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Mann’s mascot, Punjab’s pride: Everyone loves Bhagat Singh

Wear basanti turbans and dupattas, CM-designate Bhagwant Singh Mann has requested — the colour is associated with the martyr — as he called upon people to join his government in making “Bhagat Singh’s dream” come true.

The appropriation of Bhagat Singh by political parties is not new in the state.

He was all of 23 when he was hanged to death by the British government on March 23, 1931. Ninety-one years on, Bhagat Singh will be at the centre stage of the Aam Aadmi Party’s mammoth oath-taking ceremony at the martyr’s ancestral village of Khatkar Kalan on Wednesday.

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Wear basanti turbans and dupattas, CM-designate Bhagwant Singh Mann has requested the colour is associated with the martyr as he called upon people to join his government in making “Bhagat Singh’s dream” come true.

Mann’s fondness for Bhagat Singh presages his entry into active politics. “I have read every word penned by him. The first time I bought a car, a Maruti, I drove it to Khatkar Kalan, to seek his blessings.’’ He says he joined the People’s Party of Punjab (founded by Manpreet Badal) because one of its founders, Abhay Singh Sandhu, was Bhagat Singh’s nephew.

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The short-lived party also started its journey from Khatkar Kalan in Nawanshahr district, which was renamed Shahid Bhagat Singh Nagar by the Akali Dal Badal government in 2009. Later, when he was elected MP for the first time in 2014, Mann again headed for the martyr’s memorial at the village. “I told him, ‘I can’t do what you did, par mein Parliament mein zubaan ke bomb phodoonga (I will set off bombs with my words in Parliament, in a reference to Bhagat Singh throwing bombs inside the Central Legislative Assembly at Delhi in 1929).”

Soon after the party’s sweep of Punjab, Mann also announced that every government office would now have the photograph of Bhagat Singh along with that of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar.

The appropriation of Bhagat Singh by political parties is not new in the state. Every student election in Punjab sees an outpouring of T-shirts with Bhagat Singh’s picture. Forever young and un-besmirched in his death, he is the poster boy of Punjab, who has a warm place in the heart of every Punjabi, young or old. And his cult has only grown with time. In 1982, his ancestral house was declared a monument — though Bhagat Singh was born and raised in Faisalabad in Pakistan, he used to visit Khatkar Kalan frequently. In 2007, his jail notebook with handwritten pages was published by the governments of Punjab and Haryana. On Independence Day in 2008, his 18-foot-tall bronze statue was installed in the Parliament complex by then President Pratibha Patil. In 2018, former CM Capt Amarinder dedicated the much-awaited Shaheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh Memorial and Museum, started by the previous Akali Dal government, to the nation and launched a Drug Abuse Prevention Officer scheme to fight the drug menace. Now there is a clamour to name the international airport at Chandigarh after Bhagat Singh.

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Mann’s fondness for Bhagat Singh presages his entry into active politics. (File)

Born out of Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, AAP has been invoking his name right from its birth. Four years ago, the AAP government in Delhi set up the Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, a brainchild of Abhay Sandhu.

But in Punjab, it’s Mann who has been Bhagat Singh’s biggest proponent. Right from tying a basanti turban like the revolutionary, and signing off his speeches with ‘Inquilaab zindabad (long live the revolution)’, to adopting the colour favoured by him, Bhagat Singh has been Mann’s passport to the masses.

Prof Ashutosh Kumar, a political observer, says by invoking Bhagat Singh, AAP is hoping to cash in on regional pride. “Singh is seen as a very secular person whose appeal transcends the boundaries of caste and religion. He is also a nationalist. You can’t have a better hero.’’

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Bhagat Singh fan clubs across the nation have also for long been holding Tiranga Yatras, another thing that AAP has taken up.

In the run-up to the polls, most AAP candidates would add a strong dose of emotion to their appeal for “ek mauka (one chance)’’ by bringing up Bhagat Singh’s ‘soch’ (thought) and his slogan of ‘inquilab zindabad’.

While inviting the people of Punjab to the formation of “aap di sarkar”, Mann said, “Iss solaan tareek nu assi ohna di (Bhagat Singh) soch nu amli roop dewaange (On March 16, we will give a concrete shape to the philosophy of Bhagat Singh).”

Prof Chaman Lal, who has spent his life researching the revolutionary, says the appeal resonates, for anyone who has even remotely leafed through the works of Bhagat Singh would know that he sought freedom not just from the British but also from poverty, corruption, discrimination, and communalism.

For a party that has swept away the traditional political outfits from the political landscape of the state, there can’t be a more apt mascot.

First published on: 15-03-2022 at 03:16:59 pm
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