As the incoming Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab readies for the oath taking by the Cabinet, slogans of ‘Inquilab Zindabad can be heard in Khatkar Kalan, the native place of legendary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. This is just ahead of the death anniversaries of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru who were hanged by the British colonialists on March 23, 1931. The place has witnessed several political theatrics after Indias Independence.
The AAP Chief Minister-designate Bhagwant Mann has announced that he will take oath in Khatkar Kalan instead of Raj Bhavan.
“Social progress depends not upon the ennoblement of the few but on the enrichment of democracy; universal brotherhood can be achieved only when there is an equality of opportunity — of opportunity in the social, political and individual life,” reads an excerpt from revolutionary Bhagat Singh’s 404-page prison diary.
Born on September 28, 1907, Bhagat Singh, a source of inspiration for the nation’s youth, was hanged in the Lahore Central Jail, now in Pakistan, on March 23, 1931, along with his associates Rajguru and Sukhdev.
His death had inspired thousands of people to join the freedom movement.
In the words of independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, “Bhagat Singh did not become popular because of his act of terrorism, but because he seemed to vindicate, for the moment, the honour of Lala Lajpat Rai, and through him, of the nation.”
“He became a symbol; the act was forgotten, the symbol remained, and within a few months each town and village of the Punjab, and to a lesser extent in the rest of northern India, resounded with his name.”
His famous slogan: “Inquilab Zindabad” or “Long live the revolution” still echoes in Punjab.
Today a museum in his memory at the entrance of his village, 80 km from Chandigarh on the highway to Jalandhar in Nawanshahr district, speaks about his valour.
During his visit on the freedom fighter’s martyrdom day in 2003, former President late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said he was indeed delighted to visit the home of one of the most inspiring and revolutionary freedom fighters of Mother India.
“It is indeed like a pilgrimage for me to have come to this village of Khatkar Kalan which has produced one of the greatest sons of the Indian soil, Shaheed Bhagat Singh.”
It is said on March 3, 1931, Bhagat Singh’s parents and other relatives came to visit him. It was their last meeting. The last person to meet him was his mother.
His mother told him, “Son, don’t abandon your stand. One day, everybody has to die. But the best death is one which is remembered by the whole world. I am happy that my son is making the sacrifice for a good and noble cause. My only desire is that my son should shout the slogan, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ standing on the gallows. My son’s weight should increase, not decrease”.
“What a great mother this land has given to us. The mother had brave tears. We always cherish this martyrdom by Shaheed Bhagat Singh and also his parents. Today, Punjab has enriched soil and above all high thinking,” said Kalam.
It is indeed ironical that almost every family from Khatkar Kalan, now prosperous, has gone abroad.
The village with a population of some 2,000-odd, which has made a mark in history, is currently one of the most modern and developed ones thanks to the philanthropic spirit of well-heeled NRIs.
The ancestral maternal house of the revolutionary, where he came a few times, is a national monument. No one from his family has lived in the village for the last many decades.
The village has a memorial-cum-museum, a centrally funded Rs 26 crore project, with true-to-life recreations of moments from the freedom fighter’s short but significant life.
In 2015, social activist Anna Hazare, the face of a watershed moment in Indian politics in 2011 to root out corruption from the country which led to the emergence of the Kejriwal-led AAP as a political force, visited Khatkar Kalan to pay tributes to the Shaheed-e-Azam and said some traitors have forgotten the people who sacrificed their lives for the country.
Punjab Congress leaders, led by then Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, on September 28, 2020 launched a sit-in agitation against the Central government’s three contentious agricultural laws, now repealed, from the birthplace of Bhagat Singh.
The Chief Minister sat on a sit-in protest against the “draconian” laws after paying tributes to Bhagat Singh at his ‘Samadhi Sthal’ on his 113th birth anniversary.
Locals rue that politicians visit the village just for photo opportunities on Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s birth and martyrdom anniversaries.
They say be it the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) or the Congress, whose chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to name the international airport in Chandigarh after Bhagat Singh, there is no political party in the state that hasn’t tried to claim the legacy of Shaheed-e-Azam.
“The politicians come here just to fetch votes. It is only the NRIs who are pumping money as a goodwill gesture to pay tribute to Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh,” local octogenarian Nachattar Singh told IANS.
He said propagating the ideology of the iconic revolutionary amongst the younger generations is needed. “This will bring ‘Inquilab’ in the true sense on the social front.”
Bhagat Singh’s younger brother Kulbir Singh, who was born in 1914 and was the Jan Sangh MLA from Ferozepur, passed away in 1983.
The AAP’s Chief Minister-designate Bhagwant Mann, who dons Bhagat Singh’s trademark ‘basanti’ (yellow) turban and invokes the martyrs with the revolutionary slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ that enables the youth to raise their arms and clench their fists, announced that he will take oath in Bhagat Singh’s ancestral village Khatkar Kalan, and not at Raj Bhavan.
He said no government office will carry a photograph of the chief minister. Instead, photos of Bhagat Singh and Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar will be put on the walls in government offices.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)