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)


Why AAP may fall into its own trap with ‘politics of glamour’ in Punjab-Chaman Lal-DailyO

As Punjab elections approach nearer, political parties are going hyper and the target for both Akali-BJP alliance and the Congress party is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), whom they see as a threat to their convenient power sharing rounds.

AAP and its leaders, particularly Arvind Kejriwal, are now accused of all kinds of religious misconduct and causing religious tensions. It was seen in Malerkotla, the only Muslim majority small town of Punjab, where AAP was accused of spreading unrest between Muslim and non-Muslims (such an allegation occurred for the first time since Independence!).

AAP was also taken to task for wearing Nihang robes to “insult Sikhism”, and more seriously, using the Golden Temple picture for politicking. Sikhs supposedly got upset seeing the image of their holy shrine with the AAP election symbol – the broom, or the “jhadu”!

Now, the Hindu Sena is also targeting Kejriwal. A number of criminal cases have been filed against many AAP MLAs, leaders and activists.

Also read: AAP leaders arrested, BJP members let off for similar offences is lopsided justice

AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal, who at one time was described as an atheist – being an admirer of Bhagat Singh, the pronounced atheist socialist – has since changed track after joining parliamentary politics.

During 2014 general elections, while contesting against Narendra Modi from Hindu religious city Varanasi, Arvind Kejriwal’s semi clad photographs with tilak on his forehead taking a dip in the river Ganga early morning, made as many headlines as newspaper photos.

Presently, his “Nihang”-style turbaned photograph is being splashed on the cover of a national multilingual political magazine, for which he is being targeted. Moreover, the AAP Punjab unit has been using Arvind Kejriwal’s Golden Temple picture on their youth manifesto, juxtaposed with the broom symbol, an action which has, strangely enough, attracted ire from some section of the Punjabi Sikh community.

The AAP Punjab unit has been using Arvind Kejriwal’s Golden Temple picture on their youth manifesto, juxtaposed with the broom symbol.
Delhi MLA Naresh Yadav has been touted as the main accused in fomenting Hindu-Muslim tensions in Malerkotla, though everyone knows that Hindutva organisations have been on an overdrive, mastering such practices in western UP, including certain central ministers and some local BJP MLAs as well.

But it suits to target AAP politically, so let’s pin the blame on the newbie.

Aam Aadmi Party is trying to retrieve the situation by offering apologies in certain cases or doing seva at Golden Temple, such as what AAP leader HS Phoolka did, and now Arvind Kejriwal himself has “washed utensils” as part of the penance!

But why and how the AAP got embroiled in this quagmire of religious politics?

One needs to give a cursory glance at the pre-Independence and post-Independence political movements, to get a grip on this sensitive issue.

Also read: AAP shouldn’t have apologised for Guru Granth Sahib controversy

Freedom movement and religion

Indian people’s resistance to British colonialists from 1757 to 1947 had got stuck in religion’s enormous influence on the bodypolitick, despite its such vast diversity. In fact, religion started playing havoc in social life from 20th century onwards, when communal rioting started under the aegis of British colonial policies of “divide and rule”.

The 1924 Kohat riots, on which even Bhagat Singh wrote an essay, “Communal Riots and their Resolution”, were perhaps the first major violent Hindu-Muslim conflict. In the “Revolt of 1857”, or the first Indian War of Independence, Hindu and Muslim kings of India fought together under last and ageing Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.

In a true sense, the secular form of freedom struggle took shape with the 1913 Ghadar Party, formed in the USA with its failed Ghadar attempt in India in 1915. Bhagat Singh and his comrades took its atheistic tradition further through the formation of the Socialist HSRA, with the famous “Inqlab Zindabad” slogan.

In the Indian National Congress as well, despite it being the platform for multi-religious people’s freedom struggle, a socialist and secular outlook was developed by CSP – the Congress Socialist Party – and by leaders with strong secular principles such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose, Narender Dev, Jai Prakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia.

On the other hand, Sardar Patel, Rajender Prasad, Madan Mohan Malviya, Lala Lajpat Rai, Lokmanya Tilak, Purshotamdas Tandon, and even Mahatma Gandhi, stuck to Congress’ older religious format, which in fact gave space to Muslim religious faithful freedom fighters such as Maulana Azad. But Hindus being present in larger numbers in Congress with many feudal lords as well, soft Hindutva kept flourishing inside the Congress movement.

Also read: Sidhu can decidedly tilt scales in Kejriwal’s favour in Punjab

The Dalit movement under Dr BR Ambedkar and Periyar adhered strictly to the non-religious character of their mass struggle and remained focussed on Dalit issues, whereas the Hindu religion, with its caste biases and entrenched anti-Dalit character in practice, was a presence within the Congress-led freedom movement against which Dr Ambedkar fought resolutely.

The “Quit India” movement of 1942 as well as Netaji Subhas Bose-led Azad Hind Fauj resistance with “Jai Hind” slogan and Indian Navy revolt of 1946, had nothing to do with religion and focused on the ideal of Indian freedom from colonial regime.

The two forms of secularism developed in pre-independence India within Congress: the “separate politics from religion” type of Nehruvian/Subhas Boseian vision; and, the “Sarv Dharm Sambhav” of the idea preached by the Gandhian/Patelian/Maulana Azadian camp.

First prime minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, in his 17 years of governance, adhered to secularism in the stricter sense of keeping religion away from politics.

Unfortunately, his own daughter, Indira Gandhi, killed his tradition and brought in “Sarv Dharma Sambhav” kind of soft Hindutva, which fully flourished during the Narsimha Rao regime.

Anna Hazare and JP movements

Aam Aadmi Party, rather than following Netaji Subhas Bose, Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, or Congress Socialist party (CSP) or the Navy revolt ideals, is actually tracing the footsteps of Indira Gandhi and Narsimha Rao, fanning their “Sarv Dharam Sambhav” vision, which, it’s fair to say, suits BJP/RSS equally.

In 1974, in the first major mass movement against Indira Gandhi regime, Jai Prakash Narayan himself never resorted to religion. His main plank of non-Marxist socialist ideology was reinforced by his socialist student followers, such as Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar. But the Jansangh party very cleverly joined the movement and created a big space for itself.

So much so that it merged the Jansangh into the Janata Party for a while and secured two of the most important ministries under Janta Party rule in 1977 – foreign affairs and information and broadcasting ministry led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishan Advani respectively.

Also read: Entire political class is complicit in Centre’s relentless targeting of AAP

With the failure of Janata Party experiment, they revived themselves in the old Jansangh form with the new name – Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). Slowly, they regained more space from just two seats in Lok Sabha in 1984 to today’s full majority in Lok Sabha. JP died as a frustrated person just as Gandhi was frustrated in 1946-48 from communal conflagrations all over India.

Almost a similar political pattern got repeated during the Anna Hazare movement known as “India Against Corruption”. While many idealist youths, including many Leftists, joined the Anna movement, the BJP was again at its favourite game of controlling the mass uprising in order to expand its own political space.

Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal.
The searing irony was how the Delhi gangrape of a young girl, Jyoti/Nirbhaya, was used by BJP to force the then UPA government at the Centre for creating sterner, some would say more oppressive, laws, interestingly demanded by Leftists themselves.

This is why the whole advantage of the massive turnout of Leftist JNU students in this case was ultimately encashed electorally by none other than the Modi-led BJP in its favour during the 2014 parliamentary elections.

While CPM and Socialists/other Leftists, including the non-parliamentary Left, had taken part in the resistance to Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency, the CPI at that time supported the Emergency citing CIA or RSS threat! I myself remained imprisoned for seven months in jail along with thousands of other Leftists of various hues.

Yet looking at the outcome of two movements – that of Jai Prakash Narayan and Anna Hazare – bringing net political advantage to the RSS-BJP combine, bringing them, at first, partially in power, and then in 2014, in complete power, it becomes imperative to review the whole political phenomenon in more dispassionate manner.

Coming back to the AAP, just like the JP movement, which had contributed to the creation of Janata Party in 1977, a mixture of former Congress, Socialists and Jansangh members, it was the Anna Hazare movement which became the cause behind the rise of a new, ideologically-agnostic but broadly secular party – the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party.

The rise of AAP

The Aam Aadmi Party, though it looks to be a new political phenomenon, yet it actually is a similar mixture of socialists, leftists and soft Hindutavites, mostly disgruntled with the Congress party. One must acknowledge, however, that the AAP has certainly attracted fresh youth to its political playing field in really large numbers, young persons who were fed up with older political formations, even with the “honest”, but increasingly politically irrelevant, Left parties.

AAP attracted this new youth base by using the images of youthful revolutionaries of the Indian freedom struggle such as Bhagat Singh and Chandershekhar Azad. Ironically, the same tactic was used by Baba Ramdev also in his initial phase of popularising Yoga, and his website those days was full of eulogisation of revolutionary martyrs of freedom struggle and icons such as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

During the 2014 general elections, while AAP used youth icons of freedom struggle to the fullest extent, the BJP/RSS camp, which had nothing to showcase in its kitty as to have had contributed to the independence movement, took refuge in soft Hindutavite icons from the Congress movement itself, such as Madan Mohan Malviya, Sardar Patel, et al.

It needed to somehow link itself to the freedoms struggle legacy, apart from its own heroes – Veer Savarkar and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee – who, ironically enough, had little role to play in the independence movement.

After getting a more-than-expected response during Lok Sabha elections in Punjab and the Assembly elections in Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal took no time to throwing AAP’s most credible and respected faces, such as Prashant Bhushan, Yogender Yadav and Anand Kumar, out of party and marginalising the popular member of Parliament, Dr Dharamvir Gandhi.

The reason being their critical approach towards the one-man leadership model preferred by Arvind Kejriwal. Leaving aside personal attacks from both sides in those days, one can say that perhaps Yogender Yadav was wrong in having AAP put out 400+ candidates in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and getting only four elected.

But that’s hindsight. It’s easier to say now that had the party just focused on Punjab, Haryana and Delhi with few more symbolic seats in other states, they would have got at least 10+ seats in the Lok Sabha and would have emerged as one of the major national opposition parties, apart from the Indian National Congress.

Yet throwing them unceremoniously out of the party and the subsequent fiasco of the Jan Lokpal Act, the issue on which AAP tried to emotionally mobilise people against corruption, dented AAP’s as well as Kejriwal’s own image, and they were reduced to just any other party indulging in political opportunism to expand power base.

From Gul to Sidhu: The Punjab quagmire

Apart from using religious symbolism, the AAP also indulged in glamour tactic in the 2014 elections, and is trying to repeat the same strategy now the in context of Punjab Assembly elections.

In 2014, from the Chandigarh Lok Sabha constituency, AAP gave ticket to Bollywood actress and activist, Gul Panag, to counter actress Kirron Kher, (significantly, the wife of Anupam Kher, who later joined BJP and has now become an important though unofficial spokesperson for Narendra Modi).

In 2014, from the Chandigarh Lok Sabha constituency, AAP gave ticket to Gul Panag.
The ticket to Gul Panag was in lieu of denying ticket to AAP’s most active face from those days – Professor Manjit Singh from Panjab University. The Gul Panag trick did not work, but if Manjit Singh had been given the ticket, the message would have gone out that AAP respects ground-level workers.

Later, even Manjit Singh met the fate of Bhushan-Yadav-Gandhi.

Moreover, rather than having certain humility in public conduct, AAP is increasingly taking on an aggressive tone towards not only its political opponents, but against its own well-wishers also, which in the long run would prove counterproductive. Dr Daljit Singh, a famous ophthalmologist and Padma awardee, as the AAP candidate from the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2014, had made impact by his humility, going even to opposition Congress and BJP meetings to seek out votes.

Everybody respected him not only because of his 80+ age, but because he made the connect, and even though he lost, he created a respectable image for AAP in Punjab. Sadly, even he has been marginalised by AAP now. As far as the 2017 assembly polls are concerned, the AAP, by trying to woo Navjot Sidhu to its fold, is falling into the earlier trap of glamour over grassroots.

Sidhu may be a famous comedian on television and a past cricketer of medium talent, he, nevertheless, carries the baggage of having sided with the BJP for opportunistic purposes for too long, leaving his father Bhagwant Sidhu’s Congress party legacy of Patiala, citing which Captain Amrinder Singh is trying to woo him back to the Congress fold.

Navjot Singh Sidhu carries the ghost of a murder case as well, when a village old man died due to his rash driving in Patiala. He was convicted, but later the sentence was suspended/cleared. Just as his haranguing videos on Kejriwal during his BJP days are going viral online, the opposition will eventually dig out his quasi-criminal past and bring it to fore as well.

Lip-service to secularism

Strange part of this whole political gimmickry is that AAP is resorting to usual politicking, despite having tried to project an alternative image of a party that “wants to change the system”, and not just “change rulers”. This, AAP draws from Bhagat Singh himself, who used to say during the struggle against colonialism that “Indian people don’t need power to be changed from white hands to brown, they need a new system of freedom from exploitation”.

Jawaharlal Nehru may have had many flaws in his personality, yet he never compromised on his atheism. He never visited temples/mosques/Gurdwaras, never indulged in “Bhumi Pujan” like Hinduised rituals in construction of government-sponsored buildings and always focused on people’s issues, such as fighting against the feudalism-capitalism complex of postcolonial India and instead focus on socialism as a political principle and building huge socialist infrastructure.

Let’s say he did not fully succeed as he could not change “system”.

But if the AAP says that it’s committed to changing the system, then why could they not focus on people’s real issues, which in the context of Punjab are the following.

Farmer suicides

First and foremost, the string of suicides by peasants. Not a day goes when some newspapers, at least the Punjabi language ones, do not carry the news of a poor farmer committing suicide due to non-payment of debt. Thousands of peasants have already committed suicide in Punjab in the last decade or more.

The Tribune carried almost 20 in-depth stories series on peasant suicides, a major issue which no political party is taking up in earnestness, leave aside the ruling Akali-BJP combine or the main opposition in the Congress party. Peasant suicides is a more pressing issue than even so-called drug menace, by now glamourised through movies like Udta Punjab.

Economic insecurities of younger generation

Due to impact of the so-called neoliberal economy or corporatism, the Punjab government (other state governments too) has resorted to “contractisation” and outsourcing of government jobs, making the youth work at meagre pays, despite having very high qualifications. Worse still, they continue to work in such positions for decades and not just months or years. In the 70s, large number of school teachers/other employees were appointed on ad hoc basis, but they were paid full salaries of a regular employee at least ten months in a year and were regularised in about two-three years’ time.

Nowadays, with most jobs following the American pattern, people are appointed on various forms of contract, with no surety of regularisation of jobs. There is the added problem of huge unemployment among the youth, due to which they are not getting even low-paying contractual jobs as well. Actually, the widespread drug problem among Punjab’s youth is really a manifestation of deeply-felt frustration and their prolonged anxieties over the present and the future. Unless this basic problem is tackled, no amount of money spent on fixing drug problem will actually help.

Glamorisation of marriage/lifestyle and dowry on film and television

It is absolutely true that the uncritical glamourisation of show-off, capital-intensive wedding ceremonies in films, as well as the glorification of dowry system in several saas-bahu TV soaps, have reinforced and reinculcated the social evils like ‘dowry’ and discriminatory rituals. In effect, this has enormously contributed to pauperisation of Punjab’s peasantry and other sections.

Peasants and other sections following middle class mores of show-off and overspending beyond their means, have to resort to getting loans that they are unable to pay back, leading in many cases to suicides and in some cases to a life of unwitting crime.

Both the Congress party and the Akali-BJP combine are neck-deep in exploiting people’s misery for their personal and party gains. That is why people are in crying for a real regime change in Punjab. And they are looking to any alternative to these two thoroughly discredited parties/combines.

The Aam Aadmi Party gave them some hope of change, so they responded to their Lok Sabha candidates with vigour in 2014. So much so that even the so-called “Maharani of Patiala” could not withstand people’s wrath. But due to contradictions within AAP springin up in few months, Congress brought back the same candidate, Praneet Kaur, in Punjab and defeating the AAP candidate massively in Patiala.

Not only Punjab, the whole of India is in a crying need of a political party, that is truly liberal with solid anti-corporate, pro-poor economic policies, and which could emerge as the real alternative to potentially fascist BJP/RSS which is deadly in anti-people, anti-minority stance. It won’t be a mistake to say that we have a rather antinational party in power at the Centre.

The Left alternative is nowhere in sight and perhaps not yet acceptable to majority of our people. But AAP has the true apotential to become such a centre-of-left liberal party, but it is dissipating its energies due to self-created traps of pandering to religious sentiments and recruiting glamorous stars in the party.

Must eschew religious appeasement

Religion has caused much havoc everywhere in the world and in present times, the most peaceful nations are those, where people have little interest in religion, such as New Zealand and some small European countries.

AAP should remember what Bhagat Singh wrote about religion in the context of 1924 Kohat riots: “Under these conditions the future of Hindustan seems very bleak. These ‘religions’ have ruined the country. And one has no idea how long these religious riots will plague Hindustan. These riots have shamed Hindustan in the eyes of the world. And we have seen how everyone is carried on the tide of blind faith.”(From “The Religion Oriented Riots and their Solution”, 1927.)

The Congress and Akali/BJP combine are really used to exploiting political power for their personal ends, and they use religion with equal ease to achieve their power-profiteering goals.

The Aam Aadmi Party, if tries to beat them in their own ring by resorting to same tactic of religious appeasement and glamourous illusions, though may succeed for a while, but it will be largely due to people’s frustrations with two political camps. But it will be a short-term honeymoon as the AAP too will be exposed, and much faster than these two combines, as yet another opprtunistic party, and will lose people’s faith as quickly as they gained it.

AAP as an alternative

Had AAP not lost its “Wise Four” – Prashant Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav, Anand Kumar and Dharmvir – they would have been more in tune with the ground realities in various Indian states. Instead, AAP’s “Clever Four” –Ashutosh, Kumar Vishwas, Sanjay Singh, and Ashish Khetan – have given short-term “strategies”, not true alternatives. They will keep on falling into the same traps, sometimes in their bid to “please all religions”, sometimes in their bid bring in the “glamour quotient”.

Even the Congress party in the pre-Independence period had more space for dissension that the AAP does now and had allowed the socialists and the communists as well as rightists, to express themselves in its broader platform. Even after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru continued in the company of soft Hindutvaites like Govind Vallabh Pant, Sardar Patel, as well as Leftists like Krishna Menon, KD Malviya, et al, in his ministry and party.

Nehru never tried to throw them out as Arvind Kejriwal did in just two years of his party formation. Kejriwal’s behaviour with his former colleagues was extremely disgraceful.

Ultimately, it may lead AAP to fall into the same trap – becoming another “Janata Parivar”, eventually splitting into many factions and becoming part of the “Great Indian Circus of Parliamentary Democracy”, serving the corporates but not the people, the aam aadmi.

  • Hharbaz

    excellent description sir , now i get whats really going on in AAP

    about 20 hours ago

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  • ankit mrankitanks

    I am an AAP supporter and volunteer. The views in this article are precisely the views of majority of AAP volunteers. However the need for discipline is the counter argument in the same circles. Dont we remember how every day before Delhi elections some or the other paid or unpaid mischief mongerers were trying to defame AAP. They were trying to make it look like a split organization where everyone does what he wants. Such an image before public would be impossible to undo. Yadav and Bhushan encouraged it backstage, which was the reason to have them out as enemies rather than bad friends inside. Opponents will propagate the question “How can AAP manage a whole state like Punjab if they cant manage their internal quarrels”. That has, atleast for now, been put to full stop by Kejriwal’s actions, though it has disadvantages. We can talk about having internal democracy after the system within the party is in order.


    about 14 hours ago

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  • Umesh Sharma at Self employed

    Mastermind Khujli is like a joker in the pack of cards.He can place himself in any situation with suitable attire.You can see him in Ganges with tilak and all if it is Varanasi election,wearing the round cap and Arabian scarf if it is iftar party.Now with Punjab elections around the attire will undergo suitable seasonal flavor.But from the mess we see in Delhi we can safely say AAP is not a party but potpourri of ambitious and opportunistic individuals like Khujli solely coming together to get a piece of power.How the voters of Punjab exercise their discretion only time will tell.


    about 11 hours ago

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  • MKmast kalandar

    @Chamman lal – YOUR first name itself gives your true colours…..you indeed sound like CHAMMCHA LAL…of the AAP! Your credentials of JNU says it all….