OPINION: Which was the correct path—Gandhi's or Bhagat Singh's?

The path of Gandhi continues to divide India on caste and communal lines


Tomorrow, September 28, is the birth anniversary of the great freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. Whose path for India's independence was right—Gandhi’s or Bhagat Singh’s? The path of the former was non-violent satyagrah as opposed to the armed struggle against the British rulers by the latter.

I have no doubt that Bhagat Singh’s path of armed struggle was right, and if we had followed that path, today India would have become a prosperous country, with its people enjoying a high standard of living, whereas the path shown by Gandhi (see my several articles on Gandhi on my blog ‘Satyam Bruyat’) has led us to disaster.

When Neville Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister of England, came back to London from Germany in 1938 after the shameful Munich Pact (which surrendered Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia, to the Nazis), Winston Churchill, who was then in the opposition, said in the House of Commons: “You were given a choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war.”

So Indians were given a choice between that fake ‘Mahatma’ on one hand, and the genuine freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and others (e.g. Surya Sen, Chandrashekhar Azad, Bismil, Ashfaqulla, Rajguru, Sukhdev and Khudiram Bose) on the other.

They were given a choice between a genuine freedom struggle—which is always an armed struggle (because no one gives up his Empire without an armed fight), in which no doubt many of our countrymen would have perished (as happened to many Americans when they fought against the British rulers in the American War of Independence from 1775-1781 ) but which would have led to a real freedom for India and creation of a prosperous country in which its people were leading decent lives—and a fake freedom struggle, in which the bloodshed was avoided, but which has led to massive poverty, unemployment, child malnourishment, almost non existent healthcare and lack of good education for our masses, skyrocketing prices of foodstuffs and fuel, massive corruption and farmers suicides.

They chose the dishonourable path of Gandhi, thinking that they can avoid bloodshed, instead of the honourable path of Bhagat Singh and Surya Sen. But they will now have massive bloodshed in the coming years, perhaps ten times more than what they would have had to shed had they followed the path of Bhagat Singh, Surya Sen, etc.

Many people say that the violent method of freedom struggle in India against the British, as advocated and practised by Bhagat Singh, Surya Sen (Masterda), Chandrashekhar Azad, Ashfaqulla, Rajguru, Khudiram Bose, Ram Prasad Bismil etc was wrong. They assert that it would have led to enormous bloodshed and was bound to have failed. Hence, they claim, the non violent method of Gandhi was correct.

I totally disagree. Firstly, do imperialists give up their huge empire because someone resorts to hunger strike or does salt march or sings Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram? Did the American colonies get freedom from England by non-violent methods? Did Americans fight for freedom from the British by raising a continental army under George Washington or by offering them flowers and satyagrah? Did the ‘Great Liberator’ Simon Bolivar free the Latin American countries from Spanish rule with his battalions or by presenting the Spaniards lollipops and bouquets?

Did Ho Chi Minh fight the French and later the Americans by ‘presenting the other cheek’ and salt marches, or with guns?

India got independence not because of Gandhi but because in the World War II, Germany attacked and weakened England, which made the British appeal to the Americans for help. In return, the Americans put pressure on the British to open up India to American investments too, as they did not want a British monopoly in India. So the ‘Independence’ of 1947 was really opening up the Indian economy to investments by other powers, too. This had nothing to do with Gandhi. In fact if Gandhi had his way, India would never have got independence.

As Thomas Jefferson said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

I remember I was with a Frenchman in Paris some years back. I told him, “Why did you French surrender to the Nazis in 1940? You should have fought on. Why did you surrender Paris to the Germans?”

He replied that the French army had been defeated, and if France had not surrendered, there would have been enormous French causalities, and a lot of property, including priceless French cultural treasures, would have been destroyed. I replied that Paris should have been burnt down by Frenchmen themselves, as the Russians did to Moscow in September, 1812, instead of surrendering it to Napoleon’s army (see Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’).

When the German attack on England was about to commence in 1940, then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a historic speech in the House of Commons on May 19, 1940 said (quoting the Bible), “Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour, and be in readiness for the conflict, for it is better for us to perish in battle, than to look upon the outrage of our nation, and our altar.”

Then again on June 4, he said, “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.”

Some people may ask, ‘with what weapons could we have fought the British? We did not have any?’

The answer is that in guerrilla war, one fights with the weapons of the enemy, by snatching them from him. And after all, Bhagat singh and Surya Sen got weapons from somewhere.

Our ancestors chose the dishonourable, easy way out offered by Gandhi, instead of the difficult but genuine path shown by Bhagat Singh and Surya Sen, and we are still suffering for that, even 73 years after the independence, and we will continue to suffer for many years more.

I regard the true freedom fighters of our country to be Bhagat Singh, Surya Sen (Masterda), and his other compatriots of the Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar, Khudiram Bose, Chandrashekhar Azad (whose memorial in Alfred Park in Allahabad I would visit often to bow my head there), Ashfaqulla, Rajguru, Ram Prasad Bismil (whose song Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai is very popular) etc.

In our national historiography, these real patriots are barely mentioned. They are generally relegated to a footnote, and treated as mavericks, deviants or outsiders, not freedom fighters, while that fake ‘Mahatma’ and his coterie, and the pawn of the Japanese fascists, Subhas Chandra Bose are depicted as the real freedom fighters.

Gandhi described Bhagat Singh and the militant Indian youth fighting against British Imperialism as ‘misguided souls.’ He often said that militant nationalism was injurious to India’s struggle for freedom. In reality, he knew that if those methods became popular among the Indian masses his own popularity would decline, and his ‘Mahatmahood’ would disappear as he would stand exposed as a British agent.

When the British sentenced Bhagat Singh to death, Gandhi made no effort to save his life. He never wrote any letter to the British Viceroy to commute his sentence, nor did he issue any public appeal for this purpose, and he never went to meet Bhagat Singh in jail when the latter was on hunger strike.

By diverting the genuine freedom struggle against the British from its revolutionary path to harmless and nonsensical channels like satyagrah, Gandhi was ensuring that British rule over India would continue. It is said that Gandhi gave us Independence in 1947. This is totally false. The independence came for the reason I have mentioned above.

Some people ask if I call the path of armed struggle the correct path why I have criticised Subhas Chandra Bose, who was also on the path of armed struggle? I have given my reasons in my blogs ‘The Japanese agent Subhas Chandra Bose’ and ‘Bengalis and Bose’ on my blog ‘Satyam Bruyat’.

If ‘Netaji’ was not a Japanese agent, why did he give up the fight against the British when the Japanese surrendered? He should have carried on a guerrilla war against the British, like the Chinese Red Army. If the Japanese had been victorious against the British, does anyone seriously think they would have granted independence to India? No, they would have made India a Japanese colony, and ruthlessly exploited and looted it, as they did to parts of China which were under their occupation.

In fact Bose was being used by the Japanese, and they would have bumped him off the moment his utility for them was over, or made into another Pu Yi, a puppet ruler of India. He was no doubt a brave and personally honest man, but he had become an agent of Japanese fascist imperialism.

The path of Gandhi and his associates resulted in parliamentary democracy, which in India really means appeasing and appealing to caste and communal vote banks. Casteism and communalism are feudal forces that must be destroyed if India is to progress, but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them.

Thus, the path of Gandhi and his associates continues to divide India on caste and communal lines and keeps us in poverty and other massive socio-economic ills, whereas if we had adopted the path of Bhagat Singh and Surya Sen we would have become united in our struggle against poverty, unemployment and other evils, and like China, emerged as an industrialised and powerful nation, with our people enjoying decent lives.

Justice Markandey Katju retired from the Supreme Court in 2011

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of THE WEEK

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