The start of the First World War in 1914 gave a new life to the nationalist movement, lying dormant since the heady days of the Swadeshi. Britain’s difficulty was India’s opportunity. This opportunity was seized, in different ways, by the Ghadar revolutionaries in North America and by Lokmanya Tilak, Annie Besant and their Home Rule Leagues in India. The Ghadarites wanted to overthrow the British rule while the Home Rule Leagues launched a nationwide agitation for securing Home Rule or Swaraj.
The West Coast of North America had abundant population of immigrant Punjabi workers by 1904. The crucial role here was played by Lala Hardyal, a political exile from India. Hardayal arrived in California in 1911, taught briefly at Stanford University, and soon immersed himself in political activities. Meanwhile the Indians on the West Coast were searching for a leader and had even thought of inviting Ajit Singh, quite famous in the Panjab agitation in 1907. With Hardayal’s help, a Hindi Association was set up in Portland in 1913.
Among the prominent leaders were Sohan Sigh Bhakna, Harnam Singh "Tundilat" and Bhai Parmanand. The Association started a weekly newspaper The Ghadar, and set up a headquarters Yugantar in San Francisco, which soon became a major centre of revolutionary activities. The Ghadar Movement had begun.
The Ghadar militants immediately began an extensive propaganda, they toured extensively the areas where most Punjabis lived. The newspaper talked of revolting against the “enemy” and gained wide popularity. Opinion was crystallizing within the movement that this was the time for a second revolt to liberate the motherland from the foreign rule.
Three major events influenced the Ghadar Movement: the arrest and escape of Hardayal, the Kamagatamaru episode and the start of the First World War. Lala Hardayal was arrested in 1914 for his alleged anarchist activities. Released on bail, he used the opportunity to escape. Thus came to an abrupt end his association with this movement.
The outbreak of the First Wold War made the Ghadar revolution imminent. After all, this was the big time they had been waiting for. The Ghadar Party decided to act immediately and sent thousands of Ghadarites to India to mobilize the people in favour of a revolt. But the Ghadarites were frustrated and discouraged as the Punjabis were unwilling to support them. Desperately, they tried to take the army help, but in vain. In fact, they lacked an organized leadership and command. Frantically, the Ghadarites attempted to find a suitable leader, and finally, they were able to persuade Ras Bihari Bose to lead them, who came to Panjab in January-1915 to take charge of the proposed struggle. Bose contacted different cantonments in India and sent emissaries. The emissaries came back with optimistic reports and the date for the revolt was set for 19th February. But unfortunately, the CID had penetrated the organization and the British succeeded in aborting the Ghadar’s attempts at the. With most of the leaders arrested, the movement was crushed.
The Ghadarites were marked by a strong belief in secularism, democracy and international outlook. A major weakness of the movement was its inability to organize itself and its acting hastily without judging the capabilities of the enemy, which finally led to its failure.