Revolutionary, Scientist Pandurang Revered In Mexico, Ignored In India
Om Birla, the speaker of the Lok Sabha, will travel to Mexico to dedicate monuments of Swami Vivekananda and Maharashtra-born freedom fighter and agriculturalist Pandurang Khankhoje (1883-1967). He is currently attending the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Canada. The Speaker's visit is a component of the government's initiatives to recognise less well-known leaders of Indian descent outside of India. From Mexico, Birla will fly to Suriname on the northern coast of South America, where he will meet with Chandrikapersad Santokhi, the president of that nation who is of Indian descent.
Dr. Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje was born in Wardha (Maharashtra), 70 kilometres from Nagpur, in a family of moderate means but high values. The young child travelled to Nagpur for his high school studies, where he discovered that the British emperors were aliens who needed to be expelled. Pandurang, affectionately known by his family as Bhau, began encircling himself with pals even as he continued his studies with the intention of waging war against the alien overlords. His covert operations escalated to the point where the British government became alarmed and wanted to imprison him.
His grandfather, who had taken part in the 1857 uprising, had educated him to see the brutal, unfair, and imperialistic British rule that India was then experiencing. Khankhoje, who was influenced by him and was a recurring name in the British Police's history book, started to rebel against the British at a very young age. Khankhoje was an experienced revolutionary who drew inspiration from numerous earlier Indian and international revolutionaries.
The young man, still in his teens, escaped their dragnet and managed to escape out of the country. During the height of the Communist uprising, he spent a few years living in Germany and frequently travelling to Russia while attempting to organise Indian resistance forces. Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje relocated to Afghanistan during this time and rose to prominence in the clandestine Ghadar Movement, which sought to free India from the British tyranny. The Ghadar soldiers quickly freed some of Afghanistan from British rule and began scouting out the best time to invade the remainder of India. Ghadar's military power was insufficient to achieve the necessary consolidation. Yet, Khankhoje -- under an assumed name -- led the depleting forces with great valour and made life hell for the British armies.
In addition, he developed into a master diplomat who worked closely with a royal to ensure the royal's successful visit to England. Khankhoje later discovered that life in Afghanistan was undesirable for him and fled to the United States, where he earned a doctorate in agriculture from Washington State College (now University). He continued to be affiliated with the Ghadar Movement throughout, which attracted the attention of the British, who had a friendship arrangement with the Americans. Khankhoje was compelled by this to flee to Mexico and find employment as a farm worker. Khankhoje rose through challenges that included going without food for days on end before being spotted by the appropriate people. He held a position as an agriculture professor.
By developing techniques to have fast-breeding, high-yielding varieties of maize and corn and bringing agriculture out of its pauper status, Dr. Khankhoje advanced in the ranks of Mexican scientists. He worked on producing frost and drought-resistant types of corn, wheat, pulses, and rubber. He also participated in efforts to implement the Green Revolution in Mexico. Later, the Mexican wheat type was introduced to Punjab by American agronomist Dr. Norman Borlaug, who is known in India as the Father of the Green Revolution. In Mexico, Khankhoje was regarded as a great agricultural scientist. Khankhoje was the subject of murals painted by the eminent Mexican artist Diego Rivera, including one named "Our Daily Bread" that prominently featured him breaking bread with people seated at a table. Dr. Khankhoje was then selected to serve as the nation's Director of Agriculture, a position in which he utterly revolutionised the lives of farmers. He became well-known and the national hero of Mexico as a result. Street children saluted him and rushed to give him hugs.
The Khankhoje family was denied permission by the government to enter India. And the explanation was that he was on the British government's "blacklist." That is one irony very difficult to digest -- not just in this case but many like this one. When the embargo was eventually lifted, the Khankhoje family immediately relocated to Nagpur. However, Dr. Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje -- the hero of Mexico by every account -- as a man worthy of whatever attention was not acknowledged at that time in India. He wasn't given credit for what a top agricultural scientist he was.
He successfully found work in Nagpur. Additionally, he showed some interest in politics. But the larger society was indifferent. Only a small group of people truly admired him, and they continued to do so until his death on January 22, 1967. His family continued to reside in Nagpur for a while until several members left for their respective careers. Unfortunately, no one ever tells the narrative of Dr. Pandurang Sadashiv Khankhoje anywhere—not in households, not in schools, nor in institutions. One can't really tell if this is ever taught in agricultural institutions or universities. Then, an unpleasant notion begins to trouble you: Is Indian agriculture suffering today because we didn't respect the field and its leading stars enough? That is a disturbing thought!