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Basawon Singh: A Portrait Of A True Patriot

25/03/2016 6:15 PM IST | Updated 22/02/2017 7:20 PM IST

Nakamura Tempu, a great Japanese martial artist 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."

Today, when patriotism is losing its real meaning and ideology is being placed above the nation's interests, it is an opportune moment in time to reflect on the true revolutionary nationalists of India, and bring them back into our consciousness. Today, I want to write about Basawon Singh (Sinha), who until his last breath fought for the subalterns of society but also devoted a huge portion of his life to free his nation from the shackles of colonial rule. This man, who most today have probably not even heard of, spent a total of 18 and half years in prison for his role in the struggle for an Independent India.

This great revolutionary, at the age of 23, undertook a fast unto death, which he continued for 57 days...

This great revolutionary, at the age of 23, undertook a fast unto death, which he continued for 57 days, as a protest against the extremely inhumane conditions his co-inmates had to endure in prison during the British era. No attempt at forced feeding shook his resolve; so weakened was he by his fast that the prison authorities and his supporters outside were preparing for his funeral arrangements. He only broke his fast when he was told by Mahatma Gandhi that his demands had been met. So, who was this rare and brave spirit?

Basawon Singh was born into an ordinary farming family in village Subhai Jamalpur, district Hajipur (currently Muzaffarpur, Bihar) on 23 March 1909. His father died when he was only 10 years old and he grew up in extremely impoverished conditions, his widowed mother doing the best she could to raise him well with the paltry sum she'd earn for selling bamboo. These early experiences led to a natural affection and sympathy for the poor and marginalized.

Basawon was passionate about the Indian independence movement from a very early age, and when he was only 8 even ran off to see and hear Mahatma Gandhi in Hajipur. He was an extraordinarily brilliant student who secured scholarships in both primary and middle school, while also tutoring older boys for food and lodging.

He jumped into the Ganga River and managed to make his way to safety even as the police fired into the water.

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 Basawon Singh, commenced with his participation in the Non-Cooperation Movement. He was also a member of the 'Hindustan Socialist Republican Army' (HSRA), a revolutionary organization formed under the leadership of Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad among others.

After the assassination of J P Saunders by HSRA, he went underground with other revolutionaries, initially in Betiah and later in Motihari. He was later accused in the Lahore Conspiracy Case and was consequently arrested in September 1929, though was soon released as the Government's witnesses had not been able to prove his involvement. He tried to lie low after that but the British government arrested him again in June 1930 in Patna with another revolutionary nationalist Keshav Chandra. He was locked up in solitary confinement at Bankipore Central Jail, known for housing the most deadly criminals, but three days later engineered an escape. He jumped into the Ganga River and managed to make his way to safety even as the police fired into the water. However, he was recaptured on 20 September 1930 at Calcutta Railway station by Sir Charles Tegart, the then Commissioner of Bengal. Subsequently, he was subjected to extreme brutality at the Bengal Police headquarters and after a five-month trial sentenced to a total of six and a half years in jail.

In the devastating famine and flood of Bihar in 1967, he donated his entire remuneration as a minister to the relief fund...

Basawon Singh's character was unlike any other. Though, he was dedicated to democratic socialism he never adopted an intransigent ideological position. He tested the practical relevance of his ideological position and its ground implications in society, unlike many socialists and communists of his age.

Post Independence, he was 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 subaltern. In the devastating famine and flood of Bihar in 1967, he donated his entire remuneration as a minister to the relief fund. He never accepted any kind of allowance (not even for travel) throughout his political career. He was later inducted into the cabinet of Ramsundar Das in the 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 cabinet minister (in the Ministry of Labour, Planning and Industry) in the said government.

He went underground successfully for 20 months during emergency although his wife Kamala Sinha was arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act as a 'potential threat' to government.

This Brahmin champion of the downtrodden and a leading light of the India's freedom movement died on 7 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 contributions from, inter alia, former Prime Minister of India Chandra Shekhar. The Government of India issued a commemorative stamp in his name on 23 March 2000.

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