The renaming of Chandigarh international airport in the memory of Shaheed Bhagat Singh has rekindled interest in the life and ideals of the revolutionary freedom fighter, a stuff of life that asks for self-sacrifice for attaining freedom from political and socio-economic tyrannies. His call to the Indian youth for restructuring Indian society and rendering it free from dogmas of caste and class, race and colour, faith and fashion, is still relevant in this hour and clime. A statement in Bhagat Singh’s Prison Diary best reflects his philosophy of life: “The aim of life is no more to control the mind, but to develop it harmoniously; not to achieve salvation hereafter, but to make the best use of it here below; …social progress depends not upon the ennoblement of the few but on the enrichment of democracy; universal brotherhood can be achieved only when there is an equality of opportunity”.
He was born in 1907 in a Jat Sikh family. His father and uncles, Ajit Singh and Swaran Singh, were members of Ghadar Party led by Lal Har Dayal and Madam Cama. Ajit was a pioneer in opposing the Colonisation Act, while Swaran was hanged in 1927 for his role in Kakori Conspiracy. Bhagat Singh too was hanged in 1931 at the age of 23.
He was influenced by the Irish Republican Army as well as by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Bakunin. He felt that the kind of politics pursued by Congress leadership would replace one set of exploiters (imperialists) by another (capitalists). Bhagat Singh became a member of Naujwan Bharat Sabha and Kirti Kissan Party, comprising peasants and industrial workers, and that of Hindustan Republican Association (HRA).
The manifesto of HRA clearly brought out the idea of radical societal change espoused by Bhagat Singh: “The immediate object of the revolutionary party …is to establish a Federal Republic of United States of India by an organized and armed revolution. The basic principle of this republic shall be universal suffrage and the abolition of… exploitation of man by man….” When the Simon Commission visited Lahore in 1928 to take stock of the political situation in India, senior leader Lala Lajpat Rai was fatally wounded in police violence during a non-violent protest march and later succumbed to his injuries. Saunders, the British police officer responsible for ordering lathi-charge, was shot dead allegedly by Bhagat Singh and his associates to avenge the killing of Rai. To combat the revolutionaries, the British enacted the Defence of India Act (DIA).
In response, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt exploded a bomb in the corridors of the Central Legislative Assembly where DIA Ordinance was going to be passed in April 1929. This was followed by shouting of Inqalab Zindabad (Long Live the Revolution) and a shower of leaflets stating that “it takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear”.
The bomb was not meant to cause any harm, as it was thrown away from people, a fact admitted by the British forensics investigators. Bhagat Singh, who chose to be arrested rather than run away, denied the charge of being a terrorist and affirmed that “I am a revolutionary who has certain ideology, defined ideals and a long programme…It is my firm belief that we cannot get any benefit from either bombs or pistols…Our main aim is the organisation of laborers and farmers”. The trial ended in 1930 with death sentence for Bhagat Singh and his associates. His death sentence he considered “the highest award for patriotism… They may kill me, but they cannot kill my ideas… Bhagat Singh dead will be more dangerous to the British enslavers than Bhagat Singh alive…”
He demanded to be executed along with his fellow revolutionaries by a firing squad of the British army instead of being hanged, as they were prisoners of war. When his father petitioned the British to pardon his son, Bhagat Singh asked his father to withdraw the petition. He embraced death heroically, inspiring and motivating an entire generation during India’s freedom movement. His legacy prompted the youth in India to defy imperialism and foreign rule and set the pace for rise of socialism
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