“We hold human life sacred beyond words. We are neither perpetrators of dastardly outrages … nor are we ‘lunatics’ as … some others would have it believed,” Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt wrote in a statement responding to the public criticism of their throwing of smoke bombs and pamphlets in the Delhi central legislative assembly on 8 April 1929. Inspired by the actions of Auguste Vaillant, an anarchist who had bombed the French chamber of deputies, the two revolutionaries aimed to protest the passing of two repressive bills. They had planned to surrender after the act and use court appearances as a stage to publicise their cause. Singh and Dutt were sentenced to life imprisonment for “causing explosions of a nature likely to endanger life, unlawfully and maliciously.”
The scenes witnessed in the Indian parliament on 13 December 2023 were mimicking that incident from 94 years ago. Manoranjan D and Sagar Sharma threw smoke bombs in the Lok Sabha to draw the country’s attention to some of the grave problems that remain unaddressed by the government and unheard in television studios: inflation, authoritarianism, the situation in Manipur, and, above all, joblessness. Lest they be castigated as anti-nationals, videos show that Manoranjan and Sharma shouted “Bharat Mata Ki Jai.” The two were arrested, along with their other accomplices, and have been charged under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The police have yet to find any links between the accused and any terror group or political party.
Terrorism is now a loaded term with negative connotations. But a century ago, it was just a tactic. One of Bhagat Singh’s fellow revolutionaries, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, explained this in the manifesto Philosophy of the Bomb, his response to MK Gandhi’s criticism of the “cult of the bomb.” Terrorism, Vohra wrote, “is a necessary and inevitable phase of the revolution. Terrorism is not the complete revolution, and the revolution is not complete without terrorism.”