An avoidable controversy has arisen recently due to the unfortunate comments of a politician of Punjab who called Shahid Bhagat Singh a terrorist. That this politician is linked closely to the Khalistani ideology explains his narrow worldview, and his comments regarding Bhagat Singh were quickly dismissed by most people. However to counter false propaganda based on such comments, it will be helpful to record some more details.
Bhagat Singh and his close colleagues made it amply clear time and again that they did not believe in indiscriminate violence and greatly valued human life. Bhagat Singh wrote very clearly, ‘non-violence as a policy indispensable for all mass movements’ while force is justifiable only ‘when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity.’ During their trial Bhagat Singh and B.K.Dutt said in a joint statement,‘ We hold human life sacred beyond words.’ When asked to define ‘revolution’, they said equally clearly that it did not mean the cult of ‘bomb and pistol’. World level fraternity based on equality and justice was emphasized by Bhagat Singh.
A central aspect of the ideas of Bhagat Singh was that a worldwide struggle against exploitation and inequality is needed to create a world based on justice and equality, true peace and fraternity. For this we have to struggle against imperialism and capitalism. In India at that time the freedom movement to end colonial rule was the most immediate need, but the wider efforts and struggles for justice and equality have to continue even after this, they said.
Another key aspect of the ideas of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues relates to their deep commitment to communal harmony. They could clearly see that the need for inter-faith harmony and unity based on this is very intense in itself and at the same time is also very important for the larger objectives of the freedom movement and the even wider struggles for equality and justice. Bhagat Singh and his colleagues could also see how those who were fanning communal flames were generally those who were willing to collaborate with the colonial rulers to pursue various narrow and selfish objectives. Hence they always warned against such sectarian and communal elements out to disrupt unity and harmony.
Bhagat Singh also gave high priority to mobilization of dalits as a very important part of the struggle against exploitation and inequality.
In their calls to youth Bhagat Singh and his colleagues stated that we are not asking you to come out with guns but instead we want your longer-term commitment to mobilize and unite workers and peasants. They said that workers and farmers are the real strength of a broad-based movement to end exploitation.
A socialist vision of the future was a key concept for Bhagat Singh and it was largely on his insistence that the name of their organization was changed from Hindustan Republican Association to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.
When in certain compelling situations a decision was taken to throw some bombs in assembly building Bhagat Singh took care to ensure that the bombs were prepared in such a way as to cause minimal damage. Bhagat Sngh and B.K.Dutt also threw the bombs at such a place deliberately where these would not kill anyone or even injure anyone in a serious way. Having done this they they merely distributed literature containing their ideas and demands and then handed over their revolvers. While actions of terrorists generally involve efforts to cause maximum harm, Bhagat Singh and Dutt were careful to minimize harm to any people, particularly national leaders, and tried to achieve their objective of attracting nationwide attention in an action which did not claim even one human life.
This was followed by fasts of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues in jail which appear to be surprisingly similar to satyagraha kind of efforts in which using the moral force of their sacrifices and fasts (the longest of which continued for over 100 days) the freedom fighters were able to inspire millions of people to contribute more to the freedom movement.
Hence the most important commitments of Bhagat Singh were for the freedom of the country, for ending colonialism and imperialism, and for creating an exploitation-free society based on justice and equality, communal harmony and fraternity. It is by living close to these ideals that we can best pay our homage to these great freedom fighters.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met and Azadi Ke Deewanon Ki Daastaan.