Who was Pandurang Khankhoje, the hero of Mexico?
Pandurang Khankhoje had a close relationship with Mexico, where he sought refuge as a result of his affiliation with the radical pro-Indian independence Ghadar Party.
Om Birla, the Lok Sabha Speaker, will travel to Mexico to unveil statues of Swami Vivekananda and Maharashtra-born freedom fighter and agriculturalist Pandurang Khankhoje (1883-1967).
The Speaker’s visit is part of the government’s effort to recognise lesser-known Indian-origin leaders living outside of India. Birla will travel from Mexico to Suriname on South America’s northern coast, where he will meet with the country’s Indian-origin President, Chandrikapersad Santokhi.
Pandurang Khankhoje: Who was he?
Pandurang Khankhoje, who was born in Wardha, Maharashtra, in the late 19th century, quickly made friends with other rebels. His biography was written by his daughter, Savitri Sawhney. She stated of his formative years: “Khankhoje was an ardent admirer of the French Revolution and of the American War of Independence. A young student group led by Khankhoje hailed the Hindu reformer Swami Dayanand and his Arya Samaj movement as heroes for promoting social change and reform.
Khankhoje made the decision to travel abroad to receive training in revolutionary techniques and military tactics. Due to his anti-government activities at this time, the British government was also getting suspicious of him. Before leaving, he paid a visit to Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who had inspired him. Tilak encouraged him to travel to Japan, which at the time was itself a potent, anti-West Asian imperial force.
Khankhoje spent time with nationalists from China and Japan before eventually relocating to the US and enrolling in college to study agriculture. But to fulfil his original intention of leaving India, he enrolled at the Mount Tamalpais Military Academy in California a year later.
What was his connection to the Indian independence movement?
Khankhoje was a founding member of the Ghadar Party, which was founded in 1914 by Indians living abroad, primarily from Punjab. Its goal was to lead a revolutionary fight against the British in India.
While in the United States, Khankhoje met Lala Har Dayal, an Indian intellectual who taught at Stanford University. “Har Dayal had begun a propaganda campaign, publishing a newspaper with patriotic songs and articles in India’s vernacular languages.” This was the seed from which the Ghadar Party would sprout.
How did Khankhoje end up in Mexico?
Khankhoje met many Mexicans at the military academy. Khankhoje was inspired by the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which resulted in the overthrow of the dictatorial regime.
He also reached out to Indians working on farms in the United States in order to discuss the concept of Indian independence with them. He also met with Mexican workers there.
Khankhoje planned militant action in India alongside the Indian workers, but the outbreak of World War I put a stop to these plans. He then sought support for the Indian cause from Bhikaji Cama in Paris and Vladimir Lenin in Russia, among other leaders. However, since he faced possible deportation from Europe and was unable to travel to India, he sought refuge in Mexico.
Soon after, he was appointed a professor at the National School of Agriculture in Chapingo, near Mexico City, in part because of his previous friendship with Mexican revolutionaries. He studied corn, wheat, pulses, and rubber, developing frost and drought-resistant varieties, and was instrumental in the introduction of the Green Revolution into Mexico. Later, the Mexican wheat variety was introduced to Punjab by American agronomist Dr Norman Borlaug, known as the “Father of the Green Revolution” in India.
In Mexico, Khankhoje was revered as an agricultural scientist. Diego Rivera, a renowned Mexican artist, painted murals featuring Khankhoje, including one titled “Our Daily Bread,” which prominently depicted him breaking bread with people seated around a table.
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