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Recovering the Real Bhagat Singh


Amar Farooqui


By P.M.S. Grewal
Leftword, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 104, Rs. 250.00

TO MAKE THE DEAF HEAR: IDEOLOGY AND PROGRAMME OF BHAGAT SINGH AND HIS COMRADES
By Irfan Habib
Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2007, pp. xviii 231, Rs. 250.00

WITHOUT FEAR: THE LIFE AND TRIAL OF BHAGAT SINGH
By Kuldip Nayar
HarperCollins Publishers, India, 2007, pp. xv 244, Rs. 395.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 3 MARCH 2008

Bhagat Singh is the only icon of India’s freedom struggle whose status in popular imagination and otherwise comes close to, or even rivals, that of Gandhiji. This is especially remarkable given the very brief span of Bhagat Singh’s political career and the very young age at which he went to the gallows. Bhagat Singh’s iconic status is, of course, due to the supreme heroism of his martyrdom, but also because he represented an alternative vision of the anti-colonial struggle in which the goal of the national movement was not merely the attainment of independence from British rule but also the establishment of a just and egalitarian society.   In the dominant historiography of Indian nationalism Bhagat Singh is portrayed as a great revolutionary sans his ideology. The focus is generally on the more violent actions in which he participated, and on his vengeful execution by the British Indian state. The three books under review seek to recover the real Bhagat Singh as a revolutionary who was also a profound thinker with coherent ideas about the anti-colonial struggle, socialism, and a secular polity. Of the three, the studies by Grewal and Habib engage with Bhagat Singh’s ideology very rigorously. Needless to mention, the publication of these three works coincides with the birth centenary of Bhagat Singh (2007), and are also intended to pay tribute to the great martyr.   Grewal’s passionately written and elegantly produced Bhagat Singh: Liberation’s Blazing Star begins by outlining the historical background to Bhagat Singh’s political initiation in the period immediately after the First World War. These were years in which several major developments that were to shape the national movement were taking place: agitation against the Rowlatt Act; the Jallianwala Bagh massacre; emergence of Gandhiji; the Noncooperation Movement; and formation of the Communist Party of India (CPI). The impact of the Russian Revolution could be seen in the spread of socialist ideas which in turn led to repression by the colonial regime (the Peshawar Conspiracy cases and the Kanpur Conspiracy case are the two most well-known measures). More specifically in Punjab the Gadhar Movement of the pre-War period had already laid the foundations of a revolutionary struggle against imperialism, and one of the most outstanding martyrs of that movement—Kartar Singh Sarabha—was an initial source of inspiration for Bhagat Singh.   At the same time, during the early 1920s, the more radical ...


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