Punjab can’t blame others for stellar role in freedom struggle getting phased out

Chandigarh, August 11: As the Saffron Brigade and the Narendra Modi government are trying to appropriate some part of the legacy of freedom struggle that till now was the monopoly of the Congress, it is Punjab that has made the maximum contribution that is getting phased out for which the Punjabis too must share the blame rather than perceiving some sort of conspiracy to belittle their role or crying victimisation.
This competition between the Congress and the BJP, rather between Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was at play in the Lok Sabha during 2-hour discussion on 75th anniversary of the Quit India movement. Quit India movement was one chapter of the freedom struggle and the discussion broadened to the freedom struggle. The irony of it that no representative from Punjab was given the time to participate in the discussion. The Business Advisory Committee decided that the party with a minimum six MPs would be allotted time. Akali Dal MP Prem Singh Chandumajra placed on the table his written speech highlighting Punjab’s role.
The participation in freedom struggle in Punjab has been irrespective of party affiliations- from Communists to Akalis to Congressites and the people at large. Shaheed Bhagat Singh is the North Star of the freedom struggle. The social realities in Colonial India took a new turn after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at Amritsar on April 13, 1919. Punjab was the last to become part of the British Empire and Punjab was the first state from where the freedom struggle started with Bhai Maharaj Singh as the first freedom fighter whose role is still to be recognised. He was arrested and transported to Singapore, then penal settlement of the British government where he died. His entire struggle has been documented by the British rulers.
The RSS and its affiliated organisation took no part in the freedom struggle and the Saffron Brigade is now trying to re-write history. Modi did not even refer to the Congress while speaking in the Lok Sabha. Quit India was a Congress Party call. The Saffron brigade has been projecting V D Savarkar as a great freedom fighter. His four mercy petitions written to the British India government from Andaman jail are now part of the record.
It is only the Akali Dal that has been referring to the contribution of Punjab to the freedom struggle but mainly in the context of the role of the Sikhs.
Interestingly, the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, the Sikh front of the Saffron Brigade, too has put up Sikhs’ contribution to the freedom struggle according to which out of 121 freedom fighters hanged, 93 were Sikhs and out of 2848 sentenced to life imprisonment, the Sikhs numbered 2147. The same figures are quoted by the Akali Dal.
There is, however, yet another indicator. According to Ram Singh Majitha in his book Hindustan Di Azadi Di Ladai Vich Punjab Part I, total number of freedom fighters from Punjab who were sentenced to Kalapani was 620. This is again not the final figure going by the author himself. This figure is based upon the number of people sentenced in various cases.
This figure is more than that of Bengalis who were sentenced to Cellular Jail at Andaman-the Kalapani. However, the names are missing.
Little research work has been done by the universities and other institutions on the freedom struggle. It was mainly the history department of Punjabi University under Dr Fauja Singh that compiled who is who of Punjabi freedom fighters but this volume is out of print.
Research continues on the role of Punjab in the freedom struggle but mainly at the individual level, without any institutional support.
Ghadar Party was among the first to plan armed uprising in Punjab. The Babbar Akalis too took to armed struggle. There have been mass struggles in this region against the British. The struggles launched by the Akali Dal were anti-imperialist in nature. Namdharis were also among the early freedom fighters.
Even in cases where names are available, pictures are to be collected. This also includes Namdharis and Babbar Akalis.
There is little record with the National Archives on the Punjabi freedom fighters. But then it is Punjab that has to reconstruct the record and submit to the Archives. The Punjab High Court in Lahore is among the major sources for this record.
In case the role of Punjabi freedom fighters is getting eclipsed at the national level, none else can be blamed as the state and the institutions here have failed to collect even basic information like the names of freedom fighters associated with various agitations. Much needs to be done and this can’t be done without involvement of institutions.
If nothing more, at least the research being done by the individuals should be coordinated.


Jagtar Singh


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