A History of the Left in Pakistan – 4

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter One: The Roots of Revolution (Continued)

II. International Revolutionaries

While a steady migration of Indian peasants and working classes as indentured labour was slowly taking place towards the British colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, a new and more comprehensive political and administrative order as crafted by Lord Macaulay was put in place in India by the colonial rulers. With it gradual reforms in education and political life of India were introduced. Schools and colleges with instruction in English language were set up by the Missionary churches and the secular government in major Indian towns. In these schools, modern education was imparted to Indian children to produce a new breed of loyal and educated gentlemen, imbibed with western ideas and colonial outlook. This brought a slow but significant social change, particularly, in the middle classes. They were getting engaged in commerce or in services like teaching, law, printing & publications. The modern education proved fertile. Exposure to the western ideas of democracy, nationalism, and liberalism gave rise to a new generation of Indian youth with awakening desire to see India freed from British rule. Some affluent Indian students were arriving in London, Paris, and Berlin, seeking higher education and better work opportunities.

Shyam Kirshan Verma came to England in 1879, graduated from Oxford, and obtained his law degree. Inspired by the writings of noted English philosopher Herbert Spencer and interacting with English socialist circles, Shyam turned into an ardent Indian nationalist. Living in London, he was in close company of Lala Lajpat Rai, Dadabhai Nauroji, V.V.S. Ayer, Madam Bhikai Cama (an affluent Indian Parsi woman who came under strong influence of Indian nationalism), Lokmanya Tilak, and Gopal K. Gokhale. Verma’s house in London became a prominent centre of the newly fermenting modern Indian nationalism.

Shyam Verma founded an India Home Rule Society in London and brought out a monthly journal Indian Sociologist in 1904. He established his house at 65 Cromwell Avenue, Highgate in North London as ‘India House’ in 1905 to provide shelter and support to needy Indian students. Soon, ‘India House’ in London became an important centre for the Indian nationalist students and political workers in Britain.

Notable among those who lived in ‘India House’ and participating in its activities, were Virendranath Chattopadhya, Lala Har Dayal (who later worked with Ghadar Party in San Francisco), M.P.T. Acharya, and V.D. Savarkar. Virendranath Chattopadhya was a brother of Sarojni Naidu, a well-known Congress leader in India. He became a leading light of the group and was known as Viren or Chatto. He had joined the Middle Temple for his law degree. Madam Bhikaiji Cama moved to Paris in 1905 and together with S.N. Rana founded the Paris Indian Society. A new paper Banday Mataram was published from Paris. The ‘India House’ in London spread its branches and associates in Tokyo (1907) and in New York (1908). Maulvi Barkatullah was in Tokyo and had participated with Shyam Verma in the formation of Home Rule Society. He had built strong links with some prominent Japanese nationalist leaders and academicians. Barkatullah had also established links with some Irish revolutionary groups based in New York, U.S.A. sympathetic to the Indian nationalist cause.

By 1907, Shyam Verma’s activities in ‘India House’ had become a sore point for the British ruling elite. The British press was getting edgy about him and was pressing the Government for putting a curb on his ‘seditious’ activities in London. Feeling the heat, finally, Shyam Verma left England and moved to Paris in early 1907, joining with Madam Cama, S.R. Rana. Madam Cama and Chatto attended the Second International Socialist Conference in Stuttgart, Germany in August, 1907 to present their 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. The Indian delegation met socialist luminaries like Henry Hyndman, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and Ramsay McDonald. V.I. Lenin from Russia was also present at the conference but there are no indications that the Indian delegation meet him in person.

After Shyam Verma 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 Shyam. Savarkar pushed for more radical and violent methods. This policy 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 uproar and the British police came heavy on the ‘India House’ and its inmates. Savarkar was arrested and the ‘India House’ was eventually shut down, and the students living in the hostel were expelled from Britain.

Virendranath Chattopadhya was also expelled from the Middle Temple. With the liquidation of ‘India House’ in London, most of its key members reached Paris. V.V.S. Ayer went to Pondicherry (now Puducherry), a small town on the eastern coast of India under French rule. From there he helped smuggle the copies of Bande Mataram and other literature into British India; Lala Har Dayal went to Algeria and from there to Martinique in the Caribbean, ultimately landing in the U.S.A.; Chattopadhya helped publish a paper Talwar from Berlin. M.P.T. Acharya was helping Bhikai Cama in bringing out Bande Mataram from Paris. Meanwhile, the world was slowly moving towards the First World War.

Road to Berlin

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the world situation changed rapidly. Britain and France joined forces against Germany and the allied Central Powers, bringing the presence of an anti-British Indian Society in Paris at risk. It was now increasingly awkward for the French government to allow Paris Indian Society openly engaging in anti-British activities. In the changed circumstances, Shyam Verma moved to Geneva, where his movements were severely restricted by the neutral Swiss government (16).

In accordance with the age-old proverb, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, some Indian revolutionaries moved to Berlin for activities against Britain with the help of German government. M.P.T. Acharya went to Spain and Portugal to seek opportunity for gaining military training in the liberation struggle. Bhikaiji Cama and S.R. Rana stayed in Paris, in spite of friendly advice from French socialists, including Jean Languet, not to stay in France and instead go to Spain. Jean was the grandson of Karl Marx, the son of his elder daughter Jenny and Charles Languet, a disciple of Marx in Paris. Madam Bhikai Cama and Rana were later arrested in Marseilles while holding an agitation before the Punjab Regiment troops of the British Indian army arriving from India. Rana’s family was deported to Martinique in the Caribbean. Madam Cama was put under house arrest in Vichy only to be released in November, 1917 in bad health. It is said that V.I. Lenin had extended invitation to Madam Bhikai Cama to come and live in the newly established Soviet Union but she declined (17).

Viren Chattopadhya was among those who moved to Berlin in April, 1914, separating from his estranged English wife who refused to join him moving to Germany for continuing anti-British activities after the war broke out. Arriving in Berlin, Chattopadhya and his comrades met many other Indian nationalists in Germany who had good contacts with some influential German leaders close to the German Monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Through these contacts the Indian group met with German Foreign Office. Arthur Zimmermann, the German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Max von Oppenheim, the Director of German Intelligence Bureau, promised to provide required logistics and financial support for the Indian plans (18).

Thus, an anti-British Berlin-Indian Committee was formed in Berlin, Germany, in 1914, commonly known as the ‘Berlin Committee’. The prominent among its early members were Virendranath Chattopadhya, Ghulam Anbia Khan Lohani and M.P.T. Acharya from the ‘London Club’, Raja Mahindra Partap Singh, and P.N. Pillai. Acharya also returned from Portugal after his failed attempt at joining the Morocco liberation guerillas. P.N. Pillai’s brother Champak Raman (C.R.) Pillai also joined the Committee. Soon, Lala Hardyal who was, in the meantime, arrested in San Francisco, in April, 1914 for his anti-British activities, also arrived in Berlin after his release from the U.S. prison.

Raja Mahindra Partap Singh was the scion of the princely family of a small Indian state, Hathras, near Mathura and Agra in the U.P., India. Educated at Aligarh College and participating in the Swadeshi movement he was imbued with nationalist ideas. Raja Mahindra Partap reached Switzerland in 1914 and getting in touch with Virendranath Chattopadhya became a founding member of the Berlin Committee. Perhaps, because of his princely family background, the German monarch Kaiser Willhelm II gave a personal audience to him together with the Indian Committee delegation (19). The German government, in fact, was long considering a plan to help organize the Indian nationalist revolutionaries to rise against Britain. As the First World War began, the German government gave green light to the plan by providing the Berlin Committee and the Ghadar party diplomatic and material support in their independence struggle. With the help of German officials, calls were sent to Indian nationalists across Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Austria to enlist wider support.

This was the time when crackdown on Ghadar Party in India had already begun in February, 1915. In spite of the massive setback, the Ghadar Party and Berlin Committee leaders continued in their efforts to carry out their joint plans. Facilitated by the German diplomatic officers, the Berlin Committee sent missions to Istanbul, Baghdad and Kabul. For raising an Indian liberation army, the Committee tried enlisting trained Indian soldiers from the British army who were taken prisoner by Germany and its allies from war fronts in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

After the Bay of Bengal debacle of confiscation of arms shipments, the only route to ensure war supplies from Germany and Turkey to India was via land route through Afghanistan. Maulvi Barkatullah was taken on board and Jabbar Khairi and Sattar Khairi (known as Khairi brothers) were contacted in Istanbul. Khairi brothers from Delhi had arrived in Turkey for their work against the British. They were publishing a journal Akhuwat from Istanbul, calling for the unity of the Indian Muslims against the British colonial rule. Abdul Rab of Peshawar, a former officer in the British Consulate, was also approached in Baghdad. The British Consulate office was closed down after the World War broke out but Abdul Rab who was already influenced by Pan Islamism stayed back working against the British influence. He joined with Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah

Arrangements were again made to procure arms in the USA and ship them to India with the help of the German ambassador, Johann von Bernstoff. Finally, a delegation under the leadership of Raja Mahindra Partap Singh and including M.P.T. Acharya and Maulvi Barkatullah was sent to Istanbul and from there to Kabul in December, 1915.


16. Shyam Verma spent his last days alone in Geneva in poverty as was witnessed by Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1927 and mentioned in his Autobiography. Becoming a recluse and paranoid, he feared every other person as his enemy or British secret service agent. Shyam Verma died in a Geneva hospital in 1930.
17. 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 Jahangir. Few months later, she died in Bombay in November 1935, bequeathing most of her personal assets to a girl’s orphanage.
18. Dr Abhinash Chandar Bhattacharya, Europe Bapla Barsadhna, (his memoirs in Bengali), quoted from Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshuda Auraq, Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011.
19. Raees Ahmed Jafri Nadvi, Karwan-e-Gum Gashta (The Lost Caravan).


Chapter 1 to be continued…

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