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Explained: Why are protesting farmers invoking Bhagat Singh to take on Centre?

Martyrs' Day 2021: What were Bhagat Singh's views on farmers' welfare? What role has his legacy played in the ongoing farmers' protests so far? Why is the invoking Singh so important for the protest?

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar |
Updated: March 24, 2021 8:56:41 am
Villagers from various parts of Punjab after reaching Singhu border on Monday evening. (Express Photo)

A large number of youths from Punjab and other states have been heading towards Singhu and Tikri borders to mark the 90th martyrdom day of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev that falls on March 23. At these sites of farmers’ protests, youngsters plan to conduct events and share Bhagat Singh’s ideas on farmers’ welfare.

But why is the invoking Bhagat Singh so important for farmers’ protest?

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What role has Bhagat Singh’s legacy played in the ongoing farmers’ protests so far?

The great martyr is not only being remembered on his martyrdom day by the farmers. During the protests that have been on for the past 10 months in Punjab and then in Delhi, Bhagat Singh has been an indispensable part of the narrative with farm leaders’ invoking him in speeches in Punjab villages and at Delhi border ever since the protest started in Punjab in June last year. Apart from discussing his legacy in speeches, protestors — particularly women and youth – have been seen wearing yellow dupattas and turbans, respectively, while calling it the colour of revolution and a symbol of legacy of Bhagat Singh. This is despite the fact that researchers say the Bhagat Singh had never worn yellow colour turban though his many photos are spotted in yellow turban.

Youth in t-shirts carrying his photos, big hoardings and placards carrying slogans like ‘Inqlab Zidabad’, have been ubiquitous during the farmers’ protest.

The song ‘Rang De Basanti Chola’ is played at almost every protest event. This song was written by Pt Ram Prasad Bismil and his friends, but it is said that this song was sung by the prisoners when Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, who raised Inqlab Zindabad slogans, had attained martyrdom.

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What were Bhagat Singh’s views on farmers’ welfare?

“After the adopting of complete Independence resolution by the Indian National Congress on December 19, 1929 (declaration made on January 26, 1930) for which Bhagat Singh’s popularity was also one of the factors, young Bhagat Singh wrote an agenda for complete Independence. And just a month and half before he attained martyrdom, on February 2, 1931, he wrote about how we can have complete Independence,” said Prof Jagmohan, who is the nephew of Shaeed Bhagat Singh and the chairman of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Centenary Foundation and General Secretary of Association of Democratic Rights.

He added: “In that programme, he also wrote that ‘Jagirdari’ (feudalism) must be ended and farmers’ should be liberated from their control, adding that farmers’ debt must be waived off as this debt is because of the system because the farmer does not get the full price of their crop. He pointed out flawed marketing as a big problem because of the local loot by the feudal lords. And all such things are even happening today nine decades after his martyrdom where the place of Jagridar, who used to hold resources, is being taken by the corporates and farmers are fighting against their entry into farming, to get Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their crops and demanding debt waiver.”

He even went ahead and wrote that if we achieve all this — freeing farming from Jagirdari, ensuring respectable price for crops and waiving off debt — then a scientific method of farming must be adopted, said Prof Jagmohan, adding: “We should move towards the cooperative system of farming to make farmers lead a respectable life.”

According to him, instead of multiple taxes, Bhagat Singh proposed a single tax on farmers. “Today what is happening, the government is acting on the terms of the imperialist forces. It is taking loan from the World Bank in the name of agriculture improvement….Now these big institutes like World Bank and corporates are like Jagirdars of that time and India is still not free from it so how can we achieve the complete independence about which Bhagat Singh had written,” said Prof Jagmohan Singh.

What farmer leaders and youth say about the invoking Bhagat Singh during protests

According to BKU (Dakaunda) general secretary Jagmohan Singh: “Invoking of Bhagat Singh is highly relevant in farmers’ protests because he had written on the topic at a young age.

He was a revolutionary and today our protest is not less than a revolution. He was seen as a youth icon because of which a large number of youths are participating in our revolutionary protest. His idea of complete independence is as much as relevant today as it was then.”

He added that the contribution of his contemporary Rajguru, Sukhdev, Kartar Singh Sarabha was not less but Bhagat Singh’s ideology and writings are seen as synonymous with revolution by the youth and he is seen as an epitome of sacrifice by the people in general.

Prof Jagmohan added that large number of farm labourers are protesting in the farmers’ protest, pointing out that Bhagat Singh had even proposed in his writings that there should be fixed hours for labourers to work and the labour must be sufficient to lead a respectable life.

Naujwan Bharat Sabha, which was founded by Bhagat Singh in the mid 1920s, has its units in several states across the country.

NBS Punjab president Rupinder Singh Chaunda said, “What Shaheed Bhagat Singh had seen at that time, the same is happening now. He had written against imperialism and these three laws are pushing us towards imperialistic policies and privatisation which will lead to more unemployment among the youth and by getting these laws repealed we will stop the Centre from adopting a model of privatisation in every sector.”

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