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KULDIP NAYAR
LEADERS & MISLEADERS

Kuldip Nayar is a senior journalist, human rights activist and author.

Why has Bhagat Singh been forgotten?

ndia and Pakistan are beginning to honour the icons of yesteryears. People in these two countries feel that remembering such persons will evoke common emotions, renew bonds of understanding and bridge the distance between them. So the peace activists in the two countries have selected the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh and the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy to achieve this goal.

12 of them from India crossed the Attari-Wagah border the other day to join dozens of Pakistanis to recall the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukh Dev, the three revolutionaries who were hanged by the British on 23 March 1931. It was a poignant moment, which touched many hearts in the two countries that are more known for their enmity than friendship. Indian and Pakistani voices mingled together when they shouted "Bhagat Singh zindabad", "Inquilab zindabad".

Candles were lit at the Shadman (happiness) Chowk, where the scaffold was erected. The spot was then inside the Lahore Central Jail, where the revolutionaries were confined. On 23 March, a team of Pakistanis staged a play on Bhagat Singh. A documentary on Bhagat Singh has also been produced by a young Pakistani, Nadeem.

When I spotted the place at Shadman Chowk, some years ago, not many had heard the name of Bhagat Singh. "When we came here, there were only police quarters, which were pulled down as the colony expanded," said a man in his 50s. But there is a story about the roundabout that has been told many times after the execution of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979. This was the spot where Nawaz Mohammad Ahmed Khan, the father of Ahmed Raza Kasuri, then a member of Pakistan's National Assembly was shot dead. Bhutto had reportedly ordered his killing. When the guns were fired Kasuri was negotiating the roundabout. His father, who was sitting beside him in the car, was fatally wounded. Kasuri's grandfather was one of the officials on duty called upon to identify the bodies of the three revolutionaries. After Ahmed Khan's murder at the same spot, old-timers would say that nemesis had caught up with the Kasuri family. The minarets of an elegant mosque rises from across the place where Bhagat Singh's cell, Phansi ki Kothi once stood, but no arch, no plaque, not even a stone, marks the spot.

Peace activists want Shadman Chowk renamed after Saheed Bhagat Singh. I have made a formal request to former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has promised to pass it on to his brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab Chief Minister. People from both countries will hold a joint conference at the Chowk when it is renamed after Bhgat Singh.

n 13 April, the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy will be recalled when about a dozen Pakistanis will cross the border and enter India. It was at Jallianwala Bagh that General E.H. Dyer ordered the killing of peaceful protesters — Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims. Around 1,500 people were killed. It is a matter of pride that Dyer was killed by martyr Udham Singh in London many years later.

Both events are etched on the minds of the elderly in the two countries. The problem is evoking the same sentiments among the younger generation. The governments on both sides pay lip service to pre-partition icons. But were they to propagate even Bhagat Singh's thoughts on Hindu-Muslim unity, the problem of communalism would have been solved in India.

Bhagat Singh would say that he was horrified when Hindu-Muslim riots broke out after the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1919-20. How could the two communities who sidelined their religious differences and fought against the British to support the Caliphate in Turkey, could thirst for each other's blood? What disappointed him was the ferocity with which the two communities jumped at each other's throat after having shared the same platforms, the same campaigns and even the same jails. He found it strange that the two communities never fought as countrymen. Religious, political or personal considerations brought them together. But at heart, they remained biased and bigoted, Hindus and Muslims.

In contrast, the communist ideology bound the revolutionaries. Even a one-day agitation revealed their kinship. Their commitment tied them together. They were on the same wavelength. They were against importing religion and its idioms to the struggle for independence.

Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah too advised Pakistanis that religion should not be mixed with politics. In fact, when he was a Central Assembly member before Partition, he fought for better rights for Bhagat Singh and his colleagues who were in jail. The peace activists' endeavour is to revive Jinnah's ethos of secularism and the spirit that Bhgat Singh and others evoked.

 
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