A few days ago, Irfan Habib, a noted researcher and author of TO MAKE THE DEAF HEAR – Ideology and Programme of Bhagat Singh and His Comrades sent his thoughtful piece on the legendary Bhagat Singh.
Incidentally, Bhagat Singh was hanged on Pakistan’s Republic Day – March 23 though nine years prior to that – in Lahore – thereby adding another dimension to the symbolism of March 23 for Pakistanis. Bhagat Singh for his principles, struggle for just causes and valour is a shared hero.
I am quoting some of the passages from Habib’s article below. Citing a Tamil newspaper editorial of 1931, Habib writes:
“One of the most articulate and strong reaction was seen in far away Tamil Weekly called Kudi Arasu, where Periyar E.V. Ramasami wrote an editorial on March 29, 1931. Besides being critical of Gandhi and the Congress for failing to save him, Periyar saw in young Bhagat Singh an ally who stood for rationalism and spoke against caste oppression. He began by writing there is no one who has not condoled the death of Mr. Bhagat Singh by hanging. There is none who has not condemned the government for hanging him.
The above lines reflect the widespread acceptance of Bhagat Singh as a national hero, much beyond the limits of Punjab, and more significantly, within this short political life. There is no reason to believe that his persona was created by scholars through their exploration and interpretation of historical records.”
Habib concludes with these words:
“Bhagat Singh was not only against communal and divisive politics, he hated and mocked at the Indian caste system, which makes the people untouchable on the basis of their birth in a particular caste. He reiterated in his writings and statements that all exploitations-economic, social or cultural, had to go if we want to build a strong nation. Echoing these views in his own way, Periyar wrote further in the editorial that “to abolish untouchability we have to abolish the principle of upper and lower castes. In the same manner, to remove poverty we have to do away with the principle of capitalists and wage-earners. So socialism and communism are nothing but getting rid of these concepts and systems. These are the principles Bhagat Singh stood for.” Periyar concluded his piece by saying that Bhagat Singh had not fallen sick, suffered and died as it normally happens with people. He gave his life for the noble cause of showing to India, nay to the world, the path of real equality and peace. He has reached a great height, a feat never achieved normally by any one else.
Bhagat Singh’s ideal and supreme sacrifice has the potential to enliven millions of struggling lives. Like Che Guevara, Bhagat Singh will continue to inspire all those who are committed to secular socialist values and reject the caste based hierarchical society.”
As I was about to publish this post, Umer Chauhdry the bright student sent me another article on Bhagat Singh. I had faintly known of Quaide Azam’s respect for Bhagat Singh but Umer made the whole incident so accessible and immediate:
Bhagat Singh, nevertheless, found a supporter in the mainstream politics and that was in Jinnah. Jinnah who was himself isolated by the encroachment of religion in politics at that time and considered it undesired rose in support of Bhagat Singh. In his incisive speech to the Constituent Assembly on September 12 and 14, 1929, Jinnah harshly condemned the criminal colonial rule and the Government’s actions against revolutionaries:
“The man who goes on hunger-strike has a soul. He is moved by the soul and he believes in the justice of his cause; he is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of cold-blooded, sordid, wicked crime.
“What was he driving at? It is the system, this damnable system of Government, which is resented by the people.
“And the last words I wish to address the Government are, try and concentrate your mind on the root cause and the more you concentrate on the root cause, the less difficulties and inconveniences there will be for you to face, and thank Heaven that the money of the taxpayer will not be wasted in prosecuting men, nay citizens, who are fighting and struggling for the freedom of their country.”
In our part of the sub-continent, we conveniently forget the role played by non-Muslims in the struggle of liberation from the British colonialism. All non-Muslims are grouped in one category to be completely rejected by the rulers of Pakistan irrespective of their message and their history. The same fate met Bhagat Singh. That he was supported by Jinnah is a fact never mentioned in the corridors of power or in the text-books of Pakistan Studies. It is not surprising, though. Bhagat Singh, a symbol of resistance, could never be the hero of the government that is not based on the will of the people..
Amazing, I have to thank Umer again. His article can be accessed here.
Another article (“When Jinnah defended Bhagat Singh“) by the indefatigable A. G. Noorani goes thus:
On a recent visit to Pakistan, a controversy surrounding the renaming of a roundabout in Lahore after Bhagat Singh caught my attention, not least because the freedom fighter was the subject of a book I had authored.
My thoughts though focused on a different aspect: Jinnah’s staunch defence of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues in the Central Legislative Assembly which met in Simla.
No two persons could have been more dissimilar in their political views, culture and personal traits than Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Bhagat Singh. But they shared a deep commitment to freedom from British rule and a firm resolve to fight for it; Jinnah constitutionally, Bhagat Singh by recourse to violence.