Gadar and the century of American wait to date India openly
by Atul Bhardwaj on 07 Mar 2013 1 Comment

P Chidambaram, the great Indian reformist, in his 2013 budget, has allocated a good sum of money to celebrate the centenary of the Gadar Movement. The proposed celebration plans include upgrading the Gadar Memorial in San Francisco and honouring the ‘Gadari Babas’, heroes of the movement.


Gadar was the first American-German and Indian collaborative effort to overthrow British rule in India. In 1912, the Hindustani Association of the Pacific Coast started publication of a weekly newspaper, titled Gadar. By 1913, Gadar was a political outfit with an aim to bring about an armed revolution in India.  


The Indian nationalist movement that began on the eve of World War I, ended with its culmination and the defeat of its German mentors. The Americans, who had willingly allowed the revolution to germinate on their soil, were the first to dig its grave at the end of war. The movement was almost killed in the court room at San Francisco with the murder of Ram Chandra and Ram Singh, the two activists being tried in the 1917 Hindu-German Conspiracy trial that lasted from 20 November 1917 to 24 April 1918.


According to Young India of June 1918, “the trial costs the British government $2,500,000 and the American government $500,000. During the trial one Hindu became insane and two lost their lives by a tragic accident.”


Thomas M Johnson gives a vivid description of the “tragic accident” leading to twin murders inside the courtroom - “Ram Chandra, the best known Hindu in America had given a testimony in the court that enraged some of his fellow conspirators. One of these, Ram Singh, now forced his way towards Ram Chandra, through the crowded courtroom. Suddenly, the brown man’s arm darted forward. There was a flash, a crash. Ram Chandra fell… Over him stood Ram Singh with a smoking pistol” (Secrets of the Master Spies, Popular Mechanics Magazine, 1932) But before Ram Singh could absorb his victory, he was instantly shot dead by US Marshal James B Holohan. 


It is difficult to say who was an Anglo-American agent, Ram Chandra or Ram Singh, but the fact is both were fooled. Apart from the direct killing of two Indians involved in the conspiracy, others were protected by the American administration.


This was the time when ‘red scare’ was gripping the imagination of the American establishment. Any whiff of Bolshevism was enough to send the American elite into a tailspin. The question is why the Indian anarchists in Gadar party were let off easy, with minor punishment ranging from twenty-two months to sixty days?


According to Karla K. Gower, who has studied in detail the “Framing of Indian Nationalists in Newspapers from 1915-1918” and the rather benign treatment meted out to the Indians in the period, “by presenting the Indian Nationalists as ineffective fools who were not to be morally condemned, the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, with the assistance of the Indians themselves, helped to create an atmosphere of tolerance for the Indian Nationalists and their movement.”


Preventing Indians from falling prey to the ‘nativistic’ fervor and protecting them from the British who had been constantly demanding their deportation, the Americans were able to retain their so-called neutrality, friendship with the British and also the intelligence sources that they had cultivated among the American Indian community. In the aftermath of the war, the Anglo-Saxons were quick to shift the blame on to the Germans and add another conspiracy to long list of German crimes designed to humiliate them.    


The Gadar’s aborted takeoff paved the way for Mahatma Gandhi’s brand of non-violent politics to enter the Indian shores. After this the American interest in Indian receded, mainly due to British possessiveness and insecurities related to India.


However, in the 1940s, with Japan making great strides in Asia, America wanted to monitor the Indian political situation more closely. The American intelligence Office of Strategic Services (OSS) under the stewardship of William J. Donovan was actively courting Congress party leaders and giving them support for the Quit India initiative.


On 10 and 11 March 1942, President Roosevelt wrote to Churchill offering him various suggestions to break the deadlock with the Congress over the issue of Indian support to war. Churchill was adamant; he threatened to resign if the American continued to persist on Indian independence.


The threats made Roosevelt backtrack. According to Richard J Aldrich, “The President was now fully aware of the dangerous consequences of overt American incursions into the politics of India. Thereafter Roosevelt increasingly focused his own anti-colonial aspirations on other Asian countries, such as Indochina.”


Ever since the beginning of the 20th century, America had desired India. However, US friendship with Britain prevented her from openly expressing this love. The British departure from India in 1947 was a great relief for the Americans who could now openly flirt with India.


But this open relationship could not last long. Cold War imperatives forced the flirtations to continue under the cover of Non-Alignment, where the US even gave tacit approval to India sleeping with the enemy (USSR). The Americans finally got their moment of peace with India after the demise of Soviet Union in 1991.


By remembering San Francisco in his budget speech, one is not sure if P Chidambaram wants to honour the Indian Nationalist movement or is rewarding 100 years of American patience, persistence and plots (intelligence) to overtly date India.

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