Posts Tagged ‘Indian Independence Movement’

The Jihad Movement – II

September 24, 2013

By Ahmed Kamran

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 Hasan Aibak, Allah Nawaz Khan, and Mohammad Ali who tried to infuse a new life in it. However, under severe pressure from Britain, the Provisional Government was made totally restricted after conclusion of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in August 1919. Eventually, under the instructions of the Afghan Government, it was formally disbanded in 1922. Obaidullah Sindhi and his colleagues quietly left for Tashkent. They reached Termiz in Soviet Union in Oct 1922.

The Hijrat Begins

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

During the Third Anglo-Afghan War, the Muslim Urdu press created another sensational and emotionally charged atmosphere among Indian Muslims. Muslim prayer leaders and some of the leading Ulema again senselessly 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 Islamic country) in Afghanistan and fight for the restoration of old glory of the Muslim Caliphate. It is, indeed, a moot point whether these nationalist Ulema 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. I, for one, am inclined to believe that, probably, it was more of the latter than the former.

However, clearly, not having a clue of the international situation and the current alignment of forces and their respective strengths, some pious and well-meaning sentimental Muslims, unwittingly, fell prey to the deceptive situation. They started undertaking migration to neighboring Afghanistan. Initially, a slow trickle, it gained strength and, soon, turned into a torrent.

In fairly large numbers, 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, albeit limited, movement in early 1830’s. Starting from about June 1920, Indian Muslims from all walks of life in their hundreds started leaving for Afghanistan without even bothering to find out how and where they would be staying in their new 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 Punjab, Sindh, UP, Bihar, Kohat, and Hazara, together with their women and children were heading for the Afghan border in the NWFP, in droves by train, oxen carts, tonga, and on foot.

The migration started with a trickle. Initially, a few hundred arrived in Peshawar, the first camp on their way. Then it soon grew into an almost uncontrollable torrent. Amir Amanullah Khan also, perhaps unwittingly, provided impetus to the movement by issuing a thoughtless statement that ‘the whole country of Afghanistan would welcome Indian Muhajirs’. Probably, it was intended more to score a few rosy points by a new emerging 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.

Though initiated by the religious leaders of Deoband by issuing a Fatwa, a religious edict, and supported by the eminent Muslim scholar Maulana Abdul Bari Farangi Mahli of Lukhnow, the movement grew rapidly without a central leadership or proper guidance. It was, probably, one of the biggest spontaneous movements in the history of India in recent times. Towards the end, large groups of up to 1,000 people were arriving at the border in one day. It is estimated that in all about 40,000 to 50,000 people left their homes and hearths to undertake this Hijrat.

Notable people among those who reached the border for Hijrat included a young Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan from Charsadda, Abdul Qadir Sehrai from Peshawar, Abdul Aziz and Waris Butt from Amritsar, Shaukat Usmani from Bikaner, Rajputana, and Fazal Elahi Qurban and Firozuddin Mansoor from Punjab. Others included Fida Ali Zahid, Iqbal Shaidai, and Murtaza Ahmed Khan Maikash. Most of them were educated urban youth, belonging to the middle class families of Punjab, UP, and CP. During the fervor of initial heady days of the Hijrat, some notables of Peshawar including Haji Jan Mohammad, Syed Maqbool Shah, and few others made camping arrangements for Muhajirs, after getting many inns and living quarters vacated in the Namak Mandi of Peshawar. Volunteers of ‘Hijrat Committee’ distributed food and water among tired Muhajirs. Curiously, the British government didn’t stop anyone from crossing the border. The Government officials were, however, quietly observing the movement of people.

A Dream Turns Sour

But soon the bitter reality started to dawn upon the unsuspecting Muhajirs. After crossing over into Afghanistan, the conditions were quite harsh and much different from what these enthusiastic Muhajirs had, perhaps, imagined. It was highly rugged terrain, with almost no agriculture or commercial life. There was hardly any sign of modern built infrastructure in the border areas of Afghanistan. The tribal people were illiterate and living in most primitive and savage conditions, compared to what these Muhajirs, mostly from urban areas of British India, were used to in their fairly developed and civilized towns. Raising slogans of Allah-o-Akbar on their way, when Muhajirs started arriving near Jalalabad, there was no one to receive them or make arrangement for their stay. People were staying overnight in the open fields. They were like sitting ducks before birds of prey. Soon, armed bands of the local tribesmen started looting and plundering the bewildered Muhajirs, and abducting their young women. While situation was rapidly deteriorating in Afghanistan and Muhajirs couldn’t find an escape from the cruelty of the armed tribesmen, more and more groups of Muhajirs were pouring in. The initial shock and a sense of shame and humiliation prevented these Muhajirs to quickly retrace their steps and return to their homeland.

Unfamiliar with the rough terrain, many Muhajirs took flight in whichever direction they could find an escape from this calamity. Many perished in their endeavors for finding a safe way back home. Some managed to reach Kabul. They were temporarily provided with some shelter by the Afghan Government But soon, the number of Muhajirs arriving every day was beyond the limited capacity of the nominal government of Afghanistan. A panicked Amir Amnaullah Khan tried to stem the tide and urged Obaidullah Sindhi to stop the train of people arriving at the border with India. But the movement was clearly without a central leadership and planning. It was no longer possible to put a lid on it.

It took a few months before the shocking 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 September 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. We may not, perhaps, doubt the intentions of the religious leaders and some of the prominent Ulema. But, undoubtedly, these religious leaders apparently had no clue of the dimensions and the implications of what they were exhorting 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.

This huge Hijrat movement, in a strange way, however, played an important role on 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 difficulties.

But even this great human tragedy was used by the Afghan Government as a bargaining chip in its rounds of negotiations with the British Government at Mussoorie 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 Government. Sardar Tarzi made Obaidullah Sindhi to believe that these letters will only be used in the event British Government did not agree to meet Afghanistan’s just demand for acknowledging it as a truly independent sovereign country and agreeing to 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 there he met M.N. Roy and others. He entered into the ‘Communist University for the Toilers of the East’ and studied communist ideology.

Jihad Revolutionaries

At the beginning of the Hijrat movement of 1920, probably, the first to arrive in Afghanistan was a young man of 22, Rafiq Ahmed from Bhopal. He reached the Afghan border together with his elder brother Kabir Ahmed. Kabir Ahmed, being a government employee in Bhopal, was not allowed by the British border security officials to pass without government authority. His repeated passionate requests could not buy him passage. Kabir Ahmed returned home disappointed and Rafiq Ahmed moved ahead. He reached Kabul and met Amanullah Khan. This was a little before Muhajirs in large numbers started arriving in Afghanistan. Soon, few more young men arrived in Kabul. These were Mohammad Akbar Khan, Gohar Rehman1 and Sultan Mehmood from Rihana, Haripur Hazara, and Mian Akbar Shah from Noshehra. They met Obaidullah Sindhi, Abdul Rab2 of former Berlin Committee, and the group of Lahore students who were already there for few years.

Soon, with the arrival of increasing number of Muhajirs in Kabul, it became difficult for the Afghan Government to keep an eye on them. With the Afghan-British negotiations already underway, Amanullah Khan’s support for the Indian revolutionaries had also started cooling off. The Muhajirs, including Obaidullah Sindhi, Abdul Rab, and Rafiq Ahmed were once again shifted to Jabalul Siraj, a camp about 75 Km north of Kabul. There were now about 180 Muhajirs placed at the camp and were, for all practical purposes, forgotten and ignored by the Afghan Government The Muhajirs had no other choice but to either return to India in humiliation or to advance further ahead. They split 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 near Termiz (in present day Uzbekistan) to reach Anatolia in Turkey via Turkmenistan. At Termiz, Muhajirs were welcomed by a small contingent of soviet army posted there. The local governor of Termiz tried to persuade Muhajirs to abandon their journey to Turkey in the rapidly changing situation on the war front but they were highly enthused with the idea of joining the Turkish army in defense of Muslims.

Haji Shahabuddin and Shaukat Usmani, both heavily imbued with Islamic revolutionary fervor, addressed Muhajirs, passionately exhorting them to move forward without wasting time and for realizing their dream of fighting the British and European powers alongside their brave Turkish brethren. With shouts of Allah-o-Akbar, the Muhajirs were fired up to immediately proceed ahead. From Termiz, 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 Termiz, the Mujahidin boarded country sail boats for their next destination at Kirki in Turkmenistan via Amu River.

Mujahids’ Miseries

After this it is a horrible and tragic story of these enthusiastic Muhajirs’ long ordeal. The untold stories of these adventures have been well recorded in many memoirs and autobiographies of those people who survived the rigors and eventually returned after many years to play notable roles in the larger struggle of the independence of their country.3

The Muhajirs were captured by savage Turkmen Basmachis (Basmachi is derived from Uzbek word Basmak, which means armed robber and highwayman) shortly before reaching Kirki. These Turkmens robbed Muhajirs depriving them of their money and last material possessions, and cruelly beating them on one pretext or other. Riding on horses and with lashes in their hands, they made the Indian Muhajirs run barefoot on the rugged terrain under a burning summer sun. The Muhajirs’ pleadings and appeals to their Muslim brotherhood with repeated recitation of Quranic verses and Kalma-e-Shahadat (an avowed declaration of being Muslim) all fell on deaf ears. After entering into Turkmenistan, another group of about 28 Muhajirs was attacked by Turkmen Basmachi. Their belongings were looted, and all but one was killed. The only survivor was Ghulam Rasool, who managed to escape with fatal injuries, barely reached Termiz to tell the story, before dying the next day. Of this unfortunate Muhajirs group, he was the only one who got a burial and a grave. The dead bodies of all others remained scattered in desolate grounds and were consumed by scavengers.

These Turkmen were the soldiers of the former Amir of Bukhara who were banded together, financed, and supplied with weapons by the British agents to rise in revolt against the newly established Soviet Revolutionary 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 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 Madrassas where about 200,000 religious students were enrolled. Teaching of not only natural and social sciences but even Islamic history was prohibited in the religious schools of Bukhara, lest the young and simple students get misguided. It was a similar story, a kind of déjà vous that was to be repeated seventy years later in Afghanistan when the Islamic Mujahidin were fighting a guerrilla war, financed and managed by the American CIA and Pakistan’s ISI against Russian army in 1990’s.

Finally, the Turkmen elders and religious leaders declared all captive Indian Muhajirs as Jadeedis (The Modernists) and ordered their killing. The group of about eighty Muhajirs was made to stand in a circle waiting for execution by a firing squad. Moments before the execution was to be carried out, fortunately, a Red army contingent arrived there 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.

After a little rest and recuperation under the protection of Soviet army unit, the Indian Muhajirs finally reached Kirki. Here a Soviet army contingent welcomed them and provided shelter for taking rest. At Kirki camp, some of the Muhajirs also participated, shoulder to shoulder with soviet army, in a battle against a week-long raid of a large contingent of Basmachis on the Soviet post. Others, under Haji Shahabuddin, however, remained confined to the barracks during the fighting.

Muhajirs who had lost their communication links with the outside world for some time, received news of Turkey and other countries after a long time at Kirki. Here they came to know that the Turks under Mustafa Kamal have already declared establishing a Republic at Smyrna that did not recognize the Ottoman Caliph. The Turkish forces were fighting for their own country’s survival against occupying armies of the West and that Turkey, in its current situation, was in no position to help India win its freedom. Not willing to take further risks of again falling into the hands of Basmachis, Muhajirs proceeded from Kirki to Charjui by a Russian steamer. They were given a warm send off with a military band by the Soviet army.

New Horizons

After reaching Charjui, the group was split into two opposing groups. One group still wished to proceed to Turkey to join the war while the other group by now had a change of heart and was of the opinion to go to Tashkent to seek help from the Soviet forces. Shaukat Usmani4, who had been a staunch supporter of Haji Shahabuddin and thus far had been solely guided by his Islamic religious motivation, also had seen through the harsh reality of the situation. He also parted ways from Haji Shahabuddin. One group that finally left for Tashkent via Bukhara by train was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan of Hazara and included Firozuddin Mansoor5, Mir Abdul Hamid, Sultan Mehmood, Shaukat Usmani, Rafiq Ahmed, Masood Ali Shah, Gohar Rehman, Mian Mohammad Akbar Shah, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, Fida Ali Zahid, and Ghulam Mohammad. It reached Bukhara by end September 1920.

The other group under the leadership of Haji Shahabuddin included Fazal Elahi Qurban, 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 weapons 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 Mujahidin from India to join. These Indian volunteers were suspected to be British agents. Unfortunately, at the same time news of the arrest of a British Muslim agent Mustafa Saghir (from Muradabad in UP) in Anatolia reached Baku. Arriving from India in the guise of a Muslim volunteer on his mission to assassinate Mustafa Kamal, Mustafa Saghir was arrested by Turkish army. The British secret police had planned to assassinate Mustafa Kamal to demolish Turkish war efforts against Greeks. Captured with ample documentary evidence of his assassination 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. In fact, now they were viewed as highly suspect in Baku.

There was a large number of Indians, mostly belonging to trading communities, who were long settled in the Central Asian towns, including Bukhara, Baku, and Samarkand. They were primarily engaged in trading and commerce. Many of these Indians had formed Indian nationalist association with branches operating at Samarkand and Baku. The Baku branch of an Indian group used to bring out a fortnightly paper under the name of Azad Hindustan. While Indian Muhajirs were still at Baku, a news item was published in the paper providing details of Rehmat Ali Zakaria (from the Indian students stationed with them at Jabalul Siraj) addressing the Third Congress of the Communist Party at Tashkent. Zakaria had arrived in Soviet Union in November 1917. He had presented the case of India’s revolutionary struggle for its independence from the British colonial rule to the Congress in Tashkent. Khushi Mohammad of Lahore students (who had changed his name to Mohammad Ali) had arrived in January 1920.

Frustrated with the denial of access to Turkish war and after interaction with the members of the Baku branch of the Indian revolutionaries, the Indian Muhajirs again split into two groups: one was of the view to proceed to Tashkent to join other Indian revolutionaries in their continued struggle, while the other larger group wanted to quit and leave for their homes in India.

The larger group led by Haji Shahabuddin that set out for returning to India, unfortunately, met with yet more disasters. Only a few managed to reach their homes. 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.

Life in Tashkent

The first group heading for the Soviet Union reached Tashkent in October 1920. Abdul Rab received them and arranged for their stay at the India House. Next day, M.N. Roy6, Abhinath Mukerji7, and Mohammad Shafiq arrived to meet them. The second Muhajirs group arrived in Tashkent via Ashkabad and Samarkand by the middle of Ocobert 1920. It included Fazal Elahi Qurban8.

About 40-50 Muhajirs arriving in Tashkent were mainly divided into three groups. Dejected and disappointed, the majority wished to return home, while, some wished to stay in Tashkent and continue their struggle for the independence of India with the help of the new Soviet revolutionary government, and a few others, albeit in very small numbers, still insisted on proceeding to Turkey. Those who wanted to return home were facilitated to go back to India, and those heading for Turkey were helped to push on but they were soon turned back by the Turkish authorities at the border, denying them visa, most likely, on the suspicion of them being the ‘British spies’. The others returning home gathered in Kabul by the summer of 1921 and undertook their journeys to India.

The Indians in Tashkent formed an Indian Revolutionary Association that was headed by Abdul Rab. Its branch in Baku had Fazal Qadir as secretary and Mohammad Farigh as treasurer. Most members of the association were Punjabi and Pathan soldiers who had deserted from the British army after refusing to fire upon Muslim Turkish army. Some of these soldiers stayed in Tashkent and others proceeded to Samarkand and Baku.

About 26 of the Muhajirs staying back in Tashkent joined the political and military training school, Indusky Krus, set up by the Communist International under the guidance of M. N. Roy. They were put up at the ‘India House’ set up in Tashkent. Later, they were sent to Moscow to continue their training at the newly established ‘Communist University for the Toilers of the East’. At Tashkent and Moscow, the Indian Muhajirs met other Indian revolutionaries of the Ghadar Party and the Berlin Committee who had by now gathered together there. The convergence and fusion of these three independent streams of Indian nationalism – the Ghadar Party, the Berlin Committee, and the Hijrat Movement – produced a group of revolutionaries who became the founding fathers of the Communist Party of India in September 1920 in Tashkent.

Ever since the first group of students from Lahore had gone to Afghanistan in February 1915, the British secret police was alert and keeping track of the movements of different groups of Muhajirs and of the members of the Indian Provisional Government From the intelligence reports reaching from Kabul, Bukhara, and Tashkent, the British Indian secret police was already aware of the gradual return of the Indian Muhajir groups. Most of them returned to Peshawar via Kabul and some took the Pamir route via Chitral. A few also arrived at Quetta via Kandahar. Most of them were intercepted and interrogated at the border by Mr. Ewart, the officer-in-charge of the British Intelligence Bureau at Peshawar. The first batch of the returning Muhajirs arrived at Peshawar in June 1921.

Barkatullah – a True Revolutionary

Maulvi Barkatullah and Virendranath Chattopadhia9 and other Berlin Committee leaders lived in Soviet Union for a while. Barkatullah and Mahindra Partap met V. I. Lenin and gained his personal confidence. From Moscow, Barkatullah was sent with the Soviet delegation at the end of 1919 to Geneva for participating in the talks between Soviets and the Allies. He was instrumental in building strong working relationships with, and diplomatic support for, the Turkish delegation at the Peace Talks. He returned to Moscow and stayed there till 1922 before, he eventually returned to Berlin to continue his mission from there. He brought out a journal Al Islah from Berlin and lived in a small, dark cell-like room.

While in Soviet Union, Maulvi Barkatullah had said in one of his interview to Petrograd Pravda in 1919, ‘neither am I a socialist nor a communist. My political mission is to expel the British and other imperialists from Asia. I am strongly opposed to the European capitalism in Asia that is represented by the British. In this struggle I am a staunch ally of the communists and I consider them as necessary allies for achieving my political objectives. I think today without their practical support winning freedom from the imperialists is a pipe dream’.

Later, in another interview to the newspaper Ishtrakyon (Socialists), in Tashkent, he had again said, ‘I am not a communist. I am an anti-imperialist revolutionary. But I respect communist ideology from my heart. Communism or Bolshevism is a social and economic system that I, as a Muslim scholar, find much closer to Islam. Islam is a religion for poor and oppressed. And communism is an ideology of those who are downtrodden and oppressed for centuries and it seeks guarantees for their basic and democratic rights. The imperialist robbers and Zamir Farosh [Conscience Seller] Mullahs and so-called religious leaders who are stealing the fruits of labour of workers and peasants in collusion with the imperialists are living a luxurious life. One day I must return to my creator, and today, I make my Allah as witness to say that these Mullahs and religious leaders who are opposing Bolsheviks and communists have sold their religion and faith’.10

It was a cold evening with snow softly falling on the streets of Berlin in February 1924, when the small creaky door of Barkatullah’s room was knocked. Barkatullah, now 70, was deeply absorbed in reading; he slowly got up and opened the door. A man of medium height, with ‘neat black hair and dark eyes expressing something biting and cruel’, stepped inside. His lower lip drooped deeply and he was too slick in a demonstratively elegant suit. Everything in his manner expressed something haughtily indifferent to his surroundings’11. He was the British super-spy, Lieutenant Sidney George Reilly, a Jewish Russian born in Odessa, Ukraine, an adventurer and killer secret agent employed by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). He was alleged to have spied for at least four nations. His notoriety during the 1920s was created owing to his key role in a thwarted operation to assassinate V. I. Lenin and overthrow the Bolshevik regime in 1918. It is strongly believed that British author Ian Fleming’s popular character James Bond was inspired by Reilly’s exploits12. Calmly, Barkatullah inquired from Reilly whether he had come to murder him. With a mischievous sly smile, the hardened ace spy told Barkatullah that Lenin was his prime target and he had already died the previous month on 24 January in Moscow and that he (Barkatullah) was too old and weak to be killed by him.

Reilly called into the room four tall, rugged men of Central Asian origin, with long thick beards and high caps who were still waiting outside; these men were Mustafa Jarullah, Mullah Shakoor Khan, Mustafa Chowkhif, and Mullah Ibrahim. These people had been recruited by the British agents from Bukhara and Samarkand region to organize an anti-Soviet campaign in the Muslim lands for inciting rebellion in the Central Asia. Sidney Reilly offered Maulvi Barkatullah to join and head the Turkistan Ulema delegation to India and the Middle East to speak against Bolsheviks and narrate horror stories of their cruelty and the strict ban on Islam and the Muslims in the Central Asia. Advising Barkatullah that he was now too old and feeble to continue in his hopeless struggle for the independence of India, it was high time for him that he should accept the British offer and live his last days in comfort and official respect in his own homeland. In return Barkatullah was offered an estate worth Rs. 200,000 in India, in addition to a comfortable pension of Rs. 60,000 per annum for life. He indicated that the stakes could be raised, provided Barkatullah was willing to talk.

Maulvi Barkatullah looked at Sidney Reilly’s face and said, ‘I have been sincerely struggling all my life for the independence of my country. Today, I regret that my attempts did not succeed. But at the same time I am also satisfied that hundreds and thousands of others who have followed me are brave and truthful. With satisfaction I will place the destiny of my beloved nation in their hands13. I have no desire to go down in history as a traitor to my country. You may easily find others who will gladly join you. Leave me alone.’ He firmly rejected the offer, saying to the Turkmen Ulema,

Qahba chun peer shawad, paisha kunad dallali
(When a whore gets old, she turns into a pimp)

Sidney Reilly and Turkmen Mullahs quietly left the room.14

Diabetic and suffering from many illnesses, Maulvi Barkatullah continued in his struggle till he breathed his last. Jawaharlal Nehru met Barkatullah in Berlin and again at Brussels Conference in 1927 and was visibly impressed as is recorded in his Autobiography. Together with his long time friend, Raja Mahindra Partap Singh, Barkatullah visited US in July 1927 at the invitation of Indian revolutionaries in India. On 15th July 1927, he was given a reception by the Indian community at Ceylon Indian Inn on 49th Street in New York. He also met the Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The two also spoke at a joint gathering of African-Americans and Indians. Barkatullah travelled to Chicago, Gary, and several other cities of the Midwest renewing his links with the Indian and Irish communities among whom he had many friends.

He arrived at the Yugantar Ashram, the Ghadar Party’s headquarters in San Francisco. He then proceeded to Marysville where he gave his last public speech. Barkatullah died in San Francisco on 20 September 1927. His body was taken from San Francisco to Sacramento where he was buried in the Muslim Cemetery with the promise that after the freedom of his country, his body would be transported to his own motherland for burial in Bhopal. His remains, however, still lie buried in Sacramento City Cemetery, California15.

Faiz phir kab kisi maqtal meiN karen gay aabad
Lab pe veraaN haiN shaheedoN ke fasaney kab se


1. Gohar Rehman from village Rihana, Haripur Hazara was to be a brother-in-law of Muhammad Ayub Khan, later a General and the President of Pakistan.

2. Abdul Rab from Peshawar had been a senior officer in the British Consulate in Baghdad. After WW1 started, the British Consulate was closed and the entire staff left Baghdad. Abdul Rab, already influenced by Wahabi religious movement and of Pan Islamism, stayed back in Baghdad. As the influence of Pan Islamic movement grew on him, he became more and more anti British. He was taken on board by the Berlin Committee members in their endeavor to raise war efforts and had arrived in Kabul with Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah. Later, he also moved to Tashkent.

3. The Muhajirs’ tragic stories are told in great detail in various memoirs and autobiographies, including Peshawar se Moscow (From Peshawar to Moscow) and Main Stalin se Dobara Mila (I met Stalin Again), 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 Siddiqui, 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 Hasan 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 Mehmood Ali Qasuri (Family Saga of Mian Mehmood Ali Qasuri), Abdullah Malik, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995; an Autobiography of Fazal Elahi Qurban was also published.

4. Shaukat Usmani was from Bikaner in Rajputana. His real name was Maula Bux and he was a student of Dungar College in Bikaner when he decided to undertake Hijrat. In his love for Usmani (Ottoman) Government of Turkey, he changed his name to Shaukat Usmani (Glory of Ottomans). Later, 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, under which many of the leading members of the Communist Party of India were tried.

5. Commonly known as Dada Firozuddin Mansoor, together with Dada Amir Hyder and Fazal Elahi Qurban, was one of the earliest Muslim members of the Communist Party of India in Punjab and, later, a veteran communist leader of the Communist Party of Pakistan in its early days.

6. M.N. Roy, born in District 24 Parganna near Calcutta, studied engineering and chemistry. Joined Bengali revolutionaries and went to Java for raising arms from Germans. Disappointed, he went to Japan and met Chinese nationalist leader Dr Sun Yat Sen, the founder of Chinese Koumintang Party. Followed by the British police, he reached San Francisco via Korea. At Palo Alto he met and married Evelyn Trent, a young Stanford graduate. The couple moved to New York where Roy was first introduced to Marxist ideology and actively engaged in revolutionary activities. Haunted by the police, the couple escaped to Mexico where M.N. Roy became a founding member of the Socialist Party of Mexico (later converted into the Communist Party of Mexico) in December 1917, gaining the distinction of the first Communist Party outside Russia. Roy also provided support to the penniless Mikhail Borodin, a Bolshevik leader in exile. Upon Borodin’s returning home after Bolshevik revolution, grateful Moscow invited M.N. Roy to the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow in 1920. Briefed about his activities in the US and Mexico, V.I. Lenin warmly received Roy and was taken into the Presidium of the ComIntern, which he served for eight years. Roy was personally commissioned by Lenin to prepare the East – particularly, India – for the revolution. M.N. Roy founded the political and military training school for Indian revolutionaries in Tashkent and helped formulate Lenin’s Preliminary Draft Thesis on the National & Colonial Questions. Stalin appointed Roy as head of the ComIntern delegation to China in 1927 to help develop agrarian revolution. Later, owing to the internal party rivalries between Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Bukharin, Roy fell from Stalin’s grace and managed to escape Russia with Trotsky’s deportation in May 1928. He was expelled from ComIntern in Dec 1929. Roy returned to India in Dec 1930 and was arrested in Jul 1931. He was sentenced for 12 years RI in jail in Jan 1932. The sentence was, however, reduced to six years. He was released in Nov 1936 in broken health, with lasting damage to his lungs and kidneys. Disillusioned with both Western democracy and communism, Roy devoted the last ten years of his life to developing an alternate philosophy which he called Radical Humanism of which he wrote a detailed exposition in his book Reason, Romanticism and Revolution. Finally, settled in Dehra Dun, Roy died in Jan 1954.

7. Abhinath Mukerji, born in Jabalpur was trained as a weaver in cotton mills in Ahmadabad. Sent for professional training in Germany and Japan, he was exposed to socialist ideas. Joined revolutionary movement in Calcutta and arrested in Singapore in 1915 while arranging for arms shipment to India. Escaped from prison in Singapore, he reached Dutch Java and joined the communist party. Travelled to Amsterdam, attended Second Congress of ComIntern in Moscow in 1920 and met Lenin and M.N. Roy. Together with Roy and his wife Evelyn, Mukerji wrote The Indian Communist Manifesto which was published in Glasgow Socialist. Stayed in Tashkent as in-charge of the Indian Military School. There becoming a formal member of the Russian Communist Party. Mukerji returned to India in 1922 and for a while worked in Bengal and helped forming Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan in Madras. Later, he returned to Moscow but broke away from Roy. He became an academician and Indologist at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, becoming President of the All India Association of Orientalists. Mukerji married Rosa Fitingov, of Russian-Jewish origin; she was a member of the Communist Party and an assistant to the Lenin’s private secretary, Lydia Fotieva. Mukerji eventually fell victim to the great purge in the Soviet Communist Party and was executed in October 1937.

8. Fazal Elahi Qurban was to emerge as a veteran communist leader in Punjab in united India. Later, at the time of the formation of the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1948, he was involved in an attempt to form a parallel Communist Party of Pakistan in defiance of the instructions of the Communist Party of India. He and few of his comrades scorned the CPI decision of appointing Sajjad Zaheer from UP as the first Secretary General of CPP. He was subsequently expelled from the party by Sajjad Zaheer after his assumption of office in Pakistan.

9. Viren Chattopadhia stayed in Soviet Union working at the Communist International with M.N. Roy. After developing differences with M. N. Roy, Viren returned to Germany in 1927 when Barkatullah died in San Francisco. He formally joined the German Communist Party (KPD) as its head of Indian section. With Hitler’s rise in Germany, he approached Krupskaya, Lenin’s widow and Georgi Dimitrov, ComIntern’s General Secretary for returning to Soviet Union. M. N. Roy, in the meantime, had been expelled from the ComIntern. Chatto returned to Soviet Union in 1934. He was last seen in Moscow in 1937, before he was arrested during Stalin’s ‘Great Purge’ in the party. He was sentenced to death and executed in Sep 1937. Jawahar Lal Nehru in his Autobiography writes about Viren, ‘a very able and a very delightful person… Of the few I met, the only persons who impressed me intellectually were Virendranath Chattopadhia and M. N. Roy’. It is believed that the British writer Somerset Maugham’s character in his story Giulia Lazzari and the character of Ananda in American socialist writer and journalist, Agnes Smeldey’s autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth were inspired by Virendranath. Agnes Smeldy met and got involved with Indian revolutionaries including Lala Har Dayal and M.N. Roy in New York. She met and lived together as his partner with Viren Chattopadhia in Berlin. Agnes also accompanied Viren in Russia and lived with him until 1929 when she left Viren in Berlin and went to Shanghai in China as a press correspondent.

10. Daily Ishtrakyon (Socialists), 29 Mar 1919 c.f. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, pg175

11. Sidney Reilly’s description is based on the observations of Alexander Yakushev, one of the Soviet secret agents, who were instrumental in capturing Reilly after luring him into Soviet Union on the border of Finland in September 1925. Reilly was later tried and executed by the Soviet authorities on charges of attempted coup against the government of the Soviet Union.

12. Reilly’s friend, former diplomat and journalist Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart had worked for the British Secret Service with Reilly in Russia in 1918 in a failed attempt to overthrow Lenin’s Bolshevik government. He was also briefly detained in Moscow. Robert Lockhart was a close acquaintance of Ian Fleming for many years and had recounted to Fleming many of Reilly’s super spy adventures. Within five years of his disappearance in Soviet Russia in 1925, the British press had turned Sidney Reilly into a household name, lauding him as a master spy. Like Fleming’s fictional creation James Bond, Reilly was also multi-lingual, fascinated by the Far East, fond of fine living, and a compulsive gambler. Robert Bruce Lockhart had written an autobiographical book Memoirs of a British Agent in 1932, which was an instant success. His son, Robin Bruce Lockhart also wrote a book Ace of Spies in 1967 about the life of his father’s friend, Sidney Reilly. This book was, later, adapted for an award winning television mini-series, Reilly: Ace of Spies in 1983.

13. According to the account of Barkatullah’s long time colleague and friend Raja Mahindra Partap Singh in his autobiography, these words were, in fact, said by Barkatullah to him while dying in his hands during travel in San Francisco.

14. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited.

15. The Bhopal University has been named ‘Barkatullah University’ in 1988 as a token of recognition of this great revolutionary, otherwise a forgotten hero of the Indian Independence movement.

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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


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 Jihad Movement – I

September 8, 2013

By Ahmed Kamran

The Background

In the early decades of the 1900s, the international situation in Europe and the Middle East was getting tense, especially for the Indian Muslims. Their anxiety was increasing with the news of each new development taking place on the borders of a vast Muslim Turkish Empire. While the British Empire was still in ascendency in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Turkish Empire was disintegrating bit by bit. Much of its possessions in the Eastern Europe had already been broken away or annexed by other empires in the last century.

Italy 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 Turkish Empire, 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 Lukhnow1. Prominent newspapers like Comrade of Maulana Muhammad Ali, Al Hilal of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and Zamindar of Maulana Zafar Ali Khan created a great fervor among Indian Muslims 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 their empire in 1857 and colonial oppression of the British occupation in India. But to raise support for Turkey, mainly Muslim’s religious sentiments were whipped up. Weekly Friday prayer leaders 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 jewelry and dowries.

A Medical Mission, under Dr Mukhtar Ansari was sent to Turkey as a gesture of goodwill and for treating the wounded soldiers. The delegation included Chaudhry Khaliquz Zaman, Shoeb Qureshi, and Dr Naeem Ansari and Abdul Rehman joining the delegation, immediately after returning from England, having completed their education. The fervour for support of Turkey was so much that, according to Maulana Syed Suleman Nadvi’s account, an eminent and highly respected scholar like Shibli Naumani was present at the Railway station at Lukhnow to personally see off the delegation. At the last moment, overwhelmed by his emotions, Shibli moved forward and, while weeping, he kissed the feet of Dr. Ansari that would tread the Turkish land.

By October 1914, Turkey declared joining WW1 against Britain as an ally of Germany and Austria. Turkish Sultan Muhammad V, in his position of Khalifa of 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. A Jamat-e-Mujahidin was also revived, somewhat following the tradition of the failed Jihad carried out by the Mujahidin of Syed Ahmed Barailvi in early 1830s, but this time the Jihad war was to be fought against a foreign power, Great Britain.

Many students discontinued their education and left their homes to join the Turkish war. A common tarana of the youth of that time was

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

[Should you wish to die with some joy, let’s go to Balkans
Dying at the hands of Nature is not worth dying]

A Pledge on Ravi

In a cold misty evening, when the night was falling in Lahore on 16 January 1915, a group of students from few colleges in Lahore secretly gathered on board in a boat on Ravi River to discuss an idea. This was the time when preparation of the mutiny of second Ghadar was secretly underway in Punjab. These young men decided and each took an oath to perform the sacred act of Hijrat to Turkey via Afghanistan for taking part in active Jihad. These brave students included Khushi Muhammad, Rehmat Ali Zakaria, Abdul Majeed, and Shujaullah from the King Edward Medical College, Muhammad Hasan Yaqub from Islamia College, Abdul Bary, Sheikh Abdul Qadir, Abdul Majeed Khan, Sheikh Abdul Rashid, Zafar Hasan Aibak, and Allah Nawaz Khan from the Government College, and Abdul Khaliq from the Aitchison College of Lahore2. 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. Another group followed the next day. The student volunteers remained hidden in the residence quarter of Abdul Rahim, the Railway station master at Haripur who was sympathetic to the movement. Here they changed their dresses to wear common Pukhtun dresses and Peshwari Chappals. The students left British territory by crossing the Indus River from a small princely state of Amb, in the Hazara district south of Swat valley in present day Pakistan, to enter the buffer zone of 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, and now led by Abdul Majeed Khan, entered Afghanistan and arrived in Jalalabad on 29 March 1915. Here this group met with their first rude shock, when they were swiftly detained in their lodging quarters under the orders of a senior Afghan official visiting Jalalabad from Kabul.

By the time orders came to transport the detainees to Kabul after spending over two weeks in confinement without much food and facilities, one of the students, Abdul Majeed Khan fell sick with high fever. Without providing any medicine or care to the sick, the students were put on mules like prisoners and were taken to Kabul, under increasingly hot sun. By the time, the detainees arrived in Kabul around 13 April and were again instantly put into confinement, the health of Abdul Majeed Khan had seriously deteriorated. When the condition of Abdul Majeed Khan worsened, an Indian Doctor, Abdullah Joya, came to see him four days later. Dr Abdullah was also one of those who had in his anti-British spirit migrated to live in an independent Muslim country but was now in total despair. He could not do much for these young men.

Two days later, Abdul Majeed Khan, the 20 year old former student of the Government College of Lahore died during the night of 19 April in Kabul, remembering his mother in his last moments.  Abdul Majeed was the only son of his young widowed mother in Lahore, who that night must also be waiting for his son to return home. Zafar Hasan Aibak, the other detainee from the Government College, says in his autobiography that the detainees were shifted to another ‘house’ in Kabul with scant living facilities in June 1915 and there was no hope for their release. Apparently, no one in Kabul was worried or bothered about these ill-fated young men from Lahore.

A Jihad in the Making

This was the time when the first round of Ghadar Party workers arrested in the 19 February police crackdown were being tried and sentenced in Punjab. Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, as a part of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan’s delegation for organizing Jihad, was preparing to reach Kabul. Together with his colleagues, Abdullah, Fateh Mohammad, and his nephew Mohammad Ali, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi arrived in Kabul in October 1915.3 Ubaidullah Sindhi, originally born in Sialkot, was a convert from Sikh religion. Graduated from Darul Uloom Deoband, and an energetic student of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he went to live in Sukkur and established a religious school at Amrot, and later at Pir Jhanda, in Sindh (hence commonly known as ‘Sindhi’). In 1909, on the behest of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he returned to Deoband and, later, established a seminary at Fatehpuri Mosque in Delhi for teaching Arabic and Islamic studies. Maulana Sindhi had an ardent desire to build a movement for revolt against the British rule. With the support of Maulana Mehmudul Hasan, he was quietly working for this mission for some time.4

Finally, as per the agreed plan, a group of key leaders of the Darul Uloom, including Mehmudul Hasan and Ubaidullah Sindhi left India and reached Kabul in Oct 1915.

As many of the Kabul’s influential religious and other leaders were educated at Darul Uloom, Deoband, and had personally known Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and Ubaidullah Sindhi, they were received in Kabul with respect. Meeting highly placed Afghan influential officials and some royal family members, and presenting before them their 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, Ubaidullah Sindhi won support of some key members of the royal family, including a brother and two sons of Amir Habibullah Khan.

While Maulana Mehmudul Hasan proceeded to Hijaz for performing Haj and meeting Turkish officials for obtaining their support, Ubaidullah Sindhi and some of his colleagues stayed back to make necessary further arrangements. Precisely, this was the time when members of the Berlin Committee and the envoys of Turkish and German governments had also arrived in Kabul and met with each other and joined hands. Getting to know about the unfortunate students from Lahore still held in confinement in Kabul, they approached Afghan officials and eventually had them released after about eight months of confinement.

Through their influential contacts, Ubaidullah Sindhi and Barkatullah met with Amir Habibullah Khan and with his consent, it was decided to establish a provisional government of the Independent India based in Kabul in December 1915. As discussed in the previous post, Raja Mehendar Partap Singh was appointed as the President, Maulvi Barkatllah was the Prime Minister while Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi was appointed Interior Minister, and Maulvi Basher of Jamat Mujahidin was appointed the War Minister, Champakiramin Pillai was selected as the Foreign Minister, and Dr Mathra Singh, Khuda Bux, and Muhammad Ali were also appointed as ministers. Freed from confinement and restored to a respectable position in the Indian delegation, Khushi Mohammad, Rehmat Zakaria, Allah Nawaz Khan, Zafar Hasan Aibak, and Abdul Bari from the Lahore student group were also given official responsibilities in the provisional government.

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 victories against Britain, greatly raising hopes for its victory in the war. But Russia, in alliance with French, quickly built up its massive army and attacked Germany opening the eastern front.

Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and Reshmi Rumal

Meanwhile, in Hijaz, Mehmudul Hasan had succeeded in obtaining letters of support from Ghalib Pasha, the Turkish Governor of Hijaz province that included in addition to the present day Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq. It was also discussed that a Muslim army would be raised by Maulana Mehmudul Hasan under his command from Arabia and Turkey, with headquarter at Madina. The Turkish Fatwas and Ghalib Pasha letters asked for a general Jihad against the British and exhorted all Muslims to join war efforts. Copies of ‘Ghalib Nama’ were sent by Mehmudul Hasan by hand with Mohammad Mian Ansari to Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi in Kabul for further building upon it. Copies of these Jihad letters, later more commonly known as ‘Ghalib Nama’, were distributed all over the Muslim lands.

After establishing the Provisional Government and armed with the supporting measures from Germany and Turkey, it was decided to send various delegations to Russia, Iran, and Japan approaching them for support on the assumption that they would be inclined to support an Indian liberation against Britain. 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 Mehendar Partap did not agree with 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 Mehendar Partap, Barkatullah, Dr Mathra Singh, and the Lahore student Khushi Mohamed. The delegation carried a letter to Czar written on a ‘Golden Plate’. But the Indian delegation was prevented from moving forward from Tashkent. The Czarist governor received the ‘golden letter’ with a promise to send it to Czar in Moscow. The delegation was asked to wait at Tashkent for the reply. Months passed and no reply was forthcoming. Eventually the failed delegation was sent back to Kabul in Feb 1916. Meanwhile, Amir Habibullah Khan had quietly informed the British agents about the Indian delegation to Russia. This was to put increased pressure on the British Indian government in his negotiations for more favours and higher ‘subsidies’. As a bribe the British Govt 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. They were still living in dark ages.

Ironically, on the other hand the Russian Czar was also playing the similar game. Using the Golden Letter as a bargaining chip, he provided its copy to the British ambassador. Panicked at this move, the British government taking France into confidence, immediately sent a high powered joint delegation to Moscow and entered into an 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 parts of Turkish lands from the spoils of the Great War.

Meanwhile, Ubaidullah Sindhi prepared another detailed letter in the form of a report written on a large piece of Reshmi Rumal (silk cloth) in his own hand and was secretly sent to Sheikh Abdul Rahim at Hyderabad Sindh for arranging to send, or personally carrying it, to Maulana Mehmudul Hasan in Hijaz under the cover of Haj pilgrimage. The courier selected for the job of carrying the silken letter to Hyderabad was Abdul Haq, a trusted man of the Lahore student Allah Nawaz, with letter being stitched inside his jacket. 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 letter eventually reached in the hands of Michael O’Dyer, the British Governor in Punjab.

British Counter Moves

By now having successfully neutralizing Afghanistan’s Amir Habibullah and blocking the potential support of the Russian Czar for the Indian provisional government and its plans for rebellion, the British Indian administration came down heavy on the revolutionaries in India and abroad. Widespread arrests were made. Maulvi Khalil Ahmed was arrested upon arrival from Arabia and was interned at Naini Taal. Haji Allah Bux was arrested upon reaching Hyderabad. Hearing of these arrests, Maulvi Masood and Maulvi Wali, about to return to India, stayed back in Arabia. Later, Maulvi Masood was arrested at Bombay, immediately after arriving from Jeddah. Thus the Reshmi Rumal Conspiracy together with the ‘Golden Letter’, and the Ghalib Nama was brought to public in Aug 1916. These were also made part of the notorious Rowlatt Sedition Committee report in 1919. Soon Sharif Hussain of Mecca helped arresting Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and others, including Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, in Mecca and handed them over to the British police. Maulana Mehmudul Hasan and others were interned, 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 the Sheikhul Hind in India.

A second delegation 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, most likely succumbing to torture. The third delegation comprising of two students Abdul Bary and Shujaullah headed 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. Amir Habibullah was playing a double game and was waiting to see which side was winning in the WW1. On the one hand, he kept promising the Indian provisional government that he would, in his turn, declare war on India, as soon as the German and Turkish forces reach near Afghanistan in their march to victory, and, on the other hand, he was busy negotiating with the British for additional favours, using the Indian revolutionaries as the bargaining chip.

In the false hopes, the Indian provisional govt members tried to dispatch wireless messages to the Berlin Committee and the German and Turkish Governments to advance their forces via Afghanistan but Germans were too bogged down in Europe to pay attention to these desperate messages from a few Indian revolutionaries in Kabul.

Because of these conspiracy cases instituted in India based on the Ghalib Nama, Golden Letter, and the Reshmi Rumal being widely made public, Ubaidullah Sindhi also faced a difficult situation in Kabul. Together with the Lahore students, he was also interned in Kabul and, later, shifted to a camp at Jabalul Siraj, about 75 Km north of Kabul. Two Indian teachers employed with Habibia School (it was established for the children of Afghan elite) in Kabul, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri (a Cambridge University graduate and elder brother of NAP leader Mian Mehmud Ali Qasuri and the uncle of Khurshid 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 expelled from Kabul in June 1916.5 Both went to the Jamat Mujahidin base camps in the Tribal Area between Afghanistan and British India. Maulvi Bashir of Jamat Mujahidin and the War Minister of the provisional government also returned to the base camp. Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore Government College and Mohammad Hasan Yaqub of Islamia College and few other students also moved to the Mujahidin base camp.

As a reward, Abdul Haq, the courier of Reshmi Rumal letter was formally employed by the British police service, and Khan Bahadur Rab Nawaz, the father of Allah Nawaz, was granted very large tracts of agricultural land as a gift for his loyalty6.

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 NWFP7. 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 1956.8

At the Tribal Area base camp, the Amir of Jamat 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 camp9. One day, probably after getting frustrated with his own impossible situation and intolerable idiosyncrasies of Maulvi Naimatullah, in a fit of anger, Sheikh Abdul Rashid of Lahore spontaneously killed the Maulvi. The personal guards of slain Maulvi Naimatullah instantly killed Abdul Rashid in vengeance by throwing him alive in a burning oven10. Mohamad Hasan Yaqub, however, continued to stay with the remaining Mujahidin now under Maulvi Fazal Ilahi from Wazirabad at the Chamarkand camp. Yaqub Hasan never returned to Lahore and probably died somewhere in or around the Chamarkand camp.

Mehendra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah were, however, not arrested in Kabul 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. Ubaidullah Sindhi was finally released, after about a year of confinement, with the help of Afghan General Nadir Khan (he later overthrew the next Amir Amanullah Khan and occupied the Afghan throne) who had some respect for him. 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 slip to 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 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 Abdul Razzaq, two of the Lahore students, were the first to escape from Jabalul Siraj camp in Nov 1917. Crossing over Russian border, they reached Tashkent in early 1918.11

Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated in Feb 1919, near Jalalabad and his son Amanullah took over after some resistance from his uncle Sardar Nasrullah Khan. For a while, situation again turned favorable for the Indian revolutionaries. Ubaidullah Sindhi was restored and he became a close advisor to the new Amir Amanullah Khan. Other office holders of the Indian Provisional Government including Mehendra Partap, Maulvi Barkatullah, 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 Soviet Union and Afghanistan considerably warmed up. Maulvi Barkatullah left Kabul in March 1919 for Tashkent and proceeded to Moscow in May 1919. Mehendra Partap Singh, MPT Acharya and others also reached Moscow. They never returned to Kabul.


  1. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, Pg. 195
  2. Ibid, Pg.193
  3. 3.      Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan)
  4. Zuber Ahmed Firdausi, Reshmi Rumal Tehreek, Nigarshat Publishers, Lahore, 1988, Pg.43
  5. Abdullah Malik, Dastan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mehmud Ali Qasuri, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995, Pg. 78
  6. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited, Pg.235
  7. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, Mushahidat-e-Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955, Pg 143-146
  8. Abdullah Malik, op cited, Pg. 80-81
  9. Muhammad Ali Qasuri, op cited, 108-110
  10. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited, Pg.249
  11. Ibid, Pg.241

To be continued…

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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


  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.



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.



To be continued

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