Gurmukh Singh, Baba
A Ghadr Revolutionary (1888-1977)
Was born in 1888 to a poor peasant, Hoshnak Singh, of the village of Lalton Khurd, in Ludhiana district. Second of three brothers, he was sent to school at Ludhiana. His ambition was to join the army, but he could not be enlisted owing to medical reasons. In 1914, he boarded the ship Komagata Maru, hired from a Japanese firm by Baba Gurdit Singh, to go to Canada. But events stalled Gurmukh Singh’s plans. The ship was not allowed to land at the Canadian port and was obliged to return to India. At the Indian port of Budge Budge, however, a worse fate lay in store for the ship’s passengers. The British authorities had kept a train ready to bring these passengers to the Punjab without letting them go into the city of Calcutta. There were protests and the police resorted to firing, killing several of the passengers. Many, including Gurmukh Singh, were apprehended and put into the train. Gurmukh Singh was spared imprisonment on assurances given by his uncles who had influence with the authorities. He was nevertheless interned in his village.
Gurmukh Singh secretly joined the Ghadr movement then being led in the Punjab by Kartar Singh Sarabha and his comrades. In furtherance of the programme of the movement, Gurmukh Singh took part in two dacoities in the villages of Sahneval and Mansurah, in Ludhiana district. He also made efforts to establish secret contacts with Indian soldiers in some of the Punjab cantonments.
Gurmukh Singh was arrested in what came to be known as the Lahore conspiracy case of 1916, in which Kartar Singh Sarabha and some others were sentenced to death. Gurmukh Singh, sentenced to transportation for life, was sent to the Andamans. In 1921-22, under pressure of the nationalist elements, these prisoners were transferred to Salem jail in what was then known as the Madras Presidency, the present state of Tamil Nadu. From the train which was carrying them to Akola, Gurmukh Singh managed to escape as it was passing through a jungle at night. The constables escorting him and their two companions had gone to sleep, and Gurmukh Singh, turning his soft lean hands of a young man to advantage, slipped off his handcuffs and jumped off from the train, his feet still in irons. In a nearby village he found someone who filed off his irons. Gurmukh Singh then managed to reach Nanded, then in Hyderabad state, to seek shelter in the Gurdwara Hazur Sahib. Eventually, the priest of the Gurdwara helped him to return to the Punjab, where he remained in hiding for two years on the outskirts of the Golden Temple, disguised as a Keshadhari Panditji.
In 1924, Gurmukh Singh managed to reach the Soviet Union where he received his communist doctrine at the hands of teachers like Professor Dyakov. For the next ten years Gurmukh Singh kept shuttling between the Soviet Union and the United States of America where he put new life in the lingering Ghadr party and made it send many young Punjabi students to the Soviet Union to be instructed in Communism. Once during these ten years, in 1931-32, Gurmukh Singh along with another Punjabi revolutionary, Udham Singh Kasel, tried to come back to India. But they were apprehended in Afghanistan and barely escaped with their lives. Indian Congress leaders tried vehemently to get them freed by the Afghan government as Indian citizens, but succeeded only in persuading the Soviet Union to get them extradited as Soviet nationals. Nevertheless, Gurmukh Singh succeeded in reaching India in 1934, but was soon taken into custody. He was released only after the country attained freedom in 1947.
Baba Gurmukh Singh continued his political activity. He brought out two extremist Communist journals, the monthly Path of Peace in English and the Desh Bhagat Yadan, a Punjabi weekly. He was also instrumental in having the Desh Bhagat Memorial Hall at Jalandhar erected.
Baba Gurmukh Singh, who remained a bachelor all his life, died on 13 March 1977.