Sunday, May 23, 2004

Hindi review
Making of a martyr
Harbans Singh

Bhagat Singh Ke Sampooran Dasatvej
edited By Chaman Lal. Adhaar Prakashan, Panchkula. Rs. 495. Pages 478.

THE book is a remarkable collection of intimate letters, opinions, articles and expositions on subjects as wide ranging as anarchy and socialism, language and atheism, love and suicide and, of course, patriotism and martyrdom. At the end of it all one is left marvelling at the hectic pace at which this legend among Indian revolutionaries lived his short but eventful life.

Coming from a family that was known for its revolutionary zeal, Bhagat Singh had at 17 written an article on the need to promote Punjabi language and its desired script. He was just about 21 when he was first arrested for his involvement in the revolutionary movement and barely 22 when he threw a bomb in the Assembly to make "the deaf listen". By 24, he had kissed the gallows and became a symbol of sacrifice for all time. During his two years in jail not only did Bhagat Singh read and write extensively but he also maintained a diary of all that went on in his mind.

These documents, apart from providing an insight into the mind of the revolutionary, help in reconstructing the times in which he lived, the influences on the young mind and his responses. To young readers, it will come as a revelation to know that Bhagat Singh’s grandfather, an Arya Samaji, had performed his yagna-o-paveet (sacred thread) ceremony. At that time, the old man had declared that the boy was being offered for service to the motherland. He reminds his father of this in a letter that he wrote when he ran away from home to escape marriage. In spite of their revolutionary instincts, most revolutionaries were as human as the rest of us, as he confesses in a letter to Batukeshwar Dutt’s sister.

One wishes that the editor had given the background to the letter written to his comrade-in-arms Sukhdev. It is obvious that love was the cause of discord between the two. Even though Bhagat Singh had had the experience of being in love, yet he was not prepared to judge others by the strict yardstick of Sukhdev. Love can be a powerful source of inspiration and strength, as in the case of the Italian revolutionary Mazzani, he points out. But why should a streak of romanticism in someone who was not afraid to embrace death surprise anyone? Perhaps it is only the romantics and the lovers who are ever prepared to make the supreme sacrifice.

In modern times much is made of Bhagat Singh’s opposition to Congress ideology. To get the correct picture one needs to carefully go through his article analysing the views of Subhas Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru, juxtaposing them against Sadhu Waswani’s call of "back to the Vedas". Impressed as he is by Subhas Chandra Bose, he does not fail to point out that Bose is an idealist who believes that India has a spiritual message to give the world and seeks glory in India’s past. His views seem to be in harmony with Nehru who called upon the youth to adopt the revolutionary zeal not only in politics but also in economics and religion. This, perhaps, also explains his opposition to the politics of Gandhi, rooted as it was in tradition and religious symbols.

The Cult of the Bomb, a pamphlet, reveals his annoyance with Gandhi’s resolution condemning the bomb attack the Viceroy’s train in 1929. Along with a series of arguments against Gandhi’s non-violent movement, the pamphlet claims that such attempts have failed in the past. For example, it says, the Congress movement in Bardoli in Gujarat failed to get justice for the farmers. However, this was written from the prison cell at a time when Bhagat Singh felt the need to somehow make the world listen. In an earlier article, Bhagat Singh had himself extolled the virtue of Satyagraha.

The book is a valuable source for researchers and historians. It also helps a reader to reconstruct the making of a martyr.