Reviewing Books on Indian Revolutionaries: Remembering Madan Lal Dhingra

Shaheed Madan Lal Dhingra (Punjabi), Pritam Saini, 1st ed. 1986, Punjabi Patiala University publication, pages 64

This small monograph contains more details about Madan Lal Dhingra and his family than many other books. Some details about Sahib Dittamal Dhingra and his eight children are given in this narration. The family migrated from Sahiwal and settled in Amritsar, where he built six kothis (bungalows), 21 houses, had six buggies. It was the only car owned by an Indian on the roads of Amritsar.

Madan Lal Dhingra was an oddity in this British loyalist Rai Sahib family. His younger brother, Bhajan Lal, also redeemed himself by becoming Sufi and dera leader, Lala Shah in Lyallpur (Faislabad).

His older brother, Kundan Lal Dhingra, referred him to Curzon Wylie in London, where he went to study engineering and felled. Dhingra was executed on August 17, 1909.

One of his brothers, Behari Lal Dhingra, was Prime Minister of Jind State and was notorious for his atrocities. His son, Baldoon Dhingra, became an English teacher and writer in Lahore, whose daughter Leena Dhingra became a director-actress and wrote about Madan Lal, whose name was banished in the family.

Most members of the Dhingra family were either doctors or lawyers. The book contains several references to books. The introduction by author Rajani Palme Dutt is also there. He was the cousin of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, as his mother was Swedish, and on whose name he bore his middle name. Indu Lal Yajnik’s book on Shyam ji Krishan Verma’s reference is also included.

The book has seven chapters — the first is about the political conditions at the time, the second is about the details of the Dhingra family and Dhingra’s birth is mentioned as February 18, but was later confirmed as September 18.

Madan Lal revolted in his family and worked in Bombay. He also drove a tonga, went to London, came back, went back there in 1906 and stayed there until the end. He joined the house of India created by Shyam ji Krishan Verma, approached Savarkar, who tested him by putting a sharp cutter in his hand.

Dhingra then joined the revolutionary activities and shot Curzon Wylie on July 1, 1909, and was hanged after a short trial on August 17 of the same year. His court statement was published in Daily News due to Savarkar’s efforts, which made him famous. He was buried in Pentonville Prison, but his remains were brought to India on December 13, 1976, when the remains of Udham Singh were also brought to the country.

Aapa Var Amar Shahid Madan Lal Dhingra (Punjabi), Achhar Singh Kharlveer/Kulwinder Singh Sohal, 1st ed. 2009, Lok Likhri Sabha UK publication, pages 152, price 2/Pound-Essays and Poetry collection

The foreword to this book was written by the general secretary of Desh Bhagat Yadgar Hal, Naunihal Singh. It contains five articles – the first by Bhagat Singh, the second by Gurbux Singh Banoana, the third by Harish Malhotra, the fourth and fifth essays are in English by Radha D’ Souza and Leena Dhingra, grand-niece of M. L. Dhingra, daughter of Baldoon Dhingra.

In the second part of the book, 135 poets and more than 50 poems have been collected, which is rather poor. It is a centenary tribute of the martyrdom at Dhingra by Punjabi writers in UK.

Appointment with Martyrdom: Trial of Madan Lal Dhingra, Malwinderjit Singh Waraich / Kuldip Puri, Unistar Chandigarh Publisher, ed. 2003.

The material for this book was provided by Giani Kesar Singh to the publishers, although Gianiji’s introduction and the final chapter of his autobiography are part of the book.

The book has three chapters – The Genesis, The Trial and The Perspective. The first two chapters are written by Waraich and the last by Kuldip Puri, son-in-law of Principal Sujan Singh of the Department of Education, Panjab University, Chandigarh.

Waraich gave general background and details of the trial with newspaper clippings, but Puri analyzed the act and its impact. Overall, it’s a good book. The trial was preposterous, but Dhingra praised his stoic refusal to accept the court’s authority and praised the execution sentence. He did not hire a lawyer. His family hired one, bought only to watch and not to defend. Dhingra’s declaration revealed the exploitation of India by the British colonial regime.

London From Shaheed (Punjabi), Joginer Shamsher, 1st ed. 1992, Ravi Sahit Prakashan Amritsar, pages 104

This is one of the best books on sacrifice by Madan Lal Dhingra and Udham Singh in London. The author focused on fact-based history, as he perceives history. It refers to the famous Indian communist Rajani Palme Dutt, who lived mainly in London and whose book, India Today, is still considered a classic.

The writer’s reference to Rajani makes his ideological position towards the left clear. In the introduction, the writer also refers to Banke Dyal singing his song Pagdi Sambhal Jatta on March 21-22, 1907 during a peasant conference at Lyallpur.

The book is divided into seven chapters. The first chapter deals with the contemporary movements of 1925. The second with the preconditions of the Indian struggle for freedom. The third chapter sheds light on Maharashtra’s freedom struggle towards the end of the 19th century. In the fourth chapter, the writer tackles the main theme of the murder of Curzon Wylie in London by Dhingra, inspired by VD Savarkar and Shyamji Krishan Verma.

In the fifth chapter, the author presents the report of the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab Dangile Ibbotson on the condition of the peasants of Punjab. The sixth chapter is dedicated to the murder of Michael O’Dwyer by Udham Singh at Caxton Hall in London. O’Dywer was Lieutenant Governor of Punjab from 1913 to 1919. Lord Zetland was Governor of Bengal from 1917 to 1922 and Secretary of State for India from 1935. They came to address a meeting in this room on March 13, 1940.

The “Butcher of Amritsar”, General Dyer (Jallianwala Bagh massacre) had already died of multiple ailments in 1927. Lord Lamington was also there. Udham Singh wanted to kill both Zetking and O’Dywer, but only O’Dwyer was killed. Udham Singh observed a 42-day hunger strike in jail after Bhagat Singh.

The seventh chapter focuses on Udham Singh in 1940. All rulers condemned Udham Singh-Lala Ramsarandas, Sunder Singh Majithia, Sir Chhotu Ram, Hridainath Kunjru, Dewan Chaman Lal, King Kapurthala Jagjit Singh, Hari Singh Gour, etc. Only the German radio supported him saying: “The cry of tormented people spoke with gunshots.

In conclusion, the author has reproduced Udham Singh’s letter to Jahal Singh. The eighth chapter focuses on Udham Singh’s justification for killing O’Dwyer. The book was written with the right perspective.

The author is a retired JNU Professor and an Honorary Advisor to the Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre, Delhi. Views are personal.

Thelma J. Longworth