SHAHEED-E-AZAM UDHAM SINGH
Bhai Udham Singh’s Letter to the Russian
Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, July 1924
The three documents which are reproduced here for the first time have been discovered by the Russian Indologist M.A. Siderov in the former Central Party Archives of the CPSU, Moscow, and are published here by the kind permission of the authorities of the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RGASPI).
When discovered it was thought that these documents were those of Udham Singh whose name is inextricably linked with the assassination of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the Lt. Governor of Punjab at the time of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919. However, the internal evidence in these documents suggests otherwise. Recent biographies of Udham Singh are agreed that he was in the United States in the year in which the documents below were penned. Yet the letter of ‘Udham Singh’ below refers to political and military activities in the region of Afghanistan, Kashmir and Punjab. The files of the former Central Party Archives give us no clue to the background of the three documents.
Who then was Bhai Udham Singh?
The literature on the Ghadar Party refers to one Bhai Udham Singh Kasel who worked in a lumber mill near Portland, Oregon, U.S.A., who formed ‘The Hindustani Association’ in Astoria, Oregon when his mill closed down in the winter of 1912.1 He led a group of revolutionaries to India in 1914.2 In the following year he is referred to as working in Jhelum and Hoti-Mardan, being involved in the Lahore Conspiracy Case and sentenced to transportation for life and forfeiture of his property.3 Udham Singh and his comrade Gurmukh Singh absconded while being transferred from one jail to another. Thereafter they established a Ghadar Party Centre at Kabul, contacting the Soviet representatives there. He secretly visited the Punjab and acted as a liaison between India and Afghanistan.4 He was killed in 1925.5
The documents presented here are redolent of the tradition of the Ghadar Party and reflect the transitional period of this tendency which straddled both national-revolutionary and communist positions. Thus the objectives of the Bharat Sangiwal Association (BSA) embraced national-democratic demands for the establishment of independent rule of India free from the social and economic disabilities rooted in capitalism and imperialism and the socialist aim of conversion of the means of production into common property in order to achieve the abolition of the exploitation of man by man. Impeccably Bolshevik was the tactical line of the BSA to ‘adopt all those methods which have been employed in the past, by nations struggling for freedom.’ Similarly laudable was the attempt to recruit its membership from the peasantry and labour, the inclusion of the military in this sphere reveals the link with strong national-revolutionary traditions. The positive approach to mass work is evident from the intent to establish labour and peasant organisations in the factories, mines and railways and from amongst the working peasantry. The organisational principles of the Association were aligned to notions of revolutionary centralism: the Governing Council of the BSA was vested with absolute powers and was to arrive at decisions on the basis of unanimity. In the best revolutionary traditions the BSA was to engage in legal as well as illegal work, including the publication of proscribed literature, the import and manufacture of arms and ammunition.
The letter of Bhai Udham Singh addressed to the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic demanded that the BSA be recognised by the Russian Soviet Republic, that its representatives be taken into the ‘Third International Communist Party in Moscow’; its students be admitted into the Soviet military schools; and the Association be permitted to hold sufficient land for the establishment of an agricultural commune which would be used to train its soldiers. Of exceptional importance is the portion of the letter which requests financial and military succour from the Soviet regime for the Indian revolution. Two lakh rupees were requested from Russia as well as fifty thousand soldiers including 500 engineers and military experts to be given at the commencement of the revolution. Full military equipment for the arming of five lakh Akalis to be stored in the Pamirs from whence it could be transported to Kashmir through the narrow strip of Afghanistan territory, was also demanded. This route for intervention in India had long been eyed by revolutionaries both in India and Russia. Udham Singh asserted that he had been ordered by the BSA to proceed to the Pamirs while others were to proceed from Amritsar to the Kashmir frontier in order to pick up 10,000 pistols from the Pamirs. The letter concludes with an inventory of the military units in northern and central India where revolutionary supporters were at work.
1. Gurdev Singh Deol, ‘The Role of the Ghadar Party in the National Movement’, Jullundur and Delhi, 1969, pp. 54, 56.
2. Tilak Raj Sareen, ‘Indian Revolutionary Movement Abroad 1905-21’, New Delhi, Jullundur, 1979, p. 97.
3. Deol, op.cit. pp. 138. 206.
4. Sohan Singh Josh, ‘Hindustan Ghadar Party’, Vol. II, New Delhi, 1978, pp. 159-60, 220-21.
5. Harish K. Puri, ‘Ghadar Movement, Ideology, Organisation and Strategy’, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, Second edition, 1993.