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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 35, August 15, 2009 (Independence Day Special)

Tribute: Baba Bhagat Singh Bilga and Vimla Dang - Pride of Punjab

Wednesday 19 August 2009, by Chaman Lal

Baba Bhagat Singh Bilga, the lone surviving Ghadarite revolutionary of India, breathed his last on May 22, 2009 at England in his son’s house. He had just completed 102 years of age the previous month. He was as alert as ever when I met him last on November 1, 2008 at the Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Hall, of which he was the President. He had unfurled the Ghadar Party flag on that day as usual to mark the Ghadar Party Memorial Day, formed in the USA, way back in 1913.

Baba Bilga was born on April 2, 1907, six months prior to martyr Bhagat Singh in the village Bilga of Jalandhar district. He became involved with Ghadar party activities in his youth and went to Argentina in Latin America. The colonial British Government of India in its Ghadar Directory, published in 1934, recorded him as the ‘most dangerous revolutionary’. In Argentina, he hosted the exiled freedom fighter and uncle of martyr Bhagat Singh, the legendary Ajit Singh. Baba Bilga was one among those Ghadarite revolutionaries who were sent to the Communist University for the Eastern Countries in Moscow for ideological training in Marxism. After his return from Moscow, Baba Bilga became active in the Congress Socialist Party and was elected a member of the All India Congress Committee. He and other Leftist members from Punjab like Mubark Saagar sided with Subhash Bose in the 1938 Congress meet. He remained a part of the Communist Party or communist revolutionary groups throughout his life. He never compromised on his ideology. Even at the age of 100 years, he used to make fiery speeches against communalism and economic liberalism. He wrote four books in Punjabi, the last at the age of almost hundred years. His major book is Unfolded Sheathes of Ghadar Movement. This book, published in 1989, is the history of the Ghadar Party and Kirti Party from 1908 to 1952, when the Kirti Party finally merged with the Communist Party of India. His other books include—‘My Country’ and ‘My Thinking, My Understanding’. His last but another major book was published in 2004, when he crossed 97 years of age. This is biography of the legendary Ghadarite revolutionary, Baba Gurmukh Singh Lalton, who edited Desh Bhagat Yaadan in Punjabi and People’s Path in English on behalf of the Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Committee, of which he was the President also for many years during the seventies.

Baba Bilga was President of the Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Committee, Jalandhar for the last more than one decade. Prior to that he was elected General Secretary of the Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Trust in 1977-78 and worked with Baba Gurmukh Singh, who was President of the Trust. In his able leadership, the Committee started holding Ghadari Babas memorial mela every year on November 1, to propagate the ideas of the Ghadarite and other revolutionaries. Punjab and India will surely miss the resounding voice of Baba Bilga. But his life is a source of inspiration and guide for action. We sincerely hope the Desh Bhagat Yaadgar Hall will continue to further promote Baba Bilga’s mission to make people aware of the need for liberation of the Indian masses from poverty and exploitation.

WHATEVER the tradition of Ghadarite revolutionaries and martyrs like Bhagat Singh was, Comrade Vimla Dang was following the same with the most sincere zeal. She was a committed trade unionist and worked among the Chheharta workers. Both she and her husband, Satya Pal Dang, despite remaining MLA and Minister, lived in the most simple manner in the Chheharta party office and never yearned for any comfort. Vimla Dang, born on December 26, 1926 in a Kashmiri family of Lahore, became a Student Federation activist in Lahore. Though a brilliant student of Economics, she left academics to work for the liberation of the Indian masses by becoming a part of the communist movement. She married Satya Pal Dang and both continued to work whole time for the party in the most dedicated manner. She and Satya Pal Dang took part in relief work in Bengal during the 1943 famine. Both of them fought against Khalistani terrorists as well. Vimla Dang remained President of the Chhehrata Municipal Committee during 1968-78. She was elected an MLA from here in 1992. She was awarded the Padma Shree in 1998 in recognition of her service to the nation. Vimla Dang remained active in the women‘s movement also and held positions in the National Federation of Indian Women. She wrote her autobiography, edited by her elder brother and retired Professor of Russian from the JNU, New Delhi, Prof Ravi M. Bakaya, as Fragments of an Autobiography, which was published in 2007. She preceded Baba Bilga in saying goodbye to this world on May 10, 2009.

The democratic movement Punjab has greatly suffered by the loss of these two eminent personalities of the State.

Chaman Lal is a Professor and Chairperson, Centre of Indian Languages, JNU, New Delhi, He can contacted at: prof.chaman@gmail.com

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