Jatindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin)
This section has been rewritten with active support and help and input from Sri Prithwindra Mukherjee, Padmashree, grandson of Bagha Jatin, a great and worthy scholar in French and English, who has written several works, including Life and Times of Bagha Jatin, and has contributed immensely toward Info-French cultural bonding. We are deeply indebted to him for his valuable input and insights
Jatindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin)
Chapter 2 - The Making of a Revolutionary
Education and Training – Pre-Jugantar days
After passing the entrance examination in 1898, he joined Calcutta Central College as a First Arts (F.A.) student. He and his sister Vinodbala stayed with their maternal uncle, Hemanta Kumar Chatterjee, a well-known doctor in the Shobhabazar area of Calcutta. Simultaneously, Jatindra took lessons in steno typing at Atkinson’s school for a lucrative career permitting him to break free from the university education which he perceived as a moulder of colonial slavery. He accompanied Sister Nivedita to attend inspiring lectures at the Dawn Society. On completing his steno course with Atkinson, Jatindra got a job in Amhuti & Co, a merchant office in Calcutta. His nature was to help others; hence, he did not bat an eyelid to donate his entire salary for the month to treat the critically ill mother of one of his followers who wanted to test the extent of Jatindra’s generosity. The climate of Calcutta having deteriorated Jatindra’s health, Swami Vivekananda encouraged him to join the akhada of the wrestler Kshetranath Guha (aka Goho). As intended by Swamiji, Jatindra made significant acquaintances at the akhada with men like Shashi-da and Sachin-da: Shashibhushan Raychaudhuri, the social worker and educationist, and Sachin Banerjee, eminent son of Yogendra Vidyabhushan, best-selling historian of revolution. Both these dadas were to have a permanent influence on him.
Another well-wisher, Barrister Pringle Kennedy of Muzaffarpur, editor of the Trihoot Courier, appointed Jatin as secretary. According to Vinodbala, this was an excellent phase for the blossoming of Jatindra’s personality. After the death of his mother in 1900, Jatindra left Muzaffarpur. Later, recommended by Kennedy, he got a job with the Bengal Government and had a prosperous career. He worked for Henry A Wheeler, ICS, who had a great command over administration in Bengal. Wheeler liked Jatindra for his professional efficiency and patriotic attitude. Many zamindars and members of the royalty of the princely estates of undivided Bengal came to meet Wheeler. The dignitaries were also impressed with the attitude and behaviour of Jatindra and became his close friends.
In 1900, Jatindra married Indubala Banerjee of Kumarkhali in Kushtia. The couple had four children – Atindra, Ashalata, Tejendra, and Birendra. Atindra was short-lived. He died in 1906. Devastated by the untimely death, Jatindra, his wife, and his sister went to Haridwar and Rishikesh for pilgrimage. There he met the holy man, revered Bholananda Giri, and took initiation from him. The saint, close to the patriotic teachings of Dayanand Saraswati, knowing Jatindra’s propensities. had encouraged him to continue his work for the country.
The story of Jatindranath Mukherjee will remain incomplete without mentioning anything about his elder sister Vinodbala, and Indubala, his sahadharmini (“she who shares with him all choices”). A child widow, Vinodbala was of immense learning; like her mother, she too wrote poems spontaneously and was the main inspiration behind Jatindra’s selfless work for his country. She encouraged him in every possible way and took up the responsibility of his entire family in his absence. The reason why Jatindra could devote a lot of time to revolutionary activities despite being married and having children was Vinodbala and, perhaps, to a large extent, his wife, Indubala. His affection and concern for his family in his absence are evident in his letters to Vinodbala and Indubala.
Taming of the Tiger – Getting “Bagha” as the epithet
In 1906, after Jatindra returned to his native village for the weekend, he heard the disturbing presence of a kendo (leopard) that had terrorised the villagers. Jatindra went to inspect the spot. On noticing his teenage cousins – Amulya and Phani - carrying an air gun, Jatindra mocked them. In reality, he met a ferocious Royal Bengal Tiger, disturbed in its morning nap by the report of an air gun. On seeing the vexed tiger rushing toward his cousins, being a well-trained wrestler, Jatindra fought with it bare-handed, with just a dagger. The tiger severely wounded him, but he eventually killed the tiger. The tiger’s brutal assault almost killed him. It took an expert surgeon, Dr. Suresh Sarbadhikari’s skill to save him. Even then, he was completely bedridden for six months. Eventually, he got back the ability to move his limbs normally. As a gift from Jatindra, Dr. Sarbadhikari preserved the tiger’s skin in his drawing room. He also published in an English journal an article, “Nemrod of India,” on Jatindra’s heroic feat. It prompted the Government of Bengal to recognize his bravery and present him with a silver shield. From that time onward, he came to be regarded as Bagha Jatin (“Jatin, valorous like the tiger”).
Taming of the Tigers – Rowdy Europeans
In reply to a series of articles by Bipin Chandra Pal, Rabindranath Tagore commented in his editorials in the Bangadarshan. In “Rajkutumba” (‘The King’s Cousins,’ April 1903) and “Ghushaghushi” (‘Exchange of Blows,’ 18 August 1903), Tagore praised Pal’s “initiative with precaution and half-uttered words.” On minutely examining Pal’s suggestion of a pressing need to deal a blow against a blow received in the streets to dissuade the Englishmen in their crimes, Tagore recommended a tit-for-tat given by humiliated native citizens at the hands of arrogant British officers. Tagore agreed that there was no better tonic than a clenched fist.
In the winter of 1905, the Government sent the Prince of Wales (future George V) on an official mission to Bengal to distract the people grieving over the partition of Bengal. Determined to point out to the future Emperor that the dregs of society were being sent across to administer India, Jatindra positioned himself near the Chitpur and Harrison roads crossing. He singled out a cabriolet on a side lane visible from the passing Royal coach. A group of Tommies sat on its roof, their legs dangling against the windows. Behind the screen of the legs and boots were the faces of a few Indian ladies who had come for a glimpse of the Royal entourage. Jatindra asked the fellows to leave the ladies alone. In response to their cheeky provocation, he rushed up to the roof. In the resultant brawl, the men fell off the roof amidst a great cheering that welled up from the crowd. When the ladies’ relatives rushed up to offer their thanks, Jatindra rebuked them for bringing their women folk outdoors when they could not defend their honour. The show was not innocent. Jatindra was well aware that John Morley, the Secretary of State, regularly received complaints about “The use of rough language and pretty free use of whips and sticks, and brutalities of that sort…” Jatindra soon learnt that the Prince of Wales, “on his return from the Indian tour, had a long conversation with Morley on 10 May 1906 (...) He spoke of the ungracious bearing of Europeans to Indians.”
The incident at Chitpur was not the last incident of his thrashing conceited Europeans, as he did so several times whenever he encountered any injustice. We need to remember that this was the time when Indians used to be mortally afraid of Europeans and used to suffer silently from all indignities rather than protesting. Those who protested were often physically lynched or put behind bars on flimsy grounds. So even though people thought it to be unnecessary to pick up fights with Europeans, it was needed to teach them to respect Indians and also to teach Indians to stand up and face the brutes.
Jatindra came into the limelight again by publicly thrashing three Europeans at Siliguri Railway Station. These were English military officers, including Capt. Murphy and Lt. Somerville. There was extensive press coverage and a court case against Jatindra. However, the Government could not pursue a case against him. The story goes like this. Jatindra had to stay in Darjeeling during summer time as part of his work. Once when he was on the way to board a train from Siliguri, he found that a child was thirsty and was asking for water. However, his father, afraid that the train would leave the station soon, could not go to fetch water. Jatindra, therefore, took the responsibility of fetching water for the kid, but the train started leaving the station while he was coming back. As Jatindra was trying to board the train, three European military men guarded his way and pushed him. Any other Indian would have probably digested the humiliation, but not Jatindra, whose source of inspiration was Swami Vivekananda. Manliness and courage were his mantra. He, therefore, thrashed the three army men singlehanded. Not being able to cope with the strength of a Bengali, the white men took out their knives, yet Jatindra persisted and even succeeded in disarming and injuring them. The army men were hospitalised and launched a police case against him. Fearing bad publicity and the humiliation of three white army men in the hands of a Bengali would encourage youth to thrash the Europeans more often, the Government withdrew the case. Mr. Wheeler heard everything from Jatindra and appreciated him even more for his courage and strength. In Jatindra’s language in his telegram to Basanta Kumar, his uncle, “Three military aggressors substantially taught”. One day Wheeler enquired of Jatindra, “Tell me, Mukherjee, how many men can you deal with at a time if aggressed?” With a smile, the reply came, “In the case of honest fellows, I can’t manhandle even one. But I can easily cope with a host of them if they be foul.”
Jatindra’s interaction with Vivekananda
When Swami Vivekananda returned to India in 1897, Jatindra started visiting him and was very much influenced and inspired by him to serve the country and its people. The meeting with Vivekananda was possible owing to his plague relief work under Sister Nivedita. Sister Nivedita was impressed by his work and took him to her guru. Another version says that it was Swami Akhandananda, a fellow disciple of Swami Vivekananda and the pioneer of relief activities in the Ramakrishna Order, who first took him to Vivekananda. Whoever it was, it seemed that the meeting was predestined. The Swami had stared at Jatindra for a long time, but he did not care to tell others what he saw. But possibly he lit a fire as enlightened sages are often said to teach or initiate by mere look, touch, or even through silence. To develop Jatindra holistically, Swami Vivekananda sent him to the gymnasium of Ambu Guha, where the avant-garde patriotic thinkers met, and he himself used to practise wrestling.
Birth of the Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar
Jatindranath Banerjee, another fiery freedom fighter who later embraced spiritual life as Niralamba Swami, had been sent by Sri Aurobindo from Baroda to Bengal to prepare the field for an armed revolution. Barrister Pramatha Mitra had come back from Britain and started the Anushilan Samiti. Many centers for body-building cropped up. Sri Aurobindo came to stay with Yogendra Vidyabhushan, a best-seller writer promoting the story of revolution in different parts of the world, in 1903. Jatindranath Mukherjee first met Aurobindo in Vidyabhushan’s house. Yogendra was the author of the biographies of Mazzini and Garibaldi to inspire the youth. Jatindra’s uncle and revolutionary colleague Lalitkumar married one of the daughters of Vidyabhushan, so they had a close relationship which was further cemented by their common love for the country. In Ambu Guha’s gymnasium, Jatindra had come in contact with two dadas who counted a good deal in his pathfinding. First of all, Shashi-da - Shashibhushan Raychaudhuri) - well-known for his pioneering contribution to social service. And Sachin-da - Sachindranath Banerjee – Vidyabhushan’s son and prophet of an armed rising. The meeting between Aurobindo and Jatindra in Yogendra’s house was a historical moment: it is where the seeds of the future revolutionary movement of India were sown. Aurobindo knew that in Jatindra, he had found a trusted lieutenant. Jatindra knew that Bengal had finally got the leader it wanted.
Reaching out to the masses and preparing the youth
At this time, nationalistic messages were delivered almost through all mediums. Upadhyaya Brahmabandhab edited the fiery Sandhya publication, where he almost daily urged the masses to rise against a tyrannical rule. Satishchandra Mukherjee tried to instill courage and love for the country through his Dawn magazine. Satishchandra Mukherjee also formed the Dawn Society, which emphasised holistic, esp. spiritual and moral development through lectures on Gita and other scriptures for students. Sister Nivedita was a regular visitor to the society, and so were other Nationalistic leaders, including Jatindra.
Since his childhood, well acquainted with stagecraft, Jatindra enacted plays around national heroes like Shivaji, Rana Pratap and Bengali icons like Raja Sitaram. Bankimchandra’s Ananda Math had been considered seditious by the British, and the authorities proscribed its performance in any form. Similarly, Girish Chandra Ghosh’s immensely popular play Chattrapati (Shivaji) was banned, as were his other plays Mirkashim and Siraj Ud Daulla, as they were deemed critical and inimical to British rule.
Proposed Partition of Bengal and its impact
In 1905 Partition of Bengal triggered a huge round of protests against Curzon in particular, and repressions from the administration increased. Another significant development was the imminent split in Congress between Moderates and Extremists. The revolutionary movement was slowly gathering momentum under the leadership of Aurobindo and Barindra Kumar Ghosh. Sister Nivedita played a pioneering role in coordinating among the leaders of various Nationalistic activities and inspiring the youth to sacrifice their lives for the country. Her words instilled courage and hope in many youths who had left their homes and hearth to serve the Nation. Several joined the armed revolution struggle, disillusioned with Congress and the politics between moderates and extremists. In 1905, Jatindra sent two emissaries to Chittagong to do away with Curzon; However, the mission failed to accomplish its goals.
The beginning of the era of armed revolution – Bomb Cases
In 1908, accompanied by Charuchandra Datta – brother-in-law of Raja Subodh Mullick – young Prafulla Chaki went to Darjeeling to request Jatindra, on behalf of Barindra Ghose, to help him assassinate Fuller, the governor of the new province of East Bengal, notorious for promoting communal animosity. Jatindra told Prafulla that the time was not yet ripe for it. As and when necessary, he would send for the young man. But being impatient, Barin asked Khudiram Bose to join Prafulla Chaki in Muzaffarpur to hurl bombs at the carriage of Kingsford, the despotic magistrate. Unfortunately, the bomb killed the wife and little daughter of Barrister Kennedy. Both the revolutionaries were caught. Prafulla killed himself while Khudiram was hanged. This incident triggered a massive manhunt, and many revolutionaries, including Aurobindo and Barindra, were arrested. When Narendra Goswami chose to become an approver, thus putting almost everybody’s life at risk with his doubtful information, he was eliminated in jail by Kanailal Dutta and Satyen Bose. British Government hanged them as retribution. Most of the revolutionaries in this case, which became famous first as the Muraripukur bomb case and subsequently as the Alipore bomb case, got deportation for life, including Barindra and Ullaskar Dutta. Charges could not be proved against Sri Aurobindo, and he was freed. This trial also saw the meteoric rise of a young barrister Chittaranjan Das who successfully defended Sri Aurobindo.
Search for the fugitives – Administration Retaliates
Indian officials who took every pain to be in the good books of their British Masters, led the manhunt for the revolutionaries connected with the incident. The two most active Government officials who terrorised the freedom fighters and implicated them by hook or by crook, the prosecutor Ashutosh Biswas and the Superintendent of police Shamsul Alam were subsequently eliminated – respectively in February 1909 and January 1910 - thus dampening the Government effort to throttle the revolutionary movement completely.
Sri Aurobindo begins a life of seclusion – Leadership Vacuum
In Sri Aurobindo’s absence, Sister Nivedita carried out his work of editing and publishing Karmayogin and Dharma magazines. After Sri Aurobindo got free, he shunned active political life, retired to the French-occupied colonies of Chandernagore and later to Pondicherry, and spent his remaining life as a spiritual seeker. So, there was a leadership vacuum in Bengal, and with Aurobindo’s approval, Jatindra continued to assume the responsibility in the background. He became progressively the undisputed leader of all revolutionary activities for the next seven years.
Morley Minto Reforms – Too Little, Too Late
During this time to assuage the widespread dissonance in the wake of partition, Morley and Minto proposed reforms to enhance the participation of Indians in the decision-making process of governance. The reforms brought some respite from the perception of alienation, and the Government could enlist some support of the Indian elite.
The emergence of Jatindra as a leader
Several Government reports mention Jatindra as one of the founders of the Anushilan Samiti and one of its key leaders. He had begun leading the Samiti in Kushtia. As decided with Sri Aurobindo, one of the Jatindra’s objects was to win over Indian soldiers of the British Empire and organise a revolution. He started a branch of the Anushilan Samiti called the Bandhab Samiti.
In 1905, with Amarendra Chatterjee, he set up the Chhatra Bhandar, or students’ cooperative stores. These were commercially successful enterprises with swadeshi goods, serving as a camouflage to induct and train revolutionaries. Jatindra was a master planner. He mobilised a large group of young militants who remained available for his bidding and participated in large and small operations, mostly throughout Bengal, to destabilise the administration.
Together with Barindra Kumar Ghosh, Jatindra had set up a bomb factory in Deoghar, although he was against Barindra’s unruly or terrorist activities that would claim innocent lives. During the Alipore bomb case, when most prominent leaders were interned, Jatindra remained outside, which allowed him to develop the Jugantar movement. Contrary to Barindra’s highly centralised organisation, Jatindra established several decentralised branches, which were loosely federated with each other, to operate in secrecy and not to leave behind any trail of operations. Such a decentralised operation was a successful strategy as the police could not collect enough evidence against him and his secret society. During this time, several significant cases of Swadeshi robbery were recorded: the freedom fighters involved in these incidents gathered funds for their activities; people were informed that these “loans” would be reimbursed in independent India. Such daring robberies created a great climate of increasing sympathy for the revolutionary movement. In some of these robbery cases, Bagha Jatin’s name as leader was revealed, and the police searched the house of his maternal uncle Dr Hemanta Kumar Chatterjee. At that time, Bagha Jatin was the leader of all organised activities in most of the districts in Bengal.