Government plans award in Maratha freedom fighter’s memory

November 19th, 2008 - 3:32 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 19 (IANS) The government is planning to set up an international award for agricultural innovation in the memory of the founder-member of the Ghadar Party, Pandurang Khankhoje, a revolutionary-turned-farmer from Maharashtra, former union minister Vasant Sathe said. Khankhoje also helped Mexico, his adopted country, set up 30 agricultural universities.

According to Mexican ambassador to India, Rogelio Granguillhome, Khankhoje also helped open up diplomatic ties between Mexico and India in 1949 and formed an important bilateral link, along with poet-diplomat Octavio Paz.

Khankhoje’s memoirs, “I Shall Never Ask for Pardon”, published by Penguin-India, was released in the capital Tuesday at the India Habitat Centre by Granguillhome.

The function was attended by Sathe, former editor of Times of India Dileep Padgaonkar, CPI leader A.B. Bardhan and professor Mridula Mukherjee, director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

The book, a chronicle of the revolutionary’s search for freedom and truth in India and later in Mexico extracted from his dairies, has been compiled by Khankhoje’s daughter Savitri Sawhney.

“We should institute an international award for agricultural innovation in the name of Pandurang Khankhoje,” Sathe said, seeking endorsement from the gathering of diplomats and envoys from Latin American countries, who attended the launch.

“I am one of those few fortunate people who have known Khankhoje when he returned to India in 1957 and settled down in Nagpur, my hometown. Our families became very close. I had never seen a more unassuming man than him though he was an erudite scholar,” Sathe said.

The former minister said Khankhoje did not flaunt his achievements though he met all the global leaders of his era. “Can you imagine a young man fleeing from his own wedding ceremony to meet Lokmanya Tilak,” Sathe said.

Khankhoje trained in the art of making explosives and went to several countries before Mexico offered him shelter. He became a member of the underground Ghadar Party in America, which helped fashion the radical Marxism of the 1920s.

In Mexico, Khankhoje married a Mexican woman, took up agriculture and became an international authority in high-yielding food crops. He is known across the globe for his researches in maize, coffee and a special variety of corn.

“He was self-taught. He acquired a master’s degree in agriculture in Mexico and joined the military training school to fight his war against the British. He even stayed in Persia for four years to mobilize the local Persian and Afghan leadership to free India,” Sathe said.

Bardhan, also from Nagpur, lamented that the city where Khankhoje was born has done nothing to perpetuate his memory. “Nagpur has never found an opportunity to name anything after him.”

Khankhoje’s daughter Savitri Sawhney, a paediatrician by profession, spent five years over the book. “It took me three years to write and two years to get it released. It was not difficult though I had to go through scraps of paper and notes lying all over the house. But my mother preserved all his notes that he either scribbled with a pencil or dictated to me,” Sawhney told IANS.

Extolling his achievements, Padgaonkar said the Maratha revolutionary, as an agricultural scientist, developed a byproduct from yam which was later used as synthetic hormones for contraception. “He can also be called the father of the modern birth control pill,” Padgaonkar said.

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