Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Charkha, gun, a common link


The revolutionary politics of Bhagat Singh, whose birth centenary was celebrated last week, had more in common with the satyagraha of Gandhi than we care to believe

In one of those quirky coincidences that history has a way of throwing up, two significant centenaries — marking seemingly conflicting streams of India’s freedom struggle — have come to overlap one another.

In a measure of the importance of the first centenary, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone to South Africa where Mahatma Gandhi launched his satyagraha in 1906 — his unique tool of passive mass resistance that many believe singularly led to the end of British rule in India.

Away from the limelight, the commemoration of another centenary has also begun. With the 75th anniversary of Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom on March 23 this year having gone largely unnoticed, left groups across the country are keen to ensure that his birth centenary — he was born on September 27,1907 — becomes an occasion to pay homage to the revolutionary tradition of which he is the most famous icon.

If Mahatma Gandhi remains the indubitable Father of the Nation, Bhagat Singh has come to represent the forsaken son. Gandhi may have been loved and venerated by the masses but angry young Indians in the 1930s were bitterly disappointed with his attitude to the revolutionaries (or “terrorists”, as they were then described). It is still a matter of debate whether Gandhi was unable or unwilling to save Bhagat Singh and his comrades from the gallows. Many felt at the time that Gandhi ought to have insisted on commutation of their death sentence and release of the Bengal revolutionaries in his negotiations with Lord Irwin. Under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact of February 1931, the civil disobedience movement was suspended in exchange of the release of all satyagrahis from jail — but Bhagat Singh was hanged a month later and hundreds of young men and a few women in Bengal and elsewhere who planned or executed violent attacks to overthrow alien rule languished for long terms in prison.

That schism — pitting Gandhi against Bhagat Singh, the charkha versus the gun — has led generations to believe that the revolutionary or violent stream was antithetical to the Gandhi-led “mainstream” freedom struggle. Congressmen may commend the heroism and self-sacrifice of a Bhagat Singh or a Khudiram Bose but they retain the belief that the revolutionaries played, at best, a peripheral role in gaining India’s freedom. Similarly, those who see themselves as standard-bearers of the radical legacy think of Gandhi as an adversary who never appreciated the work of the revolutionaries.

A closer study of the freedom struggle, however, reveals that far from being binary opposites, the two streams shared a rich, textured and nuanced relationship marked by both conflict and confluence at different points in history.

(Coutesy: Indian Express, 04 October 2006)

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1 comment:

  1. Please correct the date of birth which should be 28th September, 1907.