The outbreak of the War
The outbreak of World War I aided the national movements. Tilak and Annie Besant used this opportunity to launch home rule movements to get self-government. Ghadar revolutionaries in North America used this to attempt to overthrow British rule by violence.
Immigration in Canada
The western coast of North America was the destination for steady immigration from Punjab. The peasants there would pawn all their belonging and leave for this destination to escape economic hardships at home.
They were not welcomed overseas and were faced with the brunt of racial exploitation and humiliation at the hands of white labor unions that resented the competition.
Politicians looking for a popular vote supported them. The secretary of state for India too wasn’t keen on immigration as close familiarity of Indians with whites was not good for British prestige.
The discriminatory policies of the host countries soon created a flurry of political activity among nationalists. The sustained agitations in Canada and USA created national consciousness and solidarity among Indian immigrants. Their inability to convince the Indian government or the British government to intervene and stop the discriminatory practices against them led to a blossoming of revolutionary movements.
- Lala Hardayal a political exile came to the USA and delivered lectures on anarchist movements to American intellectuals, workers, and radicals. The bomb attack on Lord Harding revived the revolutionary in him and he visualized the violent overthrow of British rule.
- He became the leader of Indian immigrants on the west coast. He told them not to fight the USA but use the freedom here to fight the British. He reminded them that they were under British rule and so would never be treated as equals by the Americans. The support of the army would have to be enlisted in this movement and so Lala Hardayal preached to his members to do the same.
- A weekly periodical called Ghadar was started for the propaganda campaign.
- The members of the organization went to the Punjabi migrant community to spread awareness. Through the Ghadar periodical, the evils of the English rule on India were listed and sent to the people. Ghadar poems had the highest impact and soon their message reached Indian immigrant communities in the Far East too.
- Though Lala Hardayal believed that 10 years or a few years would be needed to start a revolution in India but he too was surprised at the response.
- The following events influenced the Ghadar revolution: The arrest of the Hardayal, Komagata maru incident, and World War I.
Komagata Maru incident
The Canadian law prevented the immigration of any ship except one that had made a continuous journey from India. But the Supreme Court of Canada had allowed some Indians who didn’t fulfill these criteria to. Komagata maru was a ship that was commissioned to transport Indian immigrants from the Far East to Canada.
It landed in many places but finally when it reached Canada the authorities didn’t allow immigrants to land. They were forced to return and on the return journey, the world war broke out and the passengers couldn’t get off except at Calcutta.
Wherever the ship made port it set off a wave of resentment against colonial rulers. The Punjab press also supported it. Finally, the ship reached Calcutta and the irate passengers clashed with the police and many were dead or arrested.
World War and Ghadar
World war too was an opportunity for the ghadarites to capitalize on the British rulers. The ghadarite leaders urged immigrants on the western coast of the USA to go back to India and start an armed revolt with the support of the army some leaders were sent to Far East countries to convince the Indians there to return. When they returned to India the government was already prepared for them. It arrested the dangerous men and allowed others to proceed.
The ghadarites found the Punjab state very different. No one supported them and the Khalsa even branded them as fallen Sikhs. Their naïve attempts to turn the army’s loyalty too failed without effective leadership.
Finally, they turned to revolutionary leaders to guide them but the government had successfully penetrated the Ghadar. And before the revolt, most of them were arrested. The government’s response was brutal and an entire generation of political leadership was finished off.
The success of the Ghadar revolt:
- Deepened nationalist conscious
- Evolved and tested new strategies for struggle
- Created a tradition of resistance, secularism, democracy, and egalitarianism.