Kakori is a small town located near Lucknow, famous for it’s kebabs, Dasheri mangoes and Zardozi work. It is also the seat of the Qadiriya Qalandari Sufi order, and since the 15th century, one of the main abodes of the Alavi, Abbasi branches of the Kakorvi Shaikh community. Like most of the towns in Avadh, it has large palatial homes of landed Muslim gentry. Many famous Muslim writers like Mohsin Kakorvi, his son Noorul Hasan Nayyier who compiled Nurul Lughaat, a well known Urdu dictionary and satirist Ghulam Ahmed Alavi hail from here. The town would however be more well known for an incident that happened here on August 9, 1925, the Kakori Conspiracy or the Kakori Train Robbery an important chapter in the revolutionary struggle.
The mastermind of the conspiracy was Ram Prasad Bismil, one of the greatest revolutionaries ever who had co founded the Hindustan Republican Association along with Sachindranath Sanyaland Jadugopal Mukherjee. Bismil already had a well running business in Shahjahanpur which he had left to organize the revolutionary movement. However the lack of funds was proving to be a main hindrance. While he led some dacoities initially to gather money, Ram Prasad realized it was not sufficient, and there was no point in harassing his own fellow Indians. It was at such a time, while he was travelling from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow, by train, he observed that at each station, the Station Master bought bags of money and placed them in the guard’s carriage, there was no one to guard them.
The 8 Down between Shahjahanpur and Lucknow used to pass through Kakori daily, and that was the genesis of the conspiracy. The intention was to stop the train at Kakori, loot the money bags, which would be used fo fund the revolution. And soon a team was assembled with Bismil leading it,and his close friend Ashfaqullah Khan, the next in charge. Both of them were from the same town Shahjahanpur, then a leading revolutionary hub, and Ashfaq was an admirer of Bismil’s poetry from long. They had joined the Congress in 1921 along with another freedom fighter Prem Kishen Khanna. When the HRA was founded, he was Deputy to Ram Prasad Bismil, and together both expanded the revolutionary activity in the Northern plains.
Ashfaqullah had initially opposed the plan, saying it was too risky, and the Government would crack down real hard. However with others like Rajendra Lahiri, Thakur Roshan Singh going along with Bismil, he too lent his support. The other members of the team included Chandrashekhar Azad, Sachindra Nath Bakshi , Keshab Chakravarty, Mukundi Lal, Banwari Lal Pandey , Kundan Lal, and Pranawesh Mukherjee. And above all Manmath Nath Gupta, whose book They Lived Dangerously, would give an excellent perspective of the revolutionary struggle for freedom.
August 9, 1925
It was around evening time, the revolutionaries had already boarded the train. Rajendra Lahiri pulled the chain at Kakori station, while Ashfaqullah held the driver hostage with his Mauser pistol . While Ram Prasad Bismil pushed the guard down and looted the Government money from his cabin. However when none could break the safe, it was Ashfaq once again who managed to break it with all his strength.
There was no bloodshed, except for one passenger killed accidentally. Soon the Government cracked down, on the Kakori conspirators and, and arrest warrants were issued. While Azad managed to evade the crackdown, Ram Prasad was arrested soon enough at Saharanpur, while Ashfaqullah went into hiding for some time. Ashfaq spent some time in Kanpur, working in Ganesh Vidyarthi’s printing press. And for quite some time he wandered all over the North from Kanpur to Bihar to Rajasthan, changing names. He finally went to Delhi, and wanted to somehow escape India and meet Lala Hardayal. However he was betrayed by his own friend in Delhi, to the police and was arrested by Ikramul Haque.
Around 40 more people were arrested from different cities. Prominent among them were Ashfaqullah, Bismil, Roshan Singh from Shahjahanpur, Sachindranath Sanyal from Bengal, Sachindranath Bakshi from Pratapgarh.
Of these 15 were released due to lack of evidence, while Banwari Lal and Indu Bhushan Mitra turned approvers for a more leninent sentence.
May 21, 1926
The trial began against the remaining in the special sessions court of A. Hamilton. Jagat Narayan was appointed as public prosecutor deliberately, he had been the prosecutor earlier in the Mainpuri Conspiracy case and had no love lost for Bismil. Even though the police pressurized Ashfaqullah to testify against his colleagues, he refused to do so.
The revolutionaries were defended by Gobind Ballabh Pant, Mohan Lal Saxena and Chandra Bhanu Gupta among others. While all the major leaders of the freedom movement like Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malviya, Lala Lajpat Rai and Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi came out in support.
And finally the verdict was pronounced, Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Rajendra Lahiri and Thakur Roshan Singh were sentenced to death. While Sachindranath Sanyal and Sachindranath Bakshi were to be deported to Cellular Jail. Sanyal wrote Bandi Jeevan, A Life of Captivity, detailing his experiences there. Manmath Nath Gupta was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment, while the rest got relatively lesser periods.
Widespread protests broke out against the verdict, members of the central legislature petitioned the viceroy to commute the death sentence to life. However by August 22, 1927, the main court endorsed the original judgement. Madan Mohan Malviya sent a clemency petition to Lord Irwin, with signatures of around 78 members which too was rejected. S.L.Polak sent a final mercy appeal on September 16, 1927 to the King, which too was rejected. And they were hanged one by one, Ashfaqullah at Faizabad, Ram Prasad Bismil at Gorakhpur on December 19, 1927, while Thakur Roshan Singh was hanged at Naini near Allahabad on the same date. Rajendra Lahiri was hanged two days earlier at Gonda.
The voices fell silent, but the spirit would continue to inspire countless other revolutionaries.