The Ghadarites

The Ghadarites played an important role in the national struggle for freedom. They placed before them the ideal of complete independence from the inception of their struggle and were thus the forerunners of the Purna Swaraj (complete independence) resolution of the Indian National Congress passed at its Lahore session on December 31, 1929. They derived their inspiration from the national revolutionary intellectuals abroad, the most prominent among whom was Lala Hardayal. He gave up his government scholarship for study at Oxford and devoted himself completely to the cause of national freedom. He went to America at the invitation of Indian revolutionaries and set up at San Francisco the Hindustani Association of the Pacific Coast along with other comrades like Bhai Parma Nand, Sohan Singh Bhakna and Harnam Singh ‘Tundilat’, probably in April or May 1913.

The primary objective of the Association was to overthrow the British raj in India and establish a national republic based on freedom and equality. This could be achieved only through an armed national revolt on the pattern
of 1857. Every member of the Association was bound both by his honour and duty to fight against slavery prevalent anywhere in the world. The Association established its headquarters at 436 Hill Street, San Francisco and named it as Jugantar Ashram after the renowned revolutionary journal of Calcutta. For the propagation of its ideology and programme, it decided to bring out a weekly journal captioned Ghadar in three languages—Urdu, Gurmukhi and Marathi. The name of the weekly journal also put its imprint on the Association which came to be known as the Ghadar Party.

The first issue of the weekly journal Ghadar saw the light of the day on November 1, 1913. It boldly stated, “Today there begins in foreign land a war against the British raj. What is our name ? Mutiny. What is our work ? Mutiny. Where will mutiny break out ? In India. The time will soon come when rifles and blood will take the place of pens and ink.” It clearly indicated the lines of propaganda to be made by the journal. Every issue also contained some regular features like Angrezi raj ka kacha chithha  (an open account of the misdeeds of the British rule) and Ankron ki gawahi (evidence of statistics) and patriotic poems. The feature Angrezi raj ka kacha chithha highlighted fourteen points, important among them were : the Britishers take away fifty crore rupees every year to England; the alien government spends only two crore rupees on health care but twenty-nine crore rupees on the army; the English residents in India are never punished by the authorities for murdering men and dishonouring women; efforts are made to foment discord between the Hindus and the Muslims; aggressions are committed by the imperialists by sacrificing the lives of Indian soldiers and the money of the Indian masses. The patriotic poems always exhorted the young men to shed their sluggishness and serve their country with utmost devotion of both mind and body.

The Ghadar became very popular among the Indians living abroad. It had its special appeal to the sturdy peasants of Punjab working as unskilled labourers, farm workers, farmers and contractors on the Pacific Coast of North America. They worked hard from dawn to dusk and were able to earn enough by virtue of higher minimum wages in America with reference to their living standards, but were not respected by the white people. They were called ‘coolies’ or ‘dirty people’, ridiculed and bullied everywhere they went. To this mental torture of theirs, the Ghadar provided an answer :

Cruel English nation is very obnoxious. They have looted and eaten up Hindustan, Brothers.

The dogs of the Firangees eat to their fill. And human beings in India die of starvation.

Lala Hardayal, the architect of the Ghadarite philosophy and editor of the journal, was an eloquent speaker. He inspired his followers with his sincerity and straightforward approach to the problems. For him, the British rule had ruined India and was responsible for the misery and degradation of people. The raj sustained itself on administrative highhandedness, arrest without trial, repression of freedom and Press censorship. It was, therefore, wrong to call it the British empire which, in fact, was the British vampire. It was unfortunate that Lala Hardayal could not stay in America for long and had to shift his base of activity to Geneva where he edited a paper called the Vande Mataram. His successor, Ram Chander, gave a new name to the journal Hindustan Ghadar  but ably carried forward the work of Lala Hardayal. It carried the following advertisement in its issue dated August 11, 1914 :

Wanted      …  Fearless, courageous soldiers for spreading mutiny in India

Salary         …  Death

Reward       …  Martyrdom and Freedom

Place           …  The field of India.

The message was manifest—go to India, sacrifice your life for the country and become a martyr.

The outbreak of war between England and Germany on August 4, 1914 brought to the Ghadarites and other revolutionaries abroad their long-cherished opportunity for action. Rich patriotic Indians abroad like Shyamji Krishna Varma at London and Sardar Singh Rana at Paris had always been able to attract revolutionaries like Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Lala Hardayal and Madan Lal Dhingra around them. They gave them shelter and financial assistance to carry on their work. Shyamji founded the Indian Home Rule Society at London in February 1905. He also started a paper called the Indian Sociologist. It stressed the absolute freedom from British control as the political goal of India. His associate, Madam Bhikaji Rustam K. R. Cama, “The Mother of the Indian Revolution”, along with Sardar Singh Rana attended the International Socialist Congress at Stuttgart (Germany) in August 1907 and made a fiery
speech there exposing the disastrous results of the British rule in India. At its conclusion, she unfolded the national flag of India—a tricolour flag in green, yellow and red.

In Germany, the revolutionaries became extremely active during the war. The German Union of Friendly India came into being with the  active  support of the German Government on September 3, 1914, i.e., within a month after the start of hostilities. This was later rechristened the Indian Independence Committee to be exclusively manned by the Indians. The main function of the Committee was to help the revolutionaries both in India and abroad. They could be of advantage to the Germans in two ways: one, to create anti-British feelings in the minds of Indian soldiers fighting on the western front and, second, in compelling the British authorities to divert their troops from the front to suppress the activities of the revolutionaries at home. There was no dearth of funds or arms for the use of the revolutionaries. Very ambitious plans were contemplated. Three ships full of arms and ammunition were to be despatched to India. They were also to carry soldiers to start the hostilities. According to the plans, when the Germans attack through Burma and Afghanistan, there would also be revolutionary outbursts in Bengal and Punjab. Unfortunately, none of these grand plans materialised.

The Indian Independence Committee of Berlin also made contacts through Chandra Kanta Chakraborty with Ghadarites in America to send men and arms to India. In this venture, Ram Chander was able to send more than three thousand Indians for revolutionary work through Shanghai but his efforts to despatch arms and ammunition proved abortive. Both Chakraborty and Ram Chander were later arrested along with their other supporters in March-April 1917 and convicted. On the last day of trial, Ram Singh, a co-accused, shot Ram Chander dead.

The Indian Independence Committee of Berlin also made some attempts to create disaffection among the Indians in various far Eastern countries like Indo-china, Siam (Thailand), Burma (Myanmar), Japan and the Philippines through revolutionaries like Abdul Hafiz, Barkatullah, Heramba Gupta and Bhagwan Singh, but without any substantial result. In pursuance of these attempts, Raja Mahendra Pratap visited Germany along with Lala Hardayal and met Kaiser. The latter accorded him a royal reception. He also met the German Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and was assured of the German help in the fight of Indians for their independence. Raja Mahendra Pratap was later able to establish rapport with the Afghan government with the help of Germans and set up a provisional government of India at Kabul in December 1915. He himself became the President of the new government with Barkatullah as Prime Minister and Obeidullah as the Home Minister. His government made efforts to incite the King of Nepal and the Czar of Russia as well as the native princes to turn against Great Britain, but without success. He had, therefore, to go back to Berlin.

Before we discuss the plans of the Ghadarites for an open rebellion and their execution, it is necessary to mention the incident of Kama Gata Maru. It was a Japanese ship chartered by Baba Gurdit Singh in March 1914 to carry intending immigrants to Canada. When it reached its destination, the passengers were not allowed to land for what they called ‘Mounting Oriental Invasion’. They remained in the ship for about two months under the most trying conditions during which the Ghadarites raised the funds and moved the Supreme Court for enforcing their right to land. The court refused to intervene with the decision of Immigration Department. The ship had, therefore, to return. The authorities did not allow it to land en route at Hong Kong and Singapore where some passengers had their kith and kin. The First World War had already started before the ship could reach Calcutta. The Government now looked towards these passengers as revolutionaries. It, therefore, decided that all of them should leave for Amritsar by a special train immediately on their landing. This caused a clash between the passengers and authorities, as a result of which eighteen passengers were killed, twenty-nine slipped away and about 200 arrested.

The activities of the Ghadar Party and the Indian Independence Committee at Berlin were cheering up revolutionaries at home, especially in Bengal and Punjab. The news that their comrades along with foreign arms were coming to help them in starting a final crusade against the British raj filled their minds with new hopes and aspirations. Elaborate arrangements were made for safe landing and storage of arms at Balasore on the Orissa coast and Raimangal in the Sundarbans under the stewardship of Jatin Mukherji and Jadugopal Mukherji. Unfortunately, these plans leaked out to the police. A fierce encounter took place near Buribalam. The revolutionaries displayed an exemplary valour. Jatin Mukherji died of the wounds he received during the fight. The foreign arms also did not reach their destination at Raimangal through the Maverick.

Before the Ghadarite leaders sailed for San Francisco on August 29, 1914 by S.S. Korea, the government got an advance information about their plans. It armed itself with the ingress into Indian Ordinance of 1914. It kept a strict watch on their arrival in India and their subsequent activities. This could not deter the Ghadarites. They openly preached to the people at public fairs to rise against the British. In fact, plans were made twice in November 1914 to first attack the military depots at Lahore and Ferozepore and later to declare an open rebellion throughout the country, but without success. Hopes, however, brightened with the arrival of Rash Behari Bose from Bengal on the scene in January 1915. Not a day was to be lost now. Immediate contacts were, therefore, established with the soldiers at various cantonments throughout Northern India. A large number of them were ready to join their brethren once the first shot of rebellion was fired. The date of destiny was fixed. It was to be February 21, 1915. All hopes were centred on the 23rd Cavalry at Lahore which was to get the honour of hoisting the flag of independence. This was expected to be followed by other regiments. The information was believed to be communicated to the authorities by Kirpal Singh who was a police informer and had intruded into the decision-making body of the Ghadarites. On suspicion, the leadership advanced the day of destiny by three days to February 18, 1915. Again, the treachery of Kirpal Singh helped the government and proved disastrous to the Ghadarites. The police immediately raided their hide-outs and made a large number of arrests. Rash Behari Bose escaped and reached Japan. In three trials, generally known as Lahore conspiracy cases, forty-two Ghadarites were sentenced to death, 114 transported for life and 93 sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. The rebellious regiments were disbanded. Ring leaders were executed.

The Indian soldiers stationed abroad, in a way, showed greater courage and valour than those at home. The 5th Light Infantry at Singapore staged a revolt against the Britishers on February 15, 1915 under the leadership of Jamadar Chisti Khan and Subedar Dundey Khan under the inspiration of the Ghadarites. For three days, they were on their own and were crushed only after a fierce resistance. Soldiers had killed eight British officers against which the bosses took the lives of 38 by executing them in public, in addition to those killed during the encounters. The Ghadarites and other revolu-tionaries abroad were great patriots. The Ghadar Party had its supporters all over the world—Canada, Japan, South Africa, Mexico, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai. They daringly attempted to snatch the independence of their country on the pattern ‘catch the time by forelock’. No tears need be shed on why and how they failed. Hats off to them that they embarked upon this adventure with courage.

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