Few days ago Indian and Pakistani youth celebrated Bhagat Singh’s 110th birth anniversary on 28th September and few days from now the whole world youth will be remembering Che Guevara on 9th October, completing 49 years of his martyrdom at the hands of US supported Bolivian reactionary regime in 1967.
While Che Guevara became symbol of resistance to US imperialism from early seventies in the height of Vietnam War and by the passing of time and with publication of his writings became more and more fascinating hero of the youth world over. Bhagat Singh phenomenon among Indian youth was there since his martyrdom in 1931, but it is only in digital times that his image as hero has travelled beyond India. Pakistan youth and liberal intelligentsia are now equally enamoured of him and claim him to be Pakistan’s hero. Left intelligentsia world over is now recognising Bhagat Singh also as much a hero, as Che Guevara is!
How both these youth icons have sustained and expanded as hero image among youth? Bhagat Singh lived between 1907 and 1931 for just twenty three years five months, whereas Che Guevara lived from 1928 to 1967 for 39 years. Bhagat Singh got seven years plus political life, whereas Che’s political life was started from the age of 23 years, when as a student of medicine, he travelled around South America on his motor cycle with a friend Alberto Grenado in 1951 for 8000 kilometres. Journey took Guevara through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Miami, Florida, for 20 days, before returning home to Buenos Aires. They spend nine months in this travel and spent some time in leper colony in Peru. The sight of crushing poverty, hunger in rural areas made him think of liberation of South America. Prior to this he took a solo journey in Northern Argentine for 4500 kilometres alone on an engine fitted bicycle in 1950. In 1953, he completed his medical studies and officially became Dr. Ernesto Che Guevara!
Ernesto Guevara was born in Argentine on 14th June 1928 in a well to do family. But he got enlightened atmosphere at home to grow intellectually. He got asthma from his childhood, which did not leave him till the end of his life, yet he excelled in swimming, football, golf and was untiring cyclist! Ernesto was born three years before Bhagat Singh was hanged by British colonialists.
Bhagat Singh also got political awareness from his family, whose grandfather, father and two uncles were part of freedom struggle of India and there were lot of books and journals at his home in many languages, which made him grow into a multi lingual personality. Bhagat Singh’s early life was also shaped by Punjab peasants suffering from debt, against which his Uncle Ajit Singh and Lala Lajpat Rai were organising resistance movement. Bhagat Singh became full blown political activist at the age of 16 years only when revolutionaries formed Hindustan Republican Association(HRA), which five years later turned into Hindustan Socialist Republican Association/Army(HSRA) due to ideological colour given to it by Bhagat Singh by his deep study of Marxism and Soviet revolution of 1917.
Che Guevara after 1951 motor cycle trip, started again on July 7, 1953, Guevara this time to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. On December 10, 1953, before leaving for Guatemala, Guevara sent an update to his Aunt Beatriz from San José, Costa Rica. In the letter Guevara speaks of traversing through the dominion of the United Fruit Company; a journey which convinced him that Company’s capitalist system was a terrible one. In Guatemala he saw the overthrow of democratically elected President Arbenz’s government by American supported local right-wing forces in 1954. Guevara himself was eager to fight on behalf of Arbenz and joined an armed militia organized by the Communist Youth for that purpose, but frustrated with the group’s inaction, he soon returned to medical duties. Following the coup, he again volunteered to fight, but soon after, Arbenz took refuge in the Mexican Embassy and told his foreign supporters to leave the country. Guevara’s repeated calls to resist were noted by supporters of the coup, and he was marked for murder. He had to seek shelter in Argentine embassy, before he could get safe passage to Mexico. He worked as doctor in Mexico, where he met Castro brothers in 1955, who were trying to organise Cuban revolution from Mexico. Castro had attempted revolution in Cuba in July 26th 1953 movement by attacking military garrison in Moncada and were sentenced for long jail terms. They were released after two plus years and had come over to Mexico. Che Guevara joined with them here and they set out on leaking cruise Granma with 82 fighters for Cuba through sea on 25th November 1956. While reaching mountains of Sierra Maestra in Cuba, Cuban dictator Batista forces had killed most of them, only 22 remaining met after many days in mountains and Che Guevara was put in command second to Fidel Castro and within two years they made the world’s most amazing revolution and captured power on 1st January 1959. Batista and his supporters fled to Miami in US. Che himself liberated Santa Clara with just 400 hundred soldiers from ten times army of Batista! This is world’s only example of 82 men army throwing 80 thousand army of Batista regime in just two years time!
Che Guevara helped Cuban revolution succeed, he was one of senior minister in Castro cabinet, yet his heart was in revolution, he wished to make in whole of Latin America. Most of all he wished to make in his birth country Argentina, where one of his Cuban comrade went but lost life too soon. He was feeling restless and went to Congo and other African countries to help national liberation movements. Later in 1966, he decided to go to Bolivia and try Cuban like revolution, where a Communist party already existed, but which was divided in Moscow and Beijing camps and did not help Che. Che tried on his own to organise the guerrillas force, despite suffering from his asthma all the time, but failed due to heavy odds. US supported Bolivian dictator Barrientos got him killed brutally after he was captured on 8th October. One day Che was in captivity, he was tortured most cruelly, but he kept his head high all the time and it was his manner of facing death, that made him immortal and hero of the world youth. He wrote his own epitaph earlier-‘Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this our battle cry may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons.’
Che Guevara was true internationalist, born in Argentina, fought in Guatemala and Congo, made revolution in Cuba and died in Bolivia while making revolution.
Che Guevara in his sixteen years active life did so much, apart from making Cuban revolution and trying revolution in Congo, Africa and Bolivia, he wrote so much. His Motorcycle Diaries, Bolivian diaries, Guerrilla Warfare, Congo Diary, Cuba and the road to Socialism, Che Guevara Reader-which included number of his speeches, letters and interviews, Global Justice, n Marx and Engels and many more writings show the remarkable mind of Che. Five of his children survived him, some of them are now known figures in Cuba. Che’s personal collection of books included books by Jawaharlal Nehru as well, whom he met during a visit to Indian and Pakistan. He was probably not aware of Bhagat Singh’s writings, whom he would had loved like he loved Castro!
Jail Notebook of Bhagat Singh from 12th September 1929 to undated time before 23rd March 1931 and Bolivian Diaries of Che Guevara from 7th November 1966 to 7th October 1967, just a day before his capture, though different make interesting reading. While Bhagat Singh was taking notes of world classic books on literature, history and political economy, Che was taking critical notes of his revolutionary activities. Both were voracious readers and would be found reading in most odd conditions of underground life. Both faced death in a most honourable manner. Bhagat Singh writing to Lieutenant Governor of Punjab to shoot them being ‘war prisoners’ and Che exhorting the killer to tell-‘shoot coward…’! Both were warm hearted and friendly personalities. Memoirs of comrades and friends of both have narrated number of incidents of their warmth.
Both were the best sons of humanity produced so far-that is why both still inspire love and respect among youth!
*Chaman Lal is retired Professor of JNU, New Delhi and author of few books on Bhagat Singh. He can be reached at email@example.com
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