Indian subcontinent.

Bhagat Singh’s political journey started at what would be considered as tender young age and didn’t last too long as he had to walk to the gallows aged 23yrears and some months. But in this short lived life he struggled very creatively, with boldness, clarity and ingenuity which opened a new vista in India’s struggle for freedom. This allowed him to open a new space in the political firmament of India’s the then anti imperialist struggle and secured him a position, which stands very relevant in today’s India – at danger of  being sold off  at the feet of floundering world Capital.

Tracing Bhagat Singh’s life and times:

To understand the phenomenal importance of Bhagat Singh, it is extremely important to be aware of the nature of historical times when he appeared on India’s political horizon. The 1920s was witness to events in the nationalist struggle and especially some events in Punjab, which need to be taken prior note of to situate Bhagat Singh better.

The end of the 1st World war saw the imperialist powers aggressively put down any and every struggle against them, anywhere in the world – whether peaceful, traditional or breaking new grounds (revolutionary). The Russian revolution of 1917 had instilled a new vigor amongst the peasants, workers and youth all across the globe and helped create a new revolutionary consciousness and zeal. This also impacted / influenced the ongoing independence struggle in India. Punjab saw the outbreak of strong peasant and youth uprisings and movements. During one such movement, during the “baisakhi” day gathering on April 13th, 1919, the peacefully assembled people were brutally massacred by General Dyer. Bullets flew indiscriminately in a non-stop ten minute blitz which saw Jallianwalla Bagh littered with dead bodies, while a nearby well overflowed with dead bodies of women and children. This incident was like a spark which lit the prairie fire – the flames had the potential to burn the British Empire in India. Bhagat Singh and the youth, the peasants, the workers smoldered in anger and looked at avenues to express their latent wrath on the British colonialists. A few years later, following this gruesome brutality at Jallianwallah Bagh, the peaceful protest march against Simon Commission, led amongst others by Lala Lajpat Rai, was cruelly lathi charged and the Lala succumbed to injuries received during that lathi charge. The youth were boiling with anger and the idea of taking revenge was nestling in the agitated youthful minds and Bhagat Singh was no exception. The nation awaited a strong response from the then national leadership on these incidents. But the Gandhi led Congress Party – amalgam of various streams of nationalist struggle, sat paralyzed by some inexplicable indecision. In 1921 Gandhi started the No Cooperation movement which, due to reasons best left for analysts to analyze, withdrew the movement all of a sudden and this created a vacuum in the political space in India’s ongoing political tussle with the British colonialists. The level of peoples’ aspirations and the response levels of the Congress Party were quite at different wavelengths. Naturally , as it has always happened when the collective consciousness of people races ahead of the organizations/ leaderships consciousness , which often happens during the highs/ peaks of social movements ( the long ones), the struggling masses of peasants , workers and youth  feel let down , as it happened in Punjab then. The youth were extremely agitated by what they felt to be a serious let down. They yearned for a fitting response to the ruling colonial power’s nonchalant disdain and disregard for the Indian people. It was in this context that Bhagat Singh emerged on India’s political horizon. He and his mates decided to kill the butcher of Jallianwallah – General Dyer. Dyer escaped but General Sanders was killed. This action garnered tremendous acceptance for Bhagat Singh and his comrades amongst the people of Punjab as well as the people across the country. His, was a direct challenge to British Colonial rule in India.

The situation suddenly ripened the opportunity of opening up a truly revolutionary path to the mainstream political thoroughfare riddled with potholes of indecision and inactivity emanating from the class proximity of its constituent political alliances. A new fuel seemed to have energized the engines of the energetic youth of India. Bhagat Singh emerged as the beckon of this emerging revolutionary spirit and became iconic. The killing of General Sanders was a strategic action, which set into motion Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary political life, which in a few years time picked up such momentum that it posed a serious challenge to the mainstream freedom struggle’s compromising character and also simultaneously became the seed of the anti-imperialist struggle; the agenda for it was created. The sterile political space was invaded and assaulted by this fresh spirited, Bolshevism inspired, socialist ideology inspired offensive of Bhagat Singh.

The “Complete Chronicles of Bhagat Singh”, a pioneering compilation by Prof. Chamanlal, mentions this facet in his editorial introduction to the life and times of India’s first revolutionary in all respects of the term. Prof Chamanlal  opines that between 1857 – 1947 , in the 90 years of direct British Empire rule after the suppression of the country’s first pan Indian anti colonial mass upsurge in 1857, only 2 movements could claim its political relevance as truly anti-colonial and ant-feudal in the broad spectrum of revolutionary struggles and these 2 movements were :  (a) the 1914 Gadar Party led movement and (b) 1928 – 1931 period of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association’s movement , ideologically lead by Bhagat Singh and organizationally architected by the extremely skillful Chandrasekhar Azad.

The 1914 Gadar movement, for the first time, brought in a clear ideological revolutionary outline in the ongoing socio-political space. Essentially this movement was the first truly anti colonial and anti feudal movement in India. Lala Hardayal’s intellectual prowess coupled with the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh’s inspiration – Kartar Singh Sarabha (barely 18, when he was martyred) – saw this movement arouse the masses for decisive revolutionary battles. Sohan Singh Josh, Bhagat Singh’s close comrade, helped us unravel the times that were 1928-1931;understanding the times in which “talking about revolution” was the pastime of the youth; they were already thickly into political action along revolutionary agendas and readying to martyr themselves in the struggle for emancipation. Sohan Singh stated clearly that an understanding of  the “political world view” of Bhagat Singh should actually begin beyond the assassination of General  Sanders , when his thoughts matured politically and flowered and flourished in a 3 year eruption of a volcano full of the lava of  political thoughts, actions, practices which should assure him a place in the history of India’s , South Asia’s and thus of course world revolutionary socialist movement, a place which has not yet been duly accorded to him.
During the period 1928-31, Bhagat Singh spent time on intensive study and self analysis. He believed this to be a responsibility of all revolutionary worth his salt. He, of course had the political acumen to give importance to organization building and launching actions on the ground. Naujawan Sabha was his initiative and he wrote the manifesto.  This document stands out as a key document in the understanding of India’s revolutionary movement. It is in this document that Bhagat Singh delineates the critical approach of looking at political freedom and economic emancipation of the vast sections of the Indian populace holistically and laid down the political/strategic – tactical outlines to achieve this twin aims. It needs to be recalled that during the time of Bhagat Singh’s above mentioned revolutionary political positioning, the Congress had never talked of political freedom; they were only bargaining for limited economic freedom. The emerging Indian bourgeoisie supported this demand of the Congress. At this time, the feudal elites, after so long siding with the colonialists, under pressure from peasant movements / rebellions, was migrating to the Congress shelter. The public imagination had been aptly captured by Bhagat Singh and his comrades with their call for full political and economic freedom. The agenda was set by them. The Congress Party was in crisis. They had to follow suit. This was the reason why the Congress Party was forced to pass the demand for political freedom at its Lahore Congress in 1929. Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader of the progressive section within Congress took the initiative and saw to it that the resolution was passed and adopted in the Congress. The selection of the city of Lahore to hold this important Congress conference was understandable. Lahore was Bhagat Singh’s city and the center of the new wave of revolutionary nationalist struggle which was rocking the Gandhi led Congress boat of compromising, limited bargaining politics. Evidently the revolutionaries had created the political pressure.

Prof. Chaman Lal in his book has highlighted this fact. He writes ,”If you look at Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary life and practices, it is clear that in the last two and half years of his short life span, all the political steps were very boldly but maturely and meticulously thought out and thus achieved expected political dividends. All his actions – assassinating Sanders, exploding a bomb in the Central Assembly and courting arrest, leading hunger strikes in jails, using the court premises and the legal-juridical facade of the British colonialists as his medium of communicating his political ideas – exposed the naked butchery inherent in the colonialist regime of the British. To engender the growth and development of an alert, aware revolutionary socialist political movement, Bhagat Singh used his own death as well thought (and internally i.e. organizationally sanctioned) strategic action. These actions gave Bhagat Singh more mileage than expected and the very institutions/ apparatuses set up by the  British imperialist/colonial power to keep India subjugated , was brilliantly used by him. This was probably the first time ever that some revolutionary mind had succeeded in using the very machinery of colonialist / imperial power to propagate socialist ideals. Uniquely brilliant and pregnant with revolutionary potential for all struggling masses.

Besides concentrating his energies on core political issues, he also looked into the social issues of the country and kept his strong views on the same. Aged 18, in 1925, writing under the pseudo name “vidrohi” (closest English would be “Rebel”), he wrote a very important piece – “On problems of Untouchability”. In this article he tore apart the casteist foundation of Indian society and laid out the outlines of a socialist society. Not only that, he followed it up with advice to his revolutionary comrades to become active in building political organizations of untouchables and insisted on pursuing this activity as an important political task for the organization. With a clear understanding he wrote,” is the responsibility of revolutionaries to participate in organization building for the underprivileged and untouchable section of Indian society”. This was a first ever political position which tantamount to a clear battle cry against the very edifice of casteism and the Indian feudal elites witnessed a first time political stance threatening its very foundations. It is noteworthy that in the coming decades, the father of Dalit/ backward/untouchable sections’ socio-political crusader, Baba Bhimrao Ambedkar had given a famous slogan – “Get educated, be organized and Keep struggling”, which is so close in spirit to what Bhagat Singh proposed. Thus, effectively, Bhagat Singh also raised serious questions on the oppressive feudal and inherently anti-woman culture of feudalism. The twin aspect of a holistic achievement of a state of freedom for people – political and economic – was a constant and strong focus in all his political writings. Achieving such heights of revolutionary political thought and action in his short life span of 20 odd years (he was martyred aged 23 years and some months) was indeed quite amazing. Pregnant in his thoughts are all the possibilities of re-igniting the passion of and dream of chasing the ever eluding mirage of turning the course of civilization towards more humane tracks. And as it did then, during the 1920s, potentially it can again become the rallying point of revolutionary movements. Due to pressures exerted by the colonial state machinery to counteract the growing presence, pace and passionate depth of mass articulation by the then youth of Punjab in particular and generally the youth all over the country, Bhagat Singh had to operate underground. But instead of adversely affecting his ideological political activism, it actually saw an exponential increase in his political activism. Study of revolutionary discourses were intensely taken up and coupled with appropriate organization building to give effect to their well thought out strategic political action oriented practice – it proved to be a heady brew for igniting the hurt emotions of the multitudes. In the process, Bhagat Singh read widely on international revolutionary movements, especially the socialist ones, but always had his eyes on the ground realities of the Indian sub-continent and kept expressing his strong critical views on our society.

Prof. Chamanlal very succinctly sums up the co-ordinates of Bhagat Singh’s political lineage: “.... he drew the revolutionary spirit of Indian particularity from Lala Hardayal, Kartar Singh Sarabha and the Gadar Party and internationally he quenched his thirst in Marxist literature and the Bolshevik revolution.......”

It really is unfortunate that lack of resources and co-ordinated efforts have severely impeded the sufficient dissemination of Bhagat Singh’s political ideological ideas. Lot of his original writings was discovered long after his martyrdom. Who knows if his writings had become available then, it may have forced a change in the compromising essence of the mainstream political parties and turned the course of societal rebuilding process.

To build an effective and strong organization of Indian revolutionaries , despite operating underground, Bhagat Singh travelled to the different political nerve centers of the country – Kolkata, Kanpur,Delhi, Lucknow and met and interacted with revolutionaries of these areas on political matters - prominent among them being Batukeshwar Dutta, Chandrasekhar Azad, Ajay Ghosh, Ganesh Vidyarthi etc. In this process a revolutionary organization based on socialist theories emerged – ‘Hindustani samajwadi prajatantrik sangathan, in english – Indian Socialist Republican Association. In the history of Indian nationalist struggle, the aim of setting up a democratic system based on scientific socialism was indeed a hitherto unique effort from Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Bhagat Singh was undoubtedly the ideological fountainhead while Chandrasekhar Azad was the organizational master mind. All the existing mainstream political parties – Congress, Muslim League, and Hindu Mahasabha felt equally threatened and were hand in glove with the British colonialists to help stifle the rapid propagation of their ideas. The mainstream parties completely avoided any reference or mention of such ideas. However, the only notable exception was Mohammad Ali Jinnah – elite Congress leader, who made a very important observation on Bhagat Singh wherein he said that this young lad talks about a democratic republic and thus cannot be castigated as merely a terrorist. But the Congress party avoided any mention of his name forget about any discussion on their ideas. The congress did not even criticize the death penalty awarded to Sukhdev, Rajguru and Bhagat Singh. Notwithstanding this, the interest of the common people, especially youth, in Bhagat Singh’s ideas and ideals kept growing and people highly appreciated his unflinching revolutionary life and practices. History is witness to such individual protests like the first judge appointed by the British to hear Bhagat Singh’s case, Justice Aga Haider refusing to take up the case. But one always had the likes of Sir Shadilal who being pleased with his British master’s gratifications took up the case and pronounced the death sentence of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev. This created a wrath amongst the people of India and people from various corners of Punjab decided to converge on Lahore to witness the martyrdom of the three gallant warriors of the country on 24th March, 1931. The eminent political scientist Prof Randhir Singh reminisced that aged eight, he was with his father, part of the teeming thousands who were converging on Lahore and that was the day he had seen the dream of revolution. Clearly, the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh had created an unprecedented revolutionary fervor amongst the people of India, so much so that the till then arrogant and brutal all powerful British rulers became scared. Infact the British got so scared of the peoples mood and fearful that the latent wrath of the people may erupt into an uncontrollable upsurge strong enough to dismantle the British throne from India, that they secretly preponed the execution by a day and they were secretly executed on 23rd march, 1931. Such tremors had run down the British spines that they did not even hand over the dead bodies to their families – fearing some mass upsurge around the bodies itself. Bhagat Singh and his comrades did send shock waves to make the once strong knees of colonial/imperialist British rulers totter in fear of impending mass rebellion. It is a matter of shame that even at this juncture, the entire leadership of Indian mainstream political movement kept mum. That his martyrdom would create favorable conditions for a mass political ferment was a clearly thought out political strategy which worked out as planned. Bhagat Singh had used his martyrdom as a political weapon. In a way he put his own life and the very existence of the organization at stake to create the necessary political consciousness in the masses. This indeed is a uniquely exemplary aspect of his political heritage. Very few such instances, if any, dot the lanes of human endeavors for achieving liberation. All his comrades knew that if captured, Bhagat would be hanged. Knowing this fully well, Bhagat Singh had debated with his comrades that he would explode the bomb in the Central Assembly and then use his arrest to take their revolutionary political ideals to the world at large. None of his comrades agreed; they knew without Bhagat Singh the party would face an existential crisis because Bhagat Singh was their ideological fountainhead and their party’s strength was its ideology. Bhagat Singh’s argument was that people new them but were not aware of their thoughts and as all routes to propagate their views were closed, there was only one space left – that of the enemy camp itself ; the court,  where he would openly speak about their thoughts, their ideology. And Bhagat Singh was best equipped to carry out this task. After three days of intense internal debate, Bhagat Singh got the sanction of his comrades and it was decided that he and Batukeshwar Dutt would explode the bomb in the Central Assembly and distribute the pamphlets, which Bhagat Singh had written, with the headlines reading as – “deaf ears need an explosion to hear...” To accept ones ideology to be above oneself and exhibit such steadfast commitment of thought and action was commendable; this ideological commitment burnt away all personal aspirations and sense of security- even his life was above the cause, the ideology. And this is exactly why Bhagat Singh became one of the most original revolutionary of his times and still continues to be so at present and for coming futures. Articulating ones revolutionary thoughts from within the very heart of British colonial state apparatus as skillfully as he did, was in itself unique.
Ramprasad Bismill, another martyr in the tradition of Bhagat Singh, aptly expressed this thought when he wrote this “sher”:

“e shahid-e-mulk-o millat mein tere jaan pey nissar,
teri kurbani ka charcha gairon ki mehfil mein.....”

It may be recalled that neither did he defend himself nor did he accept his “crime”. He simply argued that the British had absolutely no moral, legal authority to put up cases against the people of this country; they were invaders on a mission of loot and they should leave our shores at the earliest. Strategically he opened up a political space hitherto not thought of , to articulate the struggle against the ruling colonialist/imperialists using their very own legal/juridical apparatus  - their courtrooms became his platform to voice his deep political comments and arguments ; this practice was later adopted by many revolutionaries. Even the Telengana peasant revolt leaders used this tactic extensively. T. Nagi Reddy, the renowned leftist peasant leader, while defending himself in the ParvatiPuram Conspiracy case, used the courtroom to argue his case and his recorded statements later came out in published form – India Mortgaged and became the principal guiding document of the right to land (and livelihood) movement. So such is Bhagat Singh’s relevance and importance which should now, better late than never, be accorded the respectful place it deserves as a living guide to evolving revolutionary social movements. Bhagat Singh’s struggles within the jail – leading hunger strikes for better living conditions i.e. human rights even for prisoners were appreciable. The number of days he was on hunger strike during his 30 moths in jail was more than the total number of days that India’s famed Hunger Strike man , Gandhi was on hunger strike through out his life time! (These facts have been checked by eminent historian A.G. Noorani and were recorded in his fact finding report published in the English language magazine Frontline.)

Bhagat Singh stood up against colonialism/imperialism. He is not to be limited within the confines of a region, a religion, a nation. He is not a symbol for any one of them individually but definitely he symbolizes the trait of a committed revolutionary socialist with focus on fights for social equity and justice. In today’s era of neo liberal onslaught of ascendant (but structurally deeply fissuring) Capital, where national boundaries have in a sense lost all meanings, Bhagat Singh’s relevance is all the more enhanced. To fight the power of  Capital, a working class alliance across boundaries in Southern Asia, especially between Pakistan and India to begin with and Bhagat Singh is the lighthouse to guide the storm tossed ship of working class/ struggling masses alliance across borders in Pakistan and India as also other South Asian countries.

Combining all current streams of anti imperialist struggles being waged valiantly across different terrains of southern Asia with the liberating potential of Bhagat Singh’s ideas and practices, we could very well possess the potion to eradicate the roots of the illness of Capitalism afflicting our lives. In the present socio political scenario Bhagat Singh’s relevance becomes all the more important than has so far been realized by us. It is precisely with this possibility in mind that organizations leading the struggling masses of Pakistan, with fraternal support of organizations in India, have decided to celebrate the birthday of this great martyr in Lahore on 28th September. Lahore was his city of political birth and eventually also the city of his martyrdom. National Forum of Forest Workers and Forest People – NFFPFW, is associating itself very strongly with this effort of co fighters in Pakistan and it is hoped that other like minded organizations would extend their support and participation. A Bhagat Singh Commemoration Committee has been formed for this purpose.
In India we pledge to reclaim the legacy of Bhagat Singh’s thoughts and practices in the context of revolutionary movements to fight the demon of Capital. Those who try to limit Bhagat Singh’s political contribution to the killing of Sanders do a great injustice to the one of the finest soldiers of revolutionary anti colonial/imperialist struggle. Thus it is all the more necessary that progressive forces across Pakistan and India should join hands and position Bhagat Singh as a world historical persona, an icon, a true vanguard of the world proletariat in the struggle against the dehumanizing rule of Capital.
In his last letter to his younger brother Kultar Singh, written a few days prior to his walk to the gallows, he wrote:

“....koi dum ka mehmaan hoon e ahley-mehfil
charagey – sahar hoon bujha chata hoon
Hawa mein rahegi mere khayal ki bijli
ye mushtey khak hai  Phani, rahey rahey, na rahey.........”

The life time of Bhagat Singh was a short one but his thoughts have lived long and will live longer. He started off the ideological struggle through the wars he waged on British colonial/imperialist powers and he has become more relevant today, especially for Pakistan and India. Bhagat Singh and his ideas are like the guiding pole star to us. The effort of fraternal organizations in Pakistan to reintroduce Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary potential into the fabric of our current ongoing struggles is more than commendable.

A big delegation from India was all set to participate in the birthday celebrations in Lahore. However due to non clearance of Visa formalities by the Pakistan government, the Indian delegation could not reach Lahore. It seems the Pakistani government is skeptical about the participation of Indian representatives for political reasons. Bhagat Singh is still a threat for the mainstream political formations and tendencies in the sub-continent.

INQUILAB ZINDABAD (Long live Revolution)
( This coinage “inquilab zindabad was Bhagat Singh’s and he used it in his trial , in the court rooms of the British colonialists and as he had envisaged ,the entire spectrum of struggling/ fighting masses across India have had this slogan on their lips ever since..)

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