The Jihad Movement – II

By Ahmed Kamran

With the departure of Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah and others from Kabul, the Provisional Government of India was now almost solely entrusted to Obaidullah Sindhi and some of the Lahore students, including Zafar Hasan Aibak, Allah Nawaz Khan, and Mohammad Ali who tried to infuse a new life in it. However, under severe pressure from Britain, the Provisional Government was made totally restricted after conclusion of the Third Anglo-Afghan War in August 1919. Eventually, under the instructions of the Afghan Government, it was formally disbanded in 1922. Obaidullah Sindhi and his colleagues quietly left for Tashkent. They reached Termiz in Soviet Union in Oct 1922.

The Hijrat Begins

Ironically, at this time when, on the one hand, Indian nationalist revolutionaries in Kabul were being expelled or leaving it in disgust, and on the other hand, the Turks now led by Mustafa Kamal were taking measures to wrest all political and secular powers from the institution of Caliphate in Turkey, Muslim Ulema, quite naively, helped develop a highly emotional and explosive situation for Muslims in India.

During the Third Anglo-Afghan War, the Muslim Urdu press created another sensational and emotionally charged atmosphere among Indian Muslims. Muslim prayer leaders and some of the leading Ulema again senselessly declared India as Darul Harb (an abode of war; a place where Muslims must either wage a war or migrate from) and encouraged Muslims to leave India for a Darul Islam (an abode of peace; an Islamic country) in Afghanistan and fight for the restoration of old glory of the Muslim Caliphate. It is, indeed, a moot point whether these nationalist Ulema did all this deliberately to mislead people, knowing full well the implications of the situation abroad, or they did it, albeit foolishly, but in good faith. I, for one, am inclined to believe that, probably, it was more of the latter than the former.

However, clearly, not having a clue of the international situation and the current alignment of forces and their respective strengths, some pious and well-meaning sentimental Muslims, unwittingly, fell prey to the deceptive situation. They started undertaking migration to neighboring Afghanistan. Initially, a slow trickle, it gained strength and, soon, turned into a torrent.

In fairly large numbers, Muslims sold or gave away their houses, shops, chattels, and personal belongings and undertook en mass Hijrat (migration) to Afghanistan and Turkish lands. Barrister Jan Mohammad Junejo organized a special train of Muhajirs from Sindh to Peshawar. This was the second major Hijrat movement of Indian Muslims after Syed Ahmed Barailvi’s first, albeit limited, movement in early 1830’s. Starting from about June 1920, Indian Muslims from all walks of life in their hundreds started leaving for Afghanistan without even bothering to find out how and where they would be staying in their new adopted country. As if in a trance, they believed in a hazy dream of an ideal Muslim state that was supposed to be waiting, with open arms, to welcome them. Young and old, people from Punjab, Sindh, UP, Bihar, Kohat, and Hazara, together with their women and children were heading for the Afghan border in the NWFP, in droves by train, oxen carts, tonga, and on foot.

The migration started with a trickle. Initially, a few hundred arrived in Peshawar, the first camp on their way. Then it soon grew into an almost uncontrollable torrent. Amir Amanullah Khan also, perhaps unwittingly, provided impetus to the movement by issuing a thoughtless statement that ‘the whole country of Afghanistan would welcome Indian Muhajirs’. Probably, it was intended more to score a few rosy points by a new emerging leader of the Muslim world than to expect a real migration in significant numbers. Certainly, he had underestimated the zeal of some pious Indian Muslims.

Though initiated by the religious leaders of Deoband by issuing a Fatwa, a religious edict, and supported by the eminent Muslim scholar Maulana Abdul Bari Farangi Mahli of Lukhnow, the movement grew rapidly without a central leadership or proper guidance. It was, probably, one of the biggest spontaneous movements in the history of India in recent times. Towards the end, large groups of up to 1,000 people were arriving at the border in one day. It is estimated that in all about 40,000 to 50,000 people left their homes and hearths to undertake this Hijrat.

Notable people among those who reached the border for Hijrat included a young Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan from Charsadda, Abdul Qadir Sehrai from Peshawar, Abdul Aziz and Waris Butt from Amritsar, Shaukat Usmani from Bikaner, Rajputana, and Fazal Elahi Qurban and Firozuddin Mansoor from Punjab. Others included Fida Ali Zahid, Iqbal Shaidai, and Murtaza Ahmed Khan Maikash. Most of them were educated urban youth, belonging to the middle class families of Punjab, UP, and CP. During the fervor of initial heady days of the Hijrat, some notables of Peshawar including Haji Jan Mohammad, Syed Maqbool Shah, and few others made camping arrangements for Muhajirs, after getting many inns and living quarters vacated in the Namak Mandi of Peshawar. Volunteers of ‘Hijrat Committee’ distributed food and water among tired Muhajirs. Curiously, the British government didn’t stop anyone from crossing the border. The Government officials were, however, quietly observing the movement of people.

A Dream Turns Sour

But soon the bitter reality started to dawn upon the unsuspecting Muhajirs. After crossing over into Afghanistan, the conditions were quite harsh and much different from what these enthusiastic Muhajirs had, perhaps, imagined. It was highly rugged terrain, with almost no agriculture or commercial life. There was hardly any sign of modern built infrastructure in the border areas of Afghanistan. The tribal people were illiterate and living in most primitive and savage conditions, compared to what these Muhajirs, mostly from urban areas of British India, were used to in their fairly developed and civilized towns. Raising slogans of Allah-o-Akbar on their way, when Muhajirs started arriving near Jalalabad, there was no one to receive them or make arrangement for their stay. People were staying overnight in the open fields. They were like sitting ducks before birds of prey. Soon, armed bands of the local tribesmen started looting and plundering the bewildered Muhajirs, and abducting their young women. While situation was rapidly deteriorating in Afghanistan and Muhajirs couldn’t find an escape from the cruelty of the armed tribesmen, more and more groups of Muhajirs were pouring in. The initial shock and a sense of shame and humiliation prevented these Muhajirs to quickly retrace their steps and return to their homeland.

Unfamiliar with the rough terrain, many Muhajirs took flight in whichever direction they could find an escape from this calamity. Many perished in their endeavors for finding a safe way back home. Some managed to reach Kabul. They were temporarily provided with some shelter by the Afghan Government But soon, the number of Muhajirs arriving every day was beyond the limited capacity of the nominal government of Afghanistan. A panicked Amir Amnaullah Khan tried to stem the tide and urged Obaidullah Sindhi to stop the train of people arriving at the border with India. But the movement was clearly without a central leadership and planning. It was no longer possible to put a lid on it.

It took a few months before the shocking news of the plight of the Muhajirs in Afghanistan started reaching back home and the flow of the new groups slowed down, eventually stopping it in large measure by September 1920. The Hijrat Movement grew rapidly like a balloon and was deflated as quickly in a few months.

Its weaknesses and total lack of planning notwithstanding, it was an enormous human tragedy, which, usually, does not even find a brief mention in our history books. We may not, perhaps, doubt the intentions of the religious leaders and some of the prominent Ulema. But, undoubtedly, these religious leaders apparently had no clue of the dimensions and the implications of what they were exhorting equally uninformed people to undertake. It was not a forced Hijrat undertaken under some compulsion. It was, on the contrary, a deliberate and voluntary action undertaken without any homework.

This huge Hijrat movement, in a strange way, however, played an important role on the future course of events. Many of the more ambitious and determined people from these Muhajirs persisted in their efforts and moved forward in spite of difficulties.

But even this great human tragedy was used by the Afghan Government as a bargaining chip in its rounds of negotiations with the British Government at Mussoorie and Kabul, following the Third Afghan War. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, the Afghan foreign minister and father-in-law of Amir Amanullah Khan managed to obtain from Obaidullah Sindhi a few confidential letters addressed to notable Muslim leaders of India including Mohammad Ali Jauhar, and Dr M.A. Ansari asking them to incite Muslims to rise in revolt against the British Government. Sardar Tarzi made Obaidullah Sindhi to believe that these letters will only be used in the event British Government did not agree to meet Afghanistan’s just demand for acknowledging it as a truly independent sovereign country and agreeing to home rule in India. Sardar Mohammad Tarzi, however, without even raising the issue of home rule in India, showed Maulana Sindhi’s letters to his British counterparts, with a view to push them for obtaining maximum concessions for himself and Amanullah Khan. The British conceded many Afghan demands but, in return, upon information provided by the Afghan delegation, widespread arrests of the Indian revolutionaries were made, multiple conspiracy cases were instituted, and many revolutionary workers were executed and jailed.

By now Obaidullah Sindhi had also seen through the duplicity of Afghan leaders and started looking for help towards the newly established Soviet Union for the independence of India. He allowed Lahore student Khushi Mohammad to leave for Tashkent for seeking help. Khushi Mohammad reached Tashkent in mid 1920 and there he met M.N. Roy and others. He entered into the ‘Communist University for the Toilers of the East’ and studied communist ideology.

Jihad Revolutionaries

At the beginning of the Hijrat movement of 1920, probably, the first to arrive in Afghanistan was a young man of 22, Rafiq Ahmed from Bhopal. He reached the Afghan border together with his elder brother Kabir Ahmed. Kabir Ahmed, being a government employee in Bhopal, was not allowed by the British border security officials to pass without government authority. His repeated passionate requests could not buy him passage. Kabir Ahmed returned home disappointed and Rafiq Ahmed moved ahead. He reached Kabul and met Amanullah Khan. This was a little before Muhajirs in large numbers started arriving in Afghanistan. Soon, few more young men arrived in Kabul. These were Mohammad Akbar Khan, Gohar Rehman1 and Sultan Mehmood from Rihana, Haripur Hazara, and Mian Akbar Shah from Noshehra. They met Obaidullah Sindhi, Abdul Rab2 of former Berlin Committee, and the group of Lahore students who were already there for few years.

Soon, with the arrival of increasing number of Muhajirs in Kabul, it became difficult for the Afghan Government to keep an eye on them. With the Afghan-British negotiations already underway, Amanullah Khan’s support for the Indian revolutionaries had also started cooling off. The Muhajirs, including Obaidullah Sindhi, Abdul Rab, and Rafiq Ahmed were once again shifted to Jabalul Siraj, a camp about 75 Km north of Kabul. There were now about 180 Muhajirs placed at the camp and were, for all practical purposes, forgotten and ignored by the Afghan Government The Muhajirs had no other choice but to either return to India in humiliation or to advance further ahead. They split into two groups. One was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan of Hazara, and the other was led by Mohammad Akbar Jan of Peshawar. The first group proceeded around July 1920 to Mazar Sharif for crossing Jaihun River (Oxus or Amu Darya) to enter into Russian Turkistan near Termiz (in present day Uzbekistan) to reach Anatolia in Turkey via Turkmenistan. At Termiz, Muhajirs were welcomed by a small contingent of soviet army posted there. The local governor of Termiz tried to persuade Muhajirs to abandon their journey to Turkey in the rapidly changing situation on the war front but they were highly enthused with the idea of joining the Turkish army in defense of Muslims.

Haji Shahabuddin and Shaukat Usmani, both heavily imbued with Islamic revolutionary fervor, addressed Muhajirs, passionately exhorting them to move forward without wasting time and for realizing their dream of fighting the British and European powers alongside their brave Turkish brethren. With shouts of Allah-o-Akbar, the Muhajirs were fired up to immediately proceed ahead. From Termiz, Amu River runs as a border between Afghanistan’s Balkh province and present day Uzbekistan for about 100 Km before it enters into Turkmenistan. Acting against the Soviet military officers’ advice for waiting for a steamer boat for undertaking upward journey from Termiz, the Mujahidin boarded country sail boats for their next destination at Kirki in Turkmenistan via Amu River.

Mujahids’ Miseries

After this it is a horrible and tragic story of these enthusiastic Muhajirs’ long ordeal. The untold stories of these adventures have been well recorded in many memoirs and autobiographies of those people who survived the rigors and eventually returned after many years to play notable roles in the larger struggle of the independence of their country.3

The Muhajirs were captured by savage Turkmen Basmachis (Basmachi is derived from Uzbek word Basmak, which means armed robber and highwayman) shortly before reaching Kirki. These Turkmens robbed Muhajirs depriving them of their money and last material possessions, and cruelly beating them on one pretext or other. Riding on horses and with lashes in their hands, they made the Indian Muhajirs run barefoot on the rugged terrain under a burning summer sun. The Muhajirs’ pleadings and appeals to their Muslim brotherhood with repeated recitation of Quranic verses and Kalma-e-Shahadat (an avowed declaration of being Muslim) all fell on deaf ears. After entering into Turkmenistan, another group of about 28 Muhajirs was attacked by Turkmen Basmachi. Their belongings were looted, and all but one was killed. The only survivor was Ghulam Rasool, who managed to escape with fatal injuries, barely reached Termiz to tell the story, before dying the next day. Of this unfortunate Muhajirs group, he was the only one who got a burial and a grave. The dead bodies of all others remained scattered in desolate grounds and were consumed by scavengers.

These Turkmen were the soldiers of the former Amir of Bukhara who were banded together, financed, and supplied with weapons by the British agents to rise in revolt against the newly established Soviet Revolutionary government. The legends of these savage armed brigands’ exaggerated piety, bravery, and heroic fight against communist Bolsheviks was widely propagated during those days by the British and European journals among unsuspecting Muslim population of India and the Middle East. The Amir of Bukhara, Syed Salimuddin had been defeated only weeks before and a Soviet Peoples Republic was founded with Usman Khwaja as its first President. Bukhara had long degenerated into a centre of decadent and stagnant reactionary interpretation of Islam. According to 1911 census, there were 1,440 religious schools and 1,320 Madrassas where about 200,000 religious students were enrolled. Teaching of not only natural and social sciences but even Islamic history was prohibited in the religious schools of Bukhara, lest the young and simple students get misguided. It was a similar story, a kind of déjà vous that was to be repeated seventy years later in Afghanistan when the Islamic Mujahidin were fighting a guerrilla war, financed and managed by the American CIA and Pakistan’s ISI against Russian army in 1990’s.

Finally, the Turkmen elders and religious leaders declared all captive Indian Muhajirs as Jadeedis (The Modernists) and ordered their killing. The group of about eighty Muhajirs was made to stand in a circle waiting for execution by a firing squad. Moments before the execution was to be carried out, fortunately, a Red army contingent arrived there and attacked the Turkmen positions. After a pitched battle for few days, the Turkmen militants dispersed in haste. Exhausted and impoverished due to extreme hardship and hunger during about two weeks of captivity, the Indian Muhajirs were finally rescued by the Bolsheviks.

After a little rest and recuperation under the protection of Soviet army unit, the Indian Muhajirs finally reached Kirki. Here a Soviet army contingent welcomed them and provided shelter for taking rest. At Kirki camp, some of the Muhajirs also participated, shoulder to shoulder with soviet army, in a battle against a week-long raid of a large contingent of Basmachis on the Soviet post. Others, under Haji Shahabuddin, however, remained confined to the barracks during the fighting.

Muhajirs who had lost their communication links with the outside world for some time, received news of Turkey and other countries after a long time at Kirki. Here they came to know that the Turks under Mustafa Kamal have already declared establishing a Republic at Smyrna that did not recognize the Ottoman Caliph. The Turkish forces were fighting for their own country’s survival against occupying armies of the West and that Turkey, in its current situation, was in no position to help India win its freedom. Not willing to take further risks of again falling into the hands of Basmachis, Muhajirs proceeded from Kirki to Charjui by a Russian steamer. They were given a warm send off with a military band by the Soviet army.

New Horizons

After reaching Charjui, the group was split into two opposing groups. One group still wished to proceed to Turkey to join the war while the other group by now had a change of heart and was of the opinion to go to Tashkent to seek help from the Soviet forces. Shaukat Usmani4, who had been a staunch supporter of Haji Shahabuddin and thus far had been solely guided by his Islamic religious motivation, also had seen through the harsh reality of the situation. He also parted ways from Haji Shahabuddin. One group that finally left for Tashkent via Bukhara by train was led by Mohammad Akbar Khan of Hazara and included Firozuddin Mansoor5, Mir Abdul Hamid, Sultan Mehmood, Shaukat Usmani, Rafiq Ahmed, Masood Ali Shah, Gohar Rehman, Mian Mohammad Akbar Shah, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, Fida Ali Zahid, and Ghulam Mohammad. It reached Bukhara by end September 1920.

The other group under the leadership of Haji Shahabuddin included Fazal Elahi Qurban, reached Baku at a time when an intense battle between Turks and the Greeks was being fought at Smyrna (now Izmir). Baku was an important military station from where regular materials and weapons supplies were being dispatched in support of Turkish army. The Mujahidin arrived in Baku to join the Turkish war at Smyrna. But Turkish military officers at Baku were in no mood to let these Mujahidin from India to join. These Indian volunteers were suspected to be British agents. Unfortunately, at the same time news of the arrest of a British Muslim agent Mustafa Saghir (from Muradabad in UP) in Anatolia reached Baku. Arriving from India in the guise of a Muslim volunteer on his mission to assassinate Mustafa Kamal, Mustafa Saghir was arrested by Turkish army. The British secret police had planned to assassinate Mustafa Kamal to demolish Turkish war efforts against Greeks. Captured with ample documentary evidence of his assassination mission, Mustafa Saghir was tried in a military court and was executed. With the breaking of this news, the fate of the newly arrived contingent of enthusiastic Indian Mujahidin was completely sealed. In fact, now they were viewed as highly suspect in Baku.

There was a large number of Indians, mostly belonging to trading communities, who were long settled in the Central Asian towns, including Bukhara, Baku, and Samarkand. They were primarily engaged in trading and commerce. Many of these Indians had formed Indian nationalist association with branches operating at Samarkand and Baku. The Baku branch of an Indian group used to bring out a fortnightly paper under the name of Azad Hindustan. While Indian Muhajirs were still at Baku, a news item was published in the paper providing details of Rehmat Ali Zakaria (from the Indian students stationed with them at Jabalul Siraj) addressing the Third Congress of the Communist Party at Tashkent. Zakaria had arrived in Soviet Union in November 1917. He had presented the case of India’s revolutionary struggle for its independence from the British colonial rule to the Congress in Tashkent. Khushi Mohammad of Lahore students (who had changed his name to Mohammad Ali) had arrived in January 1920.

Frustrated with the denial of access to Turkish war and after interaction with the members of the Baku branch of the Indian revolutionaries, the Indian Muhajirs again split into two groups: one was of the view to proceed to Tashkent to join other Indian revolutionaries in their continued struggle, while the other larger group wanted to quit and leave for their homes in India.

The larger group led by Haji Shahabuddin that set out for returning to India, unfortunately, met with yet more disasters. Only a few managed to reach their homes. Most of them perished on their way or were brutally killed by Turkmen Basmachis. Those who were killed by Turkmens included the group leader Haji Shahabuddin.

Life in Tashkent

The first group heading for the Soviet Union reached Tashkent in October 1920. Abdul Rab received them and arranged for their stay at the India House. Next day, M.N. Roy6, Abhinath Mukerji7, and Mohammad Shafiq arrived to meet them. The second Muhajirs group arrived in Tashkent via Ashkabad and Samarkand by the middle of Ocobert 1920. It included Fazal Elahi Qurban8.

About 40-50 Muhajirs arriving in Tashkent were mainly divided into three groups. Dejected and disappointed, the majority wished to return home, while, some wished to stay in Tashkent and continue their struggle for the independence of India with the help of the new Soviet revolutionary government, and a few others, albeit in very small numbers, still insisted on proceeding to Turkey. Those who wanted to return home were facilitated to go back to India, and those heading for Turkey were helped to push on but they were soon turned back by the Turkish authorities at the border, denying them visa, most likely, on the suspicion of them being the ‘British spies’. The others returning home gathered in Kabul by the summer of 1921 and undertook their journeys to India.

The Indians in Tashkent formed an Indian Revolutionary Association that was headed by Abdul Rab. Its branch in Baku had Fazal Qadir as secretary and Mohammad Farigh as treasurer. Most members of the association were Punjabi and Pathan soldiers who had deserted from the British army after refusing to fire upon Muslim Turkish army. Some of these soldiers stayed in Tashkent and others proceeded to Samarkand and Baku.

About 26 of the Muhajirs staying back in Tashkent joined the political and military training school, Indusky Krus, set up by the Communist International under the guidance of M. N. Roy. They were put up at the ‘India House’ set up in Tashkent. Later, they were sent to Moscow to continue their training at the newly established ‘Communist University for the Toilers of the East’. At Tashkent and Moscow, the Indian Muhajirs met other Indian revolutionaries of the Ghadar Party and the Berlin Committee who had by now gathered together there. The convergence and fusion of these three independent streams of Indian nationalism – the Ghadar Party, the Berlin Committee, and the Hijrat Movement – produced a group of revolutionaries who became the founding fathers of the Communist Party of India in September 1920 in Tashkent.

Ever since the first group of students from Lahore had gone to Afghanistan in February 1915, the British secret police was alert and keeping track of the movements of different groups of Muhajirs and of the members of the Indian Provisional Government From the intelligence reports reaching from Kabul, Bukhara, and Tashkent, the British Indian secret police was already aware of the gradual return of the Indian Muhajir groups. Most of them returned to Peshawar via Kabul and some took the Pamir route via Chitral. A few also arrived at Quetta via Kandahar. Most of them were intercepted and interrogated at the border by Mr. Ewart, the officer-in-charge of the British Intelligence Bureau at Peshawar. The first batch of the returning Muhajirs arrived at Peshawar in June 1921.

Barkatullah – a True Revolutionary

Maulvi Barkatullah and Virendranath Chattopadhia9 and other Berlin Committee leaders lived in Soviet Union for a while. Barkatullah and Mahindra Partap met V. I. Lenin and gained his personal confidence. From Moscow, Barkatullah was sent with the Soviet delegation at the end of 1919 to Geneva for participating in the talks between Soviets and the Allies. He was instrumental in building strong working relationships with, and diplomatic support for, the Turkish delegation at the Peace Talks. He returned to Moscow and stayed there till 1922 before, he eventually returned to Berlin to continue his mission from there. He brought out a journal Al Islah from Berlin and lived in a small, dark cell-like room.

While in Soviet Union, Maulvi Barkatullah had said in one of his interview to Petrograd Pravda in 1919, ‘neither am I a socialist nor a communist. My political mission is to expel the British and other imperialists from Asia. I am strongly opposed to the European capitalism in Asia that is represented by the British. In this struggle I am a staunch ally of the communists and I consider them as necessary allies for achieving my political objectives. I think today without their practical support winning freedom from the imperialists is a pipe dream’.

Later, in another interview to the newspaper Ishtrakyon (Socialists), in Tashkent, he had again said, ‘I am not a communist. I am an anti-imperialist revolutionary. But I respect communist ideology from my heart. Communism or Bolshevism is a social and economic system that I, as a Muslim scholar, find much closer to Islam. Islam is a religion for poor and oppressed. And communism is an ideology of those who are downtrodden and oppressed for centuries and it seeks guarantees for their basic and democratic rights. The imperialist robbers and Zamir Farosh [Conscience Seller] Mullahs and so-called religious leaders who are stealing the fruits of labour of workers and peasants in collusion with the imperialists are living a luxurious life. One day I must return to my creator, and today, I make my Allah as witness to say that these Mullahs and religious leaders who are opposing Bolsheviks and communists have sold their religion and faith’.10

It was a cold evening with snow softly falling on the streets of Berlin in February 1924, when the small creaky door of Barkatullah’s room was knocked. Barkatullah, now 70, was deeply absorbed in reading; he slowly got up and opened the door. A man of medium height, with ‘neat black hair and dark eyes expressing something biting and cruel’, stepped inside. His lower lip drooped deeply and he was too slick in a demonstratively elegant suit. Everything in his manner expressed something haughtily indifferent to his surroundings’11. He was the British super-spy, Lieutenant Sidney George Reilly, a Jewish Russian born in Odessa, Ukraine, an adventurer and killer secret agent employed by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). He was alleged to have spied for at least four nations. His notoriety during the 1920s was created owing to his key role in a thwarted operation to assassinate V. I. Lenin and overthrow the Bolshevik regime in 1918. It is strongly believed that British author Ian Fleming’s popular character James Bond was inspired by Reilly’s exploits12. Calmly, Barkatullah inquired from Reilly whether he had come to murder him. With a mischievous sly smile, the hardened ace spy told Barkatullah that Lenin was his prime target and he had already died the previous month on 24 January in Moscow and that he (Barkatullah) was too old and weak to be killed by him.

Reilly called into the room four tall, rugged men of Central Asian origin, with long thick beards and high caps who were still waiting outside; these men were Mustafa Jarullah, Mullah Shakoor Khan, Mustafa Chowkhif, and Mullah Ibrahim. These people had been recruited by the British agents from Bukhara and Samarkand region to organize an anti-Soviet campaign in the Muslim lands for inciting rebellion in the Central Asia. Sidney Reilly offered Maulvi Barkatullah to join and head the Turkistan Ulema delegation to India and the Middle East to speak against Bolsheviks and narrate horror stories of their cruelty and the strict ban on Islam and the Muslims in the Central Asia. Advising Barkatullah that he was now too old and feeble to continue in his hopeless struggle for the independence of India, it was high time for him that he should accept the British offer and live his last days in comfort and official respect in his own homeland. In return Barkatullah was offered an estate worth Rs. 200,000 in India, in addition to a comfortable pension of Rs. 60,000 per annum for life. He indicated that the stakes could be raised, provided Barkatullah was willing to talk.

Maulvi Barkatullah looked at Sidney Reilly’s face and said, ‘I have been sincerely struggling all my life for the independence of my country. Today, I regret that my attempts did not succeed. But at the same time I am also satisfied that hundreds and thousands of others who have followed me are brave and truthful. With satisfaction I will place the destiny of my beloved nation in their hands13. I have no desire to go down in history as a traitor to my country. You may easily find others who will gladly join you. Leave me alone.’ He firmly rejected the offer, saying to the Turkmen Ulema,

Qahba chun peer shawad, paisha kunad dallali
(When a whore gets old, she turns into a pimp)

Sidney Reilly and Turkmen Mullahs quietly left the room.14

Diabetic and suffering from many illnesses, Maulvi Barkatullah continued in his struggle till he breathed his last. Jawaharlal Nehru met Barkatullah in Berlin and again at Brussels Conference in 1927 and was visibly impressed as is recorded in his Autobiography. Together with his long time friend, Raja Mahindra Partap Singh, Barkatullah visited US in July 1927 at the invitation of Indian revolutionaries in India. On 15th July 1927, he was given a reception by the Indian community at Ceylon Indian Inn on 49th Street in New York. He also met the Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The two also spoke at a joint gathering of African-Americans and Indians. Barkatullah travelled to Chicago, Gary, and several other cities of the Midwest renewing his links with the Indian and Irish communities among whom he had many friends.

He arrived at the Yugantar Ashram, the Ghadar Party’s headquarters in San Francisco. He then proceeded to Marysville where he gave his last public speech. Barkatullah died in San Francisco on 20 September 1927. His body was taken from San Francisco to Sacramento where he was buried in the Muslim Cemetery with the promise that after the freedom of his country, his body would be transported to his own motherland for burial in Bhopal. His remains, however, still lie buried in Sacramento City Cemetery, California15.

Faiz phir kab kisi maqtal meiN karen gay aabad
Lab pe veraaN haiN shaheedoN ke fasaney kab se


1. Gohar Rehman from village Rihana, Haripur Hazara was to be a brother-in-law of Muhammad Ayub Khan, later a General and the President of Pakistan.

2. Abdul Rab from Peshawar had been a senior officer in the British Consulate in Baghdad. After WW1 started, the British Consulate was closed and the entire staff left Baghdad. Abdul Rab, already influenced by Wahabi religious movement and of Pan Islamism, stayed back in Baghdad. As the influence of Pan Islamic movement grew on him, he became more and more anti British. He was taken on board by the Berlin Committee members in their endeavor to raise war efforts and had arrived in Kabul with Raja Mahindra Partap and Maulvi Barkatullah. Later, he also moved to Tashkent.

3. The Muhajirs’ tragic stories are told in great detail in various memoirs and autobiographies, including Peshawar se Moscow (From Peshawar to Moscow) and Main Stalin se Dobara Mila (I met Stalin Again), Shaukat Usmani, Swaraj Publishing House, Banaras, 1927; Unforgettable Journey, an autobiography of Rafiq Ahmed, MS, extensively quoted in The Story behind Moscow-Tashkent Conspiracy Cases, S.M. Mehdi, New Delhi, 1967; Mushahidat-e Kabul-o-Yaghistan, Maulvi Mohammad Ali Qasuri, Anjuman Taraqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, 1955;  Auraq-e Gumgashta (The Pages that Were Lost), Rais Ahmed Jafri; Reshmi Rumal Tehrik (Silk Handkerchief Movement), Zubair Ahmed Firdousi, Nigarshat, Lahore, 1988; Gumshuda Auraq (The Lost Pages), Shaukat Siddiqui, Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011; Documents of The History of The Communist Party of India, Vol. Two (1923-1925), Ed. G. Adhikari, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1974. Moreover, personal accounts of the Hijrat Movement have been provided in detail in the Autobiography of Zafar Hasan Aibak in two volumes, Sarguzisht-e Mujahidin (The Story of Mujahidin), Maulana Ghulam Rasool Meher; Mian Akbar Shah’s account was serialized in Monthly Sarhad, Peshawar in 1970; Dastaan-e Khanwada-e Mian Mehmood Ali Qasuri (Family Saga of Mian Mehmood Ali Qasuri), Abdullah Malik, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1995; an Autobiography of Fazal Elahi Qurban was also published.

4. Shaukat Usmani was from Bikaner in Rajputana. His real name was Maula Bux and he was a student of Dungar College in Bikaner when he decided to undertake Hijrat. In his love for Usmani (Ottoman) Government of Turkey, he changed his name to Shaukat Usmani (Glory of Ottomans). Later, Shaukat Usmani was to become one of the early communist leaders of India and figured prominently in the well-known Kanpur Conspiracy Case, 1924 and Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929, under which many of the leading members of the Communist Party of India were tried.

5. Commonly known as Dada Firozuddin Mansoor, together with Dada Amir Hyder and Fazal Elahi Qurban, was one of the earliest Muslim members of the Communist Party of India in Punjab and, later, a veteran communist leader of the Communist Party of Pakistan in its early days.

6. M.N. Roy, born in District 24 Parganna near Calcutta, studied engineering and chemistry. Joined Bengali revolutionaries and went to Java for raising arms from Germans. Disappointed, he went to Japan and met Chinese nationalist leader Dr Sun Yat Sen, the founder of Chinese Koumintang Party. Followed by the British police, he reached San Francisco via Korea. At Palo Alto he met and married Evelyn Trent, a young Stanford graduate. The couple moved to New York where Roy was first introduced to Marxist ideology and actively engaged in revolutionary activities. Haunted by the police, the couple escaped to Mexico where M.N. Roy became a founding member of the Socialist Party of Mexico (later converted into the Communist Party of Mexico) in December 1917, gaining the distinction of the first Communist Party outside Russia. Roy also provided support to the penniless Mikhail Borodin, a Bolshevik leader in exile. Upon Borodin’s returning home after Bolshevik revolution, grateful Moscow invited M.N. Roy to the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow in 1920. Briefed about his activities in the US and Mexico, V.I. Lenin warmly received Roy and was taken into the Presidium of the ComIntern, which he served for eight years. Roy was personally commissioned by Lenin to prepare the East – particularly, India – for the revolution. M.N. Roy founded the political and military training school for Indian revolutionaries in Tashkent and helped formulate Lenin’s Preliminary Draft Thesis on the National & Colonial Questions. Stalin appointed Roy as head of the ComIntern delegation to China in 1927 to help develop agrarian revolution. Later, owing to the internal party rivalries between Stalin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, and Bukharin, Roy fell from Stalin’s grace and managed to escape Russia with Trotsky’s deportation in May 1928. He was expelled from ComIntern in Dec 1929. Roy returned to India in Dec 1930 and was arrested in Jul 1931. He was sentenced for 12 years RI in jail in Jan 1932. The sentence was, however, reduced to six years. He was released in Nov 1936 in broken health, with lasting damage to his lungs and kidneys. Disillusioned with both Western democracy and communism, Roy devoted the last ten years of his life to developing an alternate philosophy which he called Radical Humanism of which he wrote a detailed exposition in his book Reason, Romanticism and Revolution. Finally, settled in Dehra Dun, Roy died in Jan 1954.

7. Abhinath Mukerji, born in Jabalpur was trained as a weaver in cotton mills in Ahmadabad. Sent for professional training in Germany and Japan, he was exposed to socialist ideas. Joined revolutionary movement in Calcutta and arrested in Singapore in 1915 while arranging for arms shipment to India. Escaped from prison in Singapore, he reached Dutch Java and joined the communist party. Travelled to Amsterdam, attended Second Congress of ComIntern in Moscow in 1920 and met Lenin and M.N. Roy. Together with Roy and his wife Evelyn, Mukerji wrote The Indian Communist Manifesto which was published in Glasgow Socialist. Stayed in Tashkent as in-charge of the Indian Military School. There becoming a formal member of the Russian Communist Party. Mukerji returned to India in 1922 and for a while worked in Bengal and helped forming Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan in Madras. Later, he returned to Moscow but broke away from Roy. He became an academician and Indologist at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, becoming President of the All India Association of Orientalists. Mukerji married Rosa Fitingov, of Russian-Jewish origin; she was a member of the Communist Party and an assistant to the Lenin’s private secretary, Lydia Fotieva. Mukerji eventually fell victim to the great purge in the Soviet Communist Party and was executed in October 1937.

8. Fazal Elahi Qurban was to emerge as a veteran communist leader in Punjab in united India. Later, at the time of the formation of the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1948, he was involved in an attempt to form a parallel Communist Party of Pakistan in defiance of the instructions of the Communist Party of India. He and few of his comrades scorned the CPI decision of appointing Sajjad Zaheer from UP as the first Secretary General of CPP. He was subsequently expelled from the party by Sajjad Zaheer after his assumption of office in Pakistan.

9. Viren Chattopadhia stayed in Soviet Union working at the Communist International with M.N. Roy. After developing differences with M. N. Roy, Viren returned to Germany in 1927 when Barkatullah died in San Francisco. He formally joined the German Communist Party (KPD) as its head of Indian section. With Hitler’s rise in Germany, he approached Krupskaya, Lenin’s widow and Georgi Dimitrov, ComIntern’s General Secretary for returning to Soviet Union. M. N. Roy, in the meantime, had been expelled from the ComIntern. Chatto returned to Soviet Union in 1934. He was last seen in Moscow in 1937, before he was arrested during Stalin’s ‘Great Purge’ in the party. He was sentenced to death and executed in Sep 1937. Jawahar Lal Nehru in his Autobiography writes about Viren, ‘a very able and a very delightful person… Of the few I met, the only persons who impressed me intellectually were Virendranath Chattopadhia and M. N. Roy’. It is believed that the British writer Somerset Maugham’s character in his story Giulia Lazzari and the character of Ananda in American socialist writer and journalist, Agnes Smeldey’s autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth were inspired by Virendranath. Agnes Smeldy met and got involved with Indian revolutionaries including Lala Har Dayal and M.N. Roy in New York. She met and lived together as his partner with Viren Chattopadhia in Berlin. Agnes also accompanied Viren in Russia and lived with him until 1929 when she left Viren in Berlin and went to Shanghai in China as a press correspondent.

10. Daily Ishtrakyon (Socialists), 29 Mar 1919 c.f. Shaukat Siddiqi, Gumshida Auraq (The Lost Pages), Riktab Publications, Karachi, 2011, pg175

11. Sidney Reilly’s description is based on the observations of Alexander Yakushev, one of the Soviet secret agents, who were instrumental in capturing Reilly after luring him into Soviet Union on the border of Finland in September 1925. Reilly was later tried and executed by the Soviet authorities on charges of attempted coup against the government of the Soviet Union.

12. Reilly’s friend, former diplomat and journalist Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart had worked for the British Secret Service with Reilly in Russia in 1918 in a failed attempt to overthrow Lenin’s Bolshevik government. He was also briefly detained in Moscow. Robert Lockhart was a close acquaintance of Ian Fleming for many years and had recounted to Fleming many of Reilly’s super spy adventures. Within five years of his disappearance in Soviet Russia in 1925, the British press had turned Sidney Reilly into a household name, lauding him as a master spy. Like Fleming’s fictional creation James Bond, Reilly was also multi-lingual, fascinated by the Far East, fond of fine living, and a compulsive gambler. Robert Bruce Lockhart had written an autobiographical book Memoirs of a British Agent in 1932, which was an instant success. His son, Robin Bruce Lockhart also wrote a book Ace of Spies in 1967 about the life of his father’s friend, Sidney Reilly. This book was, later, adapted for an award winning television mini-series, Reilly: Ace of Spies in 1983.

13. According to the account of Barkatullah’s long time colleague and friend Raja Mahindra Partap Singh in his autobiography, these words were, in fact, said by Barkatullah to him while dying in his hands during travel in San Francisco.

14. Shaukat Siddiqi, op cited.

15. The Bhopal University has been named ‘Barkatullah University’ in 1988 as a token of recognition of this great revolutionary, otherwise a forgotten hero of the Indian Independence movement.

Back to Main Page

  • Asad Shah
    Posted at 13:03h, 24 September Reply

    Excellent article; enjoyed reading it.

    Asad Shah

  • Kamran Ahmed
    Posted at 04:21h, 25 September Reply

    Thanks Asad Ali Shah. I’m happy that this series of posts has been able to generate interest among some readers in the suppressed and now almost forgotten parts of our history.
    Regds – Kamran

  • Samee Siddiqui
    Posted at 17:28h, 13 May Reply

    I was reading an article entitled “Jihad Movement II” by Ahmed Kamran on your blog and read that Muhammad Barkatullah and in it there is a quote from the Daily Ishtrakyon (Socialists) (taken from a book by Shaukat Siddiqi).

    I would love to get a hold of the original newspaper somehow and what wondering whether he could help me somehow, as I am not able to see this name (spelled/transcribed in this way at least) anywhere else. Does he know if this was an Urdu newspaper? Where it was published? Would love it if I could get some more information on this.

  • Kamran
    Posted at 12:54h, 26 May Reply

    Hi Samee, sorry for the late reply. The notification mail from TheSouthAsianIdea weblog of your post somehow landed in my Spam mailbox, which I noticed only today, just before emptying it.

    Thanks for your keen interest in the subject. While doing my homework for writing this series of articles during 2013, i tried to search for the archives of this and other newspapers of the period but with my limited resources and non-academic background I couldn’t find any copy of it. I did find, however, some other interesting material for the period among some Russian archives, which I did use in my comments on the formation of teh CPI in Tashkent.

    Shaukat Siddiqui, unfortunately, has also not provided any reference of the source from where he might have lifted the quotation.

    I can say that the paper was not in Urdu and safely assume that it was in Persian in its Dari form, which is spoken widely in the Central Asian countries and Afghanistan.

Post A Comment