Today, 113 years ago, Bhagat Singh was born in undivided Punjab. His role in the Indian freedom movement has been immortalised in literature, art, and film owing to his dramatically courageous - and violent - engagement with the British, who eventually hanged him.
In the first quarter of the 21st century, the Indian National Congress and other mainstream nationalist groups had adopted the approach of holding constitutional negotiations with the British to incrementally obtain self-government for Indians. Bhagat Singh and his associates had scoffed at this strategy; for them, only a revolution would be successful in getting rid of the British. And that’s more or less how we remember Singh today: a freedom fighter who represented the revolutionary strand of India’s fight for freedom.
Interestingly, we find a few instances of Bhagat Singh’s political life that are relevant to not just Indian political history but also constitutional history.
Around 1925, Bhagat Singh joined the Hindustan Republican Association, a revolutionary party. Around the same time, the HRA had published a manifesto titled The Revolutionary that advocated for a revolutionary means to achieve Indian freedom.
Surprisingly, The Revolutionary also had a constitutional vision. It aimed to establish a ‘Federal Republic of the United States of India’, and called for the framing of India’s constitution on the principles of universal adult suffrage, nationalisation of industries, and more. The document might not have played a role in the formal constitutional evolution of India but nonetheless, it gives us access to a distinct strand of Indian constitutional thought.
Some scholarly work suggests that Bhagat Singh’s and his associates’ political life had more impact on Indian constitutional thought than previously understood. On 23 March 1931, Bhagat Singh and his associates were hanged for throwing bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly. The socialist branch of the Congress Party was incensed by the execution, and had to be mollified by the Congress Party’s top brass. This led to the inclusion of socialist-based principles in the Karachi Resolution 1931, a key historical constitution. Kama Maclean in A Revolutionary History of Inter-War India, notes:
‘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’.
The Karachi Resolution would go on to be a highly influential document when the Constitution of India was framed between 1946-50.
Historical Constitution: The Revolutionary (1925)
Click here to subscribe to CADIndia's weekly desk briefs and other updates.