This was published on HT edit page 'Comment' on March 23, 2011
So, was Bhagat Singh a revolutionary in just that one, vague sense?
His love of anarchism and Marxism is well-documented; how many of us have actually read what he thought of the free-market economic system? A college-goer walking in designer jeans bought with his land-baron daddy's money, topped with a fashionable Inquilab Zindabad T-shirt, is a picture of utter irony. Bhagat Singh stood for peasants' rights, for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Never in a million years would he have desired to be the poster boy of trigger-happy, rich brats.
Also, the last I read him, he had clearly stated his lack of belief in god, and at times even expressed mild disappointment at prayers by people facing the gallows. Then why is it that even newspapers these days insist on using pictures of him only with a turban, never with the hat that was as much a trademark of his as the loosely tied turban. That he was born a Sikh can't be doubted, but whether he chose to die one has a different answer.
It's not that hard to figure out unless you want to use his picture alongside that of Bhindranwala, the right-winger who wanted a separate state based on religion. Using their pictures together is, again, reducing the Shaheed to a mere gun-toting extremist, revolutionary only in action, not thought, and certainly not a nationalist.
It was his 80th martyrdom anniversary day on March 23, and there were rallies at his native village Khatkar Kalan. Speaking from their respective daises, were leaders from different parties, with the single-minded goal of painting a one-dimensional picture of Bhagat Singh in the voter's mind, that of an angry young man. It's easy to see that these politicos were yet again feeding the lazy young majority that loves its own rebel self-image. But there's a Bhagat Singh much beyond that, whose family has said they are sickened by the use of his image on every political party's poster.
Blaming politicians alone, however, proves no point. What our beloved mere-23-at-death symbol of nationalism deserves is a little more attention, love not infatuation. Reading what he read and wrote could be the first meeting.
Now don't be tempted to pick up placards and raise slogans demanding inclusion of all his writings in all textbooks. Why involve those who want to use your hero for votes? Go to a library, use the internet. He is ours more than theirs, he is everyman's hero. Just don't reduce your admiration to mere hero worship.