Bhagat Singh and the politics of nationalism

03 April 2016
Members of Democratic Youth Federation of India and Students Federation of India hold a photograph of Bhagat Singh as they participate in a torch rally to pay tribute to Indian freedom fighters in Hyderabad.
Photo/Mahesh Kumar A
Members of Democratic Youth Federation of India and Students Federation of India hold a photograph of Bhagat Singh as they participate in a torch rally to pay tribute to Indian freedom fighters in Hyderabad.
Photo/Mahesh Kumar A

Bhagat Singh is one of the only national heroes, perhaps after Gandhi, who is venerated across India. This could be attributed to his appeal as a martyr, which cuts across political ideologies. If only the same was true for his intellectual legacy as well. Many simply lap him up as a martyr, but few celebrate his political and social vision. This is not to undermine the sacrifice of Singh—or, for that matter, any martyr—but it is important to add that there was more to him than just shaheedi (martyrdom).

Singh left behind a corpus of political writings, underlining his vision for an independent India. He envisioned an India where the 98 percent would rule instead of elite 2 percent. His azaadi—freedom—was not limited to the expelling of the British; instead he desired azaadi from poverty, azaadi from untouchability, azaadi from communal strife, and azaadi from every form of discrimination and exploitation. Just twenty days before his hanging on 3 March 1931 Singh sent out an explicit message to the youth, saying:

“…the struggle in India would continue so long as a handful of exploiters go on

exploiting the labour of the common people for their own ends. It matters little

whether these exploiters are purely British capitalists, or British and Indians in

S Irfan Habib is the Maulana Azad Chair at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi.

Keywords: Bhagat Singh nationalism independence movement
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