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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 17, April 11, 2009

April 8, 1929: A Day to Remember

Sunday 12 April 2009, by Chaman Lal

A historic event in the political history of India took place on April 8, 1929, referring to which L.K.Advani committed a blunder, when he spoke of Bhagat Singh’s execution being related to this event. A lot is being written about Advani’s sense of history in the context of his book My Life: My Country, but it is necessary to recollect the significance of the relevant event by way of narrating the facts from historical records as well as the reminiscences of the fellow revolutionaries of Bhagat Singh.

It was at 12.30 pm on April 8, 1929, when Vithalbhai Patel (the elder brother of Vallabhbhai Patel, the first Deputy Prime Minister of India), President (Speaker in today’s parlance) of the Central Assembly (the present-day Lok Sabha), rose to give his ruling on the result of voting on the Trade Disputes Bill, which was heatedly discussed in the Assembly along with another Bill, the Public Safety Bill. Both Bills had created much resentment in the country and the people were agitated over these Bills‘ repressive provisions. In fact the British Government was defeated on the Public Safety Bill in the Select Committee meeting of the Central Assembly, 62 to 61, with the help of the Assembly President’s casting vote. However, the British Government was able to get the Trade Disputes Bill through, and before its result could be announced there was an explosion in the Assembly and suddenly the Hall was filled with smoke and slogans rose in loud voice by two young men from the Visitors‘ Gallery. The three slogans raised many times over were—‘Inquilab Zindabad’, ‘Down With Imperialism’ and ‘Workers of the World Unite’. Another explosion took place a few minutes later and hurriedly the Hall and Visitors‘ Gallery were emptied, except a few people standing. In the Assembly, those who remained on their seats 1were Motilal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Madan Mohan Malaviya, apart from the Home Secretary, Government of India, James Crerar. In the Visitors’ Gallery were, among others, Devdas Gandhi, Mahadev Desai, Asaf Ali, Vallabhbhai Patel, Brijlal Nehru and Sir Sobha Singh. John Simon of the Simon Commission fame (or notoriety) was also present in the Visitors‘ Gallery and the Hindi writer and editor of Phansi Ank of ‘Chand’ from Allahabad, Chatur Sen Shastri, was there with this family (Bhagat Singh himself had brought them into the Assembly). Chaman Lal, a reporter of The Hindustan Times and a sympathiser of the revolutionaries, was there covering the proceedings. Though both bombs were thrown by Bhagat Singh, B.K. Dutt took the responsibility of throwing one bomb, because he did not want to be acquitted and ‘stay away from Bhagat Singh’. He wanted to be with Bhagat Singh through thick and thin. This was stated by Asaf Ali in an interview many years later.

After a few minutes of slogan shouting and throwing of leaflets in pink colour by these young men, Sergeant Terry and Inspector Johnson moved towards these young men, one of whom was ‘playing with his pistol’ in hand (Bhagat Singh). Police officers were scared to go close to them, but the young men made no attempt to escape and kept the pistol at the side table, seeing the scare on the police officers’ faces. The two were arrested; they were in their khaki shirts and shorts, with one of them wearing his felt hat. The man with hat was Bhagat Singh and the other young man was his comrade, Batukeshwar Dutt. Jaidev Kapoor, the third accomplice in the action, left Assembly Hall minutes earlier and burnt the passes acquired from one Assembly member. Bhagat Singh, B.K. Dutt and Jaidev Kapoor had been visiting the Assembly premises prior to the incident. CID reports have recorded their visit to Assembly premises on April 6, 1929. Even Chandra Shekhar Azad had visited the premises to have a first-hand assessment of it, as he was the commander of the HSRA. The leaflets thrown in the Assembly carried the signature of Balraj, the party name of Chandra Shekhar Azad, though the leaflet was drafted by Bhagat Singh himself. It started with a quotation from the French revolutionary, Valliant. ‘It needs explosions to make the deaf hear.’ This statement Valliant made while taking similar action inside the French Parliament about four decades earlier and for which he was also executed. The Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), formed on September 8 and 9, 1928 at the Ferozeshah Kotla grounds of Delhi, had planned this action after killing Saunders, the police officer respon-sible for killing the great nationalist leader, Lala Lajpat Rai. Lala Lajpat Rai died on November 17, because of lathi blows on his body by Saunders on October 30, 1928 at Lahore, when he was leading a procession against the Simon Commission.

As per the court and police records, only six persons had sustained minor injuries due to the bomb blast in the Assembly Hall. These were—George Schuster (Seat No. 4-B), P.R. Rao, Shankar Rao, Bomanji Dalal, S.N Roy and Rai Bahadur Dubey. Medical reports later confirmed these as ‘trivial injuries’. Furniture, including some tables, suffered damage and the affected seats were 87-88-89 and 146-147-148. Bhagat Singh bought his felt hat from Kolkata in December 1928 and the pistol was given to him by a veteran Anushilan revolutionary, Pratul Das, in Dacca. Before entering the Assembly on April 8, he gave a watch to Jaidev Kapoor; this was given to him by Shachinder Nath Sanyal, who got it from Rash Behari Bose earlier. This historic watch is in Hardoi now. Bhagat Singh also exchanged his new shoes with the old ones worn by Jaidev Kapoor.

Bhagat Singh and Dutt stayed in a house in Sita Ram Bazar in Delhi during February-March and at a Nai Sarak house in the first week of April to plan and execute this action. On April 7 night, Sukhdev took Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Durga Bhabhi and Susheela Didi from Lahore to Delhi to see Bhagat Singh ‘for the last time’. They reached Kudsiya Gardens in Delhi on April 8 morning, where they treated Bhagat Singh with his favourite rasgullas and oranges. Susheela Didi put a blood dot on his forehead and Bhagat Singh left for the Assembly around 10.30 am from there. After they were arrested and while being taken by the police to the police station, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Durga Bhabhi and their three-year old son Shachi saw Bhagat Singh; Shachi shouted: ‘Lambu Chacha!’ Durga Bhabhi put her hand on his mouth. On April 3 or 4, Bhagat Singh and Dutt got photographed from Ramnath, a photographer at Kashmere Gate in Delhi; the photograph with a felt hat-wearing Bhagat Singh became historic and got engraved on the minds of the Indian people and those abroad. Jaidev Kapoor and Shiv Verma had to perform other duties. Bhagat Singh had typed leaflets thrown in the Assembly and made 10-15 copies of these. This statement along with the photograph was immediately delivered to reporters. Durga Das, representing The Statesman those days, took care to telegraph the statement to his London office, rather than Calcutta, and that trick worked. Chaman Lal collected the copy of the leaflet from the Assembly premises and The Hindustan Times came out with a special evening edition on the incident that very evening. The statement got international coverage as well. The Hindustan Times was an eyesore for the British Government those days because of its strong support to the freedom struggle and between April 8 and June 12, when the sentence to ‘transportation for life’ was pronounced by Sessions Judge Middelton to Bhagat Singh and Dutt in this case, there were many CID reports referring to The Hindustan Times’ pro-nationalist role in those days. One Ghosh, an Assistant Editor of the HT, is also referred to as a sympathiser of the revolutionaries’ cause. Many police officers too have been suspected of ‘leaking’ information to The Hindustan Times about the investigation in the case. Suspicion had been on the HT staff for hosting Bhagat Singh and Dutt in Delhi.

On May 13, in a raid on a Saharanpur house, the police recovered three negatives and some photographs of Bhagat Singh and Dutt, which were identified by photographer Ramnath in an identification parade held later. CID reports record the publication of these photographs in Bandemataram of Lahore in its April 12 issue, though these were being sold in Lahore from April 11. According to CID reports, the photographs may have been printed on April 10 but the CID records also confirm that The Hindustan Times had published ‘excellent photographs’ and the statement of the HSRA earlier.

The FIR of the incident was filed by Lala Hans Raj Saheb, duty constable, Karampur, under Section 34 of the Explosives Act 1908 against Bhagat Singh and Dutt. Kishan Singh, the father of Bhagat Singh, was allowed to meet him on May 3, 1929 only, when it was known that Kultar Singh, the ten-year old brother of Bhagat Singh and a fifth class student, was also arrested by the police. Bhagat Singh was not in favour of any defence; however, Asaf Ali represented B.K. Dutt, and Bhagat Singh fought his own case in consultation with Asaf Ali. The trial started on May 7, 1929. The famous statement by Bhagat Singh and Dutt was read in the Sessions Court on June 6, 1929. This historic statement was drafted by Bhagat Singh, whose language was only polished by Asaf Ali. Some portions of the statement were expunged from the records by the judge on June 9. The judgment was delivered on June 12, 1929, convicting them both and sentencing them to ‘transportation for life’. An appeal was filed against this judgment in the Delhi High Court. Justice E. Ford and Justice Addison dismissed the appeal no. 748 on January 13, 1930 and upheld the sentence. However, the judges acknowledged Bhagat Singh as a ‘sincere revolutionary’ in their judgment.

Bhagat Singh and Dutt were sent to Mianwali and Lahore jail respectively on June 15, 1929. Bhagat Singh and Dutt both began their hunger strike for the facilities they enjoyed in Delhi jail. Later when the Lahore Conspiracy Case proceedings began from July 10, 1929, Bhagat Singh was also shifted to Lahore jail to be with the other accused. He was brought on a stretcher, as he was on hunger strike for 25 days. The other accused of the Lahore Conspiracy Case also joined the hunger strike from July 13, which later resulted in the martyrdom of Jatin Das on September 13. Bhagat Singh was sentenced to death in the Lahore Conspiracy Case on October 7, 1930. Appeals up to the Privy Council were exhausted by the end of February, 1931. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev were executed on March 23, 1931 at the Lahore Central Jail.

B.K. Dutt lived in Patna after his release and he died in a Delhi hospital in 1965.

The author is a Professor in the Jawaharlal Nehru University and has edited five books on Bhagat Singh in Hindi and English, including his complete documents. Chaman Lal is a Profesor, Centre of Indian Languages (SLL&CS), JNU, New Delhi. He can be contacted at prof_chaman@yahoo.com

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