Background Of The Ghadar Party
The Ghadar Party was an attempt for a violent overthrow of the British rule in India by a group of revolutionaries primarily based in North America. The Ghadar Party was initiated by a group of Punjabi immigrants who had been migrating to the western coast of North America since 1904. The reason why these Punjabi migrants were accumulating in America were:
- Many of them while serving in the British Indian army had an exposure to distant lands which made them aware of the opportunities overseas.
- Punjab had become overcrowded in terms of land. So the hunger for land and survival was another reason.
- The economic hardships that they faced in India lured them for better opportunities in distant lands.
Circumstances in USA and Canada
- Many were denied entry at the ports for these people were from villages and lacked the western mannerisms and way of life.
- Those who were given entry faced racial discrimination and the hostility of the white labor force and unions who resented the competition they offered.
- The white labor force started agitations and were actively supported by politicians.
- Thus seeds were sown for a retaliation by these Punjabi migrants that finally culminated into the Ghadar party.
British Attitude Towards These Punjabi Migrants
Even though migration of a few Indians to USA and Canada had nothing to do with the British, they were worried for three reasons:
- The intermixing of Indians with Whites would be a blow to British prestige for British held India because of prestige not force.
- The racial discrimination that the Indians were bound to face might become a rallying point for the nationalists in India to start agitations. There was a previous precedent for this as well in the case of Gandhi’s tenure in South Africa.
- Moreover these migrants might get contaminated by the Socialist ideas.
Thus the combined pressure resulted in putting an effective restriction on migration of Indians to North America. These events eventually provided a stimulus for the onset of the Ghadar Party. Tarak Nath Das an Indian student started a paper called ‘Free Hindustan’ in which propagated the thought that the British were keen in sending Indians to Fiji as indentured laborers but not to North America as they will get an exposure to liberty.
The Building Of Momentum For The Ghadar Party
A considerable resentment due to the discriminatory policies started building up. This discontent resulted in a flurry of political activities among nationalist Indians abroad. This can be seen as:
- Ramnath Puri, a political exile in North America issued a ‘Circular-E-Azadi’ in which he also pledged his support to the ongoing Swadeshi in India.
- In Vancouver, Tarak Nath Das adopting a militant nationalist tone started ‘Free Hindustan’.
- G.D. Kumar started the ‘Swadeshi Sewak Sangh’ in Vancouver on the lines of ‘India House’ in London. He also started a paper in Gurmukhi called ‘Swadesh Sewak’. In this paper he emphasized the importance of social reform and openly urged the Indian troops stationed abroad to rebel.
- Due to British pressure Tarak Nath Das and G.D.kumar were forced to leave Vancouver. Thus they set up their headquarters at Seattle. This was called the ‘United India House’.
- Members of United India House developed close links with the Khalsa Diwan Society in India. They decided to send a deputation to the Secretary of State in London and to the Viceroy in India. The Secretary of State never gave an appointment but the group managed to meet the Viceroy. The group also met the Lt.Governor of Punjab.
- The group also held a series of meetings in various cities of Punjab where they received an enthusiastic response from the people and the press.
- Bhagwan Singh a Sikh priest who had served in Hong Kong and Malay gave the first fillip to the Ghadar when in Vancouver he openly preached the gospel of violent overthrow of British rule.
Lala Hardayal and the Ghadar Party
- Later Lala Hardayal who had briefly taught at Stanford University and was associated with various syndicalist and anarchist movements, joined the Ghadarites and gave the Ghadar a new impetus. He issued a ‘Yugantar Circular’ that praised the bomb attack on Viceroy Hardinge.
- Soon the ‘Hindi Association’ was set up in Portland in 1913.
- In the first meeting of the ‘Hindi Association’, Lala Hardayal put forth a plan of action for the violent overthrow of British rule in India.
- The meeting took place at the house of Kanshi Ram and was attended by Sohan Singh Bhakna, Bhai Parmanand and Harnam Singh.
- It was at this meeting Lala Hardayal advocated an armed revolt by converting the Indian soldiers of the British Army stationed outside India.
- Hardayal’s ideas found immediate acceptance.
- Soon a committee was set up and a weekly was started called ‘The Ghadar’ which was to be circulated free of cost.
- A new headquarter was set up at San Francisco by the name ‘Yugantar Ashram’.
- So now the stage was set for the Ghadar by a series of meetings at various cities.
The Onset Of Ghadar Party
- The Ghadarites soon began a massive propaganda campaign by visiting mills and factories where Indians worked.
- Key role was played by the Yugantar Ashram that served as a place of political refuge and home for the adherents of the Ghadar .
- The weekly Ghadar was soon published in Urdu and Gurmukhi.
- Ghadar meant revolt. The mast head of the Ghadar carried the caption ‘Angrezi Raj Ka Kachcha Chittha’ and enumerated the harmful effects of British rule in India e.g. drain of wealth, low per capita income of Indians, high expenditure on military, low expenditure on health and education, attempts to create a wedge between Hindus and Muslims.
- The Ghadar proponents also glorified Savarkar’s book ‘The Indian War Of Independence – 1857’.
- The Ghadar also recognized the contributions of leaders like Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghosh, V.D.Savarkar, Madam Cama, Shyamji Krishna Varma.
- It also highlighted and praised the deeds of secret societies like Anushilan Samiti, Yugantar group and the Russian revolutionaries.
- The Ghadar weekly in a matter of few weeks gained immensely popular in North America and soon it reached Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Malay states, Philippines, Trinidad and Honduras and of course India.
- Surprisingly the Ghadar succeeded in a very short time transforming itself from a body of Punjabi migrants to a body that was determined to overthrow British rule and liberate India.
The Ghadar Party – In Action
In 1914 three events provided a stimulus for the beginning of the Ghadar . They were:
- The arrest and escape of Lala Hardayal
- The Komagata Maru incident
- The First World War
Arrest and escape of Lala Hardayal
In the USA Lala Hardayal was arrested for his involvement in anarchist activities. The British involvement in his arrest could not be ruled out. When released on bail, Hardayal escaped from America never to be seen again. With this his active involvement with the Ghadar movement came to an end.
The Komagata Maru Incident
- Canada for some time had imposed strict restrictions on Indian immigration. Only those Indians were allowed who made continuous journeys.
- In 1913, the Canadian Supreme Court allowed entry to 35 Indians.
- Encouraged by this judgment a contractor by the name Gurdit Singh living in Singapore hired a ship by the name Komagata Maru to transport Punjabi families to Canada.
- Thus the ship sailed towards Vancouver carrying 376 passengers. In its journey the ship was visited by the Ghadarites when it docked at Yokohama in Japan.
- The Canadian press alerted the people of an Oriental Invasion.
- The Canadian government meanwhile plugged the legal loophole against the Supreme Court judgment. Thus the battle lines were clearly drawn.
- When the ship reached Vancouver it was not allowed to dock and soon it was forced out of Canadian waters.
- When the ship reached Yokohama, World War I broke out and the British authorities ordered that no passenger should be allowed to disembark the ship anywhere, not even to the places from where people had joined it, unless it reached Calcutta.
- The irritated passengers protested the agony they faced during their journey and clashed with the police when it reached Calcutta.
- The clash led to police firing in which 18 passengers were killed and 202 were arrested.
- This incident provided the second trigger for the start of the Ghadar movement.
The First World War I
- In a special meeting of the proponents of the Ghadar it was decided that the opportunity provided by World War I should be seized even though they were not prepared for it.
- The major weakness of the proponents of the Ghadar movement was that they lacked the wherewithal in terms of arms and ammunition.
- This weakness was to be overcome by contacting the soldiers of the British Indian army posted outside India.
- The Ghadar party proclaimed an Elan-E-Jung and many leaders were sent to India to organize an armed revolt.
- Prominent leaders were sent to Japan, Singapore, Malay States, Hong Kong and Burma to persuade Indians to join the revolt.
Government Response To The Ghadar Party
- The Government of India was fully aware of the Ghadar plans and armed itself to deal with the situation.
- All immigrants in India were categorized as safe ones, more dangerous ones and less dangerous ones.
- All sorts of precautionary measures were taken and more than 700 men were interned.
- Still many managed to evade detection and reached Punjab via Colombo.
Response India For The Ghadar Party
- Much to their dismay the Ghadarites did not receive the response and the enthusiasm they had expected in Punjab.
- In fact the Chief of Khalsa Diwan Society showed allegiance to the British and branded the adherents of the Ghadar as fallen Sikhs.
- The Ghadarites then turned their attention to the army to persuade them to join the revolt, but all in vain as there was no centralized leadership and organizational backup.
- Finally the Bengal revolutionaries were contacted. Sachin Sanyal,Vishnu Pinglay and Rash Bihari Bose arrived in Punjab to lead the revolt.
- Sanyal soon sent emissaries to NWFP, Faizabad and Lucknow who returned with positive reports.
- Thus 11 February 1915, was set as the date of mutiny.
- The CID was well aware of the plans and preemptive measures were taken. Most of the leaders were arrested in a single sweep. Bose managed to escape.
- Thus the Ghadar was crushed at the outset before it could be launched.
- Repressive measures were taken in Punjab and many conspiracy trials were held.
- 45 revolutionaries were sentenced to death and more than 200 were sent for long term imprisonment.
- Still some revolutionaries living in Berlin and other parts of Europe tried to invoke mutiny in Indian soldiers but their efforts did not bear any fruits.
Achievements of the Ghadar Party
- The greatest achievement of the Ghadarites lay in the realm of ideology. The entire gamut of critique of colonialism as advocated by the moderates was adopted and explained to the masses in a very lucid manner.
- The entire was based on secular principles. Bande Matram was adopted as the slogan instead of something related to Sikhism.
- The adherents of the Ghadar thought beyond regional loyalties. Tilak, Khudiram Bose, Aurobindo Ghosh, Savarkar etc. were considered as heroes.
- The Ghadarites were firm believers of democracy and egalitarianism. Lala Hardayal imparted the egalitarian ideology to the Ghadar .
- Also the Ghadar had an international outlook. Lala Hardayal’s lectures and articles always contained references to Irish, Mexican and Russian revolutionaries.
Weaknesses Of The Ghadar Party
- The most important weakness of the was the complete under estimation of the level of preparation at an ideological, financial, tactical, strategic and financial level. The bugle of revolt was sounded without any introspection on the outbreak of World War I and the Komagata Maru incident.
- They completely underestimated the armed might and the ideological foundations of British rule and over relied on the romantic notion that all that the masses required was a call to rebel.
- No effective leadership was with them. Lala Hardayal, though a good ideologue and a propagandist, lacked the qualities of an organizer. Moreover his escape from America and disappearance from the scene severely crippled the Ghadar .
- The Ghadar was completely devoid of an organizational structure crucial for the sustenance of the movement.
Was The Ghadar Party A Complete Failure?
At the outset it may appear that the Ghadar Party movement was a complete failure. But success or failure of a movement cannot be judged on the basis of the achievement of the stated objectives. By this measure all the Gandhian led movements (Rowlatt Satyagraha, Non-Cooperation, Civil Disobedience, Quit India and other movements associated with Indian National Congress) were failures.
The Ghadarites did contribute their share to the freedom struggle by:
- Deepening of nationalist consciousness.
- Evolution and testing new strategies and methods of struggle.
- Creation of a tradition of resistance, of democracy, of secularism and of egalitarianism.
Overall the Ghadarites gave a dramatic response to the outbreak of World War I. Even though their grandiose plan failed to work out, they certainly have earned a place in history for themselves which shall be admired for generations to come.
The Ghadar Party was an audacious attempt by a group of Indians based in North America to violently overthrow British rule. Though the Ghadar was not successful, it provided immense motivation and a liberating effect in the minds of Indians.
The Ghadar Party was initiated by a group of Punjabi immigrants who had been migrating to the western coast of North America since 1904.
The main aim of the Ghadar party was a violent overthrow of British rule in India. The grand plan was to invoke a rebellion in the British Indian army stationed outside India.
The importance of the Ghadar Party lay in:
1. Deepening of nationalist consciousness.
2. Evolution and testing new strategies and methods of struggle.
3. Creation of a tradition of resistance, of democracy, of secularism and of egalitarianism.
There were many leaders associated with the Ghadar like Sohan Singh Bhakna, Tarak Nath Das, Ram Nath Puri etc. But the most notable name associated with the leadership of the Ghadar was Lala Hardayal.