Bhagat Singh was a member of HSRA, a leftist terrorist organization in India in the 1920s (“when expediency will demand it the Party will unhesitatingly enter into a desperate campaign of terrorism,” said the party’s manifesto; see Wikipedia entry). In 1928, Hindu leader Lala Lajpat Rai succumbed to injuries suffered from baton charge by police during a public protest and Singh set out to avenge him by assassinating the police chief but the bullet killed another police officer instead. Singh fled the scene and later threw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly that did not kill anyone but created some terror. He got arrested and defended his position throughout his trial. He was convicted for murder and hanged on March 23, 1931.
In India, Singh is celebrated as a hero. Among Marxists, his pamphlet ‘Why I am an Atheist’ is especially popular as a tool for promoting atheism among youth. Pakistan too has an association with him, since he was born in a village near Lyallpur (now called Faisalabad) and got executed in Lahore. In September 2007, Lt Gen (Retired) Khalid Maqool (governor of Punjab in the Musharraf era) addressed a birth centenary seminar on Bhagat Singh, paid tribute to him and promised a memorial (see Daily Times).
Showing due respect to Bhagat Singh as an icon respected by our neighboring India is one thing. Preaching his ideas to our own youth and presenting him as a role model for Pakistanis are different matters altogether. The country is being accused of harboring terrorists. The international media, especially Indian media, often seems to be giving an impression as if most Pakistanis harbor a longing for becoming suicide bombers. What kind of image shall we receive if at this time some of our lobbies are found to be promoting a “hero” whose recorded statement after throwing a bomb in the assembly was, “We are sorry to admit that we... have been forced to shed human blood. But the sacrifice of individuals at the altar of the 'Great Revolution'… is inevitable.”
The implications are:
- Is this the kind of image we desire to be associated with Pakistan?
- Is this the message we want to give to our youth?
- Precisely why did India release not one, but two, biopics about Bhagat Singh defending terrorism soon after 09/11 (both movies were released on June 7, 2002)?
However, the biggest question is that at a time when the country is already combating terrorism, why on earth we need to promote terrorism? We may compare the following excerpts from the pamphlet distributed by Singh after bombing the assembly with the video messages released by the militants of today:
"It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear, with these immortal words uttered on a similar occasion by Valiant, a French anarchist martyr, do we strongly justify this action of ours… In these extremely provocative circumstances, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, in all seriousness, realizing their full responsibility, had decided and ordered its army to do this particular action… We are sorry to admit that we who attach so great a sanctity to human life, who dream of a glorious future, when man will be enjoying perfect peace and full liberty, have been forced to shed human blood. But the sacrifice of individuals at the altar of the 'Great Revolution' that will bring freedom to all, rendering the exploitation of man by man impossible, is inevitable. Long Live the Revolution."
Really, do you have to promote terrorism?