On December 17 (Rajendranath Lahiri) and December 19 (Ashfaqullah Khan, Ram Prasad Bismil, Thakur Roshan Singh), four revolutionaries from the Indian independence movement were executed. After the Kakori Train Robbery, in which members of the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA) stole a train carrying cash for the British treasury, occurred two years later.
Following the incident, the British police conducted a vigorous manhunt that eventually resulted in the arrest of many Hindustan Socialist Republic Association members.
The Non-Cooperation Movement was started in 1920 by Mahatma Gandhi, who urged Indians to stop supporting any endeavours that “supported the British administration and economy in India.” Gandhi had planned for this movement to be non-violent and to employ his satyagraha techniques in order to finally achieve self-governance.
But in 1922, something happened that altered the movement’s course. In the town of Chauri Chaura in modern-day Uttar Pradesh, three protesting men were murdered by police fire, and afterward, a mob set fire to the police station, killing 22 officers. According to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s autobiography, this episode caused the “sudden” conclusion of the non-cooperation movement when Gandhi decided to call it off despite intense internal conflict with Indian National Congress.
Thus, a group of young men who were turned off by Gandhi’s methods and what they perceived as his ardent preaching of “non-violence” created the HRA.
Among the group’s founding members were Ashfaqulla Khan and Ram Prasad Bismil, both of whom had a gift for poetry. Others were Jogesh Chandra Chatterjee, a labor unionist, and Sachindra Nath Bakshi. People like Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad would also join the HRA. Their manifesto, Krantikari, was published on January 1st, 1925. (Revolutionary).
“The immediate purpose of the revolutionary party in the field of politics is to build a federal Republic of United States of India by an organized and armed revolution,” it said. This group of revolutionaries was described in the manifesto as “neither terrorists nor anarchists… they do not seek terrorism for terrorism’s sake yet they may occasionally turn to this tactic as a very efficient means of revenge.”
The “abolition of all mechanisms which make the exploitation of man by man conceivable” was a crucial component of their proposed republic, which would be founded on socialist ideals and universal suffrage.
What happened during the Kakori Train Action?
The HRA’s initial significant action occurred in August 1925 with the rail heist at Kakori. Between Lucknow and Shahjahanpur, there was a train called the No. 8 Down. It was carrying treasury sacks on a fateful day that were destined for the British treasury in Lucknow.
These funds, which the revolutionaries thought rightfully belonged to Indians in any case, were intended for robbery. In addition to raising money for the HRA, their goal was to raise awareness of their cause and work.
On August 9, 1925, Rajendranath Lahiri, a member of the HRA who was already sitting on board, pulled the chain to halt the train as it was passing the Kakori station, which was about 15 km from Lucknow. Approximately ten revolutionaries, including Ashfaqullah Khan and Ram Prasad Bismil, then entered the train and overwhelmed the guard. They stole the treasury bags, which contained about 4,600 rupees, and fled to Lucknow.
One passenger (a lawyer named Ahmad Ali) was killed during the robbery as a result of a misfired Mauser gun, which hurt the revolutionaries’ hopes to evoke a favorable public response.
The British authorities were furious and launched a brutal crackdown, detaining numerous HRA members in the process. In October, Bismil was detained, allegedly as a result of two HRA members betraying him. Ashfaqullah fled to Daltonganj and subsequently Nepal (in present-day Jharkhand). The following year, he would be detained. Four of the 40 men who were detained by the British received death sentences, while the other thirty-eight received lengthy prison terms.
Chandrashekhar Azad was the only significant HRA leader at the time who managed to avoid capture.
What followed regarding the HRA?
The HRA united with numerous other revolutionary organizations that had developed in Punjab, Bihar, and Bengal in 1928, a year after the execution of the Kakori Conspiracy suspects, to become the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). It gradually became more overtly Marxist, cooperating with the Communist International and referring to a revolution as one in which the masses would fight to establish “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
The HSRA had waned by the 1930s, with many of its major leaders either dead or behind bars. But in the latter half of the 1920s, the organization played a significant role in carrying out a number of acts of resistance against British rule, including taking part in demonstrations against the Simon Commission, the subsequent murder of assistant police commissioner J.P. Saunders, and the bombing of Viceroy Irwin’s train, among others. It divided into numerous regional factions in the 1930s. It was somewhat unexpected how harsh the British response was, particularly the imposition of the death penalty.
The symbolic message that the Kakori tragedy gave to the British Raj is one way to look at it. Even though the amount taken was little, this kind of theft—in which money intended for the British treasury was explicitly targeted—was unheard of during the Raj. The revolutionaries left everything else alone. The British response to Kakori was to serve as a role model for upcoming revolutionaries and to reestablish British dominance in the public’s eyes.
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