Saturday, August 2, 2008

Revolutionary to the core
Atul Khanna

Durga Das Khanna worked in close coordination with martyrs Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev
Durga Das Khanna worked in close coordination with martyrs Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev.

A revolutionary has no caste, and his only religion is his motherland. Durga Das Khanna, a close associate of Bhagat Singh, who later went on to become the chairman of the Punjab Vidhan Parishad, was no exception. Long after his death, his life continues to be a tale of determination to succeed in his endeavours, a story of the unfolding of a free India and an example worth emulating.

Today, exactly a century after Khanna was born in an orthodox Hindu family into the business of money-lending on July 30, 1908, his motto of putting country before self, his plain-speaking and his commitment to being upright under all circumstances continue to be a source of inspiration, and lives on in mind and spirit as a guiding force.

Not one to be attracted by money and with no interest in his family business, Khanna’s calling lay elsewhere—in his fight for India and Independence. Soon after completing schooling, his first "invisible influence" in favour of the freedom movement came from his college Principal, ED Lucas. After that there was no looking back as his involvement with the revolution and the revolutionaries.

A voracious reader, Khanna’s first meeting with Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev, in fact, happened because of books he had borrowed from a friend. Though the first meeting ended on a note of divergent views about Mahatma Gandhi and his slogan for non-violence, Khanna, in subsequent meetings, came to be greatly influenced by Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev and was taken into the fold of the revolutionary organisation, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.

Working in close coordination with the duo and party to a number of "conspiracies’ against the British, Khanna was active in students’ circle in Panjab University as well. He organised students’ conferences and was catalytic in the creation of students’ organisations, which became the spearhead of the revolutionary movement in Punjab.

During his long career in politics, Khanna played an active role and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Lala Lajpat Rai, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and many more.

He was sentenced to death along with Ranbir of Milap and Chaman Lal Mardan in what was then known as the governor shooting case.

During the Quit India Movement in 1942-45, he was the only "top security prisoner" in Punjab, spent three years in jail and was an active participant in the movement.

Despite a determined soldier of the struggle for Independence, which took him in and out of jail, Khanna was disturbed by the Partition in 1947. Later, terrorism in Punjab came as a second shock. However, the final blow came with the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

A week later Khanna, then 76, died of respiratory failure. In his memory, his son, Brij Khanna, established the Durga Das Foundation, a charitable institution, which runs a state-of-art school, Strawberry Fields, which combines tradition of values with the modernity of technology.

The foundation is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation with interests in education, culture and community development, governed by a board comprising trustees drawn from various spheres.