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The contradistinctions of Bhagat Singh’s Legacy – Is it of the Right or the Left?

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  • Team PresentMirror | Updated: Sept. 28, 2020, 10:47 p.m.




Bhagat Singh, a challenge to Gandhi-inspired Indian nationalists, Hindu nationalists, Sikh nationalists, the parliamentary Left and the pro-armed struggle Naxalite Left equally, forcing them to compete with each other, trying to appropriate the legacy of Bhagat Singh, and yet each one of them just contradicts with each other. The contradistinctions of the Bhagat Singh among the various factions of the Political Spectrum in India, never became a contradiction for his dream of a Free India.


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Image Source : Why the Story of Bhagat Singh Remains on the Margins? - Pritam Singh

As the discussion over the ideological views of Bhagat Singh has resurfaced, it becomes imperative to have a correct assessment of his ideological views in the historical context without getting influenced by present context. Before we begin, there are few important things to note.

Bhagat Singh lived for 23 years only and a 23-year-old person can be a brilliant mathematician or scientist but least likely to be a brilliant ideologue. Hence, his ideological stance shouldn't be considered as the thoughtful reflection of a deep thinker but outbursts of a young revolutionary. Like most of the European countries, the Czarist Russia was an imperialist country in the 19th and early 20th century. In order to gain the legitimacy of his political ideas, Lenin frequently called himself a revolutionary who was fighting against imperialism. When Japan defeated Russia in early years of 20th century, Indian freedom fighters relished on this victory.

Most of the Indian thinkers and freedom fighters of pre independence era could never understand the difference between imperialism and capitalism. As imperialist countries had capitalist economic system, they assumed that capitalism is inseparable from imperialism and if one has to fight against the imperialist power, fight against capitalism is imminent. Colonial era economic policies practiced by Britain in India were confused with free market economy and they deduced that if India has to come out of its economic misery, capitalism will have to go.

Now, coming to the ideological stance of Bhagat Singh, in the initial years of his struggle against British, he was inspired by the ideas of Italian revolutionary Mazzine and founded 'Navjawan Bharat Sabha' on the model of Young Italy of Mazzine. Until 1926, his infatuation with Marxist and communist thought wasn't cemented.

He was deeply inspired by the achievement of Lenin in Russia because it was the success of masses against an imperialist regime as Lenin had propagated. He looked up to his methods and tactics to achieve the similar results in India. In this period, his concern was limited to political freedom and revolutionary approach was the best suited method to achieve the goal. Gradually, he started reading more and more of Marxist literature to imbibe the view that political freedom meant absolutely nothing without economic freedom. As discussed above, the idea of economic freedom meant socialism in that time period.

When Gandhi signed Gandhi-Irwin Pact in 1931, Bhagat Singh felt that it was a reaffirmation of his belief that Indian freedom movement was led by the bourgeois leadership and to protect the interest of bourgeois class, the interest of masses was being ignored. The only way forward was the mass scale mobilization of peasants and workers who will overthrow the existing political and economic order.

By this time, he had repudiated his earlier faith in individual heroic actions and started showing faith in the mass movement of peasants and workers. His goal wasn't restricted to political power now but a complete overhauling of established order and establishment of new socialist order. Political power as he wrote was merely a means to achieve the desired end because British would never allow a socialist revolution as long as India remains a colony. On Lenin Day in1930, Bhagat Singh and his comrades appeared in 'red scarfs' in court hearing and paid tribute to Lenin. He was deeply influenced by Lenin and there isn't any doubt about that.

In his Jail Dairy, Bhagat Singh quotes Savarkar from “Hindu Pad Padshahi”. A book that is hated by most of the “Marxists” wing of the India. The attempts of the left to dissociate Bhagat Singh from the right don’t stand true to the thoughts of Bhagat Singh itself. Quoting the words of his niece Virendra Sandhu, “Bhagat Singh had always been carrying ‘Geeta’ along with him and had translated Savarkar’s ‘1857 Ka Swatantrata Samar’ in ‘Gurmukhi’.” He was more like a multi faceted ‘Rashtrawadi’ than an atheist.

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Image Source : Bhagat Singh’s Jail Note Book

The former Chair of the Punjab Legislative Council, Durga Das gave an interview about his younger days when he was a revolutionary. Having worked with Bhagat Singh, he describes his last meeting with Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh had told Durga Das to read Bukharin and Preobrazhensky's The ABC of Communism (1920), Daniel Breen's My Fight for Irish Freedom (1924) and on the Indian side, Life of Barrister Savarkar, written by Savarkar under the pen name 'Chitragupta'.

We have to also remember the fact that the reality of Communist Russia was almost unknown to the outside world and it was a symbol of victory against imperialism for revolutionaries around the world. Had Bhagat Singh lived longer, he might have changed his views but that's in the realm of probabilities now. Indian freedom movement was a melting pot of people having disparate ideologies with different long-term motives but immediate goal of freedom from colonialism and the British rule.

Having said that, if one starts acting like a demagogue then one may proclaim that Bhagat Singh was influenced only by Lenin, but then he was also influenced by Savarkar. He was a nationalist revolutionary, wishing nothing but freedom from the imperialistic dirth that the land of Bharat was thrown into. A man who never let his ideological contradistinctions become a contradiction for his one and only dream, a free India. A man who chose the Gallows and wished for his saffron cloak to bloom in the spring of freedom, could not be measured in the immature balance of the Right or the Left.

The article uses historical inputs and deep research by Anhad Jakhmola and Satish Verma.

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