8th April, 1929: A Day to Remember
An historic event took place on 8th April, 1929, in the political history of India, referring to which L.K.Advani committed a blunder, when he referred to Bhagat Singh’s execution as related to this event. Lot much is being written about Advani’s sense of history in reference to his book ‘My Life:My Country’, but it is necessary to recollect the significance of the event referred, by way of narrating the facts from historic records and reminiscences of fellow revolutionaries of Bhagat Singh.
It was at 12.30 p.m. on 8th April, 1929, when Sh. Vithal Bhai Patel(elder brother of Vallabh Bhai Patel, the first Deputy Prime Minister of India), President(Speaker in today’s terms) of Central Assembly(present day Lok Sabha) rose to give his ruling on the result of voting on Trade Disputes Bill, which was heatedly discussed in the assembly, along with another bill-‘Public Safety Bill. Both bills had created much resentment in the country and people were agitated over these bill’s repressive provisions. In fact British Govt. was defeated on Public Safety Bill in the select committee meeting of Central assembly, when the bill was defeated 62 to 61, with the help of assembly President’s casting vote. However British Govt. was able to get the Trade Disputes Bill get through, and before its result could be announced there was explosion in the assembly and suddenly the hall was filled with smoke and slogans rose in loud voice by two young men from visitor’s gallery. The three slogans raised many times over were—“Inqlab Zindabad’, ‘ Down With Imperialism’ and ‘Workers of the World Unite’. Another explosion took place a few minutes later and hurriedly the hall and visitors gallery were emptied, except few people standing. In the assembly, those who remained on their seats were---Pt. Moti Lal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Madan Mohan Malviya, apart from Home Secretary, Govt. of India-James Crerar. In the visitor’s gallery, who could be seen, were -Devdas Gandhi, Mahadev Desai, Asaf Ali, Vallabh Bhai Patel, Brij Lal Nehru and Sir Sobha Singh. John Simon of Simon commission fame( or noterioty) was also present in the visitors gallery that. Hindi writer and editor of ‘Phansi Ank’ of ‘Chand’ from Allahabad, Chatur Sen Shastri was also there with family, whom Bhagat Singh himself had brought in the assembly. Chaman Lal, a reporter of ‘Hindustan Times’ and sympathizer of revolutionaries were also there for covering of proceedings. Though both bombs were thrown by Bhagat Singh, BK Dutt took the responsibility of throwing one bomb, because he did not want to be acquitted and stay ‘away from Bhagat Singh’. He wanted to be with Bhagat Singh through thick and thin. This was stated by Asaf Ali in an interview many years later.
After few minutes of slogan shouting and throwing of leaflets in pink colour by these young men, Sergeant Terry and Inspector Johnson moved towards these young men, one of whom was ‘playing with his pistol’ in hand(Bhagat Singh). Police officers were scared to go close to them, but the young men made no attempt to escape and kept the pistol at side table, seeing the scare on police officers faces. The two were arrested and they were in their Khaki shirts and shorts, with one of them wearing his felt hat. The man with hat was Bhagat Singh and the other young man was his comrade-Batukeshwar Dutt. Jaidev Kapoor, the third accomplice in the action left, assembly hall minutes earlier and burnt the passes acquired from one assembly member. Bhagat Singh, B K Dutt and Jaidev Kapoor had been visiting the assembly premises in the days prior. CID reports have record of their visit to assembly premises on 6th April, 1929. Even Chander Shekhar Azad had visited the premises to have first hand assessment of it, being the commander of HSRA. The leaflets thrown in the assembly carried the signature of Balraj, the party name of Chander Shekhar Azad, though the leaflet was drafted by Bhagat Singh himself. It started with quotation from French revolutionary Valliant-‘It needs explosions to make the deaf hear’. The statement, he made while taking similar action inside French parliament about four decades earlier and for which he was also executed. Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), formed on 8&9th September, 1928 at Ferozeshah Kotla grounds Delhi, had planned this action after killing Saunders on police officer responsible for killing of great nationalist leader Lala Lajpat Rai. Lala Lajpat Rai died on 17th November, because of lathis blown upon his body by Saunders on 30th October, 1928 at Lahore, when he was leading a procession against Simon Commission.
As per court and police records only six persons had been shown with little injuries. These were—George Schuster (SeatNo.4-B) , P.R.Rao, Shankar Rao, Bomanji Dalal, S.N Roy and Rai Bahadur Dubey. Medical reports later confirmed ‘trivial injuries’. Furniture, including some tables was damaged the affected seats were 87-88-89 and 146-147-148. Bhagat Singh bought his felt hat from Kolkata in December 1928 and pistol was given to him by veteran Anushilan revolutionary Pratul Das in Dacca. Before entering assembly on 8th April, he gave a watch to Jaidev kapoor, which was given to him by Shachinder Nath Sanyal, who got it from Ras Behari Bose earlier. This historic watch is in Hardoi now. Bhagat Singh also exchanged his new shoes with the old one worn by Jaidev Kapoor.
Bhagat Singh and Dutt stayed in a house in Sita Ram Bazar Delhi during February-March and at Nai Sarak house in April first week to plan and execute this action. On 7th April night, Sukhdev took Bhagwati Charn Vohra, Durga Bhabhi and Susheela Didi from Lahore to Delhi to see Bhagat Singh ‘for the last time’. They reached Kudsiya Gardens in Delhi on 8th April morning, where they treated Bhagat Singh with his favorite “Rasgullas’ and Oranges. Susheela Didi put blood dot on his forehead and Bhagat Singh left for Assembly around 10.30 a.m. from there. After they were arrested and being taken by police to police station, Bhagwati Charn Vohra, DurgaBhabhi and their three year old son Shachi saw Bhagat Singh and shouted ‘Lambu Chacha’. Durga Bhabhi put hand on his mouth.
On 3rd or 4th April, Bhagat Singh& Dutt got photographed from Ramnath, a photographer at Kashmere gate Delhi, the photograph with felt hat wearing Bhagat Singh became historic and got engraved on the minds of Indian people and abroad. Jaidev Kapur and Shiv Verma had to perform other duties. Bhagat Singh had typed leaflet thrown in Assembly and made its 10-15 copies. This statement along with photograph was immediately delivered to reporters. Durga Das, representing ‘Statesman’ those days took care to telegraph the statement to his London office, rather than Calcutta and that trick worked. Chaman Lal collected the copy of leaflet from assembly premises and Hindustan Times came with special evening edition that very evening. The statement got international coverage as well. Hindustan Times was an eyesore for British Govt. those days because of its strong support to freedom struggle and between 8th April to 12th June, when the sentence to ‘transportation for life’ was pronounced by sessions Judge Middelton to Bhagat Singh & Dutt, in this case, there are many CID reports referring to Hindustan Times pro nationalist role in those days. One Ghosh, an assistant editor of HT in those days is also referred to as sympathizer to revolutionaries cause. Many police officers have also been suspected of ‘leaking’ information to Hindustan Times about the investigation in the case. Suspicion had been on HT staff for hosting Bhagat Singh &Dutt in Delhi.
On 13th May in a police raid on Saharnpur house, police recovered three negatives and some photographs of Bhagat Singh &Dutt, which were identified by Ramnath photographer in identification parade held later. CID reports records the publication of these photographs in ‘Bandematram’, of Lahore on 12th April issue, though these were being sold in Lahore from 11th April. According to CID reports photographs may have been printed on 10th April but the CID records also confirm the Hindustan Times had published ‘excellent photographs’ and statement of HSRA earlier.
FIR of the incident was filed by Lala Hans Raj Saheb, duty constable Karampur under section 3&4 of ‘Explosives Act 1908’ against Bhagat Singh & Dutt. Kishan singh, father of Bhagat Singh was allowed to meet him on 3rd May, 1929 only, when it was known that Kultar Singh, ten year old brother of Bhagat Singh and fifth class student was also arrested by police. Bhagat Singh was not in favour of defence, however Asaf Ali represented B.K.Dutt, Bhagat Singh fought his own case, in consultation with Asaf Ali. The trial started on 7th May 1929. The famous statement by Bhagat Singh &Dutt, was read in Sessions court on 6th June 1929.This historic statement was drafted by Bhagat Singh, whose language only was polished by Asaf Ali. Some portions of the statement were expunged from records by the judge on 9th June. The judgment was delivered on 12th June 1929, convicting them both and sentencing them to ‘transportation for life’. An appeal was filed against this judgment in Delhi High Court. Justice E Ford and Justice Addison dismissed the appeal no. 748 on 13th January, 1930 and upheld the sentence. However the judges acknowledged Bhagat Singh as ‘Sincere revolutionary’ in their judgment.
Bhagat Singh and Dutt were sent to Mianwali and Lahore jail respectively on 15th June 1929. Bhagat Singh &Dutt both began their hunger strike for the facilities they enjoyed in Delhi jail. Later when Lahore Conspiracy case proceedings began from 10th July, 1929, Bhagat Singh was also shifted to Lahore jail to be with other accused. He was brought on stretcher, being on hunger strike, since 25 days. Other accused of Lahore conspiracy case also joined hunger strike from 13th July, which later resulted in the martyrdom of Jatin Das on 13th September. Bhagat Singh was sentenced to death in Lahore conspiracy case on 7th October, 1930. Appeals up to Privy Council were exhausted by the end of February, 1931. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were executed on 23rd March 1931 at Lahore central jail.
B.K.Dutt lived in Patna after release and he died in a Delhi hospital in 1965.
*The author is Professor in Jawaharlal Nehru University and has edited five books on Bhagat Singh in Hindi and English, including his complete documents.
Profesor, Centre of Indian Languages (SLL&CS)