The dominant section of the Indian national leadership of the time was frightened with the on- rush of revolutionary ideas pouring from the other side of the Pamirs. This leadership was all along trying to strike a deal with the British Empire and remain or keep the country as a satellite of Britain under the name of the dominion of India. And the young blood stood for militant action against foreign rule; for building up relations with Amanullah Khan and with the Soviet Union, procure arms and start a regular warfare from the North-West Frontier Province of (the then) India.
Thus the national leadership approved the Hijrat movement and thus got rid of 36,000 youths, which could form three good Divisions according to the then strength of the military Divisions.
Muhajireen in Tirmiz
Thus these Muhajireen (as the Hijratis were known) came to Afghanistan and pleaded for military assistance to free their country. The Afghan Government failed; the Soviet did not. After traversing more than 300 miles on foot these Muhajireen reached the Soviet territory at Tirmiz, now in the Tadjik Republic.
They were given hero’s welcome by the Soviet military authorities and also the public in this border town: they were provided with all the necessities and promised all the help they needed to drive away the British from India.
And they were quite satisfied with this promise. But then a difference of opinion cropped up in this group of 80 persons (according to another version 82 persons): one group wanted to go to Turkey and fight side by side with the Turks under Kemal struggling against the British and the French and later on against Greece. The other group argued that the best course was to ask for arms from the Soviet authorities and also ask for arms and other military aid for operations starting from the Indo-Afghan borders.
This was the time when the counter-revolutionaries had disrupted communications between Tirmiz and the rest of Turkestan. The railway line was broken and a sort of war was raging in the area. But when these Muhajireens (bent on going to Turkey) argued that they had nothing to fear from their co-religionists, the situation became very awkward. As a matter of principle the Tirmiz administration ought to have treated these people as counter-revolutionaries but no, they did not. On the contrary they provided them with boats and rations; they only gave them a warning that they were courting certain death and were going to be guilty of getting the remaining Muhajireens murdered, since the Russians did not like the obnoxious idea that on learning the news of the murder in India the Muslims in India should start an adverse propaganda against the Soviet Union, alleging that those agreeing with the Soviet Government were saved while the orthodox were killed.
Thus this trip to Kirki began one evening and landed all into the hands of the counter-revolutionary forces. As described already, the Muhajireen were saved out of the clutches of death.
To keep up the coherence of this story it is necessary to quote once again from a 1953 pamphlet, and describe the scene as to what happened when the counter-revolutionaries started running after giving us our freedom and also killing some of us. It was reported that four were killed but, according to another version, the number was more.
This is what had happened: “When we found the Turkomans had fled, we hoisted a white rag on a pole which served as a signal to other comrades who began to come in from all directions. Before nightfall, as many as 57 had collected. We passed the night in a hut whose walls were riddled with bullets.
“The next morning we set out, the tallest among us carrying the white flag. Instinct guided us, and we reached the precincts of Kirki. Soldiers of the Amir were puzzled to see us, and let us pass without any interference.
“Soon we were with the Russian revolutionaries again. They took us through the barbed wires and hailed us as friends. We told them the entire story beginning from Tirmiz. We were allotted comfortable barracks and plenty of rations. We knew real rest for the first time since we had set out from Tirmiz in the two boats.”
“The Red Army in Kirki, when they learnt from us the fate of the remaining of our fellow travellers, brought to Kirki some twelve more after combined operations in the region. Thus we now became 72, and the rest were either murdered by the counter-revolutionaries or escaped to Afghanistan. Some killings by the counter-revolutionaries were positively reported to us.
“It was here in Kirki that an opportunity came our way when the counter-revolutionary forces of Amir of Bokhara started a mass attack around Kirki; we offered our services and 36 of us were allotted trenches and posts stretching along the River Oxus.”
For the sake of convenience it has become necessary for the writer of these lines to quote again from the same pamphlet referred to above.
“The Turkoman incident had made most of us ill, but we recouped fairly well in Kirki. We began to devote our time to the study of the Russian Revolution. But our studies were interrupted by the counter-revolutionary Turkomans, who, mustering strength once again, surrounded Kirki. There were only about 300 regular soldiers in the fortress, and they were too few to face the estimated Turkoman strength of about 5000 on land and 3000 beyond the Oxus, facing the town. We promptly offered our services, which were welcomed. The whole of the river front was entrusted to us. Heaven only knows how we managed to defend it. Trench life was terrible in September-October rains, with cold and howling winds around and bullets whinning past us. We held on for a month, and then reinforcements arrived by steamer from Charjui (now Leninsk), and we were relieved.
“The same steamer took us northwards and we formed part of an expedition which combed the countryside for the Turkomans (counter-revolutionary Turkomans, no doubt).
“At Charjui we got a thumping reception. Military bands greeted us with triumphant strains, people shouted, ‘Long live the saviours of Kirki’. There was feasting for two days.”
“The Bokhara Revolutionary Committee had requested us to accept their hospitality for a couple of days. We were accommodated in one of the palatial buildings of the ex-Amir of Bokhara, and the Bokharans made much of us as if we were national heroes, and pledged us all support in our cause. For two days we roamed about the narrow lanes of Bokhara… The warmth and courtesy of the Bokharans touched us deeply and their pledge to help us was heartening.”
I may be excused here if I quote two more extracts from my articles in newspapers in 1964 to show what effect the defence of Kirki produced on some jealous-minded Indians.
“Army of God”
“And in Central Asia a batch of Indian Muhajirs was fighting side by side with the Red Army in crushing the counter-revolution in Turkestan fomented by British money and arms and led by the Amir of Bokhara. Thirtysix of these Indians distinguished themselves in this epic fight. Some professional revolutionaries earning their bread in the name of revolution got so jealous of the feats of these 36 that they derisively termed them as the ‘Army of God’.
The great man who abused us was M.N. Roy, who has later boasted that he had rescued the Muhajirs and asked the Red Army to go for our rescue and that he met us in Bokhara. Not a single one from our group will support M.N. Roy in his assertion. No doubt some members of the second batch who happened to be in Bokhara near about November 7, the anniversary of the Revolution, came to Tashkent in his company and he had introduced to us one Akbar Jan, referred to in Rafiq Ahmed’s version of the travels; Akbar Jan was the leader of the second batch, and was accompanied to Tashkent by some of his batch-members.
The Red Army’s indirect help to us in the delivery from the counter-revolutionary forces has been admitted by all of us, we have also admitted with gratitude the rescue operation which they undetook in the matter of some of our group who did not, rather could not, join while we entered Kirki.
The revolutionaries of Bokhara showered us with their traditional honours which is a part of life in that historic city.
The year 1920 was a very difficult time for the Soviet Union. The country was surrounded by hordes of counter-revolutionary Generals and Admirals, by the imperialist interventionists of some 14 countries.
And on top of all this, there was a full-blooded blockade from coast-to-coast and along the frontiers touching the Bolshevik land.
This resulted in a colossal famine which ravaged the Soviet Union for a long time. But despite all the difficulties and hardships, the enthusiastic revolutionaries did not fail in their hospitality, whether it concerned food or arms to the revolutionaries of other lands.
Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey all got the Soviet aid and won back their independence of which they were deprived by the imperialist wolves.
Such was the time when we reached Tashkent—the heart of revolutionary guidance to the East. But we did not get the usual welcome to which we were accustomed after our experience in Kirki. The reason was quite simple. Here the people had seen the ‘real’ Indians then in the Soviet Union who were fighting over leadership, and all Indians in the eyes of those people in Turkestan were alike.
And yet the Russian Revolution had to play a part. A military school for the “Army of God” was the Russian gift to India. Some three of us were sent to Moscow for training in early January, 1921.
And it was in the evening of November 6, 1920 that the Communist Party of India was born and enrolled as such on November 7, the third Anniversary of the October Revolution.
“The military school was known as Indusky Kurs.” I am quoting again from the old articles of 1964 referred to above. “A very hefty American comrade (Wobbly Jones) was put in charge of the school under the military guidance of (General) Blutcher, who distinguished himself in the Far East in the late thirties against the Japanese in a frontier action by the Japanese against the Soviet Union. This shows what avid interest the young Socialist Republic took in promoting and aiding the revolutionary currents in the oppressed East.
The Soviet Union at the time was willing to lend even the Red Army units to drive away British imperialism from India. But the Amanullah Government in Kabul stood in the way. A strange contradiction no doubt, because it was Amanullah’s call that had uprooted thousands of Indians from their homeland with the dream of procuring arms from the Afghan Government to fight the British rulers in India. But politics and self-interests have often collided with principles and this is what happened with the Afghan Government.
And thus these 36 Indians, joined by a second batch reaching Tashkent after them, became the pioneers of an Indian Army and instead of becoming the pioneers of a guerilla war became the students in this military academy at Tashkent known as the Indusky Kurs. No doubt many of these Muhajireens knew the use of arms and had used them on the Kirki front. One of them, Abdullah Khan, a deserter from the British Indian Army, even knew how to use a cannon as was demonstrated to the Red Army on the river front opposite Kirki when he fired shrapnels (nine pounders) on the hillock on the other side where the counter-revolutionaries were understood to have been entrenched.
This was a very happy period in the life of these Indians who loved nothing so much as the use of arms to be practised against an enemy who had subjugated and bled Indians for more than three hundred years.
It is a sad fact that many who have written the account of this period have not been able to remember all the names represented in these two batches and not even all the names of those who took part in the epic defence of Kirki. It is worthwhile mentioning as many names as I can remember of those who were in Turkestan at the time, as also of those who fought for the revolutionary cause.
1. Md. Akbar Khan Qurreshi tops the list as the leader of the first batch reaching Turkestan, and also as the leader of the contingent on the Kirki Front. He was from Haripura Hazara coming from a military family.
And other names in my memory are those of the following:
2. Gohar Rehman, 3. Sultan Khan, 4. Mian Akbar Shah, 5. Masood Ali Shah, 6. Fazal IIahi Qurban, 7. Zafar Umar Masood, 8. Ferozdin Mansoor, 9. Abdul, 10. Qayoom, 11. Jamil, 12. Rafiq Ahmed, 13. Rafiq Ahmed Dehlvi, 14. Sarfaraz,* 15. Abdul Majid, 16. Abdullah Khan, 17. Master Md. Amin, 18. Mohd. Hussain, 19. Abdur Rahim (Peshawari), 20. Abdur Rahim (Jalalpuri), 21. Ghulam Mohd. 22. Mohd. Azam, 23. Master Alim, 24. Maqbool Hussain (or Ahmed), 25. Haji Merajdin, 26. Tajdin, 27. Taj Mohd, 28. Nabi Bakhsh, 29. Ghulam Nabi, 30. Abdul Waris Butt, 31. Khalifa Shahabuddin, 32. Pehlwan Aizeem (he had some other name too, which I have forgotten), 33. Mohd. Sadiq, 34. Chenghez Khan, 35. Noor Mohd, 36. Allah Bakhsh, 37. Mohd. Yehya, 38. Abdur Rashid, 39. Abdur Rashid II, 40. Sikandar,** 41. Mohd. Ismail, 42. Shehbaz Khan, 43. Gazi Khan, 44. Shamsul Qamar, 45. Fida Ali,*** 46. Ghulam Ahmed, 47. Abdul Karim (Multni), 48. Abdul Karim (Peshawari), 49. Ghulam Rabbani, 50. Ghulam Jeelani, 51. Shaukat Usmani, 52. Md. Saed (Raz) Dehlvi.
And there were some more names I remember of those who joined the Indusky Kurs at Tashkent and these came in the second batch. These are: 53. Habib Ahmed, 54. Mohd. Habib, 55. Akbar Jan, 56. Abdullah Safdar, 57. Abdur Rahim. There were many more whose names I have forgotten.
It is necessary to state here that among these, there were some like Masood Ali Shah, Fida Ali and Ghulam Ahmed who did not remain faithful to the revolutionary cause. The last two turned approvers in the Moscow Conspiracy Case in Peshawar in 1922-23. And there was one more, Abdul Qadir Sehrai, who came as the Secretary of a Khilafat delegation with Iqbal Shaidai who started propaganda against the Soviet Union in the London press and especially in the London Times.
On our arrival in Tashkent in the closing weeks of October 1920, we were lodged in what was known as Indusky Doma (India House). This place was just near where the two parts of the town met—the new and the old. The old one was known as Eski Shehr, meaning “the old city“. The name Eski Shehr should not be confused with the Eski Shehr in Turkey famous for the glorious battles of 1921-22 between the Turks and the Greeks.
Gen. Khalil Bey
And what a coincidence! The future hero of the Battle of Eski Shehr, General Khalil Bey, was a refugee in Tashkent and often used to visit the Indusky Doma. The mention of the name of Khalil Bey brings to memory the part this General played against the British forces in Mesopotamia (Iraq) during World War I when he surrounded the British under General Townshend in December, 1915. The writer would crave the indulgence of the readers for quoting again from some old articles of his which give a graphic picture of this historic episode:
“The affable person—Khalil Bey (often confused by the Europeans as Khalil Pasha) was fighting a winning battle against the Greeks on the banks of the River Sakariya. This was known as the Battle of Sakariya near Eski Shehr.
“Khalil had a chequered career. He was one of the foremost Turkish Generals of the Osmanli Turkish Empire. He first distinguished himself in the famous siege of Kut-el-Amara which lasted from December 8, 1915 to April 29, 1916, costing British 24,000 in casualties.”
Incidentally it should be mentioned that Khalil was co-operating with the Indians who were then in Tashkent.
Thus, living very near to the old city we were in touch with the Turkestanians, and studied what they themselves termed as the “the gains of the revolution”. These people depicted to us a horrible life under Tsarism when their children were not allowed higher education and were totally barred from certain technical lines.
And, of course, there was no adult franchise for these people. But now we saw with our own eyes certain changes which were quite in contrast with the conditions in India under British rule. Men and women ware better dressed, their children had had all the facilities which the first Socialist State could afford at those hard times in its history. The military cadets of Turkestan—mere teenagers undergoing military training—were a point of jealousy for anyone seeing them dressed in their uptodate uniforms.
What we saw and heard was the result of our own observation. Almost all of us knew Pesian and spoke through this medium to the people. There were very few amongst us who had not studied Gulistan and Bostan by Saadi or the book of poems by Hafiz.
There were no industries worth mentioning in Turkestan at the time. And what of Turkestan, even the whole of the country stretching from the Baltic and the White Seas to the Pacific had no modern industries worth mentioning.
We have the authority of Yuri Yeroshok to support us when he says in his pamphlet, Facts Behind The Figures, that, “In 1920 the young Socialist Republic produced less than one kilogram of iron and one metre of cotton cloth per capita. Its share in the world industrial output at that time was scarcely three per cent.”
And still strange to say that we saw people better dressed than in India of the times, full of cotton and woollen textile factories spreading from down south to north.
And the land in the Turkestan of those days was still being ploughed by wooden ploughs.
Times have, of course, changed now: today there are 9000 state farms worked by machinery and another 40,000 collective farms.
(To be continued)
Shaukat Usmani (Maulla Bux Usta) (1901-1978) was an early Indian Communist. A member of the émigré Communist Party of India, established in Tashkent in 1920, he was a founding member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) when it wss formed in Kanpur in 1925. He was also the only candidate to the British Parliament contesting elections, while he was residing in India—that too in a prison. He was sentenced to a total of 16 years in jail after being tried in the Kanpur (Cawnpore) Case of 1923 and later the Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929.This article he wrote specially for Mainstream fifty years ago on the occasion of the October Revolution’s fiftieth anniversary. It was published in July-August 1967. This is the article’s second instalment. The first instalment appreared in Mainstream (November 4, 2017). The other instalments will be reproduced in the next few issues