Published: 23rd March 2022
What happened on March 23: Bhagat Singh was martyred, Hitler's rise to power became certain
Moments before being taken to the gallows, Singh was reading Reminiscences of Lenin, which is a memoir of Clara Zetkin, a German political activist
We live in a world where historical figures are frequently appropriated by politicians even when they stand in polar opposite ideological positions. Bhagat Singh is one of the most misrepresented figures in Indian politics, where he is looked at as a mere martyr, ignoring everything he stood for at an intellectual level. In the introduction to his book Inquilab, a collection of Bhagat Singh's views on religion and revolution, historian S Irfan Habib echoes this very dichotomy. He explains, "We do great injustice to his (Bhagat Singh's) memory when we extol him only as a martyr. Bhagat Singh left behind a corpus of political writings underlining his vision for an independent India."
But why are we talking about Bhagat Singh? At the age of 23, on this very day, March 23, 1931, he was hanged. While there were countless lives lost in the struggle for Indian freedom, many of whom were younger than him, what makes him stand out is his early intellectual development. His writings were far too evolved for his age. This was also because Bhagat Singh read numerous books in the short time that he lived, he read more books than what most people today end up reading in their entire lifetime. Moments before being taken to the gallows, Singh was either reading The State and Revolution, a 1917 book by Vladimir Lenin or he was reading Reminiscences of Lenin, which is a memoir of Clara Zetkin, a German political activist, based on her interactions with the icon of the communist movement.
Another important event took place on this very day. This day also marks the rise of one of the cruellest men of the 20th century — Adolf Hitler. The German Reichstag, dominated by the Nazi Party and German National People's Party, voted to pass the Enabling Act, on March 23, 1933, thereby assuring Nazi primacy, in a process that began with the Reichstag (German parliament) fire about a month prior.
The Enabling Act allowed Hitler to assume dictatorial powers and this led to the killings of millions of Jews by the Nazis. Deputies from the Nazi Party, the German National People’s Party, and the Centre Party voted in favour of the act, and this officially gave power to Hitler’s government to issue decrees independently of the Reichstag and the presidency.