Bhagat Singh an early Marxist, says Panikkar

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K.N. Panikkar
K.N. Panikkar

Special Correspondent

The martyr envisioned a system devoid of exploitation

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Historian K.N. Panikkar said that Bhagat Singh was one of the early Marxists of India who tried to chart out a revolutionary path for the country and that his contributions to nurture a democratic, socialist and secular tradition has considerable contemporary relevance.

He was delivering the Bhagat Singh Birth Centenary Public Lecture, organised by the Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) in association with the Department of History, University of Kerala, here on Saturday.

Prof. Panikkar said Bhagat Singh’s engagement with intellectual and political undertaking remained largely untold. Bhagat Singh’s ideological world and political perspectives were shaped by his deep study of radical literature, which enabled him to develop an egalitarian view of society.

From this literature, he imbibed ideas of democracy, socialism and rationalism which eventually became the guiding principles of his political and social philosophy, Prof. Panikkar said.

Against exploitation

He pointed out that Bhagat Singh had envisioned a system in which there was “no exploitation of man by man and nation by nation.” He realised that a qualitative change in the existing social relations was necessary for ushering in such a condition. Although an admirer of Gandhi for the manner in which he managed to mobilise the masses, he did not believe that Gandhian philosophy and programme would lead to a fundamental transformation of society. Gandhian politics, he observed, would only result in the replacement of one set of exploiters by another. The alternative was found in socialism which he incorporated into the ideology and programme of the movements with which he was associated. What distinguished him from the earlier revolutionaries was this ideological factor.


The transformation that Bhagat Singh underwent, which was primarily due to his exposure to Marxism, was not widely known during his lifetime. There is a criticism, however, that his understanding and application of Marxism was not complete or adequately scientific. The criticism is mainly based on the assumption that Bhagat Singh preferred the youth and not the class for political mobilisation. But the class was central to his political analysis. About two months before his martyrdom, he wrote that the “real revolutionary armies are in the villages and factories, the peasantry and the labourers.” Further, his view of politics was based on class struggle: “… the struggle in India would continue so long as a handful of exploiters go on exploiting the labour of the common people for their own ends. It matters little whether these exploiters are purely British capitalists, or British and Indians in alliance, or even purely Indians.”

Prof. Panikkar said that Bhagat Singh was opposed to communal politics from which he tried to distance the organisations he was associated with. The Naujawan Bharat Sabha, for instance, did not entertain those belonging to religious-communal organisations as its members. The rules of the sabha drafted by Bhagat Singh emphasised its opposition to communalism as well as its resolve to create the spirit of general tolerance among the public. In other words, Bhagat Singh was a champion of secularism which he appears to have held as central to his political practice, as any nexus between religion and politics was likely to endanger the pluralistic ethos of Indian society. Emancipation from the bondage of religion and superstition was, in his reckoning, crucial for revolutionary practice and therefore he tried to instil rational thinking in the minds of all his comrades. Given these ideas of Bhagat Singh, is it paradoxical that the Hindu communal forces are trying to appropriate him as their ideologue, he said.

The former Foreign Secretary K.P.S. Menon chaired the function. P.J. Cherian, director, KCHR, welcomed the gathering and B. Sobhanan, Head of the Department of History, University of Kerala, proposed a vote of thanks.




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