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Why Bhagat Singh still inspires many Indians

If Bhagat Singh had this strong feeling, it was based on the reality of a mass awakening of people inspired by the sacrifices of jailed revolutionaries who were on an indefinite fast. They were tortured just to accept food but they refused. They were beaten repeatedly and deprived of water.

BHARAT DOGRA | Kolkata |

As we observe the martyrdom of Sukhdev, Rajguru and Bhagat Singh on March 23, it is clear that the inspiring presence of these great freedom fighters continues to grow in India even 90 years after they were hanged by colonial rulers. This was certainly much in evidence at the time of the yearlong farmers’ movement but can also be seen in many other movements and mobilisations.

In particular, Bhagat Singh has acquired a following and a status among people which is almost uniquely inspiring, with no questions being raised about his greatness and abiding relevance even by those whose ideology differs much from the most essential and basic views of the revered freedom fighter. Most of these revolutionaries had a very short life. Bhagat Singh died at the age of 23, Chandra Shekhar Azad at the age of only 25. So it appears almost incredible that within such a short life they could achieve so much as to inspire several generations and millions of people.

Devoting their life to the freedom of their country while still in their early teens, these valiant youth had emerged as mature planners by the time they entered their twenties. In the case of Bhagat Singh, it was also his tremendous devotion to a serious and continuing study of revolutions, freedom and social movements which contributed much to this early maturing. Till a few minutes before he was taken to the gallows, he was reading a biography of Lenin and was keen to finish it.

Despite this study and some daring actions in early days, Bhagat Singh found on the basis of serious introspection, taken up at the age of 21, that he and his comrades were not succeeding in reaching out to people at a level that was necessary in view of the enormity of the tasks they had taken up for securing the freedom of the country. It was at this stage that he and his dearest friend B.K. Dutt took the decision of offering themselves for arrest after another daring action so that they together could use the court and the jail as a means of explaining their movement and actions to people. Hence it was that the two friends went willingly to jail in April 1929.

The plan was that other revolutionaries would continue to advance the cause from outside jail. But the planning got disrupted as in a series of raids and police actions most other leading revolutionaries were also arrested and even those working in above ground organisations faced a ban. So, the plans had to be changed and a jail break for Bhagat Singh was organised under the leadership of Azad. But this too did not work out.

One explanation is that there was a last-minute hitch in the execution of the plan. Another explanation is that Bhagat Singh changed his mind, convinced by then that his outreach to people from jail was having the desired impact. If Bhagat Singh had this strong feeling, it was based on the reality of a mass awakening of people inspired by the sacrifices of jailed revolutionaries who were on an indefinite fast. They were tortured just to accept food but they refused. They were beaten repeatedly and deprived of water. When fasting revolutionaries badly needed water and were on the verge of collapse due to thirst, jail authorities placed in front of them pitchers filled with water mixed with milk.

The idea was that the thirsty revolutionaries would not be able to keep themselves from drinking this milk-mixed water and allow the government to announce that the protest fast had ended with the consumption of milk. But the revolutionaries broke the pitchers and continued their fast! When Jatindra Nath Das died on the 63rd day of his fast, the country rose as one to pay homage to its departed son. All along the long train journey from Lahore to Calcutta, huge numbers of people gathered at railway stations and outside to pay their last respects with flowers and tears. They were led by leaders like Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and Subhash Chandra Bose.

The funeral procession in Calcutta, led by Subhash Bose, reportedly had a presence of around 700,000 people. The ever-increasing support of people as they sympathised more and more with the revolutionaries was accompanied by a series of statements issued by revolutionaries, several of them prepared by Bhagat Singh, in which they explained their ideas and conveyed their message to the nation with an authenticity and credibility which would not have been possible for a secretive organization.

Thus they could clarify to the nation that their message was not of violence but of sustained, dedicated work among peasants, workers and all victims of injustice with the ultimate aim of creating a society free of exploitation and injustice, a society built on the equality and dignity of all people and on the basis of inter-faith harmony. The relentless efforts of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues to reach out to people with inspirational messages continued till their last days. These efforts continued despite several tragic happenings. Chandra Shekhar Azad died fighting the colonial rulers in Alfred Park, Allahabad.

One of the bravest and most sincere revolutionaries, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, died in an accidental explosion. These were big setbacks, but they also added to the saga of the great courage of the revolutionaries who had decided to devote all they had for the freedom of their country. Hence even in their death and even from behind prison bars the handful of young revolutionaries defeated the biggest imperialist power of the world as they succeeded in inspiring millions of people to join or support the freedom movement.

(The writer has written extensively on the freedom movement. His recently co-authored books on the subject include When the Two Streams Met and, in Hindi, Azadi Ke Deewanon Ki Daastaan)