Hindi belt Ziya Us Salam

Appropriation of an icon

Bhagat Singh.   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Some poor, really poor, students are attempting to reinvent history. The Hindutva brigade, now acutely aware of the total absence of its ideological guru, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, from the freedom struggle, is on a mission to borrow, acquiesce, accommodate. And ultimately present a national hero as one of its own. The effort started a couple of years ago when Sardar Patel, whose aversion to all things RSS, is well documented, was sought to be accommodated by the BJP in the run-up to General Elections with Narendra Modi talking of building a colossal statue of the Home Minister in Gujarat. What was sought to be swept under the carpet is the fact that Patel questioned the nationalistic credentials of the RSS and as the Home Minister had even banned the organisation.

A similar effort was made to ‘accommodate’ Bhagat Singh when the Vajpayee Government was in power. Attempts were made then by Right Wing outfits to project Bhagat Singh in saffron hues, highlighting his Arya Samaji roots. The Vajpayee Government was voted out of power in 2004 and Bhagat Singh as a Hindutva hero was put in cold storage, only to be revived in 2014 when it became clear that the next Government at the Centre would be formed by the BJP. Suddenly, posters were put up in crowded streets of Old Delhi, near Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia – they left JNU then – that called him “desh bhakt”, “rashtra bhakt”, even “virat purush”. The terms were suspiciously close to those used by Right Wing activists for their political heroes. Then came attempts via newspapers, news channels, radio, and earlier this year, through What’s App, to “remind the nation” that “we” had “forgotten the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru” even as we celebrate Valentine’s Day! Excuse me, Valentine’s Day and Bhagat Singh? Yes, that was the canard first used in 2014, and subsequently repeated each February. This year I got a text message from a neighbour whose Right Wing affiliation cannot be disputed. The Hindutva proponents’ hostility to the concept of the Valentine’s Day is well known. So, in a sharp move, the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru was “shifted” from March 23 to February 14! Neat sleight? Not quite. For we all have read in history books that the three of them were hanged by the British Government in 1931 on March 23, not Valentine’s Day. This association of Bhagat Singh with Valentine’s Day is an innovation not supported by history. Oh! Didn’t we say these guys are poor, really poor students of history?

For those who came in late, Bipan Chandra in a lucid introduction to “Bhagat Singh: Why I am An Atheist” wrote, “Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurants and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilize for their own politics and ideologies, the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chander Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh himself wrote in the book, “My atheism is not of so recent origin. I had stopped believing in God when I was an obscure young man….I was rather a boy with a very shy nature, who had certain pessimistic dispositions about the future career and in those days I was not a perfect atheist. My grandfather under whose influence I was brought up is an orthodox Arya Samajist. An Arya Samajist is anything but an atheist….Later on I began to live with my father. He is a liberal in as much as the orthodoxy of religions is concerned. It was through his teachings that I aspired to devote my life to the cause of freedom. In the Non-Cooperation days I joined the National College. It was there that I began to think liberally and discuss and criticise all the religious problems, even about God….”

Thus began the transformation of Bhagat Singh. Later, when waiting for the noose to be tightened around his neck, he wrote, “In God man can find very strong consolation and support…I know the moment the rope is fitted round my neck and rafters removed, from under my feet. That will be the final moment. That will be the last moment. I, or to be more precise, my soul, as interpreted in the metaphysical terminology, shall be finished there. Nothing further….God was brought into imaginary existence to encourage man to face boldly all the trying circumstance, to meet all dangers manfully and to check and restrain his outbursts in prosperity and affluence.”

This was as far from the Right Wing which stands for 33 crore gods and goddesses as any man could get. And pretty close to what young Karl Marx wrote in 1844, “Religion is the general theory of that world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in a popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm….Religious distress is at the same the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world.”

This should keep Bhagat Singh safe from “usurpation” by believers. If not, here is a reminder of what M.S. Golwalkar, the revered ideologue of the RSS, wrote in “Bunch of Thoughts” when he decided to express himself on the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru: “There is no doubt that such men who embrace martyrdom are great heroes and their philosophy too is pre-eminently manly. They are far above the average men who meekly submit to fate and remain in fear and inaction. All the same, such persons are not held up as ideals in our society. We have not looked upon their martyrdom as the highest point of greatness to which men should aspire. For, after all, they failed in achieving their ideal, and failure implies some fatal flaw in them.” This from a man who shared ideological affinity with V.D. Savarkar who filed repeated mercy petitions to the British, even promising to work for the perpetuation of the British Empire!

Such poor students of history! Such innovation. Such a travesty!

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