India House: Prologue and epilogue
A springboard for national revolutionaries
By Dr Ganeshi Lal Verma
On July 1, 1905 India House?the symbol of rationalism and Indian freedom?was founded in London. About the situation of the property, the Indian Sociologist (May 1905) wrote as follows:
?A freehold estate has been purchased at High Gate, London, a part of Hornsey, which according to official statistics is the healthiest suburb of London and which has the lowest death rate in the United Kingdom. The property is situated close to trams within easy reach of three railway stations and also within a few minutes? walk of Waterloo Park, Highgate Woods and Queens? Woods. The House stands on its grounds and has at present accommodation for about 25 young men. Arrangements will ultimately be made to build and so take in 50 students. The lecture hall, library and reading room are all on the same floor, thus presenting every facility for study and intercommunication. To provide recreation, there is ample space for tennis courts, gymnasium, etc.?
The establishment of India House was a big leap in our national struggle; hence its prologue and epilogue are important to understand the movement. In 1898, Tilak was imprisoned for 18 months, for writing something that was ?seditious? in the views of the then British rulers. Pandit Shyamji Krishna Varma, M.A. (Oxon) and political ally of Tilak concluded that real work for India'sfreedom was not possible in India as it was then ruled by an autocratic bureaucracy. Hence, he settled in London and contacted intellectuals, Irish Home Leaguers and positivists. In 1903 he presented his scheme to Sir Herbert Spencer, the then celebrated British thinker on freedom of speech and liberty. On December 8, 1903, however, the philosopher died. Obviously he could not consider the scheme as such. Pandit Varma attended his funeral and donated a large sum to a scheme for annual lectures to be organised in memory of the late thinker.
On February 24, 1904, Oxford University accepted the offer and in March 1905, Frederick Harrison, the positivist leader, delivered lectures on ?Freedom? in memory of Spencer. The lectures, published by the university were sent to India, to be utilised by Indian journals.
For this, a network of organisations was needed, both in India and England. The institution of fellowships and lecturerships was the result. In the beginning there were six fellowships dedicated to the memory of Spencer and Swami Dayanand. Later on, the fellowships and lecturerships went on increasing and were named after such heroes as Bahadurshah Zafar, Rani Jhansi, Tipu Sultan, Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Madan Lal Dhingra, La Wardani, etc. etc. The fellowships aimed at enabling the Indian students to complete their education and to qualify them for independent professions. The condition attached to the fellowship was ?non-acceptance of any post, office, emolument or service under British government, after his return to India?.
Non-cooperation or even passive resistance was implicit in the condition attached. The scheme proved popular in India. Tilak himself sent a number of scholars and also wrote a feature-article in the Kesari (July 4, 1905).
Indian Sociologist and Home Rule Society for India
In 1904, change or revolution was in the air of Asia, including that of India and China. People organised thousands of meetings against the proposed partition of Bengal. Swadeshi, swaraj, boycott and such movements were greatly strengthened. In Turkey, the Revolutionary Society with headquarters in Paris organised secret societies in that country. In China, Sunyat Sen doctrines were reaching the ears of the Chinese people against the interests of the celestial empire. Czarist Russia was facing railway strikes and peasant revolts.
The Indian Sociologist, an organ of freedom and political, social and religious reforms, was started in January 1905 against this background. The very first issue of the journal reviewed the situation in India, especially in Bengal and Maharashtra. The paper underlined the contribution of Surendernath Bannerji and B.G. Tilak. The early issues of the Indian Sociologist introduced the Irish and British friends of India.
Such events were interpreted in the light of the national view. The Indian Sociologist by virtue of its political acumen, dominated the nationalist scene upto the beginning of the First World War, i.e. upto the times when the journal was stopped at the behest of the Swiss government.
After the successful advent of the Indian Sociologist, the need for establishing a political mission in England was realised in the nationalist circles. On February 18, 1905, a fairly attended meeting of Indians that included J.M. Parikh, Dr C. Muthu, Dr P.E. Pereira, P Wardy, J.C. Mukherji, M.R. Jayakar, S.R. Rana, Subrawardy, etc., unanimously decided to establish a Home Rule Society for India, on the model of Irish Home Rule. The Society aimed at spreading among the Indian people a knowledge of freedom and national unity. The Society meant to carry propaganda in the UK and elsewhere, with a view to attain freedom for India. The role of the Society, as explained in the Indian Sociologist, was passive resistance. ?If anyone offered to sell or buy any commodity or to have any transactions with any class of people, he commits no crime, known to the law. It is therefore, plain that Indians can obtain emancipation by simply refusing to help the foreign masters without incurring the evils of a violent revolution.? Needless to say that the nationalist party in India lost no time in expressing its solidarity and allegiance to the Home Rule Society.
Racial prejudice and British espionage harassed the Indians at every step in London. The risk for Home rulers and scholar-fellows was many times greater.
Racial prejudice and British espionage harassed the Indians at every step in London. The risk for Home rulers and scholar-fellows was many times greater. This led to the purchase of property to house the headquarters of Home Rule Society. ?India House? was opened on July 1, 1905. The gathering included well-known Indian and Irish patriots and British radicals. Dababhai Naoroji, Lajpat Rai, Madam Dispard Swinny and others attended the opening ceremony. Hyndman, the leader of British Radical Party, who declared the India House ?open?, underlined the true spirit of the new movement in his speech. ?As things stand,? he said, ?loyalty to Great Britain means treachery to India. I have met many Indians and the loyalty to British rule, which the majority have professed, has been disgusting. Either they were insincere or they were ignorant. But of late, I rejoice to see that a new spirit has been manifested. Thus, there are men and women here this afternoon, from all parts of India and of very different origins and schools of thought. But the ideal of emancipation is the same with all.?
Society of Political Missionaries
The Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress (December 1906) was an eye-opener, because the tide of popular enthusiasm and support was in favour of Home rulers or the Swarajists. The leaders therefore realised the necessity of intensifying the struggle against the alliance of Moderates and the British government. A scheme was sent to Indian leaders?Tilak, B.C. Pal, Lajpat Rai, Khaparde, etc., etc. They were ?delighted? with the proposal and large donations came from Shyamji Krishna Varma. Accordingly, on February 23, 1907 the Society of Political Missionaries was established. In the first annual meeting, 127 Pracharaks (whole-timers) were present. On the eve of the Surat Congress, the eight-point programme of passive resistance was published (Indian Sociologist, November 1907, p. 1). This was in brief as follows:
* Indians were advised to disinvest in government securities.
* They should also repudiate the public debt of India, as the national course suggested to Egyptians by Wilfred Blunt in Secret History of Egypt.
* The boycott of all civil and military service under British government should be resorted to.
* General strikes should be organised in different parts of India.
* The government educational institutions, schools and colleges, should be boycotted.
* Courts should be replaced by national courts.
* Anglo-Indian newspapers should be boycotted.
* The notion that it is shameful to assist the alien in maintaining his dominion should be encouraged and at the same time, love for Independence among Indians should be fostered.
Expansion of the Movement
In 1906, Bhai Parmanand introduced Hardayal to Pt. Shyamji Krishna Varma. It was thought that Hardayal, Haider Reza, Harnam Singh would be good representatives of the movement in the Delhi-Punjab region. The British government however, apprehended another 1857 on the eve of its 50th anniversary; hence, it tried to suppress the movement. Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh were exiled.
As the passive non-resistance was rendered impossible in the new situation, Tilak and Varma justified the terrorist-tactics. The ardent and young patriots rushed to create sensational events and to prepare for the revolution. Floating rumours increased their relevance a hundred times more. The historic statement of Madan Lal Dhingra during his trial was an object of admiration.
Meanwhile Pt. Shyamji Krishna Varma worked towards Indo-Egyptian solidarity. The Egyptian problem was continuously referred to in the pages of Indian Sociologist with a view to emphasise the dictum that a free India meant a free Egypt. Big events continued to occur in a chain of succession. Unfurling of Independent India'sflag by Madam Cama in the Socialist Conference in Germany and L?affaire Savarkar were good news for months. A bomb attack on the Viceregal procession in Delhi would have nearly killed Lord Hardinge, yet it showed the superb organising skill of the revolutionaries such that the government remained without a clue regarding the bomb-thrower.
The institution of fellowships and lecturerships was the result. In the beginning there were six fellowships dedicated to the memory of Spencer and Swami Dayanand. Later on, the fellowships and lecturerships went on increasing and were named after such heroes as Bahadurshah Zafar, Rani Jhansi, Tipu Sultan, Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Madan Lal Dhingra, La Wardani, etc. etc.
The Revolution of 1915
As the war started in Europe in July 1914, Hardayal, Pillai and Barkatullah suspended their propaganda and cogitated at Berlin. They succeeded in the most difficult task of sending arms to India. Rash Behari Bose exercised his superb power in linking up the revolutionary movement and fixing February 19, 1915 as the day for an instant rising in all cities and towns, from Peshawar to Calcutta and from Rangoon to Singapore; Deccan and Ceylon were included in the planning. Meanwhile, hundreds and thousands of Ghadar volunteers began to reach India through ?Kamagatamaru? and other ships.
The revolution suffered a serious setback with the capture of ?Bayeru?, a German liner by the British Navy at Naples. The cargo in the ship interned was said to have consisted of half a million revolvers; a hundred thousand rifles; two hundred thousand cases of ammunition; two hangers with IV-planes, fitted with wireless apparatus and a thousand aeroplane bombs; field guns; a hundred tonnes of cement and two complete wireless stations; and certain vital documents which provided important clues to the revolution on February 19, 1915.
The net result was that thousands of revolutionaries were executed in the second week of February. With the supply of arms cut, the revolution failed. But will that prevent us, the Indians, to pay tributes to the mighty efforts of the patriots of freedom? This was the most conspicuous revolution after 1857 and was organised and fought by the fellows of India House. That they lost in no way lessens their contribution to the national struggle.