Abdul Hafiz Mohamed Barakatullah
Abdul Hafiz Mohamed Barakatullah, known with his honorific as Maulana Barkatullah (c. 7 July 1854 – 20 September 1927), was an anti-British Indian revolutionary with sympathy for the Pan-Islamic movement. Barkatullah was born on 7 July 1854 at Itwra Mohalla Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, India. Barkatullah fought from outside India, with fiery speeches and revolutionary writings in leading newspapers, for the independence of India. He did not live to see India free. In 1988, Bhopal University was renamed Barkatullah University in his honour.
He was educated from primary to college level at Bhopal. Later he went to Bombay and London for his higher education. He was a meritorious scholar and mastered seven languages: Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Turkish, English, German, and Japanese. Despite a poor background he topped the list of successful candidates in most of the examinations for which he appeared, both in India and England. He became the Quondam Professor of Urdu at the Tokyo University Japan.
At the age of twelve he lost his father, Munshi Shaikh Kadaratullah, who was employed in the service of Bhopal State. Barakatullah “was a very clever youth, (who) left home about 1883 and was employed as a tutor in Khandwa and later in Bombay,” notes J.C. Ker. In 1887 he came to London, giving private lessons in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, while himself learning German, French, and Japanese. He was invited by the British Muslim Abdullah Quilliam to work at the Liverpool Muslim Institute. While there he got to know Sirdar Nasrullah Khan of Kabul, brother of the Amir. He reportedly kept the Amir informed about English affairs in India, issuing a weekly newsletter to the Amir’s agent at Karachi from 1896 to 1898. He left for the United States in 1899.
Policy of revolution
While in England he came in close contact with Lala Hardayal and Raja Mahendra Pratap, son of the Raja of Hathras. He became a friend of Afghan Emir and the editor of the Kabul newspaper Sirejul-ul-Akber'. He was one of the founders of the "Ghadar" (Rebellion) Party in 1913 at San Francisco. Later he became the first prime minister of the Provisional Government of India established on 1 December 1915 in Kabul with Raja Mahendra Pratap as its president. Barkatullah went to several countries of the world with a mission to rouse politically the Indian community and to seek support for the freedom of India from the famous leaders of the time in those countries. Prominent amongst those were Kaiser Wilhelm II, Amir Habibullah Khan, Mohammed Resched, Ghazi Pasha, Lenin, Hitler.
In England, in 1897, Barakatullah was seen attending meetings of the Muslim Patriotic League. Here, he came across other revolutionary compatriots around Shyamji Krishnavarma. After about a year spent in America, in February 1904 he left for Japan, where he was appointed Professor of Hindustani at the University of Tokyo. In the autumn of 1906, at 1 West 34th Street in New York City, a Pan-Aryan Association was formed by Barakatullah and Samuel Lucas Joshi, a Maratha Christian, son of the late Reverend Lucas Maloba Joshi; it was supported by the Irish revolutionaries of the Clan-na-Gael, the anti-British lawyer Myron H. Phelps and of the equally anti-British Swami Abhedananda who continued the work of Swami Vivekananda. On 21 October 1906, at a meeting of the United Irish League held in New York, Barakatullah asked Mr O’Connor, representative of the Irish Parliamentary Party whether, "in the event of the Indian people rising against the oppressive and tyrannical rule of England in India, and in case England should concede Home Rule to Ireland," would O’Connor "be in favour of the Irish people furnishing soldiers to the British Army to crush the Indian people." No answer is recorded. According to a report in the Gaelic American, in June 1907, a meeting of Indians, held in New York, passed resolutions “repudiating the right of any foreigner (Mr. Morley) to dictate the future of the Indian people, urging their countrymen to depend upon themselves alone and especially on boycott and swadeshi, condemning the deportation of Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh, and expressing detestation of the action of the British authorities in openly instigating one class of Indians against another at Jamalpur and other places." (Source: Ker, p225).
In August 1907, the New York Sun published Barakatullah’s letter stating how Englishmen were getting nervous "because of the Hindus and the Muslims are drawing together and the success of nationalism seems to be nearer." More vehement was his letter in Persian, which appeared in the Urdu Mualla of Aligarh, U.P., in May 1907, in which Barakatullah strongly advocated the necessity for unity between Hindus and Muslims, and defined the two chief duties of Muslims as patriotism and friendship with all Muslims outside India. This prophetic argument preceded by four years the publication of Germany and the Coming War, by Bernhardi, warning England to be aware of the extreme danger represented by the unity of Hindu and Muslim extremists in Bengal, as reported by the Rowlatt Commission (Chapter VII). He thought that the performance of both these duties depended entirely upon one rule of conduct, namely concord and unity with the Hindus of India in all political matters. (Ker, p226). In October 1907, Madame Cama reached New York and declared to journalists: "We are in slavery, and I am in America for the sole purpose of giving a thorough exposé of the British oppression ... and to interest the warm-hearted citizens of this great Republic in our enfranchisement." On 16 August 1908 arrived from Kolkata Bhupendra Nath Datta, Vivekananda’s hot-blooded brother. Invited by George Freeman to edit the Free Hindustan from the Gaelic American newspaper office, Taraknath Das went to New York to join his old colleague Datta. In March 1909 Barakatullah left again for Japan.
Activities in Japan
Early in 1910, he started the Islamic Fraternity in Tokyo.
In June–July 1911 he left for Constantinople and Petrograd, returned to Tokyo in October and published an article referring to the advent of a great pan-Islamic Alliance including Afghanistan which he expected to become "the future Japan of Central Asia". In December he converted to Islam three Japanese: his assistant Hassan U. Hatanao, his wife, and her father, Baron Kentaro Hiki. This is said to be the first conversion to Islam in Japan. In 1912, Barakatullah “became at once more fluent in his use of the English language and more anti-British in his tone,” observes Ker (p133). Discussing in his paper the “Christian Combination against Islam,” Barakatullah singled out the Emperor William of Germany as really the one man “who holds the peace of the world as well as the war in the hollow of his hand : it is the duty of the Muslims to be united, to stand by the Khalif; with their life and property, and to side with Germany.” Quoting a Roman poet, Barakatullah reminded that the Anglo-Saxons had been sea-wolves, living on the pillage of the world. The difference in modern times was the added “refinement of hypocrisy which sharpens the edge of brutality.” On 6 July 1912, the entry of the paper into India was prohibited, before the Japanese Government suppressed it. Meanwhile, since September, copies of another paper called El Islam appeared in India, continuing Barakatullah’s political propaganda. On 22 March 1913 its importation was prohibited in India. In June 1913, copies were received in India of a lithographed Urdu pamphlet, "The Sword is the Last Resort". On 31 March 1914 Barakatullah’s teaching appointment was terminated by the Japanese authorities. It was followed by another similar leaflet, Feringhi ka Fareb (“The Deceit of the English”) : according to Ker (p135), “it surpassed in violence Barakatullah’s previous productions, and was modelled more on the style of the publications of the Gadhar party of San Francisco with whom Barakatullah now threw in his lot.”
The Ghadar episode
In May 1913, G.D. Kumar had sailed from San Francisco for the Philippine Islands and had written from Manila to Taraknath Das : “I am going to establish base at Manila (P.I.) forwarding Depôt, supervise the work near China, Hong Kong, Shanghai. Professor Barakatullah is all right in Japan.” (Ker, p237). On 22 May 1914, Barakatullah returned to San Francisco with Bhagwan Singh alias Natha Singh, the granthi (priest) of the Sikh temple at Hong Kong and joined the Yugantar Ashram and worked with Taraknath Das. With the outbreak of the War in August 1914, meetings were held at all the principal centres of the Indian population from Asia in California and Oregon and funds were raised to go back to India and join the insurrection : Barakatullah, Bhagwan Singh and Ramchandra Bharadwaj were among the speakers. (Portland (Oregon) Telegram, 7 August 1914; Fresno Republican, 23 September 1914). Reaching Berlin on time, Barakatullah met Chatto or Virendranath Chattopadhyay and sided Raja Mahendra Pratap in the Mission to Kabul. Their role was significant in indoctrinating with anti-British feelings the Indian prisoners of war held by Germany. They arrived at Herat on 24 August 1915 and were given a royal reception by the Governor.
Government of Free India
On 1 December 1915, Pratap's 28th birthday, he established the first Provisional Government of India at Kabul in Afghanistan, during First World War. It was a government-in-exile of Free Hindustan with Raja Mahendra Pratap as president, Maulana Barkatullah, Prime Minister, Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, Home Minister. Anti-British forces supported his movement. But, for some obvious loyalty to the British, the Amir kept on delaying the expedition. Then they attempted to establish relations with foreign powers.” (Ker, p305). In Kabul, the Siraj-ul-Akhbar in its issue of 4 May 1916 published Raja Mahendra Pratap’s version of the Mission and its objective. He stated: "His Imperial Majesty the Kaiser himself granted me an audience. Subsequently, having set right the problem of India and Asia with the Imperial German Government, and having received the necessary credentials, I started towards the East. I had interviews with the Khedive of Egypt and with the Princes and Ministers of Turkey, as well as with the renowned Enver Pasha and His Imperial Majesty the Holy Khalif, Sultan-ul-Muazzim. I settled the problem of India and the East with the Imperial Ottoman Government, and received the necessary credentials from them as well. German and Turkish officers and Maulvi Barakatullah Sahib were went with me to help me; they are still with me." Unable to take Raja Mahendra Pratap seriously, Jawaharlal Nehru later wrote in An Autobiography (p. 151): "He seemed to be a character out of medieval romance, a Don Quixote who had strayed into the twentieth century." Under pressure from the British, the Afghan government withdrew its help. The Mission was closed down.
Barakatullah returned to Germany, edited and published the Naya Islam. For a period he was attached to the German General Staff. On 18 April 1919, he wrote to Paul Kesselring in Switzerland: "It is four years now since I saw you last. I was 3 years and half in Afghanistan as the guest of the state. Being cut off from the civilised world, I used to get the news of the great war very late. The Afghan government did their best to make me and my companions comfortable. We had all sorts of luxuries provided for us during our stay in that country. Lately I saw Bokhara, Samarkand and Tashkend [sic],- the region rich with historical associations./ It took me 22 days by train to reach Mascow [sic] from Tashkend. I hope to go back to Tashkend before long. I should very much like to hear about your health, happiness & prosperity, as soon as postal communication between Russia & Switzerland is established./ I am in good health."
In March–May 1921, he accompanied Chatto in a delegation of Indian revolutionaries to Moscow; Agnes Smedley, Bhupendranath Datta, Pandurang Khankhoje, Biren Dasgupta, Abdul Hafiz, Abdul Wahid, Herambalal Gupta and Nalini Dasgupta were among the other delegates. M.N. Roy had preceded them and had already secured a mandate from Lenin himself. However, thanks to Smedley’s animosity against Roy, the delegation did not cooperate with him. Hence, a Commission of the Comintern examined the differences between the two factions before making its recommendation. The Commission was composed of Michael Borodin, August Thalheimer (the leader and theoretician of the German Communist Party), S.J. Rutgers (Holland), Mátyás Rákosi (Hungary), Tom Quelch and James Bell (Great Britain) : according to Sibnarayan Ray, after sitting for three days, they refused to give the Berlin Committee the status of a recognised group; Thalheimer compared this batch to the "bourgeois democrats of nineteenth century Germany who used to pose themselves as social democrats."
In December 1921, when Chatto started an Indian News and Information Bureau in Berlin, Datta refused to accept his old friend’s leadership and formed a rival body called India Independence Party, with Barakatullah as its president. It was financed by the Soviet Union. According to Sir Cecil Kaye, this support came via the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs (Narkomindel), headed by Georgy Chicherin, who considered it worthwhile to cultivate the non-communist group of revolutionary nationalists.(Kaye, pp. 56–57) According to the Russian State Archives of Socio-Political History, Moscow (RGASP), Barakatullah sent to the Comintern two documents outlining a secret plan for collaboration between the Comintern and the Indian national revolutionaries through Jawaharlal Nehru. He wanted the reformulation of certain strategies which were damaging the anti-imperialist struggle. The first letter to the Comintern was written from Berlin on 6 May 1926. It states: "It was only lately that I saw the famous Indian revolutionary, Jawhar [sic] Lal Nehru, in Switzerland, who has been especially delegated to me from India in order to explain to me the diametrically opposite effect of the propaganda of Comintern in India to the intentions of the said association, and to ask me to communicate the standpoint of the Indian revolutionaries to the Comintern. If necessary, Mr. Nehru is himself willing to come over to Berlin and explain to you the whole situation of the propaganda of the Comintern in India himself. ... the whole thing falls into the hands of the English agents with the only result that the true Indian revolutionaries are being exposed and put to all sorts of troubles by the police... I, therefore, propose that a meeting should be convened to take place at Berlin with the participation of Mr. Nehru and the representatives of Comintern including Mr. Roy and other comrades concerned in this propaganda. In this case we shall be able to find out the proper way of crushing our mutual enemy, which can only be done if we work hand in hand and not against each other." (RGASP 495-68-186). This was followed by a note to the Comintern, dated 2 February 1927, encouraging better organisation and communication channels by involving the Comintern more closely in the activities of India’s nationalist revolutionaries. It added: "M. Barakatullah Maulavie and Jawahar Lal Nehru will be the only Indian representatives to come into personal contract with the representatives of the Comintern, in order to maintain secrecy". (RGASP 495-68-207).
Earlier, in June 1926, Barakatullah had sent with Lakha Singh twenty thousand rupees to India, for helping the families of Sikh prisoners. In May 1927, he accompanied Mahendra Pratap to revisit the United States and, encouraged by Smedley, contacted Sailendra Nath Ghose, follower of Bagha Jatin. Invited by the United India League, they went to Detroit in June. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru met Barkatullah in Berlin and later at the Brussels Conference in 1927 and was highly impressed with his revolutionary thoughts and deeds. After the Brussels Congress, he and Raja Mahendra Pratap went to the US to carry on their mission.
Barakatullah died in San Francisco on 20 September 1927. His body was taken from San Francisco to Sacramento. Then his coffin was taken to Maryville where he was buried in the Muslim Cemetery with the promise that after the freedom of his country, his body would be transferred to his own motherland, to Bhopal. His remains nonetheless lie buried in Sacramento City Cemetery, California.
- Dictionary of National Biography, ed. S.P. Sen, Vol. I, p. 139–140
- The Roll of Honour, by Kalicharan Ghosh, 1965
- Political Trouble in India: A Confidential Report, by James Campbell Ker, 1917, Reprint 1973
- Sedition Committee Report, by Justice S.A.T. Rowlatt, 1918, Reprint 1973
- Les origines intellectuelles du mouvement d’indépendance de l’Inde (1893–1918), by Prithwindra Mukherjee, PhD Thesis, 1986
- In Freedom’s Quest, by Sibnarayan Ray, Vol. I, 1998
- Communism in India, by Sir Cecil Kaye, compiled & edited by Subodh Roy, 1971
- “The Comintern and the Indian revolutionaries in Russia in 1920s” by Sobhanlal Datta Gupta, in Calcutta Historical Journal, Vol. XVIII, No.2, 1996, p. 151–170.