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Book Excerpt

Last thoughts of a revolutionary

Print edition : Dec 20, 2019 T+T-
Ashfaqullah Khan.

Ashfaqullah Khan.

Ram Prasad Bismil.

Ram Prasad Bismil.

Extracts from 'The Bhagat Singh Reader' edited by Chaman Lal.

Author’s note

Bhagat Singh’s life as a writer and active revolutionary ran simultaneously. He joined the revolutionary movement at the age of 16 in 1923 and had less than seven years to achieve his goals, and one can see how well he performed; he was perhaps one of the “best performers”, not only in India but in the whole world. He not only performed political revolutionary acts in this period, which are referred to in the introduction to the book, but also wrote prolifically. In those days of limited means of travelling, he travelled almost the whole of India, with only the south and the north-eastern region out of his reach. He spent a lot of time reading the best books of the world, be it of history, politics, economics or literature. He wrote in four languages: Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and English. He had a good command over Sanskrit as it was one of his subjects in school and encouraged by his Arya Samaji grandfather, Arjan Singh. He also understood Bengali very well and could recite poets like Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore in their native language.

Bhagat Singh wrote more than 130 documents in seven years, covering nearly 400 hundred pages! He wrote more than 50 letters, apart from court statements, pamphlets, essays and sketches. It is believed by many, on the basis of the reminiscences of one of his jail comrades, that Bhagat Singh wrote four more books in jail; these were supposedly smuggled out, but they are yet to be found.

The 58 letters available and presented in The Bhagat Singh Reader are in all four languages.

From the introduction

“Another aspect of Bhagat Singh and his brand of the revolutionary movement was the total opposition of the caste system and communalism. Dalit movements of today, after Dr. Ambedkar, accept Bhagat Singh as their genuine supporter. Bhagat Singh’s writings and his conduct earned him the love and support of the Dalit masses. Periyar and Ambedkar tributes to Bhagat Singh have come to light after decades since these first appeared in Tamil and Marathi. In jail, before going to the gallows, Bhagat Singh was not only reading Lenin, he asked for food from Bebe [Mother], a name given to a Dalit jail employee, Bogha, in affection by Bhagat Singh, with the logic that the mother too cleanses the defecation of her children just as the Dalit woman had to for grown-up people. In that sense, Bhagat Singh treated and respected the manual scavenger in jail just like his mother….

“It must be underlined that none of the communal organisations, be it the Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs, had spoken a word in favour or in defence of these revolutionaries. Ironically, now all communal organisations want to give a religious colour to these national martyrs, despite Bhagat Singh being a committed atheist and had refused to perform any religious rituals before going to gallows. This also needs to be noted that it is only the Leftist movement in the country which has truly tried to uphold and imbibe the spirit of revolutionary movement of our country, while the Right, whether inside or outside the Parliament, have always tried to appropriate the legacy of the revolutionaries….”

Ram Prasad Bismil

Bhagat Singh wrote a few essays in the Punjabi/Urdu magazine Kirti on the Kakori case martyrs. Ram Prasad Bismil’s message, which had an introduction by Bhagat Singh, is reproduced here from The Bhagat Singh Reader . It is relevant for the present times.

“…‘The Last Message of Martyr of the Nation Sh. Ram Prasad Bismil’, which is being translated here [in Kirti ] for the first time.” He wrote an autobiographical sketch, which was published in Swadesh , a paper of Gorakhpur. I present the abridged form of that for readers so that they should know the last thoughts of the revolutionary.

He writes on December 16, 1927:

“The time of execution is fixed for 6.30 am on 19 December. Nothing to worry, I shall be reborn again and again due to God’s grace and my aim will be to ensure complete freedom for the world. That nature’s gifts should be equally shared by all and no one shall rule others. Everywhere people should have their democratic institutions. I now think it necessary to mention those things also which happened with Kakori prisoners after 6 April 1927 Sessions Court judgment. There was an appeal in Avadh Chief Court on 18 July. That was only on behalf of four persons sentenced to death. But police filed counter appeal for enhancing the sentence. Then others also filed appeals, but Sh. Sachinder Nath Sanyal, Sh. Bhupender Nath Sanyal and approver Banwari Lal did not appeal. Then Pranvesh Chatterjee became approver and withdrew appeal. The death sentence remained unchanged, but the ten year sentence of Sh. Jogesh Chatterjee, Gobind Charan Kar and Mukandi Lal was enhanced to life imprisonment. The seven year sentence of Sh. Suresh Chander Bhattacharya and Sh. Vishnu Sharan Dublish was enhanced to ten years. Ramnath Pandey’s sentence was reduced to three years and Pranvesh Chatterjee[’s] to four years. Prem Krishan Khanna’s dacoity sentence was reduced to five years. Other appeals were dismissed. Ashfaq’s death sentence remained unchanged and Sachinder Nath Bakshi did not file any appeal.

“Before filing an appeal, I had already sent an application to the Governor that ‘I have not taken part in any secret conspiracies nor will I have any links with these’. This application was mentioned in mercy petition also. But judges did not pay any attention to it. I sent my own arguments from jail to Chief Court, but the judges said that it is not the writing of Ram Prasad, but has been written with the help of a very competent person. Rather they negatively said that ‘Ram Prasad is a dangerous revolutionary and if released, would do the same activities.’

“After appreciating intelligence, ability etc., they said that ‘he is a merciless murderer, who can even shoot them with whom he has no enmity’. Anyway, they had the pen, whatever they may write! But the decision of Chief Court shows that we have been sentenced to death due to vengeance only.

“Appeal was dismissed, and then mercy petitions were filed with the Governor and Viceroy. Almost all the elected members of U.P. Legislative Council made a signed appeal to remission the death sentence of Ram Prasad Bismil, Sh. Rajinder Nath Lahiri, Sh. Ashfaqullah and Sh. Roshan Singh. With my father’s efforts, two big landlords and 250 honorary Magistrates gave a separate application. Assembly and Council of State’s 108 members gave an application to the Viceroy to change our death sentence. They also said that the judge had said that ‘if they repent then sentences would be radically reduced’. There were calls from all sides, but they were our blood seekers on all sides and Viceroy also did not listen to us.

“Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya met the Viceroy with many people. Everybody thought that now the death sentence would be remitted. But what was to happen. Quietly, two days before Dussehra, all jails were sent telegrams that the date of executions has been fixed. When I was told about this telegram by the jail superintendent, I also said now you do your job, but on his insistence sent a mercy telegram to the emperor. That time, the idea of filing an appeal in the Privy Council also struck. Sh. Mohan Lal Saxena, an advocate was given wire, and when he was told that the Viceroy had rejected all the applications, nobody believed it. Convincing him, the appeal was filed in the Privy Council; the result was known, and it was dismissed prematurely.

“Now the question will arise that knowing everything beforehand, why did I send an apology, a mercy petition, and appeal after appeal? The only reason seems to me is that politics is a game of chess. The government has said forcefully in the Assembly about Bengal ordinance prisoners that there is strong evidence against them, which we don’t present in open court for the safety of witnesses, though Dakshineswar Bomb and Shobha Bazaar Conspiracy Cases were heard in open court. Killing of C.I.D. Superintendent Case was also held in open court and Kakori Case also took one and half years. 300 prosecution witnesses were produced, none had any problem, though it was also said that the root of the Kakori Case is in Bengal only. To expose the chinks in government declarations, I did all these things. I gave an apology too, sent appeals also, but what was to happen? The reality is that the oppressor kills and does not allow to even cry!

“No revolt was going to take place by our being remaining alive. Till now such strong appeals were never made for revolutionaries in India. But what has the government got to do with it? It is proud of its power. It has the arrogance of its oppression. Sir William Maurice had himself remitted the death sentences of Shahjahanpur and Allahabad riots. And these sentences were remitted when riots were taking place every day. If reducing the sentence would have emboldened others then the same thing could be said about communal riots too. But here the issue was different [emphasis added throughout].

“I am not disappointed at this time of giving up my life that this is wasted. Sacrifices never go to waste. Maybe because of our sighs that the idea of sending royal commission came to the mind of Lord Birkenhead, for whose boycott Hindu-Muslims got together again. God may give some wisdom to them fast and they become united again. I had told advocate Mohan Lal Saxena, after our appeal was dismissed, that at least to commemorate us this time Hindu-Muslim leaders should be united .

“Government had mentioned that Sh. Ashfaqullah Khan is the right-hand man of Ram Prasad. If a devoted Muslim like Ashfaq could be right-hand man of Arya Samaji like Ram Prasad in revolutionary movement, then why can’t other Hindus and Muslims unite forgetting their petty interests? Ashfaq is first such Muslim, who is being executed in connection with Bengal revolutionary party. God has listened to my prayer. My task is over. I have shown Hindustan by getting one Muslim youth for sacrifice that the Muslim youth can also sacrifice their life for the country even more enthusiastically than Hindu youth and he had passed all the tests. Now no one shall dare say that Muslims should not be trusted. This was first experiment which succeeded.

“Ashfaq! May god give peace to your soul. You have saved the honour of mine and all Muslims and also showed that like in Turkey and Egypt, one can also find such Muslim youth in India.

Now my only request to countrymen is that if they had even an iota of sorrow at our death, then, with whatever means, they must establish Hindu-Muslim unity; that was our last wish and this only can be our memorial . All religions and all parties should consider Congress as a representative. Then the day is not far, when Britishers have to bow before Indians.

“Whatever I am saying, same is the opinion of Sh. Ashfaqullah Khan Warsi. At the time of making appeal, I had talked to him in Lucknow; Ashfaq was not agreeable for giving a mercy petition. Only on my insistence, he had done so.

“I had even told the government that till it is not ready to trust me, it can keep me in jail or exile to some other country and not allow me to return to India. But what was the government to do? Government only wanted to hang us, to sprinkle salt on Hindustanis raw wounds, to make them writhe in pain. Some things may get balanced and by the time we are reborn and get ready to work, the condition of country should have improved.

“Now my clear advice is that neither one should give any statement before British courts nor make any defence. One reason for making an appeal was to get the execution date postponed and see the strength of youth and countrymen’s help! I was really disappointed in this. I had thought of breaking out of the jail, if it had happened, other three’s death sentence would also had been remitted. If government had not done it, I would have got it done. I knew its methods very well. I tried my best to break out of jail, but got no help from the outside. No youth turned up to help me. My request to youth is that till many people get educated; don’t pay attention to secret organisations. If they have desire to serve the country, they should work openly . Just listening to empty rhetoric and imagining green pastures, they should not put their lives in trouble. There is not yet time for secret work . We had a lot of experiences during this trial, but the government did not give us any opportunity to avail these. But both Indian and Britain’s governments will regret this.

“At the time of interview, he said this also that ‘revolutionaries lack courage and people don’t have sympathy for them yet and they have regionalism among them a lot. They don’t trust each other fully, so because of this, their desires remained suppressed. I was offered rupees five thousand and promised to be sent to England for doing Bar at law, just on verbal assurance; but I treated it as a deep sin and paid no attention to it . But regrettably many trusted and self-sacrificial considered comrades deceived the party for their personal comforts and behaved treacherously with us’.”

The above piece was signed Vidrohi, the fictitious name Bhagat Singh used to write most of his articles. He used other fictitious names also.

Chaman Lal is a professor (retired) and a former chairperson of the Centre of Indian Languages at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is honorary adviser, Bhagat Singh Archives & Resource Centre, Delhi Archives, and a fellow of Panjab University, Chandigarh.