Forgotten Indian Revolutionaries: Delhi Conspiracy Commission

Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) had a wide network of revolutionaries primarily in North Indian Provinces and, when the Delhi Conspiracy Comission was constituted, had been trying to organizationally link up with the revolutionaries who were waging a war in other Provinces of India against the Indian British Empire. The number of these Indian revolutionaries, some known and most of them unknown, is indeed a large one. We will try to bring them, with their life sketches and contribution in India’s armed freedom struggle, before the public memory of this nation. This task of bringing their toils, turbulations and sacrifice for the sake of this country to public memory has been left by the official history of Indian freedom struggle to ordinary common people.

The source of information about these revolutionaries and their activities is the officially certified copy of the Proceedings of the Delhi Conspiracy Commission, which is indicated as ‘GIPD – 318 (C) CC Delhi – 21.12.31 – 35’ and of which one such copy is in possession of this contributor. Other copies may possibly be found in the Indian National Archives and the British Colonial Archives.

The Chief Commissioner of Delhi, exercising his special powers under section 3(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, issued an order dated 9 April 1930 constituting a commission, which was known as the ”’Delhi Conspiracy Commission”’. The Commission was directed that certain persons shall be tried by it for the offence of conspiracy to wage war – political conspiracy to wage a war -against the British King. The number of accused to be tried by the Commission was 24 in all. Out of these 24 persons, 14 were arrested and produced before the Commission, while nine were declared absconding and one had died.

Though only 24 persons were accused of the offence, during the trial it transpired that there were a large number of persons who had participated in the venture. It was an Indian revolutionary movement directed against the British to win India’s freedom by violent revolutionary means. The three-member Commission was constituted of L.S.White – President, Kanwar Sain – Member and Amir Ali – Member.

During the trial of the accused persons, the Crown was represented by Muhammad Zafarullah Khan and his team. The accused were represented by Asaf Ali with support from others. On 14 May 1931, nine accused were presented before the Commission. These were Nand Kishore Nigam, B.R. Gupta, Rudra Dutt Mishra, Bhagirath Lal, Hardwari Lal Gupta, K. R. Gupta, Harkesh Singh, Gajanand Potdar and Kapur Chand. On that day, the Crown presented Kailashpati, who had turned state’s approver, as a witness.

The prosecution in addition to Kailashpati also presented other approvers in support of its case of the alleged offences.  Girwar Singh son of Ghasi Ram, caste Rajput, aged 22 or 23 years, resident of village Harra Police Station Sardhana District Meerut in U.P. was also tendered pardon by the Magistrate, which was accepted by him, and was produced on 24th February 1932 by the prosecution in support of its case. Another approver Dandpani Venkat Tailang son of Venkat Rao Gopal Tailang, aged 21 or 22 years, caste Dakshni Brahmin, resident of Jhansi in U.P. was examined by the prosecution on 8th March 1932. Yet another approver examined was P.W. 14 Ram Lal son of Ganga Ram, caste Chhatri, aged 23 years, student, resident of Saugor. Approver Madan Gopal son of B. Kishan Lal aged 24 years, Caste Yadav, occupation dairy-man, resident of Ajmere in Rajputana was examined as P.W. 15 by the Crown. Approver Bal Kishon (alias Kishen Bal) son of Ramji Lal Sharma, Caste Brahmin, aged 24 years, occupation Compounder, resident of village Khaira District Meerut in U.P. was examined as Prosecution Witness 16.

As the information about the revolutionaries sketched here is based on the statements of the revolutionaries-turned-approvers, the question arises about the credibility of these approvers and the worth of their statements. Let us examine this issue. All these approvers testified before the Commission for the prosecution and against their own countrymen who were their fellow-revolutionaries and were accused of waging a war against the British rulers to free their country. Neither then in a slave India nor now in a free country would these persons earn any sympathy from their countrymen.

But one could not be oblivious of human nature. In judging their conduct, we have to place them in their circumstances of the time and then look at them to understand their behavior. No one can deny that each one of them had chosen, and voluntarily, to involve himself in the activities that were obviously extremely dangerous for their own and their families’ security. They were all young men of 21 to 24 years. The decision on their part to involve them in the revolutionary activities was a courageous act, which was solely motivated by nothing else but by a patriotic urge.

How many of our own family members then had that courage, is a question that propels us to think beyond their supposed treachery to their mother land and make them legitimate object of our sympathy. They are reviled by time and they need rehabilitation by history.

Secondly, by going through the “Proceedings of the Delhi Conspiracy Commission” one is not left in any doubt that each of these approvers tried to mislead the Crown, to create the confusion of facts in the fond hope that this confusion would help the accused – their own revolutionary friends and well-wishers of the mother land – in getting an acquittal and, very importantly, to spread the revolutionary message through their statements, albeit confessional to the crime in nature, among the Indian youths. It was observed by the Commission again and again that the approvers concerned did not give prompt reply to the questions put to them; that they gave irrelevant details, that they reflected a lot before giving answers to simple questions and that a question had to be repeated several times to get straight answer. This was their device to help their once-friends and their country.

And, the history is witness, their hope of providing some help to their once-revolutionary friends in the difficult situation of the moment proved correct; the Commission was not in the position on the testimony of the approvers to convict any of the accused. The State was ultimately forced to disband the Commission and launch separate prosecution against each of the accused and, of course, against all those persons whose revolutionary activities had come to the light during the Commission’s proceedings. One such case was that of Babu Ram Charan.

The approver Bal Kishan (a compounder by occupation) had deposed that he was staying with Babu Ram Charan and that he was coming after applying dressing to Babu Ram Charan when he was arrested on the way. Bal Kishan was forced to lead the police to the house of Babu Ram Charan and his house was searched. The occupant was not found at the house. The police later on arrested Babu Ram Charan and it was found that his hand was injured in some bomb explosion and that Bal Kishan was applying dressing to this injury.

Babu Ram Charan was put to a trial in Delhi in 1932 on the sedition charges and this case came to be known as “the Delhi Bomb Case”. This one case is an example of how separate trials were launched by the Crown against individual accused and how the once-revolutionaries-turned-approvers tried to mislead the Commission and helped disband it.

Thirdly, the approvers were human beings, as vulnerable to threats, torture, inducements, tricks and the effects of psychological weapons as any human being could be. The persons who were involved in the Delhi Conspiracy could be divided into three classes: the persons who made the extreme sacrifice by voluntarily courting death when it became necessary to do so; the persons who did not betray the cause of revolution and voluntarily suffered extreme pains for their beliefs and actions:  and, the persons who were motivated by the revolutionary patriotism, took part in the revolutionary activities, suffered its concomitant hardships but at the time of crucial test showed the normal human weakness. The approvers belonged to the third class; we must admit they fought and we must agree they were weak.

This brings us to the question: what is the worth of their statements? How credible are they in their statements? When the statements of these different approvers are compared and collated with each other and examined critically, they throw new light on some old issues presumed to be long-settled, many mistakes of the historical record stand corrected, many new facts and secrets, and many new personalities and events, which have been consigned to the historical oblivion, come to light of the day. From the historical point of view, their statements, when critically examined from this angle, provide us invaluable information about the personalities involved and the insight and motives guiding the Indian revolutionary movement.

In these posts we shall try to give as much information as possible about each one of these revolutionary personalities and their revolutionary activities, who were connected with the Delhi Conspiracy to overthrow the British Rule in India. It is a debt we Indians owe to them and which is shamefully denied by the Indian official power that be.

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