South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

What kind of relations did Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh have? Did they respect each other? Did Gandhi try his best to save Bhagat Singh and his colleagues? These questions need to be understood in a proper perspective as there are groups which spread misinformation and disinformation. Bhagat Singh along with Rajguru and Sukhdev were hanged on March 23, 1931 in Lahore. Students and youths came on the streets against the hanging of three revolutionaries. The country witnessed unprecedented anger against the British imperialists.

The 28th session of the Congress was to be held immediately after the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades i.e. from March 29. There was uncertainty whether it will be held or postponed. The Congress session was held. People were agitated and slogans were shouted against Gandhi in the session. Gandhi had to face protest on his way to Karachi from Delhi. The atmosphere was charged.
Freedom struggle was at its peak. On October 30, 1928, a massive demonstration was held against Simon Commission outside Lahore station and it was led by Lala Lajpat Rai who was brutally beaten up by the police and who later succumbed to his head injuries. British SP James Scott had ordered the police to beat up the protesters. The country protested against the brutality. Bhagat Singh was angry. Hindustan Socialist Republic Army (HSRA) decided to take revenge. Bhagat Singh and his comrades in a case of mistaken identity shot dead John Saunders on December 17.

On March 5, 1931, Gandhi and Viceroy Lord Irwin signed a pact. Gandhi was impressed with Irwin’s sincerity and agreed to withdraw the civil disobedience movement. Thousands of political prisoners were released except those charged with violence. The Congress decided to join the second round table conference to be held in London and the British agreed to remove tax on salt.

Gandhi had differences with revolutionaries using violence as a means to achieve freedom. But, he never had doubt about their commitment and sincerity. He had high regard for them. The people of the country had hope that Mahatma will be able to save Bhagat Singh. He did his best but could not save the three revolutionaries.

On March 19, after reaching Delhi, Gandhi met the viceroy regarding commutation of death sentences of Bhagat Singh, Rajuru and Sukhdev. He also wrote a piece in Young India and demanded a reprieve for the young revolutionaries. On the same day, Gandhi had a long conversation with HW Emerson, Home Secretary, Government of India. Mahatma had also sent Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, MR Jaykar and Srinivasa Sastri to the viceroy to plead Bhagat Singh’s case. Gandhi was aware that these three persons had excellent relations with the viceroy. He tried to influence Irwin through them also but unfortunately, it did not help.

Gandhi also sent a letter to viceroy on the morning of March 23 and once again appealed for reconsideration citing public opinion, internal peace, the possibility of judicial error. He also appealed emotionally by referring to Christian sentiments. He asked for commutation of death sentences of Bhagat Singh and his colleagues. Robert Bernays of News Chronicle (London), noted in his diary on March 21, “Gandhi is delaying his departure (for Karachi Congress) here another day for further conversation with the Viceroy” on the issue of Bhagat Singh’s execution. Gandhi again met the viceroy on March 22 and Lord Irwin promised to consider Gandhi’s submission.

On March 23, Gandhi left Delhi for Karachi and reached there on March 25. Before leaving Delhi, he issued a statement on the execution of three revolutionaries. On March 25, a leading journalist and Congress leader Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was killed in Kanpur, while pacifying Hindus and Muslims rioters. He had excellent relations with Gandhi as well as Bhagat Singh.

Gandhi’s efforts did not succeed in saving the revolutionaries. The Karachi session began in shock.

A procession to be led by President-elect Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was cancelled in grief. Kishen Singh, father of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, addressed the session. His speech was full of emotion.

Delegates wept as he spoke. He said Bhagat Singh told me not to worry. “Let me (Bhagat Singh) be hanged. But, he made a fervent appeal, “You must support your general (Gandhi). You must support all Congress leaders. Only then will you be able to win independence for the country”.

Hence, Gandhi’s efforts to save Bhagat Singh clearly indicate how much affection he had for the revolutionary. Similarly, Bhagat Singh had high regard for Mahatma. He referred to Gandhi as a general.

The issue is there is a systematic campaign to spread lies about Gandhi’s efforts. Those forces which are trying to malign Gandhi never participated in the freedom struggle and never faced British imperialist’s bullets.