Explained: Who was Udham Singh, the freedom fighter Pragya invoked?

Mehr Gill
Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur at the Madhya Pradesh BJP headquarters in Bhopal. (PTI Photo)

BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur raked up a storm in the Lok Sabha after she praised Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse on Wednesday. Now, in her defence, Thakur claimed her remark was meant for Udham Singh, and not Godse. Moreover, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi on Wednesday said, “Her mic was not on. She made the objection when the name of Udham Singh was being taken. She has even explained this and told me personally.” Earlier this year, Thakur had referred to Godse as a “patriot” and subsequently apologised.

Thakur praised Gandhi’s assassin while interrupting DMK member A Raja as he commented on Godse’s reasoning whilst participating in a debate about the Special Protection Group (SPG) in Parliament. Raja, in trying to make the point that an individual’s actions can have reactions years later mentioned the killing of Michael O’Dwyer by Udham Singh, who killed O’Dwyer 21 years after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place in 1919. “The threat does not go away with the person dying. So, before removing security, there should be an objective test,” Raja said.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh condemned Thakur’s remarks and said, “Far from talking about Nathuram Godse being called a patriot, we condemn the idea of treating him as a patriot. Gandhi’s philosophy was, is and will remain relevant and he is as a guide (margdarshak) for the nation.”

Following this, BJP working president J P Nadda requested that Thakur be removed from the Parliamentary Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Defence and she has been barred from attending BJP’s parliamentary meetings for the Winter Session. Thakur has now been removed from the defence panel and the Opposition, led by the Congress, is planning to bring a censure motion against her.

Explained: Who was Udham Singh?

This is not the first time that Udham Singh has been mentioned in Parliament. There have been several demands in the past few years for his statue to be installed in Jallianwala Bagh and the Parliament complex. In July 2018, Punjab MP Prem Singh Chandumajra demanded that his portrait be put in Parliament. In 2018, one part of this demand was fulfilled when his statue was installed at Jallianwala Bagh during Baisakhi. For avenging the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Singh is seen by some as a hero. Gandhi had famously decried Singh’s revenge as an “act of insanity”.

Singh, born in Sunam in Punjab’s Sangrur district in 1899, was a political activist who got associated with the Ghadar Party while in the US.

Singh, born in Sunam in Punjab’s Sangrur district in 1899, was a political activist who got associated with the Ghadar Party while in the US. The multi-ethnic party was believed to have communist tendencies and was founded by Sohan Singh Bhakna in 1913. Headquartered in California, the party was committed to the ouster of the British from India. In 1934, Singh made his way to London with the purpose of assassinating O’Dwyer, who in 1919 had been the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab and unsurprisingly, Singh considered O’Dwyer to be responsible for the massacre.

As per a book, “A Patient Assassin” written by Anita Anand, when O’Dwyer ordered Brigadier Reginald Dyer to Amritsar before the massacre, he was worried that there might be a second Indian mutiny, given the Hindu-Muslim unity and the demonstrations and strikes. Instead of Dyer, who instructed his men to open fire at the crowd gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, O’Dwyer is considered to be the actual perpetrator, since Dyer could not have executed it without his permission.

According to legend, Singh who would have been about 19 years old at the time was injured during the massacre, surrounded by the dead until he was able to move till the next morning. Then he supposedly picked up some blood-soaked earth and smeared it across his forehead and vowed to take revenge.

The assassination of O’Dwyer

On March 13, 1940 Singh shot O’Dwyer at a meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society at Caxton Hill. Singh was immediately arrested and held in Brixton prison following this. At the prison, Singh staged a 36-day hunger strike and in police statements and at the court referred to himself as Mohamed Singh Azad, to symbolise Hindu-Sikh-Muslim unity in the fight for India’s freedom. He was sentenced to death and was hanged on July 31, 1940 at Pentonville Prison. In 1974, his remains were sent back to India and he was cremated in his village in Sunam.

Udham Singh Nagar district in Uttarakhand is named after the freedom fighter.

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