Dr. Mathra Singh

Martyr of Ghadar Party   ਗ਼ਦਰੀ ਜੋਧਾ

Shadow in the Fog

Biography of Dr. Mathra Singh

Martyr of Ghadar Party

The Ghadar revolution was the revolution that India never got to see. A revolution that was so meticulously planned, from within and abroad, with the main players of the game taking on a transnational character, a revolution that left a lasting impact on the political scene in India in the years before Independence, effectively shaping the course of the freedom movement from there on. Yet the revolution, the movement never came to be. This book tries to understand this puzzle by looking at the life and times of one of the central leaders of the Ghadar party – Dr. Mathra Singh. The book comes at a unique time, marking the centenary of Dr. Mathra Singh’s death. In marking his death and celebrating his life, the book gauges the life of man, his dreams, ambitions, goals, and his fervent wish to see India independent – a dream so potent that the world’s strongest colonial power wished to see him dead at any cost.

Building on the literature on Indian independence, a small portion of which has been looking at the Ghadar revolution that was to be, along with multiple academic books and thesis, archival records from India and abroad, including many of the recently declassified material from the Russian archives, the book leans heavily on primary data that has never been seen before. This included the diaries, testimonials, and letters of Dr. Mathra Singh, capturing the times and thoughts of the man in his work, his meetings with other Ghadar party leaders, and in his interactions with the political leaders from across the globe as he went on his quest to get international support for the Ghadar revolution and for India.

Though using such primary material as the main basis for the book, we attempt to look at and analyze the events and the characters from a distanced perspective afforded by time and history. In doing so, the book manages to not only understand the historical twists and turns from the lion’s mouth, but is also able to reach at a counter-factual rendering of the Indian Independence struggle that could have been, had the revolution worked out.

Purpose and Objective

In the writing of history, it is always some events and personalities that are made to stand out, and the rest are forgotten. In aiming to look at one such forgotten history, that of a failed revolution, through the eyes of the man who lived for that dream, the book’s objective is to uncover and revisit a very important historical period for the Indian Independence movement, which led to later political developments, the effect of which can still be felt today.

In that manner, the book has two main purposes – descriptive and prescriptive. The book describes in a lucid and non-academic manner the processes which led to the coming up of the Ghadar Party, its aims and objectives, its methods, and its impact. Through the use of a biographical lens, the book describes the position of Indians and the Indian movement for the world at the time by looking at the diplomatic dialogues and interactions of Dr. Mathra Singh.

In writing this book in English, the author also aims to give an insight to the English speaking world of the life and politics of the time, focusing on Panjab, which till now has been mostly restricted to the vernacular. In that manner, the book hopes that looking at such forgotten histories from the subcontinent becomes more prominent, and would then counter into the governance structure of the region, by understanding their history, their being.

Questions and Methods

In setting out such broad objectives for itself, the book tries to answer one main burning question: Seeing the development and course of the Ghadar Party, and the international support that it managed to garner, how and why did the rebellion fail even before it began?

In answering this, the book then looks at the actors who were involved, the networks formed, the importance of public opinion, and the idea of legacy. Keeping the narrative of Dr. Mathra Singh as the focal point throughout, the book tries to deduce from the material available, the reasoning process of the Ghadar Party leaders, their narratives that they formed, the patterns of movement and networks that they developed, to come to a different take on the historical trajectory of Indian independence movement.

As mentioned above, the sources consulted include both academic and non-academic as the secondary resources; but the basis of the book is formed by the diaries, letters, and testimonials of Dr. Mathra Singh himself, which were made available to the author due to him being the grandson of the man in question. Since this is new material only now being made available, and Dr. Mathra Singh only being referred to in many official documents only as an enigma, the book is titled, ‘Shadow in the Fog’. It reflects the life of the man who remains identifiable only through his work, having left a lasting impact on the many that he came in contact with – only a shadow felt in the dense fog of secrecy and supervision of the British Raj in India and elsewhere.