On the 163rd Anniversary of the Ghadar of 1857

Onward with the struggle of the People to become the Master of India!

“Hum hain iske malik!  Hindustan Humara!”,  [India belongs to us; We are her master!]

With this slogan reverberating in their hearts and minds, rebellious Indian soldiers in the British colonial army stationed at Meerut arrived in Delhi on 10th May, 1857. That was the signal for revolts against the rule of the British all over the subcontinent.

The insurgent soldiers who marched from Meerut and seized Delhi appointed Bahadur Shah Zafar as the representative of a new political power in place of the oppressive and alien power wielded by the East India Company. A Court of Administration was formed in Delhi, consisting of both civilians and army soldiers, whose decisions were binding on the king.  Bahadur Shah explicitly declared that he had been placed on the throne by the people and he was bound by their will. Arguing that British rule had no legitimacy and must be eliminated; he said, “As for the future, the people of India will decide”.

On 12th May, Bahadur Shah issued the following shahi firman (royal decree):
“To all the Hindus and Mussalmans of India, taking my duty to the people into consideration at this hour, I have decided to stand by my people. … It is the imperative duty of Hindus and Mussalmans to join the revolt against the English. They should work and be guided by their leaders in their towns and should take steps to restore order in the country. It is the bounden duty of all people that they should, as far as possible, copy out this Firman and display it at all important places in the towns. But before doing so, they should get themselves armed and declare war on the English”.  He also issued another firman which warned the people:
“The English will try to raise the Hindus against Mussalamans and vice versa. Do not give heed to what they say, drive them out of the country”.

The British imperialists have tried their best to distort the real content and scope of the Ghadar, which Karl Marx called the First War of Indian Independence.  British historians called it a “sepoy mutiny” and a “revolt of the Mussalmans”.  In actual fact, participants in the revolutionary uprising included people of all religious faiths.  They included not only soldiers but also peasants, artisans, tribal peoples, patriotic kings and queens.  They were actively supported by many traders, intellectuals and religious heads of all types. Sadhus and Maulavis were found preaching ‘sedition’ from Gilgit in Kashmir to Madurai in Tamil Nadu. It was the greatest war of the 19th century in terms of geographical scope and numbers of people involved.

It was a well-planned mass uprising.  Bahadur Shah Zafar, Wajid Ali Shah, Nana Saheb, Maulavi Ahmadullah Shah, Kunwar Singh and others were actively preparing for it even before 1856 and Awadh’s annexation. Bahadur Shah Zafar had established study circles, on the pattern of old Mughal Pir-Murid structure. Nana Saheb and Azimullah Khan had visited all major stations of North India in some guise or the other. Right through May and June 1857, leaflets appeared in all the centres of Bombay Army and Madras Army, saying specifically that Bahadur Shah Zafar has been reinstated as ‘The Emperor of India’ and the British Raj is over.

There are Indian historians and political parties who claim that 1857 was a rebellion led by feudal and backward forces, whose aim was allegedly to return to pre-colonial times. In other words, they considered the British colonial State and its “Rule of Law” as representing the New, while the revolt of 1857 allegedly represented the Old. In this way they turn the truth upside down.

It was the mass revolutionary uprising that compelled the last Mughal king to stand by his people. The establishment of a people’s council whose decision was binding on the king was something entirely new. It was profoundly democratic and thoroughly revolutionary. On the other hand, the British colonial state, based on the theory of white man’s burden, was thoroughly reactionary.  It was based on preserving everything backward from the old pre-colonial society so as to keep people divided and enslaved.

While the revolutionary uprising was brutally crushed by the British rulers, it had a profound impact on the consciousness of all the Indian people.  It had brought them together for a single lofty objective.  People belonging to different religious faiths and castes united as Indians, committed to get rid of colonial enslavement, super-exploitation and plunder of their land and labour.  That revolutionary uprising gave rise to the idea that we, the insurgent peoples of this sub-continent, will become the malik of Hindustan after driving the British out of this land.  It inspired the Hindustan Ghadar Party, Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades of the Hindustan Republican Association and countless other revolutionaries and patriots during the anti-colonial struggle.

The source of all the problems afflicting our society at this time stems from the fact that the goal of the Ghadaris was not fulfilled in 1947. Sovereignty was transferred from London to Delhi but it did not reach the people of India. Super-exploitation and plunder of the land and labour of India has continued till today. People are clearly not the master of India.

A Constituent Assembly set up by the British adopted the Constitution of independent India in 1950. They retained the basic framework of the colonial State and its theory that people are unfit to rule. Only the parliament and state legislatures have the power to make laws.  Only the ruling camp within the parliament has the right to set policy. The toiling majority of people have only the right to cast their vote, following which all power is vested in the hands of the elected “people’s representatives”.  People have no say in the selection of candidates prior to elections.  They have no right to hold elected representatives to account or recall them, and no right to initiate legislation.

Supreme decision-making power over India’s fate has been usurped by a minority of exploiters, who are today headed by the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and other capitalist monopoly houses. They are represented by rival parties which take turns to manage the State, while people are reduced to voting cattle and powerless victims of an exploitative system.  The communal method of divide and rule continues in independent India.  People continue to be persecuted on the basis of their religion, discriminated and oppressed on the basis of their caste.

The powerless condition of the people stands nakedly exposed today, in the conditions of the unprecedented crisis created by a nation-wide lockdown to fight the Corona virus.  Crores of hardworking people have been thrown into a desperate situation, left to fend for themselves without any income or even a secure roof over their heads.  The Government of India claims credit for having transferred the measly amount of 500 rupees into every Jan Dhan account, with which jobless workers are supposed to survive a lockdown that has lasted 50 days!

For the working class, toiling peasants and all other hardworking and patriotic people of our country, the Ghadar and its clarion call, “Hum hain iske malik, Hindustan humara!”, represent the vision of the New India that is crying out to be born. Let us work wholeheartedly for the Navnirman of India – that is, for a new State and political process based on the principles that sovereignty belongs to the people; and that the State is duty bound to ensure prosperity and protection for all.

Workers, peasants, women and youth – We constitute India! We are her master!

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