The leftists have often ran with the story that Bhagat Singh hated Savarkar. A dispassionate reading of the history tells us that there are many problems with this theory.
One is that we refuse to give context to our heroes because a detailed understanding of their personality, thoughts and the society they lived in must be considered. It is important to take the tone and tenor and map them with facts from the times. Another problem is caricaturisation, where in the heroes of the past are picked and only those dimensions of their multidimensional personalities are picked which suites one narrative or the other.
Since, we feel that current leadership is too dwarf to contest the ideas propounded by those heroes from the past, we often find the heroes of the past being made representatives of one camp or another. Savarkar has been the biggest sufferer of this. Mostly, to my mind, because he continued to live post-independence and merely by virtue of his long legacy where in he inspired people towards Indian independence, fought and suffered for it, longer than most post-Independence Congress leadership who were desperately tried to acquire some sort of monopoly over freedom movement.
Bhagat Singh, an exceptional young twenty-three year old who changed from Hinduism to Aryasamaj to Atheistic Communism has been used to attack Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, mostly for reasons mentioned above and additionally because, one, Bhagat Singh’s atheism suited the cult of Nehru more than Gandhi’s spirituality or the Dharmik leanings which leant towards great men of Congress- Lal-Bal-Pal. Secondly, in their zeal to promote a competitive secularism against a theocratic Islamic formation created in the name of Pakistan, post-independence, downgrading Hinduism became a trend. As post-Emergency, Leftists gained more and more control over the process of building the narratives in the intellectual world by capturing the academic world, the incentives to amplify the lies increased.
It is true that Bhagat Singh towards the end of his life became an atheist, and often quoted Lenin, Trotsky, Marx and others to justify the same, mostly because he felt that this could be a way to counter communal disharmony which was hurting India then and which he felt will hurt India even later, post-Independence. Without any disrespect to Bhagat Singh, I would mention that while a genius for his age, he still was a man in early twenties who had till then lived a life somewhat protected and prosperous compared to other revolutionaries like Bismil and Azad who lived a more difficult and complex life through poverty and hunger.
He was very young and in his short life, he had leaning towards Sikhism first, Hinduism then and atheism in the end. Even in the prison, when the Ghadarite leader, Bhai Randhir Singh refused to meet Bhagat Singh because he had cut his hair against the tenets of Sikhism, what Bhagat Singh wrote to him is slightly confusing although much in line for a boy in his early twenties. He wrote – I believe in the Sikh tradition of sacrifice where body parts are cut down. I have only got one part of my body cut, that too not for the self rather for the Nation, and will soon lose my neck for it. But I will always be sad about this shortsighted and narrow-minded view of Sikhism.’ (Bhagat Singh Aur Unke Saathiyon ke Dastavez, 1986, Edited by Jagmohan Singh and Chaman Lal)
If one were to note, one could see that he does not say that I have got my hair cut not because I am no longer a Sikh, rather, he contests, that because I am better Sikh than most Sikhs. I am not placing this particular quote of Bhagat Singh here to contest his own ardent and open claim that he was an atheist towards the end. He thought he was an atheist and we must respect that. I am only putting forth a point that we, as students of history, must offer him at least this much indulgence as a boy of barely twenty three.
While Bismil, Lahiri and Ashfaqullah Khan did not get the advantages of studying and life as much as Bhagat Singh, I find their views more mature and deeper on the matter of faith and nationalism. The views of those who walked to gallows with Shlokas from Hindu scriptures like Bismil and Lahiri and with Quran like Ashfaq, would not appeal to the Communist intellectuals or Nehru worshippers because they did not imagine a faithless, Godless society of Marx’s dreams and their faith did not stand counter to their patriotism, rather propelled it.
In fact, Bhagat Singh even justifies a quasi-military force under the political force even after independence to occasionally fight for socialist principles shows a youthful maybe immature leaning towards the Cuban Communist model of constant violence that modern communists often advocate and endorse. Let us grant him that unlike septuagenarian of JNU who ruin young lives to pursue their teenage dreams, Bhagat Singh did not have the advantage of experience when he wrote that.
Bismil, on the other hand, while walking towards the gallows, advised the youth to denounce violence and intellectually revolutionise the rural population. Before the left pounces on Bismil like they do on Savarkar, let me remind here, that Bismil walked to the gallows shouting- ‘Down with the British Rule’ without a bit of fear or repentance. In fact, Ashfaq while respecting Socialist principles, denounced the Communists for being driven by foreign ideas and being cut-off from the realities of India.
I once again repeat that this is not to denounce Bhagat Singh but only to respect him, and to request modern intellectuals not to weaponise his supreme patriotic sacrifice to attack their ideological opponents. Bhagat Singh not only respected the views of his seniors in HRA, Bismil’s last letter was published in Kirti through Bhagat Singh where Bismil urged the youth to shun violence till such time that they are all well educated and intellectually mature enough to hand the responsibility of holding a gun.
A lot is made up trying to create some sort of animosity between Savarkar and Bhagat Singh. Since they cannot find a Communist party leader of stature to counter Savarkar and all that he represented as a Hindu nationalist, they use and misuse Bhagat Singh. I have not able to find even one disrespectful quote of Bhagat Singh against Savarkar. Forget angry word, not even a word of angst or frustration against Savarkar. In fact, Bhagat Singh’s words against Lala Lajpat Rai were much harsher and unforgiving. But then Lalaji was not a challenge to Nehru and also denouncing him would have been in a way denouncing the Congress, so it isn’t often spoken about. It is another matter, after the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, when the challenge was thrown at the youth by Shrimati Basanti Devi, wife of Shri CR Das, when she famously asked – So, Lala ji is killed by the British, what are we going to do about it?
On Gandhi, Bhagat Singh had written that Gandhi is a kind humanitarian, but social changes do not happen with such kindness. In another essay on 2nd February, 1931, he wrote – Gandhiism is unique and novel, but its ideas are of no use to helpless people. Gandhiism will not give permanent followers to the saint of Sabarmati.
Bhagat Singh was struggling with the questions of faith till his end but what goes to his credit that at such a young age he was deliberating with the questions of language, literature and cultural heritage of India. In an essay Bhagat Singh submitted to Punjab Hindi Sahitya Sammelan in 1924, he wrote on the question of language. He wrote- Among the Muslims there is a lacking in the sense of Indianness, that is without appreciating the significance of Indianness they promote Persian Language and Arabian Fonts. They do not understand the significance of one language that too Hindi and keep repeating about Urdu and sit aside isolating themselves.
Coming to Savarkar, Bhagat Singh referred to him twice in his writing and both were salutary references. In an essay titled ‘Vishwa Prem’ or Universal Love, published on 15th of November, 1924, under the pseudonym of Balwant Singh, he wrote – The Universal lover is that person who we shamelessly refer to as a violent revolutionary, and a hardcore anarchist- the same Veer Savarkar, who would stop walking over the grasses lest the soft blades of grass might get crushed under his feet.
Other reference, and I think only reference to Savarkar in writings of Bhagat Singh comes in an article on Shri Madanlal Dhingra in Kirti, in 1928. He mentions about the impact of the movement of self-rule which resulted in the opening of India House by Savarkar. Madanlal Dhingra attended a meeting of revolutionaries in India House but later parted ways. Bhagat Singh writes that when the students of India House got angry with Madanlal for this, it was Savarkar who calmed them down that we must remain thankful to Shri Madanlal for all his support to our movement.
Bhagat Singh reflects on the world of those times when after assassination of Curzon Wyllie on 1st of July, 1909, whole world rose against him and almost abandoned him. Even his father, Shri Ditta Mal Dhingra, a senior official in the British Government, released public proclamation disowning him. He was hanged on 19th of August, 1909, a month and half after the the assassination. Gandhi wrote in The Indian Opinion on 14th of August, 1909, condemning Madanlal Dhingra- India can gain nothing from the rule of the Murderers- no matter whether they are black or white. Under such a rule, India will be utterly ruined and laid waste.
In his published diaries, Wilfred Scawen Blunt (My Diaries, Published 1932, Page no. 678) writes about the man here called murderer by Gandhi- No greater fortitude was ever shown by a martyr of any faith. With such men to love her, the Mother India must succeed. Again not to denounce Gandhi only to bring home the point of multidimensional nature of historic characters who reacted differently to different events owing to the forces of times in which they lived. Bhagat Singh, aghast, wrote- Indians organised big meetings, made big speeches. Many big resolutions were passed. All condemning Madanlal Dhingra. But at that time, it was only Veer Savarkar who openly supported Madanlal Dhingra. Bhagat Singh then vividly describes a meeting headed by Bipin Chandra Pal where Savarkar started speaking in favour of Madanlal Dhingra and was attacked by a British and was then attacked by Indians there. The essay, Bhagat Singh ended with salute to the Martyr Madanlal Dhingra, writing- Salute to the invaluable diamond of a dead nation!
In another essay, Bhagat Singh’s associate supposedly Bhagvaticharan Vohra wrote in April, 1928, on the uprising of 1857, when Bhagat Singh was editor of Keerti, we find the reference of Savarkar. He wrote ‘Reading current histories, given to us, we do not get good feelings about those heroes who fought in 1857, because they are presented as murderers, dacoits, fanatics and such… the reason being that the all the histories on the Independence struggle of 1857 have been written by either the British or their sycophants. There is only one independent account written about this war of Independence, which was written by Barrister Savarkar. This history was very painstakingly written, with references to the libraries of the India Office, and proved that 1857 was a National struggle and was fought for the liberation of India… We have been crushed so much that we did not even celebrate this war of 10th May, 1857…As we know for the first time, this day was celebrated in England by Abhinav Bharat under the leadership of Barrister Savarkar.
We can see here that there was much respect towards Savarkar among the revolutionaries including Bhagat Singh, contrary to the claims made by cottage Congress Historians. In their zeal to propagate an ideology and crush another, they have worked overtime to malign Savarkar. Reams and reams of papers have been written to claim that a mutual animosity existed between Savarkar and Bhagat Singh. Many fake historians to please their political masters claim a coldness between the two, mutually reciprocated, claiming Savarkar did not even recognise the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh.
Truth is, on learning about the shameless and clandestine hanging of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru (others weren’t atheist so leftist usually do not mention them) and cruel process of hiding their dead bodies, Savarkar wrote a poem in Marathi, Ha Bhagat Singh, Haye, haa, loosely translating as – Woe is me, O Bhagat Singh, Oh/ for us today, you walk to the gallows/ Woe is me, Oh Rajguru, Oh/ Down you go fighting for the nation/ In sadness, but I congratulate you/ for from this defeat, our victory shall rise.
The letter of Gandhi to the British Viceroy, seeking pardon for Bhagat Singh remains woefully ambiguous though almost like Gandhi wrote it merely under public pressure. He started his letter with- It seems cruel to inflict this letter on you, but the interest of peace demands appeal…Popular opinion ‘rightly or wrongly’ demands commutation. Karachi Session of Congress in 1931 happened barely six days after the barbaric execution of the three revolutionaries. On the way to the convention, Mahatma Gandhi was shown black flags and Congress passed resolution condemning the execution while disassociating itself from the violence and demanded end of capital punishment. The session is however, mostly remembered for adoption of charter of fundamental rights.