Bhagat Singh is one revolutionary whose footprints solemnly mark the collective memory of our nation even today. He is the indomitable youth icon even 86 years after being hanged. March 23, the day Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged is celebrated as ‘Shaheed Diwas’. His is the story of an impressionable young boy who grew on stories of the likes of Guru Gobind Singh, Shivaji, Swami Vivekananda, Veer Savarkar, Kartar Singh Sarabha and many others, who preserved the sand of the Jalianwala Bagh as a testimony of the dastardly act of the British empire, who participated in the Non Co-operation Movement, witnessed the futility of the passive movements led by Congress party thereafter, worked with the revolutionaries like Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaq Ullah Khan, Chandrashekhar Azad and went on to lead that revolutionary movement. He brought the splintered groups working in different parts of India under the umbrella of HSRA and gave the movement not only an ideological direction but also a pan India presence.
Bhagat Singh is also probably one of the most contested revolutionary of India’s Independence Movement where all streams of ideology have tried to appropriate him and in this attempt to make the man a poster boy of their ideology, failed to recognize and propagate the values Bhagat Singh stood for.
Bhagat Singh was at the very core a humanist, a nationalist. The two for him were complementary and not contrary. He saw abject poverty, a society divided on the lines of caste and religion. He saw the exploitation of the farmers and the workers by the British Government which was for him a manifestation of Capitalism. Bhagat Singh grew in a time where alternate model provided by Russia against capitalism and injustice was a matter of discussion and influence. Everyone involved with the freedom struggle who was thinking about India post the British studied this model. All these influences forced him to question every fundamental that he had grown upon.
At one place where he describes the western and the oriental philosophies, he goes on to write, ‘All these creeds differ from each other on the fundamental question and everybody considers himself to be on the right. There lies the misfortune. Instead of using experiments and expressions of the ancient savants and thinkers as a basis for our future struggle against ignorance and to try to find out a solution to this mysterious problem, we lethargical as we have proved to be, raise the hue and cry of faith, unflinching and unwavering faith to their versions and thus are guilty of stagnation in human progress.’ He writes, ‘Any man who stands for progress has to criticise, disbelieve and challenge every item of the old faith….Criticism and independent thinking are the two indispensable qualities of a revolutionary’.
Bhagat Singh although grew up in the influence of Arya Samaj and most of his co-fellows were staunch believers, he still questions God in his seminal work ‘Why I am an Atheist!’. He comes out as a strong believer in his ideals. While he identifies ‘The idea of God is to help the man in distress….In God man can find very strong consolation and support’ still he is not ready to give up the faith he has on his own self. He writes, ‘ Without God man has to depend upon himself. To stand upon one’s own legs amid storms and hurricanes is not child’s play…..A little bit of mysticism can make the suffering poetical but I do not want the help of any intoxication to meet my fate.’ He puts himself to severe test of time, ‘I wanted to settle for myself whether it was in the days of peace and enjoyment alone that I could boast of being an atheist or whether during such hard times as well, I could stick to those principles of mine’.
For Bhagat Singh suffering probably is a way of self evolution and also the means to serve nation, ‘The best parts of the self-study for one is to suffer oneself.’ In one of his letters to Sukhdev, he writes, ‘You say you fail to understand how suffering alone can serve the country. Such a question from a person like you is really perplexing, because how much thoughtfully we loved the motto of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha — “to suffer and sacrifice through service”. I believe that you served as much as was possible. Now is the time when you should suffer for what you did……I want to tell you that obstacles make a man perfect. Neither you nor I, rather none of us, have suffered any pain so far. That part of our life has started only now.’
Bhagat Singh like any other young man of his age is not untouched by what his friends think of him. In Why I am an Atheist, he begins by the complaint that his friends think the reason of his atheism is vanity. He explains, ‘whether it is due to undue pride that has led me to atheism or whether it is after very careful study of the subject and after much consideration that I have come to disbelieve in God, is a question that I intend to discuss here’…..According to these friends of mine I have grown vainglorious perhaps due to the undue popularity…. Self reliance is always liable to be interpreted as vanity…… Let us forgive him for he cannot realize the depth, the emotion, the sentiment and the noble feelings that surge in that heart.’
Bhagat Singh is aware that the revolutionary movement of his time was in parts romantic and idealist which was ready to flirt with violent means. There comes a time when the revolutionary movement took a hit and there were doubts as to the significance of the very programme. It is then that he is pushed to inculcate serious ideas for the organization and the nation. The message that he has for his co-travellers then is, ‘’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.’ He goes on to explain ‘Revolution’ that he aims to achieve, ‘ Revolution” does not necessarily involve sanguinary strife nor is there any place in it for individual vendetta. It is not the cult of the bomb and the pistol. 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 the fruits of their labour and deprived of their elementary rights. The peasant who grows corn for all, starves with his family, the weaver 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 affairs cannot last long.’ The depth of his strategic thinking is expressed in his letter to the revolutionary Harikishan’s family. He writes there, ‘No general can ever adopt a policy in which he may have to make a greater sacrifice than the gain expected.’
Bhagat Singh strongly feels that Destruction is not only essential but indispensable for construction. The idealist in him comes to the fore when he writes The communist society that we want to build, we are not going to establish charitable institutions, but there shall be no needy and poor, and no alms giving and alms-taking. But the pragmatist in him realizes that revolutionaries know better than anybody else that the socialist society cannot be brought about by violent means, but that it should grow and evolve from within. He writes to Sukhdev, 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. Bhagat Singh given the exposure and the times to which he belongs feels that this is the best way forward for India. At the same time it is also important to realize here that Bhagat Singh is not averse to changing stances and evolving his opinions. This is evident from one of his letters’ to Sukhdev where he has a changed stance on Suicide, ‘The things you hated outside have now become essential to you. In the same way, the things I used to support strongly are of no significance to me anymore.’ Bhagat Singh like M N Roy could have probably moved away from Communism on having greater exposure. It is also pertinent to mention here that Bhagat Singh was not exposed to Indian philosophy. He himself writes, ‘I had the great desire to study the oriental philosophy but I could not get any chance or opportunity to do the same.’ Though these are mere speculations but at the same time important one’s given Bhagat Singh despite being an intellectual of the highest category was very young and risks of revolutionary movements made access to books and learning very difficult.
We get to see a more human side of Bhagat Singh when in one of his letter’s to Sukhdev he writes about his own understanding of love, ‘whether love ever proved helpful to any man. Yes, I answer that question today. To Mazzini it was. You must have read that after the utter failure and crushing defeat of his first rising he could no longer bear the misery and haunting ideas of his dead comrades. He would have gone mad or committed suicide but for one letter of a girl he loved. He would grow as strong as any one, nay stronger than all. As regards the moral status of love I may say that in itself is nothing BUT PASSION, not an animal passion but a human one, and very sweet too. Love in itself can never be an animal passion. Love always elevates the character of man. It never lowers him, provided love be love.’
Bhagat Singh wishes to create a cult of self believing individuals who are ready to work for the cause of mankind. ‘A short life of struggle with no such magnificent end shall in itself be the reward if I have the courage to take it in that light. That is all. With no selfish motive, or desire to be awarded here or hereafter, quite disinterestedly have I devoted my life to the cause of independence, because I could not do otherwise. The day we find a great number of men and women with this psychology who cannot devote themselves to anything else that the service of mankind and emancipation of the suffering humanity; that day shall inaugurate the era of liberty.’ Bhagat Singh at the same time does not dismiss individuals who have a belief system different from his own, ‘ If after considerable reasoning one is led to believe in any theory or philosophy, his faith is welcomed. His reasoning can be mistaken, wrong, misled and sometimes fallacious. But he is liable to correction because reason is the guiding star of his life.’
Bhagat Singh the revolutionary, the humanist, the romantic values human life ‘We are next to none in our love for humanity. Far from having any malice against any individual, we hold human life sacred beyond words.’ He wishes to make a statement even in his death, ‘A man with beliefs and ideal like mine, could never think of dying uselessly. We want to get the maximum value for our lives. We want to serve humanity as much as possible.’….’I also wish that when the movement reaches its climax, we should be hanged.’
I have in my humble attempt tried to pay my tributes to the man who has for years inspired me but Bhagat Singh the patriot can be best described in a couplet that was his favourite
दिल से निकलेगी ना मर के भी वतन की उल्फ़त!
मेरी मिट्टी से भी खुश्बू-ए-वतन आएगी!!
(This post has used various sources that have published Bhagat Singh’s original work online.)