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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 20 New Delhi May 7, 2016

Attack on Bipan Chandra’s Views on Bhagat Singh - A Rejoinder

Saturday 7 May 2016


The following is a rejoinder to the attack on Prof Bipan Chandra for his views on Bhagat Singh. The rejoinder is by the co-authors of the book India’s Struggle for Independence.

A vicious attack was launched by BJP MP Anurag Thakur in the Lok Sabha in Zero hour today (April 27, 2016) and in a section of the media on India’s Struggle for Independence, a book published in 1988, 28 years ago, by Bipan Chandra, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, K.N. Panikkar and Sucheta Mahajan. Deliberate misrepresentation of Bipan Chandra’s views on Shaheed Bhagat Singh is being done by saying he used the term ‘revolutionary terrorism’ to denigrate the martyr.

In fact the first time the term ‘revolutionary terrorism’ is used in the book on p. 142, Bipan Chandra, who wrote two chapters on the Revolutionary Movement, clearly said that it is “a term we use without any pejorative meaning and for want of a different term”. In his later writings, Bipan Chandra himself stopped using this term as the word terrorism had aquired a very negative meaning in recent years. For example, in his introduction to Bhagat Singh’s Why I am an Atheist, published in 2006, Bipan Chandra does not use the word terrorism and says: “Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s

greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists

, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues.” Chandra added further: “Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies, the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandrasekhar Azad.” (Quoted fromThe Writings of Bipan Chandra: The Making of Modern India, From Marx to Gandhi, Orient Blackswan, 2012, p. 465)

He had also wanted to make the change in India’s Struggle for Independence and had said so publicly. However due to ill health and failing eyesight he could not revise the book as he had planned before his death. The co-authors had planned that the volume in its revised version will use the formulation that Bipan Chandra himself made in his later writings.

To attack a great scholar when he is no more, a scholar who did so much to bring Bhagat Singh to centre-stage, appears to be part of a larger design to silence critics. He was the person who first found and published in 1970 as a pamphlet at his own expense Bhagat Singh’s now famous essay, Why I am an Atheist. His last public lecture was the Inaugural Lecture for the Bhagat Singh Chair at JNU in April 2011, in which he said that Bhagat Singh, if he had lived, would have been the Lenin of India, and his last (unfinished) book was a biography of Bhagat Singh.

A completely unfounded attack on the book by a section of the media is that it valorises Jawaharlal Nehru to the exclusion of other leaders. In fact, a special feature of India’s Struggle for Independence is the balanced treatment of all political trends, from Liberals to Socialists and Communists, and of all movements, from 1857 to Ghadar to INA, Swadeshi to Quit India, peasant and trade union movements, anti-caste movements and states’ peoples’ movements, and of all leaders, from Dadabhai Naoroji to Birsa Munda, and Lokmanya Tilak, and from Gandhiji and Sardar Patel to Jayaprakash Narayan and Aruna Asaf Ali.

Another completely baseless allegation made in the Lok Sabha is that while denigrating Bhagat Singh, the authors have praised Rahul Gandhi as a charismatic leader, an allegation that we strongly deny since none of the authors have written anything on Rahul Gandhi.

Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee,Sucheta Mahajan

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