Saturday, 19 January 2008

Revolutionary Legacy of Bhagat Singh


Revolutionary Legacy of
Bhagat Singh

Bhagat Singh’s life (September 28, 1907 – March 23, 1931), work
and thought were marked by an uncompromising struggle against
colonialism and imperialism, together with radical opposition to
capitalism, communalism and the caste system. This article is a
spirited account of his life, his revolutionary activity, his ideals, his
opinions and his legacy. It was on April 8, 1929 that Bhagat Singh
and B K Dutt threw non-lethal bombs in the central assembly with
a view “to make the deaf hear”, and raised the slogans “Inquilab
Zindabad” and “Down with Imperialism”, which caught the
imagination of the Indian people. Perhaps at no other point in the
life of India since 1947 has the reference to these two slogans
become more important than today, as the country marks the
hundredth birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh.


he threat of US neo-imperialism is
looming large, not only over India,
but over the whole world, particularly
the nations of Asia, Africa, the Arab
countries and Latin America. In Iraq,
Lebanon and Palestine, this threat has taken
the form of direct military intervention (by
the US and Israel). Iran and North Korea
face all sorts of bullying, whereas Cuba
and Venezuela have to fight conspiracies
all the time. India and some other countries
are faced with pressures that threaten
their independence in the conduct of
foreign policy as well as framing their own
domestic policies according to the needs
of their own people. In these difficult times
we are reminded of Bhagat Singh and Che
Guevara, both of whom fought against all
forms of imperialism and colonialism.
While the story of Che Guevara is known
the world over, the story of Bhagat Singh’s
fight against British imperialism needs to
be retold; it has the potential of inspiring
struggling people everywhere, just as Che’s
saga does.

It was on April 8, 1929 that Bhagat
Singh and B K Dutt threw harmless bombs
with a view “to make the deaf hear” in
the central assembly, called Parliament
today. It was on this occasion that two

slogans caught the imagination of the
Indian people – “Inquilab Zindabad” and
“Down with Imperialism”. In fact these
two slogans arose out of a qualitative
change in the perception of the Indian
revolutionary movement at that point of
time. These two slogans replaced the earlier
popular slogan of revolutionaries – “Bande
Mataram”. It was not just a change at the
linguistic level, from Sanskrit to a blend
of Hindustani and English, but a sign of
the growth of consciousness to a higher
level in revolutionary movement of the
country. And the catalyst of this change
was none other than Bhagat Singh, who
by now, through his experience of the
revolutionary movement and from a systematic
study of the revolutionary movement
the world over, particularly from his
study of the Soviet experience, had reached
the conclusion that it is not just enough
to “free the mother India from the chains
of foreign slavery”, it was much more
important to understand the whole system
of enslaving and exploiting other nations,
i e, the system of imperialism and then to
understand the mechanism of smashing it.
It is quite interesting to know that Bhagat
Singh had embarked on this study from
as early an age as 14 or 15. At no other
point in the life of India since 1947 has
the reference to these two slogans of

Bhagat Singh been more important than
today in the wake of a more vicious and
dangerous form of imperialism than in
the past.

Early Influences
Early InfluencesEarly InfluencesEarly InfluencesEarly InfluencesEarly Influences

Bhagat Singh was born on September 28,
1907 at Lyallpur Banga, now in Pakistan,
on a day that brought the good news of
the release of his father Kishan Singh and
two uncles, the revolutionary Ajit Singh
and young Swarn Singh, from British
prisons. Swarn Singh who contracted
tuberculosis while in jail died, shortly after
his release, at the young age of around
24 years. And his revolutionary uncle
Ajit Singh, the founder of Bharat Mata
Society, along with Lala Lajpat Rai, was
forced to leave the country in 1909, when
Bhagat Singh was just two years old, to
return only when India was at the verge
of independence and die on the very day
of independence (August 15, 1947) at

At the age of 12 Bhagat Singh visited
Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in April 1919,
after the massacre, and brought home
“blood soaked sand”. At the age of 14,
while reading in school in Lahore, he
informed his grandfather about the preparations
being made by railway workers to
go on strike in 1921. Bhagat Singh had
joined the National College, Lahore at an
age of 15. Prior to that he had welcomed
the protesting Akali workers in his
village, following the incident of February
4, 1921, when Mahant Narain Dass,
in collaboration with the British authorities,
killed 140 devout Sikhs at Gurdwara
Nankana Sahib.

Worried at the revolutionary traits of
Bhagat Singh’s growing personality, the
family, particularly his father, thought of
“controlling him through marriage”! There
were already two young women in the
house – the widow of Bhagat Singh’s
younger uncle Swarn Singh and Bibi
Harnam Kaur, wife of his exiled revolutionary
uncle, Ajit Singh. If marriage could
not “control” Ajit Singh, how could it
“control” Bhagat Singh? He was sensitive
to the sufferings of both his aunts, and was
particularly attached to his aunt Harnam
Kaur, wife of Ajit Singh. According to an
account of one of his close schoolmates,

Economic and Political Weekly July 28, 2007

Jaidev Gupta, Bhagat Singh was given to
Harnam Kaur as her “son” while her
husband Ajit Singh lived in exile for an
uncertain period. Bhagat Singh, in any
case, was like the political son of Ajit
Singh, with whom he shared a close bond
despite the latter’s absence. At the level
of ideas, Ajit Singh was more advanced
than the Congress leadership in the Punjab,
especially in terms of his perception of
what the freedom of India meant. He was
also much more revolutionary in thought
than the Congress leadership as he wanted
to awaken and organise the peasantry on
the basis of their economic exploitation at
the hands of the big feudal landlords and
the colonial system. Bhagat Singh went
beyond this advanced thinking of his uncle
and reached the logical end of adopting
the Marxist vision of liberation.

At the age of 15, Bhagat Singh was
questioning his father about the withdrawal
of the non-cooperation movement by
Mahatma Gandhi on the pretext of the
Chauri Chaura incident. In fact, the withdrawal
of the non-cooperation movement
after Chauri Chaura in 1922 had disillusioned
youth and revolutionaries all
over India. Chandra Shekhar Azad, who
was flogged for shouting “Mahatma Gandhi
Ki Jai”, was one among those youth, who
were very bitter at this development, and
later, in the course of his revolutionary
activities, could never trust Gandhi. They
associated with C R Dass, Jawaharlal
Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose, Lala Lajpat
Rai and Madan Mohan Malviya, but not
with Gandhi, though correspondence with
the latter had taken place, with Gandhi’s
reply to Sukhdev’s letter appearing in
Young India only after the latter’s execution.
To be fair, Gandhi received the letter,
though written earlier, only after Sukhdev’s
execution along with Bhagat Singh and
Raj Guru.

In a way, the withdrawal of the noncooperation
movement in 1922 gave an
impetus to the revolutionary movement
throughout the country, units of which
already existed in Bengal in the form of
Ahushilan and Yugantar, the Hindustan
Republican Association (HRA) in the
United Provinces, etc. Bhagat Singh
reached Kanpur in 1923, after informing
his father in a letter that he had dedicated
his life to the nation and hence he could
not think of marrying. His teacher at the
National College, Jai Chander Vidyalankar
had written a letter introducing Bhagat
Singh to Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, editor
of Pratap, Kanpur and Congress leader of

the United Provinces. Bhagat Singh not
only worked for Pratap, he also joined the
underground revolutionary organisation,
Hindustan Republican Association,
organised by Sachinder Nath Sanyal, the
author of Bandi Jivan, who had already
gone through one round of incarceration
in the Andamans. Bhagat Singh had met
him at Lahore. It was at Kanpur that Bhagat
Singh met Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Shiv Verma,
Jaider Kapoor, B K Dutt and Ajay Ghosh.
Sukhdev and Bhagwati Charn Vohra were
his comrades in Lahore. After spending
about six months, writing under the pen
name of Balwant in Pratap, working part-
time in flood relief and also performing
the duties of headmaster in a national school
around Aligarh, Bhagat Singh returned to
Lahore upon hearing the news of his
grandmother’s illness and getting an
assurance that none in the household would
talk about his marriage anymore.

By the age of 17 Bhagat Singh had
intellectually matured to such an extent
that he wrote a prize-winning essay in
Hindi on the language issue of Punjab. In
1924 and 1925, he wrote ‘Vishv Prem’ (‘In
Love with the World’) and ‘Yuvak’, which
were published in Matwala, both under the
assumed name of Balwant Singh. His article
on the execution of the six Babbar Akali
revolutionaries in 1926 entitled ‘Holi ke
din rakat ke chinte’ (‘Blood Drops on Holi
Day’) was published under the byline of
‘one Punjabi youth’. And, in ‘Why I am
an Atheist’, written in 1930, Bhagat Singh
referred to his acceptance of the logic of
atheism by the end of 1926 when he was not
yet 19 years of age. This was in the backdrop
of a lot of Marxist literature reaching
Dwarka Dass Library in Lahore, where
Bhagat Singh had become a voracious
reader from around 1924. He did not stop
at just being an atheist, searching as he was
for radical ideas of human liberation. He
had almost become a committed Marxist
through his contacts with the Kirti group
of Ghadrite revolutionaries of Punjab. He
had regularly contributed articles in Kirti
on various issues like “communalism and its
solution”, the “problem of untouchability”,
“religion and our freedom struggle”, etc.
If he had any differences with the Ghadrite
revolutionaries, these were only about the
programme of the revolutionary party.
Bhagat Singh and his comrades were
convinced that to awaken the country from
its slumber, the youth needed to perform
some daring revolutionary nationalist
actions and make sacrifices to advance the
anti-colonial movement.

Adoption of Socialist Agenda
Adoption of Socialist AgendaAdoption of Socialist AgendaAdoption of Socialist AgendaAdoption of Socialist AgendaAdoption of Socialist Agenda

By 1928 not only Bhagat Singh, even
Sukhdev and Bhagwati Charan Vohra in
Punjab, and Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Shiv
Verma and Jaidev Kapoor in UP were
convinced about the need of a socialist
agenda for their revolutionary party. They
gave practical shape to it by calling an
urgent meeting of the central committee
of HRA on September 8 and 9, 1928 at
the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi, where after
long deliberations and at the suggestion of
Bhagat Singh, supported by Sukhdev,
Bejoy Kumar Sinha, Shiv Verma and Jaidev
Kapoor, the HRA was rechristened as the
Hindustan Socialist Republican Association
(HSRA). The addition of the word
socialist was not just ornamental as was
done by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency
by adding socialist to the preamble
of Indian Constitution. It was a well thought
out qualitative change of perception about
the goal of the Indian revolution, which
had the sanction of Chandra Shekhar Azad
as well, who was not that well read but
reposed his full trust in Bhagat Singh.

Prior to the formation of the HSRA,
Bhagat Singh trained himself in mass
organisational work. On the pattern of a
youth organisation in Italy inspired by
Mazzini and Gari Baldi, the Naujawan
Bharat Sabha (NBS) was formed in 1926.
Bhagat Singh was its general secretary and
Bhagwati Charan Vohra was propaganda
secretary. Among other activities, NBS
worked to organise lantern shows of
patriot’s pictures. They were particularly
inspired by the sacrifice of Kartar Singh
Sarabha, as he was executed at the young
age of 19 years in 1915 at Lahore and
whose photograph Bhagat Singh always
kept in his pocket. At all their public
meetings they used to garland Sarabha’s
picture put on the dais. During this period,
Ghadrite revolutionaries returned from
Moscow, trained in communist theory, and
had formed the Kirti group. Santokh
Singh had started Kirti, a journal in Punjabi
with which Bhagat Singh was associated
as a writer. After Sohan Singh Josh
became its editor following the untimely
passing away of Santokh Singh, Bhagat
Singh worked on the staff of Kirti for a
while, as he was in touch with Sohan Singh
Josh in connection with the activities of
the NBS.

Even prior to forming NBS in Lahore,
Bhagat Singh was in touch with the earliest
communists of the country in Kanpur, then
a working class city. He was in contact

Economic and Political Weekly July 28, 2007

with communists such as Satyabhakat,
Radha Mohan Gokulji and Shaukat
Usmani. In practical terms, Bhagat Singh
was part of communist movement in India
since its very inception, his later activities
testifying to this fact. Of course, he was
not formally a member of the communist
party as it was then still in its formative
period. But he had met Muzzafar Ahmad,
one of the founders of the communist
movement, who had come to Lahore after
his release from jail in the Kanpur conspiracy
case in 1924. While Bhagat Singh
had no reservations about joining the
communist party, he and his close comrades
were at the time trying to shape their
own revolutionary organisation, the HSRA.
Bhagat Singh was also clear that ultimately
the HSRA had to en masse organise
workers, peasants, students and other
potentially revolutionary sections of society.
Whereas he and his group was of the
view that, given the as yet undeveloped
political consciousness of the Indian
masses, some spectacular revolutionary
actions, along with some exemplary deeds
on the part of the young revolutionaries
were required to awaken the masses from
their slumber and initiate a mass upsurge
against British colonialism. Sohan Singh
Josh had aptly articulated what needed to
be done in his four meetings with Bhagat
Singh. But following the formation of the
HSRA in September 1928, some political
developments took place, which did not
allow HSRA the time to transform itself
as the nucleus of a set of mass organisations.
However, apart from the NBS, mass
organisations such as the Lahore Students’
Union, Bal Students’ Union and Bal Bharat
Sabha were formed.

It is interesting to know that the NBS
had helped form the Bal Bharat Sabha, an
organisation of school students between
the age of 12 and 16. No historian as yet
seems to have paid attention to this interesting
aspect of the freedom struggle. The
president of Bal Bharat Sabha in Amritsar,
Kahan Chand, aged just 11 years, was
subjected to three months of rigorous
imprisonment. And Yash, then only 10
years of age, who was to later become the
renowned editor of the Urdu daily, Milap,
was secretary of Bal Bharat Sabha. He was
prosecuted on three counts, including assisting
the Lahore city Congress and the
NBS. In those days, 1,192 juveniles under
the age of 15 years were convicted for their
political activities. Apart from the Bal
Bharat Sabha, the Bal Students’ Union
was also active in those days. At the time,

Bhagat Singh not merely drew Punjabi
youth to join these organisations, even the
Lahore city Congress was affected by his
magnetic personality. Lala Lajpat Rai’s
grandson, Baldev Raj was secretary of the
Bal Students’ Union and Dyanat Rai its
president. Such was the spread of patriotic
fervour generated by Bhagat Singh and his
comrades in those days.

Provoked by Colonial
Provoked by ColonialProvoked by ColonialProvoked by ColonialProvoked by ColonialProvoked by Colonial

Alarmed by his impact on youth, Bhagat
Singh was arrested by the Lahore police
in May 1927 on the pretext of his involvement
in the October 1926 Dussehra bomb
case. He was kept in jail for about six
weeks. It was during this period that
Bhagat Singh planned mass activities in
Punjab, but before such activities could
acquire a momentum, the Simon Commission
came to India. In spite of differences
with Lala Lajpat Rai due to his association
with communal elements, he was requested
to lead a demonstration organised by the
NBS against the Simon Commission on
October 30, 1928. Bhagat Singh himself
was not present at this demonstration, but
NBS activists were providing cover to
Lalaji when a clash with the British
police took place. The superintendent of
police (SP) of Lahore city, Scott ordered
a lathi charge and his deputy, Saunders
personally unleashed blows upon
Lalaji, resulting in the latter’s death on
November 17.

In response, Basanti Devi, the widow of
the late C R Dass, exhorted the country’s
youth to avenge the insult heaped upon the
nation. Bhagat Singh could not miss the
occasion; the HSRA decided to do away
with Scott, who was responsible for ordering
the attack on Lalaji. Bhagat Singh and
Rajguru were chosen to shoot Scott. Jai
Gopal was to identify him and Chandra
Shekhar Azad was to provide cover to the
whole team. Bhagat Singh was supposed
to shoot first, but at the signal given by
Jai Gopal, identifying the British officer,
Rajguru immediately shot at him, while
Bhagat Singh tried to call Azad by saying
“Panditji, he is not Scott” (‘Proceedings
of the Lahore Conspiracy Case’, Sukhdev’s
notes). But before Bhagat Singh could
complete this sentence, Saunders was
already shot by Rajguru, who always
wished to be in the forefront of every
action. Bhagat Singh had no option but to
pump three or four more bullets into
Saunders’ body in order to ensure that he

did not survive. Posters appeared in Lahore
the next morning wherein the revolutionaries
owned up to the act of the killing of
Saunders, who was equally responsible for
Lalaji’s death and was as much a symbol
of colonial power as was Scott. The act
sealed the fate of Bhagat Singh, who was
absolutely clear in his own mind that he
was going to be executed in this case,
following his arrest and trial. So Bhagat
Singh decided to perform as many spectacular
revolutionary acts as possible in the
short duration of his remaining lifetime.

Many comrades of the HSRA were
underground for their involvement in the
Kakori rail dacoity case, particularly
Chandra Shekhar Azad. After the Saunders’
murder, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev
and others were also driven underground.
Bhagat Singh escaped to Calcutta along
with Durga Bhabhi from where he
remained in touch with some Bengali revolutionaries,
out of whom Jatinder Nath
agreed to come to Lahore to train other
comrades in the techniques of bomb
making. At this point, the HSRA was in
a fix: having adopted a socialist perspective
of Indian liberation, they wanted to
focus upon organising workers, peasants,
students and youth, but the Saunders’
murder and some earlier cases against them
did not allow them to work openly. Neither
could they take the cover of the Congress
party for open political work, as they had
serious and fundamental differences with
that party.

In such a binding situation, the only
option Bhagat Singh could visualise for
himself and the HSRA was to awaken the
people by engagement in revolutionary
activities, but with a minimum loss of life,
and then sacrifice their own lives in such
a manner that the whole country becomes
aware of their goals and ideas. Bhagat
Singh also wanted to remove the “terrorist”
tag from the organisation, as well as
from their individual selves. For this they
wished to utilise platforms from where
their voice could reach millions of people.
Bhagat Singh could visualise what they
would achieve by sacrificing their lives in
the prime of their youth, but in a manner
in which their sacrifices would inspire
large numbers of their countrymen. By
shooting Saunders in daylight, the HSRA
took to this path in right earnestness, for
the incident had inspired millions of their
countrymen. Bhagat Singh however made
it absolutely clear in one of his court statements
that they bore no personal grudge
or malice against anyone.

Economic and Political Weekly July 28, 2007

Making the Deaf Hear
Making the Deaf HearMaking the Deaf HearMaking the Deaf HearMaking the Deaf HearMaking the Deaf Hear

Jatin Das came to Lahore and bombs
were fabricated in some rented houses. To
stabilise the people’s enthusiastic response
to Saunders’ assassination, Bhagat Singh
wanted another equally spectacular action.
The British colonial government was then
bent upon notifying the public safety bill
and trade disputes bill as law, in spite of
stiff opposition from the masses and from
the members of the central assembly.
Bhagat Singh and his comrades decided
to throw harmless bombs intended only to
cause a loud noise in the central assembly.
The issue was discussed in the central
committee of the HSRA in the absence of
Sukhdev. Bhagat Singh’s proposal to
depute the latter for the action was rejected
as he was bound to be trapped in the
Saunders’ murder case and the party did
not want to lose a leader of his stature at
such a crucial time. When Sukhdev came
to know of the decision, though a close
friend of Bhagat Singh, he was upset and
taunted him for “trying to save his life”,
knowing fully well that he was the best
person for the job as no one else could
project the party’s view as effectively as
he could. The central committee met again
and Bhagat Singh insisted that he would
be part of the team, and that they would
get themselves arrested after the act. The
party however wanted them to escape after
the act, but reluctantly agreed to Bhagat
Singh’s proposals.

The action was inspired by a similar act
of a revolutionary in the French parliament
to focus attention on the poverty of the
people, which had the famous one-liner,
“it needs an explosion to make the deaf
hear”. This was the first sentence of the
pamphlets strewn by Bhagat Singh and
B K Dutt in the central assembly after they
had thrown two harmless bombs over the
empty benches of the central assembly.
But the explosion did create a commotion
in the assembly and only a few members
like Pandit Motilal Nehru, Madan Mohan
Malviya and Jinnah could keep their calm
by remaining standing on their seats. Most
of the others, including the home secretary,
ran helter-skelter, some even hiding
under the benches. And here the two historic
slogans came into existence – Inquilab
Zindabad (Long Live Revolution) and
Samrajyavad Ka Nash Ho (Down with
Imperialism); in the course of time, these
slogans particularly Inquilab Zindabad
became part of not only revolutionary
groups, but of all other organisations,

including the Congress. Of course, the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the
Hindu Mahasabha and other communal
organisations would never have anything
to do with this slogan.

In fact, Inquilab Zindabad is a translation
of ‘Long Live Revolution’, an international
slogan of the working class
movement. It was earlier translated in Hindi
as – ‘Kranti Chirjivi Ho’, but did not catch
the imagination of the people. ‘Inquilab
Zindabad’ not only caught the imagination
of the Hindi-speaking people of India, it
spread from Agartala to Chennai, and from
Srinagar to Mumbai. It became quite
popular in the India subcontinent and in
some other countries as well. Bhagat Singh
in fact felt rightly proud that “in his small
life, he has made this slogan reach crores
of Indians”. Inquilab Zindabad, finally replaced
‘Bande Mataram’, which was the
most popular slogan of the nationalist
movement from 1905 to April 8, 1929,
prior to Bhagat Singh and Dutt raising it
in central assembly. In any objective
analysis of Bhagat Singh’s contribution to
the national movement, the initial spread
of this most popular slogan would be
attributed to him.

In the Courts and in Jail

The action (explosion in the Assembly)
was planned in a very meticulous manner.
Photographs of Bhagat Singh and Dutt
were taken prior to the action, copies of
the statement issued on the occasion were
made in plenty and the press got these in
time, on the very same day, April 8, 1929.
British police officers were scared even to
arrest them as both of them were holding
live pistols in their hands, but while shouting
the slogans, they put their pistols on
the table, indicating to the police that they
were ready to be arrested. Police officers
moved towards arresting them only after
they had kept their pistols aside. In the
meantime, Jaidev Kapoor had already gone
out of the Assembly hall. The immediate
aim of the revolutionary group had been
achieved and now the next task was to
spread the message of revolution among
their countrymen. Bhagat Singh had again
a well thought out plan. They would not
defend themselves in the courts, rather
they would use the British courts as platforms
to spread their message by making
political statements there. They did not
hire any lawyer for their defence, but
accepted the advice of advocates. The
services of the nationalist advocate Asaf

Ali was available to them and it was Asaf
Ali who read Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt’s
historic statement in the sessions court on
June 6, 1929, where they were being tried
in the Delhi Bomb Case. This statement
is a policy document that explains the aims
and objectives of the revolutionary movement
in lucid terms (Shiv Verma (ed), The
Selected Writings of Shaheed Bhagat
Singh, National Book Centre, New Delhi,
1986, p 71):

We humbly claim to be no more than
serious students of the history and the
conditions of our country and her aspirations.
We despise hypocrisy. Our practical
protest was against the institution, which
since its birth has eminently helped to
display not only its worthlessness, but its
far-reaching power for injustice. The more
we have pondered, the more deeply we
have been convinced that it exists only to
demonstrate to (the) world India’s humiliation
and helplessness and it symbolises
the overriding domination of an irresistible
and autocratic rule. XXX Solemn resolutions
passed by the house have been contemptuously
trampled underfoot on the
floor of (the) so-called Indian Parliament.

Bhagat Singh and Dutt further clarified
their aim: “we deliberately offered ourselves
to bear the penalty for what we had
done and to let the imperialist exploiters
know that by crushing individuals, they
cannot kill ideas. By crushing two insignificant
units a nation cannot be crushed”
(ibid, p 73). And they dared the colonialist
power by posing the question: “Can ordinances
and safety bills snuff out the flames
of freedom in India? Conspiracy cases,
trumped up or discovered and the incarceration
of all young men who cherish the
vision of a great ideal cannot check the
march of a revolution. But a timely warning,
if not unheeded, can help to prevent
loss of life and general sufferings. We took
it upon ourselves to provide this warning
and our duty is done” (ibid, pp 73-74).

Bhagat Singh and Dutt in their statement
had explained how thoughtfully they had
thrown the harmless bombs in “vacant
spaces”, in order not to harm any one, and
the only damage was to the empty bench
and slight abrasions in less than half a
dozen cases. And since they were asked
in the lower court what they meant by the
word revolution, in his statement in the
session court he explains the concept of
revolution (almost) in Marxist terminology.
They speak of capitalism and the
establishment of the dictatorship of the
proletariat for the consummation of the
ideal of revolution. And yet, they also tell

Economic and Political Weekly July 28, 2007

the British colonial power of the Marxist
epithet that “peaceful transition is also
possible if timely warning is heeded by the
power(s) that be”. The statement concludes
again with the slogan ‘Long Live Revolution’.

In fact the concept of revolution had
become so all engrossing for Bhagat Singh
that all his attention and energy was focused
upon clarifying it to himself as well
as to his comrades and countrymen and the
imperialist power. When Ramanand
Chatterjee, the editor of Modern Review
ridiculed the slogan “Long Live Revolution”,
Bhagat Singh and Dutt rebutted him
with a letter, which was published in The
Tribune (December 24, 1929): “Revolution
did not necessarily involve sanguinary
strife. It was not a cult of bomb and pistol.
They may sometimes be mere means for its
achievement. … A rebellion is not a revolution.
It may ultimately lead to that end”
(Shiv Verma (ed), p 81). Bhagat Singh
defines revolution as “spirit of longing for
change for the better” and they wish that
the “spirit of revolution would always
permeate the soul of humanity, so that the
reactionary forces may not accumulate
strength to check its eternal onward march”.

There were two aims of the intended
actions of Bhagat Singh and his comrades
in the courts and in jail:

(i) To expose British colonialism through
the courts, using them as a platform to
spread their ideas;
(ii) To expose the brutalities of British
colonialism in jail by resorting to hunger
strikes there and thereby drawing public
The British authorities were not unaware
of these plans, but they were just put in
the dock by self-sacrificing spirit of Bhagat
Singh and his comrades. The third intention
of Bhagat Singh was his own ideological
development. It is amazing to see
a man, about to go to the gallows, deeply
immersing himself in a serious study of
world revolutionary history, and this, in
trying circumstances. In the course of
preparing court statements, his serious self-
study of Marxism definitely helped. He
organised hunger strikes for months
together; even as he was brutally beaten
by police and nursed his wounds in jail,
he studied, wrote and took copious notes
from the books he read.

Manuscripts Written in Jail
Manuscripts Written in JailManuscripts Written in JailManuscripts Written in JailManuscripts Written in JailManuscripts Written in Jail

Bhagat Singh drafted four manuscripts
while in jail. These were (i) ‘The Ideal
of Socialism’, (ii) ‘Autobiography’,

(iii) ‘History of Revolutionary Movements
in India’, and, (iv) ‘At the Door of Death’.
According to Shiv Verma, these manuscripts
were smuggled out of jail through
Kumari Lajjawati of Jalandhar, who handed
them over to Bejoy Kumar Sinha in 1938,
after his release from Andaman jail. Sinha
passed these on to a friend for safe custody,
but the latter destroyed the manuscripts,
fearing a police raid at some stage. The
manuscript Jail Notebook was however
collected by Kulbir Singh or some other
member of Bhagat Singh’s family. Kumari
Lajjawati, Congress activist and secretary
of Bhagat Singh’s defence committee,
frequently visited Lahore jail to discuss
legal aspects of the case. In an interview
to the Nehru Memorial Museum and
Library’s oral history cell, she recalled that
she had brought some papers given by
Bhagat Singh, which she showed to Feroze
Chand, editor of People, Lala Lajpat Rai’s
paper from Lahore. Feroze Chand was told
to select whatever he wanted for publication
in the People. He selected some papers
and returned the remaining ones to
Lajjawati, which she handed over to Bejoy
Kumar Sinha in 1938. Feroze Chand
published ‘Why I Am an Atheist’ in the
September 27, 1931 issue of People, ironically
marking Bhagat Singh’s first birthday
after his execution on March 23 of that
year. Prior to that, in its issue of March 29,
just after Bhagat Singh’s execution, People
published extracts from the now famous
‘Letter to Young Political Workers’. It
seems that Feroze Chand had also selected,
what had been mentioned by Shiv Verma
as ‘At the Doorsteps of Death’ and some
other papers, including Bhagat Singh’s
letter on the death sentence, given to the
young revolutionary Harikishan, which
were also published in People.
The strange part of this whole saga of
indifference to the documents, considered
so valuable now, is that neither Kumari
Lajjawati nor Feroze Chand, nor even Bejoy
Kumar Sinha, who was given the custodianship
of those papers at the instructions
of Bhagat Singh himself, took the trouble
to seriously look into those papers and note
their contents. How Shiv Verma had come
upon the contents of those papers is also
shrouded in mystery. He might have come
across them in jail from Bhagat Singh
himself, but whether those were really
manuscripts in proper form or just notes
like the Jail Notebook, cannot be said with
certainty. It does not seem that this mystery
would get resolved. Nevertheless, the
essentials of Bhagat Singh’s thoughts have

come to light and an evaluation of his
thought process can be made on the basis
of the retrieved documents, which are quite

On the surface of it, it is difficult to
imagine that Bhagat Singh could write
four full-fledged books in such a short time

– about two years, April 8, 1929 to
March 23, 1931, especially when he was
involved in hunger strikes and in court
matters. Out of the four titles mentioned,
two seem to be interrelated, namely, his
autobiography and ‘At the Door of Death’.
The other two titles, if these were short
pamphlets, then he could have completed
them, but writing a full-fledged history of
the revolutionary movement in India seems
far-fetched under the difficult circumstances
of the last two years of his life. However,
Bhagat Singh did plan to write a full-
fledged book on ‘The Science of the State’,
for which he had taken detailed notes,
which are included in his Jail Notebook,
the only original part of this manuscript.
In this proposed book, Bhagat Singh was
trying to trace the historical evolution of
the state up to that of the modern socialist
state. Had he got the time to write this
book, it would perhaps have been a significant
contribution to Marxist analysis
of the state, that is, if one were to go by
his notes on the subject.
The manuscript that survived – first
published in 1994, edited by Bhupender
Hooja – is a significant document in its
own right. It is not a notebook like the
prison notebooks of Gramsci or the philosophical
notebooks of Lenin, not even like
Che Guevara’s diaries. It is not a diary at
all; this Notebook is unique in its own way.
It includes notes of the books read by
Bhagat Singh in jail, prior to his execution.
Apart from being significant in its selections,
these notes are an objective indicator
of the development of Bhagat Singh’s ideas.
The notes are also reflective of his aesthetic
sensibilities, as a large number of
the quotes are from the classics of world
literature. These quotes show that Bhagat
Singh was a revolutionary with a rare
sensitivity. During and after his student
days, his fondness for films had been
mentioned by many of his close friends
and comrades. He was a fan of Charlie
Chaplin’s films and also films like Uncle
Tom’s Cabin and The Three Musketeers.
Apart from being a good singer, he acted
in college dramatics, which show his
interest in literature and other art forms.
This was perhaps why the elder revolutionary,
Ram Saran Dass asked Bhagat Singh

Economic and Political Weekly July 28, 2007

to write an introduction to his collection
of poetry (Dreamland).

It is also interesting to know that much
before Bhagat Singh’s Jail Notebook attracted
scholarly attention in India, it was
discussed in detail by the Soviet indologist,
L V Mitrokhin in his 1981 book, Lenin and
India, whose Hindi translation was published
in 1990. In this book, an entire
chapter is devoted to ‘The Last Days of
Bhagat Singh’. In this book, references
have been made to earlier studies such as
A V Raikov’s 1971 article entitled ‘Bhagat
Singh and His Ideological Legacy’,
Mitrokhin’s own ‘The Books Read by
Bhagat Singh’, included in the 1971 publication,
India on Lenin. In these Russian
publications, an objective assessment of
Bhagat Singh’s intellectual development
has been undertaken and he has been placed
in the tradition of Marxist thought.

I had seen the manuscript of Bhagat
Singh’s Jail Notebook in the Nehru Memorial
Museum and Library (NMML) in 1984
and started writing about it in Hindi journals,
regretting that it was yet unpublished.
The NMML had got a copy from Bhagat
Singh’s younger brother Kulbir Singh on
condition of “not publishing it”. It was
only in 1992 that the late Bhupender Hooja,
chief editor, Indian Book Chronicle, Jaipur,
started serialising it in his monthly. My
letter of appreciation made Hooja feel more
confident about its authenticity and so he
published it along with his editorial notes
in book form in 1994 from Jaipur. Despite
some good reviews, and being such a
significant historical document, the Notebook
did not get the attention it deserved.
Ironically, translations of the Notebook
appeared in Hindi and other languages
without giving any credit to the painstaking
work of annotations done by the aged,
yet energetic editor of the Notebook,
Bhupender Hooja. Hopefully its new
edition would bring this historical document
into proper focus and would draw
the attention of historians, students of the
revolutionary wing of India’s freedom
movement and political activists alike.

This document should be read in relation
to Bhagat Singh’s other significant documents
– ‘Why I Am an Atheist’, ‘Court
Statements’, ‘Letter to Young Political
Workers’, etc, which have acquired the
status of classic documents of the Indian
revolutionary movement. In fact, in the
Notebook, the quotes taken from books,
other than literary, are a guide to the development
of democratic political thought,
from the classics of ancient Greece to the

best of Marxist writings up to at that point
in time. In a way, the Notebook is also
reflective of Bhagat Singh’s personality,
concluding, as it does, with a partially read
book of Lenin on the day of his death,
March 23, 1931. The Punjabi revolutionary
poet Paash has paid an apt tribute to
Bhagat Singh of his last moments, by saying
that “Indian youth need to read the next
page of Lenin’s book, folded by Bhagat
Singh on the last day of his life”.

Political Weapon of the
Political Weapon of thePolitical Weapon of thePolitical Weapon of thePolitical Weapon of thePolitical Weapon of the
Hunger Strike
Hunger StrikeHunger StrikeHunger StrikeHunger StrikeHunger Strike

The indefinite hunger strikes by Bhagat
Singh and his comrades in jail were uncompromising,
reflected in their dear
comrade Jatin Das laying down his life on
September 13, 1929 on the 63rd day of his
fast unto death. Forcible feeding of milk
had damaged Jatin’s lungs and despite
appeals by his other colleagues a few days
earlier, he refused to give up his fast, with
the clear understanding and declaration
that he was consciously giving up his life
for the cause of India’s freedom. Bhagat
Singh and Dutt had continued their fast
even after Jatin’s death, breaking it only
in the first week of October, after fasting
for 115 days. Bhagat Singh undertook
another round of hunger strike against the
tribunal hearing on the Saunders’ murder
case, when they were brutally beaten up
at the orders of the presiding judge, from
whose order the Indian judge Agha Haider
disassociated himself and was removed
from the tribunal.

Bhagat Singh and his comrades used the
political weapon of the hunger strike in a
most effective manner. In fact it needs to
be emphasised that moral strength of
observing self-sacrificing hunger strike has
always been effective in all societies and
it still carries that strength. The difference
between a suicide bomber and hunger
striker is that suicide bomber, while giving
his life for the cause, dear to him, takes
away the lives of others as well and as such
loses the sympathy of people, whereas, a
hunger striker, harming only his or her
health or even sacrificing his or her life,
pricks the conscience of nation. Bhagat
Singh and his comrades were aware of this
fact and they used it to the hilt, erasing the
impression of being killers or terror
creators. This also shows political maturity
of Bhagat Singh. The weapon of hunger
strike is quite effective even today, provided
it carries the moral strength of the
cause and person undertaking this step.

Trial and Execution
Trial and ExecutionTrial and ExecutionTrial and ExecutionTrial and ExecutionTrial and Execution

Bhagat Singh and his comrades boycotted
the trial in the Saunders’ murder
case. The way in which the tribunal handed
over death sentence to Bhagat Singh,
Rajguru and Sukhdev is thoroughly
exposed in A G Noorani’s book The Trial
of Bhagat Singh. The trial and the sentence
were akin to sanctioning murder of Indian
revolutionaries by British colonialists.
Bhagat Singh had befittingly written to the
governor of Punjab on March 20, 1931,
three days prior to their execution, to treat
them as prisoners of war, as they were
waging war against British imperialism
and as such “they should be shot dead”
rather than being hanged. But British
imperial power proved to be so cowardly
that they could not even maintain the timing
of the hanging, 6 to 7 am. Against all
international norms, they hanged Bhagat
Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev at 7 pm on
March 23 itself. A huge rally was held on
that day at Lahore, organised by the
Naujawan Bharat Sabha, apprehending that
execution will take place in the morning
on March 24. But, scared of the huge
gathering of people at the Lahore central
jail, British colonial officials executed them
at 7 pm on March 23 itself. But the news
could not be withheld from the people of
Lahore. The rally was about to end, when
the news of the executions came and people
rushed to the gates of the jail. Scared,
British officials hacked the bodies of the
martyrs into pieces, packed the pieces in
sacks, and took these away from the rear
gates of the jail towards the bank of the
Sutlej river near Ferozepur. The bodies
were burnt in kerosene in an alarming
hurry in the jungle near Ganda Singhwalla
village. But people from Ferozepur and
Lahore, angry and anguished, located the
place of the (half-done) cremation before
the dawn of March 24, collected the unburnt
and half-burnt bones, and took these
to Lahore, where a proper cremation of the
three martyrs was undertaken on the banks
of river Ravi.

At that time, the Congress Party in Punjab
had formed a fact-finding committee to
enquire into the mistreatment to the dead
bodies of the martyrs. Newspapers in those
days, particularly Bhavishya from
Allahabad, had highlighted the committee’s
hearing, but the report never appeared in
the public realm. While the Congress
Party’s report of the Kanpur riots following
the execution of martyrs had drawn
national attention, and a reprint has

Economic and Political Weekly July 28, 2007

recently been published by the National
Book Trust, it is strange that no one ever
even refers to the Congress Party’s fact-
finding report about the disposal of the
martyrs’ bodies by British colonial authorities.
The Kanpur riots, which started
after the execution of Bhagat Singh and
his comrades, unfortunately took a communal
colour and tragically took the life
of the Congress leader, nationalist journalist
and admirer of Bhagat Singh – Ganesh
Shankar Vidyarthi.

Same was the condition of the martyrs’
memorial. The fact is that Naujawan Bharat
Sabha had formed a memorial committee
to build a suitable memorial for the martyrs,
which was sabotaged by the Congress
Party. That later a memorial near Ferozepur
called Hussainiwala was built had no
relevance at that time of the national
movement. Lahore was the hub of the
national movement; it was the place where
Bhagat Singh and his comrades had spent
their lives in political action; it was there
that they were executed, and it was there
where they were properly cremated, as was
Lala Lajpat Rai. The most logical thing
would have been to build a memorial in
memory of Lala Lajpat Rai, Bhagat Singh,
Sukhdev and Rajguru on the banks of river
Ravi, which would have been a source of
inspiration for the youth of Punjab.

Looking back more than 75 years now,
one can only wonder why no memorial was
built to these martyrs in Lahore or at the
birth places of Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev
in Lyalpur, now Faislabad in Pakistan.
Even today it is desirable that the Pakistani
and Indian people jointly erect a suitable
memorial at Lahore, as well as at Faislabad,
in memory of Bhagat Singh. He is perhaps
the only symbol of resistance against
colonialism and imperialism that evokes
respect among the Pakistani people as well.
Bhagat Singh is a common thread between
the now divided Punjabis, and can serve
as a common symbol of resistance against
US imperialism as well.

Symbol of Revolutionary
Symbol of RevolutionarySymbol of RevolutionarySymbol of RevolutionarySymbol of RevolutionarySymbol of Revolutionary

There are some other interesting aspects
of the saga of Bhagat Singh. He had an
excellent rapport with national leaders –
Subhash Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lala
Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malviya, and
others. Despite differences in approach,
they remained in contact. Chandra Shekhar
Azad’s meeting with Nehru at Allahabad,
as described by Nehru himself, was not

that pleasant. Azad did not impress Nehru,
but he did contribute Rs 1,000 to help the
revolutionaries go to Russia, although the
trip never materialised due to Azad’s death.
Both Subhash Bose and Nehru were appreciative
of Bhagat Singh, although
Congress leaders and revolutionary youth
often worked at cross-purposes due to their
radically different strategies and tactics in
the struggle for freedom. When Lala Lajpat
Rai allied with communal forces, Bhagat
Singh and his comrades castigated him
openly. Yet they did not break with him;
the very same Lala Lajpat Rai’s grandson
was the secretary of Bal Students’ Union,
inspired by Bhagat Singh. Moti Lal Nehru,
Madan Mohan Malviya and Dewan
Chaman Lal condemned the non-lethal
bomb throwing by Bhagat Singh in the
central assembly in rather strong words.
Gandhi declared it “a mad act of two young
men”. Bhagat Singh described Dewan
Chaman Lal as a “psuedo-socialist” in his
famous session court statement and Tej
Bahadur Sapru, as no different from the
Britishers, if the system remained same.
Yet the same Pandit Motilal Nehru, Dewan
Chaman Lal, Madan Mohan Malviya, and
even Tej Bahadur Sapru, apart from
Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Bose and
Jinnah, stood on the side of these revolutionary
youth in the courts, or when they
were observing hunger strikes; they went
to every possible extent to save their lives.
Advocates like Asif Ali, Kailash Nath
Katju, Chander Bhan Gupta and Mohan
Lal Saxena stood by these youth. It was
the spirit of nationalism that bound the
national leaders and revolutionary youth
together. They criticised each other bitterly,
yet came together at the time of crisis,
particularly against British oppression of
the Indian people. This is something that
needs to be learnt by present-day national
leaders and revolutionary youth.

Another aspect of Bhagat Singh and the
revolutionary movement was their total
opposition to the caste system and communalism.
If the dalit movements of today
accept any national leader, apart from
Ambedkar, as their national hero, as their
genuine supporter, it is Bhagat Singh.
Bhagat Singh’s writings and his conduct
earned him the love and support of the dalit
masses. In jail, before going to gallows,
Bhagat Singh was not only reading Lenin,
he asked for food from ‘bebe’, as he
addressed the dalit jail employee Bogha with affection. Bhagat Singh treated
the scavenger of the jail like his mother.
Indeed, when Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and

Rajguru were going to the gallows, laughing
and singing it was Charat Singh and
the other prisoners who were crying and
also shouting lnquilab Zindabad after
Bhagat Singh and his comrades.

It may also be noted that none of the
communal organisations, whether of Hindus,
Muslims or Sikhs had spoken a word
in favour or defence of these revolutionaries.
It needs to be underlined that it is
only the left movement that has truly tried
to uphold and imbibe the spirit of the
revolutionary movement of our country.
The left is the true inheritor of the legacy
of the revolutionary wing of the freedom

It was Gandhi and Bhagat Singh who
knew that nothing could stop the execution
of revolutionaries, Gandhi due to his own
convictions, and Bhagat Singh due to his
own, equally or perhaps much stronger
convictions. The institution of British
colonialism of course knew the finale, as
it was bent upon killing the young men,
particularly Bhagat Singh, in whose personality
it was observing the traits of a
growing Indian Lenin. The British could
afford to deal with the Congress Party, to
which it could safely transfer its political
power, while protecting its economic interests.
It could not afford to have Bhagat
Singh alive, for he would have pledged to
take part in the complete overthrow of
the system of imperialist and capitalist

In a way Bhagat Singh had his way
vis-à-vis British colonial power. With a
group of less than a hundred persons, he
could unnerve and rattle the most powerful
empire on earth, could chalk out his own
path to martyrdom, stir millions of people.
It was Patttabhi Sitaramaya, the Congress
historian and Gandhi’s candidate against
Subhash Bose at the Tripuri Congress,
who had to admit that Bhagat Singh was
no less popular than Mahatma Gandhi.
This was not a small achievement for a
man less than 24 years of age, with just
six to seven years of active political career
behind him. After the pronouncement of
the death sentence, Jaidev Kapoor asked
Bhagat Singh “if he regretted dying so
young”? Bhagat Singh first laughed at the
question, then replied seriously: “Stepping
upon the path of revolution, I had thought
that if I could spread the slogan of ‘Inquilab
Zindabad’ throughout the country, by
giving away my life, I would feel that I
have received the full value of my life.
Today sitting behind the bars of [the]
execution barracks, I hear the sound of

Economic and Political Weekly July 28, 2007

[the] slogan from crores of people. I believe
that this slogan of mine would attack
imperialism as the driving force of [the]
freedom struggle till the end. … What
more value can be of such a small life?”

Shiv Verma mentions an incident in July
1930 when Bhagat Singh had come to
Lahore Burail Jail from Central Jail to
meet them on the excuse of discussing
their court case. Jokingly they pronounced
judgments on one another, excepting
Rajguru and Bhagat Singh, knowing they
were the ones who will be hanged. And
then Bhagat Singh said that we were afraid
to face the reality, as the sentence would
be “to be hanged by the neck till we are
dead”. “He was in form that day, …
speaking in low pitch … that was his style.
Showing was not his habit, that was perhaps
his strength also”. Then he quotes
Bhagat Singh’s own words (Shiv Verma
(ed), p 41): “This is the highest award for
patriots and I am proud that I am going
to get it. ... They may kill me, but they
cannot kill my ideas. They may crush my
body, but they will not be able to crush
my spirits. My ideas will haunt the British
like a curse till they are forced to run away
from here.” Speaking with full passion, he
continued, “Bhagat Singh dead will be
more dangerous to the British enslavers
than Bhagat Singh alive. After I am hanged
the fragrance of my revolutionary ideas
will permeate the atmosphere of this beautiful
land of ours. It will intoxicate the
youth and (prepare them) for freedom and
revolution, and that would bring the doom
of British imperialists nearer. This is my
firm conviction. I am anxiously waiting for
the day when I will receive the highest
award for my services to the country, my
love for my people.” Shiv Verma concludes
his introduction to the writings of
Bhagat Singh with these words – “Bhagat
Singh was correct, the spirit never dies
and it did not die then either” (Shiv Verma
(ed), p 42).

The spirit of Bhagat Singh needs to be
lived much more than in 1931. I would
recommend the study of Bhagat Singh’s
Jail Notebook and other writings with
Bhagat Singh’s own words, which he wrote
as an introduction to a poetry collection
of fellow revolutionary, Ram Saran Dass
(Shiv Verma (ed), p 123):

Please do not read it to follow blindly and
take for granted what is written in it. Read it,
criticise it, think over it [and] try to formulate
your own ideas with its help.


Economic and Political Weekly July 28, 2007












sid said...

first of all i wud lik to convey my thanks to u for writing such a beautiful blog on my was really nice that someone has contributed to it.Although i hav read each and every thing on bhagat singh but there was some things which i didnt knew before reading the blog.So pls keep adding things to it so that we all can know abt our hero more...

Sonora said...

People should read this.

amina said...

Its an eye opener for all of us especially in the present political situation.By reading this article one not only gets a chance to know about Baghat Singh's struggle for creating political awareness against imperialism and colonialism but also makes us wish to have revolutionaries who could act as agents of change witout spreading terrorism.

S.C.kushwaha said...

congratulation for such a valuable article