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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 101

Soft Power’ In Colonial Era :Indian Immigrants Win Civil Rights in the U.S

By G.S.Bhargava - Syndicate Features

Long before Harvard Professor, Joseph (Joe) Nye Jr., conceptualised ‘soft power’ as ‘ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals,’ Indian immigrants, mostly Sikhs, in the US successfully practised its variant to win civil rights.

The India Lobby as the campaigners were collectively called was technically operational in the whole of North America, including Canada, for about fifty years, from the dawn of the twentieth century to the run up to Indian independence, or 1900-1946 to be exact. But Canada being a member of the British Commonwealth, there could be no lobbying there. The writ of White Hall ran there as much as in India, a British colony then. The concluding phase of about twenty years of the campaign corresponded with the freedom struggle in India under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership. In this context, expressions like ‘lobby” and ‘caucus’ of American political jargon have no pejorative connotation of Communist activities especially in India

The civil disobedience movement had been naturally sworn to non-violence as per Gandhiji’s creed. Thus, there was near total similarity between the satyagraha and the campaign of the Indian Lobby in the US for some months until February 1922 when the ‘Chauri Chaura tragedy’ rudely sundered them apart.

An irate mob in that small eastern UP – United Provinces then --town, near Gorakhpur, had burnt alive 22 police constables trapped inside a thatched hut -- which was the police thana (outpost) there .A shocked Gandhiji called off the civil disobedience movement launched against the draconian Rowlatt Laws in Punjab, saying that the country was not mentally prepared for the satyagraha. He said it was atonement for the lapse.

The Socialists and other radicals severely criticised Gandhiji’s decision. Nehru, too, voiced displeasure, while Subhas Chandra Bose and M.N. Roy came down heavily on the Mahatma, their handy whipping boy. Roy visited Chauri Chaura and said the villagers were provoked when the police had burnt to death a few protestors. Several villagers were sentenced to death following imposition of martial law and summary trial.

The Indian immigrants’ campaign for civil rights in the US continued unabated and non-violently. That was despite its implicit political dimension in the realisation of the campaigners that British colonial rule was at the root of the Indians’ travails in the US.

The so-called Ghadr (revolution) movement launched at the time of the 1914-18 war was an unmistakable pointer in that direction. The main driving force of Ghadr was Sikhs who had settled down in California and British Columbia (in Canada) as farmers and ‘lumbermen ‘(those who felled trees and prepared them for use in carpentry and other trades). They had set out to provide trained manpower and tools – mainly ammunition—for extremist groups seeking violent overthrow of the British government in India. But like the more exciting Komagata Maru incident involving the landing of ‘illegal’ immigrants in Canada, the Ghadr also was a foil to the kernel of the movement which was peaceful and geared to gather support within the US of American publicists and politicians.

To cut short a long and fascinating account, it culminated in the signing of the India Citizenship Bill—as it was informally called—by the then U. S. President, Harry S. Truman, on July 2, 1946—over 13 months ahead of Indian independence on August 15, 1947. The Bill provided for Indians residing in the US being enabled to become American citizens and Indians wishing to migrate to the US being able to do so legally under a formal quota.

The Bill was clubbed with the Philippine Immigration Bill, based on legislation introduced and promoted by two members of the House of Representatives, Emmanuel Celler and Clare Booth Luce.The submersion of the India Immigration Bill in the Philippine counterpart and the naming of the ‘mixture’ after the latter was a legislative legerdemain common in American law making. It was to pre-empt technical bugs which might adversely affect either or both the laws.

A glittering galaxy of prospective Indian leaders participated in the movement, apart from distinguished Americans. While some of them, notably Har Dayal, worked day and night for the devoutly cherished consummation, others associated with it were Annie Besant, Ghanshyam Das Birla, (Mahatma Gandhi’s New Delhi host and former proprietor of the Hindustan Times), J.J.Singh, India League President in the U.S. who was Jaya Prakash Narayan’s host in New Delhi in the 1960s, celebrated authors, Louis Fischer and Pearl Buck, future US ambassador to India, Chester Bowles, Aurobindo Ghose, Chitta Ranjan Das, demographer S.Chandrasekhar, Ramanand Chatterjee, editor of Modern Review, historian Romesh Chander Dutt, who presided over a Congress session, Sarojini Naidu, ‘nightingale of India ,’ Surendra Nath Bannerjea, Rash Behari Bose, Sarangadhar Das, who was leader of the PSP group in the Lok Sabha in the 1950s and Bhikaji Rustom Cama.

Please Note:The data is drawn largely from Harold A. Gould’s book, Sikhs, Swamis, Students and Spies published in 2006, by Sage Publications, New Delhi and London

- Syndicate Features -

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