People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 15

April 15, 2007

Carry Forward Bhagat Singh’s Secular, 

Anti-Imperialist And Marxist Outlook


Prakash Karat paying floral tributes at Bhagat Singh's portrait.


P R Krishnan


THE department of Civics and Politics of the University of Mumbai organised a two-day national seminar on March 28-29, 2007 on ‘Bhagat Singh and Beyond: Rethinking Radicalism in Indian Politics, Culture and Politics.’ This grand programme coincided with the completion of 150 years of India’s first war of Independence, 150 years of University of Mumbai, birth centenary year of Bhagat Singh and completion of seventy five years of his martyrdom. The participants comprised eminent academicians from different universities of India apart from political leaders, writers, authors and social scientists.


The key note address in the inaugural session was given by Prakash Karat, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The chairperson for this session was P Govinda Pillai, an outstanding Marxist theoretician and columnist. All the sessions were held in the auditorium of the Pherozeshah Mehta Bhavan, located at Santacruz East in the north-west Mumbai.


Presenting the keynote address, Prakash Karat touched upon and referred to different times and features of the freedom struggle and the role of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues. He said, “Bhagat Singh and his comrades represented a stream of the independence struggle which was distinct from that of the Congress led national movement. The significance of Bhagat Singh and his band of young revolutionaries was that, though they initially drew sustenance from the traditions of the ‘revolutionary terrorism’ which arose at the beginning of the 20th century, they were in the process of transcending it by embracing the new ideology which was both secular and scientific.” Karat then referred to the period when the people were drawn to the Congress and the changes taking place in the mindset of the young revolutionary and said that “Bhagat Singh’s thoughts were maturing in a period when the Congress, under Gandhiji’s leadership, had already drawn the masses into the freedom struggle with the non-cooperation movement. It was an era when the Russian revolution had begun exercising its powerful influence on the revolutions outside, and the radicals within the Congress”. 


Prakash Karat then referred to the spread of Marxist-Leninist ideology in the world and the message of October Socialist Revolution and said, “the transition to a socialist outlook between 1928 and 1931 for Bhagat Singh and his followers in the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army was taking place parallel to the early communist groups which were also in a process of consolidating towards the organisation of an all-India party. It will be appropriate, therefore, to see Bhagat Singh and his comrades as one of the streams which contributed to the communist movement”. He also pointed out that “the trial of Bhagat Singh and his comrades in Lahore from 1929 took place alongside the Meerut trial of the Communist leaders. Both these trials, the defence put up by accused and the intellectual development of the prisoners in the two trials were important stages in the evolution of a Marxist platform. The execution of Bhagat Singh abruptly removed one of the vital strands in this process. Other revolutionaries of the same period such as those belonging to the Chittagong group, completed the journey and joined the Communist party”.


Continuing further, Karat took a dig at the Hindutva forces. As against the anti-imperialist, socialist and secular ideology to which Bhagat Singh was getting influenced, organisations like Hindu Mahasabha was spreading its communal canard. Karat pointed out that the “entire outlook and the ideology which Bhagat Singh came to subscribe was the very antithesis of the Hindu communal ideology and politics espoused by the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. Bhagat Singh’s was a rational, scientific and a developing socialist worldview. This aspect has vital importance in the present day, as it underlines the difference between the anti-imperialism of Bhagat Singh which would not compromise with any of the communal ideas or organisations. It is to cover up the strong secular, anti-communal socialist ideology which Bhagat Singh came to represent, that the RSS reduces him to a pantheon of heroes which includes V D Savarkar and Aurobindo Ghosh who represented Hindu radicalism”. Prakash Karat then said, “The legacy of Bhagat Singh – firm secularism, anti-imperialism and an evolving Marxist outlook – needs to be carried forward. To reduce Bhagat Singh to a brave young martyr minus his clear vision of an India free from communal and casteist vices and a society based on socialism is to do injustice to his memory. In India today, when the ruling classes are turning their back on all that was inherited from our anti-imperialist struggle, when communal forces are able to mount a serious challenge to secular-democratic values, Bhagat Singh should be a shining exemplary to counter the reactionary and retrogressive forces.”


The book titled, “Bhagat Singh: The Jail Notebook and Other Writings”, compiled with an introduction by Professor Chaman Lal of JNU, who was present in the national seminar, and published by LeftWord, New Delhi was informally released by Prakash Karat at the seminar and presented a copy of the book to the department of Civics & Politics through its Head, Dr Jose George. 


P Govinda Pillai in his presidential speech gave a graphic picture of different characteristics of the freedom struggle and the role played by Bhagat Singh and his colleagues. He said that it was unfortunate that Mahatma Gandhi could find no words to condemn the British who sent Bhagat Singh to gallows and kept silent over his hanging. Dr Kannamma Raman welcomed the guests. Dr Jose George, Professor and Head of the department of Civics & Politics presented the theme of the seminar and introduced the dignitaries to the participants. Dr.Sudha Mohan proposed a vote of thanks.


The inaugural function was followed by six academic sessions. It covered themes like: Bhagat Singh and His Ideology, the Indian National Congress and Freedom Movement, Communal/Religious Forces in the Freedom Movement and Contemporary Indian Politics, Social and Political Radicalism during the Freedom Movement and Cultural and Political Relevance of Bhagat Singh in Contemporary India.


The first of these six sessions was chaired by Professor J V Naik, president of Indian History Congress. The other participants in the panels who presented papers were all eminent social scientists and activists. The important among them were presentations by Professor Datta Desai (Revisiting Bhagat Singh: Ideology & Politics), Dr Janardhan Pandey (Bhagat Singh and Indian Freedom Movement: An Unforgettable Chapter), P Govinda Pillai (Ahimsa and Other Myths in the Popular History of our Freedom Struggle), K Srinivasulu (Nationalist Movement and Agrarian Question: Reflecting on the Telangana Peasant Struggle), Dr Ashok Dhawale (Bhagat Singh and the Communist Movement), Dr Jose George (Bhagat Singh: Transformation from Patriotic Nationalism to Revolutionary Communism), Dr K K Theckedath (Bhagat Singh and Radical Social Movement), Dr Mangesh Kulkarni (Swaraj: Visions of Emancipation in Nationalist Discourse), Dr P K Pokker (Malabar Revolt: The role of Ideology and Religion in the Formation of Collective Subject and Its Implication), Dr Tushar Jagtap (The Freedom Movement and Militancy: The Role of Dr B R Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh), Dr Tapati Mukhopadhyay (An Assessment of the Revolutionary Movement in India in the Early 20th Century – With Special Reference to Shaheed Bhagat Singh), Dr Sadanand More (Hindu Organisations and their Role), B Mohanan (Religion and Social Development) and Professor Vasanti Damle (Influences and Interpretations: Comrade S A Dange)




P Govinda Pillai narrated the various phases and trends during the prolonged struggle for the country’s independence and the role played by various streams such as peasant struggle, first war of independence, 1857 initiated by mutineers, British Indian soldiers, struggles of moderates and extremist groups of the Congress Party and other revolutionary groups who waged war against British imperial rule in India through the use of arms, including the role of streams led by Bhagat Singh and his associates parallel to the movements led by the communist leaders. While acknowledging the role of all these streams particularly of Mahatma Gandhi and his followers, he candidly remarked that it would be a myth to credit India’s freedom to the attributes of non-violence and Satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi. He opined that the use of Gandhian strategy of non-violence was a part of political tactics of bourgeois nationalism aiming for sharing of power with the British and to blunt the class struggle of poor masses. An eminent Gandhian, Dr Janardhan Pandey emphasised the role of unique strategy of Satyagraha and Non-violence propounded and effectively used by Mahatma Gandhi and his followers while paying tribute to the contribution made by the great sacrifices of Bhagat Singh to the cause of the Indian independence struggle.


Dr Chaman Lal, who is considered an authority in the area of study on Bhagat Singh, delivered the valedictory address in the session chaired by Dr Jose George. He spoke extensively on the various facets of life and works of Bhagat Singh. He concluded by stressing the need of adopting Bhagat Singh as an icon of resistance against the neo-emergent forces of imperialism, communalism and other reactionary forces threatening the democratic fabric of society. Dr K K Theckedath emphasised the need of serious radical thinking and actions in pursuance of that for transformation of the society along socialist lines which could be an effective panacea for redeeming the society of all its vices.


Later, Prakash Karat inaugurated the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Bhavan, the new premises for the teacher’s union constructed by the University with the contributions of more than Rs 20 lakh collected from the teachers by the Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union (BUCTU). Karat appreciated the demand from teachers and students community and finally getting it named by the University after Bhagat Singh who remains an icon for the students, youth and the teachers in their fight for a just and secular society. 


The seminar was a memorable experience. As mentioned by Chaman Lal, department of Civics & Politics of the Mumbai University gets the credit of organising a first ever national seminar on Bhagat Singh by any Indian university. The vote of thanks was proposed by Dr Rajesh Kharat and the seminar concluded with a clarion call to the youth and students of the country to rise against all manoeuvrings of imperialist forces headed by the USA in the name of globalisation and neo-liberalism and reiterated that this is going to be the right tribute to Bhagat Singh in this era.