We return now to the case of Ram Chandra. To repeat, after the departure of other prominent Ghadarites for India and the wider eastern front, Ram Chandra became editor of Ghadar Weekly. He was a dominant, not to say a domineering, figure in the Ghadar Party during that period and no one dared question his authority, or enquire about the source and amount of the party’s income and to what purposes it was being channelled. He had effectively usurped the power of the Commission and assumed unlimited authority within the organisation. He had become arrogant and self-opinionated. Personal power appeared to have become his only ambition.
After about two years of absence, Bhagwan Singh returned to San Francisco. Soon a whispering campaign was started against him, accusing him of profligacy, womanising, drinking and being a spendthrift. Later these charges were repeated in the Ghadar journal.
Shortly after the arrival of Bhagwan Singh in San Francisco, Santokh Singh and Ram Singh also arrived at the Party Headquarters – the Ghadar Ashram. They were similarly cold-shouldered. Naturally they felt aggrieved as they had put their lives at risk in the east, with Santokh Singh managing to evade death very narrowly indeed. Far from being greeted with a hero’s welcome, to which they were certainly entitled, they were made to feel unwelcome and their presence was resented. And, be it stressed, Santokh Singh was the General Secretary of the Party and a member of the Commission.
The main cause of the split, it would appear, was the money received by Ram Chandra from German sources, as well as from Indian immigrants, in furtherance of India’s liberation struggle.
On 6 January 1917, a meeting of the Ashram Council was called to hear the Commission’s opinion, with the following charges levelled against Ram Chandra: lack of clarity and confusion in the accounts; misuse of Party funds; and expenditure on acquiring personal influence.
The statement of Bishan Singh Hindi, who was one of the Commission members along with Harish Chandra, was still more damning, accusing Ram Chandra in far harsher terms of misappropriation of Party funds. According to Hindi’s statement, Ram Chandra misappropriated and misused Party funds, while refusing to render proper accounts; he spent lavishly on purchasing expensive jewellery and clothing for his wife; he entrusted the Party’s secret funds to a person who was a confidant of the British Consul in San Francisco and who had been sent by the authorities in India to spy on the Party’s activities; he refused to sever his connection even after this person had been exposed as a British spook. Even the German Consul began doubting his bona fides and refused to dispense any more funds to Ram Chandra as he was suspected of being responsible for the British authorities securing copies of Hardayal’s correspondence.
Accepting Ram Chandra’s resignation, the Ashram Council turned him out. On 9 January the Party’s bank was informed that Ram Chandra’s authority to operate the Party’s account had been terminated.
Ram Chandra responded by getting three of his supporters to publish a ‘Supplement to the 15 April 1917 issue of the Gadar Weekly‘, expelling Santokh Singh, Bhagwan Singh and Ram Singh from the Party, and at the same time hurling baseless accusations against the three of them. It was a senseless act of a faction of three individuals and persuaded no one.
The dispute between the two factions reveals three things clearly:
First, that Ram Chandra was self-opinionated and hot-tempered;
Second, that there was no respect left between the two sides, and
Third, that they were in no position to coordinate their defence during the Conspiracy trial.
Thus, on 23 April 1918, just as the prosecuting Counsel, John Preston, had finished his summing up, and the court rose at 12 noon for lunch, Ram Chandra rose from his seat and went to talk to the defence attorneys. Ram Singh followed him, drew his automatic revolver, shot him at close range, killing him instantly. Ram Singh was in turn killed by Marshal Holohan.
As the trial progressed, the bitterness between the two sides became exacerbated. Although it is beyond doubt that Ram Chandra was guilty of misuse and misappropriation of funds, whether received from the Germans or collected from Indian immigrants, including Ram Singh who had donated all his considerable wealth to the cause of India’s liberation, Ram Singh and his fellow revolutionaries would have been prepared to forgive and forget had Ram Chandra been inclined to accept responsibility for his misconduct, apologise for it and accept the collective decisions of the Ashram Council. Instead of doing that he was bent, with the help of his three cronies – Sundar Singh, Imam Din and Inder Singh – upon running a parallel centre and a parallel paper with the same name. By refusing to abide by the revolutionary discipline demanded by the Commission, he was standing in the way of Party unity. Thus, the decision to kill him, far from being the individual action of Ram Singh, was a collective judgment passed by the men who had forced Ram Chandra out of the Ghadar Party and had themselves taken charge of the organisation.
More than that. Relying on History of the Gadar Party by Gurcharan Singh Sainsara (written in the Punjabi language), Josh wrote:
“There was general talk among Gadar people that the British government knew beforehand all about the fronts started under his [Ram Chandra’s] guidance in Burma and Siam. That was why so many Gadar leaders were arrested in Siam and Burma and despatched to death and transportation for life. In fact, he wanted to get rid of intelligent and politically conscious men among them” .
Whether true or not, clearly matters had reached such a pass that reconciliation and unity between the two factions had become impossible. This sealed the fate of Ram Chandra and brought a tragic end to his life.