THE SAUNDERS MURDER
We have now to relate an historical occurrence which played such a deciding part in the life of Sardar Bhagat Singh. We need not here dwell on the history of the appointment of the Simon Commission in the teeth of universal opposition in India, or the subsequent nation-wide boycott of the same. The demonstrations in connexion with the boycott of Simon Commission aroused much popular enthusiasm.
After visiting many places, the Commission was to arrive at Lahore on 30th October 1928. A very big procession was organized at Lahore to boycott the Simon Commission. But the Government Officials had proclaimed the application of Sec. 144, and the police were ordered to prevent any demonstration. There was a clash between the procisionists and the police, and many Congress workers, including Lala Lajpat Rai, were beaten by the police. Sometime afterwards, Lala Lajpat Rai died on 17th November. The people believed that Lalaji's death was due to the beating he had received. Mr. Scott, the Senior Superintendent of Police Lahore, was held responsible for the Police beatings and Mr. Saunders, an assistant Superintendent of police, was popularly regarded as connected with the beating of Lalaji. On the evening of 17th December, 1928 Mr. Saunders was murdered just before the Police Office, Chanan Singh, a constable, who wanted to pursue the assailants, was also murdered, after which the culprits escaped and could not be traced.
Next morning the police discovered .several posters pasted on walls at different places in the city, with the bold printed heading in red : "The Hindustan Socialist Republican Army," below which was written out in thick letters: "Saunders is dead, Lalaji is avenged," and some other matter in justification of the action.
Such is the bare outline history of the incident. From the narrative of Jai Gopal, an approver in the Lahore Conspiracy Case, we can reconstruct the whole story.
Ever since the day of Lala Lajpat Rai's death, the Punjab group was considering the plan of avenging the death of Lalaji by killing the Police Officers "who were responsible for Lalaji's beating that led ultimately to his death. They had two-fold object in this: first to give the popular movement a turn towards violence, and second, to show to the world that Lalaji's beating was not taken lying by India. The action was incidentally to advertise the existence of a revolutionary party in India.
For this purpose it was decided that Bhagat Singh and Shivaram Rajguru should attempt on the life. of Mr. Scott, the S. S. P., with revolvers. Pt, Chandra Shekhar Azad the absconder in the Kakori Conspiracy Case of 1926, was to direct the whole action and to work as a rear guard.
The whole plot was carefully thought out and complete arrangements were made for the same. Originally, it was the intention of these three youths to fight out a pitched battle with the police and if possible, to lay down their lives fighting. In this idea they were inspired by the story of Jatinder Nath Mukherjee and his associates who, instead of flying before the police and save their skin boldly faced them and in a pitched revolver fight, laid down their lives; sometime in 1916. They believed that in this way they would be able to rouse up the imagination of the youth and bring them into the ranks of the revolutionaries.
But the plan failed in two respects. Instead of Mr. Scott they murdered Mr. Saunders. Then, as the police did not follow them up, their desire for a pitched fight; could not be fulfilled. Only one Police Officer, namely Mr. Fern, came out of the Police Office after the shots had been fired that killed Mr. Saunders. But two bullets whirling by his head proved too strong an argument for returning back. Only Chanan Singh dared to follow them up. He was entreated to give up the chase; but on his refusing to do so, he was also killed by bullet shots.
The three then went to the D. A. V. College Boarding House, which was in lose proximity to the Police Office, waiting for the police to appear. But when nobody came, they returned to their place of shelter on two bicycles, one of which was taken as a forced loan from a cycle dealer.
No sooner had Bhagat Singh and his party left the D. A. V. College Boarding House, the police appeared on the scene in full force, surrounded the boarding house, began to search every nook and corner, and blocked all exits and entrances. Not only that. Strong police force was posted on all roads leading in and out of Lahore, the railway stations became full of C. I. D. men, and .all young men leaving Lahore were carefully scrutinized. But the three young men frustrated all the attempts of the police and safely got away from Lahore.
The stratagem that Bhagat Singh adopted was as clever as it was bold. He dressed up as a young Government Official, adopted a big official name, put labels of that name on his trunks and portmanteaux, and in the company of a beautiful lady, entrained a first class compartment at the Central Railway Station in the face of those very C. I D.Officials who were specially deputed to arrest the assassin of Mr. Saunders. He had a fully dressed orderly in the person of Rajguru, with the inevitable tiffin carrier in his hand; of course, all were fully armed for all emergency. Chandra Sekhar Azad adopted a simple method. He got up a pilgrim party for Muttra, with old ladies and gentlemen, and in the capacity of a Brahmin Pandit in an orthodox style, escorted them,—and himself—out of Lahore !
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