Would India’s Most Loved Revolutionary Bhagat Singh Have Been Branded an “Anti-National” Today?

Social Commentary

Would India’s Most Loved Revolutionary Bhagat Singh Have Been Branded an “Anti-National” Today?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Today marks the 113th birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh, one of Indian history’s most loved freedom fighters. Singh was a revolutionary who fought the British rule in a manner diametrically opposite to Gandhi’s model of peaceful resistance. Singh threw non-lethal bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly as a means of protest, and was eventually hanged by the British Government for assassinating the police officer John Saunders.

His title of “Shaheed” comes from how he went boldly to his martyrdom at the young age of 23. “Inquilab Zindabad”, which means “Long Live the Revolution” was a slogan Singh popularised. The nation paid tribute to Bhagat Singh on his birth anniversary. So did representatives and supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Indian government, all the way up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The admiration for Bhagat Singh was reflected at every level of the BJP hierarchy, with state spokesperson Gaurav Goel calling him “the World’s Greatest Revolutionary”.

BJP Member of Parliament Gautam Gambhir referred to Bhagat Singh as his idol while posting on Twitter. These were only a few among many, as the tributes for Bhagat Singh continued to pour in from all corners.

However, some people observed that there was a certain irony in a revolutionary like Bhagat Singh being celebrated by so many people who otherwise speak in support of the establishment. Singh’s ideals, of which we get a glimpse through his writings, reflect a man committed to the ideals of socialism and atheism. Some of his writings were compiled into a book titled “Why I Am an Atheist”, and reveal how some of Bhagat Singh’s beliefs would have put him at odds with the mood of present-day India just as much as the British.

A detailed thread on Twitter cites Bhagat Singh’s own writings and points out how he was firmly opposed to religion, and a reader of the works of Vladimir Lenin, the father of Russian communism.

A Congress party worker pointed out the many ways that the current batch of pro-government voices would target Bhagat Singh if he were alive today.

There’s no doubt that Bhagat Singh is an almost legendary figure who inspires Indians even today. But his legacy has become harder to discern as all sides lay claim to it.