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The Berlin Committee, later known as the Indian Independence Committee (German: Das Indische Unabhängigkeitskomitee) after 1915, was an organisation formed in Germany in 1914 during World War I by Indian students and political activists residing in the country. The purpose of the Committee was to promote the cause of Indian Independence. Initially called the Berlin-Indian Committee, the organisation was renamed the Indian Independence Committee in 1915 and came to be an integral part of the Hindu-German Conspiracy. Famous members of the committee includes Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, Champakaraman Pillai and Abinash Bhattacharya

Contents

Background

A number of Indians, notably Shyamji Krishna Varma had formed the India House in England in 1905. This organisation, with the support of Indian luminaries like Dadabhai Naoroji, Lala Lajpat Rai, Madame Bhikaji Cama and others, offered scholarships to Indian students, promoted nationalistic work, and was a major platform for anticolonial opinions and views. The Indian Sociologist published by Krishna Varma was a notable anticolonial publication. A number of prominent Indian Nationalists were associated with the India House, including Damodar Savarkar, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, Har Dayal.

The India House was soon put under scrutiny for the nature of its work and the increasingly inciting tone of the Indian Sociologist. In 1909, Madan Lal Dhingra, closely associated with the India house, shot dead William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, the political ADC to the Secretary of State for India. In the aftermath of the assassination, the India House was rapidly suppressed and its leaders, including Krishna Varma, were forced to flee to Europe. Some, including Virendranath, moved to Germany, while a number of the leadership moved to Paris.[1]

World War I

At the outbreak of World War I, the idea of using the opportunity to further the nationalist cause was not lost to the Indians. The German Foreign Office itself had considered supporting the Pan-Islamist and Bengali revolutionary movement in India to weaken the British position as early as 1912.[2]

The Kaiser himself had considered the option on 31 July 1914 when Russian mobilisation was confirmed and the scopes of British mobilisation against Germany was looming.[2] In September 1914, the German Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, was authorised by the Kaiser to sanction German activity against India.[2][3] The German effort was headed by Max von Oppenheim, archaeologist and the head of the newly formed Intelligence bureau for the east. Upon Oppenheim fell the task of arranging the Indian student groups into a cohesive group. Oppenheim also convinced Har Dayal of the feasibility of the project.

A group of Indians residents in Germany, headed by M. Prabhakar (then teaching at Düsseldorf after graduating from Heidelberg) along with Abd ur Rahman and A Siddiqui, had issued statements condemning England and France for their support of the Czar. However, given that these students were political novices, Oppenheim sought to find more prominent revolutionaries who would carry more weight. A young officer of the Auswärtiges Amt, Otto Gunther von Wesendonck, was given the task of organising revolutionary outbreaks along the Indian and Russian border.[4] Similar statement were also issued at this time by Abhinash Bhattacharya and Virendra Nath Chattopadhyay which with the help of a close acquaintance Anna Maria Simon, was also distributed in Austria-Hungary, Switzerland and Netherlands in addition to Germany, attracting editorial comments. However, although the German foreign office was slow to identify these, the duo were able to establish, with the help of Frau Simon, meetings with the Berlin Foreign office.[1]

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Berlin Committee

Arriving at Berlin, they were assigned a building in the Schoenberg suburbs, which was to be their new headquarters.In their first meeting with the foreign office liaison Max von Oppenheim, on 3 September 1915, the aims and requirements of the committee was given to the German government by Chattopadhyay:[1]

  • With a view to starting a revolution in India,
    • Money, arms ammunition as well as expert advice were needed.
    • They should be carried to the Indian coast.
    • Early arrangement should be made to send the men themselves to be sent back to India.
  • A large number of 10 Rupee notes were to be forged and sent to India to create some confusion in their money market.
  • An Indo-German Committee should be constituted to co-ordinate and carry on these activities.

With the help of Oppenheim, messages were sent out to Indian students in German universities, as well as Switzerland, Austria and Holland who were likely share the same views. Among those who joined the organisation at the time were Dr. Dhiren Sarkar, Chanji Kersasp, N. S. Marathe, Dr. J. N. Dasgupta, C. Padmanabhan Pillai, his brother, Champak Raman Pillai was quick to step in. It was at this time that the 'Champak-Chatto' Berlin Committee came into existence.[1]

However, Oppenheim refused to approach Shyamji Krishnavarma, then in Geneva, nor attempted to get in touch with Lala Lajpat Rai, then in the United States. The latter was suspected by British intelligence in the United States to be deeply involved in the seditionist movement [5] although he himself refused to enter an alliance with another Imperialist Power.[4] In 1915, Har Dayal and Barkatullah became actively involved in the organisation and its goals.The committee is known to have sent missions to Istanbul, Persia, Baghdad, as well as Kabul.[6]

Hindu German Conspiracy

The committee soon involved itself in establishing contacts with Indian revolutionaries, including Bagha Jatin, visiting armament and explosives factories, as well as meeting Indian Prisoners of War to recruit them to the nationalist cause. Lala Har Dayal who had fled to Germany after his arrest in the United States, was also convinced to lend his support to the committee's cause. Contacts were established with the Ghadarite movement in the United States. Dr. Dhiren Sarkar and N.S. Marathe left for Washington on 22 September 1915, and through the German Ambassador Johann von Bernstoff, was able to establish links with the Ghadar Party. The culmination of the American episode was the Annie Larsen arms plot.

Kabul mission

The Berlin-Indian committee (which became the Indian Independence Committee after 1915) also resulted in an Indo-German-Turkish mission to the Indo-Iranian border to encourage the tribes to strike against British interests.[7]

The Berlin committee was also at this time in touch with the Khairi brothers (Abdul Jabbar Khairi and Abdul Sattar Khairi), who had at the onset of the war, settled at Constantinopole and later in 1917 proposed to the Kaiser a plan to lead tribes in Kashmir and North-West Frontier Province against British interests. Another group led by the Deobandi Maulana Ubaid Allah Sindhi and Mahmud al Hasan (principle of the Darul Uloom Deoband) had proceeded to Kabul in October 1915 with plans to initiate a Muslim insurrection in the tribal belt of India. For this purpose, Ubaid Allah was to propose that the Amir of Afghanistan declares war against Britain while Mahmud al Hasan sought German and Turkish help. Hasan proceeded to Hijaz. Ubaid Allah, in the meantime, was able to establish friendly relations with Amir. At Kabul, Ubaid Allah, along with some students who had preceded him to make way to Turkey to join the Caliph's "Jihad" against Britain, decided that the pan-Islamic cause was to be best served by focussing on the Indian Freedom Movement.[8] This group was met by the Indo-German-Turkish mission to Kabul in December 1915 headed by Oskar von Niedermayer and including in its members Werner Otto von Hentig, the German diplomatic representative to Kabul, and Raja Mahendra Pratap, Barkatullah and other prominent nationalists from the Berlin group. The mission, along with bringing members of the Indian movement right to India's border, also brought messages from the Kaiser, Enver Pasha and the displaced Khedive of Egypt, Abbas Hilmi expressing support for Pratap's mission and inviting the Amir to move against India[9][10] The mission's immediate aim was to rally the Amir against British India[9] and to obtain from the Afghan Government a right of free passage.[11]

Although the Amir refused to commit for or against the proposals at the time, it found support amongst the Amir's immediate and close political and religious advisory group, including his brother Nasrullah Khan, his sons Inayatullah Khan and Amanullah Khan, religious leaders and tribesmen.[9] It also found support in one of Afghanistan's then most influential newspaper, the Siraj al-Akhbar, whose editor Mahmud Tarzi took Barkatullah as an officiating editor in early 1916. In a series of articles, Tarzi published a number of inflammatory articles by Raja Mahendra Pratap, as well as publishing increasingly anti-British and pro-Central articles and propaganda. By May 1916, the tone in the paper was deemed serious enough for The Raj to intercept the copies.[9] A further effort resulted in the establishment in 1916 of the Provisional Government of India in Kabul.

Although hopes of the Amir's support were more or less non-existent, the Provisional Government of India was formed in early 1916 to emphasise the seriousness of intention and purpose. The government had Raja Mahendra Pratap as President, Barkatullah as Prime Minister and Ubaid al Sindhi as the Minister for India, Maulavi Bashir as War Minister and Champakaran Pillai as Foreign Minister. It attempted to obtain support from Tsarist Russia, Republican China, Japan. Support was also obtained from Galib Pasha, proclaiming Jihad against Britain.[11]

Following the February Revolution in Russia in 1917, Pratap's Government is known to have corresponded with the nascent Soviet Government. In 1918, Mahendra Pratap had met Leon Trotsky in Petrograd before meeting the Kaiser in Berlin, urging both to mobillise against British India.[12] Under pressure from the British, Afghan cooperation was withdrawn and the mission closed down. However, the mission, and the offers and liaisons of the German mission at the time had profound impact on the political and social situation in the country, starting a process of political change that ended with the assassination of Habibullah in 1919 and the transfer of power to Nasrullah and subsequently Amanullah and precipitating Third Anglo-Afghan War that led to Afghan Independence.[12]

End of the Indian Independence Committee

The Committee was formally disbanded in November 1918, with most of the members shifting attention to the nascent Soviet Russia. Between 1917 and 1920, most of the members became active in communism.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d "Champak-Chatto" And the Berlin Committee". Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. http://www.bhavans.info/heritage/champakchatto.asp. Retrieved 2007-11-04. 
  2. ^ a b c Fraser 1977, p. 256
  3. ^ Hoover 1985, p. 251
  4. ^ a b Fraser 1977, p. 257
  5. ^ Dignan 1971
  6. ^ Bagulia 2006, p. 146
  7. ^ Ansari 1986, p. 514
  8. ^ Ansari 1986, p. 515
  9. ^ a b c d Sims-Williams 1980, p. 120
  10. ^ Seidt 2001, p. 1,3
  11. ^ a b Ansari 1986, p. 516
  12. ^ a b Hughes 2002, p. 474

References

  • Hoover, Karl. (1985), The Hindu Conspiracy in California, 1913-1918. German Studies Review, Vol. 8, No. 2. (May, 1985), pp. 245-261, German Studies Association, ISSN 01497952 .
  • Fraser, Thomas G (1977), Germany and Indian Revolution, 1914-18. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Apr., 1977), pp. 255-272., Sage Publications, ISSN: 00220094 .
  • Ansari, K.H. (1986), Pan-Islam and the Making of the Early Indian Muslim Socialist. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 20, No. 3. (1986), pp. 509-537, Cambridge University Press .
  • Sims-Williams, Ursula (1980), The Afghan Newspaper Siraj al-Akhbar. Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies), Vol. 7, No. 2. (1980), pp. 118-122, London, Taylor & Francis Ltd, ISSN 03056139 .
  • Hughes, Thomas L (2002), The German Mission to Afghanistan, 1915-1916.German Studies Review, Vol. 25, No. 3. (Oct., 2002), pp. 447-476., German Studies Association, ISSN: 01497952 .
  • Seidt, Hans-Ulrich (2001), From Palestine to the Caucasus-Oskar Niedermayer and Germany's Middle Eastern Strategy in 1918.German Studies Review, Vol. 24, No. 1. (Feb., 2001), pp. 1-18, German Studies Association, ISSN 01497952 .

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