Basawon Singh: A leading light of India’s freedom movement and a messiah of downtrodden
Nakamura Tempu, a great Japanese martial artist and the founder of Japanese yoga had once said, “The most important thing for a human being is not what is between his or her ears; it is what is in his or her heart. If the Spirit is strong, one can accomplish anything.”
It is hard to imagine the indomitable spirit of that great revolutionary, who at the age of 23, undertook a fast unto death, which he incessantly continued for 57 days, as a protest against the extremely inhumane and bestial conditions of his co-inmates and their shackling within the four walls of the prison during British era. On the 12th day of his fast, he was shifted to Gaya Central Jail from Bhagalpur Central Jail and was kept in solitary confinement and later shifted to Jail’s hospital. No attempt at forced feeding succeeded as against his resolution. His physical condition, during the last ten days of his hunger strike had extensively deteriorated. It had crumbled to such an extent that the prison authorities inside and his supporters outside remained prepared every day to carry out his funeral activities. All political prisoners in the jail were also on fast for the last few days in solidarity with him but on the 58th day he broke his fast after being informed by Mahatma Gandhi that his demands had been met. The peerless possessor of this rare spirit and out of the ordinary zeal, was none other than the great revolutionary and nationalist Basawon Singh (Sinha), who was also the first leader of opposition in the Assemblyof Bihar during Sri Krishna’ Singh regime. He later became the most powerful mentor and a cabinet minister (Labour, Planning and Industry) during the 1979 coalition government, headed by, the then Chief minister of Bihar Ramsundar Das.
Today when patriotism is losing its true sense and ideology is being placed above nation’s interest, in the name of fight for the underprivileged, people must reminiscence the splendid life sketch of this great revolutionary nationalist who till his last breath continued his fight for the mute subalterns of society having low visibility in the sum of humanity, but at the same time had equal amount of love for his motherland. He spent a total of 18 and half years in prison, to witness its people breathing in an Independent India.
Basawan Singh was born into an ordinary farming familyin village Subhai Jamalpur, district Hajipur (currently Muzaffarpur) on 23rd of March 1909. His father’s name was Ramkhelawan Singh and mother’s name was Daulat Kunwar. His father went into eternal sleep when he was still in the tender age of 10. He was brought up in an extreme impoverished condition by his widowed mother,which led to a natural affection and sympathy for the poor and subalterns in him. He was later married to Kamla Sinha, a grandniece of Jansangh founder Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, and the first woman Union Minister of State, in the cabinet of I.K Gujral and also the only woman ever to get elected national president of a central labour federation, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha. The political career of Basawan Singh, commenced with his participation in the Non-Cooperation Movement. He was so passionate about the Indian Independence movement that even at an early age of 8, he had run off to Hajipur to see and hear Mahatma Gandhi. He was an extraordinarily brilliant student and had secured scholarships in both primary and middle schools. He used to teach older boys for food and lodging. His mother used to sell a bamboo every month for two rupees to meet his other school expenses.
Basawan Singh became a member of the ‘Hindustan Socialist Republican Army’ (HSRA), a revolutionary organization formed in the leadership of Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad among others He had started participating in revolutionary movements at an early age of 12, completely overlooking his family’s advice. Till June 1936, he had not only served 6 and half years in prison, rather had to bear the brunt of physical and mental torturing by the British authorities.
After the vengeful assassination of J.P Saunders by HSRA, he had gone subterranean with other revolutionaries, initially in Betiah and later in Motihari. He was later accused in ‘Lahore Conspiracy Case’ and was consequently arrested in September 1929, though was soon released as the Government’s witnesses had not been able to identify his involvement. He went subterranean after this incident. However, British Government soon issued an arrest warrant against Basawan Singh in 1930 after the arrest of Yogendra Shukla and was subsequently arrested in June 1930 in Patna with another revolutionary nationalist Keshav Chandra. He was locked up in solitary confinement of Bankipore Central Jail, where the most deadly criminals were locked up. But, the strong cemented walls of the prison and its 15 fit long height could not confine Basawan Singh for more than 3 days. He managed to escape from the prison. He jumped into the Ganga River to avoid arrest, even though the police continued their firing in the water also. However, he couldn’t manage to escape for too long and was arrested on September 20, 1930 at Calcutta Railway station by Sir Charles Tegart, the then Commissioner of Bengal.After his easy identification, he was subject to extreme brutality of British Police in Bengal Police headquarters. After a five months long trial, he was sentenced for 5 years of imprisonment and an additional one and half years for fleeing from the Jail. He had enthusiastically participated in ‘Quit India Movement’ and had played a highly inspiring role in it.
Basawon Singh’s personality was nonpareil. Though, he was dedicated to democratic socialism but never adopted an intransigent ideological position ever. He always used to test the practical relevance of his ideological position and its ground implications in society, unlike many socialists and communists of his age. He remained the leader of opposition from 1952 to 1962 in the Assembly of Bihar. He was first sworn as a cabinet minister in first non-congress government of 1967, headed by Chief Minister Mahamaya Prasad Sinha, though he soon tendered his resignation from the post after he felt that it was becoming difficult for him to fulfil his responsibility towards the poor and subalterns by remaining in the said post. In the well-known famine and flood of Bihar in 1967, he had donated his entire remuneration as a minister, in the relief-fund. He never accepted any kind of allowance including travel allowance throughout his political carrier. He was later inducted into the cabinet of Ramsundar Das in Janta Party’s government in the year 1979 and was one of the most important mentors to the Chief Minister. He also held the post of a powerful cabinet minister (minister of Labour, Planning and Industry) in the said government. He went underground for 20 months during emergency and conducted his undergrounded movements in post-independence India and was never caught, though his wife Kamala Sinha was arrested under‘Maintenance of Internal Security Act’ as a ‘Potential threat’ to government. This Brahmin champion of downtrodden and a leading light of the India’s freedom movement left this planet on 7th of April 1989. It is not surprising that the only Dalit President of India, K.R.Narayanan had released a book in his honour titled, “Basawon Sinha: A Revolutionary Patriot” in 1999 with a foreword written by Professor Madhu Dandavate, who was his younger socialist colleague and whom he treated as his younger brother and with contributions from Prem Bhasin, Leela Alvares, Prof. Madhu Dandavate, Prof. Bimal Prasad, Prof. R.S. Sharma, Surendranath Dwivedy, former Prime Minister of India Chandra Shekhar, Chaturanan Mishra, Kailashpati Mishra, Satyendra Narayan Sinha, Surendra Mohan, Samar Guha, Samarendu Kundu, N.G. Gorey, Rameshwar Thakur, Jagannath Sarkar, K.C.Chandrashekharan, Barindranath Mitra, Rakhal Dasgupta, Jayanta Poddar, Brijmohan Toofan and many others. The Government of India had issued a commemorative stamp in his name on 23rd of March 2000.
(ROHIT KUMAR is 4th year B.A.LL.B Student of School of Law, KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha)