by Nasir Khan
All those who oppose imperialistic wars and
plunder, subjugation and oppression of weaker nations and peoples, and
wide-spread violations of human rights in various parts of the world
will be glad to see the publication of the two-volume autobiography of
Indo-Pakistani revolutionary Dada Amir Haider Khan. The life and
struggles of this eternal revolutionary who stood for advancing the
cause of workers and peasants and firmly adhered to the world-outlook
of proletarian internationalism is quite amazing. No matter what
hardships he came across, he held belief in the eventual emancipation
of the toiling masses, not by any outside force or agency but through
their own struggles shaped by their political consciousness for a
worthy human existence.
Dada Amir Haider Khan
was not an idealist; he was a man of action. By his practical example
he showed how to work and organise workers locally so that they could
stand for and protect their political and economic interests. In his
personal life, he always remained a fakir, a ‘homeless wanderer’, as he
used to call himself. Neither did he own any valuable possessions. He
had donated the share of his inherited land for building a school in
his ancestral village, a poor and deprived area of small farmers.
met Dada half a century ago, in 1957, when I started my college
education in Rawalpindi. This early contact with him was to become a
lifelong friendship and close comradeship. He was above all a sincere
and trustworthy man and a political activist. But he was also a
charismatic person; those who met him were drawn towards his magnetic
Dr Hasan N. Gardezi edited and
supervised the publication of Dada’s memoirs with great diligence and a
sense of duty to preserve the historical role of a truly great and
unique revolutionary who emerged from the part of the world now called
Pakistan. I offer my thanks to Professor Gardezi for his tireless
efforts to publicise the work of Dada, and also thank other friends who
have in one way or the other contributed to the task. I believe all the
progressive people who have known Dada or those who will come to know
about him through the publication of his memoirs will highly appreciate
the work of Professor Gardezi. He has preserved the legacy of the great
revolutionary for the coming generations of radical and progressive
Volume 1 was first published in New Delhi in 1989,
prefaced by our esteemed Comrade V.D. Chopra. Now the memoirs in two
volumes are available from Karachi.
[ To obtain your copies please contact: Muhammad Kamran, Office Assistant, Pakistan Studies Centre, University of Karachi, Karachi, 75270, E-mail pscuok@yahoo. com
For further information the editor can be reached at: gardezihassan@ hotmail.com ]
and scholars in Marxist tradition may also find the following
publications and references to Dada Amir Haider Khan helpful:
- Harry Haywood, Black Bolshevik, Liberator Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1978, pp. 164-5, 509.
- Santimoy Ray, Freedom Movement and Indian Muslims, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, 1978, p. 82.
- S.S. Mirajkar, ‘Reminiscences’, Marxist Miscellany No. 15, March 1979, New Delhi, pp. 21-22.
- Amir Haider Khan, ‘Reminiscences’, Marxist Miscellany
No. 15, March 1979. (This is a memorable article written by Dada Amir
Haider Khan on the 50th Anniversary of the Meerut Conspiracy Case.)
- Subodh Roy (ed.), Communism in India, Ganashakti Printers, 1972.
I republish below a remarkable book review by Jamil Omar
Book Review by Jamil Omar
Chains to Lose
Life and Struggle of a Revolutionary
Memoirs of Dada Amir Haider Khan
Edited by Hassan N. Gardezi,
Publisher: Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi
An Indian Che Guevara
party had also begun extending its activities to Madras. A group of
Andhra and Tamil students, amongst them P. Sundarayya were recruited to
the CPI by Amir Hyder Khan … (E. M. S. Namboodripad Chief Minister of
Kerala, The Communist Party in Kerala - Six Decades of Struggle and
Thus, the CPI divided into two separate parties. The
group which assembled in Calcutta would later adopt the name ‘Communist
Party of India (Marxist)’. The CPI (M) also adopted its own political
programme. P. Sundarayya was elected general secretary of the party.
(History of the Communist Movement in India)
While he lived,
Dada Amir Haider Khan struggled to change the course of history, now in
death he would have us change our view of it.
Dada surfed the
crest of change all over the globe during the first half of the
twentieth century, which makes a simple account of his life read like
contemporary world history. The account is so reliable and close to
life that that it should prove a major primary source for scholars of
history and politics. For political activists who have carried on the
tradition bequeathed by Dada, the account is essential reading for a
critical understanding of their own past.
little is known about Amir Haider Khan’s very full life that it seems
appropriate to start by presenting a very brief overview:
in a remote village in Rawalpindi district. Orphaned at an early age,
put in a madrassah. Escapes to Calcutta, brushes with the underworld
handling Afghan opium.
1914 joins British merchant navy in
Bombay. Observes at close hand the dilemma of Muslim soldiers in the
British army fighting their Turkish brethren in Iraq.
British ship in New York. Joins American merchant marine. An Irish
nationalist, Joseph Mulkane, introduces Dada to anti-British political
1920 meets Indian Nationalists and Ghadar party members
in New York. Starts distributing ‘Ghadar ki Goonj’ to Indians in
seaports around the world.
Passes the exam of Assistant Second Marine Engineer.
dismissed from ship after the great post war strike. Works and travels
inside the USA. Boiler engineer with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Airplane pilot. Autoworker in Detroit.
Political activist, works with anti-Imperialist League and the Workers (Communist) Party of the USA.
1926 sent by the American party to the Soviet Union to study at the University of the Toilers of the East.
completes the University course in Moscow and arrives in Bombay.
Establishes contact with Ghate, Dange Bradley, senior communists in
March 1929 escapes arrest in the Meerut Conspiracy case
and makes his way to Moscow to inform the Communist International
(Comintern) on the situation in India and seek their assistance.
1929 arrives back in Bombay, meets and briefs B. T. Randive.
Dada’s connection in Bombay with the Comintern turns informer. Dada
rushes to Moscow to apprise them of the development and devise
alternate plans. Attends the International Trade Union (Profintern)
Congress as member of the presidium, also attends the 16th Congress of
1931 returns to Bombay. Sent to Madras to avoid arrest
as still wanted in the Meerut Conspiracy case. Carries on political
work all over South India under the pseudonym of Shankar. Sets up the
Young Workers League.
1932 arrested by British for bringing out a pamphlet praising the Bhagat Singh Trio.
1936 transferred from Madras to Muzzafargarh jail, then transferred to Ambala jail.
released. Starts open public political activity in Bombay. The Congress
left elects him to the INC Bombay Provincial Committee. Attends the INC
Annual General meeting in Ramgarh, Bihar.
1939 rearrested as Second World War breaks out. Interned in Nasik jail where Dada writes the first part of his memoirs.
last of the Communists to be released after People’s War thesis. Trade
Union work in Bombay. Attends the Natrakona (Mymansingh) All India
Kissan Sabah in 1944.
1946 arrives in Rawalpindi on the eve of
Pakistan to look after local party work. Organises a network to hide
and safely repatriate Hindu families during the partition riots.
arrested from Party office Rawalpindi under the Communal Act. Released
after 15 months. Rearrested after a few months from Rawalpindi Kutchery
for organizing the defence of Hassan Nasir and Ali Imam. When Liaqat
government launches the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case Dada moved to Lahore
fort and imprisoned with Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Fazal Din Qurban, Dada Feroz
ud Din Mansur, Kaswar Gardezi, Hyder Bux Jatoi, Sobo Gayan Chandani,
Chaudhry Muhammad Afzal, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Zaheer Kashmiri, Hameed
Akhtar etc. Released after campaign in Pakistan Times and Imroze, but
restricted to his village. Shifted to Rawalpindi when Dada seen
influencing the military jawans from his area.
1954 Bogra [Prime
Minister] to appease his masters in USA bans the Communist Party of
Pakistan on 24 July 1954. Dada arrested later bailed out by Mohammad
1958 Ayub imposes martial law. Dada arrested
interned in Rawalpindi jail with Afzal Bangash, Kaka Sanober and other
comrades from the Frontier Province.
1970s and 1980s Dada spends
his twilight years in Rawalpindi. Donates his land and with his own
labour builds a Boys High School in his village, then builds a Girls
School together with a science laboratory. Gets them approved and hands
them over to the Government.
26 December 1989 Dada passes away.
striking fact about the above chronology is that Amir Haider like Flash
Gordon had an uncanny knack of being at the right place at the right
time. But the analogy ends here. Flash is a fictional character
representing the Imperial British, Dada was a real life adversary of
Imperialism who fought the British with such skill and tenacity that
American professors Overstreet and Windmiller were forced to admit that
“Amir Haider Khan was the most dangerous individual in British India.”
Throughout his life we see Dada, the born rebel, standing up against
injustice and fighting to better the human condition. While Britannia
ruled the waves, Dada fought for the rights of the Indian seamen
working deep below the decks. When the sun did not set on the British
Empire, Dada risked his life to distribute banned Ghadar Party
literature to Indians all around the globe. As the new world started to
prevail, Dada, a naturalized American at the age of twenty, learnt and
struggled against the system from within - as an International Workers
of the World activist, as a working class family member, as a hobo, as
a Klu Klux Klan victim, as an avid reader of Popular Mechanics and
Scientific American and builder and flyer of airplanes, as a political
activist working closely with the great Agnes Smedley and much more.
When the world was shaken by the great socialist revolutions, Dada, now
a full member of the Bolshevik party in Moscow, was closely following
on detailed maps the march of Chou En Lai forces towards Shanghai. And
during the golden hour of the Indian freedom struggle, Dada almost
single handedly broke the political isolation imposed upon India by the
British. Despite being on the British most wanted list, Dada using
different pseudonyms and covers carried on political and organizational
work in various parts of India. Work, for which Dada is still loved in
Rawalpindi, revered in Bombay and worshipped in South India.
was an international revolutionary - a Che Guevara of another age and
on a bigger stage. He met and worked closely with some of the greatest
socialist leaders of the twentieth century, which included besides
others Thomas Mann (Engles’ student), Rosa Luxemburg (German
revolutionary), Clara Zetkin (German women rights activist), Karl Radek
(leader of Communist International), Liu Shao Chi (later president of
China), Agnes Smedley (American anti-imperialist), Ralph Fox (historian
who died resisting Franco’s march to Madrid), Piatniski (secretary to
Comintern and Stalin) and nearly all the leaders of the Indian freedom
movement. Dada’s steadfast struggle for freedom earned him the respect
of Indian nationalists from the Andaman Islands to Peshawar, from
gentlemen members of the parliament to Naujawan Bharat Sabah
with revolutionary responsibility, Dada is careful not to wash any
dirty linen in public. Like a true Bolshevik, Dada chooses to maintain
public silence on issues where he disagreed with the official Party
line. On the face of it this should make Dada’s memoirs politically
anodyne. But Dada’s actions were anything but politically neutral and
they speak for themselves. ‘Dada’ may be an honorific title in Pakistan
but in Bombay it was applied to Amir Haider Khan and others to
denigrate them as obstinate seniors, for these ‘foggies’ doggedly waged
inner Party struggle against political opportunism. It is also rumoured
that Pakistan provided the new generation of comrades in Bombay with an
excuse to shunt Dada from Bombay to Rawalpindi. Yet Dada’s memoirs are
a testimony that he remained faithful to Party discipline to the very
end of his life. Even in his rumblings as an old man he was careful not
to insinuate against some of the old comrades or the People’s War
thesis or a host of other issues which clearly troubled him. However, a
close reading of the memoirs reveals that even Party discipline could
not compel Dada to distort or deny facts. For example, Dada, the main
representative of the Third International (Comintern) in India, puts it
on record that on the China question Trotsky was correct and Stalin
wrong; he criticizes M. N. Roy, who has since been rehabilitated, of
fiscal irresponsibility and S. A. Dange, who has since been debunked,
of weak character. It is perhaps on account of such ‘deviations’ that
Dada’s memoirs nearly got suppressed. Once by our own publisher of
Baluchistan insurgency fame – although this may well have been the far
worse crime of sheer irresponsibility; and once by the CPI press –
which on the face of it appears to be a more deliberate act of
indexing. But thanks to the untiring zeal of Dr. Hassan Gardezi, the
memoirs’ editor, Dada’s invaluable autobiography has finally been
preserved for posterity.
The memoirs in themselves are a
straight forward narration of events, however, delayed availability of
such rare and authentic material is bound to reopen many debates. A
critical study of the memoirs would go a long way in helping us better
understand and appreciate our past. Even a non-critical reading like
the present one, sparked a number of politically relevant questions. I
would like to briefly take up a few of these here.
Muslim demagogy and Pakistani Hagiography
prefers to ignore rather than explain inconvenient facts. The mainstay
of our local brand of hagiography is that Pakistan was created for
Islam. However, our hagiographers have never bothered to explain that
if so, then how come the Pakistan movement was led by modern secular
Muslims and supported by the Communist Party while mullahs of all
callings opposed it tooth and nail.
Another enigma for local
hagiography is the Khilafat Movement. Khilafat Movement based on
pan-Islamic demagogic sentiments was popular among urban Muslims for a
brief period towards the end of the First World War. But with its
fantastic scheme of Tark-i- Amwaal and Hijrat it violated the interests
of propertied Muslim classes. The propertied Muslim classes, for their
part, were always more attracted to the option of a separate homeland
where they could pursue their economic interests unhindered by the
dominant Hindu bourgeoisie. Hence it comes as no surprise that while
the Khilafat Movement was befriended by the Congress, it was vehemently
decried by Jinnah. Pakistani hagiography has long taxed itself to
square the Muslim demagogic Hijrat Movement with its exact opposite,
that is, the Pakistan Movement. The hagiographic compromise is to gloss
over the unsavoury details of the Khilafat Movement while awarding Bi
Amma’s sons the status of national heroes.
clearly reveal the true nature of the Khilafat movement. In Bombay its
support lay in the Urdu speaking Muslim mill workers in Madanpura, who
were the descendents of ruined hand weavers of Bihar and UP. The
Khilafat newspaper openly incited these Muslims to violence when
Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in Bombay but with typical demagogic
irresponsibility it blamed the Communists. This service must have been
well appreciated by Khilafat’s bourgeoisie friends in the Congress, who
watched with glee the fall of support for the fledging Red Flag
Worker’s Union amongst Muslim workers and were keen to employ them as
The Khilafat demagogy also ruined the poor
Muslim Mopla peasants of Malabar. Muslim Mopala peasant’s under the
influence of Khilafat demagogy left their lands and chose to migrate to
Afghanistan. Like most muhajirs they were simply herded back by the
Afghans. But on returning to Malabar they found their lands occupied by
Hindu landlords. What ensued was a full-scale civil war in which
thousands died and even more were herded like animals into prisons.
Dada through his historic jail struggle succeeded in winning for these
poor and illiterate Muslim prisoners decent living conditions.
not only glosses over the crimes of yesterday, it makes us perpetrate
new ones today. The truth of this aphorism is vividly demonstrated by
the fact that while the Khilafat leader Mohammad Ali Johar is
remembered through a prestigious Society in Karachi and a modern Town
in Lahore, all trace of Dada Amir Haider Khan, the greatest of Indian
Muslim freedom fighters, has been conveniently removed from our
The conspiracy of conspiracy cases:
and Rule’ may well have been the first rule of British Imperialism, but
‘give the dog a bad name and hang him’ was a close second. The second
rule was repeatedly employed by the British against the Communists in
the guise of Conspiracy Cases. During the 1920s British attempted to
crush the nascent Communist Movement through a spate of Conspiracy
Cases such as the First Peshawar Conspiracy Case, Second Peshawar
Conspiracy Case, Moscow Conspiracy Case (in all these cases Soviet
trained Muslim Communists were the main accused); the Cawnpore
Bolshevik Conspiracy Case (local Communists main accused); Lahore
Conspiracy Case (Bhagat Singh main accused), the Meerut Conspiracy
(Dada Amir Haider one of the main accused).
outcome of the conspiracy of conspiracy cases seems to be determined by
the Toynbee ‘Challenge-Response’ rule. Weak movements are destroyed by
it while strong movements are strengthened by it. The Meerut Conspiracy
case singularly backfired thanks to Dada’s efforts on an International
scale, which resulted in Meerut solidarity campaigns all over the
world. For its part the Communist Party of Great Britain put up Shaukat
Usmani, who was a prisoner in Meerut, as its candidate in the 1931
general election for St. Pancras South East. The candidature of Usmani
was aimed by the CPGB to ensure freedom for India, and to highlight the
plight of the Meerut prisoners. In this election, the communists polled
seventy five thousand votes.
After Independence, this
Imperialist conspiracy of conspiracy cases was continued by the
government of Pakistan, with Liaqat Ali Khan launching the Rawalpindi
Conspiracy Case to counter the growing influence of the Communists.
Remote controlling revolutions
movements never make successful local revolutions. The business is far
to complicated to be successfully managed remotely. In his memoirs
Dada, however, is of the view that had the Comintern trained and
assisted the Indian communists on the scale it assisted the Chinese, he
and his comrades could have built a strong United Front with the
Congress and developed the Satyagarha Movement into a genuine
revolutionary movement. But the facts as related in his memoirs show
that the Comintern was unstinting in its assistance to India, the
problem lay in more objective realities.
Perhaps the most
valuable lesson hidden in Dada’s memoirs is that revolutions are made
locally not remotely. Culled from the memoirs, here are some of the
Priorities may change in the remote location. For
example, under Lenin Central Asiatic Bureau of Comintern set up in
Tashkent a school to train the Khilafat Movement muhajirs drifting in
Central Asia into an Indian army of revolutionaries. However, the
Indian Military School was closed in April 1921, as a quid pro quo for
industrial assistance that Britain promised to Soviet Russia, under
Anglo-Russian Trade Pact in March 1921.
Stalin in 1943, to appease Roosevelt and Churchill, dismantled the whole Third International.
political complexities cannot be fully determined from a distance nor
can foreign representatives be relied upon to come up with correct on
spot remedies. Comintern’s role in the Chinese revolution provides many
examples of how the best of International intentions can create serious
local problems. During the united front period the great debate in the
Comintern regarding China was whether to launch the agrarian revolution
or not. Trotsky as member of the Comintern Executive Committee proposed
the immediate launching of the agrarian revolution in the countryside,
however, the majority led by Stalin rejected Trotsky’s thesis on the
ground that launching the agrarian revolution at this stage would split
the National United Front and would throw the reactionary Kuomintang
leaders into the imperialist camp. But when America and Japan got
directly involved, split in the United Front became inevitable and
saving the lives of the communist cadres became top priority, M. N.
Roy, Comintern’s representative in China, bungled the situation by
disclosing confidential instructions to the left wing of the
Kuomintang, with the result that Kuomintang moved swiftly to liquidate
all Communists they could lay their hands upon, more than 5000 were
executed in Shanghai alone.
Socialism: Reliance on material or intellectual assistance from outside
weakens local confidence and resolve. In the long run it promotes a
degenerate political culture that serves the interest of the foreign
embassies (and donors) and not of the local masses.
on Dada’s quiet passing away the local press reported that “He lived
and died virtually unsung. That did not diminish him. It makes the rest
of us look more small.” One hopes that with the publication of Dada’s
memoirs he would be better known and the long conspiracy to deny and
defame him will come to an end. For this little known Indian Che
Guevara is yet to take his rightful place in the pantheon of twentieth