Gandhi vs Bhagat Singh (YouTube Video)

"One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter." – George Galloway.

I was in seventh grade when Ajay Devgan’s The Legend of Bhagat Singh was released in theatres. I remember our school took us for a show of the widely acclaimed movie. The movie was heart-wrenching and awe-inspiring, no doubt, but it clearly made it seem like Gandhiji was not interested in saving Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev & Rajguru from execution. I remember a lot of my friends getting disillusioned with the idea of Gandhi that day. But I felt differently.

You see, even at twelve years old, I was somewhat familiar with what Gandhi stood for and I could clearly see that Gandhi’s ideology was very different from Bhagat Singh’s ideology. Gandhi wanted non-violent non-cooperation, whereas Bhagat Singh had chosen violence against British authorities in his fight for Indian Independence. An argument can be made for either approach and ideology, but the fact is, that the Indian Independence was a joint effort of the sacrifices made by all the freedom fighters. 

Now, the idea that Gandhiji did not try to save Bhagat Singh is untrue and several articles from that time establish exactly that – I will not go into that. I just want to approach this narrative from a logical standpoint based on the little knowledge that I assume most people have about Gandhi and Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

Bhagat Singh believed in socialism and communism – his view of Independent India was that of an egalitarian and secular society. It is true that while he had initially been impressed by Gandhian ideas, he later got disillusioned with it and went the more common route of political violence. He assassinated John Saunders, the constable who delivered the deathly lathi blow that took Lala Lajpat Rai’s life, and then carried out the Delhi Assembly bombing to send a message of revolution. For these crimes, he was given the death sentence. 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a civil rights activist and a renowned community organizer. He was a lawyer by profession and started his law practice in South Africa in 1893. He stayed there for 21 years and carried out the civil rights movement for Indians there. It was in South Africa that he practiced his nonviolent resistance for the first time. When he came to India in 1915, he already had an image of a social activist of unimaginable caliber – that’s because his nonviolent resistance was a new idea – an idea that colonial regimes weren’t sure what to do with. There lies the basic difference between Bhagat Singh and Gandhiji. 

People today poke a lot of fun at the “ahimsa” directive that was Gandhiji’s ideology, but they forget that when in jail, Bhagat Singh and his comrades also used fasting and protest to demand better living conditions and equal treatment for political prisoners. What made Gandhiji’s nonviolent resistance so unique was that it was propaganda-proof. Remember the quote I started this video with – one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. That applied to Bhagat Singh – while in India, he was considered a revolutionary, in Britain, they tagged him a terrorist and criminal and sentenced him to death. But in the case of Gandhi, and anyone following his style of protest, they could not do that. Even the British press started praising Gandhi’s efforts after a while. 

“Why is British public opinion important?” You might ask. For the same reason that BJP has bought off all media today. Because the public has the power to topple governments and monarchies. It is a commonly known fact that even the British Crown was concerned about how the public viewed them in several points in history. Coming back to Gandhi, his style of resistance was not an easy one to kill – just like Che Guevara said, “You can kill the man, but not the idea.” So, if there was ever a point in history when Gandhi asked the Viceroy to spare Bhagat Singh’s life, what do you think the Viceroy would ask for in return? That Gandhi should abandon his non-violence stance. Because one, he was asking for pardon for violent agitators, and two, this would kill the idea of Gandhi. And that’s why, in the fabricated scenario where Gandhi had a choice between saving Bhagat Singh or the movement that defined his whole life and possibly the fate of all Indians, Gandhi would always choose to save his ideology. Hell, Bhagat Singh would also ask him to choose to save the idea. 

Gandhi was a man of ideology. He didn’t care how his words were perceived by people when he said “The government certainly had the right to hang these men. However, there are some rights which do credit to those who possess them if they are enjoyed in name only." Gandhi was against violence – and Bhagat Singh’s actions did make him a murderer in the eyes of the law. Gandhi was also against capital punishment and hence he tried to get their death sentence commuted. 

Politicians of today, who lack the strength of ideology of people like Gandhi and Bhagat Singh might twist their stories all they want but they cannot change the contribution of these great men. Or the fact that they were much more alike in spirit than we give them credit for.

Links for reference articles:

Article from MK Gandhi Site:

National Herald Article:

Bhagat Singh's view of Gandhi:

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