Lessons from Bhagat Singh

R Arun Kumar

THIS March 23, on the 85th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, as usual there is a beeline of leaders, both worthy and unworthy, to offer their homages. The prime minister and his cohorts are on the job to use this occasion to claim the legacy of these martyrs.  Some of the BJP leaders want us to emulate Bhagat Singh and support the prime minister, which is highly impossible, as both are as distinct as 'chalk and cheese'. Just as their 'freedom of expression' cannot be denied, it need not stop us from pointing to the 'emperor's new clothes'.

Bhagat Singh, a committed revolutionary, had called upon the students to not only organise themselves, but also work among the peasants and workers. He wanted them to take an active interest in politics and work for realising 'socialist revolution'. In a letter to Young Political Workers, he wrote that this task requires “to use the term so dear to Lenin – 'professional revolutionaries'. The whole-time workers who have no other ambitions or life-work except the revolution”. This is completely an anathema to the BJP, whose leaders are on record stating that students should not take an active part in 'politics', forget about 'revolution'. Now how can they then claim Bhagat Singh's legacy?

Bhagat Singh gave extreme importance to 'study' and 'critical thought'. He asked students to study to “face the arguments advanced by opposition” and not to “follow blindly and take for granted what is written in it. Read it, criticise it, think over it, try to formulate your own ideas with its help”. He exhorted young people to question irrespective of the stature of the person: “You go and oppose the prevailing faith, you go and criticise a hero, a great man, who is generally believed to be above criticism because he is thought to be infallible, the strength of your argument shall force the multitude to decry you as vainglorious. This is due to the mental stagnation. Criticism and independent thinking are the two indispensable qualities of a revolutionary. Because Mahatmaji is great, therefore none should criticise him. Because he has risen above, therefore everything he says – may be in the field of politics or religion, economics or ethics – is right. Whether you are convinced or not you must say, 'Yes, that's true'. This mentality does not lead towards progress. It is rather too obviously, reactionary. Any man who stands for progress has to criticise, disbelieve and challenge every item of the old faith. Item by item he has to reason out every nook and corner of the prevailing faith. 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. But mere faith and blind faith is dangerous: it dulls the brain, and makes a man reactionary”.

Is the BJP ready for this sort of critical scrutiny? Is it not what Rohith Vemula and his friends tried to do in HCU? Is it not precisely for this reasoned and analytical scrutiny that JNU and other such institutions are now targeted for attack? With 'god's gift to the country' as a prime minister, are the sycophants ready for a reasoned debate on issues and policies? As things are unveiling, we can be sure that they are not ready for such a debate and if they are not, how can they lay claim to Bhagat Singh's legacy?

Bhagat Singh was clear on his goals. He unambiguously stated that what he desired was a 'socialist revolution', for which the preliminary requisite was a 'political revolution'. Political revolution for him, “does not mean the transfer of State (or more crudely, the power) from the hands of the British to the Indians”. Political revolution will be the basis upon which, the work to transform the whole society on the socialist basis should start. It is because of this reason that he questions, “what difference does it make to them (the workers and peasants) whether Lord Reading is the head of the Indian government or Sir Purshotamdas Thakordas? What difference for a peasant if Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru replaces Lord Irwin”!

Cautioning against 'using' peasants and workers for selfish interests, he continues: “You can't 'use' him for your purpose; you shall have to mean seriously and to make him understand that the revolution is going to be his and for his good” (Emphasis added). It is for this reason that Bhagat Singh considers 'revolution' to be a 'sacred' word not to be used lightly or misused. He wanted 'political freedom' to win 'economic liberty' for the peasants and workers.

Can the BJP claim this aspect of Bhagat Singh's legacy? Not even in their dreams! Not only are they dreadfully afraid of 'revolution' and 'socialism', they are even frightened of the word freedom. Being in 'power' for the second time, do they have any genuine work to show benefiting the workers and peasants? All they can claim is they are in the process of weakening the labour laws, making it difficult for the workers to unionise and fight for their rights. They have failed in their promises to the peasants (for one, MSP of 50 percent over cost of production). As a result, agrarian distress increased and so did peasant suicides. While the Mallaiah's and Mallannas are dying, unable to repay the debt they had incurred, BJP is enabling the Mallya's who have looted our PSU banks by defaulting on their loans, to flee the country.

What the BJP is in fact doing is 'using' the peasants and workers for 'their purpose'. In order to 'cover-up' their failure, they are trying to appeal to 'national sentiment'. Bhagat Singh says, it is “useless to appeal to his (peasant's or worker's) national sentiment”, without doing anything tangible to bring about a transformation in their lives. He exudes confidence stating that “they are not going to be fooled by any sentimental talk”. With the BJP failing on its promises, people began to 'see through' them. Hence began BJP's 'operation cover-up'.

BJP uses two veils in its 'cover-up' – one, communalism and two, 'national sentiment' – both of them intermittently or together, to suit their purpose. Bhagat Singh was clearly against such machinations. Bhagat Singh was concerned about the voice of 'few sincere leaders' being “easily swept away by the rising wave of communalism”. As if talking about the present, he identifies sections of the media, whose, “main objective seems to be spreading ignorance, preaching and propagating sectarianism and chauvinism, communalising people’s minds leading to the destruction of our composite culture and shared heritage”. For him, “the real duty of the newspapers is to educate, to cleanse the minds of people, to save them from narrow sectarian divisiveness, and to eradicate communal feelings to promote the idea of common nationalism”. A lesson for today's rabble rousers in the media?

Bhagat Singh identifies the economic reasons behind the growth of communalism and communal riots. About what can be the probable cure for this disease, he writes: “Now, if at all there is a cure for all the riots, then it can be brought about only by changing the course of direction of Bharat’s economic trajectory...it is difficult to bring about a change in the current economic conditions...That is why people have to consistently fight the government and until the government is changed, they should not rest”.

Bhagat Singh found the youth increasingly getting disillusioned with 'such politics' of communalism. “The good news is India's youth are distancing themselves away from such religions which preach hatred and animosity between each other. The youth have become so open-minded that they do not see the people of the country through the prism of religions – as being Hindu, Muslim or Sikh – but see them primarily as humans first and then as Indians. With such kind of thoughts taking root in Indian youth, we know that the future of our country is bright”. BJP obviously cannot be comfortable with these ideas.

BJP has got nothing to talk (forget boasting) about anti-imperialism, as its founders and ideological gurus never participated in the struggle for India's independence. Nationalism and patriotism are never for them about the people and their struggle for emancipation. It was always about some symbols and 'Hindu nationalism'. As history cannot be relived, they are trying to rewrite it and appropriate some historical icons. Being experts in economic appropriation, they are now trying their hand in 'historical appropriation' and are thus claiming Sardar Patel, Gandhi, Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh. Our fight hence naturally should be against both their economic and historical appropriation.

Bhagat Singh wrote: “Class consciousness is required to ensure that people do not fight among themselves. It has to be made very clear to the poor, working class and peasants that their real enemy is capitalism. That is why they have to safeguard themselves from its stranglehold. The rights of all the poor – be they of any caste, colour, religion or region – are the same. Your wellbeing is in overcoming all these differences and remaining united, and strive to take the reigns of power into your hands. With these efforts, you will lose nothing; with these efforts, one day your chains will get cut and you will have economic independence”.

To conclude, in Bhagat Singh's own words: “Revolution is an inalienable right of mankind. Freedom is an imperishable birth right of all. Labour is the real sustainer of society. The sovereignty of the people is the ultimate destiny of the workers. For these ideals, and for this faith, we shall welcome any suffering to which we may be condemned”.

For record, Bhagat Singh was hanged with the slogan, Inquilab Zindabad on his lips.

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