The legend of Rash Behari Bose and the forgotten Hindu-German conspiracy

DailyBiteJan 03, 2016 | 10:00

The legend of Rash Behari Bose and the forgotten Hindu-German conspiracy

“I was a fighter. One fight more. The last and the best.”

- Rash Behari Bose

Nowadays, we are literally struggling to give Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose his due weightage in Indian freedom struggle history. It is an open secret after all that Netaji’s single hit with the patriotic Azad Hind Fauz had done more damage to the British establishment than the countless Ahimsa andolans which were organised by Indian National Congress under Gandhi. The last  nail in the coffin was the Navy Mutiny of 1946, following which the incumbent British government  finally decided to “quit India” (Gandhiji’s Quit India had fizzled out by then). PV Chuckraborty, former Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, on March 30, 1976 had written: "When I was acting as Governor of West Bengal in 1956, Lord Clement Attlee, who as the British Prime Minister in post war years was responsible for India’s freedom, visited India and stayed in Raj Bhavan Calcutta for two days, I put it straight to him like this: ‘The Quit India movement of Gandhi practically died out long before 1947 and there was nothing in the Indian situation at that time, which made it necessary for the British to leave India in a hurry. Why then did they do so?’ In reply, Attlee cited several reasons, the most important of which were the INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the very foundation of the British Empire in India, and the RIN Mutiny which made the British realise that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the British. When asked about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s 1942 movement, Attlee’s lips widened in smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, ‘Minimal’." [1]. 


Not many, however, know that the Indian National Army (INA) emerged from the Indian Independence League which was founded by Rash Behari Bose, who has been subjected to a colossal amount of neglect by leftist historians. But that is only expected in the current context. We are literally wrestling to even bring Netaji (whose popularity and mass appeal in the late 1930s was at least comparable to Gandhiji’s) to limelight, so it is very natural that other martyrs like Rash Behari Bose, Kartar Singh, Bagha Jatin (who did not maintain any public life due to the nature of their works) haven’t got much space in the history books till now. Hence, Rash Behari has remained an unheard, unsung hero in Indian independence movement. Whatever little flashes of vague memory get triggered in the minds of most readers on hearing the name of Rash Behari Bose are mostly those in connection with INA. But the INA episode was actually “the last and the best” of Rash Behari Bose. He had planned an equally massive revolution during the First World War phase, which is known as the “Hindu-German Conspiracy”. He aimed to ignite armed revolution within the British Indian army and fight incumbent British with foreign help as part of this conspiracy. The plan failed, yet it is no lesser a glorious chapter of Indian freedom movement than the failed “Noncooperation” or failed ”Civil Disobedience” movements. The degree of fear he inspired in the British is best summed up by the writing of Lord Rowlatt, who chaired the Sedition Report [9], saying, "In the first place, there are a number of persons still at large, such as Rash Behari Basu of the Benares conspiracy case, who, if tried at all, ought to be tried, even if arrested after the Defence of India Act expires, under special provisions. Moreover, further offences may be committed before that time to the authors of which similar considerations apply. On the other hand, it would not be proper to proclaim a province under our scheme merely for the purpose of such particular trials." p. 209, [9]


The failure of the revolution was a monumental tragedy for India in that she lost her best and the bravest in the process: Rash Behari Bose, Sufi Amba Prasad, Bagha Jatin, Raja Mahendra Pratap, Kartar Singh, Pingle, Sachin Sanyal, Harnam Singh, Maulavi Hafiz Abdullah and many others passed into oblivion as a result of this failure. They were substituted by Mohandas Gandhi and his coterie who repeatedly collaborated with the British on one hand and betrayed the revolutionaries on the other. The result was the transfer of power to a divided nation was accompanied by one of the largest fratricides involving murder and rape of lakhs of individuals and uprooting of an even greater number from their ancestral land. If this assessment appears harsh, let us read how Gandhian Ram Manohar Lohia assessed the impact of Gandhian Ahimsa on India’s freedom struggle: pp. 44, 80-84, [2]: 

"The friendly politeness of the struggle for freedom has so far prevented its proper evolution. It is assumed that this struggle was less costly than a violent fight or that it did not leave behind such bitterness and disorder which a violent revolution would have occasioned or that it made a continuity of ideals and habits easier. All these assumptions need to be closely inspected. Some of them are patently wrong. I must again and again emphasise the terrible and unparalleled cost of Partition as a part of the total expenditure of our freedom struggle." p. 80, [2] 


"The country was partitioned in order to avoid further Hindu-Muslim rioting. Partition produced that which it was designed to avoid in such abundance that one may for ever despair of man’s intelligence or integrity. Six hundred thousand women, children, men were killed, often with such lunacy that killers seemed to be experimenting with a view to achieving yet newer forms of murder and rape. Fifteen million persons were uprooted from their homes and made to seek a living and habitat in regions that tended to become less friendly. This was probably the greatest migration, forced or willing, in all history." p. 44, [2]   

"I should like to advance an additional point and also to puncture yet another assumption that a violent revolution against the British empire in India would not have succeeded, while the non-violent struggle did. Let us try to construct, in such detail as our imagination can, the architecture of the freedom fight.

The Indian struggle had, by the outbreak of the First World War (this is the period of the Hind-German conspiracy), reached a two-pronged stage of fairly experienced constitutionalism as well as a pretty sharp terrorism. A certain amount of specialisation was also beginning. The cleverer people were going into constitutionalism. The braver people were going into terrorism. I suspect that there was a deep understanding, something like an unspoken and unwritten contract, between these two wings of patriots, until Gandhiji introduced such principles as caused antagonism between them. The constitutionalists and the terrorists would have gone on to intensify their campaigns with time. More and more people would have been drawn into the scope of their activities. A certain pattern of alternation would have held the field free to constitutionalists for a decade or so during which they would have tried to infect the entire people through their speeches and other parliamentary manoeuvres with a desire for freedom. A state would then be reached when the blocking of freedom’s desire would have become intolerable. At this stage, the terrorists would come on the scene and operate for a year or two. With each such alteration, constitutionalists would have gained in experience and skill and mass following, and the terrorists would also have been able to evolve forms of action towards organised and mass violence, during which assassination would have played no role other than that of vengeance or sparking a conflict.

I do not see why constitutionalists and revolutionaries should not have continued their respect for each other; even though the constitutionalists might have from time to time uttered words of disapproval against the revolutionaries. There is again no reason to believe that this team would have needed more than three alternations to achieve its objective, it would certainly not have needed to go beyond the Second World War. In fact, it might have needed less time to achieve success than Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence. Another great change of very far-reaching and revolutionary implications in the whole situation would have shown itself….. 

It is indeed doubtful if Gandhiji achieved an enduring success even with those who followed him, for they did not make of civil disobedience a pattern of their life nor of other Gandhian features such as simplicity and economy.  

…If partition had not come with all its cruelty and murder and a general condition in which virtue and vice lose their separate meanings, India might have been in better way. It strikes me at this stage that I have almost proved Gandhiji to be a curse rather than a blessing to the country. I have no intentions to run away from the implications of my argument. There is indeed a possibility that India without Gandhiji would have been more happily placed, at least in the short run. Gandhiji’s mode of action has no validity or value, if it does not spread over the whole world. It has value if only the future so unfolds itself that the temporary loss of India can be proved to have been the world’s gain. If non-violence should ever become the framework of man’s collective life through the mode of civil disobedience, India’s misfortune of the freedom fight would have justified themselves. In a manner of speech, India was a guinea pig for the benefit of the world. Those who talk of non-violence from the viewpoint of benefits that the nation received from it are men of pitiful ignorance. 

India has suffered for the sake of the world, perhaps not knowingly. The chief author of this suffering may not himself have been aware that he was making a sacrifice of India for the future of the world. His successors, certainly, are not.  In trying to argue away civil disobedience as a mode of the native against the foreigner and to reject it as the eternal rhythm of the oppressed against the oppressor, whether under native or foreign rule, democracy or dictatorship,  these men are making fun of their country and their master. One is led to suspect that there is something basically lacking or evil in a leadership of non-violence, at least in the early stages, which mocks at its own effort and spoils its own successes.


Non-violence is without doubt a weapon of the bravest of the brave. But they have no use for it. They have their guns and their nuclear bombs. It is, therefore, left to be tried out by a comparatively weak and inferior set of people. Perhaps in the very process of the weapon over and over again, these men would acquire virtue and become superior. 

History is traditionally read in a very bad way, not as a process which it is, but as the result of a phase. Except for periods of definite decay, it is almost always a process. Some fools may think that I have been making adverse judgments on non-violence, Gandhiji, and his leadership. I am too firm a believer in the Gandhian process to do so. I am only stating  some established facts of the Gandhian process, both pleasant and unpleasant, and it is immaterial for me to know for certain as to which of them could have been different. While I have been trained as a scientist to be both truthful and comprehensive, I pray devoutly as a revolutionary that the Gandhian process has not yet ended and that it is still on."  

We will first introduce the person called Rash Behari Bose, and subsequently narrate his brian-child, the “Hindu German conspiracy” (drawing from [3], [4]).  

Section A: The Delhi Conspiracy – a revolutionary is born

We start his story from a cold winter day in Delhi - December 23,1912. The whole city has been decorated with lights and flags. Countless people are flooding the streets and lanes. It is a grand event after all. King George V has come to visit India for the first time after his crowning ceremony. Along with that Lord Hardinge will soon assume the office of Governor General of India.The British government has shifted this major event of celebration from Calcutta to Delhi, for Calcutta then was teeming with young, violent and reckless revolutionaries like Kshudiram, Kanai, Satyen and many others. Who knows how they might disrupt the festivities? The risks involved were enormous given that they concerned the long, healthy life of King George V. Hence, the shifting of the venue to Delhi. This fear of not hosting the grand event in Calcutta in 1912 culminated with the change of capital to Delhi later on in 1931 due to the aggressive activities of Bengal Volunteers revolutionary group led by Netaji and Satya Gupta. But that’s a different history; we come back to the pomp and splendour of Delhi.

The three-storeyed building of Punjab National Bank in Chandni Chawk was packed with men and women of all ages, waiting eagerly to witness the grand elephant procession of George V, Lord Hardinge, several other maharajas and high-ranking officials of the government. The second floor of the building was reserved only for women while the first and third were kept for the men. All of a sudden a beautiful, young and well-adorned woman named Leelavati entered the second floor. Other women who looked at her were amazed to observe her elegance. She seemed to be from some wealthy aristocratic family. 

Amidst all the grandeur of the ceremony, suddenly a sound of huge explosion rattled the whole area. People started running amok out of fear. The elephants carrying the Governor General and his officials got scared and went out of control. Lord Hardinge himself was seriously injured from the explosion. Meanwhile, the beautiful woman Leelavati vanished in thin air. She, nay he, was none other than Basanta Kumar Biswas, a fearless young freedom fighter in disguise, who dropped the bomb on Lord Hardinge. He was just 16 years old at that time. The mastermind of the plan was none other than Rash Behari Bose.

Not for a moment did the police have any doubt on Rash Behari before they finally got to know his involvement in the attack on Lord Hardinge one year later in 1914. How could they doubt him? He was an officer of the Raj himself and in the good books of all high-ranking British officials in India. Till then, no one could expect an Indian working for the Raj sacrifice his career and a posh life for the sake of the nation. With this "Delhi Conspiracy case" (attack on Lord Hardinge), the enigmatic Rash Behari Bose finally unfolded himself as a revolutionary (though it took a whole year, and a freak accident, after the blast for police to prove his involvement; till then he worked happily as a government employee). 

Writing about the Delhi Conspiracy case, Michael O'Dwyer says in his book India As I Knew It, "In the general movement were the notorious Har Dayal, a Punjabi, who subsequently worked up the movement in America, and an equally dangerous plotter - Rash Behari Bose - a Bengali head clerk in a government office at Dehradun. These had brought into the conspiracy several others, chiefly of the student type, but including some men of position and mature age." p. 169, [12]

Writing about the Delhi conspiracy case, Lord Rowlatt says, "After returning to Lahore, Dina Nath kept up connection with Chatarji and before the latter went to England to become a barrister, he was introduced by him to the notorious Rash Behari, a Bengali, then head clerk of the Forest Research Institute of Dehradun. Rash Behari further educated Dina Nath as well as two other young Hindus, Abad Behari and Balmokand, and arranged for the dissemination of seditious literature and throwing of bombs, introducing to the society his servant, a young Bengali named Basanta Kumar Biswas.  Abad Behari attended the Lahore Central Training College, but lived at Delhi and was an intimate friend of Amir Chand, mentioned above. Amir Chand joined the conspiracy. He was subsequently described  by the Sessions Judge of Delhi as 'one who spent his life in furthering murderous schemes which he was too timid to carry out himself.' It is unnecessary to detail the doings of the conspirators. It was subsequently proved that they disseminated widely among students and others a leaflet extolling the attempt on Lord Hardinge's life in such terms as these: 'The Gita, the Vedas and the Koran all enjoin us to kill all the enemies' of our Motherland, irrespective of caste, creed or colour... 

Leaving other great and small things, the special manifestation of the divine force at Delhi in December last has proved beyond doubt that the destiny of India is being moulded by God himself.' The evidence produced at their trial inspires a strong suspicion that they themselves contrived the Delhi outrage and proves that they distributed other violently inflammatory leaflets received from Calcutta and printed at the press used by the Raja Bazar conspirators. It was also established that, in pursuance of the plans of the conspirators, Basanta Kumar Biswas had placed a bomb on a road in the Lawrence Gardens at Lahore on the evening of May the 17th, 1913, with the intention of killing or injuring some Europeans. The bomb, however, killed no one but an unfortunate Indian orderly, who ran over it in the dark on his bicycle. Dina Nath turned approver. Amir Chand, Abad Behari. Balmokand and Basanta Kumar Biswas were convicted and hanged, but Rash Behari escaped, to contrive other murderous plots. So far his associates were few and his doings had received no measure of popular support." pp. 144-145, [9]

Section B: The fugitive who was never captured 

After the Delhi conspiracy case, Rash Behari Bose became a hero overnight. Rumours started spreading like wild-fire regarding his strange (and even occult) powers. He had planned the Delhi Conspiracy case while sitting within stone’s throw of the British Police and Intelligence. This was something Indians had never seen in the past. Many police officials literally started saying among themselves that Rash Behari was an occult magician who could appear out of nowhere and vanish the next moment. Actually this was possible because Rash Behari could speak almost all the Indian languages and dialects fluently as he could his mothertongue. He could assume the persona associated with almost every region in India. For example he would dress himself as an ordinary Bengali farmer of some unheard remote village within the borders of Bengal. The same Bengali farmer would change into a Bihari milkman speaking Hindustani dialect with rural Bihari accent as soon as he crossed the borders of Bengal into Bihar. 

Resuming then of our narration of the Delhi Conspiracy case, soon after the British Police got to know of Rash Behari’s involvement in it, a hide-and-seek game began with the police force, and the whole of north India became a playground for Rash Behari. Police team is raiding one room in a hotel, while Rash Behari jumps off the roof to move on into another hotel. Police is focusing on this side of the road, Rash Behari escapes through that side. The Chief Police Commissioner is sitting in the first-class cabin of train. Just opposite him, a well-dressed Bengali gentleman is reading the newspaper. This gentleman is none other than Rash Behari Bose. The police are scouring all the rail stations, while their target (worth Rs 1 lakh cash award which was a substantial amount those days) is sitting next to the Police Commissioner. Who would expect a fugitive with a bounty on his head to be travelling next to Commissioner in the same cabin? In this way Rash Behari roamed freely all over north India all the way from Lahore through Amritsar, Delhi assuming his own hometown Chandannagore in West Bengal. He assumed different names along with his plethora of identities (some of which were very funny), like Fat Babu, Satindra Chandra, Satish Chandra, Chuchendranath Dutta, etc. 

Once, while hiding in Kashi, one fine morning he realised that the whole house where he had been hiding, was surrounded by a huge police force. There was no way to escape. The police officer entered the house along with his constables. An Odiya Brahmin priest came out to greet the officer with a pale face. The priest was visibly scared at seeing the huge police force surrounding his house. The officer asked him “Is Rash Behari inside your house?” to which the priest replied, ”Yes Sir, he is sleeping inside that room. Should I call him out?” The officer didn’t wait for anything else and rushed into that room with his constables. As usual he couldn’t find anyone, not only in that room, but in that whole building. How would he find? The Odiya priest was none other than Rash Behari himself. Rash Behari could speak Odiya, as fluent and as accentuated, as people of Odisha could, so no one doubted the priest for a moment. By the time the officer had understood this, the priest was out of sight.

In another incident, the Calcutta Police had received confirmed news that Rash Behari was hiding somewhere near the post office in Sealdah, Kolkata. Whole of Sealdah, starting from Dharmatala, was sealed, and policemen were posted almost everywhere. As usual Rash Behari was nowhere to be found. The police couldn’t for a moment suspect that the Anglo-Indian who was playing a melodious tune on his violin, on the second floor of the Sealdah post office was none other than their fugitive. He was a master violinist.

Two more such incidents happened in Chandannagore, the hometown of Rash Behari Bose. The police was tipped off that Rash Behari Bose was hiding in a house there. But when they came to raid the house, no one was found inside, even though Rash Behari wasn’t seen to have  escaped. Suddenly, the officer recalled that shortly before a sweeper covered with dirt went away after washing the drain adjacent to the house with a bucket in his hand. This sweeper was Rash Behari Bose. In another such event in Chandannagore, Rash Behari fooled the police while lying as a corpse and getting carried away by four of his assistants. All five of them (Rash Behari and four of his associates) evaded sure-shot police arrest from Chandannagore. The police constables were afraid to even touch the dead body, let alone check it, because of religious fear. How would they imagine that a person would be able to dress himself up as a corpse and make his associates chant “Ram Naam Satya Hai”? This person didn’t have any fear of anything, even of resorting to forbidden and somewhat feared religious practice like pretending to be a corpse to his advantage.

We have just given a tiny glimpse into the persona of an immortal revolutionary. A highly educated person holding a high government post, who could disguise as a sweeper, an ordinary Oriya priest, an Anglo-Indian playing his violin, or even a corpse for that matter – that was Rash Behari! Readers can imagine his versatility, which he could have utilised to lead a privileged life; instead he chose to dedicate it to his motherland. A person who had not crossed 30, had mastered several Indian languages and their dialects, he was a superb musician, a gem of an actor who could assume a range of identities, without any rehearsal. In fact, Rash Behari’s expertise in a vast range of specialities led to the rumours that he wielded some sort of occult power.

In conclusion, we would like to give a glimpse of what the British government's Bengal Intelligence Bureau thought of Rash Behari Bose: “Fairly tall, stoutish, large-eyed, moustache recently shaved, third finger of one hand stiff and scarred as a result of an accident. Aged about 30. Dressed sometimes as a Punjabi and sometimes as a Bengali. May be wandering about in the guise of a sannyasi. Frequents Rawalpindi, Multan, Ambala, Simla, Amritsar, Gurudaspur, Ferozepur, Jhelum and Lahore. Bengali Kalibaries and colonies and Hindu Shiwalas should be carefully scrutinised as well as sarais and railway stations.” (Vide File No.430/14 pf the IB Records of the Government of West Bengal.) In other words, even the famed British intelligence knew precious little about their fugitive, who they could never force their hospitality on. British could never capture Rash Behari Bose.  

Writing of Rash Behari, Michael O'Dwyer said, "When Har Dayal left for America, the political education of these was taken up by Amir Chand, a trusted teacher in the Cambridge Mission School in Delhi, and the Bengali, Rash Bihari, a clerk in the Forest Department. These two, as explained in Chapter X, then became leading spirits in the conspiracy in India, which included several Bengalis among its members, drew its funds and its bombs from, Bengal, and brought about the murderous attack on the Viceroy in December, 1912, and the Lahore bomb murder of May, 1913. The conspiracy was unravelled by the Criminal Investigation Department with great skill, Dina Nath turned informer; Amir Chand and three others were hanged; but Rash Behari escaped and during the War continued his murderous designs. He is still at large. [I have recently heard of him in Tokyo.]" p. 188, [12]

Section C: Hindu-German Conspiracy - A mammoth plan spread across multiple nations to free India 

"Death is for all and we shall die the death of a hero.” – Abod Bihari

Section C.1: The preparation

We move on to September, 1914. The flames of the First World War have engulfed the whole of Europe by now. The mighty British Empire, being a part and parcel of Europe, is also busy protecting its national integrity and retaliating to the threat posed by Germany. Rash Behari did not miss this golden opportunity. Now is the time to draw the sword and lift the mace. A group of fearless patriotic revolutionaries are needed who would give a death blow to the British empire in India, while the latter is busy countering German aggression on the European front. ”The enemy of enemy is my friend,” said Chanakya. This principle has been followed in international diplomacy for centuries. Now is the ideal time to implement it for the sake of the motherland. Germany, being the enemy of the British empire, is the friend of India under the present circumstance after the outbreak of the First World War. Thus the “Hindu-German Conspiracy”, brainchild of Rash Behari Bose was born.

On the eve of WW1, according to p. 133, [9], "Rash Behari lived near Bengalitola and generally took outdoor exercise at night. He was visited by various members of the Sachindra gang, and on one occasion gave a demonstration of the use of bombs and revolvers. While he was examining two bomb caps on the night of November the 18th, 1914, they exploded and injured both him and Sachindra. After that, he shifted his residence to another house in Bengalitola. There he was visited by a young Maratha named Vishnu Ganesh Pingley, who belonged to the Poona district of Bombay. Pingley had been in America and had returned to India in November 1914, in the company of some Sikhs of the party. "He said that four thousand men had come from America for the purpose of rebellion and that there were twenty thousand more there who would come when the rebellion broke out. He said that there were fifteen thousand men at Calcutta who would come when rebellion broke out." Rash Behari had despatched Sachindra to the Punjab to see what could be done there.  Sachindra performed his mission, informed certain of the Ghadar revolutionaries there who desired instruction in making bombs that this instruction was easily available, and promised Bengali assistance."

But things are easier said than done. Revolutionaries need supply of the latest weapons and adequate ammunition. However, neither weapons, nor ammunition, not even a group of selfless revolutionaries wielding them suffice. Commenting on the lack of weapons and ammunition for the revolutionaries, Lord Rowlatt said, "The issue of the Ghadar dated January 13, 1914 had advised Indians to go abroad, learn how to make rifles, bring boxes full of them into the Punjab and "rain over the  province [of Punjab] sweet shower of guns." Some pistols and ammunition were brought from America, and Rash Behari contributed four revolvers. Other weapons too were collected, but most fortunately for the public the procurement of sufficient arms was a serious difficulty, and the plans for attacking the Ferozepore and Mian Mir arsenals collapsed." p. 158, [9]

The rot runs far deeper. Indians have become so accustomed to slavery ever since the Islamic invasions started with the invasion of Sindh in the eighth century AD, that it will be hard to convince the masses to collectively join a rebellion against the establishment on the lines of French Revolution or the Bolshevik. The concept of nationalism and patriotism need to be implanted firmly into the collective consciousness of Indian psyche. The task is easier said than done, but  still it must be accomplished, and in a short time. The legacy of slave mentality must be crushed. Time is running out, and opportunities like a world war do not frequently arise. Rash Behari gave the clarion call to all revolutionaries here within India and across the world, not a single patriotic soul in any part of the world should be left out, lets make an earnest appeal, a final union of the revolutionary brotherhood to cut off the shackles.

Again, detailing the preparations made by Rash Behari and his associates, p. 132-133, [9], states, "In January 1915, Sachindra returned to Benares with Pingley and after their arrival. Rash Behari, who had again shifted his residence held in their presence an important meeting of the gang. He announced that a general rebellion was impending, and informed his audience that they must be prepared to die for their country. A schoolmaster named Damodar Sarup was to be leader at Allahabad. Rash Behari himself was going to Lahore with Sachindra and Pingley. Two men were assigned to bring bombs and arms from Bengal, and two others, one a Maratha named Vinayak Rao Kapile* to convey bombs to the Punjab. Another couple, Bibhuti and Priya Nath, were to seduce the troops at Benares, while a Bengali named Nalini was to do the same at Jabalpur in the Central Provinces.  Arrangements were made for executing these plans. Rash Behari and Sachindra departed for Lahore and Delhi, but Sachindra returned directly to take command at Benares. On February the 14th Mani Lai, afterwards an approver, and Vinayak Rao Kapile, both natives of Western India, left Benares for Lahore with a parcel containing material for eighteen bombs. In order to protect the parcel from accidental contact, as the train was crowded, they travelled intermediate from Lucknow and paid excess fares, both at Lucknow and Moradabad. They had originally taken third class fares. On arrival at Lahore, Mani Lal was informed by Rash Behari that the date for simultaneous armed rebellion would be on the 21st of the month. Intimation of this date was conveyed to Benares; but afterwards it was changed because the Lahore plotters had reason to suspect that one of their number had informed the police. The conspirators, however, left behind at Benares under Sachindra never learnt of the change, and waited on the parade ground on the evening of the 21st expecting a rising. In the meantime, events at Lahore had exploded the conspiracy, and many arrests had been made. Rash Behari and Pingley returned to Benares, but only for some days, and the latter took the bombs with him to Meerut, where he was arrested on the 23rd of March in the lines of the 12th Indian Cavalry with a box in his possession containing ten bombs, "sufficient to annihilate half a regiment”. He was afterwards convicted of participation in the Lahore conspiracy and sentenced to death. The bombs which were found in his  possession had, according to the approver Bibhuti, been brought to Benares from Calcutta and left in store there.When discovered with Pingley, they were in a tin trunk. Five had their caps on, and there were two separate caps with guncotton inside.''

The response to this appeal by Rash Behari was encouraging, to say the least. Many freedom fighters came forward without any apprehension. Most of them were waiting for the person who has the capability to sail the ship through the storm in the middle of this dark night that is looming over India. And in Rash Behari they found their mentor, leader and captain who would guide them through this perilous voyage. In came Sachin Sanyal, Nagen Dutta, Bishen Singh, Jagat Singh, Suran Singh, Harnam Singh, Damodar Swarup, Binayak Rao Kaple, Bibhuti Halder, Priyanath, Bishwanath Pande and many other extremist revolutionaries. The rush was not over yet, and stepped in Dilla Singh, Mangal Pande (not to be confused with Mangal Pande from 1857 Sepoy Mutiny), Nalini Mukherjee, Naren Banerjee, Audhbihari, Bhai Paramananda, Anukul Chakravarty, Hirderam and countless others. Indian revolutionaries from abroad weren’t willing to miss this opportunity of sacrificing their lives at the altar of the freedom movement. The young Sikh Kartar Singh, member of Ghadar Party of USA, joined the bandwagon with a large number of Sikh members of his party.

Detailing further on the preparation of the revolutionaries, Lord Rowlatt wrote, "Pingley's offer to introduce a Bengali bomb expert was accepted, and emissaries were despatched to collect materials for making bombs. The assistance of some Ludhiana students was enlisted in this collection work and Rash Behari Basu, of Delhi Conspiracy notoriety, arrived from Benares, where he had been living in retirement. A house was procured for him in Amritsar, where he lived with other Bengalis till the beginning of February 1915. There he worked in concert with the leading Sikh revolutionaries. Early in February he arranged for a general rising on the 21st of February of which Lahore was to be the headquarters. He went there and sent out emissaries to various cantonments in Upper India to procure military aid for the appointed day. He also tried to organise the collection of gangs of villagers to take part in the rebellion. Bombs were prepared, arms were got together, flags were made ready, a declaration of war was drawn up; instruments were collected for destroying railways and telegraph wires. In the meantime, however, in order to raise funds for the financing of the enterprise, some Punjab revolutionaries had committed various dacoities. Information of the projected rising had been received through a spy. Rash Behari's headquarters were raided on the 19th of February, and seven returned emigrants were found there, in possession of a revolver, bombs and the component parts of other bombs, as well as four revolutionary flags. Two more conspirators were arrested on the following day. Thirteen in all were taken and four houses were searched. Twelve bombs were seized, five of which were loaded bombs of the Bengal pattern. The report by the chemical examiner showed that two of the latter were apparently old and the other two of recent make. Fragments of similar bombs had been found in connection with former revolutionary outrages in India. National flags too were discovered. It became manifest  that the plotters had designed simultaneous outbreaks at Lahore, Ferozepore and Rawalpindi; and later, it appeared that their operations were intended to cover a far wider area. Not only were these to extend to such places as Benares and Jabalpur but we are satisfied from evidence which we regard as conclusive that at least two or three revolutionaries in Eastern Bengal were on the 8th of February aware of what was in contemplation, and were arranging for a rising at Dacca if the Sikh revolt materialised." pp. 152-153, [9]

Rash Behari’s eyes glistened with tears of joy at this response. He didn’t fail to notice the fire in the young Sikh, Kartar Singh, and the young Maratha, Pingle (how many Indians now know the names of these two freedom fighters?). He didn’t miss the embers of fire in their hearts that only an irrepressible zeal for freedom can ignite. From the core of his being, he had known from his first glance at them that he could entrust these two young men with the toughest of the responsibilities.

Once the process of enrolment and participation came to a closure, the stage was set for planning and execution. The first plan drafted by Rash Behari was to ignite the fire of rebellion within the British Indian army. Indians formed the bulk of the vast British Indian Army that constituted the back bone of the Raj that enslaved India. The back bone had to be broken. And the only way was to inject nationalism among the Indian soldiers serving in the army; easier said than done, as soldiers are trained to obey the command of their superior over and above anything else. Moreover, slave mentality was firmly entrenched in Indian psyche by then, and the soldiers were no exception. Yet, a group of revolutionaries even with unlimited amount of courage and zeal still could not fight the whole army. Thus, the plan of igniting a popular revolt among the Indians across the army rank and file was conceived.

Damodar Swarup took charge of the Allahabad cantonment. Bibhuti Halder and Priyanath were entrusted with the Benaras cantonment. Bishwanath Pande,Mangal Pande and Dilla Singh took charge of Ramnagar-sicrole zone. Nalini Mukherjee alone was sufficient for Jabbalpur barrack. Hirderam was awarded the charge of Jalandhar. In return, he promised that he would deliver the whole Dogra regiment stationed in Jalandhar to the rebellion. Haricharan Harar and Piyara Singh moved to Kohat (now in Pakistan). Sant Gulab Singh and Harnam Singh took charge of Bannu. The 35th regiment stationed in Bannu had to be won over. Mulla Singh was given a slightly different role by Rash Behari. He was to move across rural areas of Punjab (united Punjab province before partition) and prepare the peasants of Punjab for an armed revolution, so that a whole army of farmers would jump in to capture Lahore and Amritsar when the bugle would be sounded. Sant Basakha Singh took charge of the Delhi region.

The Bengal circle, however, didn’t require any pondering. Bagha Jatin (Jatindranath Mukherjee) was the “one man” army there. Apart from that, Rash Behari himself took charge of the Bengal area. While Rash Behari worked towards inciting mutiny in the army barracks in Bengal, Bagha Jatin  sought to establish reliable links with German government in order to get a strong supply of weapons from Europe through the sea route. Hindu-German Conspiracy had a Berlin Committee for this. Everything was working out smoothly till now, and the German ships Maverick and S Henry loaded with machine guns, cannons and huge amount of ammunitions were shortly expected to anchor in Buribalan of Balasore (Odisha).

As encouraging as it had all been, there were ominous signs in the background. Lord Rowlatt writes, "They observed that the Ghadar newspaper had placed the seduction of troops in the forefront of its objectives and that various efforts with this object were made by some of the associates, both at ports on the way to India and in this country. Rash Behari was prominent in co-ordinating the latter, and employed Pingley, a Ludhiana student named Sacha Singh, and other persons as his instruments. Ghadar literature was used. Indian soldiers were approached" at Meerut, Cawnpore, Allahabad, Benares, Fyzabad, Lucknow, in the United Provinces. The success attained was extremely small, but the seed sown must have caused some tragedies had not the plan for a concerted rising on the 21st of February been nipped in the bud’’. pp. 157-158, [9]

Rash Behari’s plan was bold and his preparations thorough, but success was by no means certain. There were large segments of the Indian army still loyal to the British and these would have to be fought.

Rash Behari Bose chose Lahore city for setting up the headquarters of his revolutionary plan. VInayak Rao Kaple was his communications manager across India and Europe, and reported to him any relevant news from any corner. When all was set to start, the first roadblock appeared when Lahore Police announced that no unmarried male was to be given home for rent in Lahore (probably police had got vague information that Rash Behari would be living in Lahore for some time in disguise). The problem was solved when Yamuna Das, Ramswaroop Das’ (Rash Behari’s friend) wife, agreed to live with Rash Behari as his wife during the latter’s stay in Lahore. She gave Rash Behari the cover he needed for two months, until the hideout was busted. For the sake of the nation, all three participants, Ramsharan, his wife, and Rash Behari transcended their individual comforts, whether physical or emotional, as also social norms. To put the extent of the sacrifice in context, the year was 1915, when live-in relationships were beyond the realm of acceptance in Indian society – it isn’t the norm in India even after a century has passed by.

Exceeding Rash Behari’s initial expectations, reports started coming in from all corners of India and all barracks that the Indian soldiers were ready to rebel, breaking for once, the shackles of slaver. Not only the army, but also the tribal belt (Santhals) was fuming. "We are  as much Indians as any other Indian, we will not be left behind in this massive blood revolution” was the response of the Santhal leaders. Whole of Bengal had geared up for the final clarion call. All the large revolutionary outfits in Bengal, which were previously fighting separately, had by then joined forces. Every single police station in Bengal was to be captured and their arms confiscated. The hilly regions of Tripura needed greater supply of weapons, which had to be acquired, from the police stations in Bengal, due to its vicinity to northeast India. Young Bengali freedom fighters were being imparted advanced martial training inside the jungles of Mayamansingh and Rajshahi (both in present Bangladesh).

Work, work and only work, ceaseless work for the nation, untiring work for the Mother, the revolutionaries lost count of their days and nights. Anukul Chakravarty contacted the armed Sikh regiment stationed in Dhaka. “Jai Guruji” chant from a thousand Sikh soldiers of the regiment welcomed the rebellion offer from Rash Behari Bose through Anukul Chakravarty. But the plan was not to be restricted to the mainland of India alone. Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore were included in the blueprint. The response from the battalions stationed in these places were also overwhelming. Meanwhile, in Berlin Raja MahendraPratap, Ajit Singh, Sufi Ambaprasad started gathering an army which would enter India from the north-west through Kabul.

Michael O'Dwyer, writing about the preparations for the Lahore Conspiracy, wrote in his book, "It was at this critical stage that Rash Behari, the organiser of the Delhi and Lahore outrages of 1912-13, moved up into the Punjab to take general charge of the operations. He brought an astute but daring Mahratta Brahmin of Poona, NG Pingle, who had returned from America with the Sikh revolutionaries, as one of his chief lieutenants. These two men became the brains of the conspiracy after so many of the Tasu Mam men had fallen into our hands.  Bhai Parmanand, MA, and professor in the Arya Saraij College at Lahore, was one of the links between the disaffected section of the Hindu Intelligentsia and the Sikhs of the Ghadar Party. He had returned from America before the War broke out." p. 197, [12]

Section C.2: The D-day that never came: February 21, 1915

This day has been deleted from the pages of Indian history. This was the day Rash Behari had chosen to trigger the pan India rebellion. The army barracks across India and even outside the mainland were ready to come forward in defiance of the orders of their government. Sufi Ambaprasad, Ajit Singh and Raja Mahendra Pratap were waiting with a small army of revolutionaries in Kabul, ready to march into India as soon as they would receive the signal. With the beginning of the rebellion, every soldier of the British Indian Army were to change their uniforms and wave the new flag of free India. Kartar Singh and Pingle were moving tirelessly from one barrack to another across India for the last minute preparations. Rash Behari himself has not been sleeping at night for the last few days at a stretch. Every barrack and cantonment are waiting impatiently for the final whistle from Lahore.

Expounding on the plans made by Rash Behari, Michael O'Dwyer writes, "It has been explained above that, early in 1915, the Bengali Rash Bihari, with the Mahratta Brahmin, Pingle, were the brains directing the revolutionary activities of the Ghadr Party, who were mainly Sikhs. Rash Bihari had established his headquarters at Amritsar, where he lived with other Bengalis, whom he and Pingle had brought up from Bengal to assist in bomb-making. These leaders were also active in endeavouring to enlist the support of Indian troops, especially Sikhs and Rajputs, in Northern India.

In January and February, their emissaries were tampering with the troops from Jhelum on the North to as far down as Benares. They had met with some success in certain battalions lately returned from the Far East and also in a Sikh squadron of a cavalry regiment at Lahore. We got wind of this through an informer who was in close touch with the would-be mutineers and related to some of them. We also got information that a general rising had been planned for the night of February 21, when in various cantonments of Northern India certain troops would mutiny, murder their British officers, and combining with the Ghadar adherents from outside, who were to be ready on th,e spot, would seize the magazines, arms, and ammunition, and bring about a general rising." p. 202, [12]

Commenting on the feasibility of the plan, Michael O'Dwyer writes, "The idea was not fantastic, for it had penetrated as far down as Bengal and was known to the disaffected elements in Dacca. In Lahore the first: move on the above lines was to come from the disaffected Sikh squadron. It was my misfortune to have a dozen men from this squadron in my personal escort at the time. I resisted the suggestion of my private secretary, who, with the head of the Criminal Investigation Department and myself, alone knew the full ramifications of the conspiracy, that I should change the escort. To do so would probably arouse suspicion that their plans had leaked out, and we did not want to act till our plans were matured. So the escort stayed on, though I used them as little as possible." p. 201, [12]

So  the conspiracy was not destined to succeed. India was destined to slog on with Ahimsa and get trampled under the boots of the British government for the next 32 years. Two traitors named Kripal Singh and Nawab Khan leaked the plan of this massive pan-India conspiracy to the British government. Rash Behari received the news that something was seriously wrong somewhere. The government has probably come to know of the “Hindu-German Conspiracy”. But the plan still could not be abandoned, many people had given their all to make the revolution a success. Hence, Rash Behari ordered that the day of the rebellion be preponed to February 19, 1915 from February 21. To no avail, however. The British army battalions invaded all the barracks a few days before February 19 and pounced on the helpless Indian soldiers. In Ferozepur cantonment, Indian soldiers weren’t willing to accept defeat, nearly 50 of them lost their lives while fighting the British company (laced with machine guns) that had invaded them.

The revolutionary groups didn’t get the chance to help their army counterparts. British authorities had planned all this very skillfully. Every single house in Lahore was raided under the instructions of Michael O’Dwyer, erstwhile lieutenant governor of the Punjab province. Huge stocks of weapons brought by Maniram and Vinayak Rao Kaple from Calcutta were confiscated. Kartar Singh, along with 12 other revolutionaries working under Rash Behari Bose, were caught in the net from Lahore alone. Rash Behari, as usual, escaped to Kashi from the clutches of the police and intelligence agencies. Pingle also evaded arrest along with Rash Behari.

Lord Rowlatt wrote, "Shortly after the failure of the great Ghadar plot including the Benares conspiracy, Harnam Singh, a Jat Sikh from the Punjab, once a havildar in the 9th Bhopal Infantry and subsequently 'chaudhri' of the regimental bazar, was arrested at Fyzabad in Oudh on a charge of complicity in the plans of the conspirators. It was proved that he had been corrupted by revolutionary pamphlets received from a student of Ludhiana in the  Punjab named Sucha Singh, an emissary from Rash Behari; that he  had afterwards visited the Punjab, and had distributed leaflets; that he had taken over a  revolutionary flag  and a copy of the Ailan-i-Jang (an appeal to the peoples of India to rise and murder or drive out all the Europeans in the country). This book was found in his house. His operations, however, were ineffective. He was convicted and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment." p. 135, [9]

Michael O’Dwyer has written about the episode of breaking of the conspiracy in Lahore: "On the morning of the February 19, we had information from our spies that Rash Behari and Pingle had moved their headquarters to Lahore, that suspecting the leakage of their plans they had decided to anti-date the rising to the night of the 19th and had sent messages and emissaries to various selected centres, including several cantonments, to act accordingly. We had then to act. Thirteen of the most dangerous revolutionaries were captured with their paraphernalia of conspiracy-arms, bombs, bomb making materials, revolutionary literature and four rebel flags (one of which I claimed and hold as a souvenir)." p. 202, [12]

O'Dwyer laments later on in the same book: “Unfortunately Rash Behari and Pingle were not among those who were captured.” p. 202, [12] Rash Behari could manage to escape, but Yamuna Das who gave him cover living as his wife, was picked up and taken to Lahore jail. "After three days of ceaseless interrogation which yielded no result, she was sent to the barracks of the Baloch regiment. The Baluch soldiers physically tortured and raped her. Ultimately, she became unconscious and was left stripped on the roadside." p. 3, [5].

On the other side, in Calcutta, revolutionary teams were waiting eagerly for news of the Punjab Mail. The non-arrival of the train was decided as the code that the rebellion has started across Bengal, Eastern India, Myanmar and Malaysia. But the Punjab Mail did arrive in Calcutta in due time. The main line of command from Lahore was already cut off by the police raids; hence the Punjab Mail entered Calcutta without facing any blockade anywhere. The first programme was the confiscation of Fort William in Kolkata.  But the revolutionaries decided not to proceed since the Punjab Mail signal had not come from Rash Behari Bose. The situation was the same in places outside Bengal, like Myanmar or Malaysia. Everywhere the cantonments got confused at the delay of orders, and the rebellion could not flare up anywhere.

The only place where the rebellion was initiated and had seen temporary success was Singapore. On February 21, 1915 (the initial announced date), the battalion stationed in Singapore defied the orders of their superiors, as was planned. The soldiers arrested their British officers and freed all German prisoners of war. All British officers who were guarding the armoury in the city were killed by the Indian soldiers. The soldiers also started murdering any European they saw on the streets. However, not a single Asian was harmed. The remaining Europeans fled to a ship anchored in the Singapore port. From the ship they sent SOS to Japanese and Russian navy (Japan and Russia were on the side of Britain in World War I). Within three days a ship of the Russian navy arrived in Singapore port. The Russians couldn’t gauge the seriousness of the situation. Hence, they disembarked from the ship and marched towards the Singapore Fort (which was captured by then). As soon as they reached the upward slope near the fort, many rifles from within the fort rained bullets upon them. More or less the whole unit of Russian force was eliminated in this encounter. But this success did not last very long. A Japanese cruiser arrived on the fifth day of the rebellion, two days after the Russian encounter and started firing shells on the fort. Many rebel Indian soldiers were killed as a result of this shelling. Finally, the white flag was lifted on behalf of the Indian rebels by the seventh day since the beginning of the revolution. The Indian rebels didn’t know even then that the revolution in mainland of India could not be ignited. They believed that by that time (i.e., by the seventh  day since February 21), India had surely become free of British rule under the leadership of Rash Behari Bose. Hence, they chose to surrender the fort to the Japanese force.

Section C.3: The aftermath

The aftermath of the failed rebellion was tragic. Bagha Jatin’s attempt to import weapons through the German ships had also failed by then. He took his last stand there at Buribalan Balasore. Many daring revolutionaries were either killed in encounter or arrested. Both Kartar Singh and Pingle got arrested. Writing in p. 153, [9], Lord Rowlatt wrote, "Rash Behari and Pingley escaped, the latter only for a time as he was arrested a month later in the Lines of the 12th Cavalry at Meerut with bombs in his possession. On February 20, the day after the first captures, a head constable was killed and a police sub-inspector was wounded by a party of returned emigrants, whom they had asked to come to the pohce-station. And on February 14 and 20, dacoities were committed in the Faridkot State and Lyallpur district."

The first Lahore Conspiracy Case trial started on April 27. Seven revolutionaries were awarded capital punishment and sent to the gallows. Others were awarded lifetime deportation. These seven bravehearts were Pingle, Kartar Singh, Surain Singh(1), Surain Singh(2), Harnam Singh, Jagat Singh and Bakhshish Singh. None of them agreed to the repeated requests of signing mercy petition. As Kartar Singh said boldly: "Why should I beg for mercy? Rather had I got multiple lives, I would have dedicated all of them to my nation in the same way." About 15 years later, the revolutionary icon of Indian youth, Sardar Bhagat Singh would be inspired by his idol Kartar Singh to sacrifice his life at the altar of patriotism. Sacrifice begot sacrifice, and the cause lived on. 

Commenting on the failure of the Ghadar revolution, Rowlatt wrote, "It is evident that the Ghadar movement in the Punjab came within an ace of causing widespread bloodshed. With the high-spirited and adventurous Sikhs, the interval between thought and action is short. If captured by inflammatory appeals, they are prone to act with all possible celerity and in a fashion dangerous to the whole fabric of order and constitutional rule. Few persons, reviewing the history which we have summarised, will not be disposed to endorse the considered opinion of the Punjab authorities that had not Government been armed with extensive powers under the Defence of India Act and the Ingress Ordinance, the Ghadar movement could not have been suppressed so rapidly; and delay of preventive action and retribution in such a case would have increased yet more the amount of disorder to be coped with." p. 161, [9]

The second trial on this Lahore conspiracy pronounced death sentence to five revolutionaries and lifetime deportation to many others. The glorious five who were sent to the gallows were Udham Singh, Ishar Singh, Veer Singh, Rang Singh, Rur Singh. In the third phase of the Lahore conspiracy case, another five were awarded capital punishment. They were Balwant Singh, Maulavi Hafiz Abdullah, Arur Singh, Harnam Singh and Baburam. All the martyrs who were awarded death penalty in the three phases of the Lahore Conspiracy case were members of the Ghadar Party.

The rebellious battalions were tried under the martial law. Hence many soldiers got capital punishment while others got long imprisonment terms. But the most tragic fate was waiting for the rebel soldiers in Singapore. They were brought in hoards in front of the firing squad and shot down by British soldiers either with little or no trial in most cases. Their fight in Singapore remained completely unsung or even unrecorded in mainstream history. Yet, they had sacrificed their lives for the same motherland which is ours.

Rash Behari had now returned to his hometown Chandannagore in West Bengal. He was completely shattered and devastated after this failure. But no part of India was safe for him under the present circumstances. Hence his well-wishers and relatives arranged for his escape to Japan under the disguise of the poet Rabindranath Tagore's relative. Now, the born fighter Rash Behari Bose dressed himself up as Raja PN Tagore, an imaginary relative-cum-secretary of poet Rabindranath, and sought to travel to Japan. The passport officer never doubted this narrative, as the news of the poet’s plans of visiting Japan have been published in the newspapers. The great revolutionary son of India managed to fool the British police one last time. His ship set sail for Japan on May 12, 1915 from Haldia port in West Bengal. Rash Behari wept like a child as his motherland disappeared on the horizons of the Bay of Bengal. With those tears  ended the Hindu-German conspiracy, a glorious saga in the pages of Indian history.

According to Lord Rowlatt, p. 133, [9], "Rash Behari left the country after a final interview with a few of his Benares disciples at Calcutta, in the course of which he informed them that he was going to 'some hills' and would not be back for two years. They were, however, to continue organisation and distribution of seditious literature during his absence under the leadership of Sachindra and Nagendra Nath Datta alias Girija Babu, of Eastern Bengal, a veteran associate of the Dacca Anusilan Samiti whose name appears in a notebook belonging to Abani Mukharji, a Bengali arrested at Singapore, in connection with the Bengal-German gun-running plot.  Sachindra, Girija Babu, and other members of the gang were subsequently arrested and tried by a Court constituted under the Defence of India Act. Several turned approvers, ten were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, and Sachindra Nath Sanyal was transported for life. Evidence given at the trial established charges of various attempts to tamper with troops and distribution of seditious leaflets, as well as the incidents above narrated."

Rash Behari's departure, however, turned out to be his final exile. The only two wishes he had cherished in his heart were to witness the freedom of India and seeing his motherland one last time before he died. None of them were fulfilled as he died outside India in 1945.

However, being a born fighter, he never gave up even in his exile. He started his second phase of activism from Japan as soon as he reached there. This phase culminated with the formation of Indian Independence League and the Azad Hind Fauj. But that tale is for another day. 


[2] Ram Manohar Lohia, "Guilty Men of India’s Partition"

[3] Shailesh De, "Ami Subhash Bolchi"

[4]  Achintya Kumar Sengupta,  “UdyotoKhorgo Subhash” 

[5] Tirtha Mandal, "The Women Revolutionaries of Bengal"

[6] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj, Chandra Mauli Singh, Why Brits disliked Netaji and made a Mahatma out of Gandhi 

[7] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj, "Netaji’s Modernism Versus Gandhi’s Spiritual Swaraj" 

[8] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj,  "Did Mahatma Gandhi really oppose violence?" 

[9] Lord Rowlatt, "Sedition Report" 1918.  

[10] The Other Bose

[11] Kanailal Basu, "Netaji Rediscovered"

[12] Michael O'Dwyer, "India As I Knew It"

Last updated: September 22, 2017 | 21:01
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