The Indian freedom movement was taking a new turn as the then-Viceroy of British India, Lord Curzon, affected the partition of Bengal in 1905. The move was vociferously opposed by freedom fighters from across the country. Buckling under the rising protests, the British had to give in, and the two parts of Bengal were reunited in 1911.
That was the beginning of the ‘Agni Yuga’ (Fiery Age) in India’s Independence struggle. Against the backdrop of World War I, there was an attempt to throw the British out of India by means of an insurrection. The key architect of the revolution was none other than Bagha Jatin. This is not to dispute that in the war of Indian independence, Jatin proudly took the path of violence.
Exactly 104 years ago, on September 10, the nationalist-revolutionary succumbed to severe bullet injuries in Balasore Hospital following a gallant battle with the British police.
Historiographers deliberately suppressed the rightful place that Bagha Jatin deserves for his contributions towards the freedom movement. Even though there is no dearth of well-documented historical records available on the vast revolution the great freedom fighter had conceived.
Bagha Jatin’s armed insurrection against the British during World War I was a precursor to the subsequent armed struggle by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose against British during the World War II.
Early days of Jatin
Born in Kaya village in Kushtia district of undivided Bengal (part of the present-day Bangladesh) in 1879, a young Jatindranath Mukherjee earned the epithet ‘Bagha Jatin’ in 1906 when he fought a Royal Bengal tiger all alone for three hours and killed it using a dagger.
During his teenage, Jatin was profoundly influenced by Bhagvad Gita and the writings of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. After completing school, Jatin enrolled in Central College of Calcutta. As a college student, Jatin participated in the relief work undertaken by Ramakrishna Mission, on the streets of cholera-hit Calcutta. There he came in contact with Sister Nivedita, the Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda.
Meeting with Vivekananda
Sister Nivedita introduced Jatin to Vivekananda. The meeting with Swami Vivekananda changed the course of Jatin’s life. It was Swami Vivekananda who instructed Jatin to take up the mission to bring together dedicated young men with “iron muscle” and “nerves of steel”, who could plunge into the service of the motherland.
Struck by his personality and dedication, Sister Nivedita wrote, “A young man came to me whose one idea is to make Swamiji’s name the rallying point for young India. He is wild about him and he is such a strong man himself.”
Meeting with Sri Aurobindo
Later, his meeting with Sri Aurobindo ignited his fervour for revolution against the British Raj. Soon Aurobindo considered Jatin as his right-hand man. On Jatin, Aurobindo had observed: “His very stature was like that of a warrior, a man who would belong to the front rank of humanity.”
It was Sri Aurobindo who entrusted Jatin with the crucial task of creating a “network of secret society” to train dedicated youth for the revolution against the British. That secret society came to be known as Jugantar, and Bagha Jatin became its commander-in-chief.
The nation was seething with discontent against the British Raj. It was at that time that Jatin’s clarion call “Amra morbo, jagat jagbe” (We shall die to awaken the nation) evoked the rising currents of Indian nationalism. Thousands of young revolutionaries joined Jatin’s brand of freedom movement.
It was an era of Indian liberation movement where socialism, Hindutva and cultural nationalism had a rare blend in the focal point of revolution against the British.
Jugantar, which soon became a pan-India movement, galvanised the spirit of strident nationalism. Jugantar Party successfully set up its units across India and even spread far across south-east Asia, Europe and America. The mounting serial attacks on British Raj by Jugantar shook the colonial administration right till London.
Jatin was arrested in the Alipore bomb case but released soon. Then he was arrested again in connection with the Howrah conspiracy case and locked in Howrah jail. While in Howrah jail, he came in contact with fellow revolutionaries — belonging to various groups — who were operating in different parts of Bengal. After spending 11 months in jail, Jatin was acquitted and released from jail in 1911.
Jatin was in touch with Indian revolutionaries like Rash Behari Bose, Lala Har Dayal, MN Roy, Chempakaraman Pillai, Nair San, Shyamji Krishna Varma, who were working for Indian independence from overseas.
Bagha Jatin was on the radar of the British police. At that juncture, it was difficult for Jatin to run his revolutionary activities from Calcutta. He chose to flee to Odisha, along with four of his followers, to prepare his next course of action against the British.
Coalition with Germany
The year was 1914. World War I broke out. Most British India soldiers were sent to fight the war with the German forces. Just an estimated 15,000 soldiers were left to guard India. Jatin saw this as an opportune time to launch an insurrection against the British forces. Believing in the theory ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, Jatin looked up to Germany.
In 1912, Jatin met the German Crown Prince in Kolkata and asked him for arms for an insurrection, in order to create a socialist government in India. The German Crown Prince promised to provide arms and funds for the proposed Indian insurrection against the British.
The task of obtaining funds and armaments were entrusted upon MN Roy, the key lieutenant of Jatin. In April 1915, Roy left India in search of German armaments which were believed to be en route, somewhere in the Pacific. The plan was indeed fantastic. Bagha Jatin had plans to sever communications between Madras and Bengal.
As Roy's posthumously published memoirs say:
“The plan was to use German ships interned in a port at the northern tip of Sumatra, to storm the Andaman Islands and free and arm the prisoners there, and land the army of liberation on the Orissa coast. The ships were armoured, as many big German vessels were, ready for wartime use. They also carried several guns. The crew was composed of naval ratings. They had to escape from the internment camp, seize the ships, and sail... Several hundred rifles and other small arms with an adequate supply of ammunition could be acquired through Chinese smugglers who would get then on board the ships.”
Odisha’s Balasore coast was selected as the place where the shipload of arms consignment from Germany was to be delivered for the proposed armed insurrection.
Jatin in Kaptipada
Jatin along with four of his lieutenants — Chittapriya Roy Choudhury, Niren Dagupta, Manoranjan Sengupta and Jotish Pal — took exile in Mahulidiha village of Kaptipada block in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, adjacent to Balasore district. For some time, this small village of Mahulidiha was the laboratory of Jatin’s revolutionary activities.
The main reason Jatin chose Kaptipada for his secret revolutionary operations was that his Kolkata Central College classmate and a prominent member of Jugantar Party, Manindranath Chakrabarty, belonged to the area. Moreover, Manindranath’s father Kedarnath Chakrabarty, who was the local landlord, provided logistics to the revolutionary movement. It was at Kedarnath Chakrabarty’s house where Jatin used to take important meetings for the revolutionary activities.
On the foot of Mayurhuda mountain in Mahulidiha village, Jatin used to give guerrilla warfare training to the local youth. In the caves of Mayurhuda mountain, Jatin set up a small printing press where newspapers and literature — replete with the essence of the revolution — were printed. Jatin used to stay in a small hut in Mahulidiha village. For the common localities, Jatin was Ramananda Swamy, a sadhu and homeopathy practitioner.
Jatin had set up two ancillary syndications — a bicycle store in the name of Universal Emporium at Motigang market in Balasore and a company called Harry & Sons in Kolkata. These two were frontal operations meant to facilitate transmission of information between him and fellow revolutionaries.
How the Indo-German plot failed
Jatin and his followers, who had taken shelter at Kaptipada, were supposed to receive the ship named Queen Maverick, loaded with arms consignments from Germany, at Balasore Coast. Destiny, however, intervened. The entire strategy envisaged for the armed rebellion got leaked to the British Army intelligence and Queen Maverick never reached the Indian shores.
A Czech spy named EV Voska accessed the plan of delivery of German consignments at India’s east coast and sold the information to the British. Further, the very German agent, who was tasked with overseeing the arms consignment, turned into a double agent and passed on the information to the British. In addition, a telegram addressed to Universal Emporium at Balasore was intercepted by British Police. "… Arrived here, starting tonight for Balasore, expect to meet someone there,” the telegram read.
Connecting the leads, the British Police raided Universal Emporium. The police arrested Saileswar Bose, the associate of Jatin who was looking after the frontal unit. They discovered a small handwritten note in which ‘Kaptipada’ was mentioned.
Battle of Balasore
A team of British Police rushed to Kaptipada in search of Bagha Jatin. By the time they reached, Jatin had fled the spot along with his associates since he had been informed about the British raid. Bagha Jatin, along with his followers, reached Balasore walking through the tough terrain of Mayurbhanj for two days. A large number of British police personnel, headed by then-police commissioner of Bengal Charles Tegart and reinforced by army unit from Bhadrak’s Chandbali, approached the revolutionaries in a pincers movement at the secluded rural hamlet of Chasakhand in Balasore suburb.
The gunfight lasted around two hours. While the British side was armed with highly sophisticated rifles, Bagha Jatin and his team fought with Mauser pistols.
Jatin, who was seriously wounded in the battle, succumbed to his injuries at Balasore Hospital the next day. Jatin’s associate Chittapriya Roy Choudhury died on the spot. His two other associates, Manoranjan Sengupta and Niren Dasgupta, were captured. They were later executed in Balasore jail. His fourth associate Jotish Pal was sent to Andaman jail. There were significant causalities on the British side also.
Although the armed uprising could not take off, Bagha Jatin’s martyrdom and the Battle of Balasore galvanised the fight against the British Raj for the remaining period of the freedom movement.
Jatin in the eyes of the British
This is what Charles Augustus Tegart, then top colonial cop, wrote on Jatin. “Bagha Jatin, the Bengali revolutionary, is one of the most selfless political workers in India. His driving power (…) immense: if an army could be raised or arms could reach an Indian port, the British would lose the war.” Tegart had once told his colleagues, “If Bagha Jatin was an Englishman, then the English people would have built his statue next to Nelson’s at Trafalgar Square.”
Such was the impact of Jatin’s brand of revolution that two consecutive governor-generals of India — The Earl of Minto and The Lord Hardinge of Penshurst — had shown serious concern about the rise of Jugantar movement under his leadership.
“Were this man living, he might lead the world.” This is what the prosecuting British official had remarked, referring to Bagha Jatin during the Indo-German conspiracy trail.