Political Correspondence of Bhagat Singh
As we know by now that, 107 documents of Bhagat Singh, apart from his ‘Jail Notebook’ and Hindi translation of Dan Breen’s ‘My fight for Irish Freedom’ have come to light. These include five letters published for first time in March 2007 by this author. Out of these 107 documents, forty five falls in the category of correspondence—letters, telegrams and notices/leaflets.(1) Correspondence of Bhagat Singh is available from 1918, when he had not completed even 11 years of age. There are three notices and four telegrams out of these 45 documents. Letters can be broadly divided into two types. Letters of personal nature, addressed to family members and friends; and letters of political nature, addressed to father, friends, British officials, judges, editors of journals etc.
Out of 38 letters, 15 can be categorized as of personal nature, though referring to political context also. 23 letters are of political nature, though there are personal references also in these. First five available letters of Bhagat Singh were written between 1918 and 1921, i.e. from the age of 11 years to 14 years. Another set of ten personal letters were written from jail during 1930-31, just in one year period at the age of 22 years plus. The first set of personal letters belong to absolute innocent phase of life and the last set of personal letters, belong to the mature and most fertile period of Bhagat Singh’s life.
As far as letters of political nature are concerned, the first political letter of Bhagat Singh is addressed to his father in 1923, at the age of sixteen years. Then twenty plus letters are written during 1927 to 1931, including one letter written, just a day before execution. This is the most maturing period of Bhagat Singh’s personality, from the age of 20 years to twenty three plus.
Let the notices be discussed first, though these are just three in number, yet these carry great significance. First such notice was pasted on the walls of
The subheading of notice is ‘Beware ye tyrants; Beware’. The notice warns the Britishers not to ‘injure the feelings of a downtrodden and oppressed country. Think twice before per petering such a diabolic deed.’
The third subheading is ‘Long live Revolution’. In this section, text reads—‘Sorry for the death of a man. But in this man has died the representative of an institution, which is so cruel, lowly and so base that it must be abolished. In this man has died an agent of the British authority in
The last paragraph of the notice reads—‘Sorry for the bloodshed of a human being; but the sacrifice of individuals at the altar of the revolution that will bring freedom to all and make the exploitation of man by man impossible, is inevitable.’ (2)
It is repeated again—‘Inqlab Zindabad’.( All quotes from same notice)
One can see the socialist thought of HSRA, adopted three months earlier, taking shape in this notice. British colonial Government had been perceived as ‘the most tyrannical Govt. of the world and Saundras has been identified not as an individual, but as ‘representative of an institution’, the institution of colonialism and exploitation. ‘Death of a man’ has been regretted, but in the death of this man, death of colonial system had been wished.
In another notice issued about the same incident on 23rd December again carries the name of Balraj, actually written by Bhagat Singh, the action had been justified on the grounds that ‘ this was an avenge for the biggest national insult’ in the form of attack on the grand old man of India Lala Lajpat Rai. It had also been justified on the ground that it was as per ‘the rule (rule 10-b&c) of HSRA. The slogan of ‘Inqlab Zindabad’- ‘Long Live the Revolution’ had been repeated in this notice as well.(3) It seems that HSRA had given a serious thought to the adoption of the slogan of ‘Inqlab Zindabad’ and ‘Death to Imperialism’ ( Samrajyavad Murdabad), which reverberated in the Central Assembly, four months later in Delhi. For Bhagat Singh, the political meaning of the slogans was to arouse people’s emotions. Earlier the slogan of ‘Vande Matram’ used to do it. Now they thought that an advanced slogan is necessary to raise people’s consciousness. That is how all the three notices issued by HSRA under the name of Balraj,scripted by Bhagat Singh, prominently focused on these slogans. These two slogans were adopted from Bolshevik Revolution of
In the third and more elaborately political notice/leaflet was printed and thrown in Central Assembly on 8th April, 1929 by Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt, after exploding non-harmful bombs in the Assembly. They quoted French Revolutionary Valliant’s words-‘It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear’ to justify their action. The leaflet refers to the repressive measures adopted by British colonial regime in the form of Public Safety and Trade Disputes Bill. Press Sedition Bill was kept reserved for next session. The leaflet refers HSRA(Hindustan Socialist Republican Association) as most serious and responsible organization, which had decided to stop ‘this humiliating farce and let ‘the alien bureaucratic exploiters’ do what they wish, but to make them come before the public eye in their naked form.’
The leaflet refers again to ‘the callous murder of Lala Lajpat Rai’ and declares that ‘it is easy to kill individuals but you can not kill the ideas. Great empires crumbled but the ideas survived. Bourbons and Czars fell while the revolution marched ahead triumphantly.’
This is clear reference to French revolution of 1789 and Bolshevik revolution of 1917. By far this is the clearest political statement by Bhagat Singh and his associates about the power of ideas to arouse people for revolution. It is clear break from earlier emotive and quasi religious approach of Indian revolutionaries to arouse people in the name of nation or religion against ‘foreign rulers’.
Emphasis on ‘the sanctity of human life’ has again been asserted in the concluding
The leaflet concludes with the slogan—‘inqlab Zindabad’. In fact all three notices issued by HSRA and drafted by Bhagat Singh, shows that the revolutionary movement in
Fourth notice had been issued by Bhagat Singh on 17th June 1929, as life convict no. 117 of Mianwali jail. It is addressed to Inspector General Jails, Punjab,
Three brief telegrams also confirm the ideological positions taken by HSRA in these notices.
On 24th January 1930, Bhagat Singh and other convicts of
They sent another telegram to Hindustani Samiti in
There is another telegram sent by Bhagat Singh to Home Secretary, Govt. of
Bhagat Singh’s political correspondence through letters roughly starts from year 1923, with a letter addressed to his father. This is quite well known letter, when Bhagat Singh left home for
My life has already been committed to a noble cause—the cause of freedom of
Yours obediently----Bhagat Singh.(10)
Though a simple and small letter, yet to understand Bhagat Singh’s mental make up and his political commitment, this letter is quite significant. Bhagat Singh was clear from the day one, that his life was dedicated to the nation and so he was not tempted by any such thing, which could be considered normal for his age---good clothing, good eating, and living in comforts, given the rich financial background of his family. He started living in hardships by his own choice. He worked as newspaper vendor in
From 1923 to 22nd March 1931, a day prior to his martyrdom, Bhagat Singh wrote number of letters to his close family members, friends, editors and many official letters to British officials—judicial as well as administrative. Two more letters addressed to his father are available—one written in April 1929, after his arrest in Delhi Assembly bomb case and another written on 4th October 1930, this letter is again a historic document. Bhagat Singh’s father was a Congress activist, for that matter, his whole family was part of freedom struggle, as is clear from Bhagat Singh’s first available letter to his father. His grandfather Arjun Singh himself was nationalist and all his three sons—Kishan Singh, Ajit Singh and Swarn Singh were freedom fighters. While Swarn Singh died at the age, at which Bhagat Singh was to die later. He died due to tuberculosis contracted in jail. Ajit Singh remained exiled for 38 years, return only to die on 15th August 1947 itself. Kishan Singh along with two brothers served many years jail terms, so were the two younger brothers of Bhagat Singh later- Kulbir Singh and Kultar Singh.
In his second letter to his father, Bhagat Singh informed his father about being shifted to
Bhagat Singh reminds his father that though he (his father) always wanted him (Bhagat Singh) to fight his case seriously and defend him properly, but he (BS) always opposed it. Thus he tells his father that ‘we have been pursuing a definite policy in this trial’. H e explains further their policy—‘I have always been of opinion that all political workers should be indifferent and should never bother about the legal courts and should boldly bear the heaviest possible sentence inflicted upon them. They may defend themselves but always from political considerations and never from a personal point of view. Our policy in this trial has always been consistent with this principle; whether we were successful in that or not is not for me to judge.’
In this letter, the maturity of political thinking of Bhagat Singh can be seen at its peak. He tells his father—‘My life is not so precious, at least to me, as you may probably think it to be. It is not at all worth buying at the cost of my principles. There are other comrades of mine whose case is as serious as that of mine. We have adopted a common policy and we shall stand to the last, no matter how dearly we have to pay individually for it.’ After explaining his policy about the case, then Bhagat Singh performs perhaps a most difficult duty--- of censuring his father and he does shirk from this unpleasant but politically necessary duty.
‘Father, I am quite perplexed. I fear I might overlook the ordinary principles of etiquette and my language may become a little but harsh while criticizing or rather censoring this move on your part. Let me be candid. I feel as though I have been stabbed at the back. Had any other person done it, I would have considered it to be nothing short of treachery. But in your case, let me say that it has been a weakness—a weakness of worst type.
This was the time where everybody’s mettle was being tested. Let me say father, you have failed. I know you are as sincere a patriot as one can be. I know you have devoted your life to the cause of Indian independence. But why, at this moment, have you played such a weakness? I can not understand.’(11)
This was not just a private letter, Bhagat Singh insisted that this letter must be published at the earliest and so it was in ‘The Tribune’. Probably this move by Kishan Singh made Bhagat Singh so apprehensive that he instructed Kumari Lajjawati, secretary Bhagat Singh defence committee, while handing over the bag of his papers, prior to his pending execution, ‘to hand over these papers only to Bejoy Kumar Sinha’ , who was his close friend at ideological level as well and who was undergoing imprisonment in Andamans. As per Lajjawati, Bhagat Singh had specifically instructed her ‘not to hand over these papers to her father’. And Lajjawati followed these instructions and refused even ‘to show’ the papers to Kishan Singh, when he wanted.(12) Though Lajjawati gave this bag to Lala Firoze Chand, editor of ‘People’, weekly established by Lala Lajpat Rai, to take whatever papers for publication. Lala Firoze Chand took out some papers, which were later published in ‘People’, which included—‘Letter to Young political workers’(fragments) on 29th March, 1931, “On political Trials’-9th June 1931, and ‘Why I am an Atheist’-27th September, 1931. As per Lajjawati, she handed over the remaining papers to BK Sinha in 1938, after his release from Andamans and how these were lost, that is a somewhat controversial and unconfirmed story.
Bhagat Singh’s letters to Sukhdev are equally significant for expressing his philosophical views about life, particularly about ‘Love’ and ‘Suicide’. But the reference point here again is political Perception. Bhagat Singh initially was not chosen by revolutionary group for throwing bomb in
Another letter to Sukhdev, in response to his own letter, in which Sukhdev expressed the desire ‘to commit suicide’; in case he got the ‘sentence of transportation for life’. Sukhdev wished only for ’death’ or ‘release’. Bhagat Singh gave him a very sharp reply. Sukhdev had earlier did not sustain police tactics and made a ‘statement’, after his arrest in April 1929, even when Bhagat Singh and Dutt were being kept in police custody and both refusing to give any statement to police after their arrest in Delhi bomb case. Again when all others comrades of Lahore conspiracy case continued their hunger strike in support of Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt’s hunger strike, in which Jatin Dass gave even his life, Sukhdev could not sustain the hunger strike for long. Bhagat Singh reminds Sukhdev of their earlier conversation about ‘Suicide’, when they had not been arrested, in which Sukhdev thought suicide to be ‘horrible and heinous’. Bhagat Singh at that time told that’ in some situations suicide may be justifiable’. Bhagat Singh takes this view now that ‘suicide is a heinous crime. It is an act of complete cowardice. Leave alone revolutionaries, no individual can ever justify such an act.’ Bhagat Singh debates with Sukhdev about the role of ‘suffering’, who thinks that suffering can not serve the country that is how he did not endure the suffering of hunger strike. Here Bhagat Singh defends the role of hunger strike in order to improve the miserable condition of political prisoners in jail. He puts the query to Sukhdev in this context that was this hunger strike or the death of Comrade Jatindernath Dass could be called suicide? Bhagat Singh’s emphatic view is—‘No. Striving and sacrificing one’s life for a superior ideal can never be called suicide.’ He underlines the fact that due to hunger strike, they won the political rights for better treatment of political prisoners—‘Ultimately, our sufferings bore fruit. Big movements started in the whole of the country.We were successful in our aim. Death in the struggle of this kind is an ideal death.’
Bhagat Singh tells Sukhdev that getting hanged in this case ‘will also be beautiful, but committing suicide-to cut short the life just to avoid some pain-is cowardice. Bhagat Singh discusses Russian literature at length in this context, which both comrades had been discussing during their earlier life outside the jail. Bhagat Singh speaks about the role of jail in understanding the realities of life—
‘I want to tell you that in jail, and in jail alone, can a person get an occasion to study empirically the great social subjects of crime and sin. I have read some literature on this and only the jail is the proper place for the self study on all these topics. The best part of the self study for one is to suffer oneself.’
One can write a thesis on the basis of just this one letter of Bhagat Singh, which is most clear expression of his philosophical, political and cultural ideas. Bhagat Singh tells Sukhdev that they were not doing something very unusual in life. They were just ‘a product of the needs of our times’, as was Marx. And here he gives the most mature Marxist understanding of Marx, which Marx himself gave about himself at one time—
‘I shall even say that Marx—the father of communism- did not actually originate this idea. The industrial revolution of
I (and you too) did not give birth to the idea of socialism and communism in this country; this is the consequence of the effects of our time and situations upon ourselves. Of course, we did a bit to propagate these ideas and therefore I say that since we have already taken a tough task upon ourselves, we should continue to advance it. The people will not be guided by our committing suicides to escape the difficulties; on the contrary, this will be quite a reactionary step.’
One can see the giant of a committed theoretician of Marxist revolution taking shape in Bhagat Singh at the age of 23 years, when this letter was written. He asserts his materialistic thinking, their atheist approach towards god, hell, heaven etc and declares that he is hundred percent certain about the capital punishment being awarded to him—‘ I do not expect a bit of moderation or amnesty. Even if there is amnesty, it will not be for all, and even that amnesty will be for others only, not for us; it will be extremely restricted and burdened with various conditions. For us, neither there can be any amnesty nor will it ever happen. Even then, I wish that release calls for us should be made collectively and globally. Along with that, I also wish that when the movement reaches its climax, we should be hanged.’ Bhagat Singh declares his unflinching faith in the revolution, in face of his certain death-‘A revolution can be only achieved through sustained striving, sufferings and sacrifices. And it shall be achieved.’ To Sukhdev and his kind of persons in revolutionary movements, his biting lesson is—‘You will kindly excuse me for saying that had you acted according to this belief right at the time of imprisonment (that is, you had committed suicide by taking poison), you would have served the revolutionary cause, but at this moment, even the thought of such an act is harmful to our cause.’(14) Here one can be reminded of young Bengali woman revolutionary of
Bhagat Singh sent a message to second Punjab Students Conference held at
In a letter addressed to Ramanand Chatterjee, the editor of Modern Review, who ridiculed the slogan of ‘Inqlab Zindabad’, Bhagat Singh reasserts-‘Revolution did not necessarily involve sanguinary strife. It was not a cult of bomb and pistol. They may sometimes be mere means for its achievements.’(16)
Bhagat Singh wrote two letters in context of Harikishan’s trial being taking place. Harikishan had shot at Governor of Punjab during the convocation of Panjab University Lahore on 23rd December 1930. Governor survived but one other official died in this attack. Harikishan was just a young boy of 18 years and was bound to be hanged in this case, however the way lawyers conducted his case that made Bhagat Singh quite unhappy. While one of the letters in untraceable till date, another letter was found in Bhagat Singh papers and was published in the ‘People’(Lahore) on 9th June 1931, after Harikishan was hanged on 31st May 1931. Bhagat Singh defends his earlier line of facing such trials by boldly accepting the deed and facing the consequences, which will make public sympathize with the cause. He comes heavily on lawyers in the context of this case and castigates them—‘Lawyers should not be so unscrupulous as to exploit the lives and even deaths of young people who come to sacrifice themselves for so noble a cause as the emancipation of suffering humanity. Xxx why should a lawyer demand such an incredible fee as has been paid in the above case?’ Bhagat Singh was particularly unhappy the way Harikishan was shown not being so bold, whereas Bhagat Singh knew that they ‘are trying to belittle the beauty of the marvelous character of our young comrade.’(17)
Two more letters of Bhagat Singh need special mention here, while the official correspondence of Bhagat Singh with British judicial and jail officials needs to be deferred for another paper. Bhagat Singh wrote to Governor of Punjab on behalf of all three condemned prisoners of Lahore Conspiracy case on 20th March, 1931, three days prior to the executions. They pleaded ‘to be shot dead as war prisoners’ as
The last letter or rather last words authored by him on 22nd March, just a day prior to final journey, are addressed to his comrades and rightly so. He lived and died amongst them. It is interesting to know that his last words are written in Urdu. These words are written neither in English, which he mastered so much in the last part of his life, nor in Punjabi, his mother tongue, whose Gurmukhi script he learnt with conscious choice. Incidentally, his last letters to his younger brothers-Kulbir and Kultar, penned on 3rd March were also in Urdu. Urdu is the first and last language of his expression, perhaps he expressed himself most comfortably in that language, which he learnt as medium of instruction in school in those days. Bhagat Singh was at complete peace with himself, fully contended with life he lived in the last moments of his life and he expresses it I these words—‘I am proud of myself these days and I am anxiously waiting for the final test. I wish the day may come nearer soon.’ Bhagat Singh prolonged his trial to the extent possible by various means at his disposal, most of these created most imaginatively, with the full awareness of getting capital punishment, because of his political agenda-to expose British judicial and administrative system so thoroughly that Indian people become aware of the true form of colonial regime. And when his agenda was complete, he was ready to face death most boldly, as Che Guvera faced in
One should mark here that the word ‘humanity’ comes here before the word ‘country’. Bhagat Singh had become truly an international martyr for the cause of humanity and not just Indian martyr for the cause of the country on 23rd March 1931. His political consciousness had grown to the level of ‘human liberation’ and not just ‘Indian liberation. One should understand Bhagat Singh from this perspective.
1. Chaman Lal(Editor), ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh:Dastavejon Ke Aaine Mein’, Publication Division, Govt.of
2. Shiv Verma(Editor),’Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’, National Book Centre,
3. Chaman Lal(Editor), ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh:Dastavejon Ke Aaine Mein’, Publication Division, Govt.of
4. Shiv Verma(Editor),’Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’, National Book Centre,
5. Chaman Lal(Editor), ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh:Dastavejon Ke Aaine Mein’, Publication Division, Govt.of
6. Shiv Verma(Editor),’Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’, National Book Centre,
7. Chaman Lal(Editor), ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh:Dastavejon Ke Aaine Mein’, Publication Division, Govt.of
8. Chaman Lal(Editor), ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh:Dastavejon Ke Aaine Mein’, Publication Division, Govt.of
9. Shiv Verma(Editor),’Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’, National Book Centre,
10.Shiv Verma(Editor), ‘Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’, National Book Centre,
12.Interview with Lajjawati by Oral History Cell of
13.Shiv Verma(Editor), ‘Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat Singh’, National Book Centre,
14 –Ibid—pages 106-11
15 ----Ibid—page 79
16 Ibid-pages 80-81
17 ----ibid—pages 124-27
18 ---Ibid—pages 154-56
19 --- Ibid—page 157
** The author is Professor at Centre of Indian Languages at