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Without Fear: The Life and Trial of Bhagat Singh By Kuldip Nayar, Harper Collins, Rs 395

Written by one of the most senior journalists today, Without Fear tries to put Bhagat Singh’s life into proper perspective by looking at both his writings as well as the accounts of his companion’s betrayal during the time that led to his being sentenced to death. Releasing on Bhagat Singh’s birth centenary, the book is a revised edition whose first version came out a few years ago. Nayar states that the need for this edition arose because he wanted to include a chapter on the trial proceedings of Sukhbir, Rajguru and Bhagat Singh and also to update his research. The prison cells where Singh and his two comrades, Sukhdev and Rajguru were executed are in Lahore Central Jail, but Nayar concedes that little is known of Bhagat Singh in either India or Pakistan today.

The book begins on March 23, 1931 — the day Bhagat Singh and his comrades were hanged. Spread across the book is an account of the significant years and momentous events in the life of Bhagat Singh — from the beginning of his revolutionary career, his freedom struggle, imprisonment, eventual trial and the aftermath of his death. Events like deputy inspector general Scott attacking Lala Lajpat Rai, Bhagat Singh’s scheme to avenge the assassination of deputy superintendent of police, J.P. Saunders, the progress of his Hindustan Socialist Republican Army make interesting reading. But the Jallianwala Bagh killing is given a passing remark, with only a description of how Singh was affected by it. The narrative also dwells on the history of the troubled period, analyzing, for instance, the difference in approach, between Gandhi’s non-violence and the revolutionary zeal of the freedom fighters in their struggle for independence.

But it is not Nayar’s intention to delve into history. He devotes more space to the secret lives of the revolutionaries. There is also an interesting excerpt from a speech by Jinnah in the Central Legislative Assembly where he defended Bhagat Singh and chastised the British for their double standards. “So far as I know,” Jinnah said, “Bhagat Singh and [Batukeshwar] Dutt wore topees and their figures appeared in shorts. Therefore they ought to have been treated as European.” Anyone interested in the minutiae of the court case will not be disappointed for Nayar details its appeal and political effects as also Hans Raj Vohra’s betrayal during the trial. One also finds the questions that Vohra was asked in the court and his later turnaround, when he disclosed the details of the hideouts and activities of his fellow revolutionaries. The book closes with the correspondence between Sukhdev’s brother, Mathura Das Thapar and Vohra about the great betrayal that changed the course of the trial. The correspondence gives Vohra’s side of the story as well. The annexure comprises writings by Bhagat Singh such as, “Why I am an Atheist”, and “The Philosophy of the Bomb”. These writings show not only how well a young Bhagat Singh understood history and the needs of his people but also his secular and logical bent of mind. Written in a simple style, Nayar’s prose in Without Fear raises our curiosity about the life of the young man who fearlessly changed the course of India’s history and immortalized his name by laying down his life for his country.

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