Today is March 23. Eighty-seven years ago, in 1931, three revolutionary freedom fighters were hanged to death by the British on charges of throwing a bomb in the Parliament. They were Bhagat Singh, Shivram Hari Rajguru, and Sukhdev Thapar. Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev had just turned 23 and the youngest, Rajguru just crossed 22, when they valiantly faced British gallows. Though they were praised a lot for their valiant acts, there is a hushed-up chapter of who ditched them during the trial or those who were bought by the British to make sure that these revolutionary youth should face gallows. One was a crooked contractor and the other were five youth belonging to a revolutionaries’ party – the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). All these six persons financially benefited from the British for ditching these revolutionaries.
For this betrayal, Sobha Singh was rewarded with major construction contracts in the current Rashtrapati Bhavan building.
The contractor who ditched Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru was none other than the builder and contractor Sobha Singh, who got the title of a Sir from the British Government. Sobha Singh, father of the famous journalist Khushwant Singh was a prominent builder in Delhi, who got the contracts to build many of the landmark buildings of Delhi. He gave a false statement that he was present in the gallery and saw the bombs being hurled by these three youth in the Central Legislative Assembly (the current Lok Sabha). Upon cross-examination, he lied that he had back pain and was massaging the back side of his body and saw the bombs being hurled. This false deposition of Sobha Singh was taken as crucial evidence by the British court, which led to the hanging of the revolutionary trio.
For this betrayal, Sobha Singh was rewarded with major construction contracts in the current Rashtrapati Bhavan building. British made him the first Indian Chairman of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) and he continued in this post four times till 1946. And later, after the country attained independence, the cunning contractor and builder jumped on to the Congress bandwagon and was the beneficiary of several deals till his death in 1978.
The British prosecution bought five youth from the HSRA and they became approvers and ditched their leaders. Four young men – Jai Gopal, Phanindra Nath Ghosh, Manmohan Bannerjee and Kailash Pati accepted Rs.20,000 from the Prosecution to become approvers in 1930. Later, in 1932, Phanindra Nath Ghosh was assassinated by Baikunth Shukla, another revolutionary of HSRA, for betraying Bhagat Singh.
The fifth one – Hans Raj Vohra – was the most crooked one of the lot. He did not accept any money. He demanded admission into the London School of Economics (LSE). The British prosecution obliged and got him admission in LSE. From LSE, he continued living in London and got admission into the London School of Journalism (LSJ). The crooked man came back to an independent India as a journalist and worked in top editorial positions in Times of India, Deccan Herald and Statesman and became their foreign affairs editor and later in the early 70s, landed in Washington and was the correspondent for many Indian newspapers. Towards the end of his life his early 80s, a guilty conscience started haunting him and he wrote a detailed letter to Sukhdev’s brother detailing how he had made an error and why he miscalculated and became an approver. In his confession letter, he argued that he thought or got a wrong impression that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru may apologize and escape from gallows. He wrote this confession-like-letter few months before his death in 1985, in Washington.
It is still intriguing as to how Independent India tolerated these persons, especially Sobha Singh and Hans Raj Vohra. This black chapter in history tells us how many traitors get away with their sins and continue to exist in the society.
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