off the shelf

Understanding Bhagat Singh
V. N. Datta

Bhagat Singh: Why I am an Atheist
Introduction by Bipan Chandra.
Pages 92. Rs 195.
The Fragrance of Freedom: Writings of Bhagat Singh
Pages 228. Rs 595.
Bhagat Singh: Making of a Revolutionary
Pages 348. Rs 495.
Bhagat Singh: A Biogranhy
by Jitendra Nath Sanyal.
Pages 136. Rs 295.
Books edited by K.C. Yadav and Babar Singh and published by Hope India.

On the 100th birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh, which is being celebrated in the country this year, a number of books are being published to perpetuate and honour his memory. It is heartening indeed that K.C. Yadav, a reputed historian on Haryana history, with the assistance of Bhagat Singh’s nephew, Babbar Singh, has brought out these four studies. Bipan Chandra’s introduction to the volume is scintillating and lucid.

Bhagat Singh’s work, Why I am an Atheist, is remarkable indeed that a youth of barely 23 could write such a revelatory composition of his intellectual evolution from his experience of a profound religiosity to complete agnosticism. To this end Bhagat Singh made his journey in quite a spirited manner. He wrote his essay Why I am an Atheist in the Central Jail, a few days before he was to be executed on March 31, 1931. The essay was handed over to his father, Kishan Singh, after his death. It was published in The People on September 27, 1931.

Bhagat Singh confesses that he was not studious, and that his reading was desultory, but very discriminating. Whatever he read, he assimilated with care, reflected on it, and drew his conclusions from it. He recognised the potentiality of religion as a source of arousing the spirit of patriotism, the task which Sachindranath Sanyal, the author of Bandi Jevan, had undertaken.

It is clear from Bhagat Singh’s essay that he turned into a confirmed atheist after reading Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. But he tells us that it was none too easy for him to be a non-believer, as he was often torn by serious conflicts. He was subjected to untold harassment by the police. Lying in prison, he could find consolation in prayers and meditation. However, the pulls of rationality saved him from falling into the pit of self-delusion. He decided to stand on his own, depended on no one, not even on God whom he called ‘artificial crutches’.

Bhagat Singh greatly valued criticism and the spirit of self-examination. He thought that nobody was infallible, not even Mahatma Gandhi who was followed blindly. He was attracted neither by the Hindu notion of rebirth nor the Muslim promise of a paradise. As a redist, his eyes were fixed on the liberation of the poor from the fetters of exploitation and oppression. In other words, his religion was liberty, his God was Socialism, and his slogan was Inquilab Zindabad.

Though the editors have included in the volume the extracts on Bhagat Singh and his ideology from the writings and speeches of political leaders and the national press, the exclusion of the Congress Resolution on Bhagat Singh at Karachi (1931) and Jinnah’s defence of Bhagat Singh in the Central Assembly is baffling.

The Fragrance of Freedom is a collection of the principal writings of Bhagat Singh except the last three party manifestoes, which bear the imprint of his revision. This is a handy volume of hearing Bhagat Singh’s own voice and knowing his personality. In Section 3, Bhagat Singh presents the pen-portraits of some of the prominent revolutionaries who had died for the love of their country.

Originally published in Kirti (March 1928), his account of Madan Lal Dhingra and his execution of Sir Curzon Willie, broadly speaking, is amazingly accurate. He is absolutely right that it was Veer Savarkar who had inspired Dhingra to do the deed. He also gives an extract of Dhingra’s statement that he had made before he was hanged, and which Winston Churchill was to describe as one of the finest ever made in patriotic literature.

In another article published in Chand (November 1928), Bhagat Singh draws a vivid and sensitive picture of the revolutionary activities of Sufi Amba Prasad, Ajit Singh, Lajpat Rai and Ram Bhaj Dutt in the Agrarian movement launched against Sir Danziel Ibbetan’s policy of discriminating against the peasantry. During the Agrarian disturbances, ‘Pagri sambhal o Jatta’, a popular song, was on the lips of almost every peasant in the Punjab. In another article, Bhagat Singh pays an eloquent tribute to the sacrifices of Bhai Balmukund Chibber who was involved in the Delhi conspiracy case, and was hanged on May 11, 1915. Bhai Balmukund was the first cousin of the firebrand revolutionary, Bhai Permanand.

Bhagat Singh: Making of a Revolution is an extremely valuable collection of illuminating articles written by some of the leading intellectuals and public men, including Ajay Ghosh, Shiva Verma, Yash Pal and Sohan Singh Josh. The whole volume serves as an intellectual fare providing a first-class material for understanding Bhagat Singh’s ideology and multifaceted personality.

Ajay Ghosh was a co-accused in the Lahore conspiracy case who later became general secretary of the Communist Party. He gives an authentic account of the last days of Bhagat Singh’s interest in Socialism, Ghosh wrote that it would be an exaggeration to say that Bhagat Singh became a Marxist, though he began to stress the need of armed action as an integral part of mass movement. He laments that to save Bhagat Singh could not be made one of the conditions of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact.

Dilating on his long association with Bhagat Singh, Sohan Singh Josh provides a detailed account of Bhagat Singh’s ideology, and the various influences that had led to its formations. Contrary to Ajay Ghosh’s views, Sohan Singh Josh thinks that Bhagat Singh was a full-fledged Communist committed to the orthodox ideals of Marxism.

The final volume is a reprint of Jitendra Nath Sanyal’s biography of Bhagat Singh published first in 1931. The British Government had banned this book and threw the author into jail. This work has a contemporary ring.

These four elegantly and carefully produced volumes offer a rich reading material for understanding the ideology, sacrifice and personality of a great patriot Bhagat Singh who faced the gallows with a smile on his face for the love of his country.