The struggle for Pakistan and Bhagat Singh:
By Haroon Khalid
The independence achieved in 1947 ushered a new era for India and Pakistan, but with it, also marked the end of a legacy. For India and Pakistan, Congress and Muslim League respectively became the vanguard of independence from the British Empire. Whereas there is no denying the fact that both of them played a pivotal role in achieving freedom, nonetheless there were also other parties and movements, who had the laid groundwork for these two to build on. Without their impact and achievements, perhaps these two parties would not have been able to achieve the success that they eventually did. Post independence, the credit that should have been given to the former parties was taken away from them.
In India, the Indian National Congress was generally more receptive to political activists from other parties and movements, who also were able to shake the foundations of the British Empire. In Pakistan however, all of the former movements became a relic of the impure-Hindu-mixed past, which needed sifting. We ended up with fine grains starting with Muhammad Bin Qasim, coming to Babur and Aurangzeb, and ending with Muhammad Ali Jinnah. All the other characters were just not required anymore. So whereas in India, despite their differences, the Congress government was acknowledging the contributions of Bhagat Singh, M.N. Roy and other nationalist leaders, we were purging our historical narratives of these kafirs.
Recently I met an army official, whom I would not name for my own safety, who like me also follows the history Lahore. Talking about various obscure and neglected monuments, we reached to the Shadman Chowk (Bhagat Singh chowk), where Bhagat Singh was hanged. I asked him why we couldn’t own Bhagat Singh as a son of Lahore, to which he answered that since he was a Sikh. My dear friend, he was an atheist!
However it is not because of him being a Sikh or an atheist that we fail to own him. It is because nowhere in his struggle, he talks about Hindus and Muslims separately. Neither does he only talk about the plight of just one community. He talked about an entire nation, which composed of people from all religious hues and not. So it would have hardly made a difference had he been Muhammad Aslam or Bhagat Sadiq Ram. There would have been no room from him in the historiography of Pakistan’s Independence struggle. Students of history would have continued thinking that the role of Muhammad Bin Qasim in freeing the Muslims of British India from the British Empire (secretly working for the Hindu baniya) is greater than the role Muhammad Aslam’s hanging did. To further establish the point, let us leave Bhagat Singh aside for a moment and talk about practicing Muslims who also like him, gave up their lives for the independence of their nation but were later disowned or never acknowledged by an independent Pakistan.
The Gaddar Movement is an example of one such struggle which has been thrown off into the sea to keep the boat of Pakistani Nationalism afloat. Having originated from San Francisco and other British colonies, this movement had its roots in the Punjab because of the predominant role that the Punjabis played in it. Bhagat Singh’s father and uncles were also members of this movement, and it is argued that it became the source of the Naujawan Bharat Sabha. Contrary to the popular belief, there were many non-Sikhs involved. This was a massive movement which spread from USA into Canada, Mexico, Burma, Malaya and Japan. Indians living in these far away regions got together for the cause of the freedom of this land. It also found support in the Communist Russia and Afghanistan. In 1915, the Gaddaris established a Free Hindustan government-in-exile in Kabul. Its President was Raja Mohinder Pratab, whereas its Prime Minister was a Muslim, and a Professor of Arabic in Japan, Maulvi Barkatullah. He was also one of the founders of the Gaddar Party. It was his revolutionary literature that became the backbone of this movement. He died in San Fransico. Among other Muslims, who held important positions in the government-in-exile were Maulvi Ubaidullah (Interior Minister) and Maulvi Muhammad Bashi (Youth Minister). The callous treatment meted out to these towering Muslim personalities of their time leads one to question: is it then just because of the religious beliefs of Bhagat Singh that we fail to acknowledge him or is there something else?
There was another Muslim, who played an important role in this movement. This was Syed Rahmat Ali Shah, the first Martyr of this struggle. He was captured near Ferozpur, and then executed in the Montgomery (Sahiwal) Jail. His body was interred in the graveyard in front of the Jail, as nobody came to claim it in the required period. His grandsons today live a life of abject poverty in a small village on the Sundar-Raiwind road called Sultan-keh. They know that their grandfather was an important person, because their father had been called to India once, where he was given an award and a picture on behalf of his father. They say that the name of their grandfather is also written at the entrance to their ancestral village of Wazir Keh in India.
A strategy that the Gadaris had adopted was of secretly passing on revolutionary literature to the Indians in the British Army. In a lot of instances this proved to be a successful tactic, as quite a few regiments revolted against the authorities. One such example was the 5th Native Light Infantry Singapore Case, which included 2 regiments of Infantry, both of them dominated by Muslims. The Gaddar Movement was supporting all sorts of Independence struggle, which were targeted against the British authorities, which is why they also lend their hand to the Khalifat Movement. Mujataba Hussain, aka Mool Chand of the Gaddar Movement played an important role in this Singapore case, where a lot of the Muslim personnel were sympathetic to the cause of the Khilafat. Similarly there was another person from Gujrat called Mian Qasim Mansoor, a rich trader, who financed the scheme. This particular case caused a lot of problems to the authorities. Finally when it was crushed, all the officers had to face Court Martial and many of them were executed on the 2nd of March 1915.
The Gaddar Movement unlike the movement of the All India Muslim League was not a predominant Muslim struggle, but a cause for all the oppressed people of India, who wanted to get rid of the British yoke. The focus of this article has been on a few prominent Muslims in the movement to shed a light on the fact that the Muslim League was not the first political party to have attracted the Muslims. Much before this party was to become a prominent player in the Indian political sphere; secular movements like the Gaddar were already involving Muslims. However when the Muslim League came to power, it downplayed the role of all the other parties, which could have possibly undermined its thesis. However the struggle it claimed to have won single handedly would not have been possible without the sacrifices of Barkatullah, Syed Rahmat Ali, Mujataba Hussain, Mian Qasim Mansoor and Bhagat Singh.