(The 1930s, especially the first half of the decade, proved to be one of radical discontent in India. In the Tamil context, the Self-Respect Movement of E.V. Ramasamy Periyar urged forth a politics that brought together communist and anti-caste ideologies. It is in this context that this editorial in the Self-Respect weekly, Kudi Arasu (The Republic) ought to be read. It was written at a time when Periyar consistently and rigorously criticised Gandhi and the Congress – for their attempts to recoup socialism by mitigating its effect and for their reliance on Indian capitalists. Bhagat Singh’s Why Am I an Atheist was translated into Tamil and published by the Self-Respect Movement during this period – and this resulted in the translator Jeevanandham and the publisher E.V. Krishnasamy being jailed.)
There is hardly anyone that has not expressed sorrow at the hanging of Bhagat Singh. Nor is there anyone who has not condemned the government for thus sending him to the gallows. Meanwhile, we are witness to the so-called patriots and nationalists blaming Gandhi (for Bhagat Singh’s death – translators). This, on the one hand. On the other hand, we see the same set of people (self-styled patriots and nationalists – translators) congratulating Mr Irwin, the head of government and praising Gandhi for agreeing to hold talks with Mr Irwin; and expressing their satisfaction at, and celebrating as a victory, a pact that does not include the condition that Bhagat Singh ought not to hang. In addition, we are witness to Gandhi hailing Lord Irwin as a Mahatma and and exhorting the people of this country to do the same; and we also have Lord Irwin referring to Gandhi as a great soul and a divine sort of person, and ensuring that this fact is advertised widely among the English.
But very soon, the same people raised slogans such as “Down with Gandhism, Down with Congress” and “Down with Gandhi” and it is now quite common to greet Gandhi – wherever he goes – with black flags and cause confusion in the meetings that he addresses.
Considering all this, we are unable to understand what opinion the general public has with regard to political matters, and if, indeed, they possess any principles.We are inclined to suspect that they possess none. However this might be, since the day Gandhi launched his Salt Satyagraha, we had pointed out that this agitation would benefit neither the people nor the nation, and that it might actually be detrimental to the nation’s progress and to the cause of the people’s freedom. It is not only us, but Mr Gandhi himself had clearly and explicitly said that his agitation was intended to impede and destroy the activities of Bhagat Singh and his kind.
In addition to this, true socialists and patriots in neighbouring countries have been crying sky-high that “Mr Gandhi has betrayed the poor, his activities are meant to do away with socialist ideals and so Mr Gandhi must go and Congress must go”. But our so-called patriots and nationalists, unmindful of anything and without paying heed to the consequences, were elated and danced around – not unlike those who fall into a well, even while holding a lit lamp; or those who, for a wager, do not mind striking their head against a rock. And as a result, they went to prison and when released, came back with “victory garlands” around their necks. They are puffed with pride on this account. Yet, now, after seeing Bhagat Singh hanged, they clamour, “Down with Gandhi”, “Down with Congress” and “Let Gandhi perish”. We do not understand what is the purpose of all this.
To tell the truth, in a country where we have idiotic, foolish and irresponsible people, and those guided by self-interest and concerned with their own glory, people who are unmindful of the consequences of their actions, it seems to us that it was better for Bhagat Singh to have laid down his life and rested himself in “peace” rather than live long and witness their actions, be impeded by them, and suffer agony on their account every succeeding moment. We only regret that we are not endowed with such a fortune.
For the question really is this: has a person fulfilled his duty or not? We are not concerned here with the results. We accept that dutiful action has to heed time and place, but we hold that as far as the principles that Bhagat Singh lived by were concerned, these were not contrary to the claims of place, time and action. It might appear to us that, perhaps, the method he chose to realize his ideals was somewhat at fault, but yet, we would never dare to fault the ideals themselves. For his ideal was world peace.
If Bhagat Singh has indeed acted out of heartfelt conviction, in his ideals and also in the path that he had chosen to walk that would help him realise them in practice, we cannot but appreciate his courageous act; and in fact we make bold to say that had he failed to walk his chosen path he could hardly be called a honourable man. But now we proclaim that he was an honest man. We strongly believe that Bhagat Singh’s ideals are what India needs – as far as we know, he believed in the ideals of Samadharma and Communism.This is evident in these sentences that feature in the letter he wrote to the Governor of Punjab: “Our battle will continue till the Communist Party acquires power and the disparities between people – in their status – are done away with. This battle will not cease – just because we are killed. It will continue, openly and clandestinely.”
Moreover, we are also aware that he was a man who did not believe in God or that things are willed by God. We believe that it cannot be considered a crime in law to hold such a principle, and that even if it were deemed a crime, no one needs to be afraid of it. Because we strongly believe such a principle does no harm to the people nor does it deprive them of anything. If by chance, there is a possibility that this principle may cause harm to the people, we would consciously strive to realize this ideal, without bearing hatred towards any particular individual or caste or nation, and without causing physical pain to any particular individual’s person; we would, at the same time, not mind subjecting ourselves to pain and suffering and in a sacrificial spirit, we would do all to realize this ideal in practice. So no one needs to be worried or afraid.
The philosophy that desires to end poverty is akin to the philosophy that wishes to abolish untouchability. Just as notions of high and low [castes] have to be abolished for untouchability to be destroyed, for the abolition of poverty, notions that divide society into capitalists and labourers must be done away with. These are precisely the ideals of Samadharma and Communism, the ideals of Bhagat Singh, and it is not surprising that the one who considers these just and essential ideals naturally enough condemns the Congress and Gandhism. But, we are surprised to find those who subscribe to these ideals proclaim “Long Live Gandhi”, “Long Live Congress” …
The moment Gandhi claimed he was guided by God, that Varnashrama Dharma was superior to the way of the world, and everything happened on account of divine will, we concluded that there was no difference between Gandhism and Brahmanism and unless the Congress, that is charged with this philosophy, is abolished, no benefit would accrue to this country. Only now, some of our people have realized the truth of our understanding and acquired the knowledge and courage to denounce Gandhism.This is a great victory for our creed.
If Bhagat Singh had not been hanged, if he had not sacrificed his life, there could not have been any basis for achieving such a glorious victory (for our creed). If Bhagat Singh had not been hanged, Gandhism would have acquired greater glory. A life that, in the normal course of things would have ended and been reduced to mere ashes on account of illness and suffering, has been ended instead in a manner that proved useful in showing the people of this world the path for realizing true equality and peace. Bhagat Singh has attained an exalted state, which no ordinary mortal can easily achieve. Therefore we praise him, wholeheartedly, with all that our tongue is capable of and with raised hands. In this context, we appeal to the government to identify persons with similar courage of conviction and hang at least four persons every month in each of the provinces.
This is the editorial of the 29 March 1931 edition of Kudi Arasu, the weekly magazine published by Periyar. It was translated from the original Tamil to English by V. Geetha and S. V. Rajadurai and first published by Countercurrents.org