A grave blunder
On the 84th anniversary of the execution of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru in Lahore, we reproduce our Editorial from the issue dated March 24, 1931
The news of the execution of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades, accused in what is known as the Lahore Conspiracy Case, will come upon the public as a rude shock. For, although the petition for mercy made on their behalf had been rejected by the Viceroy, applications had been made before the High Court with a view to get a judicial pronouncement on the legality of the Local Government’s attempts to carry out the sentence on the prisoners in spite of the fact that the Court which, in the opinion of Counsel for the prisoners, was the only one competent to issue the death warrant, had ceased to exist. The issue raised by Counsel was obviously so complicated and the arrangements made on behalf of the prisoners to get the verdict of the highest tribunal available so advanced that the public felt that for some time at any rate…the execution could not come off and…there was still hope of the prisoners being saved from the extreme penalty of the law. That the Government had every need to proceed with caution will be evident if one recalls the extraordinary circumstances connected with the trial of the accused.
The accused were put up for trial before a Special Magistrate twenty months ago for the offence of conspiracy to wage war against the King by murder, dacoity, manufacture and use of bombs and other methods and, so far as Bhagat Singh was concerned, of having murdered a police officer, Mr. Saunders of Lahore. Subsequently, on the ground that the police ill-treated them, the accused refused to appear in Court… the Lahore High Court… refused to be a party to dispensing with the committed proceedings …the case was withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts, placed before a special tribunal and provision was made for the trial of the accused in their absence. In spite of these extraordinary arrangements, the accused attended the court of the special tribunal for a few days, but following an incident the police handcuffed them and indulged in a lathi charge in the court premises — proceedings which moved one of the judges of the tribunal openly to express his disgust at the police action.
The accused thereafter refused to attend the court and the trial was proceeded with in their absence. The trial went on in their absence without any counsel representing them; without any cross examination of the approvers and without testing the evidence of other witnesses. Nor should it be forgotten that two of the seven approvers subsequently retracted their earlier story. To carry out a sentence of death passed as the result of a trial in such extraordinary circumstances will have been in any case to incur a very grave responsibility. But in this case the additional point had been raised that there was legally no authority competent to give effect to the sentence… By the indecent haste with which they have proceeded in the matter they have defied public opinion and exasperated it in a manner that it is difficult to envisage the gravity of the reactions in this country to their latest blunder. As Gandhiji says, the Government “have lost a golden opportunity of winning over the revolutionary party. It as their clear duty, in view of the settlement, at least to suspend indefinitely the execution. By their action they have put a severe strain upon the settlement and once more proved their capacity for flouting public opinion”.