Remembering Bhagat Singh

Picture acknowledgement: Punjab Panorama

Before the anti- Mandal Commission Report riots changed the nature of political discourse in India, Bhagat Singh was one of the key icons of the Indian Left– then the natural habitat of the young and of the intelligentsia.23 March used to be a day of commemoration marked by lectures, rallies and distribution of his book Why I am an Atheist.


Nowadays, the day passes almost unnoticed.My old comrade and friend- years have thinned the differences between the two- Balram perceptively writes on how Bhagat Singh has been appropriated by the Hindutva brigade and underlines the need to see his life and thought as a whole- as an evolution of this wonderfully precocious mind. It is often forgotten than he had not yet turned 23 when hanged by the British.

Various political movements- from the Right wing Hindutva to extreme Left wing Naxalite Maoists, tend to highlight one or the other aspect in the evolution of Bhagat Singh’s rapid movement from Arya Samaji sympathies to revolutionary socialism- a movement that gathered particular immediacy in the aftermath of the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930.

Balram’s rhetorical flourish towards the end about Bhagat Singh’s ‘spiritual relationship’ with Gandhi is overstated, but the point that he makes is still moot.

The success of BJP, VHP types in stealing into academics and public consciousness the concept of cultural nationalism is a case in point. This has become possible for first time that a political movement has arisen without the help of heroes of national revolution. Owing to lack of any specific programme for social or economic reorganization, this movement has to take recourse to mythological heroes instead of historic ones, who can be moulded as they like into their programme of cultural reconstruction. Ramjanambhoomi movement is an example.

The immense treasure of heritage of Bhagat Singh would be open to us if we could see Bhagat Singh as someone who dared to dream and had it in himself to live or die for it, instead of seeing him simply as a freedom fighter or a person committed to a particular ideology. But while doing so we would have to not only renew Bhagat Singh who has become a symbol of revolution but the dust that has settled on his spiritual relationship with Gandhi will also have to be cleaned up.It is obvious that it is impossible to safeguard the relevance of Bhagat Singh without Gandhi and of Gandhi without Bhagat Singh.

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