DEPUTY Chairman of Rajya Sabha, P J Kurien, told the government on Thursday to remove all references to Bhagat Singh being a “revolutionary terrorist” from a book that has been part of Delhi University’s history curriculum for two decades, and “inquire how it happened”.
MoS for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi assured the Chair that the government will ask the minister concerned — HRD Minister Smriti Irani — to take “necessary steps”.
The book titled ‘India’s Struggle for Independence’ has been authored by noted historian, the late Bipan Chandra, and three co-authors. In Chapter 20, it describes Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Surya Sen and others as “revolutionary terrorists”. It also describes the Chittagong movement as a “terrorist act” and the killing of British police officer John Sanders as an “act of terrorism”.
Kurien’s statement and Naqvi’s subsequent assurance on Thursday came in response to JD(U) leader K C Tyagi raising the issue in the Upper House during ‘Zero Hour’.
Apart from seeking the deletion of “objectionable” references in the book, Tyagi urged the government to build memorials wherever Bhagat Singh had staged attacks on the British with bombs. Tyagi also claimed that several Home Ministry documents still describe the freedom fighter as a terrorist and that, too, should be corrected.
“Shaheed Bhagat Singh is our idol and we all salute his sacrifice, passion and courage. The point raised by Mr K C Tyagi that a certain textbook describes him as terrorist, the government doesn’t agree with it and condemns it. We will ask the concerned minister to take necessary steps in this regard,” Naqvi said.
However, the book’s co-authors, Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan issued a statement, saying the controversy was a “deliberate misrepresentation of Bipan Chandra’s views on Shaheed Bhagat Singh”.
“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,” the statement said.
“Chandra, who wrote two chapters on the Revolutionary Movement, clearly said that it is (terrorist) a term we use without any pejorative meaning and for want of a different term,” it said. It states that the late author, in his later writings, had stopped using this term as it “had acquired a very negative meaning in recent years”.
It then goes on to defend Chandra saying, “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.”
The outrage around the book had snowballed into a controversy on Wednesday when the freedom fighter’s family met the DU Vice Chancellor and wrote to Irani objecting to the terrorist reference. It prompted the education ministry to ask the university to take note of the “hurt sentiments”.