Accepted paper:

'Outrage', 'action' and interpretation: the attack on the Viceregal Special, December 1929


Kama Maclean (University of New South Wales)

Paper short abstract:

This paper provides some background into the attempt, in late 1929, by revolutionaries to assassinate Viceroy Irwin. While the action overtly ‘failed’, it succeeded in bringing the issue of political violence to the fore, to not only Congress politics but also within revolutionary circles.

Paper long abstract:

In this presentation, I wish to examine the interstice between revolutionary action, colonial reaction, and public interpretation in interwar India. This begins with a reading of the dynamics within the revolutionary organisation responsible for the attack on Viecroy Irwin's train, the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). There was some disagreement within the organisation about what political violence - discursively construed as terrorism by the British - might achieve, coming as it did immediately prior to the Lahore Congress. Then there is the interpretation of actions by the members of the Congress, the British and by the targets themselves.

This particular 'action' was planned by the HSRA's central committee, but subsequently cancelled when it was realised that it would place undue pressure on the annual Congress at Lahore. The Lahore Congress was to consider escalating the nationalist demand from dominion status to complete independence, and to embark upon a program of civil disobedience. However a faction of the HSRA proceeded with the plot, keen to pressure the Viceroy and demonstrate to the Congress (especially Gandhi), the support that the revolutionaries enjoyed. The public interpretation of the 'action' provided an additional layer of analysis, as did the reaction of the Viceroy, who maintained an exemplary stiff upper lip throughout.

panel P22
Conspiracy, terrorism and counterterrorism in late colonial India (c.1900-1947)