Note: This article originally appeared on February 27, 2018, and is being republished on February 27, 2021, Chandrashekhar Azad’s death anniversary.
Today, as one remembers Chandrashekhar ‘Azad’, commander-in-chief of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, on his 88th death anniversary, the very act of remembering foregrounds a significant concern.
Revolutionaries like Azad dreamt of liberating their country from the shackles of enslavement and did not shy away from making any sacrifice whatsoever on the altar of their motherland. The question is, how have their cherished dreams been taken forward? How have things come to such a pass that notwithstanding all the slogans of making the revolutionaries’ dreams come true, those at the helm of the nation today have not the slightest affinity for their hopes and aspirations?
Every time this question confronts us, the reply is to be found in a pregnant silence or in comments so despairing as to leave you shaken.
As for Azad, he did not give in to despair, not even when faced with the martyrdom of his closest comrades following their raid, in Kakori, on a train carrying the colonial government’s coffers. In the midst of the British government’s ruthless crackdowns, he changed the nomenclature of his organisation, the Hindustan Republican Association, by adding the word ‘socialist’ to its written constitution/manifesto, titled ‘The Revolutionary’; further, as the commander-in-chief of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, also known as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, he declared in no uncertain terms that “our fight will continue until the final verdict, either victory or death, is reached.” He made this pronouncement undeterred by the fact that ‘The Revolutionary’ had been presented as clinching evidence against the revolutionaries who had participated in the Kakori train robbery and fetched them all harsh sentences.
Sadly, Azad’s own martyrdom robbed him of the opportunity of working for the establishment of the socialistic society he had dreamed about with comrades such as Ramprasad Bismil, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Sachindranath Sanyal, Ashfaqullah Khan, Rajendranath Lahiri, Roshan Singh and Yogeshchandra Chatterji. Later, those who assumed the mantle of a free nation 16 years after his martyrdom journeyed in quite another direction. In their scheme of things fulfilling Azad’s dreams of a socialistic society did not seem significant.
On February 27, 1931, when Azad found himself surrounded by policemen faithful to the colonial government in Alfred Park – now known as Chandrashekhar Azad Park – and took his own life rather than surrender, it is said the whole of Allahabad overflowed with emotions. Despite threats from the police during the funeral rites at the city’s cremation ground in Rasoolabad, young men and women thronged to the cremation ground to collect Azad’s ashes in an urn and then took out a huge procession in the city. Addressing the gathering, Pratibha Sanyal, wife of the revolutionary Sachindranath Sanyal, had said Azad’s ashes would be accorded the same respect that had been given to Bengal’s martyr Khudiram Bose.
Even now on the day of his martyrdom Azad Park usually wears a festive look. But the powers that be in the state seem to be irked by it. They have ensured that it is no longer possible to offer flowers to the statue of Azad in the park without paying an entry fee of Rs 5. The idea being that the revenues collected can be used for its upkeep by the Allahabad Development Authority. This is like, in the words of chhayavadi poet Sumitranandan Pant, pouring scorn on the spirit and showering passion on mere shadow and spectre – showing concern for a park named after Azad while dishonouring the purpose for which he sacrificed himself.
To provide a context, Bhambri village, in district Alirajpur of Madhya Pradesh, where Azad was born, now goes by the name of Chandrashekhar Azad Nagar. Further, village Badarka in district Unnao of Uttar Pradesh, from where Azad’s ancestors migrated to Madhya Pradesh, has also acquired sufficient prestige and fame. This might give the impression that Azad has managed to escape the fate of the many revolutionaries whose memories have been cast into the abyss of oblivion. But, more importantly, there has been no meaningful effort to even acknowledge the hopes and aspirations Azad cherished for his country.
It was the horror of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which took place on the day of Baisakhi in 1919, which inspired Azad to plunge into the freedom struggle. In 1922, following the Chauri-Chaura incident when Mahatma Gandhi withdrew the non-cooperation movement which had inspired Azad’s active involvement, the turn of events left him dissatisfied. He changed the direction of his struggle.
On August 9, 1925, acting under the banner of the Hindustan Republican Army he successfully mounted the organisation’s first major operation, the train raid at Kakori. Notwithstanding the trial of his comrades who were caught, and the harsh sentences of death by hanging or imprisonment in Andamans’ Cellular Jail that they received, his activities continued, be it the targeting of Saunders in Lahore to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai or the operation in Delhi during which bombs were thrown in the Central Legislative Assembly. Azad had wanted someone other than Bhagat Singh to accomplish this task. However, so insistent was Bhagat Singh on carrying out the operation that he was forced to relent.
After Azad’s martyrdom, his mother Jagrani Devi paid a huge price for society’s ingratitude. Reduced to penury she subsisted on kodo grains to stave off hunger. When Jawaharlal Nehru learnt of her plight, he had an amount of Rs 500 sent to her. She later found a steadfast son in Sadashiv Malkapurkar, one of Azad’s most loyal followers. Until Jagrani’s demise on March 22, 1952, he fulfilled all the duties of a son, including the performance of her funeral rites.
It is interesting to know that Jagrani Devi had wanted her son Azad to become a Sanskrit scholar; he chose to be a revolutionary who embraced martyrdom. For years she clung to the belief that her son would return, even tying a thread around two fingers, vowing to remove them only when her son returned. Her unending tears of anguish damaged her eyes. However, after Malkapurkar started looking after her, she attained a measure of happiness and would tell her neighbours, “Had Chandu been alive, what more than Sadashiv could he have done to take care of me?”
Malkapurkar’s mother had died when he was serving a 14-year prison term in the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar islands for his part in the historic Bhusawal bomb case. In Jagrani Devi he saw shades of his mother. He felt proud that the mother whose sorrow had made her forget hunger and thirst for so many years finally breathed her last on his comforting lap.
However, rare is the human presence that breaks the deafening silence shrouding this brave mother’s memorial in Jhansi. Her memorial is virtually orphaned just as her martyred son’s dreams of a just society have been summarily abandoned. Nothing drives this message home as starkly as the passage of one more death anniversary of Chandrashekhar Azad.
Krishna Pratap Singh is a senior journalist based in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh.