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Monday, September 28, 2020

Bhagat Singh: The Man, The Life, And The Beliefs

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21 year old Bhagat Singh's photograph

Bhagat Singh is one of the ‘big names’ immortalised in the history of India’s freedom struggle and eternally cherished even after almost ninety years of his martyrdom. What makes him stand out is his popularity among the masses being almost on par with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his beliefs and actions being diametrically opposite to theirs.

Of the freedom fighters who remain mainstream in today’s India— a crowd predominantly made up of politicians with center or right of centre leanings, Bhagat Singh occupies a relatively lonely spot as a young, staunchly left-wing revolutionary who outrightly rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, and preferred direct action over politics.

Newspaper headline after Central Legislative Assembly non-lethal bombing

Bhagat Singh is most commonly and widely remembered in association with an incident where he, along with his friend and comrade B.K. Dutt dropped non-lethal smoke bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly from its balcony in 1929. They also scattered leaflets by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), which he was a major part of and was aided by in orchestrating the bombings. He is said to have been inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who had bombed the Chamber of Deputies in Paris in 1893.

The bombing gathered widespread negative reaction due to the use of violence, especially from those who supported the Gandhian method. While Bhagat Singh and the HSRA wanted to protest exploitative legislatures such as the Public Safety Act and the Trades Disputes Bill, it is also widely accepted that they additionally intended to use the drama and public attention of the ensuing trial to garner attention to socialist and communist causes. Bhagat Singh and Dutt did not escape under the cover of panic and smoke despite the former carrying a pistol, and waited for the police to find and arrest them. During the trial Bhagat Singh frequently chanted a variety of slogans, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ which is even today often raised in protests across India.  

March 25th Newspaper carrying the news about execution of Bhagat Singh | Source: Tribune India

However, this was not the trial that ended in Bhagat Singh receiving his execution sentence. Before the Assembly bombings, Bhagat Singh had been involved in the shooting of police officer John Saunders, in connection to the death of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. At that time he and his associates had escaped, but after Bhagat Singh was awarded a life sentence for the Assembly bombing, a series of investigations led to his rearrest as part of the Saunders murder case. It was this trial— generally regarded as unjust— that led to his much protested execution sentence.

Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on the eve of March 23rd, 1931 and he was just twenty-three years old.

Despite the criticism he received for his actions, his execution sentence was widely opposed and many attempts were made to challenge it. In fact, his execution came on the eve of the Congress party’s annual convention, as protests against it worsened. He was memorialised nationwide as a martyr, and is often addressed with the honorific Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Apart from being a socialist, Bhagat Singh was attracted to communist and anarchist causes as well. In ‘To Young Political Workers,’ his last testament before his death, he called for a “socialist order” and a reconstruction of society on a “new, i.e, Marxist basis.” He considered the government “a weapon in the hand of the ruling class”, which is reflected in his belief that Gandhian philosophy only meant the “replacement of one set of exploiters for another.” Additionally, he wrote a series of articles on anarchism, wanting to fight against mainstream miscontrusions of the word and explain his interest in anarchist ideology.

Bipin Chandra, who wrote the introduction to Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh | Source: Wikimedia

While writing the introduction to Bhagat Singh’s remarkable essay Why I am an Atheist in 1979, Late Bipan Chandra described the Marxist leaning of Bhagat Singh and his associates in the following way;

Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandra Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh is often admired and celebrated for his dedication to the cause of liberation. However his socialist, communist and anarchist beliefs were suppressed by the successive governments in Independent India. This in a way is the suppression of a revolutionary who has the potential to inspire, unite and motivate the growing population of a spectrum of activists all over India, in direct response to the fast-spreading divisiveness and intolerance in the country, often patronised by the groups and organizations professing the right-wing fascist ideology.

Bhagat Singh’s dreams of a new social order live on, not just in his writings, but also reflected in the hearts of every activist, protester, and dissenting citizen. The fight for freedom, revolution, Inquilab, may have changed in meaning, but it is far from over.

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October 18, 2020 6:48 PM

US Presidential Elections: Effect of Modi-Trump Relationship on Voters

With the US Presidential Elections scheduled to happen in just over a month, an important voter pool is emerging into the limelight for both contesting parties. The Indian American diaspora, one of the largest Asian American populations and a large pool of potential voters, currently stands at a crossroads. They face a choice that has been brought about by their unique connection to two men: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and American President Donald Trump.

President Trump in India during Namaste Trump | Source: Twitter

Both have a lot in common, and both have definitely tried to capitalise on that. Trump and Modi have held rallies in each other’s country, which has influenced voters in both countries and drawn out massive crowds. An estimated 50,000 Indians gathered in Houston in September 2019 to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Howdy Modi” rally, reportedly the largest-ever gathering of a foreign political leader in the USA. Trump received the gift of a crowd over twice as large as that at Modi’s Namaste Trump rally in Gujarat in February 2020.

Indian American voters have historically tended to vote for the Democratic Party: as recently as the 2016 elections, a large majority voted for Hillary Clinton. While that may remain true for the younger voters, the older generation seems to be leaning more to the right, as events in the homeland have led to majoritarian and communal support for the authoritarian PM Modi.  Al Mason, who works with the Trump Victory Indian American Finance Committee, claimed to have conducted an analysis of voter sentiments in the states of Michigan, Texas, Virginia and Pennsylvania. According to him, a “mass exodus” can be expected: hundreds of thousands of Indian American potential voters switching sides to favour Trump.

The worsening and brutal situation in Kashmir, increasingly polarised religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims, as well as increase in lynchings against Dalits and other oppressed castes is becoming an important driving force for Indian diaspora in deciding who to vote for. Trump’s Islamophobic and anti-China sentiments may be striking a cord with the Indian American diaspora, since most of them are uppercaste, affluent Hindus— mirroring the political majority in India. Additionally, at least some Indian Americans are surely misconstruing Democrats’ criticism of Modi’s policies as a criticism of India— especially when it comes from Indian American members of the House of Representatives— leading them to feel defensive towards both.

Indian American Trump supporters are rallying strongly behind him, with organisations such as The Texas India Forum and Hindus4Trump claim to possess a large pool of funds and members geared towards making Trump 2020 a reality.

On the other hand, concerns regarding visas and green cards seem to be diminishing among the Indian diaspora already settled in America, despite the mounting pressure from Trump’s largely white and Christian base to keep cracking down on immigration. Indian origin supporters of Trump, in India as well as the USA, seem convinced that the visa reforms will eventually work out in their favour. It isn’t hard to see that given the massive amount of support Trump receives from (and provides to) white supremacists, it would actually be in the best interests of Indian Americans to not vote for him.

Biden’s recent decision to choose Kamala Harris as his running mate for Vice President could prove to be an important aspect for Indian American voters. Harris is of South Indian ancestry from her mother’s side, and being one of the first South Asian women to be on the ticket for a position of major power has the potential to influence voters who want to see more representation on the political stage. You can read more in our deep dive on Kamala Harris, including her views and policies regarding India, here at Kamala Harris: A Look At Joe Biden’s Running Mate.

In response to Harris becoming running mate and the praise it received from Indians, Trump released a commercial showing him and Modi together, and applauding the support Trump receives from Indian Americans. Democrats are also ramping up their efforts and releasing targeted advertisements in multiple languages. Biden and his senior advisors addressed the community on August 15, Indian Independence Day; a month before that the Democratic National Committee Chairman addressed a virtual gathering of 800 Indian American prospective voters along with a former ambassador to India.

While there are quite a few who support one but denounce the other, the similarities between Modi and Trump lead to a general trend of supporting one invariably leading to support for the other, and vice-versa. Both Democrats and Republicans recognise the precarious position that Indians all over the world, including in the United States, are in right now; opinions are shifting and solidifying, and performance of this particular demographic in the upcoming election could very well surprise the community itself.

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