Bhagat Singh’s Legacy

Balu S

Today is Bhagat Singh’s 86th martyrdom
day. On 23 March 1931 he along with Sukhdev and Rajguru, was hanged for the
assassination of a British officer P Saunders in Lahore in 1928. Bhagat Singh was a young
revolutionary influenced by the 1917 Russian Revolution and the ideas of
socialism. However, his legacy has been claimed by different ideological groups
including the hardcore rightwing RSS and its student body ABVP. This is a
dangerous trend. Bhagat Singh and his friends stood opposed to all forms of
divisive and regressive ideologies including Hindutva. RSS and ABVP’s attempt
to appropriate their legacy is a desperate move to gain legitimacy for their
divisive and regressive politics. Present article is an attempt to reiterate
Bhagat Singh’s Marxist legacy (Vikalp’s editorial team).       

BJP is in a spree to appropriate nationalist icons. They have to resort to
these cheap tactics because despite their claims of nationalism, their movement
does not even have a single nationalist icon to showcase.  Their latest victim in this regard is Sardar
Patel. Now despite the fact that Patel ordered for the ban of RSS post the
assassination of Gandhi, there is a sense of logic in the BJP trying to
appropriate Patel. Patel was the leader of the conservative section in Congress
and therefore shared the same ideological position as the Sangh in many
aspects. But this cannot be said in the case of Bhagat Singh at all. Today we
are witnessing a situation in which right wing organizations, especially the
ABVP making full fledged attempts to portray Bhagat Singh as an icon of theirs.
Truth can be only far from this. Even when his most famous text,  “Why I am an atheist” is quoted against  this Sangh appropriation,  they counter it by pointing that even their
ideologue Savarakar was an atheist. Atheism therefore does not become an
obstacle in their appropriation of Bhagat Singh. They even go in lengths to draw
parallels between Bhagat Singh and  the
Kar Sevaks who were killed while attempting to destroy Babri Masjid. In the
latest episode, the RSS leader Kundan Chandrawat draws an analogy between his
announcement of offering bounty on the Kerala Chief Minster’s head and the
bombing by Bhagat Singh and his comrades in the Central Legislative assembly. Chadrawat
pointed that both these acts merely intended to open the deaf ears.

are multiple reasons why this appropriation becomes possible. The most
important one being the fact that the serious philosophical and political
positions which Bhagat Singh took later in his life while in jail  have not being publicized  enough in the general discourse on the  nationalist movement. While his terrorist
activities are well known to the public, they are completely ignorant about his
total shift to Marxism in his later years. It is therefore important that we
examine Bhagat Singh’s political ideology verbatim. Does it in anyway resemble
the ideological moorings of Sagh Parivar? It does not.

The Ideological Positions of
Bhagat Singh
this section, let us examine some quotations from Bhagat Singh’s later
writings. It should be pointed that these writings are a reflection of the
political maturity he had reached after intensive reading on several
topics.  Not only is there an open
declaration of his Marxist leanings, but also is present a nuanced and
sophisticated understanding of the society and the political tactics needed to
achieve a Marxist revolution. Also was present his clear support for the
Bolshevik revolution and the Communist International. .It becomes clear from
the telegram read by Bhagat Singh on the court on January 31st 1930.
He requested it to be sent to the Communist International.

“On Lenin Day we send Hearty
greetings to all who are doing something for carrying the great ideas of great
Lenin. We wish success to the great experiment Russia is carrying out. We join our
voice to that of the international working class movement. Proletariat will
win. Capitalism will be defeated. Death to imperialism”.

On the meaning of revolution

“Revolution means the complete
overthrow of the existing social order and its replacement with the socialist
order. For that our immediate aim is the achievement of power, as a matter of fact,
the state, the government machinery is just a weapon the hands of the ruling
class to further and safeguard its interest. We want to snatch and handle it to
utilize it for the consummation of our ideal i.e., social reconstruction on new
i.e. Marxist basis.” (From the document “To young Political workers”, written
on February 2nd 1931)

“We want a Socialist revolution,
the indispensable preliminary to which is the political revolution. The
political revolution does not meant the transfer of state from the hands of
British to  the Indian ,but to those Indians,  who are at one with us  as to the final goal, or to be precise, the
power to be transferred to the revolutionary party  through popular support (from the same

fact this entire document (To young
political workers
) shows the strong Marxist Leninist understanding   of Bhagat Sigh. In many parts of this document,
he referred to Lenin’s writings on the different tactics that had to be carried
out by a revolutionary organisation in order to achieve victory. He strongly advocated
the idea of professional revolutionaries and the need for a Communist Party.

the same time, Bhagat Singh in no way was a Left adventurist. He understood the
importance of tactical compromises. Compromises which did not affect the
revolutionary aims in the long run were important for him. They had to be
snatched, but at the same time he pointed that the sight of political
revolution should never be lost with these compromises. Even in this regard, he
referred to the writings and political practices of Lenin. Lenins’s advocacy of
the revolutionaries participating in the second Duma of 1907 was considered by
Bhagat Singh as an example of a tactical compromise which did not dilute the
revolutionary aims.

The future society

“in the future society, i.e the
Communist society that we want to built, we are not going to establish  charitable institutions, but there shall be
no needy and poor, and no alms giving and alms taking.”(From the document
“Introduction to dreamland”)

from his writings, a cursory look at the books which he was reading during his
years in jail also reflected his strong ideological orientation. These were
mostly Marxist texts including that of Lenin, Marx and many more. His jail
diary consists of numerous quotations from different texts. Predictably, these are
mostly from Left leaning books.

point being that it is beyond doubt that Bhagat Singh was a Marxist. His life
was cut short  by hanging on March 23rd
1931. Otherwise, he would have definitely become part of the Communist movement
of our country.  By no stretch of
imagination do his ideas have any resonance with that of Sangh’s. Under no semblance
did cultural nationalism enter his writings. He stood for a philosophy which did
not want the division of the society into religious, racial or even national

people be roused to the consciousness that basic rights of all the poor, the
world over, irrespective of race, caste, colour, nationality and country are
one, hence their salvation and prosperity lies in their joint struggle. They
should therefore work to eradicate and remove all racial, national and
religious prejudices, differences and distinctions and unite to seize for
themselves, the power of governance.” ( Sampradayik Dange aur Unka
Elaj)Communal riots and it remedy (Communal Riots and the Remedy) (Communal Riots and the Remedy)

To sum up, it is therefore extremely important
that we resist in every way the attempts made by Sangh Parivar to appropriate
him. He does not belong to them. In every sense, he belongs to the Communist
movement of our country.

The Author is Doing Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi.