On August 9, 1925, the British government in India was jolted by the presence of a new form of nationalist revolutionary movement in the country. The Number 8 Down Train from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow was approaching the town of Kakori which is now in Uttar Pradesh. The train was abruptly halted when a man in the second class compartment pulled the emergency chain. In the next few hours, the revolutionaries belonging to a group called the Hindustan Republic Association (HRA) looted the official cash being transported in the train.
The incident came as a shock to the British who went on a massive hunt to arrest members of the HRA. In the next few days, close to two dozen members of the HRA were arrested. Four among them were hanged and close to 17 sentenced to life imprisonment. There was one, however, who the British could not catch hold of. He was Chandrashekhar Azad, who went on to alter the nature of the HRA and kickstarted a new phase of revolutionary activism against the British authorities.
Pistol of Chandra Shekhar Azad
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Azad was born as Chandrashekhar Tiwari on July 23, 1906, in Madhya Pradesh. During his early teens, Azad was deeply affected by the Jallianwala Bagh incident and eventually found himself to be one of the many youngsters who joined Mahatma Gandhi in his call for non-cooperation. At the age of 15, he was arrested for participating in Gandhi’s movement and when asked for his name in the jail he promptly replied ‘Azad’ (the free). It is believed that since then he came to be known as Chandrashekhar Azad.
But it was Gandhi’s suspension of the non-cooperation movement that prompted Azad to aggressively pursue his cause. Soon after Chandra Shekhar Azad joined Ram Prasad Bismil’s HRA and became one of its most active members. When Chandra Shekhar Azad managed to evade the British after the Kakori case, Azad sought the company of Bhagat Singh in reorganising the HRA. In its redefined form, it came to be known as the Hindustan Socialist Republic Association (HSRA). The group had a single objective, that of the creation of an independent India on strong socialist principles.
Historian Bipin Chandra writes in his book ‘India’s Struggle for Independence‘, that even though the HSRA was more interested in mass politics rather than individual heroic action and mass assassination, the death of Lala Lajpat Rai as a result of a brutal lathicharge while he was leading the anti-Simon commission demonstration, convinced the group for the need to go back to assassination as a revolutionary method. On December 17, 1928, Singh, Azad and Rajguru assassinated Saunders, a police official involved in the lathicharge of Rai. “We regret to have killed a person but he was part and parcel of that inhuman and unjust order which has to be destroyed,” read a poster put up by the HSRA after the assassination. “The HSRA leadership now decided to let people know about its changed objectives and the need for a revolution by the masses,” writes Pal.
Chandra Shekhar Azad was killed in Alfred Park in Allahabad on February 27, 1931 after a police encounter. After he died, the park came to be renamed as Chandrashekhar Azad Park. Years after his death, the revolutionary’s legacy lives on through films and television series, reminding the people of India of an era of selfless revolution.