Today, 23 July, is the 111th birth anniversary of Chandra Shekhar Azad, one of the greatest leaders of the Indian freedom movement.
Azad led the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army (HSRA), India’s premier revolutionary, anti-Imperialist organisation. Earlier, when the organisation was called HRA, Ram Prasad Bismil was the chief.
Azad took over the leadership after Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaque Ullah, Roshan Singh, and Rajendra Lahiri, the leading lights of the HRA, were arrested. All four were hanged at different places. HRA’s spine was broken.
Yet, along with Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, Azad rebuilt the party as a socialist organisation committed to the overthrow of the British regime.
Despite being a leftist, Azad never gave up wearing the sacred religious thread (Janeu). Though born in Madhya Pradesh, Azad was a Kanyakubja Brahmin from Badarka, Unnao in Uttar Pradesh. He came from Awadh that produced Binda Tiwari, Mangal Pandey and several other freedom fighters.
The Awadhian Brahmin ethos carried both idol worshippers and iconoclasts, staunch defenders of the status quo and eloquent rebels. For Azad and many leftists from Awadh who came after him, there was no contradiction between feeling proud as a Sanatani Brahmin and following an ideology that believed in egalitarianism.
In fact, these figures interpreted the Brahmin ethic as one which believed in the primacy of merit over caste or religion based nepotism, fight for justice a divine duty, social responsibility as an intrinsic value, and tolerance/integration with other creeds a moral duty.
It is important to recall these attributes today, as forces belonging to a particular ideology are creating fake images of Chandra Shekhar Azad with Hindutva type ’tilak’ on his forehead.
Azad was a wrestler who exercised regularly while wearing his sacred thread (Janeu). But there is no picture of him with a ’tilak’ on his forehead. There is of course no issue in leftists sporting ’tilaks’ as its just that certain practices should not be imposed on historical figures.
Earlier, in the 1980s, Khalistanis tried appropriating Bhagat Singh as a mere Sikh hero. This, after Bhagat Singh openly announced his atheism in an article written before he became a martyr of India’s freedom struggle.
Attempts to appropriate Azad by Hindutva will also fail. More so because of Azad’s well documented revulsion towards RSS and Hindu Mahasabha.
Azad knew that Hedgewar, the RSS founder, an ex-HRA member, was a British informer. Bhagat Singh and Azad suspected Hedgewar to have informed on Ram Prasad Bismil and other HRA comrades.
HSRA leaders used to call RSS members ‘toady bachchas‘ or British hirelings.
To avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai, Azad and Bhagat planned and executed the political assassination of Lahore British officer Saunders together.
After Bhagat Singh’s arrest, Azad was raising money for his comrade’s defence. Author and litterateur Yashpal, who was part of the HSRA then, was sent by Azad to Veer Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha.
Yashpal writes in his autobiography ‘Singhavalokan’ that Savarkar agreed to give Rs. 50,000 but on the condition that Azad and HSRA fighters stop fighting the British and assassinate Jinnah and other Muslims!
In his another book ‘Fighter for Freedom Writer for Justice,’ Yashpal wrote on page number 72, “He (Savarkar) did not refuse my request, but expressing his own viewpoint and purpose, he said, ‘Our aim is to free the country from servitude to foreigners. Progress towards our nationhood is the purpose of freeing the country– that must be assured……If you take the responsibility of finishing him (Jinnah) off then the greatest obstacle on the path of freedom will be removed. And, for that I can arrange for a payment of Rs 50,000.'”
On being told of Savarkar’s proposal, Azad cursed Savarkar and said: “This man does not consider us as freedom fighters but supari killers. He’s colluding with the Vritish. Our fight is against the Britishers. Why would we kill Muslims? Tell him we don’t want his money.”
(Amaresh Misra is an author and views expressed here are his own. Janta Ka Reporter doesn’t necessarily endorse his views)