People’s movement has a lifetime i.e. after certain duration it starts to ebb. The whole strategy is to gain something in discussion before the movement breaks.
The Gandhi Erwin pact which many advocates that should have been used to arm twist the British Government to secure release had a clause of ending the civil disobedience moment.
The civil obedience movement of 1930 started with salt march to Dandi and was widely practiced by the people. Although, in many places foreign clothes were burned, liquor shops were picketed, illegal production of salt etc. in rural area, the people were mobilized into not paying the taxes. This irked the British-backed by Zamindars and British who sent troops and musclemen to force them to pay the tax. The poor peasants had no option but to flee. Most peasants of Gujarat and Maharashtra participated in the movement and hence were also subjected to manhunt and cruelty, They help up in organized camps and with their relatives and survived on their saving and assistance. But with time, the hardships increased and it was getting difficult for them to survive. There was a huge possibility that peasant might just surrender given the hardships of starvation and survival. The leaders of the movement had to quickly find a solution before the farmers break. Similar situation was of factory workers. On the other hand, British trade was severely affected and they too wanted to end the matters quickly. The question was who blinks first.
In Gandhian Irwin pact- the Indians proposed:
- Discontinuation of the civil disobedience movement by the Indian National Congress
- Participation by the Indian National Congress in the Round Table Conference
- Withdrawal of all ordinances issued by the British Government imposing curbs on the activities of the Indian National Congress
- Withdrawal of all prosecutions relating to several types of offenses except those involving violence
- Release of prisoners arrested for participating in the civil disobedience movement
- Removal of the tax on salt, which allowed the Indians to produce, trade, and sell salt legally and for their own private use
but only the following were granted:
- withdraw all ordinances and end prosecutions
- Release all political prisoners(90,000), except those guilty of violence
- Permit peaceful picketing of liquor and foreign cloth shops
- Restore confiscated properties of the participants of satyagraha’s
- Permit free collection or manufacture of salt by persons near the sea-coast
- Lift the ban over the congress.
British released all the political prisoners but NOT involved in violence.
Now coming to the case of Freedom Fighter Bhagat Singh. His actions were of violent in nature and he was well aware of the implications. He knew he would be hanged as British would come down upon his movement with all forces. Yet he wanted to make British hear that Indians can’t be taken for granted. His ideas were revolutionary and shook the foundations of British Empires. Youth were attracted to this ideology as most of them couldn’t keep up with the slow pace and hardships of the Gandhian way.
When, Bhagat Singh was to be hanged, Gandhiji was at the discussion table and people wanted him to seek their release in adamant way. But Gandhiji was not all powerful in the discussion table. Most of the leaders who were directing the country were behind bars, the peasants were on the verge of breaking. The British were still continuing to crush the movement with force and people were dying. He too wanted to gain as much ground as possible and end the movement.
Just as an example of the challenge. Churchill once said before the talks:
.”.at the nauseating and humiliating spectacle of this one-time Inner Temple lawyer, now seditious fakir, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceroy’s palace, there to negotiate and parley on equal terms with the representative of the King Emperor.”
The British had compromised till certain extent but did not accept to release people indicted for violence. Gandhiji though made attempts but there were governed by two facts:
- British would not release Bhagat Singh and his colleagues as they wanted to set an example so that that violent path is shunned by youth.
- The movement was getting difficult to continue and has to be brought to end soon.
So, Gandhiji had to take a decision of either taking the deal and bring respite to millions of farmers and workers or pursue the case of Bhagat Singh and risk losing the advantage gained in decades of work and I guess he thought the first one will cause less damage.
But blaming Gandhiji for hanging of Bhagat Singh is far fetched and emotionally driven. It is like blaming Obama for beheading of journalists by Militants. The British would not have released Bhagat Singh at any cost. Bombing an assembly was outrageous in their eyes and with youth following him, the British had to set an example. Gandhiji did what he could for greater good in his eyes so that the movement gained some ground and thousand more lives could be saved.
Just because, he couldn’t secure their release doesn’t mean he had them hanged. Although, he was not supportive of violent methods, he wasn’t supportive of having them hanged either. The rumor that only Gandhiji can save him fueled the blaming theory. How could Gandhiji save him when he himself was struggling?
This blame game does nothing then undermining the contributions of both Martyr Bhagat Singh and Gandhiji. Bhagat Singh knew he would be hanged eventually and still he did what ever he could to motivate the youth. To register his protests. The fast movement, denouncement of judicial system were some milestones in the freedom movement of India. His death, though unfortunate but managed to unite the youth and keep their involvement alive. It is always easy to blame rather than to understand in difficult times of 1930s, it makes it more difficult. The political gains in question were the result achieved by sacrifices of thousand of Indians, the resilience of poor workers and farmers and regarding Nehru. Bhagat Singh and Nehru both based their methodology on socialism. He admired their movement in jails but he didn’t advocate his methods. India of today was not India of 1931. There were princely states that would have taken violence as threat and may have gone back to supporting the British and many other issues.
Concluding, words from Lord Irwin when, Gandhiji requested for commutation of death sentence:
“As I listened to Mr. Gandhi putting the case for commutation before me, I reflected first on what significance it surely was that the apostle of non-violence should so earnestly be pleading the cause of the devotees of a creed so fundamentally opposed to his own, but I should regard it as wholly wrong to allow my judgment to be influenced by purely political considerations. I could not imagine a case in which under the law, penalty had been more directly deserved.”– Lord Irwin
Celebrate the sacrifices and honor these men by working towards a nations that they dreamt of not by demeaning them and wasting resources on blaming people who are no longer with us.