Hindustan Socialist Republican Association
Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) was a revolutionary organisation, also known as the Hindustan Socialist Republican Army, established in 1928 by Chandrasekhar Azad. Previously, it was known as the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), whose written constitution and published manifesto titled The Revolutionary were produced as evidence in the Kakori conspiracy case of 1925.
The Non-cooperation movement of 1920 led to large scale mobilisation of Indian population against the British rule. Though intended as a Nonviolent resistance movement, it soon turned violent. After the Chauri Chaura incident, Mahatma Gandhi suspended the movement to prevent the escalation of violence. This disillusioned a section of nationalists who felt the suspension was premature and unwarranted. The political vacuum created by the suspension led to the formation of revolutionary movements by the more radical amongst those who sought to overthrow British rule.
In February 1922 some agitating farmers were killed in Chauri Chaura by the police. Consequently, the police station of Chauri Chaura was attacked by the people and 22 policemen were burnt alive.
Without ascertaining the facts behind this incident, Mohandas K. Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, declared an immediate stop the non-cooperation movement (he himself had given a call for it) without consulting any executive committee member of the Congress. Ram Prasad Bismil and his group of youth strongly opposed Gandhi in the Gaya Congress of 1922. When Gandhi refused to rescind his decision, the Indian National Congress was divided into two groups – one liberal and the other for rebellion. In January 1923, the liberal group formed a new Swaraj Party under the joint leadership of Moti Lal Nehru and Chittranjan Das, and the youth group formed a revolutionary party under the leadership of Bismil.
With the consent of Lala Har Dayal, Bismil went to Allahabad where he drafted the constitution of the party in 1923 with the help of Sachindra Nath Sanyal and another revolutionary of Bengal, Dr. Jadugopal Mukherjee.[full citation needed] The basic name and aims of the organisation were typed on a Yellow Paper and later on a subsequent Constitutional Committee Meeting was conducted on 3 October 1924 at Kanpur in the United Provinces under the chairmanship of Sanyal.
This meeting decided the name of the party would be the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA). Bismil was declared the District Organiser for Shahjahanpur and Chief of Arms Division, as well as Provincial Organiser of United Province (Agra and Oudh). Sachindra Nath Sanyal became National Organiser and another senior member, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, was Coordinator of the Anushilan Samiti. After attending the meeting in Kanpur, both Sanyal and Chatterjee left the United Provinces and proceeded to Bengal for further extension of the organisation.
The HRA established branches in Agra, Allahabad, Benares, Cawnpore, Lucknow, Saharanpur and Shahjahanpur. They also manufactured bombs in Calcutta – at Dakshineswar and Shovabazar – and at Deoghar in Jharkhand (तत्कालीन बिहार). The Calcutta workshops were discovered by the police in 1925 and those in Deoghar were found in 1927.
Sanyal wrote a manifesto for the HRA entitled Revolutionary. This was distributed around large cities of North India on 1 January 1925. It proposed the overthrow of British colonial rule and its replacement with what it termed a "Federal Republic of the United States of India". In addition, it sought universal suffrage and the socialist-oriented aim of the abolition of "all systems which make any kind of exploitation of man by man possible"
The policies of Gandhi were criticised and youths were called to join the organisation. The police were astonished to see the language used and sought its leader in Bengal. Sanyal had gone to despatch this pamphlet in bulk and was arrested in Bankura, West Bengal. Before Sanyal's arrest, Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee had also been caught by police at Howrah railway station of Calcutta, Bengal.
From 1924 to 1925, the HRA grew in numbers with the influx of new members like Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad, and Sukhdev Thapar.
There were many early attempts at disruption and obtaining funds, such as the robbery of a post office in Calcutta and of monies belonging to a railway at Chittagong, both in 1923, but the Kakori train robbery was the most prominent of the early HRA efforts. The Kakori event occurred on 9 August 1925, when HRA members looted government money from a train around 14 miles (23 km) from Lucknow and accidentally killed a passenger in the process. Significant members of the HRA were arrested and tried for their involvement in that incident and others which had preceded it. The outcome was that four leaders – Ashfaqullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, Roshan Singh and Rajendra Lahiri – were hanged in December 1927 and a further 16 imprisoned for lengthy terms. The result of the trial, in which the HRA participants sang patriotic songs and displayed other forms of defiance, seriously damaged the leadership of the HRA and dealt a major blow to its activities. Many associated with the HRA who escaped trial found themselves placed under surveillance or detained for various reasons. Azad was the only one of the principal leaders who managed to escape arrest.
In 1928, the British government set up the Commission, headed by Sir John Simon, to report on the political situation in India. Some Indian activist groups protested the Commission, because it did not include a single Indian in its membership, although by no means all did so. The effect was to galvanize various activist factions in opposition to a common cause.
Responding to the rise in anti-colonial sentiment in 1928, the HRA became the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, with the change of name probably being largely due to the influence of Bhagat Singh. Around the time of the Kakori robbery and the subsequent trial, various revolutionary groups had emerged in places such as Bengal, Bihar, and Punjab. These groups and the HRA met at Feroz Shah Kotla, in Delhi, on 8–9 September 1928, and from this emerged the HSRA.[a] The socialist leanings voiced in the earlier HRA manifesto had gradually moved more towards Marxism and the HSRA spoke of a revolution involving a struggle by the masses to establish "the dictatorship of the proletariat" and the banishment of "parasites from the seat of political power". It saw itself as being at the forefront of this revolution, spreading the word and acting as the armed section of the masses. Its ideals were apparent in other movements elsewhere at that time, including incidents of communist-inspired industrial action by workers and the rural kisan movement. At the request of Bhagat Singh, the newly-named HSRA resolved to bomb members of the Simon Commission and also to cease robbing rich people, the latter being a realisation that the Kakori conspirators had suffered most from the evidence given by such people.
When the Simon Commission visited Lahore on 30 October 1928, Lala Lajpat Rai led a peaceful protest against the Commission. The police responded with violence, with the superintendent of police, James A. Scott, ordering his men to lathi charge the protesters. Lala Lajpat Rai was beaten but addressed a meeting later. He died on 17 November 1928, perhaps in part because of his injuries although this is uncertain. Historian Neeti Nair says "His death was widely attributed to the mental if not physical shock he had suffered." When the matter of Rai's death was raised in the British Parliament, the government denied any casual role. Although Singh did not witness the event, he vowed to take revenge, and joined other revolutionaries, Shivaram Rajguru, Sukhdev Thapar and Chandrashekhar Azad, in a plot to kill Scott. However, in a case of mistaken identity, Singh was signalled to shoot on the appearance of John P. Saunders, an Assistant Superintendent of Police. He was shot by Rajguru and Singh while leaving the District Police Headquarters in Lahore on 17 December 1928. Chanan Singh, a Head Constable who was chasing them, was fatally injured by Azad's covering fire.
This case of mistaken identity did not stop Singh and his fellow-members of the HSRA from claiming that retribution had been exacted. The next day the HSRA acknowledged the assassination by putting up posters in Lahore that read
JP Saunders is dead; Lala Lajpat Rai is avenged. ... In this man has died an agent of the British authority in India. ... Sorry for the bloodshed of the human being, but the sacrifice of individuals at the altar of revolution ... is inevitable.
The perpetrators of the Saunders murder having eluded capture and gone into hiding, the next major action by the HSRA was the bombing of the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi on 8 April 1929. This was a provocative propaganda exercise, intended to highlight the aims of the HSRA and timed as a protest against the introduction of the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill, both of which had been drafted in an attempt to counter the effects of revolutionary activities and trade unionism
Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw bombs at the empty treasury benches, being careful to ensure that there were no casualties in order to highlight the propagandist nature of their action. They made no attempt to escape and courted arrest while shouting Inquilab Zindabad (Long Live the Revolution) and Samrajyavad Murdabad' (Down with Imperialism). Their rationale for the bombing was explained in a leaflet titled "To Make the Deaf Hear" (paraphrasing the words of Édouard Vaillant). This leaflet was also thrown in the assembly and was reproduced the next day in the Hindustan Times. On 15 April 1929 police raided the HSRA's bomb factory in Lahore and arrested Kishori Lal, Sukhdev Thapar and Jai Gopal. The Assembly Bomb case trial followed and Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged on 23 March 1931 for their actions.
In December 1929, the HSRA bombed the special train of Viceroy Irwin. The viceroy escaped unhurt. Later the Lahore faction of HSRA broke away and formed the Atishi Chakar (The Ring of Fire) party under the leadership of Hansraj. They carried out a series of bombings across Punjab in June 1930. On 1 September 1930, the Rawalpindi faction made a failed attempt to burgle the Office of the Controller of Military Accounts. During this period the leading members of the HSRA were Azad, Yashpal, Bhagwati Charan Vohra and Kailash Pati. In July 1930 the HSRA robbed the Gadodia stores in New Delhi and carried away 14,000 rupees. This money was later used to fund a bomb factory. In December 1930, an attempt was made to assassinate the Governor of Punjab, which wounded him in his arm.
By 1931, most of the HSRA's main leaders were either dead or in jail. Kailash Pati was arrested in October 1930 and turned an approver (witness for the prosecution). On 27 February 1931, Chandrasekhar Azad shot himself during a gunfight with the police in a famous incident of Alfred Park. Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapar, and Rajguru were hanged in March 1931. After Azad's death, there was no central leader to unite the revolutionaries and regional differences increased. The organisation split into various regional groups and they carried out bombings and attacks on Indian officials without any central coordination. In December 1931 another attempt was made to revive the HSRA at a meeting in Meerut. However this attempt failed with the arrests of Yashpal and Daryao Singh in 1932. This effectively ended the HSRA as a united organisation though the various regional factions kept up their armed struggle till 1936.
The association's methods were diametrically opposite to that of Gandhi's nonviolent resistance movement. The revolutionaries and their methods were severely criticised by Gandhi. Responding to the attack on Lord Irwin's train, Gandhi wrote a harsh critique of the HSRA titled "The Cult of the Bomb" (Young India, 2 January 1930). In it, he declared that bomb-throwing was nothing but "froth coming to the surface in an agitated liquid". He condemned the HSRA and its actions as "cowards" and "dastardly". According to Gandhi, the HSRA's violent struggle had its hazards. The violence led to more reprisals and suffering. Also, it would turn inward as "it was an easy natural step" from "violence done to the foreign ruler" "to violence to our own people". The HSRA responded to this criticism with its own manifesto "The Philosophy of the Bomb", in which they defended their violent methods as being complementary to Gandhi's non-violent methods.