Khankhoje, Revolutionary Now Forgotten

Dr Khankoje- a rare photo
Dr Khankoje- a rare photo

IN MY LAST BLOG I wrote about how many who fought for India’s freedom have been deliberately suppressed by those who believed in dynasty rule.

If Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Rajguru, Bismil, Chandrasekhar Azad and others are remembered, it is inspite of those who ruled India for decades and not because of them.

And their successors are many today, like the professor who called Indian revolutionaries ‘terrorists’ or the Lok Sabha party leader who alleged none of them “bark” for India’s freedom while only the Nehru family did.

Among the many revolutionaries so ignored is Pandurang Sadaashiv Khankhoje who was a Minister in Mexico but believed Nehru when on the eve of freedom, he asked all such patriots to return.

So Dr Khankhoje returned with his Belgian wife to Nagpur, only to be ignored till some local people felt guilty and pressurized Nagpur University to appoint him, of all things, Superintendent of its hostel for boys, as it also had a bungalow just behind it for his family.

There he continued his work as an agricultural scientist ( as the house had a sizeable yard where he could farm. I used to meet him there frequently and remember that he was never bitter, though his wife was, about how he was treated

Here is what Wikipedia has on him:-

Khankhoje was born in November 1884 to a Marathi family at Wardha, where his father (Sadashiv) worked as a petition-writer. Young Khankhoje spent his childhood in Wardha, where he completed his primary and middle school education before moving to Nagpur for higher education. He was at the time inspired by the nationalist work of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. At some time in the first decade of the 1900s, (when he was still a boy) Khankhoje left India on a voyage that ultimately saw him settle in the United States. Here he enrolled in the Washington State College (now called Washington State University), graduating in 1913. His earliest nationalist work abroad dates back to the time around 1908 when he, along with Pandit Kanshi Ram founded the Indian Independence League in Portland, Oregon. His works also brought him close to other Indian nationalists in United States at the time, including Tarak Nath Das. In the years preceding World War I, Khankhoje was one of the founding members of the Pacific coast Hindustan association, and subsequently founded the Ghadar Party. He was at the time one of the most influential members of the party. He met Lala Har Dayal in 1911. He also enrolled at one point in a West Coast military academy.

Through World War I, Khankhoje was intricately involved in the Hindu–German Conspiracy when he was involved in the plans for the mutiny. He visited Europe during the war and subsequently went to Mesopotamia along with other members of what was the Berlin Committee. In the summer of 1915, he clandestinely worked among roops of the Indian expeditionary force, spreading nationalist literature and hoping to incite a mutiny.

Through the course of the war, Khankhoje made his way through Turkey and Persia under different Muslim guises as far as Baluchistan, spreading Ghadarite propaganda en route.

He is known to have attempted insurrections and raised at the Iran-Baluchistan border while Mahendra Pratap‘s Indo-German expedition attempted to rally the Afghan Emir Habibullah Khan against British India.

Towards the end of the war, Khankhoje, like most of the members of the Berlin committee, began turing towards communism.

He is known to have been in Soviet Union in company of the earliest Indian communist, including Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, M. P. T. Acharya, M. N. Roy, Abdur Rab Barq. He met Lenin at Moscow in 1921. For his nationalist work at the time, he was banned from returning to India as a highly dangerous individual.

Khankhoje later moved to Mexico in the 1920s, where he was a professor of Botany and Crop Breeding in the National School of Agriculture in Mexico.

In 1936, Khankhoje married Jean Alexandrine Sindic, a Belgian women in Mexico by whom he had two daughters. He led the Mexican corn breeding program and was appointed director to the Mexican Government’s department of Agriculture.

Pandurang and Jean returned to India after 1947. His application for visa was initially rejected by the Indian government due to the ban by the British Indian Government, but was eventually overturned.

He settled in Nagpur and embarked subsequently on a political career. Pandurang Khankhoje died on 22 January 1967.

His two daughters are Savitri and Maya. The younger one, Maya, was on the editorial board of ‘Monitor’, a student weekly I started as a teenager.

Savitri (now Savitir Sawhney) wrote in an article on her father ” Born into a Brahmin family that treasured learning above all else, Khankhoje was mentored by his grandfather, who taught him to recognize the inequity and violence of British colonial rule. The Indian famine of 1896–97, due to the failure of the monsoon as well as an administrative breakdown engineered by the British, left a deep mark on Khankhoje, one that was to determine his choice of a career bringing together revolutionary and agrarian concerns in pursuit of social justice.

Though not mentioned in the sketch above I remember he was a Minister in the Ghadar Party’s Government of India in Exile.
Many may not know Nehru’s was not the first Government of India. At least two governments in exile preceded his.
© copyright B. Someswar Rao

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B. Someswar Rao

60 years of journalism, from the age of 16, and two books later, life has so much more to offer, there is no looking back. Not yet. Unstoppable after 70 is a simple expression of my thoughts, my triumphs, my failures and everything that makes this journey incredible. My books: - A TOWN CALLED PENURY- the changing culture of Indian journalism - JOURNALISM - Ethics, Codes, Laws Working on: - 'THE OUTHOUSE ON THE FIRST FLOOR - Coming of (Old)Age in India'

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