When Two Streams Met

An aspect of freedom movement of India which deserves to be better known in India, particularly among youth, is that various streams of freedom movement in  India often supported and complemented each other. This is particularly true of the two most important streams, one identified mainly with Mahatma Gandhi and the other predominantly with  Shahid Bhagat Singh. In a very recent book ‘When Two Streams Met—Lessons from India’s Freedom Struggle’ ( Vats-Vitasta Publishing, Delhi ) I have tried, along with my co-authors Prof. Jagmohan Singh, Reshma Bharti and Madhu Dogra, to convey this complementary and supportive role through several short biographies of freedom fighters and  essays on other aspects of freedom movement. The same team explores this in more detail  in a Hindi book by the same publisher titled ‘Behtar Duniya Ke Liye—Azadi Ke Deewanon Ki Dastaan’ .

The essential message here is that while in terms of methods, approach and tactics the flow of two streams may have differed, the freedom fighters of both streams were essentially inspired by the same ideals of justice, liberty, equality. When activists are in the middle of crisis situations, they sometimes tend to say critical things about each other as they are under pressure to justify the position and response of their own groups. However there are so many other occasions when they express their respect for each other.

In particular Bhagat Singh and his close comrades had a lot of admirers in Congress, and not just in Punjab. They wanted Congress to play a more important role in commuting the death sentence of Rajguru, Sukhdev and Bhagat Singh. In fact the Tamil Nadu Congress stated clearly that commuting the death sentence of Bhagat Singh should be an essential condition for any agreement with the British.

There were several leaders who were very popular in the Congress as well as among revolutionaries. Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was one such Kanpur based leader of Congress ( also a great journalist) who helped Bhagat Singh a lot and was accepted and respected by Bhagat and his close friends as a mentor. Leaders like him were like a meeting point of two streams. They played an important role in planning how the two streams can play a complementing role, one adding to the strength of the other. In fact Bhagat Singh and his friends took the lead in raising the stakes with their courageous actions and created such conditions that the Congress was driven towards the goal of full freedom much earlier and with more fervor than anticipated previously.

In addition there are also specific examples of activists and leaders of both streams coming to the help of each other in various ways.

The difference in terms of violence and non-violence is also often exaggerated. Bhagat Singh said time and again that he did not believe in indiscriminate violence and revolution does not come from the cult of gun or bomb. More specifically he stated , “ non-violence as a policy indispensable for all mass-movements” while force is justified only “ when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity.” Bhagat Singh and B.K.Dutt said in a joint statement, “ We hold human life sacred beyond words.” In fact the last and the most glorious struggle of Bhagat Singh and his comrades in prison was conducted much along the lines of a Gandhian Satyagraha and made a huge impact in the country.

This was the point at which Mahatma Gandhi should have come forward to embrace the young revolutionaries ( without having to agree with all their views) and lead an all-out struggle for commuting the death sentence of Bhagat Singh and his two colleagues and in fact of all freedom fighters. As the peace movement supports abolition of capital punishment, Gandhiji’s demand for abolishing death sentence for all freedom fighters for all times would have been well within the confines of his total commitment to peace and non-violence. If Gandhi had agree to lead an all-out struggle for commuting the death sentence of Bhagat Singh and close colleagues ( without necessarily asking for their release from prison), this would have generated unprecedented unity in the country. There would have been no room for the communalization which followed and Subhash Bose too would have been readily assimilated well in the new conditions, so that there was no reason for him to leave India. In these conditions freedom would have come sooner to united India, without the terrible burden of partition.

Unfortunately this was not to be. The great struggle which would have further united the various streams never came, despite the obvious potential that existed, as evident from many examples of mutual  support.

We should learn very important lessons from this for our times. There should be much greater unity among all those who want to create a better India on the basis of unity in diversity, harmony and peace, justice and equality, protection of environment and bio-diversity.

 Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author who has been involved with several social movements.


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