A History of the Left in Pakistan – 3

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter One: The Roots of Revolution

The Communist Party of Pakistan’s (CPP) birth was conceived and delivered through a cesarean operation by the Communist Party of India (CPI) in its Second Congress held in Calcutta in February-March 1948. The reporting line of the newly founded CPP  was made to the CPI leadership, probably on the advice of the Communist Party of Great Britain CPGB). CPI was itself operating at a second tier and was reporting to the CPGB in contrast to many other communist parties of the world who were, like CPGB, in direct contact with Moscow (1). CPP was clearly relegated to the third tier in the global hierarchy of the communist organization.

Interestingly, the CPI was one of the oldest communist parties in the world. The struggle for the independence of India had many facets and streams, acting independently in various parts of India with little, if any, coordination among themselves, before these independence movements and revolutionary groups converged in the 1st quarter of the 20th century. The formation of the CPI was one such convergence. Many of the prominent leaders and workers of the independence movement, coming from different backgrounds and experiences converged and joined hands, giving the independence struggle a new organizational structure and a global dimension.

The role of the CPI in the Indian Independence Movement and its subsequent far-reaching impact on Indian society in general cannot be fully appreciated, unless it is seen in the backdrop of three powerful, but largely forgotten, movements of their time. These movements growing independently of each other played a crucial role in the history of the freedom movement of united India. Later, these movements converged in foreign lands and prepared the ground for formation of the first CPI in 1920.

These movements were led and participated in by some brave sons and daughters of united India. The movements, an integral part of the long struggle for the independence of India, were: The Ghadar Party (1913-1931), The Berlin Committee (1914-1918), and The Hijrat & Jihad Movement of the Indian Muslims (1915-1920).

I. The Ghadar Party

The Ghadar Party was founded in June 1913 by few expatriate workers of Indian origin in Astoria, an obscure sleepy town in the north-east of the U.S.A. The town of Astoria, situated near the mouth of Columbia River on the Pacific coast in Oregon State, was a major timber logging station in early 20th century. The party was initially named as Hindi Association of the Pacific Coast but it soon was known by the title of its organ Ghadar that it published in memory of India’s first war of independence in 1857, known as Ghadar or the Mutiny. In it a call was published to prepare for a jihad for the independence of India (2).

The party’s call seemed to have an electrifying effect on the Indian community on the west coast. The Ghadar Party built a sizable following among immigrant Indian workers in many towns of California and North-West America. Indian port coolies, railway and timber logging workers were spread out into many of overseas British colonies where they had been transported, in large numbers, as indentured labour for expanding railroad construction and lumbering projects during last few decades of the 19th century. Mostly engaged in menial work, they were employed in hard labour jobs, living in harsh and repressing conditions. With an amazing speed, Ghadar Party’s call produced an army of volunteers ready to plunge headlong into armed rebellion against the British rulers in India. Soon, party organization cells sprang up in China, Malaya, Siam (Thailand), the Philippines, Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Russia, and Canada. The membership of the party reportedly reached to about 6,000 (3). Prominent among those who had founded the party and led it to the armed rebellion in India in 1915-1916 were Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna (President), Lala Har Dayal, (General Secretary & editor Ghadar), Pandit Kashi Ram (Treasurer), Taraknath Das (Joint Secretary), Kartar Singh (editor, Ghadar, Punjabi edition), Bhai Kesar Singh, Karim Buksh, Maulvi Barkatullah, Santok Singh, V.G. Pingle, and G.D. Kumar. The party headquarter, Yugantar Ashram, was established in San Francisco, California. Later, to comply with the American law, the movement was registered with local authorities as the ‘Hindustan Ghadar Party’ on January 22, 1917, with its headquarters at 5 Wood Street, San Francisco (4).

As the North American economy entered into recession by the middle of the first decade of twentieth century, the good days of the immigrant Indian workers came to an end. Now, largely unemployed, the unruly dark Indian workers were increasingly seen as undesirable elements in the host countries. To curb further arrivals, the Canadian government changed immigration laws in 1907 to require minimum $200 cash in hand for an Indian to gain entry into Canada. In 1910, a further stipulation was added to require a ‘continuous journey’ from the port of origin. With no direct shipping line service available from any Indian port to Canada, it practically made impossible for the native Indians to gain entry into Canada. Many Indian workers already on Canadian soil were expelled and deported on account of small crimes. At one stage, proposals to have all Indians expelled from Canada were also discussed. In order to comply with the requirement of ‘continuous journey’, affluent Indians led by Sardar Gurdit Singh chartered Japanese ship Komagata Maru that sailed from Hong Kong to Vancouver via Shanghai and Nagasaki with 352 Sikh and 21 Punjabi Muslim passengers on board, including Sardar Gurdit Singh himself. When the ship arrived at Vancouver in May 1914, the Canadian authorities did not permit these passengers to disembark. The vessel remained anchored at Vancouver for weeks running out of water and provisions. At the end, when the Canadian police authorities climbed over ship to force the vessel to return and turned military cannons towards it threatening with artillery fire, the ship finally turned back and returned to India. But the tragedy did not end here. Upon Komagata Maru’s arrival at Baj Baj Ghat in Calcutta in September, 1914 the inflamed Indian workers protested against the inhuman treatment meted out by the Canadian authorities. To prevent any riotous situation in Calcutta, the local British authorities wanted these returning passengers to be immediately dispatched to their home towns but the angry workers didn’t want to return to their villages empty-handed. They wanted to stay in Calcutta, looking for some work and earn their living. Finally, the British police opened fire on protesters killing 18 passengers and wounding another 25. This whole incident of Komagata Maru and killing at Baj Baj Ghat greatly infuriated people in the villages of Punjab. It also stirred Indian political activists from Calcutta to British Columbia and agitated Indians living in the towns of California, Oregon, and Washington states on the western coast of the USA. Many of the Komagata Maru passengers joined the Ghadar Party.

After the outbreak of the First World War and Great Britain joining it in August 1914, the Ghadar Party hurriedly decided to take this moment as an opportunity for launching a revolt in the Indian army against the British rulers. A number of party workers had served as soldiers in the Indian army at some time in their careers. They were vaguely aware of some working of the British Indian armed forces and their organizational structure. They thought that after reaching India they would be able to persuade their compatriots in the army in large numbers to join the rebellion. In their heightened enthusiasm, they naively thought that Indian soldiers in the British army were ready and just waiting for them to launch the rebellion.

A Call for Jihad

The plan for initiating rebellion on the lines of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and launching a revolutionary armed struggle was hastily prepared. This time it was hoped to be a more coordinated and planned effort compared to the failed 1857 mutiny. Amritsar was agreed to be the control centre of the rebellion and initially the date for the armed uprising was fixed for 30 November, 1914. On the appointed day, revolutionary contingents were to simultaneously capture British Cantonments at Lahore, Ferozepur, Meerut, and Delhi and proclaim the Republic of India. Some of the rebel leaders went to Jehlum and Rawalpindi, while few others proceeded to Mardan and other parts of NWFP to organize Afridis and other Pathan tribes. The flag of the revolt was agreed to be a tricolor of green, saffron, and red stripes with two swords crossing each other in the centre. The second Ghadar was supposed to engulf the British Empire from Peshawar to Hong Kong. The party also obtained financial and logistics assistance from German diplomats and agents operating in the USA to make arrangements to procure and ship weapons to India.

The first batch of revolutionaries left Vancouver on 22 August 1914. The second group sailed from Victoria in British Columbia. The major financier of the party, Jawala Singh also left with a group of revolutionaries for India. The number of activists said to return India in the next about three months on the call from Ghadar Party are variously estimated from two thousand to five thousand. They boarded a number of ships sailing into various Indian ports. Many of them, however, including president of the party, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna were promptly arrested on arrival at Indian ports. It transpired that the activities of Ghadar Party were fully exposed to the extensive British intelligence network thanks to the information sharing between different colonial administrations and other friendly countries, enabling the British Indian government to take effective counter measures in advance. Passenger manifests from all leading shipping companies plying in the Pacific region were thoroughly combed. Lists of those deemed dangerous were handed out to various port authorities. Two vessels carrying arms shipment from Germany and the USA to be secretly unloaded at Bengal coast were also intercepted by the British navy after their entry in the safe waters of the Bay of Bengal. Deprived of leadership and with no access to arms, many party activists started contacting local radical organisations. With the help of Berkeley-returned V.G. Pingle and Kartar Singh Sarabha, a new nexus was established with militants in Bengal. By early January 1915, Rash Bihari Bose was inducted into the leadership of the Ghadar movement’. Bose was a fiery revolutionary from Bengal who had gained heroic prominence by organizing a failed assassination attempt by throwing a hand bomb on the Viceroy of India, Lord Charles Hardinge, in December, 1912 in Chandni Chowk, Delhi, when the Viceroy was riding an elephant during a ceremonial procession of Grand Durbar of King George V. Bose managed to escape but his four collaborators, Master Amir Chand, Master Awadh Bihari, Bhai Balmukund and Basant Kumar Biswas were hanged to death and Lala Hanumant Sahai was sentenced for life and transported to Andaman Islands where he was released after seven years (5).

The date for the uprising was extended to February 21, 1915 and instead of Amritsar now Lahore was chosen as the new headquarter for the armed rebellion. Again, shortly before the planned rebellion on 21 February 1915, a large number of Ghadar Party leaders and workers were rounded up at different places in India. The night falling on 19 February, 1915 was a lightning strike on the cities and villages of Punjab. Most of the newly constituted leadership who had earlier managed to escape was now arrested even before the rebellion could formally begin. Rash Bihari Bose, however, again managed to evade arrest and escaped to Japan (6).

This was a major blow to the party and the Ghadar movement was all but crushed. In spite of a severe crackdown on the would-be rebels, militant party contingents in many towns and military garrisons raised the rebellion flag. Large number of arrests were made and a series of Lahore Conspiracy Cases were registered against the Ghadar Party workers. In the first Lahore Conspiracy Case, out of the 97 accused 24 were sentenced to death and 56 were awarded life imprisonment. This harsh verdict gave rise to a public outcry and a wave of general protests all over India. The Viceroy, Lord Hardinge eventually converted the death sentence of 17 leaders, including Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, into life imprisonment, and reduced the terms of imprisonment of seven others. Seven Ghadar Party leaders were, however, hanged to death on 16 November, 1915.

Similar sentences were awarded in the Second, Third, Fourth, and the Fifth Lahore Conspiracy Cases. ‘Mutiny’ also took place in some British colonies outside India. Eight British officers, nine soldiers and 17 civilians were killed in the course of the mutiny. Ghadar Party leaders and rebel Indian soldiers were arrested and court-martialed in Malaya, Singapore, Rangoon (now Yangon), and Mandalay. Thirty-eight soldiers were shot dead in Singapore, twelve were hanged in Mandalay. Similarly, four soldiers were hanged in Rangoon, 69 were given life imprisonment, and 126 were sentenced for varying terms.

It is estimated that in all about 145 Ghadar Party leaders were hanged and about 900 were given either life sentences or long term imprisonments. A large number of Ghadar Party workers who laid their lives were Sikhs but many Hindus and Muslims were also included in the martyrs. These included Rehmat Ali Khan of Patiala, Hafiz Abdullah of Ludhiana, and Mujtaba Hussain of Jaunpur among the Muslim Martyrs, and Babu Kashi Ram of Ropar, Babu Ram of Hoshiarpur, Vishnu Ganesh (V.G.) Pingle of Pune in Maharashtra, and Chailia Ram of Ludhiana among Hindus. Many of them were among the party’s founding members at Astoria and San Francisco (7).

Clearly, organization and the leadership of the Ghadar Party left much to be desired. The party was quite inexperienced and immature for carrying out planning and execution of a secret armed uprising in the face of a tightly run British Indian administration, well equipped with an extensive network of its experienced intelligence services. The plan for rebellion itself was immature, founded more on ‘wishes’ and ‘emotions’ rather than dispassionate analysis of the strengths and weaknesses and the real situation on the ground in India. A far greater reliance was placed on the expectation that the Indian troops would swiftly join the mutiny.

Some serious weaknesses of the Ghadar movement notwithstanding, it is amazing how thousands of Indian migrant workers, mainly Sikhs from Punjab, had swiftly joined the armed rebellion efforts in a very short time. Many social scientists and historiographers, including pioneering works of Dr. Harish K. Puri, Maia Ramnath, (Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies, University of Pennsylvania), and Harjot Oberoi, (Professor of South Asian History, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada) have attempted to unravel the puzzle and find the root causes of this unique socio-political phenomenon. Instead of ‘the cultural register of Indian nationalism’, Professor Harjot Oberoi traces the ideological roots of the Ghadar movement to ‘the revolutionary theories and practices of the Russian anarchists’ (8).

Owing to its over enthusiasm and lack of practical revolutionary experience, the Ghadar Party organization was almost completely smashed in India but its overseas organisational network largely remained intact, particularly in the U.S.A. The Ghadar Party efforts for the independence of India continued under the leadership of its new President, Bhagwan Singh Gyanee. Hindustan Ghadar Party brought out a new organ The Independent Hindustan from its offices in San Francisco in September 1920. Evidence suggest it was distributed widely in the USA, Mexico and Shanghai. The organ was later renamed as The United States of India in 1923 and continued to be published at least till 1927 with Surendra Karr as its editor.

The ‘Second Ghadar’ attempt in 1915-1916 failed. But it did produce an echo in Indian politics. Many young men and women, fired with revolutionary zeal and the spirit of the Ghadar movement, across India, formed various groups and associations for waging violent struggle against the British rule. Coming from different perspectives and different paths, all of these revolutionaries and freedom fighters converged on one goal – the independence of India.

Echoes of Ghadar

During First World War, about 1.25 million Indians, mostly from Punjab, Garhwal, and NWFP, served in the British army fighting on various fronts in Asia and Europe. More than 43,000 Indian soldiers died fighting for the British Empire. A large number of soldiers demobilized after the war returned home to suffer unemployment, deprivation, significant shortages of food, and epidemics (the 1918 global flu epidemic had taken a toll of 17 million people in India, about 5% of its population at that time). With the wounds of 1915-1916 Ghadar still fresh, the political conditions in India were greatly charged. By 1919, the situation, especially in Punjab, was highly explosive. The explosion, finally, took place at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in April 1919. After a provocative assault on an English missionary woman, Miss Marcella Sherwood, at the hands of an unruly Indian mob on a street of Amritsar on 11 April, Colonel (temporarily holding position of Brigadier-General) Reginald Dyer, the local British army commander, carried out a cold-blooded massacre of Indian protesters at Jallianwala Bagh on the fateful day of 13 April, 1919, killing 379 civilian people. He made the crowd trying to flee from indiscriminate police firing to crawl on the streets at the spot where Miss Sherwood was mobbed two days before with policemen firing straight only a foot above the ground. The crawling order remained effective for anyone wishing to cross the street on that spot for a length of 200 feet until 25 April, 1919. To quell widely spreading protests and rebellions the British army resorted to air strafing and bombings two days later at Gujranwala, killing another twelve people. Punjab and India rued these killings for a long time. Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his letter to Viceroy, renouncing his title of Knighthood, in protest, “The enormity of the measures taken by the Government in Punjab for quelling some local disturbances has, with a rude shock, revealed to our minds the helplessness of our position as British subjects in India. The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilized Governments… The accounts of insults and sufferings by our brothers in Punjab have trickled through the gagged silence, reaching every corner of India, and the universal agony of indignation roused in the hearts of our people has been ignored by our rulers…” (9).

Several cases of sedition, known as Amritsar Case and Gujranwala Case, were registered against those who were arrested during Punjab disturbances. Mohanlal and Amarnath were sentenced to death in Gujranwala Case and Muhammad Bashir was sentenced to death in Amritsar Case. Various imprisonments ranging from six years to one year were awarded to Chunni Lal, Mutiullah, Bihari Lal, Haveli Ram, Mangal Sain, Sarabdyal, Jagannath, and Labhdyal in Gujranwala Case and Harkishen Lal, Dhuni Chand, Rambhai Dutt, Allah Din and Moda Singh in the Amritsar Case (10).

Brigadier Dyer was quietly retired from the army with full benefits and pension of 900 Pounds a year. Imperialists in England, however, organized street protests showing their indignation against the treatment accorded to Dyer. They also raised a support fund of 26,000 Pounds to vindicate the honour of the poor Brigadier. Reginald Dyer died of cerebral haemorrhage after suffering multiple strokes in 1927 (11). The Morning Post (later merged in Daily Telegraph) honoured him under the title ‘The Man Who Saved India. His mentor Michael O’Dwyer, the Governor of Punjab of those days, was killed in Caxton Hall, London in March 1940 by a former Ghadar Party activist, Udham Singh, in revenge for the hated O’Dwyer’s role in Amritsar massacre. Udham Singh was hanged to death in July 1940, in London.

The large scale suppression of rebel fighters across Punjab gave rise to many other resistance movements, including Babbar Akali Jattha (Lion Akali Troops), with Kishan Singh as its leader and Naujawan Bharat Sabha of Bhagat Singh. Babbar Akali Jattha, founded in April-May 1921, carried out many violent terrorist activities in Punjab till about 1926, by which time it was crushed by the Punjab police. A young Bhagat Singh, whose father had been arrested during the Rowlatt agitation in 1919 and his uncle, Ajit Singh, had been expelled from Punjab on charges of leading an agitation against canal rates in 1907, was powerfully inspired by the Ghadar Party. Later, Bhagat Singh went to Kanpur where he came close to another group of revolutionaries who believed that only an armed struggle could bring the independence to India. This group of revolutionaries had founded the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in October 1924 at Kanpur with Sachindra Nath Sanyal as its prominent leader. Sanyal had been a leader of the Ghadar party who was arrested, sentenced, and transported to Andaman Islands (Kala Pani) together with Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna. Upon completing his jail term, Sanyal returned to Kanpur. Other prominent members of the Association were Ram Parsad Bismil, Dr. Jadugopal Mukherji, Ashfaqullah Khan, and Jogesh Chandra Chatterji. The party program called for the establishment of a ‘Federal Republic of the United States of India’. Chandar Shekhar Azad also joined HRA in Kanpur. Bhagat Singh joined the party with Chandar Shekhar Azad becaming his mentor. Ajoy Kumar Ghosh, who went on to become the Secretary General of the Communist Party of India in coming years also joined this group at this time (12).

To raise funds for the purchase of weapons and to carry out its revolutionary activities, the group carried out a train robbery of the treasury money at Kakori station in August 1925. The Kakori Train robbery was a daring act that made headlines in both Indian and British press. Soon, most of the HRA leaders including its principal organizer Ram Parsad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan were arrested. Chandar Shekhar Azad remained in hiding and together with Bhagat Singh reorganized the Association. By now both Azad and Bhagat Singh were inclined towards the newly spreading revolutionary ideology of socialism; they added the word ‘Socialist’ to party’s name to change it to ‘Hindustan Socialist Republican Association’ (HSRA) with its headquarter at Agra, where a ‘bomb factory’ was also established (13). Ram Parsad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Thakur Roshan Singh, and Rajendra Lahiri were hanged to death in December 1927. Sachindrnath Sanyal was again sentenced for life and was transported to Andaman Islands. After getting inflicted with tuberculosis, Sanyal was shifted to Gorakhpur jail where he died in 1942.

On 17 November, 1928, a well-known Indian revolutionary, Lala Lajpat Rai died as a result of head injuries during an indiscriminate Lathi (a club) charge by the police on a public demonstration led by him against the visiting Simon Commission appointed by the British Government. The leaders of HSRA decided to take its revenge by assassinating James Scott, the Superintendent of Police who had ordered the Lathi charge. Together with Chandar Shekhar Azad, Rajguru, and Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh ended up assassinating John Saunders, the Assistant Superintendent Police, on 17 December 1928, in a case of mistaken identity of James Scott. All of the assassins managed to escape after the killing. Few months later, on 8 April, 1929, Bhagat Singh threw two hand-bombs inside the Punjab Assembly hall from the visitor’s gallery while raising slogans of ‘Inqilab Zindabad! (Long Live Revolution!). The British Indian police, on this occasion, however, was successful in tracking the group’s activities. Two members of the party, Hansraj and Jay Gopal becoming approvers, key leaders of the party in Punjab, Bihar, and U.P. including Bhagat Singh were arrested. A bomb factory was also unearthed in Lahore. Bhagat Singh and his comrades were tried in Lahore in a well-publicized case (14).

While the Bhagat Singh Case was still in its final stages, Chandar Shekhar Azad was killed during a police shootout in Allahabad on 27 February 1931. During his hiding, Azad was in the Alfred Park in Allahabad (now Chandar Shekhar Park) holding a secret meeting with his comrades when he was betrayed by a colleague. Followed by the police, he let his comrades escape and defended himself from behind a large tree. Shooting from his revolver to keep police at bay, Chandar Shekhar used his last bullet to kill himself instantaneously. The people of Allahabad flocked to the park in memory of this brave man and the tree under which he gave his life became a revered object where women laid flower wreaths and offered prayers. The British administration soon completely uprooted the tree and eliminated any trace of it from the park (15).

Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, were hanged to death in Lahore Jail on 23 March 1931. His indecent cremation was followed by dousing his corpse with petrol. The old jail in Lahore where Bhagat Singh, together with his colleagues, and many other revolutionaries before him were hanged was later razed to ground in Pakistan in 1960’s and now Shadman Colony is situated in its place.

Years later, while in Multan Jail, what Hassan Abidi had said is, perhaps, more true for the Lahore Jail:

Kuch ajab boo-e nafas aati hai deewaroN se

Ha’ye zindaaN maiN bhi kya log thay hum se pehlay

(A queer fragrance wafts from these walls
What people dwelt within these prison walls before us?)


1 The formal structure of Communist International (Comintern) was dissolved in May 1943 but a Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) was again created only in September 1947 with a view to provide a channel for seeking and providing advice and guidance from the mother party in Soviet Union. Cominform continued till 1956 when this forum was also dissolved.
2 Hindustan Ghadar, 1 November, 1913.
Ghadar Movement and its Anarchist Genealogy, by Harjot Singh Oberoi, Economic & Political Weekly, Dec 12, 2009, Pg. 41.
4 Initially, the Ghadar Party headquarter was established in a rented house at 436 Hill Street, San Francisco. Subsequently, it moved to its own three-storey building at 5 Wood Street, purchased with the funds collected from members and mostly Punjabi Indian laborers. The Ghadar Party office at 5, Wood Street, San Francisco, was handed over to the Indian Consulate office when the party was formally dissolved in the USA. It is now a Ghadar Museum in a building rebuilt in 1975 by the Govt. of India and the local Indian community.
5 ‘The revolutionary of Chandni Chowk’, by R.V. Smith, Daily The Hindu, 2 August, 2004.
6 Rash Bihari Bose lived as a writer and journalist in Tokyo, married a Japanese woman and acquired Japanese citizenship in 1923. Bose was instrumental in formation of the Indian National Army and inviting Subhash Cahndar Bose to take over its leadership. Rash Bihari Bose died in Tokyo in January, 1945.
7 ‘History of the Ghadar Movement’ by Dr. Jaspal Singh.
8 Ghadar Movement and its Anarchist Genealogy, by Harjot Singh Oberoi, Economic & Political Weekly, Dec 12, 2009, Pg. 43.
9 Letter from Rabindranath Tagore to Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India, dated 31 May, 1919, as published in Monthly, Modern Review, Calcutta, July 1919.
10 ‘Passive Resistance in India’ by Lala Lajpat Rai, Monthly Young India, Vol. II, No.10, Oct 1919, pg. 230 published by Indian Home Rule League of America, 1400 Broadway, New York, N.Y.
11 Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer was born in Murree, (in today’s Pakistan). His father Edward Dyer was also an Indian born Englishman who had established the well known ‘Murree Brewery’ in Ghora Gali, near Murree. In 1940’s, the old Brewery was passed on to the Parsee family of Minoo Bhandara (brother of writer Bapsi Sidhwa) whose father had a Liquor shop at The Mall, Lahore.
12 Ajoy Kumar Ghosh, Bhagat Singh aur uskay Saathi (Bhagat Singh & His Comrades), Maktaba-e Daniyal, Karachi, 1992, Pg. 15.
13 I.D. Gaur, Martyr as Bridegroom: A Folk Presentation of Bhagat Singh, Anthem Press, New Delhi, 2008, P. 16.
14 Ibid, Pg.29.
15 Syed Sibte Hassan, in his Foreword to Ajoy Kumar Ghosh, op cit., Pg. 8.

Chapter 1 to be continued...

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5 Responses to “A History of the Left in Pakistan – 3”

  1. Vikram Says:

    The left has been unsuccessful not only in Pakistan, but in nearly all Muslim countries. An extremely striking example here is Bangladesh, despite the strong Left tradition in Bengal, and the fact that Left parties were very strong in West Bengal, the Left has all but disappeared from overwhelmingly Muslim Bangladesh.


    I think it only really succeeded in Eastern Europe and some East Asian countries, which had a strong tradition of centralized rule. Even the core Christian areas and countries rejected it.

    So it would be interesting to more generally reflect on the failure of popular Leftist politics in Abrahamic societies, rather than look for contingent factors in Pakistan.

    • Kamran Says:

      Vikram, this could be an interesting aspect to look at and further investigate but my immediate feelings are as follows:

      1. The all-round collapse of communist and Left movement after the liquidation of Soviet Union and the fall of Berlin Wall cuts across all regions and societies in Americas, Europe, East and South Asia regardless of their religious or cultural background. Barring a significantly modified form as crafted in China, all other Southeast Asian countries have also rejected it. Survival of the Communist label of governments in West Bengal and Kerala to me seems to be in name only.
      2. The strong Left tradition of Bengal even in its heydays was in large measure limited to the then West Bengal rather than having some strong roots planted in areas forming today’s Bangladesh or for that matter today’s Pakistan.
      3. My endeavour here has been to identify precisely those factors and reasons which contributed to the failure of attempts at planting these roots and nurturing the seedlings of Left revolutionary movement in areas later forming Pakistan in spite of all those common traditions of joint struggle.
      4. To me the question is not that the Left movement eventually failed in Pakistan. The real question is why it failed even at a time when the Socialist ideas were still in ascendancy and fairly popular much before the global collapse of the international communist movement.
      4. Collision with the religious narrative of the Pakistan movement is of course one obvious factor. But that also was, perhaps, more an outcome of a certain set of policies adopted by the CPP rather than some inherent conflict. To my understanding there is more to it than the factor of religion alone.

  2. Anjum Altaf Says:

    Kamran: You mention that “The party headquarter, Yugantar Ashram, was established in San Francisco, California.”

    I wonder if there is any connection with the Jugantar Party in Bengal. There is an intriguing article in the most recent New York Review of Books about the Easter Uprising in Ireland but it begins with an echo in Bengal:

    “On April 18, 1930, sixty-four militants from the Jugantar party in Bengal seized buildings in the eastern port city of Chittagong. They captured weapons at the police armory. They cut off telegraph communications and derailed a train. They controlled Chittagong for four days until they were routed with heavy casualties by reinforcements from the British army’s occupying forces. The survivors fled to the forests. The leader of the uprising, Surjya Sen, held out until 1933, when he was captured. He was hanged in 1934, becoming a martyr to the cause of Indian independence.

    The Chittagong armory raid, as it is generally called, had some peculiar features. The rebels were not Christians but their attempted uprising was very self-consciously staged at Easter. They called themselves the Indian Republican Army: IRA for short. And they envisaged their action as an imaginative, rather than a merely military, intervention, aimed not just at the British authorities but at mainstream, nonviolent Indian nationalism. “They thought,” wrote one of the revolutionaries, “their short but heroic legend would be blazoned forth all over the land and inspire new generations to fight for the freedom of their motherland.” Chittagong’s Easter Rising was, in other words, not merely inspired by the one in Dublin fourteen years earlier. It was a direct attempt to emulate it. The mythology of the original Easter Rising had taken root in Bengal.

    A revolutionary leaflet of 1929, “The Youths of Bengal,” urged Bengalis to emulate the martyrdom of the teacher and poet Patrick Pearse, who was court-martialed and executed by a firing squad in 1916. The pamphlet argued that “Pearse died and by so dying he roused in the heart of the nation an indomitable desire for armed revolution. Who will deny this truth?” The Indian Republican Army was modeled on the Irish Republican Army. My Fight for Irish Freedom, a racy memoir by Dan Breen, who renewed the IRA’s guerrilla war on the British administration in 1919, was translated into Hindi, Punjabi, and Tamil (and banned in all three languages as well as in English). The district magistrate in Chittagong called Breen’s account “a text book for the revolutionaries of India.”


    Just reconfirms all the incredible connections of that period that we find so hard to imagine these days!

  3. Kamran Says:

    Anjum, you are right. Yes, there was a connection, though not direct.Bengal’s Jugantar party was an echo of the Ghadar Party, which was also known as Jugantar Party in USA, hence its headquarter name was ‘Jugantar Ashram’. Bengal’s Jugantar Party was part of a chain of organisations of Hindustan Republican Association founded in Punjab, UP, and Bengal by revolutionaries directly inspired by the Ghadar Party as already discussed above. Few of the Ghadar Party leaders like Barkatullah had close contacts with IRA activists operating in New York. It is partly covered in subsequent parts of chapter-1 to be continued here. Chittagong Armoury raid and its control taken over by revolutionaries for some time was also part of the aftershocks of the Second Ghadar rebellion.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Kamran: I thought the subtitle of the NYRB article was on the mark for such movements: “Powerful and Useless”. The author illustrates it well with the description of the Irish Easter Uprisng and the parallels with the Ghadar rebellion are striking.

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