88 years ago, on this very day, an explosion in New Delhi shook London

Bhagat Singh Public Safety Bill

It takes a loud voice to make the deaf hear. Said by French anarchist Jean Auguste Vaillant, this signifies the power one needs the tyrants off their deep slumber. Little did he know that some 35 years later, his words would echo, some 4100 miles away, in New Delhi.

This was the day when Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt bombed the Central Legislative Assembly (now the Constitution Hall of Parliament), in protest of the draconian Public Safety Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill.

Cut to early 1929. The Civil Disobedience Movement was yet to start, the Chittagong rebels were under training, and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was yet to find his call. There was nothing that could accelerate the movement for independence, until came the two bills.

The British imperialists, miffed at the rising influence of trade unions and protests by the working class, decided to clamp down on them with the following two bills:-

1. Public Safety Bill, which allowed to detain suspects without any trial.
2. Trade Dispute Bill, which allowed the Britishers to declare any sort of protest as illegal, forget strikes alone.

When Hindustan Socialist Republican Association heard of this, they decided to spring back into action. The attention they had gained through the encounter of ASP J.P. Saunders, one of the officers responsible for the death of the venerated nationalist, Lala Lajpat Rai, was rapidly diminishing, and they had yet to gain momentum with the masses. The time for action was ripe.

Led by Chandra Shekhar Azad, the preliminary session decided that Ram Saran Das, an ex convict, and Batukeshwar Dutt would go to the Assembly to drop bombs and escape.

However, Sukhdev Thapar, Bhagat Singh’s best friend and the brains behind the Lahore Conspiracy Case, was not at all pleased with the decision. He knew Bhagat was the best man for the job, and was disappointed with the decision, deriding Bhagat for not protesting against the same.

It was with a heavy heart that Chandra Shekhar Azad finally accepted the decision of sending Bhagat and Dutt to the Assembly. He knew very well that should Bhagat surrender, it was unlikely that Azad would ever see him free again. While boarding the train for Jhansi, he said to his trusted colleague and party member, Shiv Verma:-

“In a few days time, history shall claim them and they shall be consumed by time. Till then, treat them well Prabhat.”

The date was chosen as 8th April, the same day when Mangal Pandey was hanged for inciting rebellion, which later lead to the uprising of 1857. On that very day, the Bills would be tabled for discussion, which would be passed anyway. However, the bombs would signify that enough is enough.

Chaired by Vithalbhai Patel, elder brother of the Indian Iron Man, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Assembly comprised of the following important members:-

1. Sir George Schuster, special envoy of the then Viceroy, Lord Irwin.
2. Mohammad Ali Jinnah
3.Moti Lal Nehru
4. Gopi Chand Bhargava

Among the audience sat Sir Sobha Singh, architect and father of Indian columnist Khushwant Singh, Sir John Simon, and eminent advocate Asaf Ali, who later defended the duo.

Dressed in khaki shirts and shorts, Bhagat and Dutt sat in the visitors’ gallery of the Assembly. Jaidev Kapur, a party member, gave them the passes and disappeared. The moment the bills were being passed, Bhagat dropped both the bombs on the empty floor between the seats, while Dutt showered the HSRA leaflets. None tried to escape and willingly surrendered. In fact, the bombs were deliberately made of low intensity, so that none is harmed. They had woken both the Indians and the arrogant British from their deep slumber.

Though the British tried to down play this incident, the Indian press spread this like wildfire. Bhagat Singh and Dutt were tried in Delhi Jail itself and by June, sentenced to life imprisonment.to Andamans. Though Bhagat Singh was imprisoned and later hanged, this one incident cemented his and Dutt’s place forever in the golden pages of Indian history. As Bhagat himself once said, “Life is to be lived on our own, other shoulders are for picking up thy hearse.”

Without Fear, by Kuldip Nayar
Bhagat Singh : The Eternal Rebel, by Malwinder Hit Singh Waraich
Trial of Bhagat Singh, by A.G. Noorani.