March 22, 2020

Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev: 90th Year of Martyrdom: Significance of Observing Martyrdom Day

Sitaram Yechury

THE CC of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), at its meeting in Thiruvananthapuram in January, had given a call for a door-to-door campaign to be conducted in the month of March explaining to the people why they should not answer any question in the forthcoming exercise of enumeration for the National Population Register (NPR), between April 1 and September 30.  This campaign was to culminate on March 23, the martyrdom day of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev.  Subsequently, the Left parties also gave a similar call.  The choice of the martyrdom day was to highlight the struggle of the Left parties for safeguarding India and its Constitution today from the communal offensive and for the building a modern, inclusive India. 

Following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, it is decided to avoid large gatherings and public meetings on this day.  Martyrdom anniversary will be marked as done every year.


Bhagat Singh’s contributions towards the creation of a modern, inclusive India are, indeed, seminal. A great churning was taking place in the Indian national movement following the abrupt withdrawal of the 1920-21 non-cooperation movement by Gandhiji.  The Chauri Chaura incident during this movement had alarmed Gandhiji and the future ruling classes of India that the people’s revolutionary urge that was being roused, unless controlled, could be dangerous. A revolutionary sweep could well consume the domestic Indian exploiters as well; while freeing the country from the British colonial bondage.  Gandhiji had withdrawn the movement by calling it a great “Himalayan blunder”.  Not only the revolutionaries of that time, but even prominent Congress leaders were surprised and questioned Gandhiji on this withdrawal.  Jawaharlal Nehru wrote from jail that the movement enthused by far the largest response from the people and its withdrawal was disappointing. 

The general disillusionment amongst people, particularly amongst the youth, was seeking an avenue and direction to carry forward the struggle against the British.  It is in this background that Bhagat Singh and his associates emerged to provide a clarity that continues to have a deep abiding influence even after independence till date.

Bhagat Singh, along with his associates, was hanged to death before he was 24 years old.  Even during these few years of his life, his daring acts - the shooting down of Saunders who had conducted a lethal lathi-charge on Lala Lajpat Rai and throwing bombs in the Delhi Parliament (Delhi bomb case) - provided clarity of thought and consequent action on how the movement should proceed forward. This carried an unmistakable imprint of Marxism and the objective of a revolution for the emancipation of Indian people.


This was also a period in which a battle of ideas emerged during the course of the freedom struggle over what should be the character of independent India.  The mainstream vision, articulated by the Congress that was leading the national movement, was for the establishment of a secular democratic Republic. While not disagreeing with this, the Left went further to articulate that the sustainability of a secular democratic Republic itself would be dependent upon the success we achieve in converting our political independence into the economic independence of every Indian, i.e., a society free from exploitation – socialism. 

Directly antagonistic to these two visions, was the one, which articulated that the character of independent India would be determined by the religious affiliation of its people. This led to the twin expression of a “Hindu Rashtra”, advanced by the RSS and the “Islamic State”, advanced by the Muslim League.  V D Savarkar pioneered this two-nation theory soon emulated by Muhammed Ali Jinnah.

Subsequent course of the national movement led to the unfortunate partition of the country and the establishment of the Islamic State of Pakistan.  The rest of India, however, chose to remain with the conception of a secular democratic Republic.  This rejection of the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ then was the immediate provocation for the assassination of Gandhiji, but the efforts to realise the RSS vision of a ‘Hindu(tva) Rashtra’ continued.  These efforts are reflected in the efforts to replace the secular democratic Republic under the Indian Constitution by a ‘Hindutva Rashtra’. 

The consequences are the battles that we are currently engaged in today.  Subsequent experience of post-independence decades resoundingly vindicates the Left vision that the secular democratic Republic, itself, cannot remain sustainable unless the people’s struggle moves forward, towards socialism. It was this, that Bhagat Singh articulated and practiced.


The clarity of Bhagat Singh’s thoughts’ continues to influence our current struggles today. Two of the six rules of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha drafted by Bhagat Singh were: “to have nothing to do with communal bodies or other parties which disseminate communal ideas” and “to create the spirit of general toleration among the public considering religion as a matter of personal belief of man and to act upon the same fully”.

After rechristening the Hindustan Republican Army as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA), its first meeting at Bhagat Singh’s initiative issued the taboo against all religious communalism and ritualism.  Consequently, Bhagat Singh did away with his hair and beard (being a Sikh by birth).  The HSRA manifesto saw the “advent of the revolution in the restlessness of youth in its desire to break free from the mental bondage and the religious superstitions that hold them”.

Bhagat Singh and his comrades realised the link between foreign and domestic exploitation.  They, thus, linked freedom with the ending of exploitation of man by man. In a message from prison, Bhagat Singh wrote: “The peasants have to liberate themselves not only from the foreign yoke, but also from the yoke of landlords and capitalists”.


Throughout the trial of the Delhi bomb case, Bhagat Singh and Bhatukeshwar Dutt would enter and leave the court premises shouting “inquilab zindabad”. When the magistrate asked them the meaning of this slogan they submitted a written reply whose concluding two paragraphs number 7 and 8 are being reproduced here. Here they combine with amasing clarity the struggle for independence with the struggle for socialism. This highlights Bhagat Singh and his comrades in arms’ vision of a modern inclusive India. (This reply was expunged from the records by the order of the district sessions Judge on June 9, 1929. They were made public after 50 years of his martyrdom by National Archives in March 1981.)

(7) I, Bhagat Singh, was asked in the lower court as to what we meant by the word ‘Revolution’. In answer to that question, I would say that Revolution does not necessarily involve a sanguinary strife, nor is there any place in it for individual vendetta. By Revolution we mean that the present order of things which is based on manifest injustice must change. The 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. On the one hand, the peasant who grows corn for all, starves with his family, the weaver who supplies the world market with textile fabrics, cannot find enough to cover his own and his children's bodies; the masons, the smiths and the carpenters who raise magnificent palaces, live and perish in slums; and on the other the capitalist exploiters, the parasites of society, squander millions on their whims. These terrible inequalities and forced disparity of chances are heading towards chaos. This state of affairs cannot last; and it is obvious that the present order of society is merry-making on the brink of a volcano and the innocent children of the exploiters no less than millions of the exploited are walking on the edge of a dangerous precipice. The whole edifice of this civilization, if not saved in time, shall crumble. A radical change, therefore, is necessary; and it is the duty of those who realize this, to reorganize society on the Socialistic basis. Unless this is done and the exploitation of man by man and of nations by nations which goes masquerading as Imperialism is brought to an end, the suffering and carnage with which humanity is threatened today cannot be prevented and all talk of ending wars and ushering in an era of universal peace is undisguised hypocrisy. By Revolution, we mean the ultimate establishment of an order of society which may not be threatened by such a breakdown and in which the sovereignty of the proletariat should be recognized, and as the result of which a World Federation should redeem humanity from the bondage of capitalism and misery of imperial wars.

(8)This is our ideal, and with this ideology for our inspiration we have given a fair and loud enough warning. If, however, it goes unheeded and the present system of government continues to be an impediment in the way of natural forces that are welling up, a grim struggle must ensue involving the overthrow of all obstacles, and  establishment of the dictatorship of proletariat to pave the way for the consummation of the ideal of the Revolution.

Revolution is the inalienable right of mankind. Freedom is the imprescriptible birth right of all.  The labourer 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.  To the Altar of this revolution we have brought our youth as incense; for, no sacrifice is too great for so magnificent a cause. We are content; we await the advent of Revolution;


Thus, in the present context, when the struggle against the CAA/NPR/NRC has grown, both in its breadth and depth,  this Modi government has adopted policies that exponentially increase exploitation and misery of the vast majority of our people.  The economic recession is combined with the loot of national assets, public sector and people’s money through the banks to benefit, both foreign and domestic corporates.

This is accompanied by assaults on the rights of the working people through labour reforms, attacks on the democratic rights and civil liberties by treating all expression of dissent as ‘sedition’ and an assault on reason and rationality.  Safeguarding the Indian Constitution is essential to safeguard the rights, which permit the strengthening of the people’s struggles against current onslaughts; strength of the people’s struggles against these economic onslaughts combined with the struggles for safeguarding the secular-democratic foundations of India will eventually guarantee; both the political and economic freedom of our people, strengthening the bonds of commonality and fraternity amongst our immense plurality.

Thus, even 89 years after his martyrdom, Bhagat Singh, his life and work continue to remain a beacon of inspiration to carry forward and strengthen this struggle.