Vision of a New Socio-Political Order


Aao ke koi khwab bunein kal ke vastey varna yeh raat aaj ke sangeen duar ki das le gee jaan o dil ko kuchh aise ke taa umar phir na koi haseen khwab bun sakein.” (Come, let’s weave a dream for tomorrow; otherwise, this night of the present age of serious difficulties will sting the heart and mind in such a way that for the whole of life we may not be able to weave a beautiful dream.)

Sahir Ludhianvi

The Ghadarites who were Indian immigrant workers on the Pacific coast of the USA wove, during the early years of this century, dreams of a happy life of dignity and freedom for their countrymen. These were daring dreams. The realization of those dreams called for a daunting struggle and great sacrifices. They brought a rare courage to their lives and a daring passion, knowing full well the price to be paid for such an audacious dreaming. It was that kind of passion of which Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote later:

Jis dhuj se koi maktal mein gaya
woh shaan salamat rehti hai
yeh jaan to aani-jaani hai
is jaan ki koi baat nahin

The Ghadar movement has been a saga of sterling patriotism, bravery and great sacrifices. In a sense, the movement for people’s armed struggle for ending the British colonial rule (1915-16) failed. In a sense it was destined to fail. Their organization and fire power were no match for the administrative and military strength of the British Empire at that time. The Ghadar Party was yet in the initial stage of formation in the USA when World War I erupted. The paper Ghadar was in fact the only major mobiliser. It had hardly been running for ten months when the Ghadarites decided to take advantage of the opportunity offered by war. Their chief leader, Lala Hardayal, had been arrested on the charge of spreading anarchism and removed from the scene by the American Government at the behest of the British authorities within five months of the founding of the party. When thousands of fire-breathing Ghadarites-practically all of them Punjabi immigrant workers on the Pacific Coast of America-arrived in India to launch the people’s armed revolution, most of the leading men were arrested. Most others were confined, under police vigilance, to their villages. Only a few were left to plan and organize a liaison with the patriotic elements in the British Army regiments stationed in Punjab. They were amazed to find not only widespread political indifference among the people but also loyalty for the British rulers among the leading strata of society in Punjab. The landlords and feudal chiefs as also newly educated sections constituted the entrenched social forces which regarded the British as the source and shield of their own power and interests.

It is not that ordinary people were not feeling oppressed and alienated. The Kuka movement in the 1860s, which was ruthlessly suppressed through a most brutal blowing up around 70 rebels by canon fire, was a major early signal of anti-British rebellion. Earlier, during the 1857 Ghadar, a number of Army regiments in Punjab were disarmed to suppress the revolt following mutiny by native troops at eight different places. Karl Marx had pointed to the “open rebellion” in Punjab in his newspaper articles published in England at that time, even though the bulk of Punjabi soldiers and leading men had largely supported the British. In 1907, large numbers of peasants had rallied to Sardar Ajit Singh’s call for open public agitation against administrative wrongs.

Yet, the level of political consciousness in India was low when the Ghadarites arrived. Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress were at that time supporting the British war effort. Gandhi turned a non –cooperator only after the British Government passed the repressive black laws, the Rowlatt Acts in 1918. These measures were in fact a response to the recommendations of the Rowlatt Committee, which had enquired into the planned violent activities of patriotic radical activists such as the Ghadarites and the Bengal revolutionaries of Anusilan Samiti and Jugantar groups. Gandhiji saw in these laws a diabolical British design to suppress the freedom and dignity of Indians. In his characteristic idiom he described the British design as “satanic”. The cold-blooded massacre of the innocent people in Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar on the Baisakhi day (April 13, 1919) and the Martial Law brutalities in several towns of Punjab was a measure of panic and desperation of the mighty officers of the great empire spread by the political stirrings among the common people. Such stirrings followed the sacrifices made by the Ghadarites. However, in 1915, these Ghadarites were generally regarded as “crazy” or “unfortunate men afflicted by some pernicious foreign influence”. But they went about their work with exemplary dedication.

Their primary strength lay in what in Gramsci’s words is termed as “Optimism of Will”. Following their arrests, they were tried in camera in a series of conspiracy trials. Many were sentenced to death and many others imprisoned for life or court martialed. But they remained steadfast in their commitment and continued to struggle first for independence and thereafter for true social, economic and political freedom. The legends of their indomitable spirit of patriotism and sacrifices became a part of the folklore which continued to inspire the coming generations.

The Ghadari Babian da Mela celebrated in the DeshBhagat Yaadgar Hall at Jalandhar every year is not a mere ritual memorial service. It is an occasion to recall what the Ghadarites dreamt of and their vision of a just and humane social order. A couplet from a Ghadar poem had summed it up as follows:

Nawan roop rachan hind de smaj da
Tukham undaona zalman de raj da.

(In order to construct a new type of social order, it was necessary to destroy the seed of the tyrants’ rule.)

The mela is an occasion for rededication of the present generation of men to continue the struggle for realization of the unfulfilled dreams. It is an occasion for emphasizing the importance of a vision, of a purpose and commitment in life.

What exactly was the vision of the Ghadarites? What was the substance of the dreams they lived and died for?

They were simple men, not intellectuals or big planners. So, a preparation of a blueprint of a new Constitution or scheme of socio-political order was not a priority with them. Nor did they have the time for such an exercise. But what they dreamed about comes out vividly in their poems, writings in the Ghadar and their statements in the conspiracy trials. Contradictions between the ideas thrown up by Savarkar and Hardayal were many, but the major preference of these patriots give a fairly coherent picture of their broad vision.

Primary among these was a social order free all sorts of exploitation and poverty, an order in which men were assured of human dignity and freedom. The then existing situation in which thousands of them had to go to foreign lands to work as laborers was painful. It was because the British colonial masters had destroyed the opportunities of earning a livelihood in India. They were looting the wealth and resources and carrying these to England.

Hind hitt furangian chaur keela;
…Paisa soot sara Hind desh wala
…England de vich lai jaan loko;
…Mamala Vadhaya beiman uth ke;
…Lutti laiye jande din raat daku,
bhukhe maran garih kirson loko

[India has been plundered and left desolate; All the wealth of India is being grabbed and shipped to England; The cheaters have raised land revenue; Day and Night the (British) dacoits are looting the people, (while) the poor farmers are dying of hungers.]

This was a deep concern. The actual masters of their lands were turned coolies in foreign lands.

Desh pain dhakke, bahar mile dhoee na sada pardesian da des koee na; kala lok, dirty ajj kehan sanoon.

[We are harassed and pushed around in our own land; in foreign countries there’s no respite; see today they (Whiteman) call us Black and dirty people.]

That was very humiliating. More so in the context of the freedom which the common American or Canadian Whiteman enjoyed in their countries.

First of all, the foreign rule had to be overthrown for regarding control of resources for the benefit of the people. This required political awakening of the people. So with the Ghadar paper they started the struggle for new political consciousness:

Dhole vajjia Hind jagawane da.
Hoougi Azadi, nasal such paoogi.

[We have beaten the drum for awakening India. There’ll be independence and people will live in peace and happiness.]

Azadi would bring self-rule. But this was not to be replaced by another ruling class. It called for democracy, panchayati (a people’s republic). They were not as yet aware that a formal democratic order they witnessed in the USA was based on and could also strengthen elsewhere class domination and inequality. It was their innocent conviction that the awakened people would ensure a true governance by the common people and for the benefit of the common people.

Mil ke sab gharibaan ne Ghadar karma,
Aas rakhanee ne Sahukar Waali.

(It is mainly the poor common people who were likely to be involved in the struggle for a new order. Let us not expect our wealthy people would support our struggle).

What is important here is the dreams-the dreams unrealized in our country even today. Massive poverty, disease and oppression make a mockery of people’s freedom.

According to their thinking one secret progress was education for all.

Bacche tadphade vidya baajh sade;
Ginati vidh India bara kaha gaya,

(The children cry helplessly without access to education; in numbers India is surely known as a big country; but in education we lost out).

The emphasis on vidya underlined their whole thinking of a better life. The fact that over forty eight per cent of Indians are illiterate even after 50 years of independence points to one of the major unfulfilled dreams of the Ghadarites.

Another significant dream was of social harmony and mutual respect among the diverse cultural, religious and regional communities of India as the basis of national unity. They ridiculed and condemned the religious and political traders who divided the people for narrow private interests.

Des t patya tusan de jhagarian ne.

(The country has been divided your sectarian feuds.)

They dreamed of a future in which Hindus, Muslims, Punjabis, Bengalis, Madrasis, Maharashtrians and all the others- all the sons of mata Hind would live in harmony. In real life and their organization and struggle they succeed in transcending differences.

There was to be no place in the new social order for discrimination between high and low and for caste distinctions. What may well be considered an unparalleled social revolutionary consciousness in the times the condemned and rejected caste distinctions and untouchability in their real life.

Chhoot chat da koee khayal nahin,
Sanoon parakh na chuhre chamar wali.

[We have no notions of untouchability, we don’t recognize distinctions of Chuhra and Chamar. They (so called high and low caste) lived and ate together.]

Their secularism was not of the Western variety but an intuitive and cultivated one contained in India’s civilizational diversity in unity. It was their belief that the communal and other divisions were primarily created by the rulers to serve their own vested interest-

Juda sanoon daghebaz keeta.

[It is the (British) schemers who have divided.]

They were also aware that the daghebaz manipulators could be from within the Indian people also. There was therefore the need of vigilance among the people against such nefarious designs of the tradesmen or brokers- dalaals of religion, caste and culture. In fact, the obsession with institutional religion was regarded as obscurantist which diverted the attention from the basic human concerns.

Sanoon lor na Pandatan Kazian di,
Nahin shauk hai bera dubawana de.

(We don’t require these pandits and Kazis.  e don’t want to drown our boat.)

The first task in the realization of the objective was removal of the colonial power. But that was not the end. It was only the first necessary step. Then a real people’s rue was to create a new socio-political order in which the tiller would be the owner of the land and all the production of wealth would be fairly distributed and shared. There would be no poverty and famines. Education would usher in advancement of science, industry and technology and create political awakening necessary for removal of obscurantism and mutual suspicions. There would be no caste or communal distinctions. India would once again have a place of pride in the world. The common man would enjoy prosperity and move with dignity, free from fear and any kind of insecurity. This was an agenda for democratic, secular and socialist order.

The Ghadarites did not only preach these ideals. They lived these. Many died for the realization of these dreams. Many more have continued to struggle with total commitment to the ideals in their behavior relationships and action. It was their legacy which made Bhagat Singh a socialist revolutionary. In his autobiographical writings he acknowledged the sources of his inspiration-Kartar Singh Sarabha and the other Ghadari Babas. The Naujwaq Bharat Sabha, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, the Kirti Kisan Movement and the whole socialist orientation of the national struggle in Punjab was inspired by and tended to share the dreams the Ghadarites dreamt.

Whereas India is still formally committed to creation of such an order-the ground reality is just the reverse. What is worse is that in the prevailing situation of glorification of liberalization and market rationality we seem to have lost the sense of direction.

Whether it is the chauvinistic advocates of cultural nationalism who demolish one kind of religious place underlining hatred and violence, or those dividing people by distinctions and hatreds around caste and religion-all such forces were, to the Ghadarites, anti-people. These forces had to be fought and defeated. Complacency is itself anti-national and anti-human in such a situation. It is time we take stock of things and frame a vision for a just and humane social order. It is time to have audacious dreams and strive for their realization with wisdom and courage. That is the message of the Ghadarites. That is the only way to honor them.

Aao ke koi khwab bunein kal ke vastey.

[Address delivered at the Commemoration Conference on the Ghadar Movement, Desh Bhagat Yaadgar, Jalandhar, April 12, 1998]

Article reprinted from MAINSTREAM Aug. 15, 1998
Professor Puri holds the B.R. Ambedkar Chair at the Department of Political Science, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar

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