Posts Tagged ‘Ghadar Party’

A History of the Left in Pakistan – 5

September 26, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter One: The Roots of Revolution (Continued)

III. The Jihad Movement

Almost simultaneous to these events but, apparently independent of them, some other developments were taking place in India.

By early 1900s, the international situation in Europe and the Middle East was getting tense, especially for Indian Muslims. Their anxiety was increasing with the successive bad news coming from the borders of the then vast Muslim Turkish Empire. While the British Empire was in ascendancy in late 1800s and early 1900s, the Turkish Empire was disintegrating bit by bit. Much of its possessions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia had already been broken away or annexed by other empires in the previous century.

Italy had landed its army at Tripoli (in today’s Libya) in 1911, initiating the first War of Tripoli between Turkey and Italy. The Italian invasion of Tripoli was soon followed by the start of Balkan Wars in October 1912. Britain fully supported these European incursions into the areas of Turkish Empire. These invasions and gradual encirclement of the Turkey, the last bastion of the so-called Muslim Khilafat, caused great unrest in the Indian Muslims. Dr Mohammad Iqbal, Shibli Naumani, Abul Kalam Azad, and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan in Punjab wrote fiery articles and poems in support of the Turkish Muslims. Iqbal read his well-known poem Shikwa in a rally outside Mochi Darwaza in Lahore in 1913. Shibli Naumani read his Sheher-Aashoob-e-Islam at Qaisar Bagh in Lukhnow (20). Prominent newspapers like Comrade of Maulana Muhammad Ali, Al Hilal of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Zamindar of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan created among Indian Muslims a great fervor and a longing for going out and participating in the action in support of Turks against flagrant and unjust European invasions.

Apart from their religious affinities, the Indian Muslims also shared a particularly strong bond and heightened feelings of a common cause with Turks because of their own sense of deprivation of empire in 1857 and British occupation in India. To raise support for Turkey, Indian Muslim’s religious sentiments were whipped up. Weekly Friday sermons in the mosques in every town of India exhorted Muslims to help the Turks by every means, including generously contributing in Turkish Support Funds and physically going to the war front and participating in the holy war against aggressors. Indian Muslims contributed in the Balkan War Fund in a big way, women donating their entire jewellery and dowries.

A Medical Mission, under Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari was sent to Turkey as a gesture of goodwill and for treating the wounded soldiers. The fervour for support of Turkey was so high that, according to Syed Suleman Nadvi’s account, Maulana Shibli Naumani, an eminent and highly respected Muslim scholar, was present at the Lukhnow Railway Station to personally see off the delegation. At the last moment, overwhelmed by his emotions, Shibli moved forward and with tears rolling down his cheeks he kissed the feet of Dr. Mukhtar Ansari that would tread the revered Turkish land. This evidently signifies the highly emotional state of mind of the Indian Muslims at that time.

By October 1914, Turkey declared joining the war against Britain as an ally of Germany and Austria. Turkish Sultan Muhammad V, in his exalted position of Khalifa (Caliph) of all Muslims, issued a religious edict (Fatwa) declaring it mandatory for all Muslims of the world to participate in the war against Britain and its allies. In India, a Jamat-e-Mujahidin was revived following the tradition of the failed Jihad of Syed Ahmed Barailvi in early 1830s, but this time the Jihad war was to be fought against a foreign power, the Great Britain. Many students left their education and homes to join the Turkish war. A common tarana of the Muslim youth of that time was:

Lutf marnay ka agar chahyay tau chal Balqan chal
Woh bhi kiya marna keh fitrat khud tujhay day day jawab

[Should you wish to die with some joy, let’s go to Balkan
Dying naturally in a slow death is not worth living]

A Pledge on Ravi

On a cold misty evening, when the night was falling in Lahore on 16 January 1915, a group of students from few modern colleges in Lahore secretly met to discuss an idea. They gathered on board in a boat on Ravi River, lest they could be overheard by police informers. This was the time when preparation of the second Ghadar was secretly underway in Punjab. These young men decided and each took an oath to perform the sacred act of Hijrat (migration) to Turkey via Afghanistan for taking part in Jihad. These students included Khushi Muhammad, Rehmat Ali Zakaria, Abdul Majeed, and Shujaullah from the King Edward Medical College, Muhammad Hassan Yaqub from Islamia College, Abdul Bary, Sheikh Abdul Qadir, Abdul Majeed Khan, Sheikh Abdul Rashid, Zafar Hassan Aibak, and Allah Nawaz Khan from the Government College, and Abdul Khaliq from the Aitchison College of Lahore (21). The travel and crossing of the Afghan border arrangements were made in secret with the help of Maulvi Fazal Ilahi and Maulvi Bashir of the Jamat-e-Mujahidin. The first batch of these students under the leadership of Khushi Muhammad left Lahore on 5 February, 1915 for Haripur as their first stop. To keep their movements inconspicuous, the other group followed the next day. At Haripur, they stayed overnight with Abdul Rahim, the railway Station Master, changed their attire to common Pukhtun dress and Peshawari Chappals. The students left British territory by crossing the Indus River from a then small princely state of Amb, in the Hazara district, south of Swat valley in present day Pakistan, to enter the independent tribal area between British India and Afghanistan. Staying at some rag tag isolated camps of Jamat Mujahidin at Asmas and Chamarkand in the Pukhtun Tribal Area, these students, swinging in the spirit of Jihad, entered Afghanistan arriving in Jalalabad on 29 March 1915. Here they met with their first rude shock when they were swiftly detained under the orders of a senior Afghan official visiting Jalalabad from Kabul.

They detained students were taken to Kabul after over two weeks in confinement with little food and no facilities. One of the students, Abdul Majeed Khan had fallen sick, running high fever. But, the students were put on mules with their hands tied and were carried to Kabul. Arriving in Kabul around 13 April they were again put into confinement. The health of Abdul Majeed Khan deteriorated and he died in confinement on the night of 19 April in Kabul. Abdul Majeed was the only son of his young widowed mother in Lahore, who that night must be still waiting for his son who had one day quietly disappeared never to return home. Zafar Hassan Aibak, the other detainee from the Government College, says in his autobiography that the detainees were shifted to another ‘house’ in Kabul with scant facilities in June 1915 and there was no hope for their release. Apparently, no one in Kabul was bothered about these ill-fated young men from Lahore.

Jihad in the Making

At that time another effort to raise an army and organize a ‘Jihad’ to liberate India from the British colonial rule was underway elsewhere. Following in the footsteps of the first ‘Jihad’ undertaken by Syed Ahmed Barailvi in 1830s, some of his radical successors in the Darul Uloom at Deoband, near Saharanpur, U.P. planned to raise a Muslim army with the help of Muslim rulers of Turkey and Afghanistan. This army was to carry out a Jihad for both defending the embattled Turkey and liberating India against the British Empire. Maulana Mahmudul Hassan, the principal of Darul Uloom together with Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi and few of his deciples left for Hijaz, still a Turkish province, and reached Kabul in October 1915 (22). Obaidullah Sindhi, originally born in Sialkot, was a convert from Sikh religion, graduated from Darul Uloom, Deoband, and an energetic student of Maulana Mahmudul Hassan. He went to live in Sukkur and established a religious school at Amrot, and later at Pir Jhanda, in Sindh (hence later known as ‘Sindhi’). He and Maulana Mahmudul Hassan were quietly working for the cause of independence (23).

In Kabul they met with Afghan leaders and religious Ulema, many of whom had been students in Deoband. Presenting them the plan for building a volunteer army in Kabul and invading India to liberate it and set up an Islamic government with an Afghan prince on the throne, the Indian Ulema won support of some key members of the royal family, including Sardar Nasrullah Khan, the Amir’s brother and Prince Inayatullah and Prince Amanullah, the two sons of Amir Habibullah Khan (24). Maulana Mahmudul Hassan proceeded to Hijaz for enlisting support of the Turkish government and the Sharif of Mecca. Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi stayed back in Kabul to ensure further cementing the support from Habibullah Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the joint delegation of Berlin Committee-Ghadar Party also arrived in Kabul from Istanbul and joined hands with Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi. The Turkish diplomat Kazim Bey and German diplomats Dr Von Hanting and Oskar von Niedermayer in Kabul lent their support to the delegation. Getting to know about the plight of imprisoned Indian students from Lahore, the Indian ledaers had them released after about eight months of confinement.

Finally, with the support of the Amir of Afghanistan, a ‘Provisional Government of India’ was established in Kabul on 18 December 1915. Raja Mahindra Partap Singh was appointed as the President and Maulvi Barkatullah as the Prime Minister, Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi as Interior Minister, Maulvi Bashir of Jamat Mujahidin as War Minister, C.R. Pillai as Foreign Minister. Khushi Mohammad, Rehmat Zakaria, Allah Nawaz Khan, Zafar Hassan Aibak, and Abdul Bari from the Lahore students group were also given official responsibilities in the provisional government. Turkish and German government officials acted as advisors to the newly formed ‘Provisional Government of India’ (25).

Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and Reshmi Rumal

In Hijaz, Mahmudul Hassan had succeeded in obtaining personal letters of support from Ghalib Pasha, the Turkish Governor of Hijaz province that was then included, together with other territory of present day Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq as part of Turkish empire. It was also proposed that a Muslims’ army will be raised by Maulana Mahmudul Hassan under his command from Arabia and Turkey, with headquarter at Medina. The Turkish Fatwas and Ghalib Pasha letters called for a general Jihad against the British and exhorted all Muslims to join the war efforts. Copies of Ghalib Pasha Letters were sent by Mahmudul Hassan by hand with Mohammad Mian Ansari to Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi in Kabul for further building upon it. Copies of these Jihad letters, later more commonly known as ‘Ghalib Nama’, were distributed secretly in Muslim lands.

After establishing the Provisional Government and armed with the supporting measures from Germany and Turkey, it was decided to send diplomatic missions to Russia, Iran, and Japan approaching them for support on the assumption that they would be inclined to support an Indian liberation effort against Britain. The Germans, who were abetting the Indian Provisional Government against Britain, did not think it was opportune time for approaching Russia for the support, however, Raja Mahindra Partap did not agree with the German ambassador and expecting Russian support he relied mainly on the age old rivalry between Russia and Britain in their ‘Great Game’ for expanding into Asia and controlling India.

The Provisional Govt delegation to Russia included Mahindra Partap, Maulvi Barkatullah, Dr Mathra Singh, and the Lahore student Khushi Mohammed. The delegation carried a letter addressed to Czar written on a ‘Golden Plate’. But the Indian delegation was stopped at Tashkent and was prevented from going further. The Czarist governor received the ‘Golden Letter’ with a promise to send it to the Czar in Moscow. The delegation was made to cool their heels at Tashkent for the reply. Weeks passed by but no reply was forthcoming. Eventually the failed mission was sent back to Kabul in Feb 1916.

Obaidullah Sindhi prepared a detailed report written on a large piece of Reshmi Rumal (silk cloth) in his own hand and it was secretly sent to Sheikh Abdul Rahim in Hyderabad, Sindh for arranging to send, or personally carry it, to Maulana Mahmudul Hassan in Hijaz under the cover of Hajj pilgrimage. The courier selected for the job of carrying the Silk Letter from Kabul to Hyderabad was Abdul Haq, a trusted man of the Lahore student Allah Nawaz. Abdul Haq, later suspected to be on the roll of British secret police, instead of going to Hyderabad, went to Allah Nawaz’s father, Khan Bahadur Rab Nawaz Khan in Multan, who happened to be a loyal subject of the British government. In spite of his own son being involved, Rab Nawaz promptly informed the British police and the famous Reshmi Rumal eventually reached in the hands of Michael O’Dwyer, the British Governor in Punjab.

The Indian Provisional Govt’s second Mission headed towards Japan via Russia included Dr Mathra Singh and a Lahore student Abdul Qadir. Armed with prior information of their movement leaked from Kabul, Russians arrested and handed them over to the British who transported them back to India. Dr Mathra Singh who was already sentenced to death in a Ghadar Party trial in Lahore was immediately hanged. Abdul Qadir was placed in confinement, where he soon died, probably succumbing to excessive torture. The third delegation comprising of two students Abdul Bary and Shujaullah heading for Iran also met the same fate. They were arrested at Mashhad in Iran, tortured, and sent back to India to face long terms in jail. The arrests of these delegation members and the hanging of Dr Mathra were, however, kept secret to keep the provisional government in Kabul in the dark and to keep tracking their movements (26). Amir Habibullah was playing a double game and was waiting to see which side was winning in the First World War. He kept promising the Indian provisional government that he would declare war on India as soon as the German and Turkish forces reach near Afghanistan in their march to victory, but on the other hand, he was busy negotiating with the British officials for additional favours, using the Indian revolutionaries under his control as the bargaining chip.

Initially, Germany was scoring quick victories on the western front and did not expect a major threat from a weakened Russia from the east. Turkish army was also scoring initial successes against Britain greatly raising hopes for its final victory in the war. But Russia, in alliance with France, quickly built up its massive army and attacked Germany opening the eastern front. Meanwhile, Amir Habibullah Khan had quietly informed the British agents about the Indian delegation to Russia. This was meant to put increased pressure on the British Indian government in his negotiations for more favours and higher ‘subsidies’. Ironically, on the other hand the Russian Czar was also playing similar double game. Using the Golden Letter as a bargaining chip, he provided its copy to the British ambassador.

British Counter Moves

Greatly alarmed at the disturbing intelligence reports arriving from Moscow, Berlin, Kabul, and Hijaz, the British government took several counter measures to block the anti-British revolutionary activities. In Hijaz, it lured Sharif of Mecca and his sons to rise in rebellion against Turkey and snub the Indian Muslim leaders’ delegation under Maulana Mahmudul Hassan. Sharif Hussain of Mecca helped arresting Maulana Mahmudul Hassan and Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, in Mecca and handed them over to the British police. Maulana Mahmudul Hassan and others were confined, initially at Cairo, and later, at Malta, earning him the title of Aseer-e-Malta (the Prisoner of Malta), in addition to him being declared by his Muslim followers in India the Sheikhul Hind (Leader of India). In Kabul, the British Govt promptly increased Afghan budget ‘subsidies’. The British Indian government was providing Rs.1.8 million ‘subsidy’ to the Afghan government, most of which was spent on Amir’s extravagance and personal harem of over 100 women. Some spoils were distributed among other members of royal family and key tribal leaders. The Afghan people were living in utter poverty, in mud houses, without any civic amenities, roads, schools or hospitals.

Taking the French Govt into confidence, the British government immediately sent a high powered joint delegation to Moscow and entered into the well-known agreement with Russia in May 1916 that is known as Sykes-Picot Agreement. In return for its full support, the agreement promised Russia attractive terms and some adjoining Turkish lands as part of a larger deal for distribution of Turkish Empire among Britain, France and Russia after the defeat of Turkey in the Great War.

After having successfully neutralized Amir of Afghanistan by bribing him and blocking the potential support of the Russian Czar for the Indian provisional government, the British Indian administration came down heavily on the revolutionaries in India and abroad. Widespread arrests were made. The Reshmi Rumal Conspiracy together with the ‘Golden Letter’, and the Ghalib Nama was brought to public in Aug 1916.

The Indian provisional government sent several wireless messages to the Berlin Committee and the German and Turkish governments vainly hoping for them to advance their forces via Afghanistan but Germans were too bogged down in Europe to pay attention to these out of tune desperate messages from a few ‘stirred up’ Indian revolutionaries in Kabul. Because of the conspiracy cases based on Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and the Reshmi Rumal instituted in India being given wide publicity, Obaidullah Sindhi faced a difficult situation. Together with the Lahore students, he was also confined in Kabul and, later, shifted to a camp at Jabalul Siraj, about 75 Km north of Kabul. Two Indian teachers employed with Habibia School (established for the children of Afghan elite) in Kabul, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri (a Cambridge University graduate and elder brother of Mian Mahmud Ali Qasuri, a well-known NAP leader during 1960s and 1970s and former law minister during Bhutto, and an uncle of Khurshid Ali Qasuri, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan (2002-2007) during General Pervez Musharraf’s reign), and Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim who were sympathetic to the cause of Indian independence and were popular among Mujahidin, were also expelled from Kabul in June 1916 (27). Both went to the Jamat-e Mujahidin base camp at Chamarkand in Bajaur Tribal Area between Afghanistan and British India. Maulvi Bashir of Jamat-e Mujahidin and the War Minister of the provisional government also returned to the base camp. Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore Government College and Mohammad Hassan Yaqub of Islamia College and few other students also moved with Maulvi Bashir to the Mujahidin base camp.

Sheikh Ibrahim, together with two Lahore students, went to Russian Turkistan via Badakhshan but all of them were reportedly killed by the British agents on their way and no trace of them was ever found. After spending few more years in trying to organize Mujahidin activities in the Tribal Area, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri managed to return to India in July 1918 and was pardoned due to influential contacts he and his family had with Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayum and Sir George Roos-Keppel, the Chief Commissioner of NWFP (28). Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, having married and settled down, entered into business and continued to provide financial support to the Mujahidin. He died in Lahore in 1956 (29).

At the Tribal Area base camp, the Amir of Jamat-e Mujahidin was Maulvi Naimatullah who was a highly eccentric, morally and financially corrupt, and autocratic person, ruling as Amirul Momineen over his personal fiefdom at the Mujahidin base camp (30). It later transpired that the the Amir of Jamat-e Mujahidin, Maulvi Naimatullah had, in fact, enetered into a secret deal with the British in exchange of a piece of land and a small pension but Amir could not openly follow his pro-Bitish course in the wake of unrest in India (31). One day, probably after getting frustrated with his own impossible situation and intolerable idiosyncrasies of Maulvi Naimatullah, Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore, in a fit of anger, spontaneously killed the Maulvi. The personal guards of slain Maulvi Naimatullah instantly killed Abdul Rashid in vengeance by throwing him alive in a burning oven (32). Mohammad Hassan Yaqub, however, continued to stay with the remaining Mujahidin at the Chamarkand camp, which was now under Maulvi Fazal Ilahi from Wazirabad. Yaqub Hassan never returned to Lahore and probably died somewhere in or around the Chamarkand camp.

In Kabul, Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah were, however, not arrested as their continued presence there was a useful bargaining chip for Amir Habibullah Khan. But, by now realizing its extremely difficult position, owing to the duplicity of Amir Habibullah, the provisional government had considerably scaled down its activities. Obaidullah Sindhi was finally released from confinement after about a year with the help of Afghan General Nadir Khan (he later overthrew the next Amir Amanullah Khan and occupied the Afghan throne as King Nadir Shah) (33). Nadir Khan held Obaidullah Sindhi in high regard. But the release order from Amir Habibullah was obtained only after detainees filing a mercy petition and admission of their mistakes.

By now, totally frustrated with the false hopes of support from the Amir of Afghanistan, the Indian revolutionaries in Kabul started making attempts to approach Russia where Soviet Revolution under V.I. Lenin had already shaken the world. Lenin had publically rescinded all secret treaties and pacts signed by Czarist Russia with the imperialist powers and made public all secret agreements, including Sykes-Picot Agreement, that the Imperialist powers together with Russia had signed to share the spoils of war. He had declared full support to the national liberation efforts and the wars of independence of all colonial people in the East. Soviet Russia was the first to recognize the national government of Mustafa Kamal in Turkey that was battling against the invading Imperialist armies in their attempt to dismember and divide parts of Turkey among themselves. Rehmat Ali Zakaria and one another Lahore student were the first to escape from Jabalul Siraj camp in Nov 1917. Crossing over Russian border, they reached Tashkent in early 1918. Raja Mahindra Partap Singh visited Russia in March 1918 on his way to Berlin and had a meeting with Trotsky. But he couldn’t get some meaningful support (34) as Bolsheviks were then engaged in a bitter struggle for survival against invasion of an international coalition of forces trying to uproot the first socialist revolution in Russia.

By 1917, the tide in the First World War had started clearly turning against Germany and its allies. No meaningful diplomatic or material support was coming to the Indian Provisional Government in Kabul any longer. In the face of imminent defeat of an exhausted Germany, the Berlin Committee members were looking for support towards socialist leaders of some neutral European countries like Switzerland and Sweden. Berlin Committee members arrived in Stockholm, practically relocating the activities of the Committee. Chattopadhya, Har Dayal and others attended the International Socialist Conference held in Stockholm in May 1917, raising the issue of the Indian independence at the conference. Here they met Russian Bolshevik leader Torinvsky.

With the increasingly adverse reports for Turkey and Germany coming from war fronts and of victories of the British and allied forces, the support of the Afghan government to the ‘provisional government’ also cooled off till it was completely withdrawn in 1919. The Berlin Committee was formally dissolved in November 1918 after the defeat of Germany in the First World War, with all its active members having been moved to Stockholm. After Turkey signed the armistice, the Khairi brothers also left for Moscow via Berlin. They were probably the first among Indians arriving in Soviet Union on 16 November, 1918. They were accorded a warm welcome as representatives of the Indian freedom fighters by the Soviet authorities and were met by V.I. Lenin on 23 November. They also addressed many public meetings and international forums. After the Berlin Committee’s formal liquidation, its members contacted Torinvsky and other Russian revolutionaries they had met at Stockholm. Eventually, Viren Chattopadhya, together with 12 of his colleagues including, Agnes Smedley, Bhupendra Nath Dutta, Ghulam Nabi Anbia Lohani, C.R. Pillai, Nalini Gupta, and Shafiq Ahmed reached Petrograd, sometime in March, 1921. These Indian revolutionaries initially worked with the Russian Propaganda and Publication Centre in Petrograd. Later, they moved to Tashkent meeting M.N. Roy to work for the Military & Political training school established by the Communist International. The Berlin Committee revolutionaries were essentially Indian nationalists and were not keen on joining the communist party, which was formed on Roy’s initiative without consultation and taking any of the Berlin Committee revolutionaries in confidence. They were particularly irked by M.N. Roy’s style of work and his handling of the issues relating to Indian revolutionary struggle. For a while, the Russians tried to intervene and bridge the differences between Roy and the Berlin Committee group but the gulf widened. Eventually, a disappointed Viren Chattopadya and his colleagues left for Germany towards the end of September, 1921.

Lala Har Dayal stayed back in Sweden and lived there for about 10 years. After all his years with secular and progressive Ghadar Party and the Berlin Committee group, Har Dayal seems to have gone on a tangent during his stay in Sweden. He was soaked into a kind of fundamentalist Hindu religious political philosophy. He wrote many articles against Muslims in India, reflecting the extremist aggressive Hinduvta ideology of Savarkar’s Hindu Mahasabha. He died in Philadelphia, U.S.A. in 1939.

Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated in Feb 1919, near Jalalabad and his son Amanullah Khan took over after some resistance from his uncle Sardar Nasrullah Khan. For a while, situation again turned favorable for the Indian revolutionaries. Obaidullah Sindhi was restored and he became a close advisor to the new Amir Amanullah Khan. Other office holders of the Indian Provisional Government including Mahindra Partap, Maulvi Barkatullah, M.P.T. Acharya, and Abdul Rab were also given due respect by the new Amir. Amanullah Khan sent Maulvi Barkatullah as his special envoy to Moscow for negotiating a friendship treaty on behalf of the Afghan government. The visit proved very successful and the relations between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan considerably warmed up. Maulvi Barkatullah left Kabul in March 1919 for Tashkent and proceeded to Moscow in May 1919. Mahindra Partap Singh, M.P.T. Acharya, Abdul Rab and others also reached Moscow but they never returned to Kabul.

With the departure of Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah and others from Kabul, the Provisional Government of India was now almost solely entrusted to Obaidullah Sindhi and some of the Lahore students, including Zafar Hassan Aibak, Allah Nawaz Khan, and Mohammad Ali. They tried to infuse a new life in this all but dead government. However, under severe pressure from Britain, the Provisional Government was made totally restricted after conclusion of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in August 1919.

Hijrat Movement Begins

Ironically, at this time when Indian nationalist revolutionaries in Kabul were being expelled or leaving in disgust, and the Turks, now led by Mustafa Kamal, were taking measures to wrest all political and secular powers from the institution of Caliphate in Turkey, the Indian Muslim Ulema, quite senselessly, were working to develop a highly emotional and explosive situation for Muslims in India.

As part of the general unrest during Khilafat Movement enthusiastically joined by the Congress’ Civil Disobedience Movement led by Gandhi, the Muslim Urdu press created a sensational and emotionally charged atmosphere among Indian Muslims for performing Hijrat (migration) from British India. While some of the leading Muslim Ulema were clearly against it, many other prominent Ulema of mainly Deobandi school together with a large number of low level prayer leaders in the mosques declared India as Darul Harb (an abode of war; a place where Muslims must either wage a war or migrate from) and encouraged Muslims to leave India for a Darul Islam (an abode of peace; an independent Islamic country) in Afghanistan and fight for the restoration of old glory of the Muslim Caliphate. Newly installed King Amanullah Khan in Afghanistan also gave this frenzy a great impetus by issuing a Royal Firman (edict) that the Indian Muhajirs will be welcomed in Afghanistan and will be provided with full support including land and re-settlement loans. Amanullah was clearly indulging in his dream of a greater Afghan empire comprising of Central Asia and parts of British India, including fertile lands up to the river Indus (the NWFP and parts of northern Punjab provinces of the British India). Amanullah Khan had also envisaged to enlist a regular army from young Muhajirs of good families (Khanzadas) after their military training at camps in Jabalul Siraj and Katghan. The Indian Muhajir army was, however, supposed to be a volunteer corps not entitled for pay.

Many prominent Muslim Ulema and religious leaders supported the call for Hijrat (migration) and Jihad (holy war) (35). Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had also given his full support to the call for Hijrat (36). On the other hand, some equally prominent Ulema had clearly opposed the idea of Hijrat and Jihad (37). Even, Maulana Mahmudul Hassan, who had already returned from his confinement in Malta, opposed the idea of Hijrat to Afghanistan but the emotional appeal of the fiery clerics and calmour of Urdu press proved too potent. The most prominent Muslim cleric of the time, Abdul Bari of Farangi Mahal, Lukhnow, was also personally opposed to the declaration of India as Darul Harb, but his rather academic response to a question from Maulana Aziz Amritsari explaining permissible conditions for performing Hijrat and Jihad was conveniently used to construe his support for the cause (38). Although, Maulana Abdul Bari subsequently issued clarification and denied supporting the Hijrat and Jihad but it was too late and the clarification and denial couldn’t reverse the tide. It’s, indeed, a moot point whether those Ulema and nationalist leaders who supported the call for Jihad did all this deliberately to mislead people, knowing full well the implications of the situation abroad, or they did it, albeit foolishly, but in good faith? Probably, it was more of the latter than the former.

Apparently, not having a clue of the real international situation and the alignment of forces and their respective strengths, some pious and well-meaning sentimental Muslims, unwittingly, had fallen prey to the deceptive situation. They started undertaking migration to neighboring Afghanistan. Initially, a slow trickle of Muslims migrating to Afghanistan, it gained strength and, soon, turned into a significant movement.

Muslims sold or gave away their houses, shops, chattels, and personal belongings and undertook en-mass Hijrat (migration) to Afghanistan and Turkish lands. Barrister Jan Mohammad Junejo organized a special train of Muhajirs from Sindh to Peshawar. This was the second major Hijrat movement of Indian Muslims after Syed Ahmed Barailvi’s first Hijrat movement in early 1830’s. Starting in May 1920, enthusiastic Indian Muslims left for Afghanistan without even bothering to find out how and where they would be staying in their adopted country. As if in a trance, they believed in a hazy dream of an ideal Muslim state that was supposed to be waiting, with open arms, to welcome them. Young and old, people from NWFP, Punjab, Sindh, UP, and Bihar together with their women and children were heading for the Afghan border in the NWFP, in droves by trains, oxen carts, Tongas (horse-driven carts), and on foot. But most (about 85%) of the Muhajirs were Pathan tribesmen from Peshawar valley and the adjoining areas.

The migration started with only a few. Initially, a few scores arrived in Peshawar, it being the first camp on their way. Then it soon grew into a sizable movement. Amir Amanullah Khan also, perhaps unwittingly, lent impetus to the movement by issuing a thoughtless statement that ‘the whole country of Afghanistan would welcome Indian Muhajirs’. Probably, it was, for him, intended more to score a few rosy points in his vain attempt at projecting himself as a ‘leader of the Muslim world’ than to expect a real migration in significant numbers. Certainly, he had underestimated the zeal of some pious Indian Muslims. As Gail Miault remarked, “[s]oon the Khyber Pass was clogged with caravans of bullock carts, camels, and people afoot, carrying their few worldly belongings toward the promised land” (39).

Although, the Hijrat Movement started under the influence of religious leaders of Deoband, it grew rapidly without a central leadership or guidance. It was a spontaneous movement. Thousands of people left their homes and hearths and reached Peshawar to cross the border. In all, from 20,000 to 50,000 Indian Muslims, as per varying estimates by British Government agencies operating in NWFP at the time, crossed over the Afghan border during May-Sep 1920 (40), and about 300 of them eventually crossed into Turkistan to reach Turkey for Jihad (41). Notables of Peshawar made camping arrangements for Muhajirs in the Namak Mandi of Peshawar. Volunteers of ‘Hijrat Committee’ distributed free food and water among Muhajirs. The British government didn’t stop anyone from crossing the border but officials kept a close eye on the movement of people.

A Dream Turns Sour

Initially, the Muhajirs were temporarily provided with some shelter by the Afghan Government but, soon, their number arriving in every week was beyond the limited capacity of the Afghan government. A panicked Amir Amanullah Khan tried to stem the tide and urged Obaidullah Sindhi and the Ulema in India to stop people undertaking Hijrat in such large numbers. The limited Afghan border forces even tried to stop ingress by poiting bayonets towards the onslaught of faithfuls but the momentum was too great for them to resist in any meaningful way. The movement was without a central leadership. It was no longer possible to put a lid on it. Intoxicated with a dream of Pan-Islamism and living in a free Muslim country and holy Jihad, the Indian Muhajirs were entering into Afghanistan in droves with calls of Allah-o-Akbar on their lips. But, a somewhat different reality slowly dawned upon them. Travelling and walking across highly rugged terrain of Afghanistan with little modern built infrastructure, the environment was particularly harsh and inhospitable, especially for those non-Pukhtun Muhajirs who had never seen this part of the world. Few Afghans they met on their way were visibly poor and illiterate, living in most primitive and savage conditions. Most of the Muhajirs camped in open fields near Jalalabad under open sky. The spirits were still running high but following nights unfolded a new bitter reality for many. The hapless Indian Muhajirs camped in open fields on occasions proved to be sitting ducks before birds of prey. At places, armed bands of local tribesmen started robbing the bewildered Muhajirs, and abducting their young women. ‘Tribesmen fell upon the stream of migrants, looting their possessions and rustling their livestock. Others were felled by hunger, thirst, and heat’ (42). While situation was rapidly deteriorating in the Muhajirs’ camps, more groups of enthusiastic Muhajirs were joining in. The initial shock and a sense of shame and humiliation prevented many of these Muhajirs to quickly retrace their steps and return to their homeland.

Unfamiliar with the rough terrain, many Muhajirs took flight to whichever direction they could find an escape from this calamity. Many perished in their endeavors for finding a safe way back home. ‘A large number of returning Muhajirin perished through exhaustion or disese. The road from the Frontier to Kabul was dotted with Muhajirin graves… According to eye-witnesses, the Khaiber Pass was littered with corpses.’ (43). Those who managed to reach Kabul were put under restrictions in special camps in Jabalul Siraj. It took a few months before the news of the plight of the Muhajirs in Afghanistan started reaching back home and the flow of the new groups slowed down, eventually stopping it in large measure by Sep 1920. The Hijrat Movement grew rapidly like a balloon and was deflated as quickly in a few months.

Its weaknesses and total lack of planning notwithstanding, it was an enormous human tragedy, which, usually, does not even find a brief mention in our history books. The religious leaders, surely, had no clue of the implications of what they were exhorting to equally uninformed people, to undertake. It was not a forced Hijrat undertaken under some compulsion. It was, on the contrary, a deliberate and voluntary action undertaken without any homework and prior thought process. But as Gail Minault observed, ‘[t]he eruption of this movement showed the strength of religious feeling among rural Muslims and the energy that could be released by tapping it.’ (44). This movement, in a strange way, however, played an important role for the future course of events. Many of the more ambitious and determined people from these Muhajirs persisted in their efforts and moved forward in spite of the difficulties.

But this great human tragedy was used by the Afghan Government as a bargaining chip in its rounds of negotiations with the British Government at Missouri and Kabul, following the Third Afghan War. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, the Afghan foreign minister and father-in-law of Amir Amanullah Khan managed to obtain from Obaidullah Sindhi a few confidential letters addressed to notable Muslim leaders of India, including Mohammad Ali Jauhar, and Dr M.A. Ansari asking them to incite Muslims to rise in revolt against the British Indian government. Sardar Tarzi made Obaidullah Sindhi believe that these letters will only be used in the event the British government did not agree to meet Afghanistan’s just demand for acknowledging it as a truly independent sovereign country and agreeing to a home rule in India. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, however, without even raising the issue of home rule in India, showed Maulana Sindhi’s letters to his British counterparts, with a view to push them for obtaining maximum concessions for himself and Amanullah Khan. The British conceded many Afghan demands but, in return, upon information provided by the Afghan delegation, widespread arrests of the Indian revolutionaries were made, multiple conspiracy cases were instituted, and many revolutionary workers were executed and jailed.

By now Obaidullah Sindhi had also seen through the duplicity of Afghan leaders and started looking for help towards the newly established Soviet Union for the independence of India. He allowed Lahore student Khushi Mohammad to leave for Tashkent for seeking help. Khushi Mohammad reached Tashkent in mid 1920 and met M. N. Roy and others. Eventually, the Indian Provisional Government was formally disbanded in 1922 under instructions of the Afghan Government. Obaidullah Sindhi and his colleagues quietly left for Tashkent. They reached Termez in Soviet Union in Oct 1922.

Jihadi Revolutionaries

Among those who crossed the border for Hijrat there were many young people who were highly enthused with the idea of waging a war against British colonialists for the liberation of India and the Muslims as a whole, with Turkey as its centre. These included Syed Rafiq Ahmed (Bhopal), Shaukat Usmani (Bikaner), Fazal Elahi Qurban and Sheikh Firozuddin Mansoor (Punjab) (45). The real name of Shaukat Usmani from Bikaner in Rajputana was Maula Bux, a college student. In his love for Usmani (Ottoman) Government of Turkey, he had changed his name to Shaukat Usmani (Glory of Ottomans). Soon, a few more young men arriving in Kabul included Mohammad Akbar Khan, Gohar Rehman and Sultan Mahmud Tarin from Rihana, Haripur, Hazara, Akbar Shah Miankhel from Nowshehra, and Mohammad Shafiq Siddiqi from Akora Khatak who had quit his job with the Irrigation Department in British India in protest of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. These young revolutionaries joined hands with Obaidullah Sindhi and Abdul Rab of former Berlin Committee, and the group of Lahore students who were already there for few years.

With the Afghan-British negotiations already underway, Amanullah Khan’s support for the Indian revolutionaries had started cooling off. The Muhajirs were again shifted to Jabalul Siraj camp. There were now about 180 Muhajirs placed at the camp who still wished to move ahead and join the Turkish army in their war against Britain. But, they were, for all practical purposes, put in confinement and forgotten by the Afghan government. The Muhajirs had no other choice but to either return to India in humiliation or to wait for opportunity to move towards Turkistan. They split themselves into two groups. One was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan of Hazara, and the other was led by Mohammad Akbar Jan of Peshawar. The first group proceeded around July 1920 to Mazar Sharif for crossing Jaihun River (Oxus or Amu Darya) to enter into Russian Turkistan from the point where present day Hairatan dry port is located. They reached Termez, across the border in present day Uzbekistan, on their way to Anatolia in Turkey via Turkmenistan. At Termez, these Muhajirs were welcomed by a small contingent of soviet army. The local governor of Termez tried to persuade the Muhajirs to abandon their journey to Turkey informing them of the rapidly changing situation on the war front but the would-be Jihadis were too excited with the idea of joining the Turkish army in defense of Muslims to fully appreciate the war situation.

From Termez, Amu River runs as a border between Afghanistan’s Balkh province and present day Uzbekistan for about 100 Km before it enters into Turkmenistan. Acting against the Soviet military officers’ advice for waiting for a steamer boat for undertaking upward journey from Termez, the Mujahidin boarded country sail boats for their next destination at Kirki in Turkmenistan via Amu River. After this it is a horrible and tragic story of these Jihadis’ long ordeal. The untold stories of these adventures have been well recorded in many memoirs and autobiographies of those people who survived the calamities and returned home after years of wandering (46).

Soon after leaving Termez on sail boats shortly before reaching Kirki, the Jihadis were captured by savage Turkmen Basmachis. The word is derived from Uzbek word Basmak, which means armed robber and highwayman. The Turkmens robbed Muhajirs, cruelly beating them and depriving them of their money and last material possessions. Riding on horses and lashes in their hands, they made the Indian Muhajirs run bare foot on the rugged terrain under a hot summer sun. Muhajirs’ pleadings and appeals for the Muslim brotherhood, with repeated recitation of Quranic verses and Kalma-e-Shahadat (an avowed declaration of being Muslim) fell on deaf ears. These Turkmens were the soldiers of former Amir of Bukhara, banded together, financed, and supplied with weapons by the British agents to rise in revolt against the newly established Soviet government. The legends of these savage armed brigands’ exaggerated piety, bravery, and heroic fight against communist Bolsheviks was widely propagated during those days by the British and European journals among unsuspecting Muslim population of India and the Middle East. The Amir of Bukhara, Syed Salimuddin, had been defeated only weeks before and a Soviet Peoples’ Republic was founded with Usman Khwaja as its first President. Bukhara had long been degenerated into a centre of decadent and stagnant reactionary interpretation of Islam. According to 1911 census, there were 1,440 religious schools and 1,320 Madarsas where about 200,000 religious students were enrolled. In the religious schools of Bukhara, the teaching of not only natural and social sciences but even Islamic history was prohibited, lest the young students get misguided.

The Turkmen soldiers and religious leaders declared the captive Indian Muhajirs as Jadeedis (The Modernists) and ordered their killing by a firing squad. Moments before the execution was to be carried out, a Red army contingent arrived at the spot and attacked the Turkmen positions. After a pitched battle for few days, the Turkmen militants dispersed in haste. Exhausted and impoverished due to extreme hardship and hunger during about two weeks of captivity, the Indian Muhajirs were finally rescued by the Bolsheviks.

It was quite ironic that one set of ‘soldiers of Islam’ fighting a Jihad against the Godless Bolsheviks were committing atrocities against another set of ‘soldiers of Islam’ coming from afar to fight a Jihad against the British! It was an identical story, a déjà vu that was to be witnessed about seventy years later in Afghanistan when the Islamic Mujahidin were to fight a Jihad financed and managed by the American CIA and Pakistan’s ISI against Russian army in 1990’s and the fierce battles to be fought between Taliban Jihadi groups turning against Pakistan’s army in 2000s. Even today, the misguided fervour of Jihad among many educated Muslim young men in Pakistan and the western countries to join forces with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and ISIS in Iraq in their fight against US and NATO forces has striking parallels with the Jihadi fervour of Indian Muslim students during 1915-1920 for fighting alongside Turks and against the British.

The Indian Muhajirs finally reached Kirki after losing communication with the outside world for some time received news of Turkey and other countries at Kirki after a long time. The Muhajirs were utterly confused when they learnt that the Turks under Mustafa Kamal have declared establishment of a Republic at Smyrna and have dissociated from the Ottoman Caliph and that the Turks no longer recognize the Khalifa as their spiritual or temporal leader. The Soviet Union was the first to recognize the new Turkish republic. The Turkish army was now fighting for survival of its country against occupation armies of the West. Clearly, Turkey was in no position to help India win its freedom nor was it interested in maintaining the relic of a decadent Khilafa, so dearly cherished by the Indian Muhajirs. But still many of these Muhajirs were in a state of disbelief and wished to move ahead on their journey. But this time they did not take the risk of again falling into the hands of Basmachis. The Muhajirs proceeded from Kirki to Charjui, about 137 Km southwest of Bukhara in Uzbekistan by a Russian steamer. They were given a warm send off with a military band by the Soviet army.

New Horizons

After reaching Charjui, a large railway and river transport staging station on Amu Darya the group was again split into two opposing groups. One group wished to proceed to Turkey to join the war while the other group by now had a change of heart and wished to turn to Tashkent and seek help from the Soviet forces. Shaukat Usmani (47), who had been a staunch supporter of Haji Shahabuddin and thus far had been solely guided by his Islamic religious motivation, had seen through the harsh reality of the situation. He parted way from his group. The group that finally left for Tashkent via Bukhara by train was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan (Hazara) and included Firozuddin Mansoor (Sheikhupura) (48), Mir Abdul Majid (Lahore), Sultan Mahmud & Gohar Rehman (Hazara) (49), Shaukat Usmani (Bekanir), Rafiq Ahmed (Bhopal), Abdul Rahim (UP), Abdul Hamid (Ludhiana), Mohammad Shafiq (Akora Khatak), Mian Mohammad Akbar Shah (Noshehra), Masood Ali Shah, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, Fida Ali Zahid, Abdulah Safdar and Ghulam Mohammad (all from Peshawar). The youngest among the group was Firozuddin Mansoor, 17, and the oldest was Abdul Hamid, 28 years old. The group reached Bukhara by end Sep 1920.

The other group under the leadership of Haji Shahabuddin included Fazal Elahi Qurban (50), reached Baku at a time when an intense battle between Turks and the Greeks was being fought at Smyrna (now Izmir). Baku was an important military station from where regular materials and weapon supplies were being dispatched in support of Turkish army. The Mujahidin arrived in Baku to join the Turkish war at Smyrna. But Turkish military officers at Baku were in no mood to let these Indian Mujahidin join in. The Indian volunteers were seen with great suspicion to be the British agents. Unfortunately, the news of the arrest of a British Muslim agent Mustafa Saghir (from Muradabad in U.P., India) in Anatolia had just reached Baku. Arriving from India in the guise of a Muslim volunteer on his mission to assassinate Mustafa Kamal, Mustafa Saghir was arrested by the Turkish army. The British secret police had hired Mustafa Saghir to assassinate Mustafa Kamal to demolish Turkish war efforts against Greeks. Captured with ample documentary evidence of his mission, Mustafa Saghir was tried in a military court and was executed. With the breaking of this news, the fate of the newly arrived contingent of enthusiastic Indian Mujahidin was completely sealed. On the contrary, now they were viewed as highly suspect in Baku.

Frustrated with the denial of access to Turkish war and after interaction with the members of the Baku branch of the Indian revolutionaries, these Indian Muhajirs again split into two groups: a few realizing the folly of their misdirected mission wished to join their former colleagues in Tashkent while others, by now, thoroughly frustrated, wanted to return homes. The group led by Haji Shahabuddin that set out for returning to India, unfortunately, met with more disasters. Most of them perished on their way or were brutally killed by Turkmen Basmachis. Those who were killed by Turkmens included the group leader Haji Shahabuddin. Only a few managed to reach their homes and tell their tragic stories.

Notes

20. Ibid, Op Cited, Pg. 195.
21. Ibid, Pg. 193.
22. Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan).
23. Zubair Ahmed Firdausi, Reshmi Rumal Tehreek, Nigarshat Publishers, Lahore, 1988, Pg. 43.
24. Mohammad Anwer Hussain, Ulema’s Freedom Struggle & Concept of Pakistan, Pg. 78. 25. Shaukat Siddiqi, Op Cit, Pg. 218.
26. Shaukat Siddiqi, Op Cit, Pg. 227.
27. Abdullah Malik, Dastan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mahmud Ali Qasuri, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995, Pg. 78.
28. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, Mushahidat-e-Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955, Pg. 143-146.
29. Abdullah Malik, op cit, Pg. 80-81.
30. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, op cit, Pg. 108-110.
31. Ghulam Mohammad Jaffar, Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society, Baitul Hikmat, Vol. 41 (1993), Islamabad, Pg. 60 as quoted by Dietrich Reetz, The Flight of the Faithful: A Britsih file on the exodus of Muslim Peasants from North India to Afghanistan in 1920, Verlag Das Arabische Buch, Berlin, 1995, Pg. 31
32. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cit, Pg. 249>
33. Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan, was the son of General Nadir Khan.
34. Mahendra Partap, My Life Story of Fifty-five Years, Delhi, 1947, Pg. 57-58 quoted by Arun Coomer Bose in The Indian Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks – Their Early Contacts, 1918-1922, Asian Studies.
35. These prominent Ulema included, Ataullah Shah, Daud Ghaznavi, and Ghulam Mohammad Aziz of Amritsar, Ahmed Saeed of Delhi, Azad Subhani of Kanpur, Abdul Razzak of Malihabad, Taj Mahmud Amroti, Pir Mahbub Shah of Hyderabad, Sindh, Abdul Qadir and his son Mohyiuddin Ahmed of Qasur (father and brother of Mahmud Ali Qasuri respectively), Ahmed Ali of Lahore, and Abdul Ghafoor of Peshawar.
36. M. Naeem Qureshi, Pan-Islam in British Indian Politics: A Study of the Khilafat Movement 1918-1924, BRILL, 1999, Pg. 188-189.
37. Those who opposed the senseless Hijrat movement included, Maulanas Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Shibli Naumani, Ahmed Raza Khan Barailvi, most of the Shia Ulema, and Bashiruddin Ahmed of Quadian.
38. Maulana Abdul Bari’s reply purely in a theoretical context was, indeed, academic and a little confusing for a lay person. Instantly, inflammatory reports of his support to the cause of Hijrat were prominently published by the movement’s proponents like the Hurriyat (Delhi) of Arif Haswi, Paisa Akhbar (Lahore) of Munshi Mehbub Alam, Zamindar (Lahore) of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, and the Khilafat.
39. Gail Minault, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India, Columbia University Press, 1982, Pg. 106.
40. Dietrich Reetz, op cit, Pg. 52.
41. Documents of The History of The Communist Party of India, Vol. Two (1923-1925), Ed. Dr G. Adhikari, Peoples Publishing House, New Delhi, India, Oct 1974, Pg. 48.
42. Gail Minault, Op Cit, Pg.106.
43. The Daily Telegraph, 26 Aug 1920, & The Ulema of British India and the Hijrat, M. Naeem Qureshi in Modern Asian Studies, Vol.13 (1979), No.1, Pg. 41-59 as quoted by Dietrich Reetz, op cit, Pg. 69.
44. Gail Minault, Op Cit, Pg. 107.
45. The others included, Abdul Ghafar Khan (Charsadda), Ghulam Mehbub and Abdul Qadir Sehrai (Peshawar), Mohammad Hassan (Balochistan) Abdul Aziz, Waris Butt (Amritsar), Habib Ahmed (Shajahanpur), Mir Abdul Aziz, Ghulam Ahmed, Haji Shahabuddin, Fida Ali Zahid, Iqbal Shaidai, and Murtaza Ahmed Khan Maikash.
46. The Muhajirs’ tragic stories are told in great detail in various memoirs and autobiographies, including, Peshawar to Moscow: Leaves from Indian Muhajireen’s Diary, and Main Stalin se Dobara Mila (I met Stalin Again) by Shaukat Usmani, Swaraj Publishing House, Banaras, 1927; Unforgettable Journey, an autobiography of Rafiq Ahmed, MS, extensively quoted in The Story behind Moscow-Tashkent Conspiracy Cases, S.M. Mehdi, New Delhi, 1967; Mushahidat-e Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955; Auraq-e Gumgashta (The Pages that Were Lost), Rais Ahmed Jafri; Reshmi Rumal Tehrik (Silk Handkerchief Movement), Zubair Ahmed Firdousi, Nigarshat, Lahore, 1988; Gumshuda Auraq (The Lost Pages), Shaukat Siddiqi, Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011; Documents of The History of The Communist Party of India, Vol. Two (1923-1925), Ed. G. Adhikari, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1974. Moreover, personal accounts of the Hijrat Movement have been provided in detail in the Autobiography of Zafar Hassan Aibak in two volumes, Sarguzisht-e Mujahidin (The Story of Mujahidin), Maulana Ghulam Rasool Meher; Mian Akbar Shah’s account was serialized in Monthly Sarhad, Peshawar in 1970; Dastaan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mahmud Ali Qasuri (Family Saga of Mian Mahmud Ali Qasuri), Abdullah Malik, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995; an Autobiography of Fazal Elahi Qurban was also published.
47. Shaukat Usmani was to become one of the early communist leaders of India and figured prominently in the well-known Kanpur Conspiracy Case, 1924 and Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929.
48. Later, known as Dada Firozuddin Mansoor, a veteran of the Pakistan communist movement.
49. Gohar Rehman from village Rihana, Haripur Hazara was to be a brother-in-law of Muhammad Ayub Khan, later a General and Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, and the President of Pakistan during Oct 1958 – Mar 1969.
50. Fazal Elahi Qurban was to be one of the earliest Muslim members of the Communist Party of India in Punjab. At the time of founding of Pakistan, Fazal Elahi Qurban was to play a central role in the first dispute and dissent among the Pakistani communists.

Chapter 1 – Concluded

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 4

September 13, 2016

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter One: The Roots of Revolution (Continued)

II. International Revolutionaries

While a steady migration of Indian peasants and working classes as indentured labour was slowly taking place towards the British colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, a new and more comprehensive political and administrative order as crafted by Lord Macaulay was put in place in India by the colonial rulers. With it gradual reforms in education and political life of India were introduced. Schools and colleges with instruction in English language were set up by the Missionary churches and the secular government in major Indian towns. In these schools, modern education was imparted to Indian children to produce a new breed of loyal and educated gentlemen, imbibed with western ideas and colonial outlook. This brought a slow but significant social change, particularly, in the middle classes. They were getting engaged in commerce or in services like teaching, law, printing & publications. The modern education proved fertile. Exposure to the western ideas of democracy, nationalism, and liberalism gave rise to a new generation of Indian youth with awakening desire to see India freed from British rule. Some affluent Indian students were arriving in London, Paris, and Berlin, seeking higher education and better work opportunities.

Shyam Kirshan Verma came to England in 1879, graduated from Oxford, and obtained his law degree. Inspired by the writings of noted English philosopher Herbert Spencer and interacting with English socialist circles, Shyam turned into an ardent Indian nationalist. Living in London, he was in close company of Lala Lajpat Rai, Dadabhai Nauroji, V.V.S. Ayer, Madam Bhikai Cama (an affluent Indian Parsi woman who came under strong influence of Indian nationalism), Lokmanya Tilak, and Gopal K. Gokhale. Verma’s house in London became a prominent centre of the newly fermenting modern Indian nationalism.

Shyam Verma founded an India Home Rule Society in London and brought out a monthly journal Indian Sociologist in 1904. He established his house at 65 Cromwell Avenue, Highgate in North London as ‘India House’ in 1905 to provide shelter and support to needy Indian students. Soon, ‘India House’ in London became an important centre for the Indian nationalist students and political workers in Britain.

Notable among those who lived in ‘India House’ and participating in its activities, were Virendranath Chattopadhya, Lala Har Dayal (who later worked with Ghadar Party in San Francisco), M.P.T. Acharya, and V.D. Savarkar. Virendranath Chattopadhya was a brother of Sarojni Naidu, a well-known Congress leader in India. He became a leading light of the group and was known as Viren or Chatto. He had joined the Middle Temple for his law degree. Madam Bhikaiji Cama moved to Paris in 1905 and together with S.N. Rana founded the Paris Indian Society. A new paper Banday Mataram was published from Paris. The ‘India House’ in London spread its branches and associates in Tokyo (1907) and in New York (1908). Maulvi Barkatullah was in Tokyo and had participated with Shyam Verma in the formation of Home Rule Society. He had built strong links with some prominent Japanese nationalist leaders and academicians. Barkatullah had also established links with some Irish revolutionary groups based in New York, U.S.A. sympathetic to the Indian nationalist cause.

By 1907, Shyam Verma’s activities in ‘India House’ had become a sore point for the British ruling elite. The British press was getting edgy about him and was pressing the Government for putting a curb on his ‘seditious’ activities in London. Feeling the heat, finally, Shyam Verma left England and moved to Paris in early 1907, joining with Madam Cama, S.R. Rana. Madam Cama and Chatto attended the Second International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany in August, 1907 to present their case for the independence of India. There, in a ceremony at the conference together with the Indian delegation, Madam Cama got the distinction of becoming the first Indian woman to unfurl a proposed Indian flag before an influential international association. The Indian delegation met socialist luminaries like Henry Hyndman, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and Ramsay McDonald. V.I. Lenin from Russia was also present at the conference but there are no indications that the Indian delegation meet him in person.

After Shyam Verma left London, the leadership of ‘India House’ came into the hands of Vanayak Damodar (V.D.) Savarkar, a law student who had recently arrived in England on a scholarship from Shyam. Savarkar pushed for more radical and violent methods. This policy resulted in an event that spread sensation in the UK and India. In July, 1909, an Indian revolutionary Madanlal Dhingra, having links with Savarkar and the ‘India House’, assassinated William Curzon Wyllie, an ADC to the Secretary of State for India at a public meeting in London. This high profile assassination in London sparked uproar and the British police came heavy on the ‘India House’ and its inmates. Savarkar was arrested and the ‘India House’ was eventually shut down, and the students living in the hostel were expelled from Britain.

Virendranath Chattopadhya was also expelled from the Middle Temple. With the liquidation of ‘India House’ in London, most of its key members reached Paris. V.V.S. Ayer went to Pondicherry (now Puducherry), a small town on the eastern coast of India under French rule. From there he helped smuggle the copies of Bande Mataram and other literature into British India; Lala Har Dayal went to Algeria and from there to Martinique in the Caribbean, ultimately landing in the U.S.A.; Chattopadhya helped publish a paper Talwar from Berlin. M.P.T. Acharya was helping Bhikai Cama in bringing out Bande Mataram from Paris. Meanwhile, the world was slowly moving towards the First World War.

Road to Berlin

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the world situation changed rapidly. Britain and France joined forces against Germany and the allied Central Powers, bringing the presence of an anti-British Indian Society in Paris at risk. It was now increasingly awkward for the French government to allow Paris Indian Society openly engaging in anti-British activities. In the changed circumstances, Shyam Verma moved to Geneva, where his movements were severely restricted by the neutral Swiss government (16).

In accordance with the age-old proverb, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, some Indian revolutionaries moved to Berlin for activities against Britain with the help of German government. M.P.T. Acharya went to Spain and Portugal to seek opportunity for gaining military training in the liberation struggle. Bhikaiji Cama and S.R. Rana stayed in Paris, in spite of friendly advice from French socialists, including Jean Languet, not to stay in France and instead go to Spain. Jean was the grandson of Karl Marx, the son of his elder daughter Jenny and Charles Languet, a disciple of Marx in Paris. Madam Bhikai Cama and Rana were later arrested in Marseilles while holding an agitation before the Punjab Regiment troops of the British Indian army arriving from India. Rana’s family was deported to Martinique in the Caribbean. Madam Cama was put under house arrest in Vichy only to be released in November, 1917 in bad health. It is said that V.I. Lenin had extended invitation to Madam Bhikai Cama to come and live in the newly established Soviet Union but she declined (17).

Viren Chattopadhya was among those who moved to Berlin in April, 1914, separating from his estranged English wife who refused to join him moving to Germany for continuing anti-British activities after the war broke out. Arriving in Berlin, Chattopadhya and his comrades met many other Indian nationalists in Germany who had good contacts with some influential German leaders close to the German Monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Through these contacts the Indian group met with German Foreign Office. Arthur Zimmermann, the German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Max von Oppenheim, the Director of German Intelligence Bureau, promised to provide required logistics and financial support for the Indian plans (18).

Thus, an anti-British Berlin-Indian Committee was formed in Berlin, Germany, in 1914, commonly known as the ‘Berlin Committee’. The prominent among its early members were Virendranath Chattopadhya, Ghulam Anbia Khan Lohani and M.P.T. Acharya from the ‘London Club’, Raja Mahindra Partap Singh, and P.N. Pillai. Acharya also returned from Portugal after his failed attempt at joining the Morocco liberation guerillas. P.N. Pillai’s brother Champak Raman (C.R.) Pillai also joined the Committee. Soon, Lala Hardyal who was, in the meantime, arrested in San Francisco, in April, 1914 for his anti-British activities, also arrived in Berlin after his release from the U.S. prison.

Raja Mahindra Partap Singh was the scion of the princely family of a small Indian state, Hathras, near Mathura and Agra in the U.P., India. Educated at Aligarh College and participating in the Swadeshi movement he was imbued with nationalist ideas. Raja Mahindra Partap reached Switzerland in 1914 and getting in touch with Virendranath Chattopadhya became a founding member of the Berlin Committee. Perhaps, because of his princely family background, the German monarch Kaiser Willhelm II gave a personal audience to him together with the Indian Committee delegation (19). The German government, in fact, was long considering a plan to help organize the Indian nationalist revolutionaries to rise against Britain. As the First World War began, the German government gave green light to the plan by providing the Berlin Committee and the Ghadar party diplomatic and material support in their independence struggle. With the help of German officials, calls were sent to Indian nationalists across Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Austria to enlist wider support.

This was the time when crackdown on Ghadar Party in India had already begun in February, 1915. In spite of the massive setback, the Ghadar Party and Berlin Committee leaders continued in their efforts to carry out their joint plans. Facilitated by the German diplomatic officers, the Berlin Committee sent missions to Istanbul, Baghdad and Kabul. For raising an Indian liberation army, the Committee tried enlisting trained Indian soldiers from the British army who were taken prisoner by Germany and its allies from war fronts in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

After the Bay of Bengal debacle of confiscation of arms shipments, the only route to ensure war supplies from Germany and Turkey to India was via land route through Afghanistan. Maulvi Barkatullah was taken on board and Jabbar Khairi and Sattar Khairi (known as Khairi brothers) were contacted in Istanbul. Khairi brothers from Delhi had arrived in Turkey for their work against the British. They were publishing a journal Akhuwat from Istanbul, calling for the unity of the Indian Muslims against the British colonial rule. Abdul Rab of Peshawar, a former officer in the British Consulate, was also approached in Baghdad. The British Consulate office was closed down after the World War broke out but Abdul Rab who was already influenced by Pan Islamism stayed back working against the British influence. He joined with Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah

Arrangements were again made to procure arms in the USA and ship them to India with the help of the German ambassador, Johann von Bernstoff. Finally, a delegation under the leadership of Raja Mahindra Partap Singh and including M.P.T. Acharya and Maulvi Barkatullah was sent to Istanbul and from there to Kabul in December, 1915.

Notes

16. Shyam Verma spent his last days alone in Geneva in poverty as was witnessed by Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1927 and mentioned in his Autobiography. Becoming a recluse and paranoid, he feared every other person as his enemy or British secret service agent. Shyam Verma died in a Geneva hospital in 1930.
17. Madam Cama remained in exile in France until 1935, when gravely ill and paralyzed due to a stroke, she was finally allowed to return India with a family friend, Sir Cowesji Jahangir. Few months later, she died in Bombay in November 1935, bequeathing most of her personal assets to a girl’s orphanage.
18. Dr Abhinash Chandar Bhattacharya, Europe Bapla Barsadhna, (his memoirs in Bengali), quoted from Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshuda Auraq, Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011.
19. Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan).

 

Chapter 1 to be continued…

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 3

September 1, 2016

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?)

Notes

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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The Berlin Committee

September 11, 2013

The International Revolutionaries

By Ahmed Kamran

(Editor’s Note: Owing to an editorial error, this post is appearing out of sequence. It should follow the two posts on the Ghadar Party and precede the post on the Jihad Movement. The error is regretted.)

Tewar a’atey hain haqeeqat main bhi afsanon kay
Kuch haqeeqat bhi hua karti hay afsanon ki

While a steady migration of Indian peasants and working classes was taking place towards other British colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas (as discussed in the previous posts on Ghadar Party), a new and more comprehensive political and administrative order as crafted by Lord Macaulay was put in place by the colonial rulers in India.

With it came gradual reforms in education. Many schools and colleges were set up in most of the major cities. Here modern education was imparted to the Indian youth to produce a new breed of loyal and educated gentlemen, imbibed with western ideologies and colonial outlook. These developments, indeed, brought a significant social change, particularly in the Indian middle classes, engaged in commerce or in services sector like teaching, legal practice, and printing and publications, and, at times, with some supplementary income coming from small landholdings. But, on the flip side, the exposure to the western world and its ideas of democracy, nationalism, and liberalism produced a new generation of Indian youth who now had an intense desire to see India freed from slavery and colonial subjugation of the British masters. They wanted to see it emerge as an independent and democratic sovereign country in the world. Many Indian students were also now reaching London, Paris, and Berlin seeking higher education and better work opportunities.

Shyam Kirshan Verma, born in Mandvi, Gujrat in 1857, was one such student. Obtaining his early education at Bhuj and then in Bombay, Shyam Verma learnt Sanskirit and religious studies. Married into a wealthy business family of Bhatias, he emerged as a scholar of Sanskrit and Vedic philosophy and a reformer under the influence of nationalist Arya Samaj Society. He came to England in 1879. Graduating from Oxford, he became a non-resident member of the prestigious Royal Asiatic Society and attended the Berlin Congress of the Orientalists. Obtaining his law degree, he returned to India in 1885, and served as Diwan (Chief Minister) for Indian states of Ratlam, Udaipur, and Junagadh, and practiced in British Court at Ajmer in between his appointments with the Indian states. Becoming increasingly nationalist, during his last tenure as Diwan of the Junagadh state, Verma had a bitter dispute with the British political agent and resigned in disgust in 1897. Having invested his handsome income wisely in few cotton mills and becoming financially comfortable, Verma returned to London at the behest of Swami Dayanand Sharaswati of Arya Samaj. Inspired by the writings of noted English philosopher Herbert Spencer, and interacting with English socialist circles, Shaymaji was now an ardent Indian nationalist. Living in a large house at Highgate in London, he was in close company of Lala Lajpat Rai, Dada Bhai Nauroji, VVS Ayer, Madam Bhikam Cama (an affluent Parsi Indian woman living in London who came under strong influence of Indian nationalism), Lokmanya Tilak, and Gokhale. His house in London became a prominent centre of the newly fermenting modern Indian nationalism.

He founded an India Home Rule Society in London and brought out a monthly journal Indian Sociologist in 1904. Seeing many Indian students facing difficulties after arrival in London, and with the support from Lajpat Rai, Dadabhai Nauroji, S.R. Rana, and Madam Bhikaji Cama, Verma established his house at 65 Cromwell Avenue, Highgate in North London as ‘India House’ in 1905. It was to serve as a hostel, providing lodging and boarding assistance to Indian students coming to London and offering scholarships to the needy. Soon ‘India House’ in London became an important centre for the Indian nationalist students and political workers in Britain.

Notable among those who stayed in ‘India House’, or participated in its activities, were Virendranath Chatopadhya, Lala Har Dayal (who later worked with Ghadar Party in San Francisco), M.P.T. Acharya, and V.D. Savarkar.

Virendranath Chattopadhya who became a leading light of the group and known as Viren or Chatto, was born in Hyderabad, Deccan in a distinguished Bengali family. His father, Dr Aghorenath Chatopadhiya had been a principal and science professor at Nizam College of Hyderabad.  His brother Harindernath, and sister, Sarojini Naidu, were both well known Bengali poets.  His two other sisters Mrinalini and Suhasty later joined the Communist Party of India and earned distinctions on their own right. Another brother Marin Chatopadhiya also became an activist joining in the independence movement. Viren was fluent in Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, and English. Later he learnt French, German, Dutch, Russian, and Scandinavian languages with equal ease. Viren graduated from the University of Calcutta and joined Oxford in 1902 in London, preparing for the ICS exam. Here he had a change of heart and became a disciple of Shayam Verma at ‘India House’. He joined Middle Temple for his law degree.

Soon, Madam Bhikaji Cama moved to Paris in 1905 and together with S.N. Rana and M.B. Godrej founded the Paris Indian Society. A new paper Banday Mataram was also published from Paris. The ‘India House’ in London also spread its branches and associates in Tokyo (1907) and in New York (1908). Maulvi Barkatullah who was in Tokyo and had also participated with Shayam Verma in the formation of Home Rule Society helped establish an ‘India House’ in Tokyo. By now Barkatullah had built strong links with some prominent Japanese nationalist leaders and academicians, including Okawa Shumei, who became a noted Indologist and a scholar on Islam. After WW2, Okawa was tried as a war criminal advocating war against the western imperialists and was imprisoned. Later, because of his infirmity he was placed in a Tokyo hospital where he completed the first ever translation of the Holy Quran in Japanese. Barkatullah had also built links with some Irish revolutionary groups based in New York, USA, and sympathetic to the Indian cause. He had visited them to collaborate. In collaboration with this Irish group in New York, Tarka Nath Das of Ghadar Party from Seattle had also published many issues of his ‘Free Hindustan’ from New York in 1908.

Lala Har Dayal returned to India in 1908 and participated in Swadeshi movement in Lahore. He again left India in 1909 and reaching Paris served for a while as editor of Banday Matram. Fickle in character, he soon left Paris for Algeria, but still remaining uneasy he went to Martinique in the Caribbean, meditating and forming concepts of a new religion. Finally, he arrived in New York in 1911. From there he moved to San Francisco and joined the Ghadar Party. This also helped create a bridge between the ‘India House’ revolutionaries with the Ghadar Party on the west coast of USA.

By 1907, Shyam Verma’s activities with ‘India House’ had become a sore point for the British and there was an increasing clamour from the British press for the Government to stop him from his ‘seditious’ activities. Feeling the heat, finally, Shyamji left England and moved to Paris in early 1907 joining with Madam Cama, S.R. Rana, and Virendranath Chattopadhya who also, for a while, had moved to Paris. From Paris, Madam Cama and Chatto attended the Second International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany in August 1907 to present the case for the independence of India. There, in a ceremony at the Conference together with the Indian delegation, Madam Cama got the distinction of becoming the first Indian woman to unfurl a proposed Indian flag before an influential international association. Here the Indian delegation met socialist luminaries like Henry Hyndman, Karl Liebknekht, Rosa Luxemburg, and Ramsay McDonald. V.I. Lenin had also attended the conference but indications are that the Indian delegation did not meet him in person.

After Shyamji left London, the leadership of ‘India House’ came into the hands of Vanayak Damodar (V.D.) Savarkar, a law student who had recently arrived in England on a scholarship from Shyamji. Inspired by Mazzini, the Italian liberation philosopher and G.D. Tilak, Savarkar pushed for more radical and violent means of the independence struggle. These preachings resulted in an event that spread sensation in the UK and India. In July 1909, an Indian revolutionary Madanlal Dhingra, having links with Savarkar and the ‘India House’, assassinated William Curzon Wyllie, an ADC to the Secretary of State for India at a public meeting in London. This high profile assassination in London sparked an uproar and the British police came down heavily on the ‘India House’ and its inmates. Savakar was arrested and the ‘India House’ was eventually shut down, and the students living in the hostel were expelled from Britain. Savarkar was deported to India where he was tried and transported to Andaman Islands. Under strong and growing nationalist pressure and demands from the Indian National Congress leaders like Patel, Tilak and Gandhi, Savarkar was eventually released in 1924 after submitting his apology and acceptance of the verdict of his trial, the British law, and his renouncing of violence. Savarkar, later, emerged as the earliest advocate of the extremist Hinduvta ideology and founded the extremist organization Hindu Mahasabha.

Virendranath Chattopadhya was also expelled from the Middle temple. With the liquidation of ‘India House’ in London, most of its leaders, including, Viren, Lala Har Dayal, VVS Ayer, and D.S. Madhurao, managed to reach Paris and joined the Indian Paris Society. The old ‘India House’ group again rejoining in Paris continued their struggle and agitation at different international forums for the independence of India and bringing out revolutionary journals. VVS Ayer went to Pondicherry in India under French rule; Lala Har Dayal went to Algeria and ended up in the USA via Martinique in the Caribbean; Chattopadhya went to Berlin to publish a paper Talwar from there; and MPT Acharya was helping Cama in bringing out Bande Mataram from Paris. Acharya was also sent to Istanbul in 1911 to seek Turkish help. Meanwhile, the world was slowly moving towards the First World War.

With the outbreak of the WW1 in 1914, the world situation changed rapidly. Britain and France joined forces against Germany and allied Central Powers. Now the existence of an anti-British Paris Indian Society was at risk. It was increasingly awkward for the French government to allow the Paris Indian Society openly engage in anti-British activities. In these difficult circumstances, Shyamji Verma moved to Geneva, where his movements were severely restricted by the neutral Swiss government1.

Acting in accordance with the age-old proverb, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, few other members moved to Berlin in Germany to organize a rebellion against Britain with the help of Germans. Bhikaji Cama and S.R. Rana, however, decided to stay back in Paris, in spite of friendly advice of some French socialists including Jean Longuet (Jean was, incidentally, the grandson of Karl Marx, being the son of his elder daughter, Jenny and Charles Languet, a disciple of Marx in Paris) to proceed to Spain with Acharya. She and Rana were later arrested in Marseilles holding an agitation before the Punjab Regiment troops of the British Indian army arriving from India. Rana’s family was later deported to the Caribbean Island of Martinique, and Madam Cama was interned at Vichy, only to be released in November 1917 in considerably bad health2.

Viren Chattopadhya was among those who shifted to Berlin in April 1914, separating from his English wife who at this time refused to join him moving to Germany for continuing anti-British activities. Arriving in Berlin, Chattopadhya and his comrades met many Indian nationalists in Germany, including Dr. Abhinash Bhattacharya, who was well-known to some influential German leaders close to the German Monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II. They were able to meet the German Foreign Office representative with the help, and some financial assistance, from an influential German lady, Frau Anna Simon, who was sympathetic to the Indian cause. Arthur Zimmermann, the German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Max Oppenheim, the Director of German Intelligence Bureau, ensured that all the required logistics and financial support for the Indian plans is provided3.

Thus an anti-British Berlin-Indian Committee was formed in Berlin, Germany, in 1914. It was later renamed as the Indian Independence Committee in 1915, but it remained commonly known as the ‘Berlin Committee’. Prominent among its early members were Virendranath Chatopadhya, Ghulam Anbia Khan Lohani, and MPT Acharya from the ‘London Club’ and Raja Mehendra Partap Singh, M.G. Prabhakar (Cologne), Abdul Wahid, Dr Abdul Hafiz (Leipzig), Padam Nabhan Pillai (Zurich), Dr Dhiren Sarkar, Narain Marathe (Basel), Dr. Janendra Das Gupta (Zurich), Shrish Chandra Sen, Satish Chandra Ray, Mansoor Ahmed, and Sambhashiva Rao. Others joining the committee were Champak Raman Pillai (brother of P.N. Pillai who had joined earlier), and Bhupinder Nath Dutta. Soon, Lala Hardyal who was, in the meantime, arrested in April 1914 in San Francisco for his anti-British activities managed to arrive in Berlin after his release from the US prison.

Raja Mahindra Partap Singh was of a princely family of a small Indian state, Hathras, near Mathura and Agra in UP. Educated at Aligarh College, he was imbued with nationalist ideals and intense desire to see India as a free country and had actively participated in the Swadeshi movement. Leaving India in 1914, Raja Mehandra Partap reached Switzerland from where he got in touch with Virendranath Chattopadhya and became a founding member of the Berlin Committee. Perhaps, because of his princely family background, German Kaiser Willhelm II desired to personally meet the Indian Committee delegation led by Raja Mehendra Partap.4 The German government in its own global strategy was long considering a plan to help organize the Indian nationalist revolutionaries to rise against Britain. After the beginning of WW1, taking advantage of the situation, the German government gave the green light to the plan. Now it actively encouraged the Berlin Committee and promised diplomatic and material support to it in its independence struggle.

Ghulm Anbia Lohani was from a Bengali family living in Behar. His father, Azam Khan was practicing law in Sirajganj. Educated from Aligarh College, Ghulam Anbia participated in nationalist activities. The veteran Bengali communist leader Muzaffar Ahmed says in his reminiscences ‘The Communist Party of India and its Formation Abroad’ that when he was young in High School he first met Ghulam Anbia Lohani during a conference in 1908. Muzaffar Ahmed was inspired by the energetic Ghulam Anbia with fiery public speaking skills and disability in one leg. Expelled from Aligarh College owing to his anti-British activism, he graduated from Allahabad in 1912 and reached London for law degree. Here he joined the socialist club and participated in nationalist activities in line with the Indian Paris Society. After WW1 started, Ghulam Anbia also moved to Berlin following Virendaranath Chattopadhya and his comrades5.

The Berlin Committee entered into a formal agreement with the German government which envisaged German assistance for the Committee’s armed revolutionary struggle for the independence of India and establishing an independent socialist democratic republic in India which would establish diplomatic relations with Germany on equal terms and non-interference in internal matters of respective countries.

Interestingly, this agreement had a stipulation not to support or join any of the former ruling class or Rajas or Nawabs in any of their effort to re-establish their lost kingdoms in any part of India. With the help from German officials, calls were sent to all Indian nationalists and revolutionaries across Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Austria to enlist wider support6.

Meanwhile, the initial adventurous steps taken a bit prematurely by the Ghadar Party in San Francisco to start sending its workers’ contingents by ships sailing to various Indian ports and dispatching two vessels carrying arms shipment from Germany and USA to be secretly unloaded at Bengal coast met with disappointing failures. As discussed in the previous posts, many workers had been arrested and arms carrying vessels were effectively intercepted by the British navy after their arrival in the Bay of Bengal. The Ghadar Party & Berlin Committee leaders, however, did not lose heart and continued in their efforts to carry out their plans.

While Ghadar Party’s initial efforts were being brutally crushed in Punjab starting from the crackdown of 19 February 1915, the Indian elite was overly eager to demonstrate its loyalty to the British rulers. The Governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer was felicitated in Lahore on 6 March 1915 in a grand civic reception that was attended by prominent Indians including Justice Shadi Lal, Rai Bahadur Sarendar Nath, Rai Bahadur Pandit Shiv Narain, Justice Shah Din, Khan Bahadur Mian Mohamad Shafi, and Rai Bahadur Gopal Das Bhindari. Many Rajas and Nawabs of Indian States announced generous contributions in the British War Fund, including Rs.4 million from Nawab of Bhawalpur, Rs.500,000 from Raja of Nabh, Rs.400,000 from Raja of Faridkot, and Rs.250,000 from Raja of Kapurthala. Another civic reception was given on 12 August 1915 at Barkat Mohammaden Hall in Lahore that was presided over by Khan Bahadur Nawab Muhammad Ali Qizilbash. A resolution in support of the British war efforts was enthusiastically supported by Malik Barkat Ali, Editor Observer, Mian Shamsuddin, Hakim Ghulam Nabi, Dr Yaqub Beg, and Dr Mohammad Iqbal who was not yet knighted by the British government7.

The Berlin Committee members made efforts to organise its branches and associates in other cities of Europe, USA, Turkey, the Middle East, and Far East. Its Constantinople (Istanbul) committee became very active after Turkey joined Germany against Great Britain and its allies. Facilitated by the German diplomatic officers, the Berlin Committee sent missions, among others, to Istanbul, Baghdad and Kabul. The Committee, with an objective of raising an Indian liberation army, prepared a plan to recruit trained Indian soldiers from the British army (most of them were from north Punjab and Pukhtuns from NWFP), who were taken as war prisoners at various fronts in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Years later, during WW2, Subhash Chandar Bose with the help of Japan raised a rebel Indian National Army on similar lines.

To ensure war supplies from Germany and Turkey to reach India via land route, a dependable passage way through Afghanistan was essential. Bipan Das Gupta and M.P.T. Acharya were sent to the Middle East to bring key people on board who could facilitate these diplomatic overtures in the Muslim lands. Messages for assistance were sent to Ghadar Party in San Francisco, and with the help of, and in coordination with, Maulvi Barkatullah, Jabbar Khairi and Sattar Khairi (known as Khairi Brothers) were contacted in Istanbul, and Abdul Rab of Peshawar was approached in Baghdad. Tarak Nath Das, now a PhD scholar at UC Berkeley and an active worker of the Ghadar party also arrived in Berlin in January 1915.

By September 1915, Dr Dhiren Sarkar and N.S. Marathe left for USA to again arrange for new arms purchases and their shipment to India with the help of the German ambassador, Johann von Bernstoff. They were also to coordinate activities with the Ghadar Party in San Francisco.

Finally, in coordination with the Ghadar Party, a delegation organised by the Berlin Committee under the leadership of Raja Mehendar Partap Singh, M.P.T. Acharya, and Maulvi Barkatullah was sent to Istanbul and from there to Kabul in December 1915, which has already been briefly discussed in our previous posts.

Almost simultaneous to these efforts but, apparently, independent of it, another effort to raise an army and a ‘jihad’ to liberate India from the British colonial rule was underway elsewhere.

Following the footsteps of the first ‘Jihad’ war undertaken by Syed Ahmed Barailvi Shaheed in 1830s, some radical elements among his successors in the Darul Uloom at Deoband, near Saharanpur, UP in India were planning to raise a Muslim army with the help of Muslim rulers of Turkey and Afghanistan and carry out a Jihad for both defending the embattled Turkey and liberating India against the British Empire. With the plan having been formulated, Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, the highly respected principal of the religious seminary and a dedicated revolutionary nationalist, together with his disciple and an energetic revolutionary Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi and few of his colleagues proceeded to Hijaz in Arabia that was still a Turkish province. He proceeded in about July 1915 via Kabul and meeting with Afghan leaders and religious Ulema, many of whom were his students in Deoband, Maulana Mehmudul Hasan proceeded to Hijaz for enlisting support of the Turkish government and the Sharif of Mecca while Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi stayed in Kabul to seek support from the Amir Habibullah Khan of Afghanistan and make arrangements for implementing the plan in Kabul. Owing to the preeminent positions enjoyed by these religious leaders across Muslim world, they were given a sympathetic hearing in Kabul. Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi was able to obtain support for his cause among a powerful section of the Afghan ruling class, especially, the Sardar Nasrullah Khan, the Amir’s brother and Prince Inayatullah and Prince Amanullah Khan, the two sons of Amir Habibullah Khan8.

Here at Kabul, with Maulvi Barkatullah playing a key role, the Berlin Committee-Ghadar Party’s joint delegation that had arrived from Istanbul and Berlin met with Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi’s delegation and joined hands in each other’s efforts. Finally, with the support of the Amir of Afghanistan, a ‘Provisional Government of India’ was declared establish in December 1915, in Kabul. Raja Mehendar Partap Singh was nominated as the President with Maulvi Barkatullah as the Prime Minister of the new government. Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi was appointed as the Interior Minister, Champak Raman Pillai as the Foreign Minister, and Maulvi Bashir Ahmed as the War Minister of the Provisional Government of India in exile. Turkish representative Kazim Bey and the German diplomat, Dr Von Hanting and the leader of the Special German Mission in Kabul, Oskar von Niedermayer had also arrived in Kabul as advisors to Berlin Committee delegation and the newly formed ‘Provisional Government of India’9.

Alarmed at these hostile developments in Berlin, Kabul, and Hijaz, the British government was soon able, on the one hand, to lure the Sharif of Mecca and his sons to rise in rebellion against Turkey and snub the Indian Muslim leaders’ delegation under Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, and in fact, having them arrested and handing over to the British police, and, on the other hand, neutralizing and winning over the Afghan government to its side by offering the bait of huge ‘subsidies’ and ‘concessions’. The British government was providing a ‘budget subsidy’ of Rs.1.8 million per annum to the Amir of Afghanistan. With the increasingly changing reports from various war fronts favoring the British and allied forces, over time, the support of the Afghan government to the ‘provisional government’ cooled off till it was completely withdrawn in 1919.

More details of the Jihad efforts, the formation and activities of Provisional Government of India, and the massive Hijrat undertaken as part of a greater ‘Jihad Movement’ will be discussed in the next post.

By 1917, the tide in the WW1 had started clearly turning against Germany and its allies. As a result, no significant diplomatic or material support for the activities of the Berlin Committee from the Germans was forthcoming any longer. In the face of an imminent defeat of the exhausted Germany, the Berlin Committee actively started looking for support towards socialist leaders in some neutral countries of Europe like Switzerland and Sweden. Most of the leaders of the Berlin Committee reached Stockholm, relocating the activities of the Committee for all practical purposes. Chattopadhya, Har Dayal and others also attended the International Socialist Conference held in Stockholm in May 1917, raising the issue of the Indian independence at the conference. Here they met Russian Bolshevik leader Torinvsky.

The Berlin Committee was formally dissolved in November 1918 after the defeat of Germany in the WW1, with all its active members having already moved to Stockholm. After the Berlin Committee’s formal liquidation in 1918, the Berlin Committee members contacted Torinvsky and other Russian revolutionaries they had met at Stockholm looking for support. Eventually, Chattopdhya, together with Agnes Smedley, his American life partner he had met and lived together in Berlin, and Raja Mehendra Partap, Acharya, Bhupendra Nath Dutta, C.R. Pillai, Abdul Rab, Nalini Gupta, Shafiq Ahmed, and Amin Faruqi, reached Petrograd, sometime in December 1918. These Indian revolutionaries initially worked with the Russian Propaganda and Publication Centre in Petrograd. Later, they moved to Tashkent meeting M.N. Roy to work for the Military and Political training school established by the Communist International for the Indian revolutionaries.

Lala Har Dayal stayed back in Sweden for another about 10 years. During these years, the influence of extremist Hindu political philosophy on his ideas was greatly increased. He wrote many extremist articles against Muslims in India, reflecting the aggressive Hinduvta ideology of Savarkar’s Hindu Mahasabha. Har Dayal died in Philadelphia, USA in 1939.

The fusion of three separate streams of the revolutionary anti-imperialist struggles of the ‘Ghadar Party’, the ‘Berlin Committee’, and the ‘Jihad Movement’, originating in different places and meeting together in Kabul at about the beginning of 1916, gave rise to an altogether new dimension of the independence movement of India. How the third stream i.e. the Jihad Movement originated and how these three movements eventually merged together and dissolved themselves into a new form of revolutionary activity will be discussed in the next chapter. 

To be continued

Notes

1. Shayamji Verma spent his last days alone in Geneva in poverty as witnessed by Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1927 and has mentioned in his Autobiography. Becoming a recluse and paranoid, he feared every other person as his enemy or British secret service agent. He died in a Geneva hospital in 1930.

2. Madam Cama remained in exile in France until 1935 when gravely ill and paralyzed due to a stroke, she was finally allowed to return India with a family friend, Sir Cowesji Jehangir. Few months later, she died in Bombay in November 1935, bequeathing most of her personal assets to a girl’s orphanage.

3. Dr Abhinash Chandar Bhattacharya, Europe Bapla Barsadhna, (his memoirs in Bengali), quoted from Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq, Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011

4. Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan)

5. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, Pg. 117

6. Dr Abhinash Chandar Bhattacharya, op cited

7. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, Pg.170 & 171

8. Mohammad Anwer Hussain, Ulema’s Freedom Struggle & Concept of Pakistan, Pg. 78

9. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, Pg. 218

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The Ghadar Party – II

September 1, 2013

By Ahmed Kamran

Call for Revolt

With the extensive organizational work of the Ghadar Party among Indians spread all over the world, soon party organizations sprang up in China, Malaya, Siam (Thailand), Europe, the Philippines, Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Afghanistan, Japan, Russia, and Canada. In a few years, by 1916, it is estimated that about one million copies of Ghadar were published every week. Special issues of Ghadar were also printed in Nepali, Bengali, Pashto, Gujarati, and many other languages.

After the outbreak of WW1 and Great Britain joining it in August 1914, the Ghadar Party, taking this moment as an opportunity for itself, decided to organize a revolt in the Indian army against the British rulers. Many of the party workers had served in the army at some time in their careers. They were aware of some working of armed forces and its organizational structure and they had the confidence, perhaps a little misplaced, that they could work together with the rank and file Indian soldiers of the British army and be able to persuade them to join the rebels. In their heightened enthusiasm, the assumption that all Indian soldiers in the British army were ready for the rebellion was, it seems, almost taken for granted. With their experience, they knew, and quite rightly, that Britain could only keep India in its subjugation with the help of its army.

At this stage, a number of Indian revolutionaries who had been independently engaged in the struggle for the independence of India in different parts of the world and inside India started gravitating towards the Ghadar Party for participating in a unified struggle for the liberation of their homeland. Many freedom loving Indians from all walks of life, regions and religions had joined the struggle.

Maulvi Barkatullah Bhopali, little known today but an outstanding and dedicated revolutionary, joined Ghadar Party’s efforts in Hong Kong. He had reached Hong Kong, after being expelled from Japan in November 19141. Born in Bhopal in 1859 shortly after the great war of independence, in a family that was experiencing immense sufferings owing to its participation in the war of independence in 1857, Barkatullah became a staunch revolutionary. Hunted by the police, he somehow reached Bombay and slipped to London on a ship sailing from Bombay port in 1887. In London, Barkatullah was part of the group of Shyam Krishan Verma, who was later instrumental in setting up the ‘India House’ in London (to be discussed further in the post on the ‘Berlin Committee’).

While in London, Barkatullah was well respected in political and academic circles for his erudite scholarship. He worked with well known British historian Stanley Lane-Poole on his well-known work Medieval India under Mohammedan Rule. Returning to India in 1897 after 20 years in London, Barkatullah became an active member of a revolutionary group in Calcutta, carrying out violent struggle against British rule. He was sentenced to death in 1905 after his arrest in Calcutta on account of armed revolutionary activities. On account of his high academic stature, Barkatullah’s capital punishment was, however, converted into exile, only a few hours before he was about to be hanged. Maulvi Barkatullah reached Japan and was teaching at Tokyo University while bringing out anti-British journals. Owing to his participation in anti-British activities, upon insistence of the British Ambassador, Barkatullah’s service with Tokyo University was terminated in 1912. Unemployed and with little means, he lived a frugal life providing tuitions to the University students but he continued with is activities and contributing articles for the journal Muslim World. Finally, much agitated with his anti-imperialist activities, the British government compelled the Japanese government to expel Maulvi Barkatullah from Japan in November 19142. He reached Hong Kong and joined Ghadar Party that was initially set up in Hong Kong by Bhai Bhagwan Singh who had by now himself sailed to the USA and was at the party’s headquarter in San Francisco3. Barkatullah played a key role in the organization of the Ghadar Party’s diplomatic efforts.

After a British agent made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Barkatullah in Hong Kong, the Ghadar Party managed to send him to the party headquarter in San Francisco. From San Francisco, in coordination with the Berlin Committee, Barkatullah was sent to Turkey in June 1915 for mustering international diplomatic support for the planned armed uprising in India. Barkatullah quietly sneaked out of USA in a clean shaven disguise, reached East Africa and managing to obtain a German passport arrived in Istanbul to join the Berlin Committee group3. Dr. Mathra Singh of the party was also with him. The Berlin Committee delegation led by Raja Mahendra Partap Singh was eagerly waiting for Maulvi Barkatullah for seeking support from Turkey and other Muslim leaders. Maulvi Barkatullah was received by the Ottoman Sultan Muhammad V, the Muslim Caliph, then the most revered and highest religious and secular office of the Muslim world, with respect and dignity4. Caliph Sultan assured him of Turkey’s full support. But soon realizing Ottoman Turkey’s own difficult situation and increasing pressures on its war fronts, the joint group decided, with the consent of the Sultan and Caliph to proceed to Kabul in Afghanistan, for arranging critical route for foreign support from the western border of India.

The Ghadar Party gave a clarion call to all Indians wherever they were to return to India and organize the armed revolt. The party president Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, who was in Japan also decided to return to India and join the rebellion. Before returning to India in 1914-15, the Ghadar Party elected a new leadership to carry on the work. The following were elected to the executive committee5:

  1. Bhai Bhagwan Singh—President
  2. Bhai Santokh Singh—General Secretary
  3. Munshi Ram—Treasurer
  4. Ram Chand—Manager of the paper
  5. Gobind Bihari Lal—Editor
  6. Godha Ram—Urdu Editor
  7. Gopal Singh Sohi—Punjabi Editor
  8. Sundar Singh Ghali
  9. Imamdin
  10. Nidhan Singh
  11. Bishan Singh

Estimates range from five thousand to eight thousand Ghadar Party workers who returned to India to participate in the armed struggle. Many of them, including the President of the party, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, were arrested on arrival at Indian ports. But many others managed to reach India from various ports and entry points in Colombo, Madras, Karachi, Bombay, and Calcutta.

Amritsar was established as the control centre of the rebellion and, initially, the date for the armed uprising was fixed at 30 November, 1914. Revolutionary contingents were to capture British Cantonments at Lahore, Ferozepur, Meerut, and Delhi and proclaim the Republic of India. Sardar Kirtar Singh was to lead the attack on Lahore Cantonment while Nidhan Singh was the commander of the contingent to capture Ferozepur.  Military garrisons in Kohat, Bannu, and Dinapur were to also rise in rebellion simultaneously. Supply of bombs was entrusted to Dr Mathura Singh and the propaganda work was under the responsibility of Bhai Permanand.

To organize the revolt, Nidhan Singh, Gurmukh Singh, and Harnam Singh went to Jhelum, Rawalpindi, and Mardan while Dr. Mathura Singh proceeded to NWFP to organize Afridis and other Pathan tribes. Others went to Ambala, Meerut, Lucknow, Allahabad, Benaras, and Faizabad6. The flag of the revolt was to be a tricolor of red, green, and yellow stripes with two swords crossing each other in the centre. The mutiny, a second Ghadar, was to engulf the British Empire from Peshawar to Hong Kong. Later, in a meeting before 30 November, it was decided to extend the date for the uprising to February 21, 1915 owing to some incomplete preparations, and Lahore was decided to be the new headquarter.7

To raise funds, Rehmat Ali Fakir, one of the founding members of the party, also organized a robbery of the treasury money on board a train near Patna, Bihar. Two policemen were killed during this robbery8. By now, Dada Amir Hyder of Rawalpindi had also become an active worker of the party in Punjab9.

To help organize military reinforcements and establish a dependable materials supply line from international sources, a high-powered group had already reached Kabul from Istanbul to enlist support of Habibullah Khan, the Amir of Afghanistan. The delegation under the leadership of Raja Mehendar Partap Singh of the Berlin Committee arrived in Kabul in October 1915. Maulvi Barkatullah and Dr. Mathra Singh represented the Ghadar Party10. While in Kabul, owing to his widely acknowledged respect and influence, Maulvi Barkatullah working together with Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi succeeded in obtaining support of Amir Habibullah Khan for establishing an independent Indian government-in-exile, ‘The Provisional Government of India,’ in Kabul11. The details of this Provisional Government will be discussed later in the post on the ‘Hijrat Movement’.

The End

In spite of some measures that might have been taken by the Ghadar Party leadership to keep its rebellion plans secret, the party, it seems, was exposed to the extensive and all pervasive intelligence network of the British Empire and secret sharing of information between different colonial administrations and other countries. Shortly before the planned rebellion on 21 February 1915, a large number of Ghadar Party leaders and workers were arrested at different places in India. The night falling on 19 February, 1915 was a lightning strike on the cities and villages of Punjab. Many party leaders, workers and supporters were arrested in a major police action. This was the first major setback that the Ghadar party suffered in its struggle. In the face of this crackdown, militant party contingents in many towns and military garrisons raised the rebellion flag. However, many others went underground and continued their efforts to re-group and re-organise the forces. Efforts to gather international support from outside continued in Kabul, Berlin, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Istanbul.  It was indeed a long and tortuous war.

Back home in India, arrests continued to be made and over time 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 Ghadar Party leaders were sentenced to death, 56 were awarded life imprisonment while 17 were declared absconders. This harsh judgment gave rise to an outcry and a wave of general protests all over India. Under pressure, the Viceroy Lord Hardinge converted the death sentence of 17 leaders, including Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, into life imprisonment, and reduced the terms of imprisonment for seven others. Seven Ghadar Party leaders were, however, hanged to death on 16 November, 1915.

In the second Lahore Conspiracy Case, 102 leaders were tried, of whom again seven were hanged to death, while 45 were sentenced for life and others for varying lengths of imprisonments. Similarly, harsh sentences were awarded in the Third, Fourth, and the Fifth Lahore Conspiracy Cases.

Rebellions and ‘Mutiny’ also took place in some British colonies outside India. Ghadar Party leaders and rebel Indian soldiers were arrested and court-martialed in Malaya, Singapore, Rangoon, and Mandalay.  Thirty eight soldiers were shot dead in Singapore and two more were later hanged to death while eight British officers, nine soldiers and 17 civilians were killed in the course of mutiny. Similarly, four soldiers in Rangoon were hanged to death, 69 were given life imprisonment, and 126 others were sentenced for varying terms.12

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. The leaders and selfless workers of the Ghadar Party who laid their lives for the independence of their country belonged to all communities and parts of India. Undoubtedly, the majority of them were Sikhs, prominent among them were Harnam Singh, Kartar Singh Sarbah, Rur Singh, Kessar Singh, and Balwant Singh. But, many Hindus and Muslims were also included in the martyrs. Rehmat Ali Fakir of Patiala, Hafiz Abdullah of Ludhiana, and Mujataba Hussain of Jaunpur, UP were among the Muslim Martyrs, and Babu Kashi Ram of Ropar, Babu Ram of Hoshiarpur, Vishnu Ganesh Pingle of Pune in Maharashtar, and Chailia Ram of Ludhiana were prominent among Hindus who gave their lives for the common cause. Many of them were among the party’s founding members at Astoria and San Francisco. These included Pandit Kashi Ram, Rehmat Ali, V.G. Pingle, Balwant Singh, Jawala Singh, Kessar Singh, and Kartar Singh.13

Undoubtedly, the organization and the leadership of the Ghadar Party left much to be desired. It was, obviously, inexperienced and immature for carrying out planning and execution of a secret armed uprising in the face of a tightly run and strong-handed British Indian administration, well equipped with an extensive network of its far too experienced intelligence services. The rebellion plan itself was rather immature, and was based more on ‘wishes’ and ‘emotions’ rather than a cold-blooded analysis of the weaknesses of the party, strengths of the enemy, and of the real situation on the ground in India. A far greater reliance was made on the expectation of the ‘local troops joining the mutiny’, without making a realistic evaluation of the whole situation and the ‘actual readiness’ of the Indian troops, and the country’s population at large.

No doubt, during the crackdown of 1915-1916, the Ghadar Party operations and its movement for the armed uprising in India was defeated but its spirit was not crushed. The party, in large measure, became inoperative. But the Ghadar Party workers, however, both in India and abroad, continued to operate under different covers and significantly contributed towards the independence movement of the country. The fragrance of rebellion remained fresh in the air for a long time.

The After Shocks

The ‘Second Ghadar’ in 1915-1916 might have failed, but it had certainly produced a mighty echo in Indian politics, the tremors and aftershocks of which continued to be felt much later. The India wide Goonj that the brave cries of the leaders of this heroic movement had produced continued to inspire many subsequent revolutionary movements. For long, the Ghadar movement was remembered as a bright shooting star appearing on the Indian sky, leaving a blazing trail behind it.

Many young men and women, fired with revolutionary zeal and the spirit of Ghadar movement, across India, formed various groups and associations for waging a violent struggle against the British rulers. Although, coming from different perspectives and different paths, all of these revolutionaries and freedom fighters converged on one goal; the independence of India.

One such group of few Indian Muslim students from Lahore had quietly crossed the Indian border in February 1915 for organizing a war of independence from Afghanistan. It was followed by Muslim revolutionaries like Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and Maulana Obaidullah Sindhi in October 1915. The spirit of Jihad against the British Empire eventually produced a mass migration movement of Indian Muslims to Afghanistan in 1920. This movement will be discussed later in the post on the Hijrat Movement.

During WW1, about 1.25 million Indians, mostly from Punjab, Nepal, and NWFP, had served in the British army fighting on various fronts in Asia and Europe. More than 43,000 soldiers had died fighting for the British Empire. With the de-mobilization of such a large number of soldiers after WW1, returning 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 the population) and the wounds of 1915-1916 Ghadar still fresh, the political conditions in India were extremely precarious. By 1919, the situation, especially in the 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 Indian mob on a street of Amritsar on 11 April, Brigadier Dyer, the local British army commander, carried out a cold-blooded massacre of Indian protesters at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar on the fateful day of 13 April, 1919, killing 379 civilian people. To quell widely spreading series of protests and rebellions, on the instructions of the British strongman, Michael O’Dwyer, the Governor of Punjab, the British army resorted to air strafing and bombings at protesters two days later at Gujranwala, killing another twelve people. Punjab and India rued these killings for a long time.

A little later, another group of young students in Lahore formed a Naujwan Bharat Sabha to pursue their ideals of a free India. Bhagat Singh14 was the most prominent leader of this group. His father and two uncles were members of the groups in Punjab, which later joined Ghadar Party. They were also jailed for taking part in revolutionary struggle. One of his uncles, Ajit Singh fled to Persia to avoid arrests while the other died in 1910 after his release from jail. Young Bhagat Singh was powerfully inspired by the Ghadar party and adored its leader Sradar Kartar Singh who was hanged in Lahore with many others15. Later, Bhagat Singh went to Kanpur where he came close to another group of revolutionaries who believed, in the spirit of the Ghadar Party, that only an armed and violent struggle could bring the independence of India. The group included, among others, Sachindra Nath Sanial16, a prominent leader of the Ghadar party who was arrested and sent in exile to Andaman Islands (Kala Pani) together with Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna.

This group of revolutionaries had founded the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) in October 1924 at Kanpur. The founding members were Ram Parsad Bismil, Sachindra Nath Sanyal, Dr. Jadugopal Mukherji, and Jogesh Chandra Chatterji. The party program called for overthrowing the British colonial rule and establishment of a ‘Federal Republic of the United States of India’. Soon, its branches were established in Agra, Allahabad, Banaras, Kanpur, Lucknow, Saharanpur, and Shahjahanpur. A little later, great revolutionary and an equally powerful legend of the Indian revolutionary movement as Bhagat Singh and his mentor, Chandar Shekhar Azad joined HRA in Kanpur. He was soon followed by Bhagat Singh who also joined the party.

To raise funds for the purchase of weapons and to carry out its revolutionary activities, the HSRA planned a train robbery of the treasury money in August 1925 carried out by eight party workers under Ram Parsad Bismil, including Ashfaqullah Khan and Murari Lal who were from Shahjahanpur while Chandar Shekhar Azad was from Unnao, Rajendra Lahiri and Manmath Nath Gupta from Banaras, Banwari Lal from Rai Braeli, Mukundi Lal from Etawa, and Sachindra Lal Bakhshi and Keshab Chakarvarti from Calcutta. In the footsteps of Ghadar Party’s Rehmat Ali Fakir’s train robbery about a decade ago in Patna, 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, remaining in hiding, together with newly joining Bhagat Singh reorganized the Association and the word ‘Socialist’ was added to its name to change it to ‘Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. Four of the HSRA leaders, including Ram Parsad Bismil and Ashfaqullah Khan17 were eventually hanged to death in December 1927.

On 17 Novemebr, 1928, a well-known Indian revolutionary, Lala Lajapat Rai died as a result of head injuries during an indiscriminate Lathi 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 charge18.

Together with Chandar Shekhar Azad, Rajguru, and Sukhdev, Bhagat Singh assassinated John Saunders, the Assistant Superintendent Police, on 17 December 1928, in a mistaken identity of James Scott. All of the HSRA leaders managed to escape. Few months later, on 8 April, 1929, Bhagat Singh together with his comrade Batukeshwar Dutt threw two hand-bombs inside the Punjab Assembly hall from the visitor’s gallery while raising slogans of ‘Inqilab Zindabad’. Soon, a bomb factory was unearthed by the police and Bhagat Singh together with Rajguru, Kishori Lal and Sukhdev were arrested and tried in Lahore in a well-publicized case. Two of the weak members of the party, Hansraj and Jay Gopal becoming approver, a massive hunt for the leaders of the revolutionary party was carried out and many key leaders in Punjab, Behar, and UP were arrested19.

With a view bring their case in more limelight and to protest against the harsh conduct of the British authorities, Bhagat Singh and many other revolutionaries observed a long hunger strike. Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, after his 14 years in Andaman Islands was now also interned in Lahore jail. Though, he was very weak and sick, Sohan Singh also observed hunger strike in support of Bhagat Singh and the young revolutionaries. Also aware of Sohan Singh’s critical condition but to put him under pressure, the government announced extension of Sohan Singh’s jail term in case he didn’t desist from joining the insubordination of other revolutionaries. Hearing about Baba Sohan Singh’s precarious situation, Bhagat Singh made a special request to allow him meeting with Sohan Singh. During his meeting, Bhagat Singh repeatedly requested Baba Sohan Singh to end his hunger strike but Baba Sohan Singh remained steadfast in his determination. As a result, his jail term was also extended for one more year.20

While the Bhagat Singh case was in its final stages, Chandar Shekhar Azad was killed during a police shoot out in Allahabad on 27 February 1931. While in hiding he was engaged in a secret meeting with his comrades in Alfred Park of Allahabad (now Chandar Shekhar Park), his presence was betrayed by a colleague. Surrounded by the police, he let his other comrades escape but defended himself from behind a large tree. Rapidly shooting at the police from his revolver to keep them at bay, Chandar Shekhar used the last bullet in his revolver to shoot himself. He died on the spot. The people of Allahabad, men women, and children flocked to the park in the memory of this brave man and the tree under which he gave his life became a revered object. The British administration soon completely uprooted the tree from the park21.

Soon, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, were also hanged to death in Lahore Jail on 23 March 1931. The old Jail in Lahore where Bhagat Singh, together with his colleagues, and many other revolutionaries before him, were hanged to death was later razed to ground in 1960’s and now Shadman Colony is situated on its grounds.22 

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

Kuch ajab boo-e nafs aati hai deewaron se
Ha’aye zindan main bhi kya log thay hum se pehlay

Notes

  1. Gumshida Auraq, Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, Pg.307
  2. Ibid, Pg.300-307
  3. Ibid, Pg.308-310
  4. Ibid, Pg.311
  5. Dr. Jaspal Singh, History of the Ghadar Movement
  6. Ibid
  7. Shaukat Siddiqui, Op Cited, Pg.146
  8. Ashraf Ata, Kuch Shakista Dasatanen, Kuch Pareeshan Tazkiray
  9. Shaukat Siddiqui, Op Cited, Pg.147
  10. Dr. Jaspal Singh, Op Cited.
  11. Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan)
  12. Dr. Jaspal Singh, Op Cited.
  13. The Martyrs of Ghadar Movement;
  14. Bhagat Singh is one of the most powerful symbols of the Indian Independence Movement and a hero of revolutionary folk lore. He was born in a Sandhu Jat family in Chak 105 GB, Jaranwala Tehsil, near Lyallpur (now Faisalabad in Pakistan) in 1907.
  15. Ajoy Kumar Ghosh, Bhagat Singh aur uskay Saathi (Bhagat Singh & His Comrades), Maktaba-e Danyal, Karachi, 1992, Pg.15
  16. Sachnidra Nath Sanyal was born in Benaras, UP. He was a close associate of Rash Behari Bose. Together with him he had attempted to assassinate the Viceroy of India, Lord Hardinge, in Delhi, in 1912, but failed. Joined Ghadar Party and upon arrest in 1915, he was exiled to Andaman Islands. After his release and return to India, he again engaged in anti imperialist revolutionary activities and, though not a Marxist, he became one of the founders of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association and a mentor for Chandar Shekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh who joined the HSRA. Together with Ashfaqullah and others, Sanyal was arrested and tried in Kakori Train Robbery Case in 1925. He was once again transported to Andaman Islands. Towards the end of his life, suffering from TB, he was transferred to Gorakhpur jail where he died in 1942.
  17. Ashfaqullah Khan was born in Shahjahanpur, UP in 1900. While young he was inspired by Ram Parsad Bismil, a revolutionary worker and an Urdu poet. Himself an Urdu poet with a pen name of Hasrat, Ashfaqullah joined Bismil in his revolutionary activities during non-cooperation movement of 1922. Both Ashfaq and Bismil participated in the famous robbery of government treasury on a train near Kakori in UP in August 1925. The daring incident of train robbery with apparently no trace of the robbers had a shocking effect on the British government. Finally, with the help of Scotland Yard, the CID managed to trace the robbers and arrested all but Ashfaqullah Khan who manged to go in hiding in Behar. After about ten months in hiding, Ashfaqullah returned to Delhi to find out the way to escape out of India. Betrayed by a Pathan friend, Ashfaqullah was finally arrested and was detained in Faizabad jail. Together with his three other comrades, Ram Parsad Bismil, Rajendra Lahiri, and Thakur Roshan Singh, Ashfaqullah Khan was hanged to death in December 1927 at the age of 27. When his chains were released before hanging, Ashfaqullah Khan Hasrat is reported to have walked up to the post, reaching for the rope he kissed it and reciting the Muslim’s Kalma Shahadat in Arabic he wore the noose around his neck and was soon hanged to death.
  18. Ajoy Kumar Ghosh, op cited Pg.20
  19. Ibid, Pg.22
  20. Ibid, Pg.29
  21. Syed Sibte Hasan, Foreword to Ajoy Kumar Ghosh, op cited, Pg.8
  22. Ibid, Pg.9

To be continued

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The Ghadar Party – I

August 31, 2013

By Ahmed Kamran

The Beginning

Although almost forgotten among the younger generations of today’s India and Pakistan, it has generally been believed by those few who are aware of this part of our common history that the Hindustan Ghadar Party (more commonly known as the Ghadar Party) was founded in California with headquarter in San Francisco. Few trace its origins to the Sikh Gurdwara in Stockton, California. Others believed that the small revolutionary group of Indians that was, later, converted into the Ghadar Party was founded in 1913 in the small town of Astoria, Oregon.

Recently, the Ghadar Party and its history have also come into the limelight of some US academic circles. Johanna Ogden, a history researcher, drawing upon her University of British Columbia MA thesis (2010), Oregon and Global Insurgency: Punjabis of the Columbia River Basin wrote an article Ghadar, Historical Silences, and Notions of Belonging: Early 1900s Punjabis of the Columbia River for the Oregon Historical Quarterly in April 2011. The article was sent by the Journal to Dr Bruce La Brack, a cultural anthropologist and South Asian specialist at the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California for review. This was the beginning of their joint work, and their subsequent collaboration with the Oregon Historical Society and Astoria City Council has resulted in the plans by the City of Astoria, Oregon, to celebrate the centenary of the founding meeting of the Ghadar Party in that city, currently scheduled for October 1-5, 2013. The celebratory activities may include a festival of Sikh or Sikh-themed films, a public display of portions of the UC-Berkeley “Echoes of Freedom” travelling exhibit, and some symposia or lecture/conference. Reportedly, the City of Astoria is even considering initiating a “Sister City” relationship with Amritsar. This information is based on a recent note published jointly by Dr Bruce La Brack and Johanna Ogden, appealing to the Sikh and Indian community, particularly living in Oregon, California and other adjoining states to join the celebratory events at Astoria in large numbers to make it successful.1

A Congressional resolution recognizing the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Ghadar party in the US has also been reportedly introduced by the two Congressmen in the House of Representatives.2

What was the Ghadar Party and who were these people?

After India’s Great War of Independence failed in September 1857, the people of India witnessed a wave of terror and brutalities, wanton destruction and razing to the ground of a large part of the Capital City of Delhi. Summary execution and public hanging of people, both of common origin and prominent members of the deposed ruling elite of the Indian society, was a daily sight. Thousands were executed across India with vengeance.

Faced with excessive repression, heavy taxes, destruction of indigenous small-scale crafts and local skill sets unfavorably positioned in competition with European finished products promoted in the local markets, a large number of Indians felt increasingly hard pressed.  Evictions from hereditary lands in the rural areas and a general economic down turn compelled a large number of skilled workers from Indian towns and landless peasants from rural hinterland (Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims) to enroll themselves as indentured labour with English traders, planters, and farmers to be taken to remote parts of the vast British colonial empire. As R. Palme Dutt3, in his seminal book India Today observes that while ‘in England, the ruin of the old handloom weavers was accompanied by the growth of the new machine industry. But in India the ruin of millions of artisans and craftsmen was not accompanied by any alternative growth of new forms of industry’.4

The old populous manufacturing towns, Dacca, Murshidabad (which Clive had described in 1775 to be ‘as extensive, populous and rich as the city of London’), Surat and the like, were in a few years rendered desolate under the ‘pax Britannica’ with a completeness which no ravages of the most destructive war or foreign conquest could have accomplished. ‘The decay and destruction’, reported Montgomery Martin, the early historian of the British Empire, ‘of Surat, of Dacca, of Murshidabad and other places where native manufactures have been carried on , is too painful a fact to dwell upon. I do not consider that it has been in the fair trade course of trade; I think it has been the power of the stronger exercised over the weaker.’5

During second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, thousands of Indians were carried off as cheap indentured labour to Malaya, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Fiji, and Canada. To escape from hunger and repression, many Indian poor left their homes and hearths seeking opportunities of employment in the colonies. A fairly large number of these emigrants were Sikhs from Punjab. These Indians were mainly working as coolies in sea ports, construction sites, railway works, and as farm workers on plantations and forest logging areas. By early 20th century there were a sizable number of Indian workers spread all over Malaya, Indo-China, China, Pacific Islands, Japan, California, West Indies, South America, and Canada. Hardy and enterprising people, as they were, many of these Indians earned a good living and grew comfortable also. But in a highly racist and discriminatory society as these colonies still were, the Indians were generally treated at work places, restaurants, and on the streets with insult and contempt.

Thoroughly discontented with their painful situation in these foreign lands and, simultaneously, getting exposed to the modern political developments and revolutionary ideas in the West, many of the Indians keenly realized that they may never get a fair and equal treatment in the colonies unless their own country was free from colonial rule and counted as an independent country in the comity of nations. More energetic among them and enthused with the ideas of freedom, equality, and fraternity, started organising themselves for participating in activities for their rights as well as for the independence and freedom of their own homeland in India.

One Tarak Nath Das from Bengal founded an Indian Independence League and started its monthly magazine Free Hindustan in Vancouver in early 1908. This was probably the first South Asian publication in Canada, and one of the first in North America. Together with Tarak’s Free Hindustan, his colleague Guran Dutt Kumar started its Gurmukhi edition, Swadesh Sevak. With Tarak Nath’s swift expulsion from Canada by the middle of 1908, he moved to Seattle, Washington in USA and brought out his paper Free Hindustan from Seattle in July 1908. These and few other magazines that were being published from various cities in North America advocated for an armed struggle in India against the British. An East India Association was also formed in 1911 with similar objectives.  Similarly, in a meeting of Indian workers and students held at Portland, Oregon in 1912 The Hindustani Association was formed. It was also decided to start an Urdu weekly newspaper, India. The Association was headed now by a relatively affluent Indian, Pandit Kashi Ram. He was soon joined by Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna.

Sohan Singh Bhakna and Bhai Udham Singh Kasel were laid off from their jobs and they went to Astoria, Oregon to see their friend Bhai Kesar Singh. There a branch of the party was opened with Bhai Kesar Singh, Munshi Karim Bakhsh and Shri Munshi Ram as President, Secretary and Treasurer respectively. Only five or six meetings were held when G. D. Kumar, who was to start the Urdu weekly paper India, fell sick and the paper could not be started. During this time Lala Thakuar Dass (Dhuri) came to Portland to see Sohan Singh Bhakna and Kashi Ram. He advised them to send for Lala Hardyal from Stanford and entrust him the work of running the paper. Hardayal, together with Bhai Parmanand reached Oregon in the last week of March, 1913.

The Organisation

A movement for establishing a unified party of the Indian revolutionaries was now seemingly gaining ground. On 12 April, 1913, a meeting was held in the Sikh Gurdwara at Stockton near San Francisco by Khalsa Diwan Society, which was also attended by Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna from Astoria. A series of other meetings were reportedly held in March through May 1913 at various places, including, Fresno, Sacramento, Oxnard, Upland, Claremont, and Los Angeles in California, Astoria and Washington in Oregon, and at Seattle in Washington.

The Daily Budget, a paper being published from Astoria, Johanna Ogden says, ‘printed a notice on May 30, 1913, announcing an invitation to hear Har Dayal, a Stanford professor and ‘noted philosopher and revolutionist in India’. Dayal delivered a lecture on India’. Coinciding with this occasion, probably on 7 June, 1913, a Hindi Association of the Pacific Coast was founded in a meeting that took place in Finnish Socialist Hall in Astoria. Reportedly, about 200 participants represented from different cities and regions.

Following was decided in this founding meeting6.

  1. To liberate India with the force of arms from British servitude and to establish a free and independent India with equal rights for all.
  2. To establish headquarters in San Francisco, that would serve as a base to coordinate all the activities for achieving these aims and objectives. The San Francisco office was to be named as Ghadar Ashram or “Uganter Ashram.
  3. To publish a weekly newspaper, Ghadar, in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and in other languages of India.
  4. To hold organisational elections every year to elect a coordination committee from the different committees to carry out all the work.
  5. No discussion or debate was to take place on religion within the organization. Religion was considered a personal matter and that it had no place in the organization.

The party’s program clearly reflected a democratic and secular outlook of the founding fathers. These people were not communists or some political workers under the influence of a socialist country. The Soviet revolution was still four years away, and the Russian Bolshevik party itself was facing severe repression at home and abroad. Predominantly Punjabis and Sikhs, but many others had come from different cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, and religions.

At the initial gathering in Astoria in 1913, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna was elected President, Kesar Singh and Jawala Singh as Vice Presidents, Lala Hardayal, General Secretary & Editor Ghadar in Urdu, Lala Thakur Das Dhuri, Joint Secretary, Pandit Kanshi Ram as Treasurer, and Kartar Singh as Editor, Ghadar, Punjabi. Others who were present as the founding members included, Harnam Singh, Karim Bukhsh, Bhai Permanand, Santokh Singh, Rehmat Ali, GD Verma, Balwant Singh, and V.G. Pingle.

The legacy of 1857 War of Independence (Ghadar) had always been a powerful motivation and a singular point of reference for the Indian revolutionaries since then. A precursor of the Ghadar paper, another magazine the Talvar, which was printed in Berlin, had on its front page in its April-May 1910 issue a couplet from Bhadur Shah Zafar, the last emperor of India and a symbolic leader of the Ghadar of 1857. The lead article was dedicated to May 10, 1857, the date of the first uprising at Meerut, and was written,

‘In memory of
Rani Lakshmi Bai and her comrades
Mandar and Kashi
Rana Kunwar Singh
Maulvi Ahmad Shah
Tantia Tope
Khuda Baksh
Ghulam Ghaus Khan
Mangal Pandey
and those tens of thousands of men and women who perished in 1857 in the sacred attempt to wrench the mother from the hands of the Faranghi’.7

The concept and memory of Ghadar was so powerfully ingrained and deeply associated with this newly formed Hindi Association of the Pacific Coast and, perhaps, because of its widely distributed organ Ghadar, the party itself was, later, named as the ‘Hindustan Ghadar Party’.

The first issue of the Ghadar in Urdu appeared on the 1st of November 1913. The Punjabi edition of the paper in Gurmukhi script was brought out in December 1913, and a third edition in Gujrati was published in May 1914. Initially, the party headquarter was established at a rented location – 436 Hill Street, San Francisco – but, later, it moved to its own three-storey building at 5 Wood Street, purchased with the funds collected from members and mostly Punjabi Indian laborers. On January 22, 1917, the movement was also officially registered as the ‘Hindustan Ghadar Party’ in San Francisco, to comply with the American law, with its headquarters at 5 Wood Street, San Francisco8.

An electric press was installed for printing weekly Ghadar and other revolutionary publications. Apart from its weekly paper, the Party also published several pamphlets, appeals, and ‘Open Letters’ addressed to Indians at large. Few of these pamphlets included Ailan-e-Jang (War Declaration) in Urdu, Naya Zamana (New Age) in Urdu, The Balance Sheet of British Rule in English, and Ghadar Di Goonj (The Resounding Echo of Mutiny) in Punjabi.

Ghadar Di Goonj was an anthology of revolutionary poems. The simple poetry was hard hitting:

Kuli Kuli Pukarda Jag Saanun
Saada Jhulda Kitey Nishan Kiyon Nahin
Kidoon Bachangey Sada Ghulam Rah key
Saanun Rajniti Wala Giyan Kiyon Nahin
Dhayi Totru Kha Gaye Khet Saada
Hindustan da Koi Kisan Kiyon Nahin

(We are called coolies, coolies everywhere
Why not our own banner is unfurled anywhere?
Would we always live a life of a slave?
Why don’t we know the science of politics?
A few people have taken away our land
Why is it not to a tiller of Hindustan?)

Marna Bhala, Ghulami di Zindagi tun
Nahin Sukhan eh Man Bhulaavney Da
Mulk Jaagyaya Cheen Jo Ghook Suta
Dhol Vajyaya Hind Jagaawanney Da
Saanun Laur Na Panditan Di, Na Kazian Di
Nahin Shok Hai Berra Dubavaney Da
Jap Jaap Da Waqt Bateet Hoya
Vella Aa Giya Tegh Uthavney Da
Parhkey Ghadar Akhbar nun Khabar Lagi
Vela Aa Giya Ghadar Machavaney Da!

(Better to die, than live a life of servitude,
We should never forget this saying.
China has awakened from its sleep
Battle drums of Hindustan’s awakening are sounding
We don’t need any Pandit(Hindu schlolar) or Kazi (Muslim Maulvi)
As we do not want our ship to sink.
The time for prayers and Puja is over
Now is the time to pick up the sword
Reading Ghadar, we got to know;
The time for revolt has finally come!)

Bhukhey Marnn Bacchey Kaall Vich Sadey
Khatti Khann Saadi Englistan Walley
Kannak Beejkey Khann Nun Jaun Mildey
Paisa Chhad dey Nahin Laggan Valley
Laayiya Tax Firangiyan Bahut Yaaro
Bhukhey Marann Gharib Dukaan Valley
Karo Paltan Nun Khabardar Jaakey
Sutey Payey Kiyon Tegh Chalaan Valley
Musalmaan, Pathan, Balwan, Dogar
Singh Soormey, Yudh Machaann Valley
Hindustaniyan Morchey Fatey Keetey
Burma, Misar te Cheen, Sudan Valley

(Our children are dying in famines
The English are enjoying the fruit or our toil
We sow wheat but we get barley to eat
We are not left with a penny, all is taken by the tax collectors
The English have levied heavy taxes
Poor shopkeepers are dying of hunger
Go and arouse the army
Why those who wield the sword are asleep?
Muslims, Pathans, Warriors, and Dogras
Valiant Sikhs, the Battle Criers
Hindustanis winning battles in
Burma, Egypt, China, and in Sudan)9

I couldn’t help reproducing the above few couplets to give an idea of the pathos of this poetry. It’s powerful and moving even today, after so much water has flown down the bridge during last about 100 years.

Notes

1. http://americanturban.com/2013/04/08/celebrating-the-centenary-of-the-ghadar-party-in-oregon/

2. The Times of India, US & Canada News, June 15, 2013

3. Rajni Palme Dutt was a prominent member and Marxist theoretician of the British Communist Party. R. Palme Dutt was born in England in 1896 to Upendra Dutt, a surgeon of Indian origin and mother Anna Palme from Sweden. Anna Palme was the great aunt of the future Prime Minister of Sweden, Olaf Palme (1969-1976). R.P. Dutt remained loyal to the CPGB and supported the Soviet Union. He died in 1974.

4. R. Palme Dutt, India Today, Book Traders, Lahore, 1979, Pg.119

5. R. Palme Dutt, op. cited, Pg.120

6. Dr. Jaspal Singh, History of the Ghadar Movement

7. Ibid.

8. 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.

9. Dr. Jaspal Singh, op cited.

 To be continued

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Beacons of Light

August 27, 2013

Some forgotten chapters of the Indian Independence Movement

(This is the centenary year of the founding of the Hindustan Ghadar Party in USA in 1913. This chapter of our independence movement, together with few other allied movements, is almost completely forgotten in the subcontinent and finds little mention in history books. We are beginning an exciting new series to remember the Ghadar Party together with two other important movements of that time – the Berlin Committee and the Muslim Hijrat Movement. We invite readers to contribute and enrich this history.)

By Ahmed Kamran

The City Council of an obscure sleepy town in the north-east of US on the Pacific coast is busy with planning a unique centenary celebration in October of this year. One of the City Councilors, Karen Mellin, is particularly excited about it. The city is Astoria, situated near the mouth of Columbia River in the state of Oregon in the United States of America. It is served by the deep-water Port of Astoria.

What is the significance of this event for us? What connection it has with our today’s discussion on some forgotten chapters of the Indian Independence Movement?

‘It was 1913 when a group of Punjabi Sikh Indians in Astoria, working in Alderbrook and along the Columbia River, had an idea. Sparked by the history of the American Revolution, a group of inspired immigrants who were not treated equally at home or in America held a meeting at the Finnish Socialist Hall, where the Dunes Motel on Marine Drive now sits.

It was there that the group founded the Ghadar political party, eventually leading to the freedom of the Indians from British rule. And on the 100th anniversary of the party’s creation – a party that no longer exists – Astoria will be celebrated as the birthplace of “the shot heard around the world,” says, Chelsea Gorrow in The Daily Astorian, Mar 27, 20131.

India’s Independence Movement

India’s heroic struggle for its defense against European colonial expansion, in early stages, and for its liberation and independence against occupation, in its later stages, is long and tortuous. In the early phase, for the defense of India many heroic battles were fought, which included, among others:

  1. The Battle of Plassey in Bengal by Sirajuddaulah (June 1757)
  2. The Battle of Baxar, near Patna in today’s Behar (October 1764)
  3. Four Mysore wars fought by Haider Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan between 1766 and 1799, the last was fought by Tipu Sultan at Srirangapatam (in today’s Karnataka) in May 1799,
  4. Three Anglo-Maratha Wars fought between 1775 and 1818. The Capital City of Delhi was lost to English army under General Gerard Lake in the Second Maratha War in September 1803.

The struggle for independence and wars of liberation, in the second stage, starts with the Great War of Independence (Mutiny or Ghadar) during May-September 1857. Indian soldiers of the British Indian army rose in rebellion in Meerut in May 1857. After taking control of the military cantonment at Meerut, the rebel soldiers left for Delhi, igniting a series of rebellions and battles against British occupation. The control of Delhi was taken over by the rebel Indian army and tens of thousands of peasants joined the struggle. Soon the flames of rebellion had engulfed most of the major British army garrisons across northern India and some parts in the South. After initial setbacks, the British army, however, regrouped and, with reinforcements joining from the Punjab and the North West, launched a counter offensive. Pitched battles were fought in Delhi, Lucknow, Faizabad, Jhansi, Gwalior, Behar, Bengal, and scores of towns across India.

The war was eventually lost by the Indians in September 1857.

A reign of terror was unleashed. It’s a long story, spread over about ninety years till 1947, in which thousands of brave sons and daughters of united India laid their lives by hanging in public or being executed before the firing squads. Many thousands more ended up with life imprisonments, or exiles to remote islands, euphemistically known in India as Kala Pani.

The glorious struggle for the independence of India had many facets and streams, acting independently in various parts of India, and hardly coordinating with each other before these independence movements and revolutionary groups started converging in the 1st quarter of 20th century.

The formation of the Communist Party of India 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 Communist Party of India in the Indian Independence Movement and its subsequent far reaching impact on the Indian society in general cannot be fully appreciated, unless it is seen in the backdrop of three very powerful, but largely forgotten, movements of their time. These movements grew quite independent of each other and played crucial role in the history of the freedom movement of the united India. Later, in a strange way, these movements converged, preparing the ground for the formation of the first Communist Party of India in 1920.

These movements are, undoubtedly, an integral part of the long and tortuous struggle for the independence of India. These are: the Ghadar Party (1913-1931), the Berlin Committee (1914-1918), and the Hijrat Movement (1915-1921) of the Indian Muslims.

Here we will try to remember these forgotten chapters of the history of the Indian Independence Movement in a series of posts.

Notes

1. http://www.dailyastorian.com/free/indian-revolutionaries-have-roots-in-astoria/article_a5dc3278-9707-11e2-8d4e-0019bb2963f4.html

To be continued

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