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Ghadar Movement

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  • Last Updated : 13 May, 2022

Formation of the Ghadar Party:

In the early 1900s, people from Punjab immigrated to North America especially in Canada and United States to work in the fields, factories, and logging camps. Here, they were introduced to the idea of forming worker unions or associations to oppose unfavourable policies implemented by the British Government in India.
This ideology of standing for your own rights led to the induction of the Pacific Coast Hindustan Association, later known as the Ghadar Party. 

  • It was established on 15th July 1913 in San Francisco, United States. 
  • The founding members of the party were Lala Har Dayal, Sohan Singh Bhakna, Kartar Singh Sarabha and Taraknath Das. 
  • The party was supported by the majority of the Indian communities living in the United States, Canada, East Africa, and South Asia primarily due to its secular ideology.

“We are not Sikhs or Punjabis. Our religion is patriotism” – Sohan Singh Bhakna.

  • The party published a weekly paper called The Ghadar. 
  • The newspaper published its first issue in San Francisco on 1st November 1913.
  • The masthead on the newspaper was Angrezi Raj Ka Dushman (an enemy of British rule).
  • The newspaper printed ads to recruit Indians to fight for the independence of India.

Wanted brave soldiers to stir up rebellion in India. 
Pay – Death
Price – Martyrdom
Pension – Liberty
Field of battle – India

The Ghadar Movement:

In January 1914, Mathra Singh, a member of the Ghadar party visited India from Hong Kong. He circulated Ghadar literature amongst soldiers in the British Indian Army. During World War I, a small party of around 15,000 troops were stationed in India. It was during this period that the Ghadar party organized an uprising in India. The idea was to revolt for independence across Northern India in parts of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Bengal.

  • To fuel an armed revolution for the independence of India, a few members of the Ghadar Party successfully arrived in Punjab with arms and encouraged the Indian soldiers in the British Army to revolt. 
  • The plan was that the 23rd Cavalry in Punjab was to capture and kill their commanding officers while on a roll call on 21st February 1914. This would be followed by a mutiny by the 26th Cavalry Punjab
  • The objective of the uprising was to ultimately advance toward Delhi, Lahore, and Bengal. 
  • However, the Punjab CID got a scent of this conspiracy through a close relative of the trooper Balwant Singh (23rd Cavalry). 
  • Sensing that their plans have been compromised, the party changed the date of their uprising to 19th February 1914. But even these plans got thwarted after they found their way to the Punjab CID.

Consequently, the Ghadar Mutiny was eventually slashed down by the British. 42 revolutionaries were executed following, what is now known as the Lahore Conspiracy Case trial in India. Although, the Ghadar propaganda had a long-lasting impression. Inspired by the Ghadar propaganda, the 5th Light Infantry of the British Indian Army stationed in Singapore managed to rebel against their masters on 15th February 1914.

  • These soldiers were extremely influenced by the Ghadar Propaganda. Moreover, the troops were unhappy with their commanding officer Lieutenant – Colonel E.V Martin. 
  • This rebellious act lasted for almost 7 days and resulted in the deaths of 47 British soldiers and some locals.
  • The revolt was later extinguished by the French, Russian and Japanese reinforcements.
  • Nearly 200 men were tried in Singapore, and 47 of the soldiers were shot dead in a public execution. And the rest were either deported or given jail terms ranging from 7 to 20 years.

Komagata Maru Incident:

Another significant incident that incited the members of the Ghadar party to actively participate in the freedom struggle was the Komagata Maru Incident. Gurdit Singh Sandhu, a businessman and an active supporter of the Ghadarite ideology hired the ship, Komagata Maru to travel from Calcutta to Vancouver. The voyage was planned as an attempt to challenge the Canadian exclusion laws that prevented Indian immigration. The ship eventually departed from Hong Kong and reached Vancouver with 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims and 12 Hindus, all of whom were citizens of British India. While on the ship, Ghadarite literature was distributed amongst the passengers and various political meetings took place on the ship during the journey. When Komagata Maru arrived in Canadian waters in May 1914, it was not allowed to dock. Subsequently, it stayed near the dock for nearly two months. The incident became a significant issue for the Indian community in Canada. The community rallied in support of the passengers and against the immigration laws. Indo-Canadians like Husain Rahim and Sohan Lal Pathak set up shore committees that organized protests and legal battles to let the passengers de-board the ship.

On 23rd July 1914, the ship was forced to leave Canadian waters and go back to India. On 27th September 1914, the ship reached the docks in Budge Budge, Calcutta. The British Authorities saw the passengers as political agitators. And hence, they moved to arrest Gurdit Singh and others but the passengers resisted arrest. This agitation caused a general riot. In retaliation, the British authorities fired into the crowd killing 20 people. Gurdit Singh fled the scene and went into hiding. He later surrendered and was imprisoned for five years.

The Komagata Maru was a significant moment in the fight for independence. This is also the time when the Ghadar party increased its revolutionary activities. Several Ghadar leaders, like Barkatullah and Taraknath Das, used the Komagata Maru incident as a pitching point and successfully brought many Indians in North America into the party.

Conclusion: Failure of the Ghadar Movement

The Ghadar party was internationally recognized and supported by Imperial Germany and the Ottoman Empire who were in opposition to the British. Despite having international support, here is why the Ghadar movement failed:

  • The movement lacked organized and strong leadership. Most leaders of the Ghadar party got arrested even before they could enter the country.
  • They failed to win strong support from the native Punjabis in India. 
  • Multiple bombings led to more chaos than the sense of fighting for freedom. Due to this, the British government led an aggressive crackdown on the leaders of the Ghadar Party. 
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