Saturday, March 25

Bhagat Singh : Man and the Symbol

Bhagat Singh has become a symbol going beyond the boundaries of life and death, becoming in the process, part of collective consciousness of our society . Balram tries to capture the essence of the dynamic personality of the legend in this article featured in the latest issue of Punjab Panorama.
More than 66 years after he left his body, Bhagat Singh still provides meaning to our dreams. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the icon has had an influence on the programmes and ideology of every political movement pre and post independence. Be it the RSS or the leftist Naxalites, all have tried to associate his name with Bhagat Singh. However, it's unfortunate that while doing so most of the time they fail to associate with the Bhagat Singh, who is a historic personality. Instead, they create their own Bhagat Singh, who is more of a socio-psychological symbol.
Hence it becomes important to know about the life of Bhagat Singh, in terms of years as well as deeds. Counting in years, Bhagat Singh traversed a long and complex spiritual and intellectual journey. The young Bhagat Singh, who would begin his letters to his uncle with the word Om, became a confirmed atheist in his last days.
And going through Narodism, Anarchism and Romantic Nationalism, Bhagat Singh arrived at the Scientific-Socialist thinking. Beginning with the ways and means of terrorism, he reached the understanding that synergy arrived through consolidated efforts of farmers-labourers would be the foundation of his functioning.
Bhagat Singh, who declares Garibaldi, Sarabha and Kropotkin as his heroes, seems always willing to have a creative dialogue with Gandhi. Not only that, recognizing the need of the hour, Bhagat Singh called upon the youth to actively take part in the Gandhian movement.
Writing the foreword of Lala Ram Saran Das' 'Dreamland', he never tried to belittle its historic significance, despite deep philosophical differences. While he exhorted the youth to take inspiration from Nehru for intellectual leadership, he did not restrain himself from debunking the affinity of ideology of Lala Lajpat Rai with the Hindu Mahasabha. At the same time, when Lala Lajpat Rai passed away, Bhagat Singh recognized the need to tackle defeatist and pessimistic mentality, understanding its influence on national consciousness. Though, at that time also, he was aware of the limitations of violence and individual murders.
This way the Bhagat Singh we encounter is very dynamic and alive to the developments around him.
But if we try to see his life divided in phases and try to understand his deeds by divorcing them from his ideological complexity, it becomes clear as to how he becomes an inspiration for so many diverse and antithetical political movements. It's another matter that while becoming an inspiration for them; he turns into a self-made psychological symbol instead of a historic character.
By appropriating Bhagat Singh thus, as per their own created symbols, these movements betray their own political, social and ideological characters. On one side the Hindutva brigade uses Bhagat Singh?s support for Devnagri script to write Punjabi and his emotional association with Lala Lajpat Rai for their own ends and, on the other, extreme leftists use Bhagat Singh?s differences with Gandhi and his use of empty bombs at Assembly. But while doing so they not only belittle the great hero but expose their own restricted thoughts too.
Obviously if Bhagat Singh became great just because he was martyred in the national struggle then why didn't all those who gave away their lives fighting British rule become martyrs? Bhagat Singh himself, while praising revolutionaries who came before him, criticized them severely for lack of a concrete and constructive programme. He made it clear that his motive was not just to oust Britishers from the country but to construct a society on new lines. He paid with his life so that his dream could be realized.
Bhagat Singh visualised life in all its diversity and fullness free from narrow nationalist angle beyond communal and linguistic boundaries. Extremists born from the womb of violence and hate can never dream of touching those heights.
Let?s come to second question as to what is their historic compulsion which makes political movements of diverse characters embrace Bhagat Singh? Our present society is born out of National Liberation Revolution. Every political movement active in it has to make clear its viewpoint towards national liberation revolution. All political movements present themselves as heirs to that great revolution and are always eager to impose this as a fact in public consciousness. Their role in present political struggles, in fact, lies in how far they are successful in doing so.
Although Gandhi and Nehru are two indisputable heroes of our national revolutions, their areas of influence are constricted due to our failures and sectarian approaches. Due to their being associated with Congress, the present ills of Congress also have had ill-effect on their image and stature. Whereas Bhagat Singh's symbol has been unsullied so far.
Owing to the attraction of his name even organizations like RSS have to accept him as their hero so that they may present his anti-imperialism as another form of their own concept of narrow nationalism.
On the other hand, Naxalites too don't find any other character suitable to cover their own wrongs. They are one with the RSS on this. Their innocent and honest misconception of being committed to socialist society also forces them to construct Bhagat Singh as a symbol. Their immature option of militant struggle too forces them to take refuge in the powerful stature of Bhagat Singh. This has been the lot of other political parties also so far.
Now comes the question that what is the present and future relevance of Bhagat Singh as a man and a symbol amidst the fast changing present day society?
The success of BJP, VHP types in stealing into academics and public consciousness the concept of cultural nationalism is a case in point. This has become possible for first time that a political movement has arisen without the help of heroes of national revolution. Owing to lack of any specific programme for social or economic reorganization, this movement has to take recourse to mythological heroes instead of historic ones, who can be moulded as they like into their programme of cultural reconstruction. Ramjanambhoomi movement is an example.
Another important fact is that after the destruction of Stalinist socialist structure not only have people become sceptic of the immutability of socialist alternative, intellectual circles too have been questioning the Soviet brand of Marxism. Eulogies of Market are being sung. With end of history, death of dreams too is being declared.
Socialist revolution that has been beloved of youth once does not stir same emotions now. The structural changes in farming and labour classes have altered their historic roles also so Bhagat Singh does not fit in as their spokesman. In these market-driven times Bhagat Singh is merely a brand and 'martyr' just another label.
Now arises the question how can the heritage of Bhagat Singh act as a guiding light for modern man? This question can be answered by watching closely the life of Bhagat Singh.
The immense treasure of heritage of Bhagat Singh would be open to us if we could see Bhagat Singh as someone who dared to dream and had it in himself to live or die for it, instead of seeing him simply as a freedom fighter or a person committed to a particular ideology. But while doing so we would have to not only renew Bhagat Singh who has become a symbol of revolution but the dust that has settled on his spiritual relationship with Gandhi will also have to be cleaned up.
It is obvious that it is impossible to safeguard the relevance of Bhagat Singh without Gandhi and of Gandhi without Bhagat Singh.

1 comment:

bhupinder singh said...

Extremely well written ! The train of thought at the end regarding the connnection between Bhagat Singh and Gandhi needs a separate treatment.

Look forward to read more from you, Balram.

best wishes,
bhupinder