Subhas Chandra Bose's connections with revolutionaries of India

This article has been co-authored by Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh and Dikgaj.

 |  22-minute read |   08-06-2015
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Read the first part of the series here.

Section A: Emancipation through war if necessary  

Subhas Chandra Bose clearly had no compunction in seeking to emancipate his country through war if he considered that option to be viable. He led India's first army, Indian National Army, towards India during the second world war. He never professed otherwise even before. British Intelligence reports his interview in the Pester Lloyd in Bucharest on May 9, 1934, as: Asked whether the nationalist movement considered that all means, even revolutionary means, would be justified in the achievement of its objectives, Bose replied "Yes, all methods for getting rid of the English are justified, even revolution and violence. Of course, a revolutionary uprising would not serve the purpose today. At the moment we believe that we shall achieve a great deal of what we want by parliamentary methods" p. 35, [2]. As per British intelligence, in his interview in the Dimineatsa newspaper of Romania on May 15, 1934, "when asked whether his (Bose's) party advocated violent action, he replied that every method was good, even force, which led to freeing India from British rule; though for the moment he thought that improvements would be obtained by Parliamentary action" p. 39, [2].   

Section B: Connection with revolutionaries of Bengal

Bose had founded the Bengal Volunteer Corps, of which he was the Chief Officer or G.O.C, prior to the Calcutta Congress session of 1928. In his own words, "The Bengal Volunteer Corps came into existence at the time of the Calcutta Congress (1928). For the Congress and the national exhibition connected with it, a large body of volunteers had been necessary and the writer had been entrusted by the Congress authorities with the organisation and training of the Corps. Though the Corps was a peaceful and unarmed body, military discipline and training in military drill was imparted to the volunteers and they were also given a semi-military uniform. " p. 180, [1]. The hidden intention of the Bengal Volunteer Corps  was to prepare for a military campaign and to be ready for violent activity against the Raj p. 195, [3]. It consisted largely of Mukti Sangha workers, which was founded as a revolutionary organisation by Hem Chandra Ghosh in Dacca in 1905. Satya Gupta of Mukti Sangha, Ganesh Ghosh of Chittagong Revolutionary Party, Jagadish Chatterjee of Anusilan Samiti (another important revolutionary organisation), and Mukul Sen of Barisal group were its majors p. 13, [7]. The revolutionary group founded by Surja Sen of Chittagong, which organised the well-known Chittagong Armory raid and had liberated Chittagong from British control for a few days, was part of Bengal Volunteers as well p. 195, [3]. The police had kept a close watch on them and had banned them during 1934-1938 and again in 1940. Bose had an alliance with another revolutionary party of Bengal, Jugantar Party. A member of the Jugantar Party, Nishi Kanta Gangopadhyay, has written in his memoirs about a visit by Bose to Sankar Math, Barisal, during 1928-1929. Under the cover of a religious institution, this math was a base for Jugantar activities. The math assured Bose of their support, in his effort towards complete independence pp. 194-195, [3].

We now mention Bose's association with women revolutionaries of Bengal. Geraldine Forbes, who had interviewed many women revolutionaries of Bengal, has written that: "If there were a living figure who encouraged their activities, it was Subhas Chandra Bose, considered by many of the women revolutionaries, Bengal's greatest champion of women's rights. " p. 194, [3]. Bose used to often visit the home of Bina Das who sought to assassinate the Governor of Bengal, Stanley Jackson on February 6, 1932, in Calcutta University convocation ceremony. Her father, Benimadhab Das, was the principal of Sanskrit Collegiate School, Calcutta and was known for inspiring his students with patriotic ideas. He had introduced Bina to Bose, who often visited their house, and inspired her to follow in his footsteps p. 34, [7]. On December 14, 1931, teen-aged school students Shanti Ghosh (1916-1989) and Suniti Chowdhury (1917-1994), had shot dead Stevens, the District Magistrate of Comilla. They were recruited by a fellow student, Prafulla Nalini Brahma (1914-1937), who was the first woman to be recruited for the Jugantar group of Comilla. in May, 1931, Prafulla, Shanti and Suniti attended the Tripura District Student Conference, in which, Bose was also present. Prafulla Nalini Brahma, asked his opinion about women's involvement in direct revolutionary action. Bose had responded: "I will be pleased to see you people in the front rank. " pp. 39-40, [7]. He wrote in Shanti Ghosh's autograph book, "To preserve your honour, take up arms yourselves, Ye mothers" p. 47, [8]. Suniti Chowdhury said, "Subhas Chandra's words created great enthusiasm among us." p. 40, [7]. About a week before the assassination, Bose, at the Bengal provincial Congress Conference (held at Baharampore on December 5-6, 1931) had appealed to women to hold themselves in readiness 5-6 to step into the breach. 5-6  p. 40, [7].

It is worthwhile to note that Gandhi also called upon women participation in social and political movements, which were well-heeded to, too. His calls however did not extend to women who were seeking to participate in armed insurrections. His close associates explicitly denounced women revolutionaries. For example, on December 15, 1931, a day after Shanti Chowdhury and Suniti Ghosh, shot dead the Comilla magistrate, then Congress President and staunch Gandhi loyalist, Vallabhbhai Patel, declared: "It is a heinous crime and unbecoming of the traditions of Indian womanhood. " p. 81, [7]. In a meeting of the Calcutta Corporation, another politician closely aligned with Gandhi, Mayor Dr BC Roy, deplored the assassination as: "The news that Mr Stevens was brutally murdered by a Bengali girl was particularly shocking on account of the sex of the alleged assailant. " p. 81, [7]. One wonders how Gandhi and Gandhians would place Goddess Durga or Rani Laxmibai in their hierarchy of Indian womanhood. Bose however did not make any distinction among women who wanted to liberate India based on the means they chose. On a related note, he initiated an all-women regiment, named as Rani Jhansi regiment after Rani Laxmibai and lead by Captain Laxmi Sahgal, in the Indian national Army he lead towards India - the regiment was the first of its kind in the world.  

Section C: Connection with revolutionaries throughout India

Bose had close connections with revolutionaries all over India, which he did not publicise for obvious reasons. A trail to a revolutionary program drafted by Bhagat Singh has revealed his link with Bose. Ram Chandera, who was the president of Naujawan Bharat Sabha in which Bhagat Singh had served as secretary has written that: "Bhagat Singh had written a letter (the revolutionary programme) on the then political situation…. (the letter) was brought (out of jail) by late Jaswant Singh, a silent and noble revolutionary comrade to me…. I handed over this letter to Subhas in order to get his total commitment to Naujawan Bharat Sabha. Subhas promised to return the letter to me after the Naujawan Session at Karachi (March 25, 1931 along with session of Indian National Congress). To keep his word he searched for me. But as I had been detained at Karachi, he could not return the letter to me. And then it was lost. "  p. 173, [6] The revolutionary program was subsequently found in the house search of (detenu) Mrs Bimala Pratibha Devi in Calcutta on October 3,1931. Police officer CES Fairweather, who later served as police commissioner of Calcutta from 1939 to 1943, mentioned in a police report titled 'Notes on the Development of United Front Movement in Bengal' in 1936: "Revolutionary programme drafted by Bhagat Singh (hanged) and found in the house search of (detenu) Mrs Bimala Pratibha Devi in Calcutta on October 3, 1931. " [6]. Mrs Bimala Pratibha was a revolutionary from Bengal who had been arrested. The United Front Movement that Fairweather mentions was actually initiated under the leadership of Bose on the lines of concepts given by Bhagat Singh in the document [6]. In 1929, Bose had formally applied for permission to see the Lahore conspiracy prisoners, which included Bhagat Singh, but was refused. p. 212, [3].

We now describe Bose's connection with Jatin Das, a revolutionary from Bengal, who was also associated with Bhagat Singh. Jatin Das had joined a hunger strike by Bhagat Singh and BK. Dutt in Lahore jail in protest against the injustice meted out to under-trial political prisoners, and had died as a result on September 13, 1929. He had contacts with several groups of revolutionaries p. 210, [3]. Ajay Ghosh (later general secretary of CPI), a member of Bhagat Singh's organisation, Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, has narrated that Jatin Das "was brought from Calcutta to teach us how to make bombs. " p. 209, [3]. Bose had described his connections with Jatin Das as follows: "At the time of the Calcutta Congress in 1928, and after, he had taken a leading part in organising and training volunteers and in the Bengal Volunteer Corps of which the writer was the Chief officer or G.O.C, he held the rank of Major. ….After the Congress was over, the Volunteer Corps was maintained and branches were opened all over the Province. In this arduous work, Jatin had played an important role. "   p. 180, [1]. After Jatin Das' martyrdom, when his body was brought to Calcutta, Bose had kept a night long vigil next to Jatin Das' body. On the next day, together with JM. Sengupta, he headed a possibly largest ever funeral procession in Calcutta - 5 lakh of a total of 8 lakh people then residing in Calcutta joined the procession p.208, [4], pp.503-504, Vol. 2, [5], p. 210, [3]. In Bose's own words "So Jatin Das died on September 13. But he died the death of a martyr. After his death the whole country gave him an ovation which few men in the recent history of India has received. As his dead body was removed from Lahore to Calcutta for cremation, people assembled in their thousands or tens of thousands at every station to pay their homage. His martyrdom acted as a profound inspiration to the youths of India and everywhere student and youth organisations began to grow up. " p. 179, [1]. In a memorial service for Jatin Das, Bose spoke of his long personal relation to him, and how, when one is on a hunger-strike, one's mind undergoes a radical transformation after some time p. 212, [3]. Bose's biographer has written that "the death of Jatin Das had touched him deeply. Das had done in practice what Bose had called for in himself and others, ie, self-immolation, giving up the self for a glorious cause. " p. 212, [3].  

Section D: What did revolutionaries think of Bose ?

Section D.1 Manmathanath Gupta

We now present the views of Manmathanath Gupta, an eminent revolutionary of the Hindustan Republican Organisation who was convicted in the Kakori conspiracy case. Gupta had criticised the stands adopted by Gandhi and Nehru on the execution of Bhagat Singh. The only leader of significance he cites approvingly, or at least, sympathetically, in the Bhagat Singh affair is Bose. He has approvingly recalled Bose's suggestion to Gandhi from Bose's book: "I ventured the suggestion that, he should, if necessary, break with Viceroy, on the question (of execution of Bhagat Singh), because the execution was against the spirit, if not the letter, of the Delhi agreement. I was reminded of a similar incident during the armistice between the Sinn Fein party, and the British government, then the strong stand adopted by the former had secured the release of an Irish political prisoner sentenced to the gallows. But the Mahatma who did not want to identify himself with the revolutionary prisoners would not go so far, and this naturally made a great difference when the Viceroy realised that the Mahatma would not break with him on the point [1] ".  pp. 324, [9].  Manmathanath Gupta has nonetheless criticised Bose for eventually capitulating to Gandhi, by supporting the Gandhi-Irwin Pact that accorded amnesty to only political prisoners charged of non-violent offences (and therefore excluded Bhagat Singh and his comrades): "Not only Jawaharlal, but also Subhas, at a later stage, surrendered to Gandhi on this very matter.  He has this in extenuation of his own volte face (a passage that we would quote later)…..In other words, Jawaharlal was the first to capitulate to Gandhi, and this was followed by the capitulation of Subhas Bose with a lot of ifs and buts as is apparent from the description left by Bose" pp. 325-327, [9].

We conclude with by presenting why Bose supported the Gandhi-Irwin Pact in the Karachi Congress Session starting on March 26, 1931, despite his strong reservations over the same. He has written that Gandhi had installed his staunch loyalist Vallabhbhai Patel as the Congress President that year, and "all the monied interests also desired to see the armistice followed up by a permanent peace, so that they could settle down to business peacefully. Consequently, there was no dearth of funds for those who wanted to go to Karachi to support the Mahatma. On the other hand, the oppositionists were at a great disadvantage. Many of their adherents were still in prison and did not get the benefit of the amnesty that the pact had promised. Defections among their leaders had weakened their positions in the country and even those who were in a position to attend the Karachi Congress, were handicapped by want of necessary funds. After the Lahore Congress (1929), Mr Srinivasa Iyengar had retired from public activity. Along with other Left Wing leaders, he had been treated shabbily by the President of the Lahore Congress (Nehru) and the Mahatma, who was instrumental in excluding him from the working committee, though he was the most outstanding leader from Madras, and an ex-President of the Congress. This insult he had taken to heart so much that he had vowed he would have nothing to do with the Congress so long as Mahatma Gandhi remained the leader. Besides Srinivasa Iyengar there was another defection in the person of Dr. Mohammed Alam of Lahore who had played a prominent part in the Lahore Congress, but who became a supporter of the Mahatma after the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. Of all the Provinces Bengal was  most hostile to the Pact, but even there, there was a party led by the late Sengupta who pledged to support the Mahatma. In these circumstances, what could the left wingers do ? Before my release from the prison, on March 8, (1931), I ascertained that political prisoners as a rule, were hostile to the pact, and I naturally shared their feelings. But after coming out I realised that the Pact was a settled fact and that there was no possibility of preventing its ratification at the Karachi Congress. The only question that we had to decide was if we should put up an insignificant opposition at Karachi, or whether we should refrain from dividing the House while disapproving of the Pact." p. 224 [1].

It is pertinent to this context that Bose had proposed amendments to Gandhi's proposals, which respectively demanded complete independence and parallel government in two previous sessions of the Congress, Calcutta, 1928, and Lahore, 1929. Gandhi deemed both as unfriendly, and both were defeated. Bose was therefore cautious during the ratification of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. He visited Gandhi in Bombay prior to the Congress session in Karachi to ascertain his views. He wrote about the Karachi session as follows: "the official party machinery had worked with great thoroughness and from all the provinces supporters of the Pact had been elected as delegates in large numbers. The Left wing, to which I belonged, had resolved previously to come to Karachi, survey the situation there, and consider carefully what the Mahatma had communicated to me in Bombay as to his future attitude and then make their final decision. At Karachi it was quite clear that they would not have much support from the elected delegates who alone could vote at the Congress-though among the general public and particularly the youth-they had larger support. There was another factor which had to be considered. If we were consistent and honest, it would not do to merely oppose the Pact and then go back home. We would have to give notice to the Government and start the movement again. What support would we get if we did so ? There was no doubt that the response in men and money would be disappointing. There was therefore no possibility that if we continued the fight, we would achieve better results than the Mahatma had done. In these circumstances, what would we gain by dividing the House? If we were defeated, as we were sure to be, our opposition would be futile. If we succeeded in throwing out the Pact-which was unlikely in the circumstances, but failed to carry on a more vigorous campaign, the country would not gain by our opposition. Moreover, the execution of Sardar Bhagat Singh and his comrades had to be considered (they were executed ten days before the Congress session). The Government had sufficient cognizance of the situation in the country to realise that the execution on the eve of the Congress was likely to create a split in the Congress and would considerably strengthen the position of the anti-Pact party. If the Government was so anxious to create a split, there was something to be said in favor of avoiding it.

In times of crises, a party has sometimes to stand by its leaders, even when it is known that they are committing a blunder. This was the first occasion for an agreement between the Nationalist leaders and the Government. If the rank and file of the party repudiated the leaders after they had entered into an agreement, that would be damaging to the prestige not only of the leaders, but also of the party itself. The Government in future would be able to say that it is of no use to have any negotiations with the leaders because they are likely to be repudiated by their followers. After duly weighing all these considerations, we decided that a statement should be made to the effect that the Left wing of the Congress did not approve of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, but that in view of the circumstances prevailing at the time, they would refrain from dividing the House. The statement was made by me before the Subjects Committee of the Congress and was received by great jubilation by the supporters of the Pact, while it caused disappointment to our more enthusiastic supporters." pp. 227-229, [1].

Section D.2 Naval mutineer BC Dutt

In February 1946, a group of ratings at the Royal Indian Navy mutinied in Bombay towards liberating India. The mutiny soon spread to all units of the Royal Indian Navy: ships at anchor, shore establishments, ships on the high seas. The mutiny was brutally suppressed by the British with complicity of icons of India's freedom struggle: Gandhi, Patel, Nehru, Azad and also the communist party of India (we will describe the role of the communist party in India's freedom struggle in a separate piece). The mutineers were inspired by the accomplishments of Bose and his Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) though they never met him in person (he was not seen in public after August, 1945). BC Dutt, who had participated in the mutiny, has documented how the impact of Bose on the national psyche lead to the mutiny:

"One day a friend of mine, Salil Syam, returned from Malaya with strange tales of the Indian National Army. I had heard about them in Burma. I had seen some of them at Rangoon. They had handed over Rangoon to us. But they were whisked away within a few hours of our landing in Rangoon. Having been in the occupation forces in Malaya, Syam had come in direct contact with them. He had brought letters from some members of the former Azad Hind Government addressed to Jawaharlal Nehru and Sarat Chandra Bose, the elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose. He also brought relevant literature and photographs. He did not know how to get them delivered. In the RIN it would have been considered high treason if Syam was found with the letters. I felt frightened and elated at the same time. The name of Subhas and his Azad Hind Fauj were not even mentioned in the Navy. His exploits in Singapore and Burma were just beginning to percolate into the country. The nationalist press had started printing discreet news items about them. It was all rather vague. To the post-war youth, Subhas Bose had already become a legend.

I felt I was holding a live bomb in my hand when Syam told me the contents of the packet he had smuggled into the TALWAR from across the seas. He asked for my help in reaching the letters and the literature to Sarat Bose and Nehru. I did not know how to reach the two letters to their destinations. In those days, one did not use the Royal Mail for things like the ones, we had in our possession. Until then I knew no one connected with the nationalist movement. But I had to do the job somehow. I felt I was a small man entrusted with a big job. From an insignificant naval rating I had suddenly become an important messenger of significant tidings for my country. In the course of clandestine efforts at getting these letters and the literature to the destination, I got involved in activities which committed me to a cause officially illegal but, to a man in my state of mind, enabling. In the ensuing weeks, my way of life changed. I came in contact with the type of people we had been taught to leave severely alone. But I found myself in complete sympathy with the cause they espoused.

I was twenty-two. I had come through a war unscathed - a war fought to end Nazi domination. I had seen the British people defending their country. I had served alongside British sailors and others from the other Commonwealth  countries in different theatres. They knew what they were fighting for. I began to question my whole existence. What did I fight for ? Whose war did I fight? Was it for my country ? I was a sailor, but in whose service? Is it enough to be competent in one's profession? In whose service have I placed my professional expertise? These questions appeared more and more crucial as the days passed. To the British authorities, we were servicemen. We were not supposed to think, but do our jobs with unquestioning devotion and loyalty. But loyalty to whom? To nationalist India, we were mere mercenaries, whereas closer contact with the British servicemen had thoroughly shaken my sense of loyalty to the Raj. And the association with the men from free countries had given me a sense of identity with my own country. It was up to us, I felt, to prove that we were as much sons of the soil as nationalist Indians who were fighting for the country's independence. Without quite realising it, I became a conspirator."pp. 75-77, [10].

The mutineers referred to themselves as Azad Hindi or free Indians- ."I am Azad Hindi; my life is for the country."p. 77, p. 95, [10].

Then, again: "When the news of the Indian National Army burst on an already explosive political scene, naturally, it meant different things to different people. To the ratings it was an example worth emulating; an example of what could be done to achieve precisely the same goals the leaders were enunciating."  p. 201, [10].

Dutt has described what the mutineers expected from the then political leadership of the freedom movement: "The Navy was under our control. With that, it should not be difficult to get the Army and the Air Force to fall in step with us. At that stage, of course, we were not sure about the impact of our action on the other two services. But we were absolutely certain that the British could not use them to suppress us. If a real leader of national stature appeared in our midst right then, like Subhas Bose did when the Azad Hind Fouj raised by Rashbehari Bose and Mohan Singh was almost foundering on the rock of resistance from the loyalist section, the Army and the Air Force would not hesitate. They would raise the banner of revolt." p. 133, [10]. Leaders of the freedom movement refused to stand with them, and as we would see in a sequel, cooperated with British instead. In the words of the editor S Natarajan of the Free Press Journal, which were one of the first newspapers to cover the momentous event: "The Naval upsurge died for want of leadership. When the ratings' representative came to realise that even in the Congress there were divided views, and they had to look to one section while ignoring another, their natural reaction had been that theirs was a useless agitation. The Congress as a whole was singularly uninterested in the rising." pp. 6-7, [10].  


[1] S. C. Bose, The Indian Struggle (1920-1942)

[2] Nanda Mookherjee: Subhas Chandra Bose: The British Press, Intelligence and Parliament, Jayasree Prakashan, Calcutta 700026, 1981

[3] Leonard A. Gordon, Brothers Against the Raj - Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose

[4] Suniti Ghosh The Tragic Partition of Bengal

[5] D. G. Tendulkar,  Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Vol I, New Delhi, 1969, Vols II-VIII, Bombay, 1951-1954

[6] Ram Chandera, Naujawan Bharat Sabha and Hindustan Socialist Republican Association Army

[7] Tirtha Mandal, The Women Revolutionaries of Bengal, Minerva Associates, 1991

[8] Shanti Das, Arun Banhi, Basumati Sahitya Mandir

[9] Manmathnath Gupta, `They Lived Dangerously',

[10] B. C. Dutt Mutiny of the Innocents, Sindhu Publications Pvt Ltd, Bombay-1, 1971 


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