Bhagat Singh was hanged on March 23, 1931 by the British Government. He was only 24 when he was executed along with Sukhdev and Rajguru. Many believe his execution could have been stopped by Gandhi but he did not even attempt to do so. He instead chose to ignore the entire issue; one, because he, being an apostle of non-violence was against Bhagat Singh’s policy of violence. Two, he was threatened by the growing popularity of Bhagat Singh. But was it really true? Did Gandhi really remain tepid on the entire issue?
Gandhi’s effort to save Bhagat Singh
Gandhi had always opposed Bhagat Singh’s strategy. He was against militant nationalism that Bhagat Singh had started. In fact, this movement along with the left-wing activity was considered harmful for India’s freedom struggle by Gandhi. But that doesn’t mean his feeling were lukewarm towards his execution. Many believe that Gandhi could have saved Bhagat Singh and his comrades, if he wished too but he did not. However, the truth lies in the fact that Gandhi had sent Srinivasa Shastri, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and M.R. Jaykar to plead before Viceroy Lord Irwin for the commutation of Singh’s death sentence. Gandhi could not succeed in the bid because the moves of Viceroy were governed by England and the three young men were considered as a major challenge to the British Raj in India and so were not fit to pardon. Besides, Gandhi even wrote a letter to Lord Irwin, the Viceroy on the day of their punishment, pleading keenly for commutation, not knowing that the letter would be too late.
Gandhi & Irwin
If you look into the matter closely, you will notice that Gandhi was already weak in the truce with the British Raj, due to incomprehensible reasons. Perhaps, Lord Irwin was far better bargainer than Gandhi; or else a leader of his caliber, who could forefront a unique, successful non-violent stir that attracted the not only the attention of the world press but also drew millions, including women, youth and children, need not have agreed upon so many compromises with the British government. In such circumstances, no matter how much efforts he had put, he could not win on the sensitive issue of commutation of death sentences. He even mentioned in Karachi the following statement,
“I might have done one more thing, you say. I might have made the commutation a term of settlement. It could not be done so. And to threaten withdrawal now would be a breach of faith. But this should not be taken as a manifestation of a lukewarm feeling towards Bhagat Singh.”
Gandhiji was not against Bhagat Singh and his comrades but against their policy of violence. Besides, the participation of women and children wouldn’t be as high as it was in the non-violence agitation.
The above line is well described by Gandhi in his own words below:
“If I had a chance to speak to Bhagat Singh and his comrades, I would have told them that the way they pursued was futile and wrong. We cannot win Swaraj for our famishing millions by weapon. The way of violence can only lead to adversity and perdition. I shall explain to you why – Do you think that all women and children who covered themselves with glory during the last campaign would have done so if we had pursued the path of violence? Would our women known as the meekest on earth have done the unique service they did, if we had violence in us? And our children – our Vanar Sena; how could you have had these innocent ones who renounced their toys, their kites, their crackers and joined as soldiers of Swaraj – how could you have enlisted them in a violent struggle?”
The Final Words
It is true that Lord Irwin had established a good rapport with Gandhi, and even held him in high esteem for his integrity and uprightness. Moreover, Gandhi was compliant and obliging. Gandhi, too, respected Irwin for his candor, forthrightness and benevolence. However, in spite of this association, saving Bhagat Singh and his comrades lay beyond their capacity because they were not independent and free to take decisions whatever they wished, as is commonly assumed.
By Deepti Verma
Video Source: Mahatma and Bhagatsingh-Gaurav Pandit@YouTube