History

Mahatma Gandhi had the chance to save Bhagat Singh – What happened in reality

Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh. These are two such names that are rarely used in a sentence together. Most people consider them to be in opposition. But you will be shocked to know the link between the two. What was Mahatma Gandhi doing when Bhagat Singh was executed? Did he try to save Bhagat Singh? Come, in today’s Gandhi Jayanti Special episode, let’s look at this part of history. “I know the value of discipline and truth. I regard myself as a soldier. A soldier of peace.” Let’s begin our story in the year 1919. When Mahatma Gandhi launched the Non-Cooperation Movement. Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagwati Charan Vohra and other revolutionaries participated in this Non-Cooperation Movement with Gandhi. But in February 1922, this Movement was withdrawn by Gandhi because the Chauri Chaura incident turned violent. As you know, Mahatma Gandhi was strictly against violence. That’s why he ended the Movement there. “In retaliation against brutality, a crowd had attacked a police post at Chauri Chaura. Hearing of this instance of violence, Gandhi immediately called a halt to this Movement.” But doing this made many revolutionaries feel disillusioned. They felt betrayed. They were ramped up about getting independence but suddenly the Movement was called off. What could be done next? Some revolutionaries like Motilal Nehru and C.R. Das decided to form a new party. They created the Swaraj Party. Some young revolutionaries decided to form an association to continue the revolutionary work. Like the Hindustan Republican Association. HRA was formed by Ram Prasad Bismil and Sachindra Nath Sanyal in 1923. They write its manifesto and name it The Revolutionary. In August 1925, the famous Kakori case happened when 10 HRA revolutionaries looted a train. While looting this train, a revolutionary Manmathnath Gupta accidentally shoots a passenger, Ahmed Ali, causing his death. Because of this reason, the police conducted a widespread search operation to catch the HRA. To catch the revolutionaries of the HRA. More than 40 people were arrested. But Chandrashekhar Azad managed to flee. One year later, in 1926, Ashfaq got arrested. After that, four were given death sentences. Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Roshan Singh and Rajendra Nath Lahiri. Five were sent to Kaala Paani. And 11 others were given rigorous imprisonment. Parallelly, Bhagat Singh’s story was playing out. In 1926, Bhagat Singh founded the Naujawan Bharat Sabha. One of the earliest Left-wing organisations in India. It worked to unite the farmers and labourers. 


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“Bhagat Singh returned to Lahore. He was one of the founders of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha. It stood for Socialism and direct action against foreign rule. Its manifesto was written by Bhagwati Charan Vohra and Bhagat Singh. Both of them joined the Hindustan Republican Association too. After the Kakori arrest, Chandrashekhar Azad worked to unite all the revolutionaries. In 1928, the word Socialist was added to Hindustan Republican Association. It became the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. Bhagat Singh is credited for it. A new manifesto is written for it Bhagat Singh’s ideologies were quite influenced by Karl Marx. This was the background knowledge. Now, let’s talk about the case Bhagat Singh was arrested in. In 1928, while the Satyagraha was in force, against the Simon Commission. When the Superintendent of Police James Scott, ordered lathicharge (to charge at people and beat them with sticks) against the protestors. One of the protestors was our Freedom Fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. He got wounded. And later, because of those wounds, he got martyred. In December 1928, Bhagat Singh and his comrades decided to kill Scott. But they made a mistake. They mistake the identity and they actually kill the Assistant Superintendent of Police 21 years old, John Saunders. During this incident, an Indian police constable, Charan Singh who was working for the British runs after Rajguru and Bhagat Singh to catch them but Chandrashekhar Azad intervenes and shoots him too as a form of self-defence. And the constable gets killed. This whole incident is called the Lahore Conspiracy Case. And if you’ve watched the film Rang De Basanti in it, this Lahore Conspiracy Case and everything that took place in it and the mistaken killing of John Saunders, is brilliantly depicted. The police conducted a widespread search operation in Lahore but Bhagat Singh disguised himself in western attire and escaped. From Lahore to Calcutta. Another incident became the reason for Bhagat Singh’s arrest in April 1929. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt dropped a bomb in the Central Assembly. Then the Central Assembly was in the same building that is the Indian Parliament building today. The British Indian government was passing two major Bills in the Central Assembly at the time. The Public Safety Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill. The basic conclusion of both the Bills was that they were declaring all strikes to be illegal. Meaning protesting against the government was being made illegal by the British government. An interesting fact is that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s elder brother Vithalbhai Patel was the President of the Assembly. And he was present in the Central Assembly at the time. In fact, he had just risen from his chair to announce the ruling on these Bills that Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt came and dropped a bomb in the middle of the House. And raised slogans. ‘Down with Imperialism.’ ‘Inquilab Zindabad.’ [Long live the Revolution.] And Karl Marx’s famous slogan, ‘Workers of the World Unite.’ After dropping the bomb, they did not run away. Instead, they got themselves arrested. Obviously, as you know, the bomb that was used was a low-intensity bomb. It wasn’t intended to kill anyone. Instead, it was to make people hear them out. Six people got minor injuries because of the bomb. And no one was killed. In fact, this incident of dropping a bomb in the middle of the Parliament was inspired by an 1893 incident in France. The French anarchist Auguste Valliant dropped a bomb in the middle of the Chamber of Deputies. In his speech he had said that people were incurring large losses because of capitalism. The poor and the labourers were being exploited. He said that he had dropped the bomb so that those pretending to be deaf could hear. The sound of the explosion of the bomb could perhaps make the deaf hear. “It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear.” He didn’t intend to kill anyone in the bomb blast. Instead, he wanted to convey a message. And Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were inspired by this incident. After their arrest, on 7th May 1929, their trial began. And false accusations are laid on Bhagat Singh. It’s said that Bhagat Singh had fired shots in the Central Assembly. Not only the IPC and the Explosive Act are used against him, but he was also charged with Section 307 of the IPC for an attempt to murder. When it was clearly evident that Bhagat Singh’s intention was not to murder anyone. It was simply to convey a message. In the court, Bhagat Singh represented himself after taking some legal advice. And Batukeshwar Dutt was represented by Congress member and eminent lawyer Asif Ali. About 1 month later, under British governance, this court sentences them to life imprisonment. 14 years of jail. “Soon after the conviction of Dutt and Bhagat Singh, evidence was found in connection with the killing of Saunders. And bomb depots were unearthed. Shiv Verma, Jaidev Kapoor, Rajguru, Jatin Das, Gaya Prasad, Kishori Lal, and other revolutionaries were arrested.” When Bhagat Singh was in jail, the British discovered the Lahore and Saharanpur bomb factories of the HSRA. And many other revolutionaries were arrested including Rajguru and Sukhdev. Many of these revolutionaries beg for mercy and become the government’s puppets. Because of them, the British government could connect the dots with the Lahore Conspiracy Case. Bhagat Singh, who was already in jail, got rearrested. And shifted to another central jail. During his time in jail, Bhagat Singh went on a hunger strike are demanded to be treated as political prisoners. And he demanded equal treatment for all the prisoners. Better food, better clothing, toiletries, access to books, and daily newspapers should be given to all of them. This was huge for the British because the British didn’t want that Bhagat Singh was seen as a legitimate revolutionary. As a political prisoner. They wanted Bhagat Singh to be considered a common, violent criminal. But because of this, Bhagat Singh became the national icon of the country. 


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When people around the country got to know of Bhagat Singh’s story, it garnered support for him. The Tribune newspaper had played an important role here for taking Bhagat Singh’s story to the people. People met in Lahore and Amritsar. The government had to impose Section 144 (curfew). To prevent the assembly of the people. During this time, Bhagat Singh had lost about 6.5 kgs. Day-by-day, as the hunger strike prolonged, the popularity of Bhagat Singh grew. Viceroy Irwin was worried about the situation. That’s why Saunders’ trial was started in advance in July 1929. On 8th August 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru went to the central jail to meet Bhagat Singh, Batukeshwar Dutt, Jatin Das, and several other revolutionaries that were on a hunger strike. These revolutionaries decide to boycott their own trial. But to counter this, the Home Minister of the British Government, introduced a new amendment in the Central Assembly, Shimla. It stated that the accused did not need to be present in his trial. Even if the accused is not present in his trial, the trial could still be conducted. Jinnah gave a strong statement for this on 12th September 1929. The next day, Jatindranath Das was martyred. After 63 days of hunger strike. “Jatin Das, a victim of police brutality, refused to break his fast. And on the 63rd day of his fast, he died. A martyr in the cause of freedom. Subhash Bose arranged for his body to be taken to Calcutta. Where 500,000 people attended his funeral.” On the other hand, Jawaharlal Nehru successfully passed an adjournment motion in the Central Assembly. Against the inhumane treatment of the Lahore prisoners. Bhagat Singh continued his hunger strike. Only after meeting his father, after 116 days, on 5th October 1929, he ended his strike. By that time, it had become one of the longest hunger strikes in the world. And the story of Bhagat Singh spreads throughout the world. Talking about his trial, four revolutionary friends backstabbed Bhagat Singh for some bribe. Jai Gopal, Hans Raj Vohra, Phonindra Nath Ghosh and Manmohan Bannerji. All of them are given something or the other by the British Government. Either money or scholarships sponsorship to study for a course or some acres of land. In return for these things, all of them speak against Bhagat Singh in the trial. But the speed of the trial was still slow. Because Bhagat Singh’s story was spreading throughout the world, and so much support was garnered for him, that the speed of the trial needed to be increased. So the Viceroy declared an Emergency. And a special tribunal was set up for the trial. This ordinance got no approval from the Central Assembly. Neither any approval from the British Parliament. So the execution of Bhagat Singh was actually totally illegal. The special tribunal is criticised a lot for this. Here came the role of Mahatma Gandhi. On 4th May 1930, Gandhi wrote to the Viceroy criticising this. “In the trial of Bhagat Singh and the others, you have deviated from the ordinary procedure. And brought a shortcut to speed up the legal proceedings. These official activities, are they not veiled forms of Martial Law? At this point of time, Bhagat Singh’s father Kishan Singh sent a written request to the tribunal saying that there were loads of facts to prove that their son is actually innocent. And that Bhagat Singh had nothing to do with Saunders’ murder case. He requested that his son be given the opportunity to prove his innocence. But when Bhagat Singh found out about this, he gets angry. On 4th October 1930, he wrote a letter to his father saying that had someone else said what his father had said, he would have considered it treachery. A betrayal of trust. But because it was done by his father, he would consider it as a weakness of the worst type. He had said, “Father, you have failed.” Bhagat Singh believed that as a political worker, he was not bothered at all about the legal laws, or what the courts and the trials were saying about it. He wanted to be given the strictest punishment because he was a political prisoner. And because he was standing up against the system. He asked his father to publicly share the letter so that the public could see his ideology. Three days later, on 7th October 1930, in the John Saunders and Charan Singh murder case, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were sentenced to death by hanging. Batukeshwar Dutt was sent to Kaala Paani for 14 years in the Assembly bombing case. It is interesting to note that Batukeshwar Dutt did not write any mercy petition in the 14 years. He spent 14 years in Kaali Paani, was released from jail after 14 years, and then participated in the Quit India Movement as well. Unlike another famous name that you know whose actions were the absolute opposite. But demanding Bhagat Singh’s life be spared, loads of applications came in from around the country to the Viceroy. Such letters were printed in the newspapers. Over many pages. Not only in India, but support from outside the country also poured in for Bhagat Singh. A Berlin journalist calls the British Prime Minister a ‘cruel, imperialist butcher’ because of this case. The communist party in England, raised their voices in support of this case. They said that the case was moving forward only because of the ‘evil desire of the imperialist government of Britain.’ 31st January 1931. Mahatma Gandhi addressed Allahabad. “They should not be hanged. My personal belief says that not only should the death sentence be scrapped but they shouldn’t even be in jail.” But despite that, when Gandhi talked with Irwin on 17th February, he does not put any pre-condition. Because he believed that the road to freedom could not be stopped for anyone. On 14th February, Congress member and lawyer Tej Bahadur Sapru talked with the Viceroy about the legality of this conviction. Another Congress leader Madan Mohan Malviya appealed that at least the hanging should be stayed. Even if they were given a life sentence. It should be considered that the acts of Bhagat Singh were not due to selfish motives. Instead, they were because of patriotic reasons. On 18th February, Mahatma Gandhi met Irwin and said that if he wanted the situation in the country to be in his favour, then he should suspend the execution of Bhagat Singh. Irwin mentioned this in the Secretary of State report as well. Mahatma Gandhi tried to first get the hanging postponed and then they would try to get it cancelled. When the circumstances would be favourable. But to get it postponed first was the most important thing. To get this done, he sent Asif Ali to Lahore. And demanded an undertaking from Bhagat Singh and his comrades. That they would give up violence. Pointing out that if Bhagat Singh said this his position to bargain would be better. But this couldn’t be possible. On 7th March 1931, in a public meeting in Delhi, Mahatma Gandhi said, On 17th March, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose addressed a large gathering in the Azad Maidan. In front of the public, he raised the demand that the hanging of Bhagat Singh be suspended. The next day, on 18th March, the defence lawyer of Bhagat Singh, Pran Nath Mehta requested Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev to file a mercy petition. To consider their lives as national treasures. And that it was important to protect it. If not for themselves then for the country they were urged to file a mercy petition. Bhagat Singh did write the petition. To the Punjab governor. He did write the petition. But it was not a mercy petition. In his petition, he wrote that Jatin Das, comrade Bhagawati Charan and his dear warrior Azad, had already sacrificed their lives. It was then his turn, Rajguru’s and Sukhdev’s turn to sacrifice. He wrote to the governor that the days of capitalist and imperialist exploitation were numbered. In the end. said that the court had acknowledged that he was a war prisoner. So he didn’t want to be hanged to death. Instead, he wanted to be shot dead. You heard it right. Bhagat Singh did not ask for mercy in his petition. Instead, in his petition, he wrote that rather than hanging him, he should be shot. The next day, on 19th March, Mahatma Gandhi met Irwin again to try to stop Bhagat Singh’s hanging. Irwin told him that he had seen the case with ‘the most anxious care.’ And in his opinion, it wasn’t right to stop the hanging. “I did not find any basis to convince myself to commute the sentence.” It is said that the Viceroy was being pressured by the British officers of the Punjab area. Who truly wanted Bhagat Singh to be hanged. And if didn’t go through, they threatened to mass resign. It would not have been good for the image of the Viceroy. The next day on the 20th March, Mahatma Gandhi met the Home Secretary Herbert Emerson in his efforts to postpone the hanging. But that attempt failed as well. The next day on 21st March, even though Irwin had given him the final refusal, he went to talk to Irwin yet again. Another failed attempt. On 22nd March, he made another desperate attempt. Irwin promised Mahatma Gandhi that he would reconsider Gandhi’s submission. On the morning of the 23rd March, Mahatma Gandhi wrote a personal letter to Irwin. Gandhi put all his efforts into this letter. He appealed to the religious views of Irwin. On the basis of public opinion. On the basis of internal peace and on his own opinion. Meaning that he used various aspects and different reasonings to try to convince Irwin. But he failed. On 23rd March 1931, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were martyred. Bhagat Singh’s lawyer Pran Nath Mehta met Bhagat Singh on the last day of his life and asked him for his final message to the Indians. Bhagat Singh replied, with two messages. “Down with Imperialism.” And “Long Live Revolution.” Inquilab Zindabad. He asked Bhagat Singh about how he felt. Bhagat Singh replied, “Happy as always.” And finally, Singh tells Pran Nath Mehta, to please thank Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Babu Subhash Chandra Bose because both of them had shown great interest in Bhagat Singh’s cause. Everything I’ve told you, friends, is well-documented history. Not only will you find all of it in Mahatma Gandhi’s writings but also in Irwin’s writings, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s writings Asif Ali’s writings, his wife Aruna Asif Ali’s writings you will get this information from all these sources. I have linked to some sources in the description below. If you want to refer them. Amazingly, even after everything, some people think Mahatma Gandhi had not tried to save Bhagat Singh. In fact, Bhagat Singh’s father Kishan Singh said this in a speech later. “Bhagat Singh told me not to worry. Let me be hanged. And he asked me to do him a favour. That I should support the General (Gandhi) That I should support all the Congress politicians. Only then would I be able to win Independence for our country.” In the Karachi Session Resolutions, Congress officially condemned this execution. But on the other hand, the communal organisations Like the Hindu Mahasabha, RSS and Muslim League, you would not find any efforts from them that they might have undertaken to save Bhagat Singh. More or less, there was total silence from them. Regarding this incident.