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Recent work by Sikh scholars challenge historiography of gadhar movement by leftists & Indian nationalists

August 20, 2013 | By

Jalandhar, Punjab (August 20, 2013): In the centenary year of formation Ghadar Party, a heated academic debate is on, which started a couple of years ago, about the interpretation and understanding of this movement especially its orientation. Interestingly, two former radical leftists ( Naxalites) have authored books on the Ghadar movement – which also includes retrieving original and forgotten writing of the Ghadarites (members of the party) – to give a ‘right’ turn to the history of the Ghadar Party that was formed in 1913 in California.

Recent books on Gadhar Movement

Recent works of two writers – Ghadri Babe Kaun Sun? by Ajmer Singh and three books by Rajwinder Singh Rahi (previously known as Rajinder Rahi) – extensively quote original and virtually forgotten writings of the Ghadarites to drive home the point that its founders were motivated by Sikh ethos, its universalism and egalitarian concepts.

Their hypothesis has triggered a debate on the issue with established writers, belonging to the leftist intelligentsia, dismissing it with a scorn. However, except a booklet by Punjabi storywriter Waryam Singh Sandhu also titled Ghadri Babe Kaun Sun, the leftists are yet to come out with an equally argumentative work.

“Till 2006, I also was of the conviction – as prevailing and largely acceptable – that Ghadri babas had leftist orientation or they were influenced by other ideologies and movements in the world while remaining detached from Sikhism, its history and ethos. It was during my work on another book that I started realizing this perception was away from truth. Then other material also started coming out, which threw fresh light on the orientation of the movement,” said Ajmer, a former Naxal leader of Punjab, who remained underground for 31 years from 1970 to 2001.

Apart from referring to several works, Ajmer has quoted extensively from great Bengali revolutionary Sachindra Nath Sanyal’s autobiography Bandi Jiwan. “We have challenged the prevailing thesis, and now let there be honest answers to our works after the original writings of the Ghadarites have been published,” Ajmer said.

Rajinder has edited autobiographical account of founder president of Ghadar Party, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, which was authored 82 years back but remained nearly forgotten.

Compilations of Rahi, who was a hardcore leftist, clearly reflect that gurdwaras of USA and Canada had played major role in providing a grooming ground for the Ghadar movement and its activists.

“History of Ghadar movement has usually been recorded with a leftist perspective, but when I studied the primary sources, especially the autobiography Baba Bhakna and articles or sketches of 18 other Ghadarites, I found that Sikh philosophy, history and orientation had played a key role in shaping these revolutionaries, though they kept the movement above sectarian lines,” Rahi said.

“It would have been academic dishonesty to deny a rightful place to this orientation, and I went ahead to project the ‘other than left’ perspective to their history,” he added.

Meri Ram Kahani authored by Baba Bhakna remained buried in archival records in the library of Khalsa College, Amritsar till Rahi found it. He retrieved it and then copied the entire text with his pen to bring the work to light again. While editing this autobiographical work, Rahi also collected firsthand accounts of Ghadarites or sketches written by their fellows, 18 of these have been compiled two separate volumes titled Ghadar Lehar Di Asli Gatha.

Another Punjabi author Satnam Chana, who has started a project to record views of prominent scholars on history of Ghadarites’, said a shift was taking place in the understanding of Ghadar movement and role of Sikh orientation in shaping it was being recognised, though at different levels.

Baba Bhakna’s account dispels many notions

The autobiographical accounts, especially of Baba Bhakna, help to clear air about several notions. He had clearly written that Lala Hardyal contributed in starting the Ghadar Party, but it would be lack of knowledge to state that he was sole founder of this movement. Lala Hardyal was founder of newspaper Ghadar and it is usually perceived that the movement was his brainchild. But Baba Bhakna had clarified that Lala Hardyal was engaged as the founder-editor after the idea to bring out a paper was conceived by him Bhakna and other revolutionaries. While highlighting qualities of Lala Hardyal, Baba Bhakna also exposed weaknesses of other Ghadar Party members Tark Nath, G D Kumar and Ram Chander, who later become the editor of the party’s paper.

(Source: Leftists give “Right” turn to Ghadar movement by IP Singh, Times of India, August 18, 2013, CHD EDN. Page 02)

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