Lahore finds space for Bhagat Singh’s legacy

The decision to rename a prominent square in Lahore after Shaheed Bhagat Singh could go a long way in focusing on the joint history of India and Pakistan in the struggle for freedom from the British rule. I have always held that relations between our two countries cannot be repaired without an honest recollection of history, at the core of which should be an objective appraisal of our respective national icons.

Gandhi belonged to the sub-continent. So did Nehru, Jinnah, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Sardar Patel, Subhash Bose, Maulana Azad, Sudhrawardy and Liaquat Ali Khan. The need of the moment is to dispassionately judge their contributions to the freedom struggle sans any national bias or predilection.

It’s easier said than done. But it’s worth a try for the sake of a balanced public discourse devoid of prejudice and motivated rhetoric so often used to fuel faux nationalism on either side of the border. Remember the way L K Advani was clobbered and humiliated by his own party for having called Jinnah secular?

The place where Bhagat Singh will be commemorated in Pakistan is the spot where he was hanged with Rajguru and Sukhdev on March 23, 1931 in Lahore’s Central Jail. The Jail was razed to the ground in 1961 to create space for a residential colony named Shadman.

Every March 23, candle light processions were conducted by civil society activists from Pakistan and India in pursuit of the demand to rename Shadman Chowk after Bhagat Singh. The decision to rechristen the square is the fulfillment of the promise made to them last March by PML chief Nawaz Sharif, whose party rules the Pakistani Punjab. The PML (N) chose Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary to make the announcement.

On another positive note, Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary was celebrated for the first time on September 28 this year at the Dayal Singh College hall in Lahore by the Pakistan Labour party and 23 other organizations. Speakers at the function described Bhagat Singh as a representative of the struggling people of the whole of Asia. They demanded that a museum be set up at Bhagat Singh’s birthplace at Lyalpur Bange in Pakistan’s Faislabad district.

According to Prof.Chaman Lal who has authored several books on the martyr, advocate Iqbal Virk, who occupies the house were Bhagat Singh was born, attended the function and offered to cooperate.

While ordering the renaming of Shadman Chowk, District Coordination Officer Noorul Amin Mengal said: “You know who Bhagat Singh was. He was martyred at this place after he fought the British by raising a slogan of revolution in the subcontinent.” He told Dawn newspaper that the decision was an acknowledgement of Bhagat Singh’s revolutionary spirit for the subcontinent.

A good precedent! Must India follow and similarly commemorate a Pakistani icon?

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