Besides being a salute to an extraordinarily heroic figure of the Indian national liberation struggle, Bhagat Singh, Liberation’s Blazing Star seeks to situate him in his own times and come to an understanding of his legacy and its relevance today. In doing so, it argues not only against the congress efforts to dilute Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary legacy and the Hindu Right’s efforts to mutilate it, but also the extreme left’s efforts to project Bhagat Singh and his comrades as the only truly revolutionary force in the national liberation struggle, pitting them against the communist Party.
P.M.S. Grewal’s book is forthrightly argued, hard hitting, and partisan-a fitting salute to the young martyr.
The annals of human history are replete with struggle and sacrifice of the oppressed, both collective and individual, for liberation from class exploitation and other oppressions. The ebb and flow of this never-ending battle is recorded in varying detail by both history and public memory. Tumultuous events like wars, invasions, revolts and revolutions leave a deep imprint on the mind of generations much beyond those who lived through them. What remains most vibrant and attains immortality in popular memory, however, is the role of outstanding individuals who in the midst of such historical processes, through their lives, struggles and heroism, come to symbolize the eternal human dream of equality and freedom.
It is but a few achieve such immortality. Bhagat Singh, rebel and revolutionary,
one of the finest ever sons of the Indian people, was one such individual. His
life and martyrdom shone like a blazing star on the banner of the Indian national
liberation struggle and inspired generations to fight for liberty and justice.
He died at the age of 23 years at the hands of the colonial enslavers of India.
Yet, 75 years after his martyrdom he lives as a glowing example of what a poet
had perceived in the following words.
We are those who death don't fear. those who die yet alive appear.
Bhagat Singh and his comrades were part of a new generation of revolutionaries
that came to the to the fore in the 1920s and 30s in the background of the entry
of vast sections of the masses into the arena of the freedom struggle and disillusionment,
especially among the youth, with the compromising tactics of the Congress party
in the struggle against colonial rule. They represented that section of the
revolutionary stream within the Indian national liberation struggle which believed
that armed struggle, defined in terms of retaliatory actions against individuals
representing hated symbols of British colonial rule, was the main weapon for
arousing the masses for achieving independence.
Bhagat Singh, whose name has become synonymous with the battle cry of
'Inquilab Zindabad' or 'Long Live Revolution', was the most outstanding of
Revolutionary terrorists of the first two decades of the twentieth century
while being self-sacrificing fighters against British colonial rule had lacked a
clear vision about the content of the national liberation struggle and what the
shape of independent India ought to be. Moreover, their sources of inspiration
were rooted in religion and the past. The new generation of revolutionaries
represented by Bhagat Singh and his comrades evolved, over a period of
time, to make a break with the earlier revolutionary terrorist tradition. Besides
being uncompromising fighters against imperialism, they also questioned and
opposed other oppressions and had a concrete vision about both the content of
the liberation struggle and the aftermath of its success.
Their uncompromising hatred for the colonial oppressor in word and
deed provided courage and inspiration to millions of their contemporaries to
plunge into the national liberation struggle. It also led many to question the
compromising tactics of the Congress leadership. Their staunch anti-
imperialism continues to inspire all those who seek to rid the world of the
curse of imperialist exploitation, domination and war. It is hardly surprising
that anti-imperialist struggles in the country till date continue to invoke the
memory and heroic deeds of these revolutionaries, especially Bhagat Singh,
as powerful symbols for rousing the masses.
It would be incorrect to term Bhagat Singh and his comrades simply
'national revolutionaries' or 'revolutionary terrorists'. Rather, from their own
experience they gradually moved closer to Marxism and came to adopt an
internationalist outlook, commitment to socialism and the building of a free
India bereft of class exploitation. Like the fledgling Communist Party, they
too sought to provide social content to the slogan of freedom. Many of them
went on to join the Communist Party. In the words of Shiv Verma, Bhagat
Singh's comrade in arms and later editor of his Selected Works:
Besides accepting socialism as their goal, the revolutionaries of this period
stood for a classless society free from exploitation of man by man and of
nation by nation, declared that their battle was not only against British
imperialism but against the imperialist system as a whole, had a profound
respect for and a feeling of oneness with the Soviet Union, believed that
the form of government that will come up after the revolution will be
some sort of dictatorship of the proletariat, gave a complete good-bye to God, religion, mysticism, believed in secularism and were strongly anti-
communal in their outlook."
Their willingness to sacrifice all for the realisation of their goals and
their heroic conduct in the face of imprisonment, torture and death set a
shining example that continues to inspire millions. Bhagat Singh best symbolizes
this immensely inspirational role of these revolutionaries. B.T. Ranadive has
succinctly described this in the following words:
No revolution, no revolutionary ideology can succeed without individual
heroism; by outstanding individuals arousing the people by their courage
and sacrifices, by their readiness to face the gallows and the executioner's
axe. No revolutionary ideology can succeed without intense hatred for
the enemy to be overthrown, without an all-sided war on the enemy, his
institutions and instruments. Bhagat Singh combined the hatred for the
British rule with immense personal heroism and became the symbol of
the struggling nation, the embodiment of its hatred for the foreign rule.2
That this symbol still lives in the hearts of the Indian people can be seen
from the fact that there is no part of the country where one does not see his
posters, photographs, sketches, etc., adorning the walls of people's houses,
public places and even vehicles. There are thousands of youth clubs in the
country named after him. He has become a part of folklore as the symbol of
struggle against injustice as no one before or after him. Umpteen numbers of
songs and ballads about his heroism and sacrifice, not just in Punjabi and
Hindi but also in other Indian languages have been composed and sung for
decades. A few years back I was pleasantly surprised to hear a ba lladeer sing
a moving piece on the life and martyrdom of Bhagat Singh in Bhojpuri at a
programme organized at Jhandapur in District Ghaziabad on the occasion of
the death anniversary of another people's martyr, Safdar Hashmi. Sensing
this popularity of Bhagat Singh, the commercial Hindi film industry has
churned out several films based on his life. It is a different matter that most of
them misrepresent Bhagat Singh and typecast him in a manner acceptable to
the ruling classes.
For all those who cherish the memory of Bhagat Singh, his birth centenary
celebrations should be a time to understand what he stood for in life and
death and to carry forward his heroic legacy.
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