Friday, 1 April 2016
Code Red-Zia-Us-Salam-The Hindu
As different ideological groups continue to bicker over Bhagat Singh’s legacy, noted scholar and author Chaman Lal puts the martyr’s message in perspective
To the common man Chaman Lal seems inseparable from a study of Bhagat Singh, the great revolutionary who preferred to be executed than write letters for clemency. So much so that not many realise that for long Lal was Chairman, Centre of Indian Languages, at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies and research and writing on Bhagat Singh are merely his passion. Yet no writing about Bhagat Singh is complete without the mention of Lal. Indeed away from the known facts about Bhagat Singh, Lal is a treasure trove. For instance, once he revealed that Bhagat Singh, a tall, handsome man, loved movies. He hailed from an Arya Samaji background which did little to stop him from being an atheist later in his life. As we remember the revolutionary on 23 March, the day he was executed by the British, Lal took few questions from The Hindu.
After seeking to ‘appropriate’ Bhagat Singh, one sees visible hostility towards the great revolutionary by the Right Wing forces. How do you look at this change?
The Right Wing needed Bhagat Singh or an icon to win over people who hold these heroes in high esteem. However, once they are in power, they change colour when people demand honouring the ideas of Bhagat Singh and like. Moreover, as the revolutionary’s ideological position against communalism and narrow sectarian thinking gets asserted through activists, the Right Wing(ers) reveal their true colours.
In the light of the ABVP attempt to disrupt your lecture in Delhi University, do you think the youngsters who were protesting against your talk even have an idea of what Bhagat Singh stood for?
No, they were so brainwashed and filled with blind hatred that they were not ready to listen to any reason. They were invited to join and listen, then put any number of questions, comments. They were not prepared for that. When the actual letter of Bhagat Singh addressed to his father at leaving his house for the country was being read, they were shouting and heckling. Neither they knew anything about Bhagat Singh nor did they wish to know. They had no respect for the martyr.
Isn’t it ironical that the man who stood against religion is now being made a victim by zealots of Hindutva?
No, it is not ironical. In fact, it is natural. Since Bhagat Singh exposed the cruelties in the name of religion, being committed by all kinds of religious zealots, his ideas are now taken to task by Hindutva zealots as was earlier done by Khalistani zealots. Simranjit Singh Maan, IPS calls Bhagat Singh as murderer of his professional ancestor Saunders and not a martyr. So now Hindutva zealots are going bit further by trying to disrupt programmes to celebrate the revolutionary!
In recent times, there has been a concerted attempt to project Bhagat Singh in a different light. For instance, misinforming people that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were executed on Valentine’s Day. How does one counter such disinformation campaign?
This has been a standard Goebblian philosophy adopted by his true followers in Hindutva Lies Factory. To speak a falsehood hundred times to make it look ‘true’! It has been going on in the social media since few years now. To damn Valentine day they manufactured this lie to make young people feel ‘guilty’ in celebrating love and friendship on this day when three martyrs were ‘condemned’ or announced for execution. They avoid saying ‘executed’ now, as 23rd March is too well known a day, but say the punishment was announced this day, whereas judgement was delivered on 7th October 1930.
Is it correct to say that Bhagat Singh was essentially a Marxist by his ideology?
Of course, he was, which is clear from his writings and practical conduct in life. His ‘Jail Notebook’ is full of quotations from Marxist classics. His involved study of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky etc. shows his ideological preference and development. His court statements, writings like ‘Letter to Young Political Workers’, reading Lenin minutes before leaving for gallows, his explanation of the meaning of ‘Inquilab’ in court, all clearly indicate his ideological position. In fact newspapers reports of 1929-31 identify him as ‘Red’ as earlier Marx was referred in his contemporary newspapers!
After Mahatma Gandhi’s meeting with Lord Irwin, it was hoped that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru would be saved from execution. Yet it did not turn out this way. As an authority on Bhagat Singh, could you tell us what exactly transpired in the meeting and later leading to the execution on March 23, 1931?
There was tremendous pressure on Mahatma Gandhi to make clemency for three revolutionaries a condition in Gandhi-Irwin talks. Nehru-Subhas and more were pressing for it inside Congress party, but Mahatma Gandhi while pleading for leniency to Viceroy Irwin in this matter, was not inclined to make it a condition. On the other hand, Bhagat Singh himself was insistent to get executed to awaken Indian masses from slumber! Mahatma Gandhi failed to stand on his own principle of being against capital punishment in this case, as he did not assert his opposition to three executions on his principled stand. He did suggest Irwin for leniency, nothing more.
A word on Central Jail in Lahore where Bhagat Singh was executed. How have they preserved his memory?
The execution site and jail was demolished to built Shadman residential colony and Shadman Chowk is believed to be the gallows’ site. Before demolition Pakistan's first official photographer late F E Chaudhary, who happened to be Christian photographed the site in black and white camera. Incidentally, the first official photographer of Pakistan was Christian and the first official national anthem poet was Jammu’s Hindu Jagan Nath Azad! Civil groups in Pakistan are fighting to rename Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk, despite being beaten up many times by Islamic Jehadists! They succeeded as well as a Government-appointed committee, inclusive of Faiz’s daughter Salima Hashmi recommended the change of name and officer Mengal notified it too! Jehadists went to court and got a stay. However, Mengal on transfer to Faislabad declared Bhagat Singh birth house in Chak no.105, Lyallpur Bange and village primary school of Bhagat Singh as student, as heritage sites and he sanctioned Rs.8 crores rupees for their renovation. Incidentally for the first time since the birth of Bhagat Singh in this house, a festival Rang De Basanti is being organised in this house to celebrate the revolutionary martyr. Perhaps his birth anniversary in September may even be celebrated with more zeal!
Finally, could you please throw some light on the ten new letters of Bhagat Singh about which you have talked about in your new book?
It is interesting that Bhagat Singh’s written documents keep emerging even after more than 80 years of his execution. Supreme Court of India held an exhibition during Bhagat Singh birth centenary in its exhibition hall ‘The Trial of Bhagat Singh’. In this exhibition, these ten letters of correspondence of Bhagat Singh with British jail officials or judges were on display. From these letters it emerged that Bhagat Singh had third hunger strike of more than two weeks in jail. Only two hunger strikes of 114+15 days were known earlier. This third unknown hunger strike made Bhagat Singh’s total period of hunger strikes in little less than two years jail to nearly five months! Perhaps more than the total period of even Mahatma Gandhi fasts!
My present Urdu book is actually a translation of my earlier Hindi book of the same title published by Publication Division in 2007, Bhagat Singh’s birth centenary year. This book includes all available writings of Bhagat Singh till now. These ten new letters published are now included in Urdu edition of book. Not only that in 2013-14, I found a lost letter of Bhagat Singh also, which was referred by Bhagat Singh himself in subsequent letter as my ‘last lost letter’, in reference to trial of Harikishan Talwar, executed after Bhagat Singh on 9th June 1931. Harikishan had shot Punjab Governor in Punjab University Lahore convocation. He was the son of Raisahib Gurdas Ram Talwar of Pakhtunva and brother of Bhagat Ram Talwar, who helped Netaji Subhas escape from Kabul. This letter has also been included in the Urdu book, thus making it most updated and complete book of Bhagat Singh’s writings.