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Remember this martyr to remember our history

There have been hundreds of freedom fighters who have given their lives for our country. But somehow, Bhagat Singh has managed to occupy a special status, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Sep 02, 2008 13:43 IST
Pankaj Vohra

“Dil se niklegi, na mar kar bhi, watan ki ulfat, meri mitti se bhi khusbu-e-watan ayegi’’ (Even after my death, my love for my motherland will not diminish from my heart. Even my ashes will smell of her greatness and love), the last words of Bhagat Singh, arguably one of the greatest freedom fighters and revolutionaries this country has produced. He was barely 23 years old when he and two of his associates—Sukhdev and Rajguru, were hanged in what is often described as the biggest miscarriage of justice during the British regime.

But his legend lives on. And he continues to be an icon. There have been hundreds of freedom fighters who have given their lives for our country. But somehow, Bhagat Singh has managed to occupy a special status among all of them. And if any opinion poll were to be held today to name the biggest hero of our freedom struggle, there would be no eyebrows raised if this martyr tops the list.

In the centenary year of his birth, the Nation should have remembered him with the utmost gratitude. For remembering him would have been a tribute to all of his colleagues who also similarly laid down their lives so that India could be free. One way of doing it was to have series of programmes all over the country to commemorate his principles. This could have included opening schools, colleges and universities so that posterity would never forget the supreme sacrifice made by this heroic son of India.

In this context, it was heartening to note that Parliament had decided to honour him by installing his statue on the premises of Parliament House in the Capital. The bronze statue, which was unveiled on Independence Day, has become a cause of embarrassment, not only for those who are supposed to be our representatives, but also for the whole country.

As reported in HT by Nagendra Sharma last week, the statue built at enormous cost does not bear any resemblance to the great martyr and its unveiling has left both the family of Bhagat Singh and his admirers extremely upset and disappointed. Even when four pictures were made available to the committee that decides on putting up statues and portraits in Parliament, the final product made Bhagat Singh resemble Swami Vivekananda, another great Indian, rather than himself.

It is apparent that no one bothered to find out how exactly Bhagat Singh looked. No historian or member of the family was consulted and a statue with him in a turban (he never wore one in the last three years of his life) made public. It appears that some politicians from Punjab were keen that he should be shown in a turban and the House Committee gave in to their insistence without realising that Bhagat Singh’s most vivid recollection in the public mind is his clean-shaven photograph with a hat taken after he and his associates had gunned down JP Sauders in Lahore mistaking him to be Scott, another police officer involved in the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

It is a matter of shame that our Parliamentarians, who should be thankful to our freedom fighters for delivering us from the clutches of the British, should have acted in such a cavalier manner. Though the blame game is on, and no one is willing to take the responsibility for this faux pas, an inquiry should be instituted. Whoever is found to be at fault should be asked to render a public apology or resign his seat from Parliament.

Bhagat Singh was no ordinary Indian and he cannot be allowed to be treated like this after his martydom. If the Punjab government or a Congress MP who wanted to give the credit to the Punjab government for installing the statue is responsible for this distortion, this record should be brought out clearly. It should also be ascertained as to why the pleadings of Mohammad Salim, a CPI (M) MP were not taken seriously. Bhagat Singh was not a hero of Punjab alone. He was and is a hero for the whole country and also an icon for freedom fighters around the world.

The martyr’s role was always downplayed, though many movies portraying his heroic deeds hit the silver screen. It was Giani Zail Singh, who in the early seventies as the Punjab CM first publicly recognised his great sacrifice, by granting the status of Punjab Mata to his mother and ensuring that she was paid a pension for the rest of her life. It is amazing that there is no statue of Bhagat Singh even in the premises of the Punjab Assembly. There is none in Delhi assembly either. As a matter of fact, Bhagat Singh had courted arrest by throwing a ``mock bomb’’ in the National Assembly (Old Secretariat) along with another associate Batukeshwar Dutt to draw attention to his party’s demands.

The Harayana CM, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, whose grandfather Chaudhury Matu Ram was a close associate of Ajit Singh, Bhagat Singh’s uncle, has also surprisingly taken no initiative to have either a statute or an institution named after either Bhagat Singh or another legendary freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai whose family is also very close to his family.

Bhagat Singh was one of those freedom fighters who always believed that oppressors could eliminate people, but they could not eliminate ideas. He was greatly influenced by Marx and Engels and also by the anarchists. Though, a believer in the Arya Samaj initially, he became an atheist later on. He was inspired by revolutionaries and legend has it that he had advance information about the Kakori robbery case and had sworn to get the British out of India.

Bhagat Singh was moved by Ram Prasad Bismil’s revolutionary poetry, particularly the lines about ``Sarfaroshi ki tammana ab hamare dil mein hai…’’. When his end came a close friend asked him to sign a plea for clemency, which he refused. ``Daro deewar pe hasrat se nazar rakhte hain, khush rahoahle watan hum to safer karte hain’’ (I look at my abode with great longing. Goodbye my countrymen, I am leaving). Parliament would do a great disservice to India by not doing justice to this great son of this country. Between us.