Saturday, April 9

The Aryan Peshwa

Between the decline of Tsarist administration in Russian Turkestan (a 1910 report identifies monumental mismanagement), and the formation of the Uzbek SSR in 1924, Tashkent was an ambiguous place, where many of those on periphery plotted or perished. Not only did M.N. Roy (see post below) frequent the Indusky Duma (India House) on Lavmentev Road, the city was also the 'threshing field' of the veterans of the global Indian anti-colonial network, such as Raja Mahendra Pratap (head of the Provisional Government of India in exile), his war minister (M. Basheer), interior minister (Obeidullah Sindhi), and foreign secretary (P. T. Pillai); as well as leftist swadeshis like Abani Mukherjee.

(Goga, the son of Abani Mukherjee, has claimed his father and Netaji Subhas Bose were prisoners in adjacent cells in Siberia; and that Netaji had assumed the name ‘Khilsai Malang’ there; the conspiracy theory, investigated inconclusively by my father's childhood friend Justice Manoj Mukherjee, runs that the Japanese had pushed Netaji into Russian territory across Manchuria in 1945, and that he died in one of Stalin's gulags at the instigation of Nehru and Attlee, neither of whom wanted a 'fascist' takeover of Delhi.)

In 1932, Mahendra Pratap was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the first 'native' Indian to enter the ranks of nominees. (Annie Besant had preceded him by a year; Mahatma Gandhi would follow in 1937; none of them actually won the prize, and in fact in 1932 the Peace prize was not awarded at all.)

Mahendra Pratap was born in a line of Jat princelings in western Uttar Pradesh in 1886. Adopted into the line of succession of Mursan state (approximately Hathras today), and marrying into the royal family of Jhind, he was seen as a betrayer of his class for his socially progressive views (he made it a point to dine with 'untouchables'), his politics (sent to Calcutta, he hung out with the Bengali revolutionaries like Bipin Chandra Pal rather than the British colonial governing class), as well as his profligacy (he donated the family seat, as well as five villages, towards the establishment of a technical university to address the 'knowledge gap' between Britain and India.)

Fearful of attracting the wrath of the colonial state against all of Mursan, his clan seems to have found a way to get him to leave India. He traveled to Europe, and was befriended immediately by the Bengali revolutionaries in Zurich and Berlin, through them meeting the Kaiser in Germany and Lenin in Russia. In 1915, Mahendra Pratap founded the first Provisional Government of India, in exile in Afghanistan. During WW I, those hoping for a victory of the Central Powers hailed Raja Mahendra Pratap the Aryan Peshwa, waiting in the wings to descend to Delhi from Kabul as soon as circumstances might permit. (Below, the first Provisional Indian Government-In-Exile.)

Here is Mahendra Pratap's account of meeting with Kaiser Wilhelm II:

The Indian Committee with about hundred Indian members was the only Indian representative body at Berlin in those days and Mr. V. Chattopadhyaya, a brother of Madam Sarojini Naidu, was the most active figure of the Indian Committee. He was the man who brought me from Switzerland to Berlin and he was constantly visiting me at the hotel.

It was in February 1915 that I went over the frontier of Switzerland and entered Germany. It is difficult to depict the state of my mind when i jumped into the unknown. What was I doing, how would I fare and what could be the result of this adventure was too early to guess. I took a small room at the Continental Hotel, Berlin. Why a small room? If I could decide that i was already a colleague of the German warriors I would have gladly accepted the Imperial hospitality of the German Reich. But I had not decided. I considered myself still studying the war situation. It was no secret. I had not run away from my country. I had applied for a British passport to study the war situation in Europe. I was still thinking that if things did not go to my satisfaction I could return back to Switzerland, and in such a case I could not conscientiously accept the hospitality of the Germans. I was, therefore, living as economically as possible. The Germans, however, were lavishly entertaining me. Banquet after banquet followed. To my astonishment our views coordinated and I soon found that we were in the same boat.

The day that I was taken to see the Kaiser was the red day of that boisterous life. Even today the picture of that day appears fresh in my memory. I very well remember how the news was brought to me that His Excellency Mr. Zimmerman had brought a car to fetch me to the Imperial residence. I went with him to the Kaiser at the Tiergarten Palace. As soon as our car stopped, a man came up to attend on us. We were shown in. Mr. Zimmerman looked into a looking glass and made his mustaches a bit more straight-up in a right Kaiser fashion. As we entered the big hall I saw a stately figure standing all alone in the middle. As I went forward, followed by Mr. Zimmerman, that figure in the middle of the hall took a couple of steps forward.

He was the Kaiser himself and we cordially shook bands. It was interesting for me to hear from His Majesty's own lips that he was interested in a prophecy which foretold the end of the British Empire in India. Kaiser seemed to know some details of my family. He spoke of my relation with H.H. the Maharaja of Jhind and said that the Sikh States occupied a very strategic position in the middle of the Punjab. When I took leave of the Kaiser after a very friendly conversation of over 20 minutes and I was on the point of leaving the hall, the Kaiser shouted and said, “Give my greetings to the Amir of Afghanistan”. My Indian friends explained to me later that the Kaiser was specially coached for every interview that he granted, and that before my visit to the Kaiser he was already informed about a few facts of my life and my family. In any case it was marvelous that the Kaiser could speak as he did about things Indian.

In 1919, the Aryan Peshwa traveled to Moscow:

I stayed at the palatial building of the former sugar-king. Moulana Barkatullah could establish his head quarters at this place. He was in very good relations with the Russian Foreign Office. When there was scarcity of food in the city, we were right royally feasted. My Indian friends who had started on this journey with me from Berlin could also come and gather here. One evening we received a phone-call from the Soviet Foreign Office. I was told that someone was coming and that I should hand over my pamphlets to the man. This I did. Next morning was the day when I with my friends were to meet Comrade Lenin at the Kremlin. Prof. Vosnesensky took us to the ancient Imperial Palace of Moscow. We passed through the guards. We went upstairs. We entered a big room with a big table at which was sitting the famous Red Leader Comrade Lenin. I being at the head of the party entered first and proceeded towards the figure sitting right before me. To my astonishment the man or the hero stood up suddenly, went to a corner and fetched a small chair and put the chair near his office chair. And as I arrived by his side he asked me to sit down. For a moment I thought in my mind, where to sit, asking myself, should I sit on this small chair brought by Mr. Lenin himself or should I sit on one of the huge easy chairs covered with Morocco leather. I decided to sit on that small chair and sat down, while my friends, Moulana Barkatullah and others, took their seats on richly upholstered chairs.

Comrade Lenin asked me, in what language was he to address me -- English, French, German or Russian? I told him that we should better speak in English. And I presented to him my book on the Religion of Love. To my astonishment he said that he had already read it. Quickly arguing in my mind, I could see that the pamphlets demanded by the Foreign Office a day earlier were meant for Lenin himself. Mr. Lenin said that my book was “Tolstoyism". I presented to him also my plan of having notes repayable not in gold or silver but in more necessary commodities such as wheat, rice, butter, oil, coal, etc. We had quite a long conversation.

Lt. Col FM Bailey, the British spy in Turkestan, has a jaundiced view of Mahendra Pratap in his Mission to Tashkent:

He was, to put it mildly, an eccentric; his chief mania a hatred of the British Government. He once proposed a scheme for the reorganization of the world with the scarcely novel idea of peace based on justice. In this scheme the whole of Asia was to be a self governing country under the name of Buddha.

Heaven forfend indeed. (In any case, Raja Mahendra Pratap's son and heir Prem Pratap was to marry an English girl, Georgina. The marriage did not last, she returned to the UK leaving behind a son and daughter in India.)

Holed up in Kagan near Bukhara, in 1920 FM Bailey found himself in the same hotel as Mahendra Pratap. An interesting encounter followed. Here is Bailey again:

... we went to our room in the hotel. I passed Mahendra Pratap who was sitting on a bench in the garden ... That he was considered a man of importance was evidenced by the continual succession of messages and visitors he received. Several times in the afternoon he received a message brought by Afghan cavalry soldiers in uniform. These men were much smarter and better turned out than the soldiers I subsequently saw on several occasions both at Kabul and at Torkham, the Afghan frontier post on the Khyber.

I wished to have a talk with Mahendra Pratap and intended, when he was alone, to go boldly to him.

As luck would have it, one day Mahendra Pratap himself wandered into Bailey's room, looking for an envelope. Bailey asked if he was the great Indian Prince. Yes, I am, said Raja Pratap. An amicable conversation ensued (at this point Bailey was in disguise as an official in the service of the Soviets.)

He said that the one aim of his life had been to unite Hindus and Mussulmans against the English, and had wished to give all he possessed to found a college where members of these two religions could be taught together for this purpose, but the law prevented him from disposing of his property in this way and depriving his heirs.

He disagreed with the revolutionary policy of Lenin, as he had explained to the Bolshevik leader in several personal interviews; Lenin aimed at the 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat' and the extinction of the upper classes. Mahendra Pratap thought that the system by which an upper class was selfish, worked only for its own advantage, and used the proletariat for its own ends, was wrong. But you must have an intelligent upper class that should work for the benefit of the proletariat and not only for itself. This, I said, sounded to me idealistic, and difficult to work in practice, though many of the upper classes in many countries were actually filled with and carried out these and similar ideas. He said that that might be so, but the movement was slow and much more should be done. The Amir of Bokhara was refusing to see him, pleading illness, and he intended to return to Afghanistan where he expected a fresh war with the British would break out soon. In that event he would try to get the Hindus of India to unite with the Mussulmans in a rebellion which would support the Afghan armies by causing internal trouble in India. If he saw no prospects of this he would go to China to study Buddhism and Confucianism.

... I asked him about British rule in India. Was it really very bad? It was not very bad and most individual officers, among whom he used to have many friends, were honest. More honest on the whole than Indians. 'If you take ten British officials you will find only two or three will take bribes, but among Indians the number would be five or six.'

Traveling multiple times to Japan between the two Wars, Mahendra Pratap was at first feted as a Head of State. Gradually, another Provisional Government of India, one more amenable to Japanese goals, emerged as the Aarzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind under Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and the star of the Aryan Peshwa waned:

... when war broke out on the 8th of December of [1941], Japan started its own Indian organization. I could not agree with the Japanese plans and I was ordered to sit quiet at our center, on the 6th of March, 1942. Then started my forced quiet life. In 1945 when war came to an end, I thought I would have now complete liberty to leave Japan and do as I thought fit. But it was not to be so. On 14th of September 1945, I was arrested and locked up as a war criminal under the orders of the occupying army. For full five months I was in prison under the American guards. It is a chapter by itself. I was in Japan and yet out of Japan because, I was in American custody.

In February 1946, when I came out of the prison I tried my best to get home in India. It took five months more to get the required permission. During these days, I lived in an uncertainty. The Japanese currency that I had was worthless. Japanese money had lost its value. Inflation was ruling. I was invited, still, by some Japanese friends to lunches and meetings, but thrice I got ill due to bad food. I had to sell some of my things to buy my daily needs. It is true we got some rationed articles very cheap, but my money in hand was not sufficient for even rationed articles. Fruits of my garden were yet to come. Under these circumstances, one day in July 1946, came the news that I was allowed to return home, not as an Indian but as a stateless person, a man without a country.

The lives of the members of the various Indian governments in exile is parodied in this song from Patanga (1949), which shows a Indian National Army officer from Dehradun living it up in Rangoon (which had fallen to the Japanese in March 1942), even as he professes to miss his dear wife back home. 'Wish you were her(e).' Oh dear.


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