Bhagat Singh is one of India's greatest freedom fighters and folk heros. Most people know him for his daring defiance of the British colonial raj and his martyrdom at the young age of twenty-three. But more than that he was a revolutionaly socialist and one of India's early Marxist thinkers who was deeply influenced by the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. More than anybody else, Bhagat Singh's name has been utilized by people of all political shades for their own political objectives and little has been said about his revolutionary ideas and his vision of India.
Bhagat Singh was born in 1907 in Lyallpur district of Punjab (now in Pakistan). He was the nephew of Ajit Singh, leader of the 1907 Kisan Movement. He came from a family of patriots. One of the first events in his early life that made a deep impression on him was the execution of Kartar Singh Sarabha in 1915. He spent his early years in Lahore.
The sudden withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation movement by Gandhi in February 1922 disillusioned a lot of patriotic youth with the politics of the Congress Party. They turned to revolutionary activity. The events in India were unfolding at a very fast pace and provided a background against which Bhagat Singh's politics crystallized. In 1925 he was for a brief period at Kanpur where he wrote for Pratap Press. On his return to Lahore a warrant for his arrest was issued and he went underground for five months and wrote for a daily Vir Arjun in Delhi. At Lahore he and Sukhdev organized study circles and carried out revolutionary propaganda. He also contributed to Kirti, the publication of the Kirti Kisan Party and wrote for various Urdu and Punjabi newspapers. In his articles he called on the youth to take up cudgels against British colonizers.
By 1926 Bhagat Singh was beginning to move away from individual acts of heroism to mass action. Naujawan Bharat Sabha was formed in March 1926 and Bhagat Singh was its secretary and a principal organizer. He now turned to Marxism and came to believe that only popular broad based mass movements could lead to a successful revolution. The Sabha was to carry out political work among the youth, peasants and workers. Many branches were opened in villages where he delivered political lectures with the help of magic lantern slides. Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev also organized the Lahore students union for open legal work among the students.
Bhagat Singh was vehementaly against communalism. At a 1928 conference of Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Bhagat Singh and his comrades openly opposed the suggestion that youth belonging to religious, communal organizations be permitted to become the member of the organization. Religion was one's private concern and communalism was an enemy to be fought, argued Bhagat Singh. Significantly two of the six rules drafted by Naujawan Bharat Sabha were:
To have nothing to do with communal bodies or other parties with communal ideas.
To create the spirit of general toleration among the public considring religion as a matter of personal belief of man and to act upon it fully.
Bhagat Singh revered Lala Lajpat Rai as great leader. But he would not even spare him, when Lajpat
Rai turned to communal politics. He then launched a political-ideological campaign against him.
Because Lajpat Rai was respected leader he would not publicly use harsh words but he refered Lajpat
Rai as a "Lost Leader".
In 1928 he came in contact with young revolutionaries Chandrashekhar Azad, Bejoy Kumar Sinha,
Shiv Varma, Jaidev Kapur, Bhagwati Charan Vohra and Sukhdev and in September of that year they
met in Delhi to consolidate the Kirti Kisan Party in Punjab and Hindustan Republican Association in
U.P. into one revolutionary organization, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HRSA).
The objective of HRSA was to not only free India from the British but to change it into a socialist
republic. "This association stands for revolution in India in order to liberate her from foreign domination
by means of organised armed rebellion," declared the manifesto of HRSA. Critical of Gandhi for calling Bhagat Singh - 1918
off the Non-Cooperation movement and his methods on non-violence, the HRSA manifesto declared:
"Revolution is a phenomenon which nature loves and without which there can be no progress either in nature or in human affairs. Revolution is certainly not unthinking, brutal campaign of murder and incendiarism; it is not a few bombs thrown here and a few shots fired there; neither it is a movement to destroy all ramnants of civilisation and blow to pieces time honoured principles of justice and equity. Revolution is not a philosophy of despair or a creed of desperadoes. Revolution may be anti-God but is certainly not anti-Man. It is a vital, living force which is indicative of eternal conflict between the old and the new, between life and living death, between light and darkness. There is no concord, no symphony, no rhythm without revolution."
A socialist revolution was HRSA's battle cry. When the HSRA office was shifted to Agra, he immediately set up a library and urged members to read and discuss socialism and other revolutionary ideas. The atmosphere of reading and deep thinking pervaded the ranks of HSRA leadership, who were intellectuals of high order. Chandrasekhar Azad, who knew little english would not accept any idea till it was explained to him. He followed every major turn in the field of ideas through discussions.
The death of Lala Lajpat Rai from a brutal lathi-charge during an anti-Simon Commission demonstration changed the course of HRSA. On December 17, 1928, Bhgat Singh, Rajguru and Azad avenged the death of Lajpat Rai by killing J.P. Saunders, the British police officer who had led the lathi charge.
On April 8, 1929, Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutt threw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly "to make the deaf hear" as their leaflet described the reason for their act. As intended, nobody was hurt by the explosion. The bomb was thrown to protest the repressive Public Safety Bill and Trade Disputes Bill and the arrest of 31 labour leaders in March 1929. Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutt let themselves be arrested, even when they could have escaped, to use their court appearances as a forum for revolutionary propaganda.
Every day they entered the court and raised the slogans
"Down down with imperialism"
"Long live the proletariat"
During the trial in court they displayed exemplary courage
and became legendary figures. Bhagat Singh was admired throughout the country for his heroism.
Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev were sentenced to death. There were countrywide protest but
despite that three of India's precious sons were executed in 23rd march 1931. There were hartals,
processions, mournings throughout the country.
Bhagat Singh's Jail Notebook
Bhagat Singh, a great reader and thinker maintained a note book of 404 pages and kept notes &
quotes from the books he read. Here are few of these.