All the while I was watching ‘Sardar Udham’, especially during those parts where Udham Singh refused to apologise for murdering the bloodthirsty British Governor who ordered the Jallianwala massacre or name anyone from his organisation, I was reminded of Savarkar, the only hero of the independence movement for the sanghis, the man who wrote many an apology to the British, grovelling at their feet, promising to serve the Queen and who was even granted a pension by the British for being a trusted servant. I was also reminded of the 1997 Malayalam film ‘Kalapani’, directed by Priyadarshan, which whitewashed Savarkar, who is now getting fresh coats of whitewashed everyday, from sanghis in the garb of historians to BJP leaders wilfully rewriting history.
It is not really a mystery as to why most of us have not read much about the Communist revolutionary Udham Singh, who took revenge against Dwyer, Punjab’s Lieutenant Governor, who extended all possible support to General Dyer, the man behind the brutal massacre at Jallianwala Bagh. For, that has been the case with the contributions of leftists to India’s freedom struggle, be it the Meerut or Kanpur conspiracy cases, or the Naval mutiny. Bhagat Singh’s case is an exception, but the fact that he was a Communist is cleverly not mentioned much. His organisation Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) was mentioned without much of an elaboration.
In the movie, a british officer, tired after interrogating the tight-lipped Udham Singh, is heard saying — “I certainly think he is a committed Marxist. Very ideologically driven. Hasn’t named anyone yet”. This reminded me of the story about Vajpayee’s involvement in the Quit India Struggle, which the Sangh Parivar often talks proudly about. In 1998, Frontline magazine carried an investigative report, which demolished all these claims using his own confessional statement and other court records. The confession statement says that “I along with my brother followed the crowd” and witnessed the event, “I did not cause any damage. I did not render any assistance in demolishing the government building.” Vajpayee says, in effect: I was part of the crowd, but I did not share its objectives and I did not participate in any culpable act. This point is of exceptional importance since the Sangh Parivar still lionises the fighting, if not heroic, role he played in 1942 — a role he explicitly denied then and has denied again, in his January 1998 interview to Frontline.
In that statement, Mr Vajpayee also named Liladhar Bajpai alias Kakua as one of those who led the mob that had damaged the building. In an interview, Liladhar Bajpai contended that though the confessional statement signed by Mr Vajpayee was not used as evidence against him in court, it was a major factor in his being sentenced as the Vajpayee brothers were, unlike the rest of their village, educated and hence, considered more dependable in their testimony by the police and the court. Now, compare this with someone like Udham Singh, who stood bravely in the British Court and said — “I do not care about the sentence of death. It means nothing at all. I do not care about dying or anything. I do not worry about it at all. I am dying for a purpose. We are suffering from the British Empire. I am not afraid to die. I am proud to die, to have to free my native land and I hope that when I am gone, I hope that in my place will come thousands of my countrymen to drive you dirty dogs out, to free my country.”
Let us also not forget that the Indians who gathered at Jallianwala Bagh were protesting against the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act of 1919, popularly known as the Rowlatt Act, which authorised preventive indefinite detention, jailing without trial and judicial review. Not so different from some of the laws and amendments being enacted since 2014, and the plight of the many who are being kept without trial (and institutionally murdered like Stan Swamy). The use of Section 144, preventing assembling of groups of people, before and after the Jallianwala massacre and the severing of all communication after the massacre, also have parallels in the present.
A large number of those who shot at the protesting Indians at Jallianwala Bagh happened to be Indians, a fact which the movie emphasises. There has always been a large, selfish section who would do the bidding or cosy up to those in power for their own benefits, ready to mock or even trample upon those who dare to stand up for the rights of everyone. You could see them then and you can see them now too. But then, there have always been people like Udham Singh, who stood clear on their convictions, even when faced with death. Shoojit Sircar and the team behind ‘Sardhar Udham’ deserve an ovation for making this movie in these times, when the likes of Savarkar are whitewashed and celebrated.
Link to the Frontline story on Vajpayee- https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/article30160890.ece