On 16 September, Saklatvala Hall, Southall, was packed to capacity in connection with the celebration, organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Indian martyr Bhagat Singh. There were speeches given and revolutionary songs sung on the occasion.
Hardev Dhillon, Vice President of the Indian Workers Association (IWA(GB)), gave his greetings to the rally and exhorted the audience to follow the ideals of Bhagat Singh and his comrades and work hard for the realisation of these ideals.
Dr Hardeep Singh, from the Sukhdev Memorial Committee, congratulated the CPGB-ML for marking the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh in the heartlands of imperialism, adding that 75 years after the execution of Bhagat Singh there had been little improvement in the condition of the labouring masses and the peasantry of India. It was therefore important, he said, that we should continue the propagation of Bhagat Singh’s message.
Giving a brief survey of their efforts to establish a trust for preserving the house of Sukhdev (a fellow revolutionary who was executed alongside Bhagat Singh in 1931), which was in an advanced state of dilapidation, Dr Singh stated that their committee did not receive any help from the government. All the same, he was happy to report that, with the help of friends from the IWA(GB) Southall Branch, Sukhdev’s house had been restored by 2004 and had since then become a site for regular visitors. At long last, on 15 May this year, the Punjab government took notice and participated in events honouring the memory of Sukhdev. But there is a need, he continued, for the original committee to be there and keep a watchful eye to make sure that the message of Bhagat Singh and his comrades concerning the need to end the exploitation of man by man continued to be heard loudly and clearly.
Harpal Brar, who chaired the meeting, stated that, although scores of revolutionaries had mounted the gallows cheerfully and made the ultimate sacrifice just as selflessly as Bhagat Singh did, Bhagat Singh was in a class of his own, for he thought ahead of others and saw things far more clearly than his fellow revolutionaries. He was a first-class thinker, who told the judges trying him that “the sword of revolution is sharpened on the whetstone of thought”. In addition, the phenomenon of Bhagat Singh owed no little to his spotlessly clean life, his lofty vision and his selfless heroism.
Bhagat Singh was an implacable fighter against imperialism, a protagonist of the proletariat, a committed Marxist and a proletarian internationalist. It is to him, more than to anyone else, that we owe in India the popularisation of three slogans: Long Live the Revolution (Inquilab Zindabad), Long Live the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and Down with Imperialism. These were not merely slogans, for each one of them carried a well thought out message and a vision of a better future.
On being asked by the trial judge as to the meaning of revolution, of which Bhagat Singh spoke so often, the latter replied that by revolution he meant the ending of the system of exploitation of one human being by another and one nation by another. He went on to say that he and his comrades’ struggle would continue until such time as the system of exploitation had been overthrown, regardless of whether the exploiters were alien or native, white or black.
Bhagat Singh was opposed to the mixing of religion and politics. In his view, religion was a private matter for the individual and it had no part to play in politics. When Lala Lajpat Rai, a well-known Congress politician, turned communal, Bhagat Singh produced a pamphlet whose cover carried a picture of Lajpat Rai and the following lines from Robert Browning’s poem, The Lost Leader, in which Browning castigated Wordsworth for deserting the ideals of the great French bourgeois revolution of the 18th century:
“Just for a handful of silver he left us,
“We shall march prospering, not through his presence
“Songs may inspire us, from his lyre
“Blot out his name, record one lost soul.”
And yet, ironically, it was to avenge the death of Lajpat Rai, who had succumbed to injuries inflicted on him by a baton charge of the British authorities, and thus save the honour of the country that Bhagat Singh and his comrades had killed British police officer Saunders. And it was for this murder that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Raj Guru, were eventually hanged.
Bhagat Singh was an atheist. Only weeks before his execution, a fellow prisoner attempted to persuade Bhagat Singh to pray. Bhagat Singh saw no reason to do so. Not only did he refuse to pray; he also wrote a very well-argued article explaining why he was an atheist. He had no belief in a supernatural being arranging and conducting this world. He was therefore of the view that it would be the worst kind of hypocrisy and cowardice on his part to turn to the crutches of religion and a belief in god just because he was soon to die.
Comrade Brar then went on to give a detailed account of Gandhi’s despicable role in the judicial murder of Bhagat Singh and his comrades.
Gandhi, had he wanted to save the lives of these revolutionaries, could have done so, such was his prestige and that of the Congress party. But he never tried. He was opposed to the revolutionaries, allegedly on the grounds that they used violent means. However, Gandhi’s doctrine of ‘non-violence’ was pretty selective – and entirely tilted in favour of the violence of the exploiting ruling classes and aimed at disarming the exploited masses.
Under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, reached in February 1931, thousands of prisoners who had been languishing in the dungeons of British colonialism in India were to be released and not charged with the offences committed by them during their participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement.
But two categories of people were not to be the beneficiaries of this pact. First, those who had used violence, and second, those who had refused to obey orders. The first exception took care of Bhagat Singh and his comrades and the second had the effect of punishing, with long prison sentences, the men from the Gharwali Rifles, who had refused orders to shoot at unarmed crowds in the city of Peshawar, in the North West Frontier Province.
Any reasonable person would have thought that Gandhi would be well pleased with the wonderful exercise in non-violence displayed by the men of the Gharwali Rifles. But no! Gandhi did not want these people to be excused because they had disobeyed government orders. Tomorrow, he said, in reply to a question from a French journalist, he would form the government and would not like it if the men refused orders. This simple incident exposes the hypocrisy of Gandhi’s ‘non-violence’, which was non-violence preached solely to the exploited masses suffering the worst possible violence at the hands of their exploiters.
The Indian ruling classes have, for 75 years, done their best to turn Bhagat Singh and his comrades into nonentities. They have failed utterly. It is to the credit of the Indian masses, the Indian proletariat and the Indian communists that the memory of these revolutionaries and their ideals has been preserved.
More than that, their names have become legends. There is not a village in India which does not have photographs of these great heroes. Wonderful revolutionary songs about their revolutionary deeds, their courage, their self-sacrificing heroism, their spotlessly clean lives, and their high ideals reverberate across the entire Indian subcontinent. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bhagat Singh, even the Indian ruling classes have been forced to join the celebration in a big way. Whatever their motivation, we welcome this development.
For our part, we shall continue, as hitherto, to cherish the memory of Bhagat Singh and his comrades, to propagate their message, and to redouble our efforts in working towards the realisation of the lofty ideals for which Bhagat Singh and his comrades gave their life.
Ashok Puri, on a visit to England, performed a one-act play, which was highly relevant to the proceedings, and the speeches were also interspersed with songs and poems. Surinder Cheema and Dr Hardeep Singh sang several songs and Godfrey Cremer recited his well-known poem on Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh.
The meeting finished with a very friendly social evening, during which the audience were able to exchange views with one another and were served with food and drinks.
To learn more about Bhagat Singh’s life and ideals, we recommend the series of articles published in Lalkar and available to read online at www.lalkar.org.