Sunday, 3 July 2016

A short publication history of Bhagat Singh's Jail Notebook
Chaman Lal ( recently retired from the Centre for Indian Languages, School of Languages and Cultural Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
A biographer of Bhagat Singh and a chronicler of his works, writes about the publication history of Bhagat Singh’s “Jail Notebook”. This article is being published, when reports have talked about the possible release of the Notebook “for the first time” by the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. 
Almost anyone who is a serious admirer of the revolutionary Bhagat Singh would know about his “Jail Notebook” today; yet before 1981, hardly anyone other than Bhagat Singh’s closest family members knew about its existence. During the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Hindustan Socialist Republican Army activists Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in 1981, Singh’s brother Kulbir Singh allowed a microfilm of the book to be made by the National Archives of India (NAI) and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML). He did so on the condition that the Notebook should not be published. The Jail Notebook was put on exhibition at the National Archives of India along with other documents of the revolutionary movements. Both NAI and NMML then kept the Notebook for reference and consultation among their records.
Soon, a copy of the Notebook was provided to “Gurukul” in Inderprastha, Delhi by Kulbir Singh’s younger son Abhey Sandhu. This was the time when L V Mitrokhin, the Russian scholar on Indian history, visited Kulbir Singh many times and obtained either the whole or parts of Notebook, took it to Moscow and wrote about its significance. L V Mitrokhin’s writing on Bhagat Singh’s notebook soon enabled other Indian scholars to pay attention to it. This author had for the first time seen the Notebook in the NMML in 1984, took extensive notes from it, and started writing about it in newspapers and journals.
The Jail Notebook was part of a bagful of documents, which Bhagat Singh had handed over to Kumari Lajjawati, the secretary of the Bhagat Singh defence committee and later principal of a college in Jalandhar. She was instructed by Bhagat Singh to hand over this bag to his comrade Bejoy Kumar Sinha on his release from jail. Sinha was transported for life in the Lahore Conspiracy case and was released in 1938, when the Indian National Congress led governments came to power in many provinces. Lajjawati showed that bag to Lala Feroze Chand, editor of The People, and who himself was a committed socialist. Lala Feroze Chand published a few documents from those papers, including an abridged form of the “Letter To Young Political Workers” written in 2nd Februay 1931, the “Regarding Line of Defence In Hari Kishan's Case[1]” and “Why I am an Atheist” as part of the 27th September 1931 issue to commemorate Bhagat Singh’s first birth anniversary since his execution.
The last mentioned essay was lost during the Partition and many websites today are still carrying re-translated version of this essay from other Indian languages. I had reproduced The People’s first printed version of this essay in my latest book-Understanding Bhagat Singh which was released recently. The People in an editorial note had ascribed copyrights of the essay to S. Kishan Singh, father of Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh’s writings were being published from Bhagat Singh’s life time in many Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and English papers, which were put into a volume for the first time by Virender Sandhu, the niece of Bhagat Singh and daughter of S. Kultar Singh, who was most close to Bhagat Singh’s heart. It was Virender Sandhu, who authored the most authoritative biography of Bhagat Singh’s whole family in 1968 in Hindi. Later Jagmohan Singh, another nephew of Bhagat Singh and son of Bibi Amar Kaur collected more documents and put them a volume in Punjabi titled Bhagat Singh ate Unna de saathiyhan de dastavez (Bhagat Singh and his comrades’ documents).
First Printed Version
Few years later, the monthly Indian Book Chronicle edited by Bhupinder Hooja in Jaipur started serialising the Jail Notebook of Bhagat Singh in 1992. Hooja had received its copy from his elder brother G B Kumar Hooja who had been the vice chancellor of Gurukul Kangri Haridwar (which must have obtained the Notebook’s copy from Gurukul Inderprastha). Bhupender Hooja, having reassured about the authenticity of the Notebook, then employed his resources with a lot of labour in annotating the sources of Bhagat Singh’s mentioned books, writers and quotations. The result was the release of the first printed edition of the Jail Notebook in 1994, which was released in the Jaipur Raj Bhavan by the then governor D P Chattopadhyaya[2]. The Jail Notebook got some good reviews in newspapers, but could not reach a mass readership as its publisher lacked a network of distribution and the book itself lacked enough aesthetic appeal. Yet its Hindi translation and other translations in Punjabi and other languages appeared after a few years, unfortunately without acknowledgment of Hooja’s work as the original editor and annotator.
After I joined the Jawaharlal Nehru University faculty in 2005, I convinced Leftword publications (based in New Delhi) to bring out a new edition of the Notebook and with Bhupinder Hooja’s permission, its new edition was brought out by Leftword in 2007. This was during the birth centenary of Bhagat Singh. The Notebook was supplemented with other essays (articles by Bhagat Singh and also articles on Bhagat  Singh such as by EV Ramasamy “Periyar”, and an introduction written by myself). Sudhanva Deshpande, the publisher of the book further improved the annotations, but the main credit of the book remained with Hooja.
The Marathi[3], (two) Bengali[4] and Urdu[5] translations of versions of the Notebook were published in 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2010 respectively. A scanned and printed edition of the Notebook, edited by Babar Singh (the son of Kulbir Singh) and K C Yadav was also published during the centenary year (priced at Rs 999) by Hope India Publications, Gurgaon.
 Abhey Sandhu, the younger son of Kulbir Singh, during the birth centenary year of Bhagat Singh, also got the Notebook published by both the Punjab and the Haryana government; in a scanned form by the former and in Punjabi and Hindi translations by the latter. These publications were not priced and were published by the public relations departments of both the governments for free distribution. When I was invited to address the Bhagat Singh youth awardees this year on 28th March at Mohali, I was pleasantly surprised to know that the awardees of the Punjab government were being gifted with a copy of the Jail Notebook. The government had pre-empted what I sought to suggest as part of my speech and I deeply appreciate this gesture.
I remember that there are multiple editions of the revolutionary Ram Prasad Bismil’s autobiography in Hindi and I was pleasantly surprised to see Swami Agnivesh bringing out the edition of that autobiography at just Rs 5 per copy and which his organisation distributed to school students almost free of cost. The Notebook is now part of the Government of India’s publication division;  as Shaheed Bhagat Singh:Dastavezon ke Aiene Men, released by the veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar in presence of Abhey Sandhu and Kiranjit Sandhu, two nephews of Bhagat Singh, on 19th December 2007, an anniversary of the martyrdom of the revolutionaries Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqualla Khan.
I understand that some more editions of the Notebook have also been brought out by other publishers and individuals, including by Abhey Sandhu himself. There is no harm in multiple editions of such inspiring books. It is only when someone makes the false claim that the “Jail Notebook is being published for the first time” that one should rightfully take umbrage.

[1] Hari Kishan was tried and executed by the British for shooting at the Punjab governor Geoffrey De Montmorrency at a convocation ceremony of the Punjab University at Lahore on 23rd December 1930.
[2] Hooja acknowledged three of us who had written on Bhagat Singh’s works before – Kamlesh Mohan from Chandigarh, Shiv Verma, the communist leader who was a comrade of Bhagat Singh from his HSRA days and me. All three of us had written on Bhagat Singh’s ideology and his works.
[3] The Marathi version was a translated form of my Hindi book – Bhagat Singh ke Sampooran Dastavez (2004).
[4] One Bengali version was translated from the Leftword edition of the Notebook.
[5] Some parts of the Notebook were published in Urdu in the Urdu version of my book – Bhagat Singh ke Syaasi Dastavez (2010)

Since then more editions of Jail Notebook have come out. One in Kannada this very year-2016, one more by Yadwinder Sandhu, translated in Marathi as well. And the latest one edited by Harish Jain from Chandigarh, but none gave credit to late Sh. Bhupender Hooja except translated ones from mine compiled work by Leftword, in Hindi, Kannada and Bengali, where the credit, even agreement was signed with Bhupender Hooja, who is no more among us now. whose 1994 first publication of Jail Diary is pioneering work. 
  The original copy of Jail Notebook is still with Yadwinder Sandhu, grandson of Sh. Kulbir Singh, younger brother of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and grandfather of Abhitej Sandhu. Microfilmed copies are with National Archives and NMML and Supreme Court Musuem too has its digital copy.

The People’s Hero: Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh

The People’s Hero: Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh

Disturbed to life by the atrocious massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, disillusioned by the national political leaders who recoiled the promising Non-Cooperation Movement in 1922, alarmed by the rising religious divisions and reactionary rhetoric in the mainstream politics, and motivated by the Bolshevik Revolution of workers and peasants of Russia of 1917, Bhagat Singh and his compatriots entered the political scene of India and became the icon of the aspirations of the people of India in no time. Their aim was to bring a revolution that would not only end the colonial British regime but would also lay the foundations of a system that shall combat all forms of injustices. It was for these crimes that Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were hanged by the rulers of British colonialism on 23rd of March, 1931, at Lahore Camp Jail. Bhagat Singh was only 23 years old at the time of his hanging.
The colonial administration made it no secret that their enmity lied more with the ideals of Bhagat Singh rather than Bhagat Singh himself. Justice Medilton, who transported Bhagat Singh and B. K. Dutt for life in the Assembly Bomb Case, testified to the danger that the ideas of Bhagat Singh posed to the system based on manifest injustice: “These persons would enter the court with the cries of ‘Long Live the Revolution’ and ‘Long Live the Proletariat’ which shows clearly shows what sort of political ideology they cherish. In order to put a check in propagating these ideas, I transport them for life.” One can well imagine that Bhagat Singh must have received the Medilton’s comment with a broad smile. Once, during a court hearing when Bhagat Singh started laughing while chatting with one of his comrades, he ironically replied to inquiry of the Magistrate about the reason behind the amusement: “Dear Magistrate, if you can’t tolerate my laughing at the moment, what will happen to you when I laugh even on the scaffold?”
Bhagat Singh started his political journey when new lines were emerging in the Indian polity. On one hand, the religious jargon was being introduced in the political rhetoric at a mass scale and seculars like Jinnah were getting sidelined. On the other hand, the revolutionary ideas of Lenin and Bolshevik Revolution were trickling into India. Bhagat Singh, like many others who were already disillusioned by Gandhi, was attracted towards experiment of workers and peasants of Russia.
With this ideological motivation, the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), which was formed by Ashfaqullah Khan and Mahavir Singh in around 1925, became the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) in 1928 primarily on the insistence of Bhagat Singh. Along with an express commitment towards socialism, the HSRA also proclaimed a broad internationalist vision of a World Order that would free humanity from the scourge of capitalism and imperialist wars. Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NBS) was founded in Lahore in 1926 as the open front of HSRA with object to expose reactionary politics and to promote religious harmony and secularism. In June 1928, Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev also organized a Lahore Students’ Union as auxiliary to NBS. The outlook of NBS was clearly popular. “Revolution by the masses and for the masses”, stated the Manifesto of the NBS. NBS made remarkable progress within a few months as its branches were organized all around India. It became so popular that it was banned by the British government in May of 1930.
In 1928, the all-White Simon Commission came to visit India in order to provide the further constitutional reforms. The Congress decided to boycott the Commission, and the HSRA decided to actively participate in the boycott demonstrations. One such demonstration, led by Lala Lajpat Rai was organized outside the Lahore Railway Station where the Commission was to arrive. Bhagat Singh and his compatriots were also a part of this protest. When the Police ordered baton-charge, the Superintendent of Police, J. A. Scott, targeted Lala Lajpat in particular who could not bear the severe injuries caused by the raining batons and died. The whole nation was infuriated at the death of Lala Lajpat.
HSRA decided to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. On December 17, 1928, Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekher Azad and Rajguru shot dead J. P. Saunders, a Police officer, mistaking him for Scott. Posters under-singed by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army appeared across Lahore the same night that stated that “we are sorry for shedding human blood but it becomes necessary to bathe the altar of revolution with blood.”
After the assassination of Saunders, Bhagat immediately escaped for Calcutta where he attended the first All India Conference of Workers’ and Peasants’ Parties and the Calcutta session of the Congress, where the Communist Party made an illustrious entry by demanding the Congress to accept the goal of complete independence (which did not happen).
This was a time when the Communist Party was taking its roots in India in general and in the working class movement in particular. Naturally, the British government became apprehensive and rounded 31 prominent Communist and labor leaders in the famous Meerut Conspiracy Case. Repressive measures, like the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill, were brought to the floor of Central Legislative Assembly that threatened the democratic rights of the citizens of India.
HSRA decided to take action against the onslaught of British government. On April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh and B. K. Dutt threw two bombs in the Assembly when Viceroy was supposed to enact the Trade Disputes Bill using his special powers against the will of the Assembly. These bombs were made especially for the occasion. As they were harmless and were not meant to kill anyone, no one was seriously injured. The bomb, as the leaflet thrown by Bhagat Singh in the name of HSRA, was “a loud voice to make the deaf hear”. Bhagat Singh and B. K. Dutt gave their arrests, as was pre- decided by the HSRA, so that they can use the trail in court to popularize the programme and ideology of the HSRA.
The struggle against British colonialism was taken to new scale in the court and in the jail. In the court room, the people of India met Bhagat Singh, the political thinker. In jail, the people of India witness the resilience of Bhagat Singh. The whole nation was awestruck by the hunger-strike that Bhagat Singh and his comrades managed to pull while protesting against the inhumane and discriminatory conditions meted out to the Indian political prisoners. This was a time, says Pattabhi Sitaramyya, official historian of the Congress, when “Bhagat Singh’s name was as widely known all over India and was as popular as Gandhi’s”. Bhagat Singh underwent a hunger-strike for more than 116 days, with one stretch of 97 days, despite the heavy and frequent torture inflicted by the Jail authorities. One of participants of the hunger-strike, Jatin Das, died on the 64th day of the strike.
As a political thinker, the jail years had a deep impact on the ideological development of Bhagat Singh. The presence of an impended trail, which was more of a propaganda forum for him, and an unending thirst for knowledge motivated Bhagat Singh to study hard. He read more than 144 books in jail and prepared extensive notes about his study in a prison diary. His thoughts matured with a serious study and he also criticized his own tactics. In a short message to students’ conference at Lahore, Bhagat Singh advised: “Comrades, Today, we can not ask the youth to take to pistols and bombs… the youth will have to spread to the far corners of the country. They have to awaken the crores of the slum-dwellers of industrial areas and villagers…” Writing about his revolutionary career, Bhagat Singh said: “Study” was the cry that reverberated in the corridors of my mind… the Romance of the violent methods alone which was so prominent amongst our predecessors, was replaced by serious ideas. No more mysticism, no more blind faith… use of force justifiable when resorted to as a matter of terrible necessity: non-violence as policy indispensable for all mass movements.”
When asked in court what he meant by revolution, Bhagat Singh famously replied: “A revolution does not necessarily involve sanguinary strife not is there any place in it for individual vendetta. It is not a bomb or pistol cult. By revolution we mean that the present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice, must be changed… By revolution we mean the ultimate establishment of the order of society… in which sovereignty of the proletariat should be recognized.”
After being awarded life imprisonment in the Assembly bomb case, Bhagat Singh was registered for what came to be known as the Second Lahore Conspiracy Case for the assassination of J. P. Saunders. A special tribunal was set-up for the trail of Bhagat Singh that was provided with the novel power of conducting an ex-parte trail. After what was termed by A. G. Noorani as “a farcical trail”, Bhagat Singh was sentenced to death.
Gandhi observed the injustices meted out to Bhagat Singh in jail and in the court rooms with a conspicuous silence. It was only after the death of Bhagat Singh that the Congress gave a statement, after much tension over wording, in “admiration of the bravery and sacrifice of the late Bhagat Singh and his comrades”. A. G. Noorani pointed out that Gandhi could have averted the death of Bhagat Singh during his talks with the Viceroy, Lord Irwin. Gandhi’s claims that he tried his best to persuade the Viceroy were found to be mere lies by the records that came to light four decades later.
Bhagat Singh, nevertheless, found a supporter in the mainstream politics and that was in Jinnah. Jinnah who was himself isolated by the encroachment of religion in politics at that time and considered it undesired rose in support of Bhagat Singh. In his incisive speech to the Constituent Assembly on September 12 and 14, 1929, Jinnah harshly condemned the criminal colonial rule and the Government’s actions against revolutionaries:
“The man who goes on hunger-strike has a soul. He is moved by the soul and he believes in the justice of his cause; he is not an ordinary criminal who is guilty of cold-blooded, sordid, wicked crime.
“What was he driving at? It is the system, this damnable system of Government, which is resented by the people.
“And the last words I wish to address the Government are, try and concentrate your mind on the root cause and the more you concentrate on the root cause, the less difficulties and inconveniences there will be for you to face, and thank Heaven that the money of the taxpayer will not be wasted in prosecuting men, nay citizens, who are fighting and struggling for the freedom of their country.”
In our part of the sub-continent, we conveniently forget the role played by non-Muslims in the struggle of liberation from the British colonialism. All non-Muslims are grouped in one category to be completely rejected by the rulers of Pakistan irrespective of their message and their history. The same fate met Bhagat Singh. That he was supported by Jinnah is a fact never mentioned in the corridors of power or in the text-books of Pakistan Studies. It is not surprising, though. Bhagat Singh, a symbol of resistance, could never be the hero of the government that is not based on the will of the people.
Although the times have changed, they do not appear to have changed a lot. The World, particularly Pakistan is still facing a number of problems that were essentially present in the times of Bhagat Singh as well. Hence, the legacy of Bhagat Singh remains with us in his uncompromising struggle against imperialism, unflinching resistance to communalism and caste oppression, unbending opposition to the bourgeois-landlord rule, and unswavering support for socialism as the best possible alternative before society.
Published in The Post (Vista) on Tuesday, March 25, 2008.