Thursday, 4 December 2008

Saunders killing location Lahore

Daily Worker report-27-3-31

Daily Worker report-25-3-31

Rare Documents of Bhagat Singh

Rare Documents of and about Bhagat Singh


It would be 76 years of martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev on 23rd March, 2007. Last year at the completion of 75 years of their martyrdom and in same year from 28th September 2006, birth centenary programmes of Bhagat Singh started nationally, somewhat at governmental level but more at non-governmental level. Memorial programmes on Bhagat Singh have gained momentum since, there have been lot of publications brought out in this period in Hindi, Punjabi, English and many other Indian languages, which continues uninterrupted till day. A proposal to set up Bhagat Singh Chair at J.N.U., New Delhi has been accepted by national programme implementation committee recently. Mooted by this author this proposal was endorsed by Prof. Bipan Chandra, Prof. Prabhat Patnaik and Prof. G.S.Bhalla. It was supported by many eminent scholars and political leaders like Prakash Karat, A.B.Bardhan and Shashi Bhushan.
In these ongoing programmes on Bhagat Singh all over the country, I was invited to deliver lectures on his thought and role in freedom movement. I delivered these lectures at far of places like Arrah (Bihar), Patna, Indore(MP), Rohtak(Haryana), Ranchi(Jharkhand), Mumbai, Benaras and Thanjavur(Tamilnadu) during September ’06 to February ’07. Political Science deptt. of Mumbai University is perhaps the first deptt. in all over the country, which is holding two days national seminar on Bhagat Singh on 28th and 29th March ’07.On 23rd March this year, there are going to be hundreds of programmes all over the country, including some official ones. Many leftist organizations are planning to take out huge demonstrations and rallies to oppose the neo liberal anti people policies of the government, to mark this day. Leftist organizations of all hues are trying to resurrect Bhagat Singh as the most strong anti-imperialist resistance symbol in the
present context. National Book Trust is also coming out with some publications on this day.
It is clear that in the 150th year anniversary of first war of freedom struggle of 1857 and in the birth centenary year of Bhagat singh, an emotion of patriotism is emerging afresh ,in the wake of U S neo imperialism becoming more aggressive and dangerous than old British imperialism. Reliving the nationalistic tradition in the whole country, a renaissance is taking place in the country, in which the image of Bhagat Singh is emerging as supreme ideological symbol of resistance. At international level too, struggling people of the world against neo imperialism are looking to Bhagat Singh as symbol of resistance alongwith Che Guvera. This very year , a publisher from U K is bringing out collection of Bhagat Singh’s writings in English.
Bhagat Singh was always considered significant at national and international level, but this did not come into focus. The rare documents acquired by this author in this period, throw light on his significance. One of these document is Periyar’s editorial in his Tamil weekly ‘Kudai Aarsu’ in 22-29th March 1931 issue, immediately after Bhagat Singh and others execution. This was translated in English and published in ‘Modern Rationalist’ in November ‘o6 by followers of Periyar at my request, after more than 75 years of its first publication. It was E V Ramaswamy Naikar Periyar, who got ‘Why I am an Atheist’ of Bhagat Singh, translated in Tamil, as early as in 1934 by Comrade P Jeevanandan and published in booklet form. This booklet continues to be popular in Tamilnadu, even today, after so many editions have come out. This was perhaps first ever translation of this historic document in any Indian or other language, much earlier than even Punjabi translation. There were many creative writings in Tamil, after the execution of Bhagat Singh, which were proscribed by British authorities in those days.
Internationally also, the reports of execution of Bhagat Singh and disturbances in the country after that, were published in pro communist ‘Daily Worker’ from Newyork in USA. It is almost strange to know that the news of Bhagat Singh execution was published in ‘The Tribune ‘ of Lahore and ‘ Daily Worker’ of Newyork on the same day- 25th March 1931, in the age of slow communication channels as compared to today. Even Tribune from Lahore could not publish this report on 24th March, as the news of execution on 23rd March at 7 p.m. remained suppressed in media in Lahore itself, where the executions took place. ‘Daily Worker’ again carried report on Kanpur riots on 27th March 1931, which spread after these executions.
Five unpublished letters of Bhagat Singh have been found out in this period. Copies of four letters have been acquired from Nehru Memorial Museum and Library(Teenmurti), New Delhi. Fifth letter has been recovered from the exhibits of Lahore Conspiracy case. The copies of all these letters were gifted to this author by Malwinderjit Singh Waraich, a dedicated writer and activist about revolutionary movements in India for national freedom. Three of these letters are in English, one in Punjabi and another in Urdu.
From these documents, one can better understand ideological perspective of Bhagat Singh and the significance of his contribution to India’s freedom struggle.
• Published in ‘Mainstream’ and ‘The Tribune’

Journey to Lahore




An Emotional Journey through Lahore and surroundings



I was trying to go to Lahore on 23rd March, 2006, seventy fifth martyrdom anniversary of Bhagat Singh. I had a wish that Indian and Pakistani people should together commemorate this historic event. That could not materialize due to various reasons. But this year an unexpected invitation came. This was to present paper on Dr. B.R.Ambedkar on his birth anniversary at Lahore on 13th April. The invitation came from Ganga Ram Heritage Foundation. The name of Sir Ganga Ram is well known in this part of Punjab and Delhi. Delhi, like Lahore has Ganga Ram hospital, quite known for its service. Sir Ganga Ram, a well known Architect, apart from Bhai Ram Singh, had designed the most beautiful buildings of Lahore. He had designed some buildings in Patiala and Amritsar too. But Ganga Ram Foundation should hold a seminar on Dr. Ambedkar, it was little perplexing to me. In any case I accepted the invitation and prepared my paper and sent in time. The other participant from India was- V.T.Rajshekhar, editor of ‘Dalit Voice’ from Bangalore. There were participants from U.K., Nepal and Pakistan as well. This was also known after reaching Lahore that not only in Lahore, there was another seminar on Dr. Ambedkar at Karachi on 14th April. In Karachi seminar too, some Indian Dalit scholars had participated.
I was born and brought up in Indian part of Punjab, that too after partition. My forefathers had been living in village Mehraj of Bathinda district, so I had no particular reason to be excited about Lahore or west Punjab. I am an atheist, so there is no religious reason also to go to Pakistan. Yet I had felt an excitement. Perhaps,for two reasons. One, I have been involved with the study of Bhagat Singh and his movement, Ghadar movement
and Kartar Singh Sarabha, also have been centre of my attention. Both these national heroes were executed in Lahore jail. Bhagat Singh’s life and activities were centered more in Lahore, so I wanted to visit the locations of his activities. The other reason was that I had read and heard about Lahore that ‘One that has not seen Lahore, he or she is not born’. This folk saying of Punjabi is title of well known Hindi play by Asghar Wazahat, which incidentally has been staged in Lahore twice. If going abroad for first time in life could also be considered a reason for excitement that can also be counted one. But as it turned out later, not for a moment, I felt that I am in an ‘alien’ country, where I should move carefully as a ‘foreigner’, particularly when the relations between two Governments, though at thaw, are not in the best of friendly terms. Frankly speaking this reasoning did not work at Lahore and I was so freely moving in Lahore, at any point of time in day or night, as any ‘Lahoria’ would be moving. In spite of the fact that after just landing up at Lahore airport, I was in store for a minor trouble. I was issued visa in the category of Sikh pilgrimage, the jatha for Baisakhi coincided with these dates. But the four copies of visa forms, which I filled up at my own, had listed eight different places to visit, including Taxila, Faislabad(Bhagat Singh’s birth place),Islamabad, Peshawar etc. Pakistan High Commission office in Delhi did not return me two copies of that, which was obligatory to submit at airport, after arrival and departure. However visa stamp was put on my passport, that was of Sikh pilgrimage. I was little apprehensive about it and had twice checked up with the concerned official at Pakistan High commission, who kept on assuring me of ‘no problem’. The young duty girl at airport, who was made to return from Delhi airport for the same reason, was adamant that in absence of those two papers, I must be ‘sent back’ by return flight. Even this situation did not unnerve me. She called her senior officer. I told him that if they want to send me back, they may. My tickets were sent by my hosts and they were waiting outside with ‘Rose Garlands’, as is the practice in Lahore to receive guests. They were rather more worried than me and sent message through some security personnel. I told them not to worry, since I strangely felt confident to handle this situation. I told the airport officer and duty girl, addressing her as ‘beta’ that I had come for a seminar and was among those, who want Punjabis on both sides to meet more frequently and want friendship among people. I showed them my invitation papers etc. I talked to them in chaste Punjabi, rather than in Urdu or English. Officer was convinced of my sincerity, even the duty girl was no more hostile and I came out of airport after forty five minutes or so, relieving my hosts, who welcomed me so warmly.
We were put up in hotel-‘Holiday Inn’, which is perhaps third biggest hotel of Lahore. The seminar was also to be held in the hotel conference hall. I reached 12th April night and seminar was on 13th April at 5.00 p.m. On 13th morning, as my usual practice in Indian cities, I came out for a morning walk, though I did check up with hotel people that if I need to carry my passport with me. They assured me that there was no need and I could just mention hotel name, if someone enquired. As it turned out, that not even once, during my eight days stay, I was checked by any police or security person. So I took a walk towards ‘Ferozepur road’, reaching ‘Luxmi Chowk’, without of course knowing the place. I returned from the front of Punjab Assembly, that too I did not know. Marvelous Allama Iqbal memorial building was in front of the hotel and ‘Al Hamra’, the cultural centre of today’s Lahore was just few steps away, so was Mall road and Lawrence Garden or Company bagh, now given the name ‘Bage-Jinnah’. Amritsar and Lahore both had these similar gardens in similar name-Lawrence gardens or company bagh in popular parlance. I wished to go out for a while as the seminar was in the evening, but could not. So the next best thing I did was to change my Sim card in mobile and take Pakistani sim temporarily, to be in touch with acquaintances in Lahore and at some other places. There was no problem of currency. Though I had taken some dollars at Delhi airport, every one has told me that Indian rupee is accepted everywhere. It proved to be true; I did not spend a single dollar during my stay and spent them on duty free shop at Delhi on return.
Malwinderjit Singh Waraich had given me contact of his village mate Wassey Khan, who came from his ancestral village- Ladhewal Waraich in Pakistan. The man became so emotional at receiving my call that he drove for two hours in his car to reach for the seminar. He wanted me to visit his and waraich sahib’s village, which I could not. Chief Guest of the seminar was Governor of Punjab-Khalid Maqbool. The seminar started nearly in time and the Governor came when I was speaking. The first speaker of seminar was Surender Valasai, President of Scheduled Caste Federation of Pakistan, from Karachi. He spoke in detail about the conditions of Dalits in Pakistan, which were given reservation in jobs at one time, like in India. Reservations were withdrawn at some stage and Dalits in Pakistan are demanding reintroduction of reservations for them. Dr. Ambedkar is quite popular among Pakistani Dalits, many of whom are Hindus and Christians. Dr. Rukhsana Sidiqi , a woman scholar from Lahore was to speak next. Suleman Asif, UN reprenstative in Islamabad was the next to speak. Asif has bold me out with his ‘shudh Hindi’, the earlier night during dinner. The man was so much exposed to Hindi and Sanskrit literature that I just wondered at our ignorance about Pakistani people. Dr. Shyam Katuwal from Tribhuvan University was next to speak. Dr. Faqir Mohamad Bhatti, a Pakistani historian from U.K. spoke after me and V T Rajshekhar before the Governor. Earlier Dr. Yousaf Bukhari, Director Ganga Ram Foundation has welcomed the speakers and spoke about the aims of foundation. V T Rajshekhar and I both spoke about the closeness among people of both countries, while I spoke little emotionally about Lahore city and Bhagat Singh. Apart from speaking about Dr. Ambedkar’s humanist philosophy, I told audience that the earth of Lahore was as pious for me as was for them, since this earth had the blood of martyrs like Bhagat Singh, Kartar Singh Sarabha etc. in it. I also said that the earth of Jalianwala Bagh was also as pious for them as it was for us, as the blood of Hindu-Muslim and Sikh martyrs was part of it. I told my audience that Bhagat Singh belonged to them as much, as to us, since he was born and worked there mostly and was martyred at Lahore. I almost admonished them for not owning him, while we have made him our national hero. I also spoke about the mad and criminal act of communal frenzy created by vested political interests during 1947, causing untold sufferings to lakhs of people on both sides and of all communities. While the past may not be forgotten, yet lessons can be learnt from it, that was my plea to my Punjabi brethren (and sisters) on other side of the fence. Governor Khalid Maqbool spoke very rationally and paid tribute to Dr. Ambedkar. After the programme was over, so many people came and warmly hugged me, they were touched by what I said about our common cultural bonds. At dinner, I met reprenstatives of Dalit community in Pakistan. Most of them from Christian background and were members of Punjab Assembly or District Assembly. Pakistan has evolved a system of assembly from Tehsil level to national assembly. Lt. General(Retd.) Zulifkar Ali Khan was also present at this occasion. He is chairman of Evacuees property trust board. This is interesting to know that Pakistan Government has allowed the formation of Ganga Ram Foundation and also Dayal Singh Research and Cultural Foundation in the last two-three years. Ganga Ram foundation is located in Aggarwal dharmshala in Aggarwal street. The dharmshala was in bad shape and now it is being revived. Many members of Sikh jatha were also staying in that dharmshala in those days. Pakistan Govt., on this Baisakhi day celebrations, which were organized by Dayal Singh foundation at Lahore itself has also announced the setting up of Guru Nanak University at Nankana Sahib or Taxila. Governor Punjab had participated in that programme also, which was attended by Indian jatha.
I was in Lahore till noon of 21st April, when I took my flight back to Delhi and I wanted to utilize my stay there in most fruitful way. My purpose was to meet writers/scholars, like minded people and to visit historical places. I began with tourism kind first. The first stop was Lahore Museum, quite well known. The section attracted me most was photographs, of course black and white, of freedom struggle. In Lahore, it was Pakistan freedom struggle, for me it was a mixed struggle. I saw the photographs of national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Bose and Baldev Singh alongwith Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan etc. Lot many photographs of Fatima Jinnah also. The photographs of Ratti, Parsi wife of Jinnah and their daughter Dina attracted my attention a lot. Then there was complete Gandhara Art section, having Buddhist tradition in art in NWFP area. There is now a complete section on Sikh art as well. Old ‘Deorhies’(Front door of house) were too attractive to be missed. Renowned National College of Art is located next to Museum, but I could visit it later. I saw three books published by college recently, two being on Sir Ganga Ram and Bhai Ram Singh. It looks like slowly but steadily, Pakistan, particularly Lahore is owning up its traditional richness, even when it is not Islamic.
Having a lunch in bazaar, where you can never get a good vegetable cooked. Lahore is a heaven for non-vegetarians, where the food streets of Anarkali and Gwalmandi have become such craze that Lahore remains awake all night. After visiting food street one night at 1.00 a.m., we moved to Shimla hills of Bage-Jinnah, where classical music programme was going on at 2.00 a.m. Farida Khanum had just completed her singing. Lahore is such a culturally alive city that one just wonders. I remembered my student days in JNU, when we used to go to Mavlankar hall for listening to classical programmes in late night. Those days are over in Delhi, but not in Lahore.
Visiting Shahi Qila( Royal fort) is not so exciting, it is not so well maintained, but the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh, who once ruled from this fort is almost part of the fort, which has Gurdwara of fifth Guru as well. Close by is Minar-e-Pakistan, built after 1947, which on its walls have the resolution of Pakistan, passed on 23rd march 1940. This resolution is carved in English, Urdu, Punjabi and Bengali.
Visiting sites relating to Bhagat Singh’s activities was another attraction of Lahore. Accompanied by Zubair, well known progressive story writer of Punjabi, I first went to Bradlaugh Hall, which few people know now. Hall is in dilapidated condition and some training school is being run from there. From the shape of building, one can well imagine that it was a grand building once. Fortunately, the foundation plate is still intact. The foundation of this headquarters of freedom movement was laid by Surender Nath Sen in 1900. It would be better if Government of India could impress upon Pakistan Govt. to get it declared as heritage building. Lajpat Rai Hall of Lahore, which housed famous Dwarka Dass library, now in Chandigarh, is now held by fingerprint bureau of Pakistani police. I could not visit this place; neither could I locate National College, where Bhagat Singh was a student during 1922-26. I could not locate Khwasarian village, nearby Lahore, which was the abode of Bhagat Singh family for many years. Even river Ravi bank, where Lala Lajpat Rai and later the remains of Bhagat Singh , Rajguru and Sukhdev were cremated or Bhagwati Charan Vohra gave his life in bomb explosion, while testing, could not be located. Ravi has perhaps dried up and people say it has become a ‘nallah’. They also say that India has stopped releasing water to river Ravi. However I could easily locate the place of Saundras killing and DAV college hostel nearby. There is not much change in that area, except that DAV College and hostel have turned into Govt. Islamia College and hostel now. But the SSP office remains the same as was during Scott’s time. I was also able to visit ‘Phansighat’, execution spot of Lahore jail, which has now been demolished and Shadman Chowk or’ Fountain Chowk’ instead has come up. It is a residential colony now, with no trace of jail or its historicity, where hundreds of freedom fighters were hanged. Democratic Pakistani activists do gather on 23rd March at Shadman Chowk and burn candles. They also plan to put a plaque nearby, indicating its historicity. Bhagat Singh lived in many houses of Lahore during his underground days and people still talk of those houses. One such house is said to be on Jail road. Najam hussain Sayeed, well known Punjabi writer lives on jail road, but he has no idea of that house.
I could go to birth place of Bhagat Singh with newly met local friends, who arranged a car, which took us first to Waris Shah’s mazar at Jandiala Sheikh. We crossed through Sheikhupura town, quite known and from distance I was shown ‘haran magar’, beautiful place built in memory of a deer, which got killed during shikar by Prince Salim. Visiting Waris Shah mazar was an experience, where every year competition of singing ‘Heer’ is held and it starts with singing of Amrita Pritam’s “ Aaj Aakhan Waris Shah nun………’. From Jandiala , we moved to Nankana Sahib. It is a small town, but the access road is huge. Pakistan has paid more attention to its roads and correctly boasts of its motorways from Lahore to Peshawar. But Pakistan lacks in railway services. Nankana Sahib has eight Gurdwars in its vicinity, including the main one, where in February 1921; morcha was started against Mahants, who were polluting the pious place. Mahants, supported by British colonialists had killed nearly two hundred Sikhs, before vacating the Gurdwara. Inside the Gurdwara, there is ‘Shaheed Jand(tree)’, where one protestor Lachhman Singh was burnt alive. In Nankana Sahib, most of the Gurdwaras relate to Guru Nanak’s childhood stories—where he was born, where he played, where he studied etc. I took ‘langar’ with my Muslim friends of Lahore, who had accompanied me there.
From Nankana Sahib, there was direct route to Jadanawala, though road patch was bad for few kilometers. Crossing Jadanawala, a tehsil town, we reached at the road leading to Chak No. 105, before we could ask someone on the way, a pleasant surprise awaited us. There was a tin board on roadside, painted with Bhagat Singh picture behind bars. Some Jasbeer Singh from Faislabad( Old name Lyalpur) had put this signboard, with his email address. It became easier for us. When we were reading the signboard, some people came close to us and seeing our interest in Bhagat Singh told us the lane to his village. They suggested that before going to village, we should meet one Farhan Khan nearby. As it turned out, Farhan Khan is 82 year old gentleman, retired as Excise officer, having his factory named as Gulab Farm, adding Bhagat Singh town on the signboard. He belonged to Chak NO.107, Pathankot nearby. We reached his place and he welcomed us warmly. In his drawing room, there was old but framed, glass broken black and white photograph. The typical hat wearing popular photograph. Farhan Khan was too happy talking about Bhagat Singh family. He was five years old, when Bhagat Singh was martyred, Bhagat Singh’ younger brothers, names he did not remember (Obviously Kulbir Singh and Kultar Singh), used to meet him. The man was such admirer of Bhagat Singh that I wanted to present him a copy of his writings, but I had no spare copy.I had taken few copies , recently published in English by Leftword and NBT. Farhan Khan got it photocopied, borrowing it for just one hour or so, the time, which we spent at house of Bhagat Singh. We moved to Chak no. 105, accompanied by the man sent by Farhan Khan. It was getting dark. The road to village was not very good. When we reached there, it was not the old house; it was now being shared by three Virk brothers. Pakistan have as many Virks, Randhawas, Sehgals, Bhattis,Cheemas, Waraiches,Gills or Sidhus etc, as much we might be having in our part of Punjab. It was almost four canal land area, which is now shared by Iqbal Virk, Sadiq Virk and Mushtaq Virk families- the three brothers, who were allotted this house after partition. They had migrated from Virk village from Amritsar. Out of the three, Sadiq Virk is no more, but his family lives there. When we reached there were few women working near Chullah, later on we could meet Akhtar Virk, son of Mushtaq Virk, who is now advocate at Faislabad. He told us that not only this house, they also acquired 17 acre Mango garden of Kishan Singh, father of Bhagat Singh. Asked about the value of this much land, we were told it was six lakh per acre, which meant that it has value of more than one crore rupees today. Though Bhagat Singh family also having garden at Chak no. 105, was not known earlier to us, yet it came as no surprise to me. The judge, who wrote judgment for the execution of Kartar Singh Sarabha, has clearly mentioned that Kishan Singh (father of Bhagat Singh) has contributed one thousand rupees (nearly one lakh rupees of today) to the cause of Gadar party in 1914 or 1915. The legend of Bhagat Singh and family becomes more fascinating, because their commitment to the nation overstepped their comforts in life. It is no wonder that Waqar Ahmad, a political science student from Peshawar becomes enamored of Bhagat Singh and reached me through mail, just to know more about Bhagat Singh. Waqar remained in touch with me on phone during my stay in Lahore and was hoping to meet me, as Peshawar University Teachers Association was trying very hard to get visa cleared for me, so that I could visit Peshawar. We had welcomed Peshawar University teacher’s delegation recently in JNU. And it was also during my stay in Lahore, Raza Naeem, a columnist for Dawn, reached me through mail to get a copy of ‘The Jail Notebook and Other writings’ of Bhagat Singh, compiled and introduced by me and published by Leftword on this 23rd March, for reviewing it in ‘Dawn’. I could leave a copy for him in Lahore, apart from talking on phone many times. Raza wanted to hold discussions in Karachi about Bhagat Singh.
Lyalpur was built by British officers as a planned city. This area has very fertile land, so the peasants from other parts of Punjab were encouraged to buy lands here, just as many Punjabi peasants had gone to Terai area to buy lands. Interestingly more people from Doaba went there. They were allotted lands in villages named as Chak with numbers. The families which shifted here attached the name of their village or area to these numbered chaks. Thus Chak no. 65 is Mukundpur, Chak no 67 is Gidderpindi, Chak no. 104 is Samra, Chak no.105 is Bange(From Banga of Doaba),Chak no 106 is Khurla, Chak no. 107 is Pathankot,Chak no. 109 is Bajajanwala and so on. These names continue after partition as well. Only the landowners and inhabitants of the houses have changed. We were told that prior to 1965, there were not many restrictions and lot many people used to visit these places. After 1965, restrictions increased, recent years, there again has been some relaxation and people are again coming to visit these places. We were told that a bus full of Punjabis from Canada had come to visit the place last year. After partition Lyalpur, renamed as Faislabad, became the centre of textile industry. It is now the third biggest city of Pakistan, after Karachi and Lahore. But the city has probably suffered the same problems as has been faced by Ludhiana. Faislabad cloth is rated high in Asian market.
From Chak no. 105, we moved to Faislabad, it was night now. After a while, we took the motorways from Faislabad to Lahore and reached in about two hour’s time. Only limited vehicles are allowed on the motorways, so the traffic moves fast, smoothly and safely.
I wished to go to Taxila and Islamabd at least, but the time was short and I had to meet people in Lahore yet. So I stayed in Lahore for the remaining days. I shifted from five star hotel to different locations. I spent one night with some young students, one of them Imran was teaching Urdu at Govt. College at Nankana Sahib. Another night I spent at the guest house of a NGO-South Asia Participation, who organized a talk with its researchers and staff as well. SAP Deputy Director Irfan Mufti offered me to take to Bulle Shah’s mazar at Kasur in one of the evenings. That was a pleasant invitation, which I readily accepted. Though the road to Kasur, which was under reconstruction, was somewhat irritable and sixty kilometer journey on car took almost three hours, yet the atmosphere at mazar made it just forget. At about eleven at night, the mazar was full of people, singing, dancing inside and outside the mazar. People were offering flowers, but the women were not allowed to go inside the sanctorum. They would give the flowers to the caretaker and watch inside from windows. That was unlike Bulle Shah, but everything else was just like Bulle Shah. People dancing traditional folk forms like Jhummar and singing Kafis of Bulle in most fascinating voice and with sweetest of musical chords.
After visiting Nankana Sahib, Waris Shah and Bulle Shah’s places and talking to cross sections of people, I felt that partition had paralyzed the Punjabi body of cultural oneness. Both sides of Punjabi people have strange kind of thirst for each other, which I could realize in Lahore that both are missing vital and healthy part of each other and inside feel incomplete without each other. The overwhelming emotion on both sides for each other, (perhaps more on West Punjab side), speaks volumes about the cultural losses, which both parts of Punjab have suffered due to this completely irrational division of one complete cultural unit, consisting of three major communities- Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, due to partition for purely political reasons of gaining political power. I think all Bengalis and Punjabis must be cursing the politicians on all sides of borders, for making their cultural units as sacrificial goats to obtain political power. Pakistani Punjab is almost three times bigger than Indian Punjab. The population of Pakistani Punjab is nine crores, which is more than half of total population of Pakistan. It is true that Punjabi language and literature has developed more in Indian part of Punjab, but the overall scene of Punjabi culture is still more alive in Pakistani Punjab. The ridiculing saying about Punjab culture that ‘it is just agriculture’, is contribution of post partition Indian Punjab, which has built no strong cultural centre of its own, whereas Lahore was always considered as one of the most cultured cities of undivided India, the tradition which is still alive in Lahore. Lahore has developed tremendously after partition, now its population has grown to nearly one crore, whereas, prior to partition Amritsar and Lahore were just like twin cities. Amritsar, has just shrunk and lost its eminence, except in religious sense, after partition.
I could not move around Androon Lahore(Inner city) and see its twelve much known ‘Darwazas’(Gates).About some of the gates, Yashpal has vividly depicted in his epic Hindi novel-‘Jhootha Sach’.Shahlmi gate, the worst centre of communal riots in 1947, Mochi gate, Bhatti gate, Hathi gate, Domoriya gate(Like domoroyia bridge in Jalandhar). But the last three night stay in Punjab University Lahore’s guest house gave me a little feel of my student days in Panjab University Chandigarh in 1971-72. The little market on new campus has that touch of Chandigarh market, though Chandigarh market is more developed. The hostels, where I took my morning tea and breakfast are almost similar to PU hostels in Chandigarh. The name of University has been changed to-‘The University of Punjab’ Lahore, after partition, yet buildings like Library, cafeteria carries the same old name- Punjab University Lahore. In Indian Punjab, the spellings of university were changed to ‘Panjab University’, to differentiate from Punjab University, Lahore. The visit to Oriental College in old campus of the University, which houses- Urdu, Persian, Punjabi and now revived Hindi deptt. as well was again interesting. To see the names of Dr. Mohan Singh Diwana or Bhai Santokh Singh to Sadhu Ditt Singh in Punjabi deptt. office was an experience. That Punjabi deptt. of Punjab University is as old as 1879, is perhaps not even known on this side of Punjab. Interestingly,the only one teacher working on temporary basis in Hindi deptt. in Punjab University Lahore turned out to be my student from Punjabi University Patiala. She is Shabnam Riaz, who migrated to Lahore from Malerkotla, after marriage and after doing her M.A. in Hindi from Patiala. Incidentally Lahore is known for its educational institutions. Falling prey to privatization, it has almost twenty five universities located in Lahore city itself, including one women university. Even the Govt College has been turned into Govt. College University, an odd name.
Meeting people was an enriching experience for me. I had already some contacts and also many references. I was keen to meet Salima Hashmi, daughter of legendry poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who along with Faqir Aazijudin, both well known artists and art scholars of Pakistan had recently visited Fine Arts deptt. of Punjabi University Patiala, in context of a seminar. So one evening I spent with Hashmis at their Model Town house, where once Faiz lived. Prof. Salima hashmi is now Dean, Visual Arts of Beaconhead University Lahore, after retiring as Principal of famous National Art College of Lahore. Her husband Prof. Shoib Hashmi, retired Economics Professor is columnist for some dailies and jolly person. Their daughter is named as Meera and granddaughter as Anya. Salima told that Faiz Ahmad Faiz had heard shots of firing on Saundras, as he was somewhere close to DAV College that day. These shots were also heard by legendry Communist leader of Pakistan late Mazhar Ali, this was confirmed by his wife and mother of famous writer Tariq Ali—Tara Mazhar Ali, whom I met at her house and presented Bhagat Singh’s writings, she is also among those, who celebrate Bhagat Singh in Pakistan. Tara Mazhar Ali, at the age of 82 years and Salima Hashmi, both are active in democratic movement of Pakistan. Salima had taken part in a women’s rally during my stay. Leftist activists in Pakistan are called ‘Surkhe’(Reds) in popular parlance . One such ‘surkha’, I met by chance at Fictionhouse bookshop, a progressive publisher and bookseller of Lahore. Fictionhouse has published almost all books of eminent historian Mubark Ali, both in Urdu and English. As I had taken some photocards of Bhagat Singh and Dr. Ambedkar to distribute in Lahore and I handed over one such card to fictionhouse owner, an old man present there asked me to give one card to him also. Then he introduced himself as Aslam Raheel Mirza, Communist Party of Pakistan’s worker. He said that we celebrate Bhagat Singh day every year. There is no ban on Communist party in Pakistan these days, but leftist forces are quite week. These are splintered in group’s like- National Workers party, Mazdoor Kisan Party, Labour Party, apart from Communist Party, which has strong base in Hyderabad Sindh.
About Communist movement of earlier times, I heard lot of stories, mostly true, in the company of Prof. Manzoor Ahmad, Prof Aazijudin Ahmad, Tehseen Ahmad, by whose courtesy I was invited on dinner in this company. 82 years old Prof. Manzoor Ahmad is considered Gandhian by his friends. Though no one agrees with his defense of Gandhi, everyone loves this genial man. I heard the fascinating story of Pran nath Seth , industrialist of Lahore, who refused to leave Lahore in 1947. Pran Nath Seth was the son in law of Lala Harikishan Lal, first time minister of Punjab in Fazal ul Hussain ministry. Pran Nath Seth was briefly arrested during 1965 Indo-Pak war. He came to India for some time and fell ill. He declared that he can’t live without Lahore. He returned to Lahore and became all right. During his underground days, Sajjad Zaheer, well known Urdu writer, who had gone to Pakistan in 1947, to organize Communist movement, took shelter in Pran Nath’s house under assumed name. When once police raided his house to arrest Sajjad, though he had already escaped, Pran nath , aristocratic in his habits, got angry with police for raiding his house without informing him , as DIG was his personal friend. Then he was told that the person he was keeping in his annexe as some Professor was actually underground Communist leader. These were the days, when Sahir Ludhianvi had also come to work in Pakistan Communist party and stayed with writer Ahmad Rahi.
I enjoyed listening to pre partition and post partition stories from these grand old men. I also benefited a lot by meeting Mubark Ali, the historian, who could say true things about Jinnah and offend people. One of the most fascinating meetings was with F.E.Chaudhary, 98 year old first photo journalist of Pakistan. Chaudhary worked with Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who took over as editor of ‘Pakistan Times’, in place vacated by ‘The Tribune’. Earliest photographs of Pakistani leaders have been shot by F.E. Chaudhary, a Christian. He is the one, who shot the pictures of Central Jail Lahore, when it was being demolished in 1960’s. He has kept that file of photographs, which includes the photographs of ‘Phansighat’, where Bhagat Singh, Sarabha and so many other freedom fighters were executed. I tried to capture these photos through my ordinary camera, but did not succeed. But I understand that Daljit Ami has shot these on his video camera, few days earlier. And what was the wish of Chaudhary, who is living with his son, Principal of a Christian school in Lahore ,a most pleasant man to talk? He wanted to locate his friends of pre partition days, who had migrated to Delhi, mostly photographers. One name he mentioned is of C.L.Soni and co., another Shankar Dass and Co. There were three brothers of this family-Sunder Dass,Harish and Jagdish. One of them was in photography profession and others in some other . The man remembers so many stories of his early twenties, when all Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian shopkeepers of Lahore lived in complete harmony and in deep friendship. The nostalgia of past lingers on in Lahore; this is getting even transferred to younger generations, who have only heard about the places from their elders. One Pathan family migrated from Ludhiana became very friendly with me. A waiter in hotel, while talking about his ancestors coming from Ludhiana, became so emotional that he brought bucket full of fruits and pastry, just to show his emotion. ‘Aap Hamare Mehmaan Hain’(You are our guest), is so common refrain in Lahore that one starts feeling guilty that we never speak of being host and never take care of people coming from other side of border as much, as Lahoris do.
There are many more things, such as attending ‘Friday Sangat’ at Najam Hussain Sayeed’ house at Jail road. Twenty plus Punjabi writers/scholars, including 4-5 women gather there every Friday evening, read Gurbani and the Najam interprets it. Later they have dinner together before dispersing. Najam is known in East Punjab as well for his enlightened writings. He is the one, who had refused to accept ‘Shiromani Punjabi Sahitkar’(Videshi) award in 2004, when Pakistani Punjab chief minister Parvez Ilahi was present in Punjabi University Patiala, at the time of ‘World Punjabi Conference. The refusal was just on principle and for no other reason. Najam’s wife Sajda has sung Sufi songs beautifully. One can go on talking about Lahore endlessly, but I shall conclude with the story of an interesting coincidence.
Nawab Mohd Ahmad Khan was a prosecution witness(Sarkari gawah) against Bhagat Singh and his comrades in Lahore Conspiracy case. He rose to become an honorary magistrate in Pakistan. He was murdered at the same place in 1970’s, where Bhagat Singh was executed i.e. Shadman Chowk. Further coincidence is that Zulifkar Ali Bhutto was trapped for the murder of this man by Zia ul Haq and hanged in Lahore jail in 1977. Now everyone in Pakistan say that Bhutto was framed in this case with US complicity. Also every Pakistani says that Zia ul Haq’s eleven year rule was the blackest period of Pakistan history, worst than all other military rulers like Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan or Parvez Musharf. Zia regime completely smashed the secular, liberal and democratic fiber of Pakistani society and had thrown it into prolonged struggle to regain its democratic freedoms back. At this moment Pakistani society has awakened and is now struggling to overcome the most poisonous effects of Zia regime. Let us wish and hope that they succeed.


* Published in ‘Dalit Voice’ (Bangalore) with different title and in ‘The Tribune’ in abridged form













Gandhi and Bhagat Singh

Review

‘Gandhi and Bhagat Singh’: Historian’s perplexity, thorn in the neck of national movement*
“Gandhi and Bhagat Singh’, V.N Datta, Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2008, pages 126, Price- Rupees 295/
Chaman Lal

Ever since death sentence for Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in Lahore conspiracy case-II was pronounced on 7th October, 1930 by a controversial three member special tribunal established by British colonial government, it became a national issue to get the lives of these patriots saved. And who could save these precious lives? In general perception it was Mahatma Gandhi, who was thought to be the tallest national leader of India at that time. Since then this question has never been settled. Every now and then, this issue again erupts, why did Gandhi not save the lives of these young men? Or could he save or not save? This issue had been discussed umpteen times, ‘Mainstream’ had series of articles, both in favour of and against Gandhi, but without any convincing conclusion. Academia had remained more or less aloof from this contentious issue, but with well known historian V.N.Datta’s latest publication ‘Gandhi and Bhagat Singh’, the debate has entered academic world also.
V. N. Datta has referred to earlier debates on the issue and has come out with his own views as well, which are of course in favour of Gandhi to a large extent. Although no one gave thought to this view, whether this issue deserved so much energy and space and such long time to continue? Before probing the different aspects of this contentious question, one should look at the background in which this question got focused and later even struck. Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary group after getting their organization renamed as “Hindustan Socialist Republican Association’ from earlier simple ‘Hindustan Republican Association’ on 8th and 9th September 1928, went into quick political actions, but they were trapped in the quagmire of British repressive actions on Indian masses and had to act against their own ideological perspective of building socialist movement with organizing masses in foreseeable future and thus creating an alternative to Indian National Congress for liberating the country. As the group requested Lala Lajpat Rai , a tall national leader, though with whom they had differences on communal issue, to lead the mass protest against the visit of Simon Commission to Lahore on 30th October, 1928. Lalaji fell to the brutal lathi blows of colonial police while leading the mass demonstration and succumbed to injuries on 17th November, 1928. There are two famous statements of that occasion, one issued by Lala Lajpat Rai himself on the same evening, i.e. 30th October, 1928, while addressing mass rally against this brutality by British police officers, namely Scott and Saunders, Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent of Police at Lahore at that time. Lala Lajpat Rai proclaimed in highly charged mass rally that ‘every blow on his body will prove to be the last nail in the caffeine of the British colonial rule in India.’ Other equally charged reaction came after the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, this was by Basanti Devi, the widow of most respected national leader C.R.Das that ‘whether the youth of this country have lost their sense of shame? Whether our young men will avenge the death of our tallest national leader at the hands of a lowly British police officer? Known to be the most sensitive to the dignity of Indian nationhood, revolutionary group of Bhagat Singh had no option under the circumstances to uphold the dignity of Indian nationalism by avenging the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, who was the symbol of Indian nationalism at that time, despite their bitter differences with him. On 17th December, 1928, exactly one month after the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, Saunders was shot dead by Rajguru and Bhagat Singh, with the cover given to them by Chanderrshekhar Azad. Though they all escaped from Lahore in a very daring manner and could even had lie low for sometime, but the sharp intellect and growing political maturity in Bhagat Singh led him to take further clear decisions. Bhagat Singh could see that in spite of reaching the consciousness of the need to have socialist revolution in India through insurrection, like in Russia in 1917, he and his group was not equal to that great task. He knew that their days are numbered and they must perform such spectacular actions which could awaken the sleepy masses of India. He wanted that the socialist ideas of his revolutionary group and his own must reach every nook and corner of the country and they had to sacrifice their lives to awaken the masses. Bhagat Singh was more than absolutely clear that sacrifice of some of the leading leaders of the group was must and due to his involvement in Saunders murder, he had to be one of those, who must accept this moral duty towards the nation and its people. It was with such clear understanding that the second spectacular action of throwing harmless bombs in Central Assembly Delhi, ( ‘To Make the Deaf Hear’), to protest against anti people legislations like ‘Public Safety Bill’ and ‘Trade Disputes Bill’ was planned very meticulously. The decision not to escape and use courts as platform to propagate their ideas was also taken with political maturity. Further to sing national songs and raise slogans in the court and get brutally beaten up publicly at the hands of British police in response, was also part of that political design. Even to use the weapon of hunger strike and observe record hunger strike of 115 days, with the loss of their dear comrade Jatin Dass after 63 days was to rouse the masses and they did succeed in their target.
Bhagat Singh delayed the Lahore conspiracy case proceedings, much to the chagrin of British colonial rulers, but he never wanted to save his life. He agreed to allow and appeal to Privy Council for this purpose but with the clear understanding that ‘Execution must not stop’. His wish was that ‘they should be executed at the time when Indian people’s rise in masses to demand for their release was at its peak’. That is what exactly happened. He was executed exactly when the whole nation had woken up and Bhagat Singh had become a household name and it proved Gandhi’s apprehension expressed to Irwin, true, that ‘their execution will make them ‘national martyrs’, so they became defeating both Gandhi and British crown design to marginalize them from Indian political scene.
‘Gandhi and Bhagat Singh’ is an enlarged and revised version of a long keynote address delivered by Prof. V.N.Datta at the international conference held on ‘Bhagat Singh and his Times’ at Panjab University, Chandigarh in September 2007 by ICHR and Institute of Punjab Studies. In a short preface the author argues that ‘The question of Bhagat Singh’s life and death has to be seen from a broader perspective, especially within the framework of the British Imperial system operating in the country, which is generally ignored’. The author also questions the view of some of the historians that ‘Bhagat Singh was a convinced and confirmed Marxist, Socialist and Leninite’. The author takes this view to be one dimensional. Prof. Datta also poses the question—‘What was his (Bhagat Singh’s) legacy? What was his achievement? The author counterpoises the view of Gandhi that Bhagat Singh’s mode of militant nationalism was ‘most injurious to the cause of Indian independence. Still more Prof. Datta proclaims that ‘Sukhdev was the real brain and organizer of the entire programme’ and ‘his role has been ignored’, further ‘ Sukhdev still awaits a historian!’. For a small book of about 125 pages, these questions and observations are too tall. The book divided into eight chapters includes in appendices, notice by HSRA after killing JP Saunders, the leaflets thrown in Central assembly after throwing the bombs, Governor General’s statement after Gandhi-Irwin pact and Karachi Congress resolution of 31st march 1931 on ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Changes’. Apart from useful index and bibliography, Chronological table of Bhagat Singh’s life has also been included in the book.
In the first chapter, the author refers to the debate that took place mostly in the pages of left weekly ‘Mainstream’ on Gandhi’s role in this whole episode. While Ashok Celley, D.P.Das and A.G.Noorani took a strong stand that Gandhi had not sincerely tried to save the lives of these young revolutionaries, Anil Nauriya and Prem Bhasin counter these views by supporting the view that Gandhi did his best to save the lives. Some other authors have also been referred from their books. K K Khullar and Kuldip Nayar are quoted as supporting Gandhi for making efforts, while D(G?) S Deol, Manmathnath Gupta and also A.G.Noorani in his book ‘The Trial of Bhagat Singh’ have been referred to castigating Gandhi in this context. S. Irfan Habib has been referred to be a bit ambivalent on this issue. Some British historians like Roy Jenkins, Andrew Roberts and Allan Campbell Johnson have been shown as describing the events or Gandhi-Irwin negotiations in a matter of fact manner. In fact the major article in this regard was penned by D.P.Das, which was published under the title ‘Gandhi and Bhagat Singh’ in Independence Day number of ‘Mainstream’ in 1970. D.P Das had based his arguments on the basis of documents of British bureaucracy in national archives. He also referred to Lord Irwin’s autobiography, in which he has referred to his dialogue with Gandhi on this issue. This article has created ripples, as for the first time Gandhi’s image was questioned in a very serious manner. A.G.Noorani later added this article in his book in appendices and he himself supported all the arguments of Das with his own painstaking research in the process of writing ‘The Trial of Bhagat Singh’. Ashok Celly argued that Gandhi never tolerated any other view in the national movement apart from his own views. He refers to the throwing away of Subhash Bose from Congress party despite being democratically elected President, as he had defeated Gandhi’s candidate in elections. D.G. Tendulkar and Pattabhi Sitaramaya are quoted for espousing Gandhi’s moral dilemma in this regard as being a votary of non violence; he could not defend an act of violence by the young men. INA General Mohan Singh and author G.S.Deol are unhappy with Gandhi’s passivity in this matter. All this debate is concentrated on only on one issue, which was why Gandhi did not make it the condition of Gandhi-Irwin negotiations going on that time that the lives of these young men will be spared and it would be converted into life sentence. Privy Council by this time had rejected the appeal on these executions and now only Viceroy could commute the sentence and all the appeals were being made to him. Since Congress party as main driving force of national movement was expected to take lead in this regard, pressure was being built on it from inside and outside to take a clear stand and further make it a condition of any agreement with British Government. Not only Gandhi, who was the undisputed most powerful leader of Congress party, even the Congress working committee also did not make it as a precondition for the negotiations with British Government. At that time Subhash Chander Bose was part of Congress party, Jawaharlal Nehru like popular leaders of the party were admirers of Bhagat Singh, yet they all were so helpless before Gandhi that none could force the issue, so their admiration for revolutionaries remained on paper and confined to speeches.
Prof. Datta has thrown some light on Gandhi’s attitude towards revolutionary or militant means in national movement in third chapter of the book. In 1909, Madan Lal Dhingra, son of a pro British rich family from Amritsar, came for higher studies to London and under the influence of Veer Savarkar’s militant views, killed Curzon Wyllie and got executed in London itself after a quick trial. Gandhi was in London in those days and he condemned this killing in most strong words. Gandhi had also referred to this case in his tract ‘Hind Swaraj’, which many people think is the key to understand Gandhian thought on Indian independence. This book written in Gujrati in 1909 was banned, when its English edition came out in 1910, for some time. Gandhi also condemned bomb hurled on Lord Harding on 23rd December 1912, during his ceremonial entry into city, after the capital was shifted to Delhi from Calcutta. Gandhi from South Africa at that time declared it to be ‘a catastrophe’. Incidentally Madan Lal Dhingra and the four persons executed in Lord Harding bomb case-Master Amir Chand, Balmukund , Awadh Behari and Basant Kumar Biswas were highly praised by Bhagat Singh in his writings on national movement. Gandhi from his South African experiences has made non violence as his creed for national movement and created a political term ‘Satyagraha’, literally meaning ‘insisting for truth, as new weapon for attaining independence for the country. Gandhi had again strongly condemned bomb thrown on 23rd December 1929 at Viceroy’s train by Bhagat Singh’s comrades. Killing of Saunders and throwing of bombs in Central assembly was also condemned as strongly as other actions of the revolutionaries by Gandhi and some other leaders of the Congress party. Gandhi had described the bomb throwing in Central Assembly as ‘the criminal act of two mad youth’.
In this longest chapter on Gandhi’s Attitude, Prof. Datta has referred to some other interesting aspects of national movement, such as commercial interests or one would say national bourgeoisie’s interests? Every one know that Gandhi was too close to business magnet G.D.Birla, in fact mush of the funds for Congress party came from these business houses and largest from Birla family. Prof Datta has quoted another eminent historian of national movement Sumit Sarkar that ‘ G.D.Birla, Walchand Hirachand and Purshottamdas Thakurdas thought that the further continuance of anti-British struggle would adversely affect their commercial interests.’(Page 39) It is same Purshottamdas Thakurdas to whom Bhagat Singh had referred in his famous quote that what difference it makes to people if Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru or Purshotamdas Thakurdas take the place of Lord reading or Lord Irwin, if system does not change. Prof. Datta has quoted Gandhi’s letter to Viceroy written on 23rd March, 1931, the day he was observing silence. This is by far the strongest defense for Gandhi in favour of his ‘efforts’ to save the lives of these young men. But this letter rather than being the defense of Gandhi becomes a moral reflection on him, as the letter contains such reference to revolutionary group, which was far from truth and no one could believe that. In the letter it is said that-‘ I am able to inform you that the revolutionary party has assured me that, in the event of these lives being spared, that party will stay its hands, suspension of sentence pending cessation of revolutionary murders becomes in my opinion a preemptory duty.’(Page 42)
It is a double moral reflection on Gandhi’s considered ‘truthful’ personality. Every political personality in those days and British administration as well, knew fully well that whatever may come, Bhagat Singh and his comrades will never give any assurance on renouncing violence under pressure or to ‘save lives’. Such was their moral stature. Though it was a fact that Bhagat Singh and his group had decided to keep away from political violence and work for organizing the masses, yet they would never convey it to their sworn enemy, the British colonial rulers. Aruna Asaf Ali had vouched to this in this very chapter’s references. Here Bhagat Singh’s ‘truthfulness’ had higher credibility than Gandhi’s. Nationalist leader and Bhagat Singh’s counsel Asaf Ali was trying his best to get some dignified statement from Bhagat Singh, which could convey their political view of shunning terrorism as method, but he was not granted permission by British rulers. Gandhi writing this letter to Viceroy on 23rd March morning also makes it as a ritual, as British administration had sent secret circular to jail authorities to execute the prisoners on 23rd evening itself, though it was widely believed that executions will take place on 24th March morning as per tradition.
In fact, Prof. Datta has not quoted the passage from Lord Halifax’s (Irwin) autobiography, which had been quoted by DP Das in his ‘Mainstream’ article that during their talk on Bhagat Singh issue Gandhi had asked Irwin that would he mind if he publicly claims that he put the maximum pressure on Viceroy on this issue. Irwin had replied that he won’t mind that. So ‘the best efforts’ made by Gandhi ‘to save the lives of Bhagat Singh’ were planned in the full knowledge of British administration. In this chapter, Prof. Datta had not referred to some more facts in this regard. Durga Bhabhi widow of revolutionary Bhagwaticharn Vohra and herself an accused in attack on British Governor in Bombay had met Gandhi in this regard. Gandhi knew her well and thought she had come to seek his intervention in her own case. She was living underground those days and had warrants against her. Gandhi told her ‘to surrender’ and the rest he would take care. But when Durga Bhabhi told Gandhi that she had come to appeal him to ‘save the lives of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru’, Gandhi told her point blank that ‘he can not do anything in the matters of political violence cases’ and refused intervention. Chandershekhar Azad was desperate to save Bhagat Singh as he thought revolutionary group needed his ideological leadership most urgently. He himself had meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru in Anand Bhawan Allahabad, about which Nehru had narrated in his ‘Autobiography’. Nehru was all sympathetic, but wanted the revolutionaries to go to Moscow to get training in Marxism, he actually contributed some money for this purpose, the project which never could materialize. Jawaharlal Nehru was actually patronizing ‘Bhagat Singh Defense committee’ as well, whose secretary Kumari Lajjawati was Congress activist. Massive meetings and rallies all over Punjab and elsewhere were taken out under the aegis of this defense committee. There was signature campaign all over India to save the lives of young patriots. Record of at least two lakh signatures is preserved even today in National archives Delhi. More than forty thousand signatures are on record on just one petition from Kanpur. All these facts do not find mention in Prof. Datta’s book, when the issue of value of Bhagat Singh’s life is being discussed. The fact that Gandhi did not take into account this popular sentiment of Indian people towards Bhagat Singh does not find mention in the book. Pattabhi Sitaramaya has himself recorded this sentiment in ‘The History of Congress party’ that Bhagat Singh was no less popular than Mahatma Gandhi in those days. Even today if ‘Hindu’ survey finds Bhagat Singh having the approval rate of 64% Indians, ‘India Today’ finds Bhagat Singh at the top of Indian people’s approval rate, while Gandhi is found much down in its approval rate. Indian people rightly think that Bhagat Singh sacrificed his life to defend the dignity of Indian nationhood, which was seriously compromised with the death of Lala Lajpat Rai due to brutal police beatings. While national leaders of Congress party exhorted revolutionary youth to ‘avenge’ this humiliation of Indian nationhood at that time, clever and politically astute leaders like Gandhi diverted the issue from ‘ national dignity’ to that of ‘political violence’
Revolutionaries trusted Moti lal Nehru more in this matter, who passed away on 6th February, 1931 and revolutionaries thought that they lost ’sincere sympathizer’ to their cause. Robert Bernays has been quoted from his book ‘Naked Faquir’ in this chapter in reference to Sarojini Naidu, who had told the author that ‘Bhagat Singh ought to be punished for his crimes, but not by death. After all he is only a rebel.’ (Page 47)In this chapter there is an interesting quote from internationally renowned Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz that ‘slogan Inqilab Zindabad’ had replaced Bande Matram’ in those days.(Page51) Faiz’s daughter Salima Hashmi had confided to this author that Faiz had heard the pistol shots on 17th December, 1928 from his hostel of Government College Lahore. The college is little away from where Saunders was killed that day.
Lord Irwin has been introduced in next chapter, who was a conservative party man but ‘liberal’. After holding many senior positions he came to India as Viceroy in 1926 and served for five years. Days before he relinquished his charge as Viceroy, the ‘liberal Viceroy’ got Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru executed. In this chapter the author had quoted from editorial of ‘The People’ of 22nd March, 1931, which refers to British civil servants machinations in Punjab, including threat to ‘resign’, if these revolutionaries were not hanged.(Page 64). Prof. Datta refers to the bomb thrown on Viceroy’s train and also Punjab Governor being shot at in Panjab University Lahore convocation by young Harikishan. All these references are fine to analyze and understand, but the concluding paragraph based on these analyses is somewhat intriguing. The author concludes—‘Bhagat Singh had killed a British police officer and the punishment for murder was hanging. In imperial calculations Bhagat Singh was a cold blooded butcher who had committed the murder of a fellow human being. From the British perspective, he was a rebel, a seditionist, a challenger, and wrecker of their system, which they were zealously determined to guard against anarchists like him. Irwin realized that the British life in India was unsafe so long as political militancy was not crushed. Of course, he could not ignore the strong feelings of British bureaucracy in India, and of Home government.’(Page 66-67)
One can understand British colonial viewpoint in this regard, but that does not justify or clarify nationalist response to that viewpoint, which to say the least was pitiably inadequate. Even the historian seems to be reconciled to this perspective that the whole issue revolved around whether Bhagat Singh could live under those circumstances or not. To this reviewer this is most inadequate explanation. It was Bhagat Singh, who more than anyone else, British bureaucracy, Gandhi or Irwin, knew most clearly that ‘he can not live in those prevailing circumstances’, which he made clear in his last letter to his comrades, a day before his execution and he almost chose the path of gallows himself. Injustice done to him, however by nationalist leaders or historians, is to obfuscate his own viewpoint in this whole debate or scenario.
The author has devoted one chapter to Bhagat Singh’s self education, where he admires his personality. He quotes from Motilal and Jawaharlal Nehru to show their admiration as well. Author narrates Bhagat Singh’s life story, particularly of his college days, but he commits a blunder in referring to his first arrest by Punjab police. Author mentions-‘Bhagat Singh was arrested in connection with the Dussehra bomb outrage in 1926, and was locked up in a small cell on 17th December, 1928.’(Page 27) Actually Bhagat Singh was arrested in this case on 29th May 1927 at Lahore and released on bail on 4th July, 1927, full five weeks after his arrest. This is his only arrest by police before his final arrest on 8th April, 1929. Ironically 17th December 1928 was the day, on which Saunders was shot dead. But to be fair to the author, this could be a ‘printers devil’ .In a chapter on ‘The Trial’, author quotes A.G Noorani that ‘ Bhagat singh’s trial was a farce, politically motivated, and the procedures adopted in his prosecution were devious and a ‘negation of justice’.(Page 69) But author’s own narration of this trial does not support Noorani’s contention that strongly. Author is appreciative of Bhagat Singh’s court statement for its ‘elegance, ’lucidity’, ‘cadenced language’, ‘sobriety and seriousness of its theme’, ‘breadth of outlook and loftiness of thought’ etc., but gives its credit strangely to Jawaharlal Nehru, despite admitting that Asaf Ali had admitted only of ‘polishing’ Bhagat Singh’s language. No source had been referred to the authorship of Nehru for this statement except the author’s own imagination that the statement has ‘the striking features of Nehru’s own prose writings’.(Page 74).This shows our academia’s vision of our supreme revolutionary hero, no one wants to recognize his intellectual potential, that is why Bhagat Singh’s transition to Marxist thought is also questioned, despite his own writings as the best proof for that. In this chapter author raises the issue-‘why no eminent lawyer defended Bhagat Singh and his associates in Lahore conspiracy case’. Author even surmises that ‘lawyers wished to keep themselves out of a British police officer’s murder case because they thought that as Bhagat Singh’s counsel they might incur the ire of British bureaucracy and judiciary from which they were accustomed to seeking favors.’(Page 75). One does not know whether to laugh or cry at such observations. The fact of the matter is that the best lawyers of Lahore and from whole country were ready to offer their services and they treated this as a national cause. Lawyers like Asaf Ali, Kailashnath katju, Chanderbhan Gupta, Mohan Lal Saxena etc. had all remained concerned about this trial, including Nehru father and son duo. It was revolutionaries own decision to engage lawyers selectively. By a conscious decision they divided themselves into three groups- one group completely ignored court proceedings, they did not engage any lawyer and practically boycotted court proceedings to show ‘the hollowness of British judicial system’. Another group, which included Bhagat Singh engaged lawyer as to counsel them only and they represented themselves in the court after consulting their counsel on legal points. The third group properly engaged lawyers. Interesting fact is that the fees of revolutionaries counsel’s were paid by British rulers as per their own laws in this regard. Lala Duni Chand, Amolak Ram Kapoor, Prannath Mehta etc. counsels of revolutionaries were among the best lot.
Prof. Datta’s observation on Sukhdev that he was the real brain etc. comes from the fact that this case was registered as ‘ Sukhdev vs. the Crown’. Sukhdev in fact had made the statement to the police when he was arrested, that statement damaged the group a lot. But as Sukhdev refused to become approver and the statement he gave was due to ‘standard police tactics’ of misleading through telling plain lies to the accused. Sukhdev in jail broke his hunger strike midway, when his other comrades suffered a lot. Sukhdev did not have the consistency, patience, farsightedness and suffering capacity of true revolutionary leader, though he was one of the intellectuals and quite well read. His only saving grace has been to go along with his comrades and accept death sentence cheerfully, though he was not part of the conspiracy or actual execution of murder of Saunders. One of the travesties of justice in this case was the death sentence awarded to Sukhdev.
In a small chapter on Karachi Congress held immediately after the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, the author has thrown light on Gandhi’s capacity to face criticism without yielding from his position. Gandhi told emphatically to the press that ‘the commutation of the death sentence these young men ‘was not a part of the truce’ with British’. He faced black flag demonstration and was presented black flowers in Karachi amid the slogans of ‘Go back Gandhi’ and ‘Down with Gandhism’, he was even described as the ‘ally of the British exploiters in India’.(Page 84) Prof. Datta has highlighted that how writers like Prem Chand and Rabindernath Tagore had kept quite on these executions. Gandhi declared in his speech at this congress that ‘the way of violence cannot bring Swaraj; it can lead only to disaster.’(Page 85) But revolutionaries were not fighting to get Swaraj in the country, they wanted to overthrow the system of exploitation and build socialism in due course, which of course would have been disaster for Birlas, Lalchandanis and Thakurs of the country, who funded and supported Gandhi. Author has mentioned about the resolution of condolence passed in the congress as per the wishes of Gandhi, but not the fact that how narrow was the difference in voting on revolution. In a full fledged book on Karachi Congress, which was banned by British rule, Jitmal Lunia had given details of parallel meetings of Naujwan Bharat Sabha, in which all the fiery leaders of Congress party had participated including Subhash Bose, Nehru, Ghaffar Khan and Madan mohan Malviya etc. The chapter gives figure of Rupees 18 lakhs given by Birla for the congress and promise of Rs. 30 lakhs to attend Round Table Conference in London for congress delegation. To placate left-wingers like Nehru and Subhash Bose, Gandhi got resolution of ‘Fundamental Rights and Economic Change’ passed in this session, which gave a little pro poor and democratic color to Congress social programme. But how much he depreciated Bhagat Singh was the letter Gandhi wrote to Mehta Anand Kishore on 26th June 1931, in which he refused to associated with building any memorial to Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev.(Page 90) Mehta Anand Kishore had been Congress activist of long standing and close family friend of S. Kishan Singhj, father of Bhagat Singh. In fact the first Lahore Conspiracy case in 1915 against Ghadar party activists was registered as ‘Mehta Anand Kishore vs. the Crown’. Mehta was acquitted in this case, in which Kartar Singh Sarabha and Vishnu Ganesh Pingley like uoung patriots were executed.
Comrade Ramchandra, President of ‘Naujwan Bharat Sabha’ in 1926 has given a lucid detail of how Congress party had sabotaged the Naujwan Bharat Sabha’s plan to build suitable memorial to three martyrs in Lahore. The plan was chalked during Karachi Congress itself, but Congress party used Bhagat Singh’s father Kishan Singh to throttle the plan. Congress party promised to build the memorial on its own and Mehta Anand Kishore , a Congress activist and friend of Kishan Singh was made General Secretary of All India Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev memorial society, on whose behalf Mehta wrote to Gandhi for issuing an appeal to raise funds for the memorial. Gandhi’s response to this letter killed the whole plan. This act on the part of Gandhi show that how Congress party used these young men, when the honor of country was at stake and after gaining ground, ironically due to public sympathy for the young revolutionaries, Congress disowned the patriotic acts of these revolutionaries as ‘political violence’, thus keeping themselves aloof, but reaping the fruits of their sacrifice to get concessions from British colonial bureaucracy.
In ‘Conclusion’, Prof. Datta has rather absolved not only Gandhi, but even Irwin for the execution of the revolutionaries because it was beyond Irwin and Gandhi to save these lives as ‘they were not free and independent enough to do whatever they wished as commonly assumed. They had to act within the framework of the British imperial system operating in the country’.(Page 93) One can very well understand Irwin’s role as British imperial system’s representative, but unwittingly the author has ascribed this uncanny aspect to Gandhi’s personality and position as well, which many analysts including revolutionaries, then and now say with force of logic. Prof. Datta has also shown that leaving aside the issue of Bhagat Singh’s death sentence, Gandhi could not even stick to his position of abolishing capital punishment altogether, which almost all the democrats then and now support world over, which make his moral position further week. There is another error of dates in this chapter, ‘Why I am an Atheist’ was published in ‘The People’ of Lahore in the weekly issue of 27th September, 1931 and not on 31st September as mentioned. In this chapter author had again expressed doubts on Bhagat Singh’s English writings and he ascribes their ‘amendment’ to Asaf Ali, despite denial by Asaf Ali himself. He doubts even the authorship of articles attributed to him still as ‘mystery’.(Page 95)
Had he seen the proceedings of Bhagat Singh case, this would not have remained mystery to him. In continuing exhibition in Supreme Court Museum at New Delhi on ‘The Trial of Bhagat Singh’, number of such letters in Bhagat Singh’s own handwriting are on display there with no sign of Asaf Ali ‘amending’ or ‘polishing’ these. One may not find even a spelling error in those letters written in beautiful handwriting of Bhagat Singh.
In Recollections’ after conclusion, author has referred to his meeting with Partap Singh, who narrates the story that though Irwin has decided to commute the death sentence at Gandhi’s request, due to Dr. Muhammad Alam, a CWC member’s premature revelation to public had made Irwin order the execution. These are the kind of folk tales created after such incidents. Prof. Datta also like Kuldip Nayar has taken undue interest in the later life of Hans Raj Vohra , who had turned approver in the case and who died in Washington as journalist after living a long life. There were seven approvers in the case, out of which Phaninder Ghosh was murdered in Bihar and Baikunth Shukal was executed for that. Jaigopal was shot at in Maharashtra’s Jalgaon court by Bhagwan Das Mahour and Sadashiv Malkapurkar. Jaigopal was also hit on head with chappal by Premdutt, youngest member of revolutionary group in the court, since he was provoking the revolutionaries by ridiculing them. But none of other approvers were subjected to any kind of misbehavior on the part of revolutionaries in jail or outside. They understood perfectly that not all can stand up to police tortures. Hans Raj Vohra felt guilty and ashamed even during the trial, but his parents being of high class could get him out of country. Had Vohra written his accounts, some truth could have come out about police methods of brutality.
By this presentation of Bhagat Singh, it would look as if he achieved nothing or left no legacy, rather negative legacy in Gandhi’s terms. But the fact is that Bhagat Singh, exposed British imperial system as a system of exploitation and oppression to the core. How one would explain the ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ episode of British colonial system, the single most brutal incident, in which as per Congress fact finding team repost more than one thousand Indians were mowed down by General Dyer’s orders, out of which more than four hundred and fifty names are being in the process of putting on record now in the memorial itself. Since no justice was done to the brutal killer of people, Udham Singh had to go London to shot dead Michael O’dwyer, after 21 years of the incident, who as Governor of Punjab defended Dyer. Udham Singh was also hanged in London like Madan Lal Dhingra earlier, would anyone say that since the Jallianwala bagh killing was part of imperial system, so there was no need to bring the culprits to book. Were Scott or Saunders even questioned once for brutally hitting Lala Lajpat Rai, an old man and respected national leader. Or in neo colonial/imperial times, has any court summoned Bush and Blair for causing more than six lakh murders in Iraq and committing worst crimes against humanity, as committed earlier by Hitler and Mussolini?
Whatever Gandhi may think or the historians influenced by him may analyze, for common people of the country Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh had defended the dignity of the nation. In political movements, when movements win who counts the killings during the process of movement. Can anyone dare to book Prachanda today for political killings or earlier Castro or Che Guvera. Yes the colonialists and imperialists have always called Marx, Lenin, Mao, Castro, Che Guvera etc. with all kinds of names, yet their role to liberate the people of the world from exploitation and oppression will remain a beacon light of all liberation movements in the world. Bhagat Singh’s name also falls in that revolutionary legacy. The revolutionary legacy of not only India, but of the struggling people of the whole world. That is why, despite all political contradictions between India and Pakistan, Bhagat Singh is as much loved in Pakistan as in India. In fact one of the major Urdu writers of Pakistan, Zahida Hina has recently described Bhagat Singh as ‘the tallest martyr of Pakistan’.
Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh like national heroes did not need reprieve, they did need the proper appreciation of their deed by fellow countrymen—politicians, scholars and common people alike. Common people do understand and appreciate them for their noble deeds, but it is the politicians and sometimes some scholars, who want to defend the system and in the process misconstrue the history. But as Bhagat Singh was fond of being a phoenix, he comes alive as many times he is burnt by colonialists or their defenders.
However Prof. Datta must be complimented for bringing out many important documents and facts, whose interpretation can be different.

Chaman Lal
Professor and Chairperson
Centre of Indian Languages
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi-110067
Mob.-09868774820
Emai—prof.chaman@gmail.com


Jaidev Kapoor with Bhagat Singh's watch and shoes

Fahmida Riaz poem-Bhagat Singh ki Moorat



भगत सिंह की मूरत
- : फहमीदा रियाज
दिल्ली से खबर आई है
दुहाई है दुहाई है
पार्लिमेंट काम्पलेक्स में
शहीद भगत सिंह की
सरकारी शिल्पकार ने
यह कैसी छवि बनाई है!
अरे हाय हाय
यह तो भगत सिंह नहीं
वो केसरी गबरु हमारा
जिस की देको जला न पाए थे ठीक से
साठ पैंसठ वर्ष का मोटा कापा सा
मोटी मूँछ वाला
यह तो कोई और है
साठ वर्ष से कोशिश कर रहे थे
धर पटीशन पर पटीशन
अंग्रेजों ने ठुकराया
तुम तो मत ठुकराओ
भगत सिंह शहीद की
मूरत यहाँ लगाओ
आखिर साठ वर्ष बाद सरकार ने
छाती पर हाथ मारा और कहा
हाँ क्यों नहीं !”
और लगा दी मूरत पार्लिमेंट कम्पलेक्स में
हैं ! यह क्या ?
यह तो भगत सिंह नहीं
हा ! हा ! हा ! प्यारे मित्रों
रोना बंद करो
जरा इस पार्लिमेंट में दूसरी मूरतों को
भी गौर से देखो
क्या यह वही जवाहरलाल है जो वह था
वही गांधी है ?
वही अबुल कलाम आज़ाद ?
इनकी असल सूरत और आत्मा
तो इस पार्लियामेंट में आने जाने वाले
कब की आमलेट बनाकर खा पी चुके
इस अंधेरे में केवल
बदली हुई मूर्तियां ही लग सकती है
कूजा भगत सिंह
वो अब बाकी नहीं रहा
उसका ज़माना बीत गया
वो जो ग़ालिब का आशिक था
और आँख मार-मार कर ग़ल गा रहा है
ऐश्वर्या राय जिस पर नाच रही है
उनकी मेहरबानी
और उसके शहर लाहौर में
भगत सिंह एक सिख है, ज्यादातर लोगों के लिए
जो शायद सन सैंतालीस में
वहाँ से चला गया
ऐसे नाम सुनकर लोग घबरा जाते हैं
कम्बख्त कहीं वापिस तो नहीं आ रहा है
अपनी प्रापर्टी क्लेम करने
नहीं, नहीं, हम ऐसा नहीं होने देंगे
आखिर हम भी तो छोड़ कर आए हैं
ख़ेत खलिहान दुकानें मकान
लुधियाने में
क्यों तुमने चाहा उसकी मूरत लगाना
पार्लिमेंट कम्पलेक्स में ?
भगत सिंह सरकार का हीरो नहीं बन सकता
किसी भी सरकार का नहीं
वो खालिस हिंदुस्तानी था
उसका समय बीत गया
वो खालिस हिंदुस्तान की मिट्टी का गीत था
पानी की चमक
हवा की सरसराहट
खालिस हिंदुस्तानी जोश और ज़ज़्बा अपने वक्त का
हवा उस वक्त को उड़ा ले गई
उसकी मूरत वहीं लगी रहने दो
सरहद के इस पार और उस पार
इक्का दुक्का दिल में
हर सुबह बच्चों जैसी मासूम कामनाएं
उसके कोरे पिंडे को गेंदे के फूलों से ढांप देती हैं
और उसको सहलाती हैं
प्यार और सम्मान भरे आँसुओं के नमकीन पानी से
यह है उसका असल स्थान
भगत सिंह यहाँ खु