Gandhi and the Threat to his Leadership by Bhagat Singh
Bhagat Singh and Gandhi
Bhagat Singh and Gandhi are two leaders who fought for the independence of India. Gandhi is better known outside India, but Bhagat Singh has an equal following in India. Gandhi is accused of being lukewarm to the hanging of Bhagat Singh. He made no appeal to the Viceroy and was content to let Bhagat Singh hang. Bhagat was hanged by the British on 23 March 1931. He was only 24 years old. Gandhi himself was assassinated by Hindu zealots on 30 January 1948, fed up with his policy of appeasement to the Muslims.
Why Bhagat Singh was hanged.
Bhagat Singh had realized that the only way India could win freedom was by a violent revolution. In this task he was assisted by some more young men. But his was a small group and he did not realize that a revolution is a mass movement, not a sporadic act by a few people. He and his companion hurled a bomb in the Punjab assembly at Lahore. The bomb was thrown in an empty space and after the bombing; Bhagat did not flee, but surrendered. He later said his aim was not to kill anyone, but to highlight the eveil effects of British rule.
Earlier the British Superintendent of Police who had rained lathe blows on Lala Lajpat Rai during a peaceful march had been shot dead. The murder was traced to Bhagat and his group and he was also put on trial for this murder. Lala Lajpat Rai was a great freedom fighter from Punjab and Bhagat had vowed to avenge his death. The Lala’s last words are significant. He had said” Every blow struck at me is a nail in the coffin of the British empire”
The Empire could not let Bhagat Singh live and accordingly he was hanged in the dead of the night secretly.
Gandhi and the Myth of Non-Violence
Gandhi is universally recognized as an apostle of non violence. Much of this myth is propagated by Richard Attenborough in his film Gandhi as well as the works of pro-Gandhi elements. In addition Gandhi himself carefully cultivated an image for the west. Bhagat Singh by comparison has had a number of films made about him, but none by a foreigner. In contrast to Gandhi, Bhagat Singh believed in violence as a means to an end. He had read Marx and Lenin and was greatly influenced by them. He was thus the anti thesis of Gandhi.
Bhagat Singh Challenged Leadership of Gandhi
Bhagat Singh was a serious challenger to Gandhi’s leadership. It is worth quoting Pattabhi Sitaramayya, a top Congress leader and Gandhi loyalist, who stated 'It is no exaggeration to say that at the moment Bhagat Singh’s name is as widely known all over India and is as popular as Gandhi”.
In the twenties of the last century Bhagat Singh had emerged as a serious contented as the leader of the Indian masses. Many saw him as a messiah and were fired by his revolutionary zeal. Gandhi felt threatened. His carefully cultivated image and leadership was under threat and the older man was loathe to hand over the mantle of his leadership to Bhagat Singh. He thus took a stand against Bhagat Singh to a point, where he decided not to exert to save Bhagat Singh from the gallows.
Gandhi Failed to Act
Many representations were made to Gandhi to appeal to the Viceroy, but Gandhi refused and wrote that he did not favor any violence. This was just a ploy to retain the leadership of the political movement. He felt Bhagat Singh was a threat and hence took this stand. Gandhi was greeted by black flags everywhere he went after the hanging of Bhagat Singh, but he remained unfazed.
The British also showed they were poor sticklers of the law as they hanged Bhagat Singh against the Jail manual which specified hangings to be done at first light in the morning, by hanging Bhagat Singh at midnight. It was a nefarious act and showed the British were scared of a massive movement by the people to free Bhagat Singh
Bhagat Singh was too young to understand the intricacies of a revolution. He failed to properly organize a revolution, despite tremendous support. Gandhi on the other hand was a sly old man who knew that an alive Bhagat Singh was a threat to him, hence his course of action to let Bhagat hang despite popular clamor for his release.