Bhagat Singh and the Hindu Rashtra: Mahtab Alam

Guest post by MAHTAB ALAM

“The communists’ ideologues conveniently ignore the truth that the roots of Bhagat Singh’s ideology lie in the very concept of Hindu Rashtra,” claims an article by Dipin Damodharan, published on this day last year. Damodharan, as introduced at the end of the article, is a student pursuing Masters in Communication and Journalism (MCJ) at the Calicut University of Kerala. He argues: “To my knowledge, he sacrificed his precious life for a noble cause, for the liberation of Bharat from the invaders, for nationalism. Undoubtedly Bhagat’s legacy belongs to every Bharati. But for the communists (experts in transforming sheep to dog), he died for communism and not for nationalism. They are incessantly advocating Bhagat as their poster boy, for several years they have been using Goebalsian tricks to claim Bhagat’s legacy.” The author further argues, “They are injecting fake stories about Bhagat into the blood of youth who are ignorant about Bharat’s history. Discarding the historical facts, the communists become angry with the Sangh inspired organizations for propagating Bhagat’s ideals”.

To justify his claims, the author cites examples like Bhagat Singh was born in a family who were staunch followers of the Arya Samaj, was educated at Dayanad Anglo Vedic (DAV) School and National College of Lahore, was inspired by the sagas of two great patriots Chatrapati Shivaji and Maharana Pratap and finally, they link at his association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Of course, without any reference! To any of us who has read Bhagat’s writings, it is nothing but absurd or, if we go by Damodharan’s own definition — it is an attempt to transform sheep in to a dog.

Baghat Singh himself, in his most famous writing, ‘Why I Am An Atheist’ clarifies the above absurdities. He wrote, “I deny the very existence of that Almighty Supreme being… My grandfather under whose influence I was brought up is an orthodox Arya Samajist. An Arya Samajist is anything but an atheist. After finishing my primary education I joined the DAV. School of Lahore and stayed in its Boarding House for one full year… Later on, I joined the revolutionary party… My previous faith and convictions underwent a remarkable modification… I had become a pronounced atheist.”

Dismissing Dipin Damodharan’s remarks as absurd and ignoring them is not what we should do, as these attempts are not abrupt. They are pre-planned and occupy various forms of mass communication. Communal forces are not letting go of any chance to misuse these heros for furthering their communal agendas. Last year, a month before the Ayodhya verdict, the ‘Bhagwa Brigade’ (saffron brigade) gave a public call to recruit 10,000 Hindu youth from Madhya Pradesh (MP) for the mission to establish a Hindu Rasthra. To do so, they issued a poster and pasted copies of it all over the state of Madhya Pradesh. Notably in the poster, with Sawarkar, Shivaji and others, one finds pictures of Bhagat Singh, Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Subhas Chandra Bose, being portrayed as Hindu revolutionaries! One might not have any objection in portraying Shivaji, Maharana Pratap, Jhansi ki Rani and Chandra Sekhar Azad as Hindu icons, but portrayal of Bhagat Singh, Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Subhas Chandra Bose in the same vein is really objectionable and very disturbing, because of their known commitment to secularism and for being non communal.

Like Bhagat Singh, it was very clear to Subhas Chandra Bose of who he was and what he wanted. In 1929, while delivering a speech at Lahore Students’ Conference, Lahore, he famously said, If we are to bring about a revolution of ideas, we have first to hold up before us, an ideal which will galvanise our whole life. That ideal is Freedom. But freedom is a word which has a varied connotation and even in our country, the conception of freedom has undergone a process of evolution. By freedom I mean all-round freedom i.e., freedom for the individual as well as for society, freedom for man as well as for woman, freedom for the rich as well as for the poor, freedom for all individuals and for all classes. This freedom implies not only emancipation from political bondage but also equal distribution of wealth, abolition of caste barriers and social iniquities and destruction of communalism and religious intolerance. This is an ideal which may appear Utopian to hard-headed men and women — but this ideal alone can appease the hunger of the soul.”

Ambedkar converted to Buddhism  in protest of the jati-varna system of Hinduism, and was very clear about what he stood for. He repeatedly opposed the system of Hinduism let alone the ideology of Hindutva. He had asked his followers to stop the Hindu Rashtra from becoming a reality at all costs. But again, Hindu communal political parties like the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), spread deliberate confusion about him by misquoting him and depicting him as ‘their’ leader. Last year, on the eve of 6th December (anniversary of Babari Masjid demolition), on the walls on Jamia Nagar, a new kind of poster was seen. The poster was put up by Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the youth wing of BJP, and read thus, ‘Yugh Purush Baba Saheb Ambedker ke nirvana divas par Dr. Bheem Rao Ambeker Cricket Tournament-10’, with a relatively larger picture of Baba Saheb (as compared to) other leaders of BJYM, who were shown promoting the event. The event which was scheduled to take place in Malviya Nagar had absolutely no connection with Jamia Nagar, except that both finish on the same last name! While seeing the poster, one wonders what it has to do with Jamia Nagar. At the same time, the same or any other poster about the event was not seen in neighbouring Jullena or Sukhdev Vihar, which have a dominant non-Muslim population, let alone other areas of Delhi. But of course, it was put up for diverting the attention of the Muslims from the anniversary of demolition of Babari Masjid. Moreover, to my understanding, it was meant to convey a message to the ordinary resident of Jamia nagar (read Muslim) that either, Ambedker was a leader of the BJP, or at least somebody who sympathised with its ideology and those of its allies, which is absolutely wrong and ridiculous, to say the least.     

Hindutva-waadis are hell bent on distorting facts and influencing the common sense through the medium of mass communication. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, these forces spread a rumor that on 14th February 1931, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru & Sukhdev were hanged till death by British government and we celebrate this day as Valentine day! Isn’t it surprising & painful? I am told by a journalist friend of mine from south India that, this is the standard question you have to counter if you say what is wrong with celebrating Valentine’s Day! This, when it is a well-established historical fact that Bhagat Singh, along with Sukhdev and Rajguru were martyred on 23rd March 1931 and not on 14th February.

The zealots don’t stop there. They have even tried spreading misinformation through Wikipedia, the preferable web dictionary for the net savvy, to know who is who and what is what. According to a news report that had appeared in The Hindu, ‘the Wikipedia page on Bhagat Singh underwent many editing changes on February 13 and 14, Valentine’s day ’. The date of Bhagat Singh’s hanging had been changed from 23rd March to 14th February 1931. And it was due to such propaganda that an international news website, reported, “While the whole world observes 14th February as Valentine’s Day, not many Indians remember that the day was also when the Indian freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged to death by the Britishers in Lahore, Pakistan”. Similarly, this 13th February Twitter was on fire with talk of the 14th as Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom day next day, and even the editor of a Hindi news channel mourned that everyone was looking forward only to Valentine’s Day. He was shamed into apologising the next day.

We will have many days every year to remember Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Ashfaqullah Khan, Baba Saheb Ambedker, Subhas Chandra Bose and others, on their martyrdom, death, and birth anniversaries. This puts greater responsibility on us—the responsibility of not believing in distorted facts, but to keep alive the belief of what these revolutionaries had lived and died for. In order to pay our real tribute to the makers of modern India, we should counter the propaganda of communal forces at various levels. The choice is ours, whether we want to contest such vandalism or let it go uncontested until such time as the common masses have no option but to believe, A for Ambedkar – A for Advani, B for Bhagat Singh, B for Bhagwa, S for Subhas Chandra Bose, S for Sawarkar…

Are we ready for that?

(Mahtab Alam is a civil rights activist and independent journalist. He can be reached at activist dot journalist at gmail dot com.)

19 thoughts on “Bhagat Singh and the Hindu Rashtra: Mahtab Alam”

  1. The appropriation of icons who never believed in and even fought Hindutva is an absolute necessity for the Sangh Parivaar which has absolutely no contribution in the struggle for independence or the making of a united India before or after independence. One of the major ways through which it does this now is through running thousands of schools all over India where through special textbooks and pedagogy millions of students are being brought up to believe in these myths. Its even more dangerous now that such schools also regularly take the top positions in the Class 10th and Class 12th examinations in many parts of the country. The Sangh always sought to groom Hindutva activists and sympathisers in the bureaucracy, the academia and other middle class elites and intellectuals. Increasingly they have people entering these professions and services after having been groomed in Sangh Parivaar run schools from early childhood for more than 10 to 12 years. What will happen in ten years time? What in twenty years? Bharat Dograji was telling me about the concept of the ‘Tipping Point’ in climate change discourse which means a point in time after which the Climate Change will be impossible to reverse. In how many years will there be a similar tipping point beyond which it would be impossible to de-communalise India?


  2. Brilliant piece sir. One quibble. Where you say one might not have an objection to Shivaji, Maharana Pratap, Jhansi Rani or Chandrashekar Azad. It is possible the first two never even heard the word ‘Hindu’ let alone have a consciousness of Hindu society. I’m no historian but I know that there is enough literature that disproves any notion that these people were fighting for any kind of Hindu Nation. What I mean to say is, this appropriation is nothing new. This has been happening for a long time.

    With the passage of time there might come a day where the Naxals who operate under leaders with names of Hindu gods for code names (Kishenji and Ganapathy, I’m sure there are a lot of Gondi code names which mean other things but surely these can be forgotten if needed) were Hindu nationalists who fought against an oppressive regime of Italian Catholics and a Sikh figurehead.


  3. Its mostly a misnormer or appears like a mirague , when famous Malayalam film director Aryadan Shoukath has told , when he spoke about fundementalism in malappuram district it was the former naxallites who came up against him.

    Similarly just take the case of Middle peast protests , Kafila spaced articles about egypt uprising tried to parellels between Egypt and Kashmir. But there are no single comment about uprisisng in Bahrain , Saudi Arabia or Syria. THis is a pattern that can be seen in Islamist Websites


  4. The idea of changing date is ridiculous . But the article in general lacks context. Bhagat Singh may have been an athiest brought up by arya samaji, but could you give examples of people born in other religions (in our country) to have done what he did. But you cant deny the fact that he followed people like azad and bismil, whom you include in “hindu revolutionaries”. It hurts to think that people count the religion of our freedom fighters.
    In a comment above I hear sarcasm about schools run by RSS. Well, its laughable that in our country if somebody should gain knowledge it has to be approved by ppl who are as short sighted as the person above. These words show bitterness to the students who happen to top state exams but come from RSS run schools, Next he will say These students had a different rigged paper.
    Another indicates rana pratap , Sivaji did not fight for hindu rashtra. Clearly you dont know our history, and the meaning of Hindu rashtra. It was in the Hindhu rashtra that Nalanda existed, it was here that Chanakya , Vidhyaranya , Kabir opened their wings. It was not a nation where you get reservations and benifits based on religion. A society where every body, including the king were below the law. That is the rashtra that even Bhagat singh dreamed of. And to all those who talk about Hindus being majorities and oppressors , We are the minorities when you consider the human race. Do people seriously believe that any hindhu can go to any country in the world and practice Hindhuism like he does here, I say they are kidding themselves.


  5. Well said sir. but in one point of difference that most likely Shivaji,Rana pratap singh,jhansi bai had fought for their stubborn refusal to subjudication to superior adversaries and never at their back of their minds they might be nurturing a thought akin to hindutva.They at any point of time cannot be bracketed with the icons of hindutva. Lachit Barphukan of Assam also had fought the Mughals and had them routed back to Delhi. but he never was a communalist. Mere fighting a Predominantly muslim army do not automatically label someone as a champion of hindutva.But doesnt it seems to the muslim community that we are giving these communal forces the long handle to flex their muscles through education ? The most funny and quixotable fatwas from the deobandis regarding education ,working place for women et.el.,are making a mockery of the lofty ideals dreamt by our founding fathers of India.Such things do not assimilate the muslim populace with the main stream but only alienate them to pockets leaving a open field to the communalists.Such trend had to be stopped by awareness about the true facts of history


  6. Dear Vijay, just because Rana Pratap and Shivaji had religious beliefs that we today call Hindu, or even the fact that they were fighting against Muslims does not prove that they were fighting for a Hindu Rashtra. In fact if I remember right from my history text book in the battle of Haldighati (of Chetak dying to save it’s master fame) Maharana Pratap’s main general was Hakim Khan Sur Pathan and Akbar was represented by Raja Man Singh. How then was any of that a Hindu rashtra? As was the case with Shivaji who had several Muslims in his guerilla army.

    Respected sir, I would like to further point out that Nalanda was for the longest time a Buddhist center of learning. I live in the city where the manuscript of the Arthashastra was found and have taken interest in it and can tell you that the entire document does not have a single mention of the word “Hindu” or “Sanatana Dharma”. I come from a sect of Bramhins which is affiliated to the Sringeri Matth of which Vidyaranya was pontiff (long long ago) and have the greatest respect for him. However it is problematic to call him a Hindu nationalist either. In his treatise Sarvadarshanasangraha where he looks at various philosophies (which today fall within Hinduism) he never says “we are all Hindus” or anything of the sort but rather clearly demarcates that followers of other philosophies are different from us (i.e. Advaitists).

    I wouldn’t normally have replied, but the irony was that Shri Vijay was giving an good illustration of the authors point by appropriating even more historical figures to the “Hindu rashtra” cause.


  7. As @voyeur has already and correctly pointed out, you’ve responded to an appropriation of icons by the HIndu Nationalist wing… by helping appropriate more icons to the Hindu nationalist wing.

    The underlying premise of this article is that it shares the same world view as the RSS, that a Hindu is a Hindu is a Hindu. That, like Christianity and Islam (or at least the twisted versions of it that are propagated these days) there’s no space for internal dissent or disagreement within Hinduism (a gross misnomer in itself) and people are incapable of escaping a false religious identity imposed on them. In fact, this is the very argument you make against the appropriation of Bhagat Singh that you make in favour of appropriating Shivaji, et al.

    And this is my issue with the opposition to the Hindu fundamentalism as well. There’s no space left for the middle ground. Either you denounce religion as a whole or you’re a right wing Hindu nut. Which is to adopt the same tactics as the other side in a race to the bottom.

    The battle against extremism is won in the middle. It is won by winning over the undecided, the moderate, the thoughtful and the unprejudiced and convincing them that there is space for all of the above in your views-tent. Extremism cannot be countered by extremism adhering only to a slightly different set of dogmas.

    On a more apposite point, would the communists in India have done so badly in politics if they’d replaced every photo of Marx and Lenin with Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad or even, Ambedkar and Bose? It’s all very well to challenge the “appropriation” of icons, but as we say in the law, possession is nine-tenths of ownership. If communists haven’t really taken possession of Ambedkar, Bose, Bhagat Singh et al and relegated them to minor prophets in a lesser pantheon, wouldn’t you be in law guilty of allowing adverse possession?


    1. After reading the book, “Why i am an atheist” by Bhagat Singh, i am so surprised ,how progressive was Comrade Bhagat Singh …that is in 1930’s.
      I feel pity towards bloody RSS,without any shame how could you say “Hamara Bhagat singh…Hamara RajGuru…Hamara sukhdev…” Olakkeda mood .

      Hi RSS friends,
      Read and analyse history.The book is available in almost all book stalls.Expecting a healthy debate. :)

      “One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “When your last days come, you will begin to believe.” I said, “No, dear sir, Never shall it happen. I consider it to be an act of degradation and demoralisation. For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray.” Reader and friends, is it vanity? If it is, I stand for it.”- Bhagat Singh


  8. 14th feb is the date when Shaheed Bhagat Singh,Rajguru and Sukhdev were awarded the death sentence, not hanged.


  9. “”Notably in the poster, with Sawarkar, Shivaji and others, one finds pictures of Bhagat Singh, Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Subhas Chandra Bose, being portrayed as Hindu revolutionaries! One might not have any objection in portraying Shivaji, Maharana Pratap, Jhansi ki Rani and Chandra Sekhar Azad as Hindu icons, but portrayal of Bhagat Singh, Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Subhas Chandra Bose in the same vein is really objectionable and very disturbing, because of their known commitment to secularism and for being non communal.””

    I wonder how the author came to the conclusion that Shivaji (a Marathi ) & Pratap -a Mewari were Hindu Nationalists & yet Bose was not. All the three were fighting for what in theire days was their respective nations — be it Shivaji who fought for Marathi pride , Pratap for his Mewar country’s sovereignty against Akbar –who was still seen “foreigner” by many (in case you read Abdullah Khan Bhatti’s ,also a Rajput , response to Akbar where the formere introduced himself as a Punjab’s Son willing to fight the latter) & Bose fought for what in British era & even today , comes to be seen as India.


  10. I’m a Hindu in Canada, and I’ve been here since 1993, so I’ve grown up here, and I’ve always admired the Hindu cultures of the Indian Subcontinent and elsewhere, such as Indonesia and Afghanistan. Even here I have become a part of it.

    Some practices which Hindus have encouraged on ethical and spiritual grounds are very popular now in the west, including Yoga and vegetarianism, as well as the ideas of reincarnation and karma. Gandhi’s model of political resistance is also the model for modern civil revolutionaries like Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. I like India’s Hindu heritage, and I like that it has also has had so many Hindu figures from over 5000 years ago, including kings, such as Yayati and Sindhudwipa who would give up their royalties to become ascetics. (Even the Asuras were great ascetics or devotees!)

    Just because Bhagat Singh was an athiest doesn’t make him against Hindu culture, from which even Veer Savarkar the atheist was from! The Hindu Mahasabha and Hindutva were Savarkar’s establishments and what he declared was that a Hindu is merely one that accepts India (Hindusthan) as his or her fatherland. Bhagat Singh did not believe in establishing a government based on religion, but neither did Savarkar. Hindu Rashtra is based on spiritual heritage but not specifically on any religion. Most Muslims and Christians are outside of the “Hinduness” so far because they keep mainly non-Indian customs, names, and heroes. Even many Jains and Buddhists are of Hindutva, such as Vishnushankar Jain (Advocate of Hindu Front For Justice) and J.K. Jain (the BJP parliamentarian.) Ambedkar had said that at one point “most Hindus were Buddhists”, meaning that Buddhism was a part of the Hindu society. An athiest can have spirituality and even be a Hindu without belonging to a religion.


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