Bhagat Singh’s Statue in Parliament: Disturbing Questions

(Below are excerpts from a letter to the Speaker (Dt/- 17 August 2008), Parliament of India, by Prof. Chaman Lal, (editor, Complete Documents of Bhagat Singh in Hindi), protesting against the distortion of Bhagat Singh’s image in the statue installed in Parliament:

Not only family members of Bhagat Singh, even eminent freedom fighter Shashi Bhushan felt that the statue looks like that of a 50-60 year old man and not of 23-24 years young person.

...For long, Bhagat Singh’s ideas remained shadowed by various fishy interpretations and many paintings, particularly in Punjab, based on these shady interpretations came up. One of these paintings has been of Bhagat Singh wearing yellow turban with pistol in hand, confirming the colonial image of ‘a terrorist’. Some of us like Prof. Bipan Chandra, Prof. Sumit Sarkar, Prof. Irfan Habib, myself and others, who have worked for many years to resurrect the real image of Bhagat Singh as a brilliant socialist thinker, through his writings, feel cheated, when some of these painted images take precedence over real pictures of Bhagat Singh. Punjab Government has been guilty of publishing a painted picture of Bhagat Singh as real picture in media in its official advertisements for last more than three decades, including the advertisement issued on 15th August this year.

..An unsavoury controversy however was created by those, who had nothing to do with the ideas of Bhagat Singh to communalize the issue of statue of a confirmed atheist. The whole world knows Bhagat Singh by one of his last photographs, with hat and dozens of statues throughout the country—Indore, Kolkata, Partapgarh, Delhi (Ferozeshah Kotla) and dozens of other places, are based on this world popular known photograph, which is popular even in Pakistan. The irony of the matter is that, the place where he created history by his action on 8th April 1929, in this very photographic shape, he was denied the same shape by the new rulers.

...Even if one grants that a statue with turban was the decision of certain committee, then it was imperative that the real picture with turban was to be sculpted, that has not been done. The popular picture with turban is of College drama group. In this picture Bhagat Singh is wearing white Kurta Pyjama with white falling turban, which is not a typical Sikh (close, tight) way of wearing turban. Bhagat Singh was almost six feet tall with robust health, but he was not fat. In his turbaned photo, he has very small beard and moustaches, as he was just sixteen then. (The sculpture is not faithful even to this photo.)

...Bhagat Singh is like a Phoenix, however he may be tried to be buried and killed at the level of body or ideas, he will resurrect himself with renewed vigour, as Che Guevara’s resurrection has happened in all Latin American countries, shaking the neo colonial powers of the earth.

– Chaman Lal

Bhagat Singh’s Statue

There is news from Delhi

Alas! Shame!

What a mess the sarkari sculptor has made

Of Bhagat Singh

In the Parliament Complex!

For sixty years they sent petition upon petition

The British rejected him

You, our own government,

You, at least ought not to reject him.

At last the government beat its breast

and said, sure, why not!

And erected the statue in the parliament square.

The veil was lifted –

Hey, what’s this?

In dismay you find, this isn’t Bhagat Singh,

That beautiful 24 year old lad

Whose young limbs they could not properly burn

On the fateful night when they hanged him.

It is some fellow in his sixties,

Flabby and tired looking,

With upturned mustaches.

Who the hell is he?


And in his city Lahore

Bhagat Singh is a Sikh

Who perhaps left for India in ‘47

Such names make people nervous

Is the god-damn man coming back?

to claim his property??

We shall never let that happen

After all we left fields and barns

shops and houses

in Ludhiana.

Bhagat Singh was a pure Hindustani

His times are swept away with the wind

He was a purely Hindustani heart-flame

Light in the water

rustling in the wind

He was a purely Hindustani passion of his time

And times have changed.

Let his statue remain where it has been for 60 years

Across both sides of the border

In a heart or two.

There every morning

Longings as innocent and ignorant as little children

Cover his young body with fresh garlands of marigold

Bathe his limbs with tears of love and adoration

He belongs there

He is happy there.

(Based on a translation of the Urdu original, ‘Bhagat Singh ki Moorat’ by the author, Pakistani poet Fehmida Riaz)

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