Punjab Elections-2017-Saffron Everywhere-Where are White and Red Colours?


Punjab Elections-2017-Saffron Everywhere-Where are White and Red Colours?

Chaman Lal*

Looking just at newspaper or electronic media pictures, one finds candidates of all major parties coloured in saffron, by their turbans or by scarfs, to see the difference one has to carefully look at the logos or election symbols on their scarfs, whether these are ‘Hand’, ‘Kamal’ or ‘Jhadu’! One wonders where the white ‘Gandhi’ cap or ‘Nehru Jacket’, which were symbols of Congress party after or even before 1947 have disappeared? Though Mahatma Gandhi never wore cap, yet white cap and jacket worn by Jawahar Lal Nehru had become iconic ‘Gandhi Cap’ and ‘Nehru Jacket’! Then Anna Hazare worn Gandhi Cap, became the signia of Kejriwal led ‘Aam Admi Party’ in its debut in Delhi. Communist Party of India and its later variants-CPM, CPI-ML or other leftist groups did not wear ‘Red turban or cap’, yet their meetings and processions during elections since 1952 in PEPSU and in Punjab were marked by ‘Red Flags’! 2017 elections seems to have cleared off all colours, but saffron! Even in some earlier elections, the two major parties-Akalis and Congress party were identified by ‘White’ and ‘Blue’ turbans and white Khadi kurta-pyjamas, only Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS) party, an earlier version of BJP, was marked by saffron and ‘Deepak’, their election symbol. It was Khalistan oriented radical movement in Punjab, which has forced Akalis to turn ‘Saffron’ or Yellow’ from Blue and Congress from white to yellow or saffron! Khalistan or radical movement is over but their fundamentalist religious impact has been appropriated by traditional parties, pitiably leaving their own proud secular tradition behind! In terms of iconic value of colours, it seems all parties, except left parties have surrendered to ‘Saffron’ colour! And this surrender is not limited to just adopting their iconic colour, this goes further, it has adopted their populist and dangerous slogans and narrow sectarian ethnic or identity outlook as well. The way activists of all three parties are changing colours by defecting to each other parties, confirms the fact that none of them are there for any party ideology, but for pure opportunism to play power games. Arvind Kejriwal led AAP’s popular slogans are-‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Inqlab Zindabad’, an impossible combination of RSS variety of ‘nationalism’ and Bhagat Singh variety of ‘Revolutionary Socialism’! Antics of AAP leader Bhagwant Mann in wearing saffron colour turban in Bhagat Singh style is total falsification of history as Bhagat Singh never ever wore a saffron or yellow colour turban in his life! They sang songs like ‘Rang de Basanti Chola…in courts and jail’, but never worn either yellow/saffron turban, cap of clothes! All saffron colour turbaned, paintings based photographs of Bhagat Singh are distortions of his personality and ideas! In his four real photographs, he wore only white coloured turban and Khadi kurta-pyjama, as was dress of all freedom fighters in those days, not just Congress men. (See-Four real photographs of Bhagat Singh)


Where the left stands in 2017 Punjab elections? From 1951-52 Pepsu (Patiala and East Punjab States Union) elections, they had strong presence in assemblies. In 1951-52 Pepsu assembly, they had six members elected in 60 member assembly, repeating same number in 1954 by elections again. Pepsu was merged with Punjab on 31st October 1956 before next elections. Apart from CPI, Lal Communist Party, Kisan Mazdoor Parja Party and Forward Bloc (Marxist) were other left parties in elections at that time. In 1951-52 Punjab elections out of 126 seats, left parties secured six seats, repeating same number in 1957 elections with total seats after merger of Pepsu increasing to 154. Socialist Party too has strong showing in first elections to Punjab assembly and in 1957 elections too. In 1962 elections CPI increased its tally to nine members and Socialists also winning 4 seats. With CPI split in 1964, they fought separately in 1967 elections and their joint strength reduced to eight only, with CPI winning five and CPM three. Harkishan Singh Surjeet won his only contested elections in 1967 Punjab Assembly, CPI stalwart Satya Pal Dang won from Amritsar and became minister in first non–Congress government in Punjab in 1967. CPM also split in 1967 with Naxal groups coming in existence with ‘Boycott elections’ call, hurting left in elections further. Their strength further reduced to six in 1969 by elections with CPi having won four and CPM just two.  In 1972 elections, CPI made a big comeback with winning 10(ten) seats and one going to CPM. Satya Pal Dang made hat trick by winning Amritsar seat three times in row! In 1977, post emergency elections CPM overtook CPI for first time by winning eight seats, while CPI getting down to seven, yet their combined strength increased to all time high of fifteen. Satya Pal Dang retained his seat fourth time.



CPI again overtook CPM in 1980 post Indira Gandhi return elections by winning nine seats and CPM getting reduced to five only. But the combined strength remained little harmed down to 14 from 15. Satya Pal Dang the most popular Communist leader could not retain his seat this time. 1985 elections fought under the shadow of Rajiv-Longowal accord on Punjab, was to give walk over to Akali Dal tacitly by Congress party and it hit the Communists most hard. Only CPI could win just one seat in this election, even Satya Pal Dang loosing again to Congress candidate. 1992 elections held under shadow of Khalistani guns, were boycotted by Akali Dal, giving a walk over to Congress party. Left parties suffering heavily at the hands of Khalistani terrorists made small comeback in this election, with CPI winning four seats and CPM one. Even CPIML, contesting under Indian Peoples Front (IPF) platform, secured a seat in this election, though their elected MLA defected to Congress party later. One seat was won by UCPI also, which was close to Congress party. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) made the best show in this election by winning all time high nine seats, which it could not sustain again. Vimla Dang, wife of Satya Pal Dang and leader in her own right won back Amritsar-west seat from Congress party. 1997 elections showed the down fall of left forces in election arena, as CPI got only two seats and CPM none. 1997 was a clean sweep for Akali-BJP allowance with BJP winning 18 seats alone with Akalis@75. 2002 was return of Congress party and CPI could won two only. By this time CPM had also split into CPM and CPM (Punjab), which affected its electoral fortunes rather badly.

2007 and 2012 elections saw the nemesis of left presence in Punjab assembly as none of the party made even a symbolic presence. 2007 saw the phenomenal rise of BJP, winning 19 out of 23 contested seats, perhaps highest percentage of winning ratio of candidates!

2017 situation is politically much different from 2012 or earlier. It should have been a matter of concern to left forces, the way they are being marginalised in most of the states, where they had respectable presence earlier like in Bihar, UP, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra etc., that they are not able to make their presence felt in state assemblies, despite having some support from few mass organisations on the ground, particularly after they lost West Bengal in 2011 after 34 years rule! With the coming to power of RSS controlled Modi government in centre in 2014 and subsequent events have accentuated that crisis. Rise of Aam Aadmi Party on political horizons had raised hope of another liberal force coming to fore to compensate loss of Congress party, but its too early splits and loss of its moral core in persons of Prashant Bhushan and Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi MP like people has dazed that hope too fast, in fact faster than 1977 Janta Party debacle in just three years. Whether in 1977 Janta experiment or now in AAP experiment, it is rightist RSS controlled BJP, which is expanding its socio-political base at the cost of liberal and left forces. Half term of Modi Government and its autocratic fascist like decisions have already given shivers to the spines of liberal forces and left was expected to give lead in such situation to build a strong resistance movement, which includes resistance in electoral arena also, but it seems left in India in general and in Punjab particular is failing in its duty.

What are the present left forces in Punjab? They are of two kinds-Parliamentary groups/parties, who are participating in elections and some radical mass organisations, campaigning for ‘Raj Badlo Samaj Badlo’(Change the system, Change the Society). In their campaign they urge people to use ‘NOTA’ button! Those participating in elections are three party left alliance of CPI, CPM and RMPI (CPM-Punjab earlier), fourth partner of this alliance CPIML(Liberation) has come out and declared its own eight candidates. There are two more left oriented forces in electoral fray-AAP rebel MP Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi led Punjab front inclusive of among others-Democratic Swaraj Party led by Prof. Manjit Singh, an activist of CPM earlier, now with Yogender Yadav’s Swaraj India, broken from AAP. All these groups have put up candidates on many seats against each other. Three group left front has declared support for 69 seats to AAP or Congress candidates, while contesting on 48 seats themselves-CPI-23, CPM-12, RMPI-13. Dr. Gandhi front is contesting upon 15 seats with few more candidates from Democratic Swaraj Party being supported by Dr. Gandhi. Few more left candidates might be contesting as independent candidates as part of other groups of CPIML, ten candidates being sponsored by CPIML-New Democracy group.

The groups campaigning for NOTA are like few mass peasant organisations like-Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), Bharti Kisan Union(Ekta), Naujwan Bharat Sabha etc. Few of these peasant organisations do hold strong base among Malwa peasants and are able to get compensation and other reliefs for suicide committing peasant families by radical agitations. Though they don’t trust parliamentary system, yet by campaigning for NOTA, provided by the election commission only, they are legitimising that very system, which they claim to fight. While launching radical mass agitations, they have no compunction in negotiating with Chief Minister or other officials of the government, yet they continue to have no faith in ‘system’! These radical ML parties and groups are so insecure about participating in electoral system that they think the system is so ‘corrupt’ that their own elected revolutionary cadres will get corrupted, it has happened in case of many CPIML MLA’s joining ruling parties in Bihar or Punjab. But this is ironic that training and appropriation of Marxist ideology is by cadres of revolutionary groups is so weak that they can’t not be trusted to be sent to Assemblies/Parliament! Despite the fact that left parties MPs and MLAs like A K Gopalan, Jyotiromoy Basu, Bhupesh Gupt, Inderjit Gupt, A K Roy, Satya Pal Dang and many more have played such historic role in raising issues of workers and peasants concern and have been able to get some reliefs for them through parliamentary forums. Even Bhagat Singh and his Naujwan Bharat Sabha used to intervene even during British colonial established Central assembly or local elections by supporting socialists/progressives among Congress candidates like Diwan Chaman Lal, and face the ire of rightist Congress men like Lala Lajpat Rai, who used to say that ‘these young men want me to become ‘Lenin of India’, which I don’t want to be! Comrades of Bhagat Singh during his life time and after remained always in close touch with socialists among Congress party like Jawahar Lal Nehru and Subhash Chander Bose at all India level or in Punjab with Dr. Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew like leaders! Radical groups have not gained so big mass base in India, that they could fight the battles like in China, Russia or Cuba to siege power through insurrection. In absence of that, not availing the opportunity to participate in bourgeoisie led parliamentary system to focus upon most burning issues of oppressed sections of society is self-defeating.

CPIML(Liberation) built iconic Dalit singer  Bant Singh Jhabbar in Mansa district, whose daughter was raped by feudal lords and his two arms slashed, has now joined AAP and campaigning for them. Irony is that when Jhabbar joined AAP, on same time and stage his assailants also joined AAP and they were made even to share the stage. It was later that AAP got rid of his assailants!

Punjab has gone through the terror of Khalistani movement period from both Khalistanis and the state and is now facing worst crisis of peasant suicides every day with high unemployment among youth, leading them towards suicidal path of drug consumption. Corruption by ruling parties earlier by Congress or presently by Akali-BJP combine is also pinching issue for common people, so are ‘Notebandi’ or police atrocities, institutionalised even worse than colonial period. Just recently a court in Patiala ordered seven high ranking police officers to pay 49 lakh rupees compensation to Kirpal Singh, who was assisting human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra in collecting data on extra-judicial killings named as ‘encounters’, he was also pursuing the case of Khalra’s killing by the police, so stop him from doing so, Patiala police trapped him a false rape case, of which he was acquitted. He filed perjury case and was awarded the monetary compensation! What Kalluri is doing in Chhatisgarh was common in Punjab during Naxalite rebellion in seventies and Khalistani rebellion in eighties!

What will left get in this crucial elections, which they themselves think that stopping ongoing ‘Communal fascism ‘and worst still, danger of its continuation beyond 2019 elections is their primary task, if they are not able to impress upon people to send even a few of them to state assembly?

Ironically none of the party including even left parties are presenting an alternative socio-economic-political vision of Punjab or India in general, based on their iconic heroes-Bhagat Singh and Ghadar party-the ideal of revolutionary socialism. So much so, none of the parties, who were vocal at the time of Bhagat Singh was insulted by Haryana RSS Chief minister ML Khattar by favouring unknown RSS leader Mangal Sen for naming Chandigarh airport in his name, rejecting earlier decision of Punjab and Haryana governments to name it on Bhagat Singh’s name, are raising this issue in this election. Though airport was not named on Mangal Sen’s name due to fierce protests, it has not been named on Bhagat Singh’s name either, putting the salt on wound by insulting Bhagat Singh’s popular icon further! Denial of Jallikattu could take shape of Tamil pride, but Bhagat Singh’s insult does not hurt Punjabi pride!


                  Whole tactic of contesting elections in large number of seats by left parties is a flawed one. What they get is just few hundred of votes in each constituency, forfeiting the security deposits and becoming target of ridicule among electorate. If they are able to come at even number three or four with at least few thousands of votes, then also it could be considered respectable, but securing few hundred votes in each constituency brings not only ridicule, in some cases charge of political opportunism as well, as where the difference of elected MLA with number two is just of few hundreds or less, left candidates are charged with helping the winning candidate! If left is serious about making its presence felt, then they should focus upon about 10-12 constituencies only, where they think they have real strong base and should put all their cadres energies on those seats with the target of winning and reaching assembly to make their presence felt by raising real issues of people like peasant suicides, youth unemployment or institutionalised police atrocities, students-employees issues, atrocities on women etc., and it does make difference if mass organisations supporting them come out on roads, while elected MLAs fight on these issues inside assembly! Issues of the people need to be fought both inside and outside parliamentary forums, only then some relief within the system can be secured, as it used to be earlier.

   In present elections, left forces are trying their luck at seventy plus seats out of 117 and it is doubtful even to win a single seat. So like 2007 and 2012, 2017 Punjab assembly may again be without any left representative getting elected. It is still time to join the heads together of all left groups-four left parties, Dr. Dharamvir Gandhi, rebel AAP MP and Democratic Swaraj party and identify not more than 15 seats all over Punjab and make a powerful joint campaign, by even convincing the NOTA campaign groups among left to join the united effort to send at least five members to state assembly to forcefully focus upon peasant and youth issues! Rather than frittering away their energy in 70+ odd seats, they should try to regain the lost ground on fewer selected seats. No body stops them from holding public meetings where they have no candidate for giving their party programme and vision of future Punjab! They had fifteen MLAs inside assembly at one time, let them start to regain that lost ground and strength by breaking the jinx of zero for the last one decade! Programme and demands of the various left groups/parties are not different, they are mostly common, they just have to fine tune these and fight unitedly by shedding their egos and one-upmanship and plan realistically.

On other seats they should make realistic analysis and advise their cadres accordingly, undoubtedly Akali-BJP alliance should be their main target to defeat convincingly. But among two possible alternatives-AAP and Congress, they should make dispassionate critical analysis of both. The tendency to hit Aam Aadmi Party viciously, because of Arvind Kejriwal’s certain wayward manoeuvres is not the best political move under present circumstances, if people wish to try a new untested party, let them try and learn from their experience and also learn always to be on guard with all political parties and keep mass pressure always on to focus on public issues.

        #Left of the Punjab, unitedly fight the elections realistically, you have nothing to lose but zero!

*Chaman Lal is retired Professor from JNU, New Delhi and author of books on Bhagat Singh and other revolutionary heroes.

Prof.chaman@gmail.com, 09868774820/09646494538

  1. no. 2690, Urban Estate, Phase-2, Patiala(Punjab)-147002


To be an Atheist or NOT to be!


In ancient times -Male sage Yajnavlakya had threatened Gargi-the woman philosopher to not ask too many questions-Yajnavalkya said: “O Gargi, do not ask too much lest thy head should fall off. Thou askest the Deity about which we are not to ask too much. Do not ask too much, O Gargi.”Brihdarnkya Upanishad-Sixth Brahma!

        Asking too many questions even today is as much dangerous as in ancient times, at least in India, South Asia or religious dominated societies as one can see the happenings in Vrindavan in October 2016 and National Human Rights Commission dismissing appeals about it later.


                           There was a time when E V Ramaswamy Naicker, more popularly known as Periyar, started Self Respect Movement, which was rationality based and atheist in nature could blow up the conservative foundations of religion, particularly Brahiminical religion in South India. During freedom struggle, many leaders of the movement with their enlightened scientific outlook turned atheists such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jai Prakash Narain, EMS Namboodripad, whole lot of Socialists and Communists and above all most revered revolutionary hero of the nation-Bhagat Singh, who proclaimed himself an atheist with his essay-‘Why I am an Atheist’, written almost a year ago before his execution on 5-6th October 1930 in Lahore jail, after meeting another revolutionary Randhir Singh, who had refused his wish of courtesy call, because ‘Bhagat Singh shaved his hair’ and became a ‘fallen Sikh’! Bhagat Singh sent back message that ‘It was just one part of his body, he shelved for the freedom of the country; we are going to shelve each and every part of our bodies for the nation in near future, but your narrowness pinches’! After receiving this emotional message, Randhir Singh agreed to meet Bhagat Singh and after his meeting with Randhir Singh, Bhagat Singh jotted down his classic essay, as he was so far-sighted that his meeting with Randhir Singh can be given distorted colour later, which exactly happened! Randhir Singh after his release just after meeting Bhagat Singh in Lahore jail, put in his memoirs that ‘Bhagat Singh had ‘admitted’ his sin’ of ‘cutting his hair’ and on his advice has turned into Sikh religious faith’!

   Irony is this that Periyar in his editorial on 29th March 1931 issue of his Tamil journal Kudai Arsu admired Bhagat Singh for his courage of conviction as atheist and got its Tamil translation, done by Comrade P Jeevanandam and published it as a booklet from his publication in 1934, which has run into tens of editions by now and Tamilnadu has always celebrated Bhagat Singh more for his revolutionary ideas than his heroic romantic image!

     85 years later on 14-15th October, when Balendu Swami, an earlier Hindu faithful, turned into atheist, due to his sense of rationality developed by his study and experiences of life, invited many of his atheist friends from his face book page to join his birthday bash, which fell on 14th October and discuss the ideas of atheism in his private place called Ammaji Ashram on Parikrma road of Vrindavan, which runs an eco-friendly restaurant also, known as ‘Ammaji restaurant, built in memory of his deceased mother. Vrindavan, otherwise a small town of less than sixty thousand population, is an attractive place, where foreigners, mostly European whites can always be found in large numbers fascinated by the charming personality of Lord Krishna and apart from large number of other older Hindu temples, which include temples relating to stay of sixteenth century Bhakat poets-Chaitnya Mahaprabhu and rebel Hindi poet Meera Bai, a new modern ISKON temple is much centre of attraction. Vrindavan is known for its nearby Barsana temple Holi festivities also, where not hundreds rather thousands of foreigners turn up to enjoy the sight of ‘Lathmar’(Stick Beat) Holi of men and women. Sometimes foreigner women getting molested in melee of surging crowds is not uncommon on this occasion. Vrindavan is also known for its population of ‘Widows’, which are in number of thousands and live in temples/ashrams of Vrindavan. Their tales of sufferings including their exploitation, have also been filmed, serialised many a times in films and media.

  Balendu Swmi coming from a religious family background had spent more than three years in a cave like place without meeting any member of family or any other, just in meditation is search of ‘God’! And when he could not ‘discover’ or find him, his reason turned him to atheism. Balendu Swami experimented with Birthday Atheist meet last year also, but it did not get much publicity and was limited to facebook page event, yet nearly hundred people did gather and from far and wide on their own expenses-men and women both, many with families and made friends with Balendu Swami. But this time Facebook page of the event got larger publicity and print media also took note of it, so it attracted nearly five hundred plus strong response from at least sixteen states. People travelled from as far places as from Belgaum in Karnataka, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, apart from nearby states of Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab, UP included as site itself. Seeing the larger response even for private event, Balendu Swami took caution to inform and seek permission from local authorities, as he has booked many hotels for his guests to stay in Vrindavan. Somehow some mischievous elements in local electronic and print media probably incited by some local religious Hindutva groups, telecast/printed few generalised anti-religion philosophical comments of Balendu Swami as ‘anti-Hindu’ on 13th and 14th October local Hindi papers/TV channels. Some people had reached a day earlier, but large number reached on 14th October morning to evening, as they were supposed to meet at 2 pm. On 14th October morning not more than 50 persons, led by a saffron colour dress Sadhu attacked Ammaji ashram with sticks, stones, damaged its signboard, broke its glasses and misbehaved with guests reaching there. One lady photojournalist Sarvesh from Delhi was badly beaten as she was recording the attack on her mobile or camera. Few policemen who could have easily controlled this small motivated crowd, rather helped the attackers and contributed to terrorisation of guests, large number of them left as dictated by police there. One big group from Punjab, which came with their own hired big vehicle was attacked and they went away, though later regretted going away under such pressure. While travelling from Delhi, close to Vrindavan around 1 pm, I also got a phone call from a guest coming from Ghazipur in UP about the situation. I reached the town by 2 pm and remained in touch with friends who were already inside the ashram. Police and attackers forced Balendu Swami to give in writing that meeting is cancelled. However there was no formal meeting on record, so many people, including me entered Ammaji Ashram after 3 pm through back gate, as on front gate few policemen and agitators were still menacingly telling people to go away.

   Nearly two hundred people including many families-people from 2 year kids to 80 years old, men and women, students, teachers, professionals included, after tea and snacks, sat on chairs informally and cultural items started to be performed. Poetry of Pash, Faiz and other songs were sung by Ajit Sahni from Ramnagar-Nainital group. Later a play Panchali based on Mahabharata tales was presented and discussion on play also took place after. During dinner time Birthday cake was cut by Balendu Swami with his German wife Ramona and one year daughter Apra by his side and all gathered sung birthday songs!

         Next morning after breakfast at Ashram, about hundred persons held a discussion on atheist views of Bhagat Singh and many participants made suggestions to take this discussion further. UP participants declared to hold a big atheist meet in Prime Minister Modi’s constituency Benares/Varanasi, with big preparations including security concerns. Delhi participants started making preparations to hold another national level meet of atheists in Delhi by December. Delhi meet is likely to focus on the increasing attacks by Hindutva groups on any kind of rationality or scientific temper oriented meets, which is a fascist kind of stifling the freedom of free thought ensured by Indian constitution. Participants were worried that even in ancient times Charvak, Ajit Keshkambli like thinkers, Samkhya Darshan like school of thoughts could practice or believe in agnosticism or atheism in India itself, yet in 21st century, when in many advanced and developed countries, faith in religion is becoming rare, here in South Asian countries religion is becoming increasingly tool of fascist stifling of free thought and scientific rational thought processes. On 4th October IPTA conference was attacked by similar Hindutva groups at Indore in M.P., Vrindavan attack was continuation of such tendencies starting from attack on JNU/HCU/Central University of Haryana attack on Mahashweta Devi play Draupdi-an ominous sign for coming times, if not resisted massively by all liberal-democratic-rational thinking sections of society!


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The Colour of Pain: Five Punjabi Poets



On Diwali day this year Gufatgu-online journal of Indian Writers Forum has come out with its fifth issue, which is focused more on poetry from many languages and five poems are from award returning and other radical Punjabi poets.

With Diwali greetings


This selection is dedicated to the first death anniversary of Professor M.M. Kalburgi on 30thAugust 2016. The day was marked by a gathering in Dharwad of cultural activists, as well as many of the writers who returned their awards in 2015 in protest against the murder of Kalburgi and the rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. Of the five poets in this selection, Surjit Patar, Darshan Butter and Jaswinder were among the writers who returned their awards in 2015. Returning his award, Patar said, “The murder of writers, scholars and thinkers in this diverse country is painful… Even more painful is that these murderers get away…”


Lal Singh Dil

Wordslal 1

Words have already been said
much before us and
much after us.
Cut off every tongue of ours
If you can,
But words have already been said.

Read more by clicking at the Gufatgu link given above


Why Che Guevara and Bhagat Singh are most loveable youth icons!


che-kundan bhagatsingh(2)



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 prof.chaman@gmail.com


  1. no 2690, Urban Estate, Phase-2, Patiala(Punjab)-147002


The Last Rebel-Chittagong revolutionary memoirs



How a new book on Chittagong revolt keeps the forgotten war alive

The Last of the Rebels: Ananda and his Masterda is a teenager’s eyewitness account of the 1930 uprising.


|   Long-form |   09-09-2016



The Chittagong revolt of 1930 has been one of most important revolutionary movements during the freedom struggle. It exploded on April 18, 1930 and, by 1934, it had given the country many a martyr, the last being the leader of the movement Master Surya Sen, who was executed in January 1934.

But several revolutionaries lived long lives, like the Ghadarite Babas of 1915. Incidentally, both got together in Andaman’s Cellular Jail and other prisons for long incarcerations. Survivors of both movements – Chittagong and Ghadar – mostly joined Communists and few affiliated with the Congress party, but none embraced the so-called “nationalist” RSS!

A teenager’s eyewitness account of the Chittagong Uprising.

Many survivors of the movement wrote their memoirs, helping historians analyse the movement with authentic documentation. Anant Singh, Kalpana Dutt and a few more had memoirs, though some remained untranslated, But Kalpana Dutt’s memoirs were translated to English and few other languages. Two films, Chittagong and Khelenge Ji Jaan Se were based on the memoirs and other works.

Ananda Gupta’s memoir is the latest addition to works about the Chittagong rebellion. Gupta, who joined the movement as a teenager like the others, had lived abroad – mostly in the UK – to get treatment for the illness that followed a prolonged jail term. He had spoken to his family members, who gave the memoirs shape in the form of a bilingual volume written in English and Bengali – a rarity in the publishing world.

It is co-authored by the mother-daughter duo of Nivedita Patnaik and Piyul Mukherjee. While Patnaik has wrought the Bengali text, her daughter Piyul has reproduced it in English.

The Foreword of the memoir is written by Subrata Bose, the nephew of Netaji Subhas Bose, who carried forward Netaji’s ideas of a Forward Bloc and remained member of Parliament from the party.

Subrata Bose quotes Sir Samuel Hoare, British secretary of state for India between 1931-35, in the Foreword: “In the battle for India’s freedom, the Chittagong uprising of 1930 turned the tide, and brought in its wake a rising and a clamour for immediate Independence.”

Subrata calls the Chittagong heroes as “youthful revolutionaries, who in their love for the freedom of their nation, allowed their own lives to be put at stake, facing the most vindictive torture imaginable without complaint. Their sacrifice has just no parallel anywhere. They are the unvanquished children of Mother India.”

The English text offering an insight into Ananda Gupta’s struggles describes him as one among the “clutch of teenagers” who participated the Chittagong armoury raid in 1930.

Chittagong is called Chattogram in Bengali and falls in present-day Bangladesh. A young Ananda Gupta was caught in the French territory of Chandannagar by the notorious police commissioner Charles Tegart with noted leaders of the movement like Ganesh Ghosh and Loknath Bal, while one of their youngest comrades and Anand’s closest friend Jeebon Ghoshal lost his life to British bullets.

Ananda was sentenced to transportation for life to the Andamans after two years in 1932, though he was not even an adult then. He spent 16 years in jail and was released in 1946, just a year prior to Independence.

During the jail term, asthma had wrecked his body from inside and he was forced to move to England for treatment, supported by his wife, who had laboured hard to get her husband treated. Gupta later recovered from his serious ailments.

Born on September 26, 1916, the revolutionary was just 14 when he joined Masterda Surjyo Sen’s army. He passed away in December 2005 and the volume was brought out on his birth centenary as a dedication to his many struggles.

The memoir’s Introduction describes the Chittagong revolt as “A Forgotten Chapter” and Ananda Gupta as disciple of Masterda – Surya Sen.

Fifty years after Independence, Gupta had visited the Andaman prison, a second time in his life, at the invitation of then president KR Narayanan. Only now, he was an “honoured prisoner”!

The memoir opens with an account of Ananda Gupta’s meeting with Master da. He was interviewed by Surya Sen after his recruitment to the revolutionary group in 1929 at the age of 13 years! Surya Sen is said to have explained to the young rebel the world vision of revolution, inspired by Irish nationalists and the Easter uprising.

The second chapter recounts the details of April 18, 1930, the day of Chittagong armoury raid. Ananda remembers how he would drive revolutionaries to the target, who destroyed a telegraph machine led by Ambikada. Ganesh Ghosh was designated as “Field Marshal” at the time. Then begins the famous Jalalabad battle, which Gupta recounts as another historic event in Masterda’s life. Most touching is the description of the young revolutionaries’ martyrdom, the first to fall was Hargopal (Tegra) Bal, then the youngest martyr Nirmal Lala, his young voice calling out “Vande Mataram” before it fell to silence. There were many others.

In “Feni Encounter”, Gupta recounts how Ganesh Ghosh escaped the police by posing as rural folk – “dehati log”. Another chapter describes the savage killings at Chandernagar, close to Calcutta, where Gupta and the others had sought refuge.

Among the four revolutionaries – Ganesh Ghosh, Ananda, Lokenath Bal and Jeebon Ghoshal, the last fell to bullets, while the rest were arrested by Charles Tegart on  September 1, 1930 for illegally attacking foreign territory.

Gupta details life in incarceration and how brutal torture could not break the spirit of freedom in Ganesh Ghosh, Anant Singh. How, at such a young age, Ananda refused to eat the food offered by jail authorities, unless his comrades were afforded the same.

He also narrates the corruption inside the jail’s walls. The rigorous imprisonment meant the revolutionaries were made to do hard labour – from morning till evening and served a tasteless coarse meal. Gupta describes the 1933 hunger strike of prisoners following which conditions changed for the better; how Karl Marx’s Das Capitalreached the jail also comes with a humorous take.

The news of Masterda’s hanging in 1934 grips the comrades with sadness. The humanist nature of Irish doctor Colonel Fischer is also underlined, the same doctor who sent him to England after his release, as he had set up private practice in Calcutta after he left Andamans.

The overwhelming personality of Netaji Subhas Bose and how it somewhat overshadowed his elder brother Sarat Chander Bose’s role in freedom struggle also finds a mention in the memoir. Sarat was stronger than his younger brother in many respects and a more committed socialist.

It was he who defended Chittagong revolutionaries in courts, and helped them in various other ways, by liberally funding them, even offering to help them escape prison.

Sarat was member of Bengal legislative Assembly at the time of Partition and he stood for a united Bengal with the then chief minister of Bengal, Suhrawardi. Their resolution of United Bengal was defeated by the Congress and the Communist party at the time as they voted for the division of Bengal on communal lines, against the principles of language and culture and the unity of people.

In fact, Jinnah was prepared to accept Bengal and Punjab as unified independent nations. Punjab’s chief minister Khizr Hyat Khan Tiwana and Congress leader Gopi Chang Bhargav too were in favour of a united Punjab. Had the two nations come into being at that time, the political climate in South Asia would have been different!

The communal cauldron in South Asia would not have gained steam. Had Subhas Chandra Bose been present in the political scene, the history of Bengal would have been different today.

Another interesting chapter focuses on a meeting with Charlie Chaplin, who had met Gandhi in London. Gupta was so impressed by the showman that he arranged for a private audience with him during one of his journeys.

The meeting proved to be pleasant and much longer than the fixed five minutes, as Chaplin was keen on listening to the Indian revolutionary!

After release from jail, Gupta joined Jyoti Basu and the others in a prisoner release movement. All his life, Masterda’s flame was kept alive by Gupta and, at the age of 81 years, he is said to have said that given the chance, he would join the rebellion. Gupta harboured no regrets in the aftermath of the failure of the Chittagong movement.

Along with moving accounts of his family, the book’s appendices trace the history of Bengal, starting from the 7th Century AD, focusing more on twentieth century and renaissance movement, as well as the role of radical nationalists in successive rebellions. The third appendix is a sketch of Master Surya Sen.

Another focuses on the American war of Independence and Irish rebellion, which impacted the Chittagong revolutionaries. The book also underlines the differing views of Gandhi and Tagore on social issues and the latter’s concern for revolutionaries.

In bringing Gupta’s witness of the rebellion to life, the translators have done a commendable job of preserving the memories of their kin, which are crucial to understand the participation of teenagers in India’s revolutionary movements, which continue to this day.

2 h



  by Taboola 

#Bengal#The Last of the Rebels#Chittagong


CHAMAN LAL @profchaman

The author is a retired professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and the author of Understanding Bhagat Singh.


Gurvinder’s Punjabi film ‘Chauthi Koont’ based on Waryam Sandhu stories




           10th August-Vasant Kunj Mall-Delhi-Film ‘Chauthi Koont’-Gurvinder/Waryam Sandhu

This is Gurvinder’s second film based on Punjabi literary classic


This is Gurvinder’s second film based on literary Punjabi classics. First was ‘Anhe Ghode da Daan’based on Gurdial Singh’s novel. Novelist created a modern meeting of a mythical story, but which turned into a complex film. The film got international acclaim but few audience. His second film based on Waryam Singh Sandhu’s two stories-‘Chathi Koont’(Fourth direction) and ‘Main Hun Thikthak Han’(I am all right now) has earned both international acclaim as well as good number of audience in cinema houses. Film begins with screen shot of story Chauthi Koont, in which two Hindu and one Sikh passenger trying to travel back to Amritsar through only late evening train going from Ferozepur but having no passenger in it. As is common in Indian society’s ‘jugad’ system, they all three are able to push into guard room, which already is having few more passengers. It seems through Guard dream or one of Hindu passenger narrating earlier story of his life, which begins the screen shooting of second story, a longer one-‘ Hun Main Thikthak Han’(I am all right now), in which common people in rural areas of Punjab getting crushed under both Khalistani and state terror is depicted in powerful manner. Joginder, a well-built Kabaddi player is reduced to a beggar state by both terrorists and state armed forces. He is ordered to kill his pet dog by terrorists, as his barking affects their night movements. The dog is loved by all family members-particularly Joginder’s son and daughter. Joginder has tried many times to leave the dog at faraway places, but he finds back his home and returns! They ask veterinary hospital staff to poison the dog, but the concerned Khalsa Sikh employee refuses to kill ‘innocent’ dogs, even if he has to leave his job. They take poison home but not able to kill and if in night terrorists come to terrorise, day comes and comes the armed forces to insult who are attacked by loyal and faithful dog to pin the officer down and dog is just saved. In night time when dog does not stop barking, Joginder in a spur of moment, hits him with farm belch which kills the dog, while dog is being taken by the family out of village, story returns to Chauthi koont as Amritsar station is nearing and guard instructs passengers to get down few yards before the station. When two Hindu passengers rush to go to the Sikh passenger resents their letting him alone by not waiting for him.

  Stories and film both faithfully depict the Punjab reality of 1970’s, which shows that Punjabi people-both Hindus and Sikhs and before 1947-Muslims-Hindus and Sikhs all have lived in peace and harmony and helped each other in time of need. It is only vested political interests which create Bhindrawales and Hafiz Saeeds or Togadias to divide people on religious basis and fight each other to serve these anti-human forces. State armed wing does not protect the common people, they rather harass them as much as the terrorists of religious fundamentalists harass them.

        Film is almost faithful recreation of stories and is realist to the core. One may say Waryam Sandhu is lucky to have got Satyajit Roy of Punjabi cinema in Gurvinder. The way Satyajit Ray immortalised Vibhuti Bhushan Bandopadhya’s novel ‘Pather Panchali’, later the trilogy of the same, Gurvinder has recreated Waryam stories into that realist model of Ray. Of course two situations are entirely different. Pather Panchali was scenic depiction of rural poverty of 1950’s Bengal, whereas Chauthi Koont is recreation of 1980’s terror of common people of Punjab, particularly in rural side at the hands of both Khalistanis and state armed forces!

   Film has good music composition without songs and the language part and acting is so naturally depicted that one does not feel the film is being played by actors, the Majhi dialect of Punjabi has come so naturally from all actors, as if film is being just shot in day to day routine life of people.

    Waryam Sandhu has made no major departure from the text of his stories in film and the dialogues are almost reproduction of stories itself. Both writer and director deserve audience compliments for this marvelous Punjabi film. Gurvinder has brought Punjabi cinema to not only national map, but international as well, but this cinema still is waiting for audience, which could make producing such films financially viable. Till now these are being produced by some official or non-official support. Hope it is produced in Hindi as well for larger audience!






After Mahashweta—Gurdial Singh….2 Letters


In my 45+ association with Punjabi novelist, we may have exchanged hundreds of post cards and few inland’s/envelops,, but I preserved few for records. In early seventies, when I spent nearly two months in Jaitu, we had evening walk almost every evening at Jaitu canal just at outskirts of the town. His close friend Balbir Singh will also be accompanying mostly. I had translated Manmathnath Gupt’s book ‘Bharat Ke Krantikari in Punjabi which was serialized by ‘Desh Bhagat Yadan’ fortnightly edited by Ghadarite revolutionary Baba Gurmukh Singh, during my Jaitu days at the suggestion of Gurdial Singh I started translating his novel ‘Rete di Ek Muthi'(A Handful of Sand) in Hindi and left the manuscript with him. This was published much later but without my name as translator, but I was happy. Gurdial Singh’s two page letter in envelope mentions about its publication plans. Sharing here his letter of 1985 about the translated novel and one post card written after a programme in Jalandhar on Hindi novelist Jagadish Chander in 1995, which makes an interesting reading for literary people.

   Gurdial Singh was well connected with leftist movement of Punjab, even radical groups remained in touch with him, though he was rather careful not to highlight this aspect of his life like Gursharn Bhaji. Punjab’s leftist peasant and other unions joining his funeral procession is not out of nothing. My last meeting with him took place this very January, when we were together at DAV College Abohar function, along with Dr. S S Johl and Dr. Ronki Ram. He also attended Pash memorial annual functions in Jalandhar few times. Hindi critic Naamvar Singh, Punjabi critics-Dr. Attar Singh, Dr. Joginder Rahi and Dr. T.R.Vinod-all three predeceased him, were great admirers of his novels. 

Gurdial Singh letter (4)

Gurdial Singh letter (3)

Gurdial Singh letter (1)

Gurdial Singh letter (2)