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There are some iconic words or expressions that become immortal and stay with us forever. Inquilab (Revolution) is one of them. It was used for the first time in a slogan Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live Revolution) by Maulana Hasrat Mohani in 1921 and soon became a rallying cry of our freedom struggle.
Now, it’s at the centre of a Delhi High Court deliberation which sought to know the context in which Umar Khalid, accused in the February 2020 riots in the Capital, used the term inquilab, with the judge saying that ‘revolution’ by itself “isn’t always bloodless”.
Before going into the popular appeal of the slogan over the past few decades, we need to know a bit more about someone who coined it. Maulana Hasrat Mohani (1875-1951) was born as Syed Fazlul Hasan in a town called Mohan in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh. Hasrat was his pen name (takhallus) as a revolutionary Urdu poet that also became his identity as a political leader. Hasrat Mohani was a labour leader, a scholar, a well-known Urdu poet and also one of the founders of the Communist Party of India in 1925.
Along with Swami Kumaranand — another important name in the Indian Communist movement — Hasrat Mohani was the first person to raise the demand for ‘Complete Independence’ or ‘Poorna Swaraj’ for India at the Ahmedabad session of the Indian National Congress in 1921. This session was also attended by Ramprasad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan (both played an important role in passing the resolution in the general body of Indian National Congress). Hasrat Mohani was elected member of the Constituent Assembly after Independence and was also a member of the drafting committee of the Constitution along with Dr B R Ambedkar. His stress on Inquilab and the slogan Inquilab Zindabad was inspired by his urge to fight against social and economic inequality and of course in his struggle for freedom from colonial oppression.
Before Hasrat Mohani coined this slogan, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia made revolution symbolic of struggle for oppressed nationalities globally. India did not escape it either.
It was from the mid 1920s onwards that this slogan became a war cry of Bhagat Singh and his Naujawan Bharat Sabha as well as his Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). Bhagat Singh was committed to Inquilab or revolution but it was not merely a political revolution he aimed at. He wanted a social revolution to break age-old discriminatory practices. This Inquilab Zindabad was not merely an emotional war cry for the revolutionaries but had a lofty ideal which was explained by the HSRA thus: “The Revolution will ring the death knell of capitalism and class distinction and privileges…It will give birth to a new state — a new social order.”
Bhagat Singh and his Naujawan Bharat Sabha regarded communal amity as central to their political agenda but unlike the common practice, it did not believe either in the appeasement of all religions or in raising such slogans as Allah o Akbar, Sat Sri Akal and Har Har Mahadev to prove their secularism. On the contrary, they raised just two slogans, Inquilab Zindabad and Hindustan Zindabad, hailing the revolution and the country. All those who revel in the name of Bhagat Singh should care to understand the vision he left behind for us as his intellectual legacy.
This slogan got major traction when Bhagat Singh and B K Dutt dropped bombs in the Assembly on April 8, 1929, and shouted Long Live Revolution (Inquilab Zindabad). It was later in the same year that Ramanand Chatterjee, senior journalist and editor of the Modern Review of Calcutta, wrote critically and mockingly about the slogan Long Live Revolution (Inquilab Zindabad). Bhagat Singh could not let it pass and responded by explaining its usage. He said, “The sense in which the word revolution (Inquilab) is used in that phrase is the spirit, the longing for a change for the better. People generally get accustomed to the established order and begin to tremble at the very idea of change…Old order should change, always and ever, yielding place to new…It is in this sense that we raise the shout ‘Long Live Revolution’ (Inquilab Zindabad).”
Bhagat Singh was even more definitive in his statement in the court on June 6, 1929. He said: “Revolution (Inquilab) is not a culture of bomb and pistol. Our meaning of revolution is to change the present conditions, which are based on manifest injustice.” Bhagat Singh agrees with a quote he cites in his prison diary, which says a radical revolution is not utopian, “What is utopian is the idea of a partial, an exclusively political revolution, which would leave the pillars of the house standing.”
The HSRA aimed at such a revolution (Inquilab) which would usher in a new era, demolishing the existing socio-economic and political structure of the Indian society. Their revolution was not for anarchy or lawlessness but for social justice.
Thus, we need to comprehend the meaning of Inquilab or revolution and the slogan Inquilab Zindabad in the context of its history. It will stay relevant till the people continue their struggle against diverse inequalities and oppressions.
The writer is historian and author, and formerly Maulana Azad Chair at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration
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