In a painting competition organised in a colony in Delhi on the occasion of the 88th martyrdom day (23rd March) of Bhagat Singh along with his two comrades Rajguru and Sukhdev the students were asked to write a sentence or slogan on the ideals of Bhagat Singh. None, out of the 150 students who participated in the competition could write a single word on either the ideals of Bhagat Singh or the slogans that he had coined during the freedom movement. The children were in the age group of 11 - 15 years. What does this signify?
Prof Chaman Lal who has led enormous research into the life of Bhagat Singh, attributes it to the reality that is prevalent, which is - his photo is widely popular but not his ideals. The intellectual input is lacking and hence it does not catch the imagination of the younger generation. Bhagat Singh still remains a romantic icon. But that is the problem with romanticism. Once it gets withered away so does the persona and his stature. There should be a serious study of the ideals of Bhagat Singh and that is of utmost importance, Chaman Lal suggested.
When asked whether the inability of the students to present the ideals of Bhagat Singh could be attributed to the way Bhagat Singh was treated in Independent India, His (Prof Chaman Lal’s) answer was an affirmative yes. It is no hidden fact that the ruling classes in post-independent India, has not only been calumnious for the martyred heroes but has also not been supportive. There have been instances, where Bhagat Singh has not been taught at all in the school curriculum for his thoughts have been too radical for the successive ruling dispensations. Instead, they (ruling parties) tried to usurp his heritage by creating several false narratives. There have also been reports about how Bhagat Singh has been termed a terrorist instead of a revolutionary in Madhya Pradesh school curriculums.
But the question is, is it just the state that has to be blamed for such a situation or are there more lessons underneath? A relook at the freedom struggle would probably exhibit more insights. Experts have commented that the students during the freedom struggle were quite aware about the ideas and the ideals they intended to nourish. Despite the present-day information, (misinformation) the period of freedom struggle showed much enthusiasm amongst the younger generation. It is a fact that students of just 10 years of age numbering more than 700 went to jail during the call of Naujawan Bharat Sabha in 1928. Lala Lajpat Rai’s grandson was one amongst them. This also exhibits how the movements and organisations were developed during those days. Harkishan Singh Surjeet who was very young during that period once recalled the training being imparted. He said literature used to be smuggled in the jail and then written by hand, and then again smuggled out for further circulation. During those days, machine copying was not available. During an interaction he mentioned how it took months together to write the entire ‘Dialectics of Nature’ by Engels, by hand which was then circulated amongst comrades. Surjeet spent a long period of his life in jail.
So, it is not just the state but also the construct of the organisations which are committed to the slogans of Socialism, revolution who have to ponder over the way and the manner to reach out to people, especially the young. One has to learn lessons from the past about how mental training was imparted to the young people to attract them towards these goals. No doubt, there is a contrast between those days and now. The British are gone. The ruling dispensation however has not been able to fulfil the tasks of the freedom movement. But the issues of the people for basic needs continue to lend spaces for mobilisation. Unemployment is rising at an alarming rate. Paul Krugmann, the Noble Prize winner has emphatically said that if India is not able to manage its unemployment problem then its story (developmental narrative) could end. The unity of people is deliberately being targeted by the BJP. It spreads communal venom and intends to engage the younger generation into an altogether hallucinated challenge. In such an environment the relevance and importance of Bhagat Singh is all the more important.
Akhar Bandhopadhyay is a class 12 student from West Bengal and in his recent presentation on Bhagat Singh during the inauguration of the ‘ Bhagat Singh archives’ in Delhi he stunned everybody. He has read Bhagat Singh and some of the best revolutionaries of the world at such a young age. If Akhar can be inspired to read and get motivated by this ideology of Socialism then why can’t the millions of young people. The modern-day organisations of students and the youth especially those which are led by the Left have to ponder over this issue. The challenge definitely is enormous. Proper training and ideologically building the struggle amongst the students will certainly build a strong movement of the youth and students. The slogans of equality, democracy and socialism continue to inspire the present generation, perhaps the immediate demands are to be coined in a more objective way.