Bhagat Singh was one of the most prominent faces of Indian freedom struggle. He was a revolutionary ahead of his times. By Revolution he meant that The present order of things, which is based on manifest injustice must change.
Bhagat Singh studied the European revolutionary movement and was greatly attracted towards socialism. He realised that the overthrow of British rule should be accompanied by the socialist reconstruction of Indian society and for this political power must be seized by the workers.
Though portrayed as a terrorist by the British, Sardar Bhagat Singh was critical of the individual terrorism which was prevalent among the revolutionary youth of his time and called for mass mobilization. Bhagat Singh gave a new direction to the revolutionary movement in India. He differed from his predecessors on two counts. Firstly, he accepted the logic of atheism and publicly proclaimed it. Secondly, until then revolutionaries had no conception of post-independence society. Their immediate goal was destruction of the British Empire and they had no inclination to work out a political alternative. Bhagat Singh, because of his interest in studying and his keen sense of history gave revolutionary movement a goal beyond the elimination of the British. A clarity of vision and determination of purpose distinguished Bhagat Singh from other leaders of the National Movement. He emerged as the only alternative to Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, especially for the youth.
Bhagat Singh was born into a Sandhu Jat family to Sardar Kishan Singh Sandhu (Father) and Vidyavati (Mother) in village Banga in Layalpur district of Punjab (now in Pakistan).. Bhagat means “devotee”. He belonged to a patriotic Jatt Sikh family, Family atmosphere had a great effect on the mind of young Bhagat Singh and patriotism flowed in his veins from childhood. His uncles, Ajit Singh and Swaran Singh, as well as his father were members of the Ghadar Party, led by Kartar Singh Sarabha Grewal and Har Dayal. Ajit Singh was forced to flee to Persia because of pending cases against him while Swaran Singh was hanged on December 19, 1927 for his involvement in the Kakori train robbery of 1925. His grandfather, Arjun Singh, was a follower of Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Hindu reformist movement, Arya Samaj, which would carry a heavy influence on Singh.
Unlike many Sikhs of his age, Singh did not attend Khalsa High School in Lahore, because his grandfather did not approve of the school officials’ loyalism to the British authorities. Instead, his father enrolled him in Dayanand Anglo Vedic ( DAV) High School, an Arya Samajist school. While studying at the local D.A.V. School in Lahore, in 1916, young Bhagat Singh came into contact with some well-known political leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai and Ras Bihari Bose. Punjab was politically very charged in those days. In 1919, when Jalianwala Bagh massacre took place, Bhagat Singh was only 12 years old. The massacre deeply disturbed him. On the next day of massacre Bhagat Singh went to Jalianwala Bagh and collected soil from the spot and kept it as a memento for the rest of his life. The massacre strengthened his resolve to drive British out from India.
At age 13, Singh began to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement. At this point he had openly defied the British and had followed Gandhi’s wishes by burning his government-school books and any British-imported clothing. Following Gandhi’s withdrawal of the movement after the violent murders of policemen by villagers from Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, Singh got dissattisfied with Gandhi’s nonviolence action. he joined the Young Revolutionary Movement and began advocating a violent movement against the British.
In 1923, Bhagat famously won an essay competition set by the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. This grabbed the attention of members of the Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan including its General Secretary Professor Bhim Sen Vidyalankar. At this age, he quoted famous Punjabi literature and discussed the Problems of the Punjab. He read a lot of poetry and literature which was written by Punjabi writers and his favourite poet was Allama Iqbal from Sialkot.
To continue his studies, Bhagat Singh joined the National College in Lahore, founded by Lala Lajpat Rai. At this college, which was a centre of revolutionary activities, he came into contact with revolutionaries such as Bhagwati Charan, Sukhdev and others.
To avoid early marriage, Bhagat Singh ran away from home and went to Kanpur. Here, he came into contact with a revolutionary named Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, and learnt his first lessons as revolutionary. On hearing that his grandmother was ill, Bhagat Singh returned home. He continued his revolutionary activities from his village. He went to Lahore and formed a union of revolutionaries by name ‘Naujavan Bharat Sabha'(“Youth Society of India”). He started spreading the message of revolution. In the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Singh and his fellow revolutionaries grew popular amongst the youth in Punjab. In 1928 he attended a meeting of revolutionaries in Delhi and He also joined the Hindustan Republican Association at the request of Professor Vidyalankar, which was then headed by Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqulla Khan. The manifesto of HRA says:
“The immediate object of the revolutionary party in the domain of politics is to establish a federal republic of the United States of India by an organized and armed revolution. The basic principle of this republic shall be universal suffrage and the abolition of all system, which makes the exploitation of man by man possible. In this republic the electors shall have the right to recall their representatives if so desired, otherwise the democracy shall be a mockery”. India could not think about such ideas even after sixty years of independence!
He wrote for and edited Urdu and Punjabi newspapers published from Amritsar.
In September 1928, a meeting of various revolutionaries from across India was called at Delhi under the banner of the Kirti Kissan Party. Bhagat Singh was the secretary of the meet. Its aim was to establish a republic in India by means of an armed revolution. The capture and hanging of the main HRA Leaders also allowed him to be quickly promoted to higher ranks in the party, along with his fellow revolutionary Sukhdev Thapar.
Lala Lajpat Rai’s death and the Saunders murder
In February 1928, a committee from England, called Simon Commission visited India. The purpose of its visit was to decide how much freedom and responsibility could be given to the people of India. But there was no Indian on the committee. This angered Indians and they decided to boycott Simon Commission. While protesting against Simon Commission in Lahore, Lala Lajpat Rai was brutally Lathicharged and later on succumbed to injuries. Bhagat Singh was determined to take revenge of Lajpat Rai’s death by shooting the British official responsible for the killing, Deputy Inspector General Scott. He joined with other revolutionaries, Shivaram Rajguru, Jai Gopal and Sukhdev Thapar, in a plot to kill the police chief, Scott. Jai Gopal was supposed to identify the chief and signal for Singh to shoot. However, in a case of mistaken identity, Gopal signalled Singh on the appearance of J. P. Saunders, a Deputy Superintendent of Police. Thus, Saunders, instead of Scott, was shot. Bhagat Singh had to flee from Lahore to escape death punishment.
Instead of finding the root cause of discontent of Indians, the British government took to more repressive measures. Under the Defense of India Act, it gave more power to the police to arrest persons to stop processions with suspicious movements and actions. The Act brought in the Central Legislative Assembly was defeated by one vote. Even then it was to be passed in the form of an ordinance in the “interest of the public.” Bhagat Singh who was in hiding all this while, volunteered to throw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly where the meeting to pass the ordinance was being held. It was a carefully laid out plot, not to cause death or injury but to draw the attention of the government, that the modes of its suppression could no more be tolerated. It was decided that Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt would court arrest after throwing the bomb.
On April 8, 1929 Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw bombs in the Central Assembly Hall while the Assembly was in session and shouted “Inquilab Zindabad!” (“Long Live the Revolution!”). This was followed by a shower of leaflets stating that it takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear. The bombs did not hurt anyone. After throwing the bombs, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt, deliberately courted arrest by refusing to run away from the scene. During his trial, Bhagat Singh refused to employ any defence counsel. He and Dutt were sentenced to ‘Transportation for Life’ for the bombing on June 12, 1929. Shortly after his arrest and trial for the Assembly bombing, the British came to know of his involvement in the murder of J. P. Saunders. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were charged with the murder. Bhagat Singh decided to use the court as a tool to publicize his cause for the independence of India. He admitted to the murder and made statements against the British rule during the trial. In a joint statement before the trial court, Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Dutt explained why they threw the
bombs in the Central Assembly. They said their purpose was not to harm anyone but to expose the dependent character of the Legislative assembly which was being paraded by the British as a Parliament create the belief that India was being democratically governed. The statement further says:
“ A radical change, therefore, is necessary and it is the duty of those who realize this to reorganize society on a socialistic basis. Unless this thing is done and exploitation of man by man and nation by nations is brought to an end, sufferings and carnage with which humanity is threatened cannot be prevented. All talk of ending war and ushering in an era of universal peace is undisguised hypocrisy”. In the statement they explained about their concept about revolution. They said that:
” By revolution, we mean the ultimate establishment of an order of the society which may not be threatened by such breakdown and in which the sovereignty of the proletariat should be recognized and a world federation should redeem humanity from the bondage of capitalism and the misery of imperial wars”
The case was ordered to be carried out without members of the HSRA present at the hearing. This created an uproar amongst Singh’s supporters as he could no longer publicise his views.
In jail, he went on hunger strike to protest the inhuman treatment of fellow-political prisoners by jail authorities. The aims in their strike were to ensure a decent standard of food for political prisoners, the availability of books and a daily newspaper, as well as better clothing and the supply of toilet necessities and other hygienic necessities. He also demanded that political prisoners should not be forced to do any labour or undignified work. During this hunger strike that lasted 63 days and ended with the British succumbing to his wishes, he gained much popularity among the common Indians. Before the strike his popularity was limited mainly to the Punjab region.
In 1930 July Bhagat Singh told some of his fellow comrades in jail said,
“ This is the highest award for patriotism and I am proud that I am going to get it. They think that by destroying my terrestrial body they will be safe in this country. They are wrong. They may kill me, but they cannot kill my ideas. They can crush my body, but they will not be able to crush my spirit. My ideas will haunt the British like a curse till they are forced to run away from here. But this is one side of the picture. The other side is equally bright. Bhagat Singh dead will be more dangerous to the British enslavers than Bhagat Singh alive. After I am hanged, the fragrances of my revolutionary ideas will permeate the atmosphere of this beautiful land of ours. It will intoxicate the youth and make him mad for freedom and revolution and that will bring the doom of the British imperialist nearer. This is my firm conviction. I am anxiously waiting for the day when I will receive the highest award for my services to the country and my love for my people”. Now this is the duty of the present day youth to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh by organizing revolutionary movement against neo imperialism and neo colonialism. In this context the three slogans rose by Bhagat Singh and his comrades Long live revolution, Long live proletariat and Down with imperialism -are still relevant.
Bhagat Singh also maintained the use of a diary, which he eventually made to fill 404 pages. In this diary he made numerous notes relating to the quotations and popular sayings of various people whose views he supported. Prominent in his diary were the views of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The comments in his diary led to an understanding of the philosophical thinking of Bhagat Singh. Before dying he also wrote a pamphlet entitled “Why I am an atheist, as he was being accused of vanity by not accepting God in the face of death”.
“one friend asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “During your last days you will begin to believe”. I said, No, dear Sir, it shall not be. I will think that to be an act of degradation and demoralization on my part. For selfish motives I am not going to pray.”
“The aim of life is no more to control the mind, but to develop it harmoniously; not to achieve salvation here after, but to make the best use of it here below; and not to realise truth, beauty and good only in contemplation, but also in the actual experience of daily life; social progress depends not upon the ennoblement of the few but on the enrichment of democracy; universal brotherhood can be achieved only when there is an equality of opportunity – of opportunity in the social, political and individual life.” — from Bhagat Singh’s prison diary, p. 124
On October 7, 1930 Bhagat Singh, Sukh Dev and Raj Guru were awarded death sentence by a special tribunal. Despite great popular pressure and numerous appeals by political leaders of India, Bhagat Singh and his associates were hanged in the early hours of March 23, 1931. According to the Superintendent of Police at the time, V.N. Smith, the hanging was advanced:
Normally execution took place at 8 am, but it was decided to act at once before the public could become aware of what had happened…At about 7 pm shouts of Inquilab Zindabad were heard from inside the jail. This was correctly, interpreted as a signal that the final curtain was about to drop.
One of the most popular Conspiracy theories is that Mahatma Gandhi had an opportunity to stop Singh’s execution but did not. This particular theory has spread amongst the public in modern times after the creation of modern films such as The Legend of Bhagat Singh, which portray Gandhi as someone who was strongly at odds with Bhagat Singh and did not oppose his hanging. A variation on this theory is that Gandhi actively conspired with the British to have Singh executed. Both theories are highly controversial and hotly contested. Gandhi’s supporters say that Gandhi did not have enough influence with the British to stop the execution, much less arrange it. Furthermore, Gandhi’s supporters assert that Singh’s role in the independence movement was no threat to Gandhi’s role as its leader, and so Gandhi would have no reason to want him dead.
On October 28, 2005, a book entitled Some Hidden Facts: Martyrdom of Shaheed Bhagat Singh—Secrets unfurled by an Intelligence Bureau Agent of British-India by K.S. Kooner and G.S. Sindhra was released. The book asserts that Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were deliberately hanged in such a manner as to leave all three in a semi-conscious state, so that all three could later be taken outside the prison and shot dead by the Saunders family. The book says that this was a prison operation codenamed “Operation Trojan Horse.” Scholars are skeptical of the book’s claims.