Combined legacy of Bhagat Singh and Mahatma Gandhi is best for India

Bhagat Singh's nephew stated that the great impact of the sacrifices of jailed revolutionaries helped the more radical Congress leaders to advance the announcement of complete freedom as the objective

File photo of Shaheed Bhagat Singh
File photo of Shaheed Bhagat Singh

Bharat Dogra

In the history of the freedom movement of India, it is common to speak of the main Congress-led movement and the movement of revolutionaries separately. Within the revolutionary movement also there were several streams but the one led by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) became the most talked about at the national level. In popular discussion people often talk about the movements led by Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh.

However a closer look would reveal that there was much co-operation between the two movements. This should not come as a surprise at all, as several of the most crucial aims and precepts were shared. Not only were both movements committed to freedom of India as their most important immediate goal, both of them also accorded high priority to communal harmony and prioritizing the needs of weaker sections. In particular the revolutionary leaders felt closer to younger Congress leaders with a socialist ideology, best represented by Jawaharlal Nehru, and stated this openly.

Historian Ravindra Kumar has written—“the activities of the revolutionaries complemented the non-violent campaign of the Civil Disobediance Movement and their effect upon popular consciousness was no less decisive than the effect of the Satyagraha movement.”

In two books I recently edited, ‘When the Two Streams Met’ and ‘Azadi Ke Deewanon Ki Daastaan’, I have, along with co-authors, presented several examples of such complementarity proving mutually useful as well as contributing in important ways to the progress of the freedom movement. My co-author Prof. Jagmohan Singh, Secretary of Shahid Bhagat Singh Research Committee ( who is also nephew of Bhagat Singh) stated that the great inspirational impact of the fast and other sacrifices of jailed revolutionaries helped the more radical Congress leaders to advance the announcement of complete freedom as the objective of the Congress-led struggle. As is well-known, Jawaharlal in particular played a very important role in this.

In fact, if we look at the prolonged fasts of 16 jailed revolutionaries, in the course of which Jatindra Nath Das died after a 63 day fast in 1930 and most others became very weak, Congress activists also played an important role in taking the inspirational message of this sacrifice to people and also put pressure on the government for accepting the demands of revolutionaries so that their fast could end. The Congress not only organized protests against the ill-treatment of revolutionary prisoners but in addition, when Section 144 was imposed, some of its leaders also courted arrest. This fast also brought the revolutionaries closer to the Satyagraha approach of the Congress and helped them to reach out to a much larger number of people.

This complementarity was also brought out when the Congress led the boycott of the Simon Commission in Lahore, but more quietly it was the Bharat Naujavan Sabha, the youth organization of HRSA which worked openly, before it too was banned, for a very important mobilizational role. Its activists were in the vanguard of protecting Lala Lajpat Rai from police batons. When he died due to this assault, it was a Congress leader Basanti Devi who gave a call to the youth and it was Bhagat Singh and his companions, led by Chandrashekhar Azad, who responded to this. The rest is history.

When Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death, this was widely opposed and even from a considerable distance the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee insisted that commuting this death sentence should be an essential pre-condition for any peace with the government.

Some leaders of Congress were particularly known for their helpful efforts towards revolutionaries, the foremost of them being Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, a leader who won the admiration and respect of both Gandhi and Nehru on one side and of Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad on the other side.

This is not to say that there was only cooperation and no discord, but it is important and helpful to emphasize the many-sided relationship of co-operation and the commonality of aims and priorities on which this co-operation was built. This repeated co-operation of activists was possible because of opposing imperialism of course but also because of standing up for communal harmony and national unity, confronting divisive forces, taking up many causes of farmers and workers , defending civil liberties and human rights, opposing exploitation and injustice. By establishing broad unity to pursue these aims, leaders as well as grassroots activists helped to take forward all these important causes much more than would have been possible without such cooperation.

There is a lesson in this for all of us even today, when broader unity in such crucial areas as communal harmony , civil liberties and protecting the interests of farmers and workers is increasingly needed.

(The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Planet in Peril. Views are personal)

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