The Last 167 days of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev
The trial of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev is known as the “Lahore ConspiracyCase”. This case was called “British Crown vs. Sukhdev and accomplices”. These patriotswere charged with the declaration of war against the king of British Empire, George V. Thecase was adjudicated by the tribunal which was formed on May 5, 1930 for the duration ofmerely six months. The tribunal was instituted by the Viceroy using his special powers, albeit there were no pressing circumstances for the same. The tribunal announced itsjudgment on October 7, 1930. All the three were awarded capital punishment.
The hanging was to be executed on October 27, 1930, even though the tribunal’s term was to end on October 30. In order to send the message to the people of London, and to publicize the objectives of ‘Hindustan Socialist Republican Association’, an appeal was filed in the ‘Privy Council’. The execution was stayed by the Council and hence it was not carried out on the set date, and the term of the tribunal ended on October 30.An elder uncle of Sukhdev, Shri Chintaram Thapar, challenged the verdict in court, questioning its validity in view of the fact that the term of the tribunal, which was the trier of the case, had already expired. However, all normal rules were outed and with the aid of special provisions by the government, the aforementioned appeal was quashed and the sentence was upheld. The primary motives of the appeal to the council, as well as of the challenge to the verdict in court, were to delay the execution, and to expose the unlawfulness of the trial procedure adopted in this case.
Inspite of all this, their sentences were upheld, and on October 7, 1930 they were shifted to special cells made for convicts awarded with the death penalty. These cells had a common front-yard. They were allowed to walk in the compound for about two hours a day. They used to start their day with some free hand exercises involving dips and sit-ups. They firmly believed in the saying ‘Sound mind in a sound body’. They amused themselves by competing against each other during these exercises. Generally the competition was between Bhagat Singh and Rajguru. Ra jguru was a teacher of Yoga and ’Gataka’. After this routine in the morning, they used to read the newspapers, analyze the news, and hold long discussions about the current so cio-politico-economic state of a airs in the country. These besides they used to entertain themselves by singing, conversing using Urdu couplets, etc., . . .their friendship was an example in itself.
On the other hand, the appeal before the Privy Council was rejected in February 12,1931. The people were all charged up, and defense committees were formed. Thousands signed on the petitions submitted to the Viceroy in their defense. Pt. Madan Mohan Malviya telegraphed for a reconsideration of the case for a change in the sentence. The whole nation was keenly observing the next move of Mahatma Gandhi, for he had an upcoming meeting with the Viceroy. But the Viceroy expressed his inability in quashing the sentence, but o ered to delay the execution until the end of forthcoming Congress Party meeting that was to be held in Karachi.
In the end, as per the apprehensions of Bhagat Singh etc., an agreement was reached between Mahatma Gandhi and Viceroy Lord Irwin, with nothing much in it. The agreement obtained release or reduced sentence for those agitators who had abided by the tenets of non-violence. However, there was nothing in it for the other revolutionaries,members of the Gadar and Babbar Akali movements. As per section 10 of this agreement all the laws enacted by the government to curb the Civil Disobedient Movement were to be abrogated. Ordinance (1931), which was about the “Terrorist Movement” was not covered under the above section, and hence was not repealed.
This double standard caused serious displeasure in all these three. They clearly perceived that this agreement did not amount to any progress towards total independence of the nation. On the other hand, appeals by Mahatma Gandhi exhorting people to suspend all revolutionary movement against the British Empire were repeatedly being published in the newspapers. All these three deliberated and decided to express their point of view to Mahatma Gandhi through a letter. Sukhdev drafted the letter, in which it was made clear that establishment of a social demo cracy was their notion of total independence for the nation.
All attention was now focused on the meeting to be held in Karachi. Mahatma Gandhi anticipated that the agreement of March 5, 1930 would be duly evaluated on its merits in the forthcoming Karachi session. Further, he also thought that the sentence awarded to these three will have no bearing on either the session or the approval/disapproval of his agreement with the Viceroy. Mahatma Gandhi expressed his view to the viceroy that if these three youth were to be eventually hanged anyway then it would be more prudent to hang them before the Karachi session rather than after it (quoted from “History of Congress” by Pattabhi Sitaramayya).
Prior to this, on March 2, 1931, messages had been sent to the families of these three, informing them about their final chance to meet the sentenced. The families of all these three had a meeting on March 2 and 3. The parents had tears in their eyes but these three were happy. The mental strength exhibited by these three was exemplary. These three comforted their family members. When younger brothers broke down and cried then Bhagat Singh comforted them in a letter the same day in which he explained to them that for them the meaning of life was to live with courage and hope, and to study well.
They fired their final salvo by writing a letter to the British Government on March 20, 1931. In this letter they declared openly a war with the British government, and warned that this con ict will not cease so long as a handful of people are looting the hardworking multitudes of people of this country. They wanted to in ict a telling blow by exposing the hypocrisy of the British Government. In their declaration they also demanded that since they were imprisoned as prisoners of war, they should be shot dead rather than hanged. In the meanwhile, some of their companions asked though a message if they should attempt to get Bhagat Singh released. However, Bhagat Singh refused the offer. In his reply note, he wrote “My name has become the symbol of Indian Revolution, and the ideals and the sacrifices have accorded me a larger than life image. It will be very di cult, if not impossible, to sustain this image further if I am alive.”
Finally, the day of execution arrived. The British government had gotten scared by the resistance and anger expressed by the people at large. On March 23, 1931, the families of Bhagat Singh, Ra jguru, and Sukhdev had arrived to meet them for the last time.However, the government exhibited another example of gross unfairness by refusing entry to the grand parents of Bhagat Singh, and the elder uncle of Sukhdev. Only intimate family members (Parents and siblings) were allowed to meet them. The mothers of Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev decided that if Bhagat Singh’s grandparents and Sukhdev’s elder uncle (who had brought Sukhdev up) were not granted permission to meet, then they would also refuse to avail the permission. Rajguru’s mother and sister had arrived to meet him, but Rajguru’s mother also sided with the mothers of the other two and refused to avail permission granted to her. Their family members were as intimate with one another as these valiant revolutionaries had been among themselves. And like they were fighting against injustice as revolutionaries, their mothers too united and were up in arms against this unfairness, and thence they sacrificed their last chance to meet their wards at the alter of their high moral principles.
Usually execution is done between 6 and 7 in the morning, and the law prohibits any hanging during the evenings. But the British government outed even this norm, and these three were executed in the evening on March 23, 1931, at 19:35 hrs. All the three kissed the hanging rope and embraced it as if it were a garland of roses. Such a feat of valor and bravery has been rarely observed in history. Before their execution, all the three shouted slogans to the e ect “Long live Revolution, down with imperialism”. After the nooses were tightened, the whole atmosphere in and out side the prison was filled with slogans of “Long live Bhagat Singh, Long live Rajguru and Long live Sukhdev”, and “Long live Revolution, down with imperialism”.