We Need To Revisit Bhagat Singh And Netaji To Truly Appreciate ‘Nationalism’

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By Anurag Bhaskar

As the certificates of ‘nationalism’ are being distributed these days, it is for us to refer to ideas and beliefs of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose, the two great revolutionaries hailed equally by all Indians. We must remember and follow the ideas of these revolutionaries. It is time for us to decide what we actually mean by nationalism and freedom?

Bhagat Singh used to read a lot. He used to study to enable himself to confront the arguments put forward by the opposition, to arm himself with reasons in favour of his cult of revolution and to study methods to change the system in India. Bhagat Singh had joined issue with the freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai more than once. He disagreed with his chauvinistic Hindu stance. Lajpat Rai, in turn, had denounced him as a ‘Russian agent’ and regarded the revolutionaries as ‘irresponsible young men’.

Kuldip Nayar, the author of the book The Life And Trial of Bhagat Singh, writes about the great revolutionary: “A revolutionary believes in the complete overthrow of any established government or political system that does not give economic equality to the people. In his scheme of things, citizens should be empowered against economic powerlessness and given individual dignity.”

The independence of India was the ultimate aim for Bhagat Singh. But the struggle for the independence of India, for Bhagat Singh, was basically a struggle for social and economic betterment. He felt that real progress would come only when opportunities are given to every individual to develop himself/herself and also to work for the whole community.

He had once written to his mother, Vidyavati Kaur:

“Ma, I have no doubt that my country will be one day free. But I am afraid that the brown sahibs are going to sit in the chairs the white sahibs will vacate.” He was convinced that no change was possible without the destruction of the antiquated system and revolution alone could do so.

In the quest for independence through revolution, Singh was attracted towards Anarchism. He studied the writings of Mikhail Bakunin, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky. From May to September 1928, Kirti, a pro-independence paper, published several articles by Bhagat Singh on Anarchism. He had declared, “…The people are scared of the word anarchism” and that “[t]he word anarchism has been abused so much that even in India revolutionaries have been called anarchist to make them unpopular.” He equated the traditional Indian idea of “universal brotherhood” to the anarchist principle of “no rulers.” He wrote, “I think in India the idea of universal brotherhood, the Sanskrit sentence vasudev kutumbakam etc., have the same meaning…The first man to explicitly propagate the theory of Anarchism was Proudhon and that is why he is called the founder of Anarchism. After him a Russian, Bakunin worked hard to spread the doctrine. He was followed by Prince Kropotkin etc.”

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