PERSPECTIVE

Monthly Archives: MARCH 2020


India’s Revolutionary Inheritance
Politics and the Promise of Bhagat Singh
23.03.20 - KARTHIK VENKATESH
Politics and the Promise of Bhagat Singh



Bhagat Singh, teri soch te, pehra deyange thokke! 
(Bhagat Singh, we will guard your thinking vigourously)

Those corpses of young men,
Those martyrs that hang from the gibbets –
those hearts pierced by the grey lead,
Cold and motionless as they seem, live elsewhere
withunslaughter’d vitality.
They live in other young men, O kings!
They live in brothers again ready to defy you!
They were purified by death – they were taught
and exalted.
Not a grave of the murder’d for freedom,
but grows seed for freedom, in its turn to bear seed,
Which the winds carry afar and re-sow, and the
rains and the snows nourish.
Not a disembodied spirit can the weapons of tyrants
let loose,
But it stalks invisibly over the earth, whispering,
counseling, cautioning.

From Walt Whitman’s Poem of The Dead Young Men of Europe, The 72d and 73d Years of These States found copied in Bhagat Singh’s Jail Notebook.


COME MARCH 23 and the popular press almost always features a slew of articles on Bhagat Singh. One could perhaps cynically read it as something akin to the many rituals that have come to occupy the checklist of political life in India. Since it is his martyrdom day, newspapers and websites choose to feature an article on his life, his ideals and so on. And then very soon, life moves on. 

But is that really so? Is Bhagat Singh like Gandhi? Are the rituals that are conducted every year mere lip-service or do they mean something else? Not really is the argument of Chris Moffat’s new book India’s Revolutionary Inheritance: Politics and the Promise of Bhagat Singh. How is Bhagat Singh different and what prompts people to treat him differently from the others who were active in the anti-colonial movement like Nehru, Gandhi and Bose or those who were pre-eminent in interrogating the social order and demanding a new one in addition to independence like Ambedkar?

Bhagat Singh’s is an ‘afterlife’, asserts the author and an afterlife, unlike say, the afterlife of Gandhi and Ambedkar. Bhagat Singh’s early death prevented him from compromising himself and his ideals by getting entangled in the nuts and bolts of hardcore politicking, negotiation and administrative responsibility. These revolutionary ideals which were articulated in a number of writings remain available and his actual record hasn’t sullied those ideals.  

He has therefore been assured of a ‘presence’ in the sense of being held up as an ideal/polestar who serves as something of a minder for the politics of the present-day. And Maoists, rationalists, the Indian army, Pakistani pacifists and irony of ironies (given Bhagat Singh’s atheism) those on the religious right – Sikh separatists and more recently, the Hindu right-wing – have all claimed him as one of their own. 

Chris Moffat
The memorials to Gandhi and Ambedkar, claims the author, seek to keep their memory and work alive. But the memorials to Bhagat Singh are an attempt to do the exact opposite – they are in effect, an attempt to entomb his ideas, given their revolutionary anarchic potential. In this, Bhagat Singh is rather like Steve Biko, the South African revolutionary who too died young. Bhagat Singh’s memory is one of ‘action and critique rather than idle acceptance and compromise’ and in that lies its potential to disrupt existing orders. While the author doesn’t explicitly state this, in this potential for disruption lies the key to his appropriation by a wide variety of groups for whom disruption is a political tactic. 

This tendency to disrupt and dissent was noticed early in Bhagat Singh’s life and it is even more interesting given that Bhagat Singh’s family was one of dissenters. His father, Kishan Singh was a political activist. Uncle Ajit Singh even more so to the extent that he was externed from India for decades. And even amidst such company, he chose to plough his own furrow – escaping from an attempted arranged marriage as a teenager and later, when on death row, refusing to appeal from mercy inspite of his father’s repeated urging.

Bhagat Singh photographed secretly at Lahore Railway Police Station, during his first arrest - 29 May to 4 July 1927 - in connection with Lahore Dussehra Bomb Case (25Oct 1926) with Gopal Singh Pannu, DSP, CID Lahore 

 
The site where Bhagat Singh ‘performed’ much of his dissent was the city of Lahore, a hotbed of anti-colonial politics and the spot where Bhagat Singh came to political maturity through interacting with its various dissenters and the institutions like the National College and the Tilak School of Politics that its dissenters established, formal meeting spaces like Bradlaugh Hall and informal spaces like tea shops and hotels where people congregated. The importance of Lahore is discussed in the very first chapterof the book. 

The founding of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha (NJBS) in 1924 or 1926 (exact year is uncertain for various reasons) and the Hindustan Revolutionary Association (HRA) – it became the Hindustan Socialist Revolutionary Asscoation (HSRA) later – took place in Lahore. Equally importantly, it was in Lahore that ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ was likely adopted by Bhagat Singh and his comrades in preference to the prevalent ‘Vande Mataram’ with its religious overtones. 

Among the book’s most interesting chapters is the second one – ‘What is to be done?’—echoing Lenin’s famous work of the same name and his call for action as opposed to words. This chapter goes over the many things that the NJBS and HSRA ‘did’ as opposed to merely pontificate.More importantly, it goes over the arguments made by Bhagat Singh and his comrades and does not stick at merely describing their actions. One key argument that BC Vohra made was for physical force i.e. violent action, to be added to the soul force that Gandhi talked about and through which he sought to convey to the British the error of their ways. And this stress on action is evident in the assassination of Saunders in December 1928 post Lajpat Rai’s death owing to police beatings and the frenetic period of activity that followed which resulted in a bomb being hurled in the Delhi Legislative Assembly in April 1929 which resulted in Bhagat Singh’s arrest, trial and hanging on March 23, 1931.   As the author says, ‘The contours of this militant life – partisan commitment, unflinching action, heroic self-sacrifice – continue to colour Bhagat Singh’s afterlives.’ Indeed, it ‘haunts’ power configurations. 

The courtroom was the stage for much of this to play out which resulted in the revolutionaries’ arguments being widely popularized as well as their actions receiving both public adulation. The trial period which resulted in much drama both in the courtroom and beyond is discussed in great detail in the third chapter. And its importance stressed. This is a key chapter in the book given that period of Bhagat Singh’s life has received limited attention. 

Part II of this book concerns itself with the nature of Bhagat Singh’s thoughts, how he is interpreted in the present-day to take action and how he has been memorialized, both in redundant ways that have rendered his work meaningless, but equally in creative ways that have captured attention. 

Chapter 4 discusses how the life and work of Bhagat Singh has taken various shapes and forms in the hands of those who took it upon themselves to go behind the popular image of self-sacrificing martyr and unearth his ‘corpus’ and in that process create a ‘corps’ of people who would publicise the ‘real’ Bhagat Singh – in a sense Bhagat Singh Limited which was the mainstream Congress-sponsored historical discourse would be expanded to a Bhagat Singh Unlimited which would do full justice to the martyr and his work. 

This chapter particularly discusses the work done in Punjab by Jagmohan Singh, Amarjit Chandan, Prof. Chaman Lal and many others in unearthing and presenting the corpus, publishing it and allowing it to speak for itself. This interest in engaging with primary sources is unlike the first phase of Bhagat Singh’s afterlife when his presence was more through legend and story, perhaps culminating in the release of Manoj Kumar’s film ‘Shaheed’ in 1965. The interest in Bhagat Singh that sparked off the second phase has been prompted by the excesses of Naxal violence, the failure of Indira Gandhi and the destructive tendencies of globalization prompting many to seek to understand how Bhagat Singh could ‘talk’ to each of these situations, to serve as a guide to dissent and also to evolve alternatives. 

Of particular interest in this chapter is also how Bhagat Singh served to motivate the naxals of late 1960s Punjab and how Punjab therefore handled naxalism differently as opposed to states like Bengal and AP who too were in the throes of the Naxal movement at the same time and how the mainstream Left which had initially dismissed Bhagat Singh in the late 1920s has for some decades striven to reclaim him citing his Marxist leanings. Equally interesting is the discussion of how the Right reads between the lines of Bhagat Singh’s corpus and seeks to enshrine him as a ‘patriot’ and ignore his atheistic and Marxist thought processes.

If Chapter 4 was about Bhagat Singh’s thought, Chapter 5 is about his objective – what did he want? Clearly, there can be no one answer to this. There is the protagonist of Mridula Garg’s 1980 novel (in Hindi) Anitya who grew up in the 1930s, was imprisoned in 1942 and at work in the 1950s is tormented by thoughts of ‘yeh azaadi jhooti hai’ unable to reconcile the promise of independence and the reality of what he faced. He confronts the question of what Bhagat Singh would have wanted and passes on some of his angst to his daughter who then ‘does’ as opposed to merely stagnating under the weight of the question.
 
There are the protagonists of the 2006 movie, Rang De Basanti who too confront this selfsame question and proceed to take action. Anna Hazare invoked Bhagat Singh and his comrades in his movement and dealt with the same question as did an unholy figure like Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga with his Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena and his brand of muscular politicking in the name of patriotism. Bhagat Singh has now come to stand in for dissidence. Also, leftist student organisations and popular cultural figures like the Punjabi singer, Jazzy B too have contended with this question in their own ways and the chapter discusses all of that as well. An interesting aside in this chapter is a discussion of a short 2011 movie – Inklab – made by Gaurav Chhabra which seeks to look at how Bhagat Singh could be of relevance in a world gone digital. Bhagat Singh is therefore a ‘figure of clarification’ in all of these different contexts.

Chapter 6 is about how Bhagat Singh has been memorialized – in statues in different places, with or without Rajguru and Sukhdev, in trilby hat or turban, with a gun or without and how these instances can be interpreted. And how politicians have used these memorials to demonstrate their commitment to Bhagat Singh’s ideals without actually ‘doing’. The most ridiculous of these memorials appears to be the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Shopping Complex in Delhi inaugurated in 2003 by LK Advani which is perhaps proof enough of the chasm that separates Bhagat Singh’s thinking from the Right’s. Perhaps this chapter’s most interesting discussion is about how Pakistanis have attempted to establish a place for Bhagat Singh in the nation. 

The empty memorialization discussed earlier stands in contrast to how activists have used street theatre to portray Bhagat Singh and his ideals to audiences and this has happened in both India and Pakistan. 

Chapter 6 concludes thus:

"While I have noted the vitality of alternative commemorative practice in Indian Punjab – from new pedagogical projects to robust theatre activism – I have suggested that the promise of Bhagat Singh is especially tangible in contemporary Pakistan, precisely because in the context it is repressed,unacknowledged or mobilized against. In this urban environment, marked by extraction and erasure, the dead revolutionary’s promise persists, an incitementto action and fidelity waiting to be seized, a possibility in the shadows of Pakistan’s uncertain twenty-first-century present.”

Is India then moving away from Bhagat Singh? Why? How could we reintroduce him into our politics?

The book provides much food for thought. Several possibilities crop up at the end of the reading about how Bhagat Singh’s inheritance could possibly be reclaimed. His story will remain unfinished. There will forever be many who will seek to mine his thinking for their work (case in point – the slogan that is the title of the article)

And in that lies the eternal radical promise of the ‘living martyr’.
 

Karthik Venkatesh is based in Bengaluru and works as an editor with a prominent publishing firm. This review first appeared in raiot.in


 
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

_______________________________________________________________

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_______________________________________________________________

Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

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LAWYER, JUDGE, TRANSFER
The Maruti Omni van lawyer: The guy whose transfer worries you
09.03.20 - Vivek Durai
The Maruti Omni van lawyer: The guy whose transfer worries you



IN A 2011 MOVIE, Mather McConaughey plays the role of a criminal defence lawyer who works out of the back of a Lincoln. The movie struck a chord with audiences and helped resurrect McConaughey’s career as an actor. For me it did more than that. It reminded me of a lawyer that I once knew, who operated out of the back of a Maruti Omni.

I was in my third year of law school. Rebellious, already. Lost, mostly.

The third year winter vacation was the first mandatory internship that we had to do. And as is typical of me, I hadn’t done the groundwork of applying to dozens of law offices or litigators in the hope of scoring a perfect internship. The professor in charge of coordinating internships, a brilliant and inspiring teacher in his own right - Dr NS Gopalakrishnan - clearly had an idea when he took it upon himself to throw me to this lawyer.

Dr NS Gopalakrishnan 
 
Before I left for Delhi, my prof smiled as he looked at me and said, "Vivek, don’t screw this one up”. I had no idea how to do that.

I arrived in Delhi, and per instructions of the lawyer, reported to the Supreme Court of India's parking lot. You read that right - the parking lot. Because seated in his Maruti Omni, with a lone junior lawyer standing outside, was this strangely manic man with thick hair floppily covering his forehead, wading through files.

Over the next 4 weeks, this guy endeavoured in every small way, to make my life miserable. Even as I acquainted myself with the corridors and courts of the Supreme Court. And the High Court. And the Company Law Board. And his house in Mayur Vihar. And the Omni van.

At some point, the junior told me a story. She said that the manic man had once been a normal person. He’d had a flourishing practice, a proper chamber instead of a van and many junior lawyers working with him. Until one day, something snapped.

He shut down his chamber, let go of all the lawyers except one and plunged himself into public interest litigation work. He focussed on cases very few talented lawyers would pick up. Like death penalty appeals. He supported this work by occasionally taking up corporate litigation matters at the CLB.

And he’d figured out a way to support it. No juniors, only van.

The van was also the most efficient way to manage multiple matters in different courts without having to employ junior lawyers to manage them. He could attend a case in the Delhi High court, then rush to the Supreme Court, prep for cases sitting in the van, then move to Patiala House (where the trial courts were located). Efficient.

In an always cynical court, with a bar that was already divided at the time along political lines, he was known, in a not-so-complimentary way, as the PIL lawyer. But he was also grudgingly respected as one of the hardest working lawyers in the Supreme Court. He was an idealist.

As the internship wound down, the lawyer became more mentor, less oppressor. He started talking about the choices I could make in life. About court work. About starting my career in the trial courts, like he had done, and working myself up to more polished appellate court work. I spent more time at his home, in the evenings. His wife Usha and I chatted about my career options.

Then, as I prepared to leave Delhi, news came that my dad, an IPS officer, had been transferred, barely 4 months after serving at the head of Karnataka’s police force. It was a politico-commercial move carried out so that a more pliant, or should I say, co-operative, officer could take charge. Orchestrated by the then Prime Minister.

I rushed to my lawyer’s home. As he opened the door, I explained to him what had happened and asked if there was a way to litigate this. He dropped his head. His shoulders hunched. He explained to me that the chances of litigating this successfully were low. This was a service matter and such matters had a poor track record at the tribunal that handled such matters. I called my dad later that day from a PCO booth (no mobile phones). He seemed relaxed, if disappointed at the abrupt transfer, but even he wasn’t interested in contesting the transfer. In some ways, this wasn't a big deal. As kids we had lived a life filled with his transfers. A month later, my mom and he had moved to Delhi. I moved back to Bangalore. Life moved on.

24 years have since passed. That lawyer is now a judge.

Another Prime Minister is at the helm. It's now his turn to orchestrate a transfer. Except this time, it's the guy with the van.
No that's not a picture of his van (this was the 90's - we didn't carry around smartphones taking pics of everything we looked at).

That's a picture of the farewell he received last week from the lawyers and judges of the High Court of Delhi.

His name is S Muralidhar.

Vivek Durai is the founder of paper.vc, a freemium financial data platform that tracks privately held companies operating in India and the private investment market as well.


 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

_______________________________________________________________

Most shared Punjab Today articles:

 

Amarinder govt’s nefarious plan to steal Shamlat Lands will spell death knell of Punjab

KYUN KE HUM HAIN HINDUSTANI

Three Women of 1984

 FROM 1984 TO BARGARI - Hurt & angry, we’ve tried rage, anger. Did we miss karuna?   

REVISITING 1984 – RIOT AROUND A POLE     

KARTARPUR SAHIB: A CLARION CALL FOR PEACE IN AN AGE OF CYNICISM

If it could happen to Arun Shourie, imagine what could they do to you?

Healers & Predators – The Doctor is In, & is very corrupt

Amarinder, Badals, AAP — Every party in Punjab is now an Akali Dal

Welcome to 1947. Happy Independence Day. Would you like to step out?

In Pakistan, a donkey pays for democracy – bleeding, its nostrils ripped apart

WOOING THE PANTH: Amarinder a little less Congressy, Akali Dal a little more saffron

"Captain Amarinder Singh ji” and "Rahul”: Reading Sign Language In A Relationship

The Comrade In Punjab - Lost, Irrelevant, Asleep, Even Bored!

WATERS ROYALTY - The Loot that Rajasthan Committed

AMARINDER GOVT's LOVE FOR FARMERS, AND MY DAD's FOR HIS SCOOTER

OF SUNNY KID & HORSE SENSE: The Punjab-Punjab Ties  

TRUDEAU VISIT AND RIGHT-WING MEDIA MACHINE         

 OF NIRMAL SINGH'S EYES 

Mr. CHIEF MINISTER, PLEASE CALL OFF JANUARY 7 FUNCTION         

MR PRESIDENT, PLEASE TAKE BACK HIS GALLANTRY MEDAL       

A SAFFRON JOURNEY VIA CANADA

BAD, BAD WOMAN!

 


 

_______________________________________________________________

Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

— Team PT




[home] 1-2 of 2


Comment by: KN

Respect to the ‘lawyer in a van’!
You are fortunate that you got a chance to do internship with him, and also deserve to be appreciated for sharing your experience in such apt words.

reply


Comment by: Dr Stanley Adrian

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Whats-App No +919663960578
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