Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bhagat Singh’s Last Petition

Yesterday was Comrade Bhagat Singh’s death anniversary, an apt time to point you to his last petition written to the governor of Punjab before he was executed.

Bhagat Singh’s trial had created a furore. So much so that the British Government had to promulgate an ordinance which dispensed with the need for a defence counsel, defence witnesses and even the presence of the accused during the trial. To quote that brave crusader, Shri Rahul Gandhi, on another ordinance, this rendered the trial to be “complete nonsense” and little more than a farce. It was recently described by the Supreme Court as “contrary to the fundamental doctrine of criminal jurisprudence" because there was no opportunity for the accused to even defend themselves.

In spite of this obvious injustice (the technical term for it is, I believe, a British sense of fair play), Singh refused to ask for any sort of clemency or concession. In fact, the tone of his final letter—this is after he had been sentenced to death—is a cocky mixture of defiance and sarcasm. He mocks the British Government by actually requesting to be shot dead as behoves a man who has been held guilty of waging war against the government. The last line in his petition reads:

“We request and hope that you will very kindly order the military department to send its detachment to perform our execution.

Notice the “kindly order”. I mean, wow. This man is on death row and he’s not above requesting for a kind order to shoot him dead.

The only time bitterness creeps in is when he’s discussing the activities of the Congress. Gandhi, who was in discussions with the British at the time (which would eventually lead to what would be called the Gandhi-Irwin Pact), comes in for criticism for doing nothing to help “even the homeless, friendless and penniless of female workers who are alleged to be belonging to the vanguard and whom the leaders consider to be enemies of their utopian non-violent cult (ouch!)  which has already become a thing of the past”.

And, of course, let me highlight parts of the letter in which Bhagat Singh strives to point out the fact that his vision for India is that of a ”Socialist Republic” since it’s amazing and bewildering how comrade Bhagat Singh of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association has become a right-wing hero, of all things:

Let us declare that the state of war does exist and shall exist so long as the Indian toiling masses and the natural resources are being exploited by a handful of parasites. They may be purely British Capitalist or mixed British and Indian or even purely Indian. They may be carrying on their insidious exploitation through mixed or even on purely Indian bureaucratic apparatus. All these things make no difference...But that war shall be incessantly waged without taking into consideration the petty (illegible) and the meaningless ethical ideologies. It shall be waged ever with new vigour, greater audacity and unflinching determination till the Socialist Republic is established and the present social order is completely replaced by a new social order, based on social prosperity and thus every sort of exploitation is put an end to and the humanity is ushered into the era of genuine and permanent peace. 

In case this is not strong enough, please also note that Bhagat Singh sent this telegram to the Third International while in prison:

On Lenin Day we send hearty greetings to all who are doing something for carrying forward the ideas of the great Lenin. We wish success to the great experiment Russia is carrying out. We join our voice to that of the international working class movement. The proletariat will win. Capitalism will be defeated. Death to Imperialism. 

Of course, the fact that there is an organisation called the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena which takes up solidly Leninist causes such as protesting against the shortening of the duration of the Amarnath Yatra would have surely warmed the cockles of Singh’s heart were he alive. As will the fact that Narendra “Hindu Nationalist” Modi invokes his memory without having the faintest idea of what he died for.

This corruption of Bhagat Singh’s ideals does not stop at Socialism but extends even into his personal faith (or the lack of it). Singh was an avowed atheist and his pamphlet Why I am an Atheist, written a few months before he was murdered, is a crisp read which ends with a guarantee that he will remain a non-believer till the day he dies.

“One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “When your last days come, you will begin to believe.” I said, “No, dear sir, Never shall it happen. I consider it to be an act of degradation and demoralisation. For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray.”

By all accounts, he lived up to his promise. And ever since he seriously entered politics he had given up even the external vestiges of his original Sikh faith. He didn’t wear a turban or sport facial hair. Yet, so many stylised drawings of Singh today have him both wearing a dastaar as well with a beard. It’s like modern India is uncomfortable with the idea of an irreligious man, so it’s trying so hard to make Singh into something he was not; a rather unfortunate state of affairs. You might not agree with Bhagat Singh’s irreligiosity, his Socialism or any of his the other ideals that he died for, but given the extreme bravery and sacrifice that he displayed, the least you can do is to not distort his life.

First published on NewsYaps

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