Shaheed Bhagat Singh the revolutionary terrorist or just freedom fighter


bhagat singh

Jagtar Singh

Chandigarh, May 1: It was nothing but amusing when the issue of Shaheed-e-Azam  Bhagat Singh being described as revolutionary terrorist was raked up in Parliament by patriot Bharatiya Janata Party MP Anurag  Thakur with Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani joining the debate.

In the Rajya Sabha, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien instructed the government  to remove such references to Shaheed Bhagat Singh from the history book concerned. But perhaps they knew not what they were talking about. They had come across this reference in a history book by Prof Bipan Chandra, one of the most eminent historians but none of them had perhaps read any of the revolutionary writings  associated with the person about whom they were talking. These people try to ignore Bhagat Singh the revolutionary thinker as this philosophy does not suit both the Saffron and the Gandhian brigades.

London based eminent Punjabi writer  Amarjit Chandan was the first person who dug out Bhagat Singh’s one of the most known writing “Why I am an Athiest” and he was associated with Prof Bipan Chandra at that time. This original writing was subsequently traced from the papers of Gopi Chand Bhargav from the Nehru Museum and Library.

According to Chandan the term "Revolutionary terrorism" has been used in Marxist classics by Plekhanov, Trotsky and Lenin et al. Baba Gurmukh Singh and Harjap Singh, the two Ghadrites,  in their letter written from Kabul and published in Kirti (Feb 1930) also used the term "revolutionary terrorism".

Two writings from the revolutionary era of Shaheed Bhagat Singh are very significant in this regards. ‘The Philosophy of the Bomb’ by Bhagwati Charan Vohra in response to Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Cult of the Bomb’  makes the position of the revolutionaries very clear along with the use of the term revolutionary terrorism.

“As the youth will get more and more saturated with the psychology of revolution, it will come to have clearer realisation of national bondage, this insatiable desire for freedom, till, in their righteous anger, the infuriated youth will begin to kill the oppressors. Thus has terrorism been born in the country. It is a phase, a necessary, an inevitable phase of revolution and revolution is not complete without terrorism. This thesis can be supported by an analysis of any and every revolutionary in history. Terrorism instils fear in the hearts of the oppressors, it brings hopes of revenge and redemption to the oppressed masses, it gives courage and self-confidence to the wavering, it shatters the spell of the superiority of the ruling class and raises the status of the subject race in the eyes of the world, because it is the most convincing proof of a nation’s hunger for freedom. Here in India, as in other countries in the past, terrorism will develop into revolution and the revolution into independence, social, political and economic”.

This approach might not suit any of the ruling dispensation but then this is from where the term revolutionary terrorist has been derived in the Indian context.

Reference to the manifesto of the Hindustan  Socialist Republican Army  of which  Bhagat Singh was among the most prominent leaders again is relevant in the context of the term revolutionary terrorist.

The manifesto of HSRA states, “The official terrorism is surely to be met by counter terrorism. A spirit of utter helplessness pervades every strata of our society and terrorism is an effective means of restoring the proper spirits in the society without which progress will be difficult. Moreover, the  English masters and their hired lackeys can never be allowed to do whatever they like, uninterrupted, unmodested. Every possible difficulty and resistance must be thrown in their way. Terrorism has an international bearing also, because the ardent enemies of England are at one drawn towards India through terrorism and revolutionary demonstrations, and the revolutionary party has deliberately abstained itself from entering into this terroristic campaign at the present movement even at the greatest of provocations in the form of outrages committed on their sisters  and mothers by the agents of a foreign government, simply the party is waiting to deliver the final blow. But when expediency will demand it, the party will unhesitatingly  enter into a desperate campaign of terrorism, when the life of every official and individual who will be helping the foreign rulers in any way will be made intolerable, be he Indian or European, high or low. But even then the party will never forget that terrorism is not the object, and they will try incessantly to organise a band of selfless and devoted workers who will devote their best energies towards the social and political emancipation of their country”.

The basic issue is the space and time in which these terms were relevant. That might not be so in the context of the present use of the term terrorism. Now the term is assopciated with what is known a Jehadi terrorism. In Punjab it was Sikh terrorism. In Central India, it is now Maoist terrorism. This term is part of the revolutionary philosophy and in case of revolutionaries like Shaheed Bhagat Singh, this has to be understood in that context.

But then more important than raising such controversies is following the philosophy and ideals of Shaheed Bhagat Singh in letter and spirit. The ruling elites never brought out the real Bhagat Singh who was a revolutionary thinker and not some gun-wielding young romanticist. His ideals do not suit the ruling elite. Even Punjab does not have Bhagat Singh Chair in any of its universities.

Nothing can be more ironic than the fact that the sedition law that was framed by the British rulers continues to be in operation even after 68 years of freedom. Would the very people who raked up the controversy of the term “revolutionary terrorist” try to apply this law of sedition retrospectively to Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his associates  and see the outcome? Here lies the challenge.


Jagtar Singh


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