The Bhagat Singh story
Unveiling the martyr
Aditi Tandon

(L to R)Jaidev Kapoor, Shiv Verma and Surinder Pandey, Bhagat Singh’s friends, who were convicted in the Lahore Conspiracy Case
(L to R)Jaidev Kapoor, Shiv Verma and Surinder Pandey, Bhagat Singh’s friends, who were convicted in the Lahore Conspiracy Case

Somewhere in an obscure mansion at Saketri village, located in the foothills of lower Shivaliks, Bhagat Singh’s life is being visited all over again. From the martyr’s voracious interest in the ideology and trials of Gharadites to the mighty spirit behind his death wish, the minutest detail of his life is being reconstructed.

At the heart of the exercise is a grand old man, eager to bring to the surface unknown aspects about the life, trial and martyrdom of Bhagat and his comrades. "Bhagat can’t be understood in isolation with his friends. His life was woven around the comrades at the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association/Army (HSRA). It was to honour Bhagat’s love for his friends that his mother Vidya Vati had disallowed the erection of the martyr’s statue at Khatkar Kalan, their ancestral village," says 77-year-old Malwinderjit Singh Waraich, a criminal lawyer, who has been commissioned by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to author the biography of Bhagat Singh. Under way, the book will be released at Khatkar Kalan (Nawashahr) on Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary, September 28, this year.

The uniqueness of Waraich’s work lies in the authenticity of its source. He is editing the statements of 457 witnesses from the manuscript that belonged to Sukhdev. At several places in this 700-page document fished out from the National Archives, Delhi, Sukhdev has written 300 remarks, commenting (correcting, denying or concurring) on the statements made by witnesses.

In one such rare comment written on the side of the statement made by Jaigopal, who was supposed to identify Scott on the scheduled day for Scott’s killing, Sukhdev explains the circumstances which led to the murder of Saunders instead of Scott. Sukhdevcomments in this context are most authoritative because he was the party’s Punjab unit in charge and the brain behind the plan. That’s why he, despite being a non-participant in the murder, was sentenced to death, Waraich says.

Sukhdev has written the following comments on Jai Gopal’s statement: "Bhagat Singh was to fire first.M (Rajguru) was sent only to guard Bhagat Singh. Panditji (Chandrasekhar Azad) was to guard these both. While escaping BS (Bhagat Singh) remaarked that the sahib is not Scott. So he turned towards Panditji to tell him go.Meanwhile M fired while he should not have. He never recognised Scott. Then BS ((Bhagat Singh) was duty-bound to fire the wrong victim. Thus happened the murder of Mr Saunders.’’

Sukhdev’s manuscripts now in possession of Waraich also throw light on the history of Bhagat Singh’s favourite hat. Invoice of this hat was produced in the court by PW 319 Jagannath Agarwal, owner of the store from where the hat was bought. The invoice shows the hat was an Italian make.

The documents further detail other important aspect of the Saunders murder case. Till now, it has been commonly believed that the shot which Rajguru fired hit Saunders in the head. But the postmortem of Saunders, contained in the prosecution witness accounts, shows no head injury. It shows that Rajguru’s shot hit Saunders in the chest and caused no serious damage except breaking the rib.

Further, till the arrest of Bhagat in the Assembly bomb drop case, the police was never sure of the identity of Saunder’’s killers because the bullet recovered from the victim’s body had not matched with any firearm available with the police.

"It was the recovery of the pistol Bhagat used in the Assembly bomb drop that linked the police to Bhagat’s involvement in Saunders murder," says Waraich. Records show that this particular ballistic examination was conducted in England. The ballistic expert, Mr Churchill, was later summoned from England to testify in the court – a record that features in the documents.

Accounts indicate that the last meeting between the martyrs and their families never actually took place. When the families came to see their sons for the last time on March 23, 1931, the jail authorities prevented Bhagat’s grandfather Arjan Singh from meeting him, saying he was second degree relation. So Bhagat’s entire family walked out in protest and so did the families of Rajguru and Sukhdev. Rajguru’s mother had come all the way from Pune to meet her son for the last time.

On March 23, 1931, when the jailor at Lahore Central Jail asked Bhagat what his last wish was, Bhagat said he wanted to have a meal cooked by Bebe. Bhagat had given this name to Bogha, who used to clean his cell. But when Bhagat asked the jailor for a meal cooked by Bebe, the jailor ordered someone to get a meal cooked by his mother because Bebe, in Punjab, means mother. It’s then that Bhagat tells the jailor that he wants Bogha to make him the last meal.