Convention Held To Commemorate the Centenary of the Ghadar Movement

With Independence Day approaching, a National Convention was held in Delhi to commemorate the Centenary of a unique chapter in India’s freedom struggle – the Ghadar Movement. The Convention, organised by the All India Left Coordination (AILC) at Mavalankar Hall, was marked by the presence of descendants of the Ghadarites, audio-visual presentations by historians on the Ghadar Movement, and addresses by Left leaders of the CPI(ML) and CPM Punjab on the contemporary relevance of the Ghadar legacy for people’s movements in India today.

A cultural group from the Deshbhakt Yadgar Committee, Jalandhar, presented revolutionary songs at the outset. Among those on the stage were renowned and veteran Marxist scholar and political scientist Prof. Randhir Singh, Justice (Retd) Rajinder Sachar, Savitri Sawhney, daughter of Ghadar Party leader Pandurang Khankhoje, and JPS Kohli, grandson of Ghadar Party leader Dr. Mathura Singh.

Prof. Chaman Lal made an impressive presentation of the remarkable history of the Ghadar movement, with the help of slides with historic photographs. He showed how a 100 years ago, Indian revolutionaries living as immigrants in North America and Canada formed the Ghadar Party to fight for India’s independence from British rule. The movement intensified in mid-1914 when a ship, the Kamagata Maru, full of Indian immigrants was turned back at Canada, and several of the passengers killed and arrested on its return to India in the clash with the colonial police. The Ghadar Party declared the Ailan-e-jang (Proclamation of War) in this backdrop, inspiring thousands of Indian immigrants to return to the homeland to organize an armed rebellion. But in spite of widespread support, the movement was ruthlessly crushed. In Singapore, 37 Ghadar supporters were executed and 41 transported for life. In the conspiracy trials, 45 Ghadar leaders were sentenced to death and more than 200 to long prison terms. The Ghadar movement’s legacy was carried forward by revolutionaries like Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, and many Ghadarites became communist party organisers.

Historian Prof. Shamsul Islam spoke about the anti-imperialist and staunchly secular legacy of the Ghadar movement, which is in glaring contrast to the role of the Hindutva forces which remained aloof from the freedom struggle.

CPM Punjab Secretary Mangat Ram Pasla said that today, the Ghadar movement’s anti-imperialist legacy has more relevance than ever, when India’s Government shamefully serves the interests of American imperialism, opening up India to plunder through FDI, and telling Indian people to eat meals on Rs 5 a day. He called upon India’s people to complete the unfinished task of the Ghadar movement.

CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya asked if India could really call itself free when the US Government can spy on India, and when India’s is the only Government in the world that is loyal enough to American masters to defend US spying?

Comrade Dipankar said that the Ghadar movement’s legacy shows us that true patriotism can only be secular and anti-imperialist, in stark contrast to the communal and corporate-backed fascist agenda being peddled by Narendra Modi and the BJP.

A film in memory of the Ghadar movement was screened at the end of the Convention, and a resolution was adopted vowing to hold events commemorating the Ghadar legacy all over the country, and to continue the Ghadar revolutionaries’ struggle for a truly free, self-respecting, and democratic India. Resolutions were also adopted condemning the repression unleashed on people’s movements in Uttarakhand and Karbi Anglong, and supporting the struggles of the Indian Gorkhas of Darjeeling for Gorkhaland, and of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao for an autonomous state under Article 244A.

Resolution Adopted At Ghadar Centenary Convention

1. This Convention calls upon the people of India to celebrate 2013 as the centenary year of a glorious chapter in our freedom struggle: the great Ghadar movement. It was a unique agitation that emerged from the Indian, mainly Punjabi, immigrant community in North America and spread back to India with a heroic passion to liberate the enslaved motherland. As our country continues to suffer from stark colonial hangovers and remains to be emancipated from the oppressive alliance of imperialism, big capital and stubborn feudal remnants, Ghadar di goonj (the call of rebellion) still rings in our ears and enjoins on us to speed up our struggle for liberation. This Convention appreciates the consistent efforts of various individuals and groups in Punjab and in the world who have striven to preserve and promote the historical legacy of the Ghadar movement, and resolves to intensify these efforts

2. During the first decade of the 20th century, a large number of poor but highly enterprising Punjabi peasants, agrarian labourers and workers went to the USA and Canada in search of livelihood. Many were refused entry; those who managed to settle there were routinely subjected to all sorts of racial contempt, discrimination and even physical attacks which are so common today, but on a much larger scale than at present. Repeated appeals were made to the British authorities to take up these matters with the US and Canadian governments on behalf of the migrants, but in vain. The British authorities actually encouraged these restrictions and attacks, because they did not like the prospect of more and more of their subjects going to Europe and America and get ‘infected’ with ideas of liberty and socialism.

3. Learning from experience and aroused by intensification of activities of national revolutionaries back home (in particular, a bomb attack on Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India, in Delhi on 23 December, 1913) the immigrant community came to feel more strongly about armed rebellion as the only path of liberating the motherland. Among the first preachers of this doctrine was Bhagwan Singh, who came to Vancouver in the early 1913, but only to be externed by the Canadian government very soon.

4. A more sustained and broad-based agitation was started in the USA under the leadership of Sohan Singh Bhakna, Lala Har Dayal, Bhai Premanand and others. In the inaugural meeting of the Hindi Association of Pacific Coast held in May 1913 in Portland, Har Dayal, who had served as Secretary of the San Francisco branch of the Industrial Workers of the World and was probably the first Indian to write an article on Karl Marx (published in the Modern Review, Calcutta, in March 1912), set forth a plan of action: “Do not fight the Americans, but use the freedom that is available in the US to fight the British; you will never be treated as equals by the Americans until you are free in your own land; the root cause of Indian poverty and degradation is British rule and it must be overthrown, not by petitions but by armed revolt; carry this message to the masses and to the soldiers in the Indian Army; go to India in large numbers and enlist their support.” Everybody agreed and a headquarters called Yugantar Ashram was set up in San Francisco and a weekly paper – Ghadar – began to roll out from November that year, first in Urdu and Gurumukhi and gradually in some other Indian languages too. Soon the movement came to be known by the name of this highly popular magazine.

5. The Ghadar systematically exposed British rule in India and propagated the views and activities of revolutionary nationalists. It also highlighted the daring deeds of revolutionary nationalist groups in Bengal and other parts of India. Over and above revolutionary zeal, the articles and the many poems (also published separately as Ghadar di goonj) conveyed a robust secularism that stood in bright contrast against the Hindu religious overtones which often marked the nationalist discourse.

6. When World War I broke out in 1914, the Ghadarites decided to utilise Britain’s difficulty as India’s opportunity. Their passions were inflamed further by the Kamagata Maru episode in mid-1914. A ship bearing this name and carrying 376 Indian (mainly Punjabi – Sikhs and Muslims) would- be immigrants to Canada were turned back from Vancouver Port. During the ship’s months-long journey to Canada and back, lectures and agitations were organised by Ghadar activists and others at various ports of call voicing solidarity with the harassed passengers. After a tiring continuous journey back home, the ship reached Budge Budge on the Ganga near Calcutta on 29 September 1914. A clash with the police ensued, nearly 20 passengers were killed and 202 arrested.

7. It was in a charged situation like this that an Ailan e -jang (Proclamation of War) was declared. Ghadar leaders addressed a series of public meetings, urging Indians to go back to India and organise an armed rebellion there. Capable organisers were also sent to countries like Japan, China, the Philippines etc to persuade Indians to do the same. Responding to this call, around 8000 immigrants returned to India. The Government of India arrested the “most dangerous” among them and restricted a good many to their villages. Others toured and lectured a lot to rouse the people but the response of ordinary Punjabi peasants to the call of armed insurrection was rather lukewarm. To make matters worse, the Chief Khalsa Diwan declared the Ghadar followers to be ‘fallen’ Sikhs and criminals and helped the authorities to find them out. A few attempts made in late 1914 to rouse Sikh Army units to revolt also did not succeed.

8. Ghadar leaders then invited Rash Bihari Bose to help organise a coordinated mutiny in several army units in Punjab, UP and certain other places on a single day. But the plan was leaked out and most of the leaders got arrested, although Bose made good his escape to Japan. A few scattered mutinies were ruthlessly crushed, e.g., in Singapore where 37 were executed and 41 transported for life. Conspiracy trials were held, 45 Ghadar leaders were sentenced to death and more than 200 to long prison terms. Some attempts were then made to organise a revolt in Indian troops stationed abroad, but again in vain.

9. Despite the apparent failure, the Ghadar was eminently successful in spreading an intense patriotism and spirit of sacrifice among all Indian immigrants – not only in North America but also in other countries – and that on a strong secular, democratic and egalitarian foundation. Among the leaders and martyrs of the Ghadar movement there were Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus from different regions of India. As Sohan Singh Bhakna, one of the top leaders who would become an important leader of CPI, said later, “We were not Sikhs or Punjabis. Our religion was patriotism.” The same feeling was expressed by the young Abdullah, one of the rebel sepoys executed in Ambala, who when lured by the authorities to betray his kafir (non-Muslim) comrades, retorted: “It is with these men alone that the gates of heaven shall open to me.”

10. Ghadar leaders and activists held the first war of independence in high esteem. They were imbued with a broad internationalist outlook, drawing inspiration from Irish, Mexican and Russian as well as Indian revolutionaries. The movement based itself on the fine revolutionary traditions of Indian freedom struggle and left for future generations of Indians within the country and abroad a noble legacy of uncompromising struggle against colonialism and imperialism. Among those who carried the torch forward even after the movement was physically annihilated were the Kirti Kisan Party, Babar Akali movement, and the Naujawan Bharat Sabha led by Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, while many of the Ghadar leaders and activists later developed into peasant organisers and communists.

11. The Ghadar movement has more relevance than ever, when India’s Government shamefully serves the interests of American imperialism, while its leaders tell Indian people to eat meals on Rs 5 a day. The Government is hell bent on opening up every sector to FDI, allowing foreign and Indian corporations to plunder the country’s resources and rob people of land, forests, and livelihood, and brutally repress every people’s movement. Edward Snowden revealed that the America Government spies on the world, including India – but India is shamefully the only Government in the world that is loyal enough to American masters to defend US spying. At such times, we know that the battle of the Ghadar heroes is far from over – and this Convention resolves to continue their struggle for a truly free and self-respecting India.

12. Today, we see politicians of India’s ruling parties defending massacres of Muslim, Sikh and Christian minorities. Narendra Modi, directly implicated in massacres and fake encounters, is being promoted as a potential PM. Corporations are backing Modi because his rule in Gujarat represents a ‘successful’ model of corruption, corporate plunder and repression, while his aggressive politics of communal hatred has helped him to avoid the political consequences that other corrupt and repressive governments have faced. The Sangh Parivar projects itself and its representative Modi as ‘nationalist’ heroes. The fact, though, is that the RSS never played any role in the freedom movement, and true revolutionaries in the freedom movement – including the historic Ghadar movement, resolutely rejected any notion of ‘Hindu nationalism’, and robustly defended secular values. This Convention calls upon democratic people of India to resist communal and corporate fascism with all their might, doing justice to the principles of secularism, democracy and anti-imperialism that we have inherited from the Ghadar revolutionaries.

On the occasion of the centenary of this great movement, we pay deep tributes to the courage, commitment and self-sacrifice of Ghadar fighters and rededicate ourselves to the great cause they fought for.

Further Resolutions Adopted at Ghadar Centenary Convention

1. This Convention holds the devastating natural calamity in Uttarakhand to be the result primarily of the policies of corporate plunder followed by its successive governments. This Convention condemns the Uttarakhand Government’s complete apathy towards the urgent question of relief work, due to which the affected are yet to receive comprehensive medical care, relief and rehabilitation. This Convention condemns the repressive approach of the Uttarakhand Government towards people’s movements, especially the move by the Nainital police and administration to brand the popular peasant leader and CPI(ML) leader Bahadur Singh Jangi as a Maoist and threaten to charge his associates with sedition; and to book AISA activists for a draconian 1932 law against effigy-burning. The Convention demands the immediate suspension of Nainital SSP Sadanand Date and withdrawal of the cases lodged against AISA activists.

2. This Convention condemns the repression unleashed on the people’s movement for autonomous statehood in Karbi Anglong, and demands the immediate release of all arrested activists including CPI(ML) CCM Rabi Kumar Phangcho. This Convention demands that the UPA Government without further delay honour the aspirations of the people of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao for an autonomous state under Article 244A and of the people of Darjeeling and Indian Gorkhas for a separate state of Gorkhaland.

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