Paying homage to martyrs Bhagat Singh and his comrades-in-arms, Sukhdev and Rajguru, on an anniversary of their being stealthily executed by the British has become, for some, an exercise in sheer duplicity.
The case in point is the sharing of yoga guru Ramdev’s platform, mounted with portraits of these immortal heroes, by Narendra Modi this March 23. Earlier Modi had tweeted “Inspired by call of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, these revolutionaries preferred to face the gallows rather than bow to injustice. Salutes to them.”
Simultaneously, slogans erupted in Benaras — the venerated Kashi in Indian ethos sanctioned by the dominant religious persuasion and the abode of inspiration producing geniuses, cutting across religious divides, ranging from metaphysics to the aesthetics — replacing Lord Shiva with ‘Modi’ in the most common chant of divine invocation. This, however, had to beat a hasty retreat when religious leaders like the shankaracharya raised outraged cries of blasphemy.
In distant Rajasthan, veteran BJP leaders not perceived as hardcore RSS, like Jaswant Singh, were denied tickets as candidates while known history-sheeters, with many a criminal case for inciting communal violence, were sought, though unsuccessfully, to be inducted in Karnataka. The choices of candidates and the constituencies clearly show the tightening grip of the RSS and its eagerness to fully exploit the opportunity it sees today, like never before, to advance its ideological project of metamorphosing the secular democratic Indian Republic into its version of a rabidly intolerant fascistic ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Rewind to Modi’s tweet. Bhagat Singh and BK Dutt voluntarily surrendered after hurling bombs in the Delhi Assembly and during the court proceedings were asked by the magistrate why they came chanting ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Revolution). In a written submission, in sections expunged by the British but now available with the National Archives, they said: “I, Bhagat Singh, was asked in the lower court as to what we meant by the word ‘revolution’.
In answer to that question, I would say that Revolution does not necessarily involve a sanguinary strife, nor is there any place in it for individual vendetta. By Revolution we mean that the present order of things which is based on manifest injustice must change…..Revolution is the inalienable right of mankind. Freedom is the imprescriptible birth right of all. The labourer is the real sustainer of society. The sovereignty of the people is the ultimate destiny of the workers….To that Altar of this Revolution we have brought our youth as incense; for, no sacrifice is too great for so magnificent a cause.”
Far from achieving such objectives, the RSS/BJP’s economic agenda, as glorified by the ‘Gujarat model’, is the most brazen advancement of crony capitalism, as detailed in my last column. Far from eliminating what Bhagat Singh called “terrible inequalities and forced disparity” where “millions of the exploited are walking on the edge of a dangerous precipice”, Modi’s economic blueprint only consolidates the further widening of the hiatus between the two Indias. India Inc.’s support to such a blueprint with a section hailing Modi as the much-awaited ‘messiah’ is understandable as this would exponentially enlarge profit maximisation. Hence, Modi’s tweet is a diabolic expression of hypocrisy.
As regards the RSS agenda, Bhagat Singh was eloquent regarding communalism. A self-declared atheist, he wrote a famous treatise to this effect. In an article titled Sampradayik dange aur unka ilaj (Communal riots and their solutions), he clearly spells out his disdain for politicians who indulge in communal politics and incite communal riots. He clearly argued for separation of religion from politics. He came out strongly against “communalising people’s minds leading to the destruction of our composite culture and shared heritage”.
Expressing his anguish: “There are a few sincere leaders but their voice is easily swept away by the rising wave of communalism”, he beseeches the media by saying “the real duty of the newspapers is to educate, to cleanse the minds of people, to save them from narrow sectarian divisiveness, and to eradicate communal feelings to promote the idea of common nationalism”. Anybody listening?
There was a purpose when Bhagat Singh advanced the slogan of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ in an atmosphere dominated by cries of ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. Clearly, he was not against the latter slogans. He was driving home the point that political independence alone will not eliminate the misery of our people unless this is extended to achieve the economic and social emancipation of every Indian. This, he was clear, can only be achieved when India liberates itself from “exploitation of man by man”. For him, political independence must turn into a revolution. This is the task that remains unfinished till today.
Any meaningful homage to such martyrs today means to begin efforts to change the direction of economic policies in order to marshal our resources for improving the livelihood conditions of the vast majority of our people and provide them with the much-needed relief from the continuous burdens being imposed upon them by the current policies that promote crony capitalism and widen economic inequalities. Thus, resoundingly defeating communalism and rejecting the economic policies pursued with virtually no difference by both the BJP and the Congress become the first step in the direction of Bhagat Singh’s vision.
Bhagat Singh was an eternal optimist. He said: “The good news is India’s youth are distancing themselves away from such religions which preach hatred and animosity between each other. The youth have become so open-minded that they do not see the people of the country through the prism of religions — as being Hindu, Muslim or Sikh — but see them primarily as humans first and then as Indians. With such kind of thought taking root in Indian youth, we know that the future of our country is bright.” Let’s pay homage by realising this optimism.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal