At last there is a Prime Minister who has publicly acknowledged the great sacrifice made by Bhagat Singh and his two associates, Rajguru and Sukhdev for the freedom of our country. By going to Husainiwala in the Ferozepur district of Punjab on 23 March, the martyrdom day of the three revolutionaries, Narendra Modi recalled the contribution of the bravehearts and also recognised the role played by lakhs of Indians who helped in achieving our Independence. His visit has left many wondering as to what prevented other Prime Ministers from doing something similar.
Bhagat Singh shall remain the most notable of our freedom fighters. If an opinion poll were to be held today to name the tallest hero of the freedom struggle, there would be no eyebrows raised if he comes up right on top. While remembering him with utmost gratitude and reverence, we also, in a way, pay homage to so many others who died unsung, but in their own way put pressure on the British to leave our country. Bhagat Singh’s hanging has often been described as the biggest miscarriage of justice during the British rule. He was barely 23 years old when he went to the gallows, accompanied by his two friends. He was not afraid to die and told his mother during their last meeting some days earlier that she should not come to collect his dead body, but should send somebody else instead, as he would not want anyone to see her moist eyes.
Bhagat Singh was a revolutionary to the core and was greatly influenced by Marx and Engels and also by the anarchists. He had turned an atheist very early in life, although at one stage he did adhere to principles of the Arya Samaj. He could have pleaded for clemency, but he chose to die to show it to the rulers that they could eliminate revolutionaries but they could not eliminate ideas. The idea of India’s freedom was very dear to the young and no amount of force or aggression by the foreign rulers could stop them from achieving their goal. Inspired by revolutionary poets such as Ram Prasad Bismil, Bhagat Singh chose his own path, which was not similar to the one pursued by Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress. He could have killed all those present, but instead of a real bomb, he hurled a mock bomb at the National Assembly, then located in the old Secretariat in Delhi, along with his friend, Batukeshwar Dutt to draw attention to the demands of his party.
Surprisingly, the old Secretariat, where the Delhi Assembly meets regularly, has no statue of Bhagat Singh and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal would do very well if he were to get the needful done. The statue would mark his contribution and remind posterity of his supreme sacrifice. It would be an apt tribute to him. Bhagat Singh had also participated in the shooting of J.P. Saunders in Lahore, mistaking him for another officer who was in the forefront of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of innocent Indians in Amritsar. It was Bhagat Singh’s Ghadar Party associate Udham Singh, who finally took the revenge for the massacre by shooting down Michael O’Dwyer, former Governor of Punjab, in London in March 1940. Udham Singh, like Bhagat Singh nine years earlier, was hanged by the British after a brief trial. That was the fervour and dedication of the revolutionaries, who worked in close quarters with each other and were inspired by each other’s sacrifices and dedication. This tribe also included the likes of Chandrashekhar Azad.
Prime Minister Modi must, to begin with, ensure that those responsible for the erection of Bhagat Singh’s statue, which had no resemblance to the freedom icon in the Parliament House complex during his centenary year in 2007, should be held accountable and punished. He had been clean shaven for the last three years of his life and the known portrait of his shows him wearing a hat while the statue at Parliament House had portrayed him in a turban and had closer resemblance to Swami Vivekanand, also an iconic figure of our history but not to the martyr.
Giani Zail Singh, as the Punjab Chief Minister in the mid 1970s, had recognised Bhagat Singh’s role by according the status of Punjab Mata to his mother, who was then alive. However, he was not a Punjab figure alone but a national hero. His last words were: “Dil se niklegi na mar kar bhi watan ki ulfat, meri mitti se bhi khushbu-e-watan ayegi (Even after my death, my love for my motherland will not diminish from my heart. Even my ashes will smell of her greatness and love).”
Bhagat Singh symbolised the revolutionary stream of our freedom struggle. The stream which has largely remained unrecognised. These were brave men who gave their lives and did not seek anything from anyone. They shall live for ever in our hearts. Between us.