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Did the passing of the Karachi Resolution on Fundamental Rights,1931 have anything to do with the execution of Bhagat Singh? Last week, 23rd March, marked the 87th anniversary of the execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. The British executed these revolutionaries in 1931 a week before the Karachi Session of the Indian Congress during which the Resolution on Fundamental Rights – one of the first articulations of constitutional socio-economic rights - was passed. This along with other lot of what happened at the Karachi Resolution can be traced to a controversial pact signed by Gandhi and the then Viceroy – Lord Irwin.
The Civil disobedience movement, which followed the Purna Swaraj Declaration 1930, was suspended after the Gandhi-Irwin Pact signed on 5th March 1931. While some opposed the halting of the movement, others supported it,as they felt the Pact placed Gandhi in a superior negotiating position, one that he could use to get the British to commute the death sentence of Bhagat Singh.
On March 23, 1931, the British government executed Bhagat Singh and his associates. This triggered furore and some violence across the country. A section of the Congress Party, which mostly represented the socialist strain that had sympathies with the revolutionaries, was engaged. They now saw the Gandhi-Irwin Pact unfavourably. It was widely expected that they would leave the Party and trigger a split, which according to Subash Chandra Bose, in The Indian Struggle, was the goal of the British government in choosing to execute Bhagat Singh just before the Karachi Session.
At its Karachi session, a week after the execution of Bhagat Singh and his associates, the leaders of the Congress Party had to make sure that: first, Gandhi-Irwin Pact was ratified and second, the party did not split. For both of these objectives, it was critical that the socialist wing of the party - of which Jawaharlal Nehru was the face – was mollified.
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Kama Maclean, in A Revolutionary History of Inter-War India, argues that the Resolution on Fundamental Rights passed by the session - that consisted of many socialism based clasues - was the result of a heart to heart talk between the Gandhi and Nehru. Nehru’s acceptance of the Gandhi-Irwin pact and its ratification by the Congress was secured in return for the passing of the Resolution on Fundamental Rights. Judith Brown, in Gandhi and Civil Disobedience, contends that the passing of the Resolution had nothing to do with the Gandhi-Irwin Pact: it was the outcome of collaboration between Gandhi and Nehru, not negotiation or compromise. Subash Chandra Bose seems to be in line with Kama, he argued that the passing of the Resolution was meant to placate the leftist elements of the Congress Party.
Bhagat Singh - who was founding member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Party (HSRA) - and other revolutionaries, throughout their lives, advocated for the political, social and economic foundations of India to be organised on socialist lines. Kama points us to an irony: “While the revolutionaries were not engaged in the drafting of the resolution, but their politics and fate helped to create the conditions for its acceptance by the Congress in the face of some determined opposition.’