Wednesday, 11 October 2017
ਭਗਤ ਸਿੰਘ ਦੀ ਭੁੱਖ-ਹੜ੍ਹਤਾਲ ਦੇ ਹੱਕ 'ਚ ਕੀ ਬੋਲੇ ਜਿਨਾਹ?-Jinnah and Bhagat Singh
Jinnah and Bhagat Singh
Few years ago, it was difficult to imagine any connectivity between Jinnah and Bhagat Singh, despite having historic records. Only after A G Noorani came up with his now much acclaimed book-The Trial of Bhagat Singh in 1996 for the first time, in which he not only discussed the background of Central assembly debates, he reproduced Jinnah’s full speech delivered before and after Jatin Das martyrdom attained due to hunger strike in Lahore jail on 13th September 1929.
Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt had gone on indefinite hunger strike from 14th June 1929 itself, when both of them after being convicted in Delhi bomb case on 12th June at Delhi courts, were being shifted to Mianwali and Lahore jails in Punjab. They were provided with all facilities like getting newspapers and good diet during the trial at Delhi from 8th April 1929, the day they threw harmless bombs in Central Assembly, now called Parliament house, till 12th June-the day of their conviction. But after conviction and transfer order to shift them to jails in Punjab, all facilities were withdrawn and both during train journey to Punjab, decided to start hunger strike demanding-‘to be treated as political prisoners and for giving them books/newspapers and better diet.’ Bhagat Singh was taken to horrible Mianwali jail, while B K Dutt was kept in Lahore jail, but not with his other comrades of Lahore conspiracy case. It was only on 10th July 1929, when trial of Lahore Conspiracy case of Saunders killing began and Bhagat Singh was brought on stretcher in the court that other comrades came to know about hunger strike of Bhagat Singh and Dutt. Since due to trial of Lahore Conspiracy case, they were all put together in Lahore jail, all others including Jatin Das joined the hunger strike. Only Jatin Das had earlier experience of observing hunger strike in jails as political prisoner in Congress movements and he cautioned his other comrades to be careful while proceeding on indefinite hunger strike. He declared that he will not break his hunger strike even if others do. Once they collectively began hunger strike and that too in Lahore-the hub of political activities and media centre, it became national issue and was raised even in Central Assembly session at Shimla. The Tribune from Lahore published their full statement on 14th July, listing their demands. Bhagat Singh and Dutt wrote that during trial at Delhi, they were treated well, but after being shifted to Mianwali and Lahore jails, they were being treated like ordinary criminals. All hunger strikers were force feeded by jail authorities, but Jatin Das was very tough, since he had early experience in observing hunger strike, he would resist so much, that using brutal force, jail officials pumped milk into his lungs, which immediately worsened his condition. Jatin das was shifted to jail hospital, but his condition kept on deteriorating. Apart from jail doctors, outside doctors including Congress party leader Dr. Gopi Chand Bhargava was visiting them almost every day and they were trying to convince Jatin Das to take some liquid diet to prolong his life, but it was very difficult to get Jatin Das agree to that. His younger brother Kiran Das was allowed to be with him, but he had no influence over Jatin Das. At the insistence of Bhagat Singh, to whom Jatin Das loved and respected, he took mild liquid diet once, but he was annoyed with Bhagat Singh for pressuring him to take some liquid.
The matter came up for discussion on 12th September 1929 in Central assembly. Assembly session that day had started with the bill from Home Member Sir James Crerar, who brought the amendment that in absence of accused in some case, trial could proceed without their presence! Home member was questioned by Jinnah - ‘Do you wish to prosecute them or persecute them? This was in context of Bhagat Singh and comrades not attending court for trial, as they were on hunger strike. Dewan Chaman Lall read Bhagat Singh/Dutt statement from 14h July 1929 Tribune issue. Jinnah intervened that day by saying-‘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.’ The session of assembly was being held in Shimla, the summer capital of British regime then. Tribune correspondent from Shimla reported that Jinnah created a profound impression on the house and he won applause after applause at arguing the case in excellent form. Jinnah referred to Punjab as being ‘a terrible place’!
Jinnah challenged law member of the assembly to starve himself a little to know the impact of hunger strike on human body by saying-‘it is not everybody who can go on starving himself to death. Try it for a little while and you will see’.
Jinnah began his speech on 12th September, while Jatin Das was alive, but concluded on 14th September, as on 13th September Jatin Das passed away and members refused to participate in discussion on that day. He put the British Government on mat by his brilliant exposure of British design-‘Don’t you think that, instead of trying to proceed with an iron hand and pursuing a policy of repression against your own subjects, it would be better if you realized the root cause of the resentment and of the struggle that the people are carrying on?
According to A.G. Noorani, Jinnah had high esteem for Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Jinnah also said that if this amendment was passed then the trial would be just ‘a travesty of justice’.
Jinnah was supported my Moti Lal Nehru, M R Jaykar, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai etc. Amendment was carried through by 55 votes against 47. Jinnah had voted against. Even in February 1929 speech in assembly, Jinnah had condoled the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, with whom he had cordial relations. Also he pleaded for the release of Sikh leaders jailed in connection with Sikh Gurdwara Act and opposed the detention of many nationalists like Vallabh Bhai Patel, Anne Besant, Ali Brothers, Hasrat Mohani etc.
Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were tried under the amended act and after a sham trial, were hanged on 23 March 1931, ‘A travesty of justice’, in the words of Jinnah.
*Chaman Lal is a retired Professor from JNU, New Delhi and is author of ‘Understanding Bhagat Singh’ and editor of Writings of Bhagat Singh.