India’s Independence movement has had a singular narrative. Mahatma Gandhi.
The rest have been consigned to being barely side heroes. Not possible to raise them all in this one single piece, but Bhagat Singh’s story, and the circumstances around his death, is bothersome. Could Mahatma Gandhi have prevented 24-year-old Bhagat Singh’s death on March 23, 1931 by the British Government? Yes, I believe and keep hearing and reading that he could have.
With differing ideologies, the two played contrasting roles in the revolution. And Gandhi couldn’t tolerate and afford conflict of opinion. After all, he was the Mahatma, destined for fatherhood of a nation.
He had gained enough leverage with the colonists, but looked the other way while a fierce young man was sent to his gallows. Or so it appears.
Why would a Mahatma, the pure soul, do so?
He was considered, and in fact was, a champion of non-violence. A noble policy, but one that went against Bhagat Singh’s strategy of violence to gain what’s truly India’s, not sit patiently and take beating. Gandhi may have felt endangered by the growing popularity of a young-gun. So he let hang. One less hurdle, perhaps?
Non-violence is the way to go. Confrontations never resolve anything. However, Bhagat Singh was fighting for the same cause, he had pledged his life to India, just as Gandhi had. The Crown understood Gandhi’s influence and if the Mahatma realized that, which he must have, he could have possibly made a strong case for the commutation of the sentence. Some argue that he did send a few emissaries to Viceroy Lord Irwin, pleading him to convert his death sentence to confinement, but others beg to differ. Gandhi failed to make use of his stature and merely indulged in effortless pleas. There is also a theory that Gandhi actively conspired with the British to have Singh executed.
In fact, on Singh’s execution, Gandhi said: “The government certainly had the right to hang these men”! The Indian youth, inspired by the revolutionary socialist, held black flag demonstrations against Gandhi and shouted “Down with Gandhi”.
Gandhi had managed to have 90,000 political prisoners, who were not members of his Satyagraha movement, released under the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. In Bhagat Singh’s case, he appears to have gone soft.