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
CHAPTER 3 -The Supreme Sacrifice - Attaining Immortality
Jatindra Arrested – The Howrah Conspiracy Case
Shamsul Alam, who was probing Sri Aurobindo’s and Bagha Jatin’s role, was killed on 24 January 1910 by a young man called Birendra Duttagupta. Yielding to physical and psychological torture inside the prison, Birendra declared that Jatindra deputed him. On the 25th, before resigning and sailing for London, unnerved Viceroy Minto paid an unintentional tribute to Jatindra by qualifying him as “A New Spirit of anarchy and lawlessness which seeks to subvert not only British rule but the Governments of Indian Chiefs.” Like Charu Chandra Bose, who had earlier killed Ashutosh Biswas, Birendra was hanged in retaliation.
Jatindra had a grand plan of involving the British Indian army in a major uprising. Since 1906 he had kept close touch with the 10th Jat regiment of Fort William to achieve the same. The British espionage system had somehow got wind of this plan. During the Howrah-Shibpur case, several officers of this regiment were court-martialed for sedition before disbanding it. The newly appointed Viceroy Hardinge singled out Jatindra as the “real culprit” and regretted: Nothing could be worse (…) than the condition of Bengal and Eastern Bengal. There is practically no Government.”
Under such massive pressure from Jatindra’s action, Hardinge decided to shift the Capital of British India from troublesome Calcutta to the apparently quiet security that New Delhi seemed to offer.
On 27 January 1910, along with two of his uncles, Jatindra was arrested by Charles Tegart based on the information gathered from Birendra and others. About fifty other revolutionaries across Bengal were arrested, and the Howrah-Shibpur conspiracy case began. A Government report from Hardinge had noted that rather than arresting forty-six misguided youths, the authorities should have concentrated their attention on one master criminal who was the brain behind them all. One of the attempts was to link Jatindra to the conspiracy to contact the 10th Jat Regiment and incite them into a mutiny. However, no evidence could be gathered since Jatindra operated mainly through a loose heterogeneous organisation of many local leaders, so none of the people arrested could supply completely reliable information, even if they were to turn approvers.
As a consequence of the arrest and trial, Jatindra lost his Government job (which had so far protected him) and spent a year in jail, but charges could not be proved against him. He was released in 1911, and home interned. He escaped, however, to start a lucrative business from Jhenaidah, taking contracts for Government works in various districts of Bengal: a painstaking but ideal pretext to consolidate the regional units of the secret society, within and outside Bengal on horseback or bicycle.
Living on the Razor’s edge
He had to live very carefully because the police strictly watched his movements. However, he tried to keep his revolutionary flock together and established extensive contacts with them. This was possible because he was extremely hard-working and could withstand almost any physical hardship. With his razor-sharp intelligence and forbearance, he could carry out surreptitious activities without getting detected. For the Government, however, he was enemy number one, only they did not have enough evidence to nail him down, so covert were his operations and so adroit was he in beguiling the police and administration. He also had developed vast contacts, being of a gentle and lovable nature, which helped him a lot at tighter moments. His complete control over the revolutionary movements could be ascertained by the fact that after his release, he decided to lie completely low. Not a single revolutionary activity disrupted the lull period. Even then, police had engaged several spies to watch him day and night.
Towards the end of his prison days, Jatindra received extracts from Germany and the Next War, a forthcoming masterpiece by Friedrich von Bernhardi (1849-1930). The well-informed author apprehended the danger “which concerns England more closely, and directly threatens her vitality” if the oncoming war broke: “the nationalist movement in India and Egypt (…), the agitation for independence in the great colonies (…) Now that a pronounced revolutionary and Nationalist tendency shows itself among the Hindu population, the danger is imminent that Pan-Islamism will unite with the revolutionary elements of Bengal.” Inside the prison, Jatindra had an “opportunity of infusing more cohesion and a sense of oneness among the different groups from which the accused were drawn.”
The earliest mention of an international conspiracy for armed revolution in India appears in Nixon’s Report on Revolutionary Organisation, which reported that Jatindra Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin) and Naren Bhattacharya met the Crown Prince of Germany during the latter’s visit to Calcutta in 1912. They obtained from the Prince an assurance that they would receive supplies of arms with ammunition and money to support Jatindra’s project of an insurrection aiming at overthrowing British rule in India.
Jatindra as the executive leader and influencer
When Jatindra was busy organising the district-level work, he left the charge of Calcutta with Atul Krishna Ghosh, his right-hand man. He also influenced several students through Shashi Bhushan Ray Chaudhury, including Bhupendra Kumar Dutta. In reply to the question of young Subhas Chandra Bose, who had asked whether Bagha Jatin was a “Mukta Purush” (Liberated Soul) capable of leading the National movement, Bhupendra informed that Jatindra was the most accurate personification of the Gita that he had ever seen. Jatindra actively indulged in training the youth in military-style discipline. Dr. Taraknath Das, another noted revolutionary who was actively associated with the national and international uprising and conspiracies since the early Anushilan years, also mentioned the military discipline of Jatindra and how it helped Bengal revolutionaries. Bagha Jatin was a pioneer in planning and execution. Attentive to Rashbehari’s constant need for funds, Jatindra planned a novel series of daring taxi cab robberies; it was also meant to lift the sagging morale and spirit of the revolutionaries provoked by the failure of Rashbehari’s attempt. Even though robberies were a questionable means, the motive behind them was impeccable, whereas none of the revolutionaries gained anything personally from them. The fund was used strictly to procure arms to trigger the revolution.
The America-based author Dhan Gopal Mukerji settled in New York and, at the summit of his glory, was to write: Before 1914, we succeeded in disturbing the equilibrium of the Government… Then extraordinary powers were given to the police, who called us anarchists to prejudice us forever in the eyes of the world… Dost thou remember Jyotin, our cousin – he that once killed a leopard with a dagger, putting his left elbow in the leopard’s mouth and with his right hand thrusting the knife through the brute’s eye deep into its brain? He was a very great man and our first leader. He could think of God ten days at a stretch, but he was doomed when the Government found out that he was our head.
Seva or service as a means of establishing the network.
Jatindra was also very active during the famine, flood, epidemics, and other activities and worked with Ramakrishna Mission volunteers to reach out to people during distress. He also actively participated in spiritual events like the celebration of Sri Ramakrishna's birthday celebrations. These events allowed him to interact with potential and would-be revolutionaries, inspire and induct them into his work and maintain his organisations. Charles Tegart, the then police commissioner, noted this in his report.
In 1913 when the Damodar flood affected many people, Jatindra actively participated in the relief work. Many other revolutionaries joined the effort and exchanged ideas to rejuvenate the revolutionary activities. Jadugopal Mukherjee, who took up the leadership of Anushilan Samiti after Jantindra, became close to Jatindra during this period. Jatindra became the undisputed leader of activities in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and Assam. Leaders like Satishchandra Mukherjee of Barisal, Satyendrachandra Mitra of Noakhali, Bipinbihari Ganguli of Atmannoti Samiti, Amarendra Chatterjee, Atulkrishna Ghosh, and several others accepted Jatindra as their supreme leader. Several targeted attack cases were reported, and officials were killed or wounded, but none could be traced back to Jatindra. The Dhaka branch of Anushilan Samiti under Pulin Bihari Das excluded the admission of Muslim volunteers and, therefore, did not fully comply with Jatindra’s plans. Some of its prominent members, like Sachindra Sanyal, severed connection with the Dhaka branch and started working with Rash Behari Bose. Before Bose, mandated by Jatindra, became the coordination point for all efforts in Upper India Amarendra found him temporarily dejected, drifted away from the mainstream, and took him to Jatindra in his relief camp. According to Dr. Jadugopal, Uma Mukherjee, and a few other sources, in the course of meetings Jatindra, with his scheme of an insurrection, set ablaze Bose’s passion, adding “a new impetus to Bose’s revolutionary zeal.” At the same time, Bose discovered in Jatindra “a real leader of men,” an opinion shared by Sister Nivedita. One day Jatindra asked Bose whether he could arrange to occupy the Fort William of Calcutta. Spell-bound, Bose accepted the mission and negotiated with Mansha Singh, in charge of the native soldiers. Mansha turned out to be an approver, whereas Jatindra’s earlier contacts, for instance, with the Jat regiment, had remained loyal to Jatindra’s scheme. In need of a moral sanction for collaborating under Jatindra’s guidance for an insurrection, Bose asked Motilal Roy to consult Sri Aurobindo, knowing that before sailing for Pondicherry, the Master had instructed Motilal to follow Jatindra. Motilal returned from Pondicherry in November 1913 with full approval. Motilal’s friend Manindra Nayak – the bomb maker – asserted in a conversation with Bhupendrakumar Datta that, once more, Sri Aurobindo repeated to Motilal his instruction: “Follow Jatindra.”
In an interview in October 1963, Prithwindra Mukherjee learnt from Atulkrishna Ghose that an unpleasant event occurred in February 1914. It further confirmed Sri Aurobindo’s trust in Jatindra’s leadership. Counting on the promise of the German Prince, Jatindra was busy hastening the armed uprising. Commissioned by Sri Aurobindo to enquire about Jatindra’s progress, Nolinikanta Gupta, Souren Bose, and Suresh Chakraborti (Moni) went to Amarendra Chatterjee’s Shramajivi Samabay to give him the message. On seeing him descending the stairs, N impatient Souren greeted him, exclaiming excitedly, “Dada, Sri Aurobindo wants you to take advantage of the War and do something.” Quick in observing that the boys from Pondicherry were dogged by two very active CID agents, Jatindra, in a fit of mock anger, cried out: “Go and tell Aurobindo Ghose that Jatin Mukherjee is still in Bengal and does not care for anybody’s advice!” Startled by this unusual voice pitch and the unexpected lack of esteem for Sri Aurobindo, Jatindra’s right-hand man, Atulkrishna Ghose, rushed down to appraise the situation.
Revolutionaries turn monks – Impact on Ramakrishna Mission
In the Alipore bomb case of 1908, several persons freed of the charges later embraced spiritual life. Among them were Debabrata Basu, who later became Swami Prajnananda, another Jugantar leader and close to Aurobindo, and Sachindra Nath Sen, who later became Swami Chinmayananda. Both of them and several other noted revolutionaries had joined Ramakrishna Order, which endangered the newly formed Belur Math with the risk of being banned by the authorities. Ramakrishna Mission’s perceived softness toward the former revolutionaries led the police and Government to suspect the spiritual organisation’s activities for a long time during the British rule. The most damaging aspect was a speech from Lord Carmichael that identified Ramakrishna Mission as an organisation providing shelter to freedom fighters. However, later he retracted it.
Bagha Jatin meets Sri Sarada Devi
Bagha Jatin was also a devotee of holy mother Sri Sarada Devi, perhaps getting to know her from his intimacy with Ramakrishna order and his associates like the journalist Satyen Majumdar, a direct disciple of the mother. Jatindra secretly met her while boarding a train to Balasore at a railway station when he learned she was on an adjacent train with her companions. About him, the mother’s recorded impression, as narrated to her female companion, was, “I saw in him a living globe of fire.”
Beginning of Participation of Women in the revolutionary movement
This phase also saw the participation of women in revolutionary activities, though on a much smaller scale than that which happened in the later half of the 1920s. The first seeds were planted by Sarala Ghoshal, editor of Bharati and daughter of Swarnakumari Devi, Rabindranath Tagore’s sister. She and Surendranath Tagore had close contacts as much with Jatindra’s family as with Sister Nivedita and Okakura of Japan, with whom they had formed a grand vision of Asia’s future dominance. Sarala had set up a gymnasium for educating Bengali youth on physical fitness to pay back the English with fists for their kicks. She started Pratapaditya Utsav in 1903, in line with Shivaji Utsav of Tilak. However, she did not actively participate in any of the revolutionary activities, but her sole objective was to instil a sense of manhood among Bengali youth.
Blacklisted by the colonial police as the “most dangerous anarchist” in India, Vinodbala Devi – alter ego of her taciturn brother Jatindra – was looked upon as an incarnation of the Divine Mother. Revolutionaries like Nikhileswar Maulik (Swami Bhavananda) and Sudhir Sarkar remembered paying their homage to Vinodbala in select groups and receiving her blessings before setting out on a mission. She had classmates at the Victoria School (inaugurated by Vidyasagar and John Drinkwater Bethune) girls from the families of men like Devendranath Tagore, Keshub Chunder Sen, and Rajnarain Basu. Vinodbala could blossom in her inherent aesthetic and moral quest in such an elevated association. A member of the Sakhi Samiti managed by Svarnakumari Devi (elder sister of Rabindranath Tagore), Vinodbala was attentive to the social rehabilitation of widows and looked after Hiranmayi Workshop for women and Saroj Nalini Home for Widows. Simultaneously, by teaching at the Carmichael High School at Krishnanagar, she maintained the family of her brother, who sacrificed his young life for the Motherland. The eldest child of a joint family, she was everybody’s “Bordi”. Stern and loving “Pishima” for Jatindra’s children, his grandchildren called her “Bordi”, too. Tears in her eyes while smiling out of pride, she narrated the saga of her heroic brother. Rigorous about names, places, and dates, hoping that someday some of us would like to consult them, she filled notebooks with the history of Jatindra. Arun Chandra Guha, one of the Jugantar leaders, has left a paragraph on her in his classic book, First Spark of Revolution.
Similarly, had Professor Sailen Ghose, one of Jatindra’s associates, not left a few pages concerning the patriotic and steadfast attitude of Indubala Devi – Jatindra’s wife – nobody would ever know anything about her conscious sacrifice determined to expedite her husband’s glorious mission. Prithwindra Mukherjee has quoted Ghose in his NBT book on Bagha Jatin and his Times.
A noted revolutionary contemporary of Jatindra was Nanibala Devi, also famously called Pishima. She, too, was a child widow but was learned and intelligent. She rose to prominence by acting as the wife of a freedom fighter Suresh Majumdar to smuggle arms inside the jail. She also sheltered many of Jatindra’s associates. She was later caught and was the first woman state prisoner. She was severely tortured, which included inserting chilli powder in her private parts, and was interned for four years, but nothing could break her indomitable spirit. She had slapped a high-level British police officer Goldie for making false promises. Another iron lady was Sindhubala, who was arrested along with her pregnant sister-in-law of the same name. Both were tied to a rope and made to walk for miles, causing widespread outrage. Sindhubala continued her revolutionary activities and was later killed by police.
Jatindra & Rashbehari –A great plan
Like Naren Bhattacharya (M.N. Roy), Rashbehari Bose was another associate of Jatindra during this time. With the help of Shashibhushan Raychaudhuri (one of Jatindra’s friends), Rashbehari had escaped the Alipore bomb case. However – according to J.C. Ker – he “was not at this time under any suspicion.” He arranged with Amarendra to throw bombs on the procession of Lord Hardinge in Delhi by Basanta Biswas. By then, under the pressure of revolt from Bengal, the capital of India was shifted from Calcutta in turmoil to the safe and protected New Delhi. Having very soon the chance of coming in close contact with Jatindra and having extensively discussed with Jatindra the latter’s plan of action, Rashbehari was impressed by Jatindra’s skill in having organised all the disparate groups working in different areas of Bengal and beyond under one cohesive force with the motto of a complete overthrow of British rule. Curious to know what Sri Aurobindo thought of Jatindra’s plan, he requested Motilal Roy of Chandernagore to go to Pondicherry and consult the Master. Motilal returned from his mission in November 1913 with full approval. A few weeks later, in March 1914, Sri Aurobindo wrote to Motilal: “Recently in the papers, there has appeared a case of one Rash Behari Bose against whom a warrant of extradition has been granted...”
Having received the charge of the upper Gangetic plain, Rashbehari invited Jatindra, the Commander-in-Chief, in January 1915 to inspect the state of his organisation. Traveling to Benares apparently on a spiritual journey with his family and two of his close followers - Atulkrishna Ghose and Naren Bhattacharya (aka M.N. Roy), Jatindra met Rashbehari there. While Jatindra understood Rashbehari’s haste to fix a date for the rising to pacify the impatient Ghadar members, he would prefer waiting a few more months to deliver arms sent by German authorities. He, however, approved Rashbehari’s proposal to finalize the date of 21 February for the rising. He sensed at once in Rashbehari’s proposal an ambition creeping to usurp the leadership.
Stunned by Rashbehari’s secret meetings in January 1915 with a handful of followers, both Atulkrishna and Naren (M.N. Roy) wanted to protest vehemently against Rashbehari’s will to misappropriate and sabotage this cherished insurrection which Jatindra, singlehanded, had been preparing systematically down more than a decade’s painstaking effort. They agreed, however, to remain loyal to Jatindra’s generous decision to grant Rashbehari a chance and keep supplying him with tonic cash by committing robberies, even when Rashbihari’s planned rising proved to be a failure.
Apparently, that is what seems to have goaded Amarendra to write about his friend Jatindra: “Those who have seen him will never forget his iron-like physique, adamant character, a flower-like tender heart, fire-like courage, a maddened storm-like fervent love for the Motherland. But Jyoti possessed something nobler than all this. Jyoti knew that he was a mere implement in the hands of the mother Almighty; therefore, he was never attached to anything. He was ready forever to offer himself up to the last. He was above the reach of all kinds of obsession, be it with opinion, party, action, or even victory. Every obsession with the world would shrink before his amused gaze. Liberated from all attachment, he was a loving child of Mahamaya, mother of All Illusion.”
Dr. Jadugopal, in his autobiography, analysed Jatindra: “He was so mighty in physical, mental and spiritual strength and moved about in such an altitude that I have not come across a second person to compare with him. Probably men cannot attain perfection. But Jatindranath’s niche was predestined in the midst of those who have reached the nearest to perfection. So often have I asked myself whether I was not getting hypnotised? I tried to find faults with him. But no fault could I detect in Jatindranath’s character.”
Well acquainted with Subhash Chandra Bose (Netaji), the scholar Subhendu Majumdar informs us: “Subhash had high esteem for Bagha Jatin. He had nevertheless detected the exact shortcoming of Bagha Jatin from a political point of view (…) Bagha Jatin’s love for the Motherland is unequaled, but he had too much trust in his followers. That precisely turned out to be fatal for him.”
The Chandernagore Meet
At this time World War 1 was announced, the revolutionaries decided it was a great opportunity to try evicting the British from India. Many Bengal revolutionaries participated in a secret meeting in Chandernagore, including members like M.N Roy (Naren Bhattacharya), Srish Ghosh, Makhan Sen, and Naren Sen. The meeting decided that ten thousand youths would be prepared for revolutionary activities by Anushilan Samiti and the tasks to organise many secret societies were handed over to key revolutionary figures. Bagha Jatin proceeded quickly to organise the movement.
Rodda Company Arms Consignment Heist
In 1914 the revolutionaries got a huge opportunity of getting a cache of arms. This is known in history as the Rodda Company arms heist. Shrish Mitra used to work in the Rodda Company in its Dalhousie branch. He got the news that the company was supposed to import 202 boxes of arms in the ship called S.S. Tactician on 26th Aug 1914. Shrish used bullock carts to carry the arms and absconded with one of the carts containing 50 Mauser pistols and ammunition. This heist became sensational, and police tried in vain to recover the arms. The arms were distributed among regional leaders by Jatindra for carrying out several assassination bids and daylight robberies for procuring arms. The person who drove the bullock cart was Haridas Dutta of Mukti Sangha. The Statesman described the heist as the “greatest daylight robbery”. Haridas Dutta was arrested and put behind bars.
Taxicab robberies & other daring acts of defiance
To satisfy Rashbehari’s claim for more funds, Jatindra invented a novel means: with the newly introduced taxicabs, in February 1915, his followers Naren Bhattacharya and Chittapriya Roy Chaudhury, conducted a few daring robberies, most famous being that of Beliaghata and Garden Reach. Chittapriya also killed a zealous police inspector in Hedua near Calcutta University. When Jatindra, in a closeted meeting in a building in Pathuriaghata, was discussing and planning in secret, a police spy dropped in by chance. Jatindra gave a sign to Chittapriya to shoot, but the spy survived to reveal Jatindra’s name. So Jatindra needed to leave Calcutta. However, he could not because his major associates remained exposed to the same risk. Naren was the connection between Jatindra and the Indo-German conspiracy, so he had to be saved. He could get bail and Jatindra sent Naren to Batavia for getting the consignment of arms. Naren left the country with the pseudo-name Charles Martin.
Activities in Europe
The onset of World War 1 pinned new hope and faith in the minds of the revolutionaries. Outside India, preparations have been going on for a long time for setting up support in favour of independence. At the time of the partition of Bengal, Shyamji Krishna Varma founded the India House in London. He got extensive support from Madam Bhikaji Cama, Dadabhai Naoraji, Lala Lajpat Rai, and other notable leaders. Krishnavarma established the Indian Home Rule Society, too, in 1905. The organisation was an association for Indian students but used to promote Nationalistic ideals. Many youths who later joined independence movements were associated with it, like Madanlal Dhingra, V.D Savarkar, Virendranath Chattopadhyay (aka “Chatto”), and Lala Har Dayal.
The first flag of Indian independence was raised in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1907. Madam Cama and Shyamji Krishna Varma designed it.
In 1909 M.L Dhingra shot dead Sir Curzon Wyllie and was hanged for it. The police zeroed down on India House and its activities, and many of its leadership fled to other locations. Chatto went to Germany via Paris.
Revolutionary Activities in America
In the United States, secret societies sprung up to support the cause of India. Several noted Indian revolutionaries had been to various parts of the United States, among them being Dr. Bhupen Dutta (the younger brother of Swami Vivekananda), Taraknath Das, etc. Myron Phelp, an acquaintance of Krishnavarma and admirer of Swami Vivekananda, founded an “India House” in Manhattan, New York, in January 1908. They helped maintain relationships with international revolutionary societies across the globe, especially with Irish & Turkish revolutionaries. Irish collaboration with Indian revolutionaries resulted in some of the early but futile efforts to get arms into India, including a 1908 attempt on board a ship called the SS Moraitis.
Taraknath Das – One of the pioneers, an early associate of Jatindra
Taraknath Das was associated with Bagha Jatin during the early days of Anushilan Samiti. Disguised as a monk named Tarak Brahmachari, he left for Madras on a lecture tour. Subsequently, he went to Japan and then to America. With Pandurang Khankoje (B.G. Tilak’s emissary), Taraknath founded the Indian Independence League and its organ, the spitfire Free Hindusthan. Along with substantial funds, Jatindra sent some other associates on a study trip to the Americas to help support India’s cause, who received help and support from Taraknath.
Ghadar Party and its efforts among Sikh immigrants and North India
Har Dayal, in the meanwhile, has been working with the Ghadar party in Canada to help poor expatriates, mostly Sikhs. The party’s key founders and members included Kartar Singh, Mohammed Barakatullah, Sohan Singh, Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, and probably Rashbehari Bose. Following the example of Taraknath, some of them worked among Indian immigrants to provide them with all the help regarding immigration and settlement. But it also used this opportunity to rouse their patriotic and nationalistic feelings and took their help to plan for a revolution in India and a mutiny in the barracks among Sikh and Jat regiments.
Berlin Committee: Indo-German Conspiracy
The Indo-German conspiracy took its root whereby Germany had decided to support the armed revolution against British rule in India, as promised to Jatindra by the Crown Prince. With the onset of World War I, an Indian revolutionary group called the Berlin Committee (later called the Indian Independence Committee) was formed in Germany. Virendranath (Chatto) was its chief architect. He was later joined by Taraknath Das, Dr. Bhupen Datta, Raja Mahendra Pratap, Mohammed Barakatullah, Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, Lala Hardayal, and several other noted revolutionaries. Max Von Oppenheim and Arthur Zimmermann, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the German Empire, supported the Berlin committee. Berlin committee maintained a very close relationship with Jatindra with the help of Naren B. Chatto sent a report of the activities of the Berlin committee in 1914 to Jatind through Satyen Sen, one of Jatindra’s emissaries and leaders of the Ghadar; accompanied by Kartar Singh and Vishnu Ganesh Pingle - two other eminent leaders of the Gadhar - Satyen reached Calcutta on 20 November 1914 and all the three saw Jatindra for a series of discussion. Carrying Jatindra’s written instructions, in the third week of December 1914, Pingle and Kartar went to Benares to see Rashbehari. The latter learnt from Pingle that four thousand Ghadar militants had already reached Budge Budge and were looked after by two close followers of Jatindra. The Ghadarites were supposed to join the cantonments in Upper India. Jatindra asked Rashbehari to send Pingle with Sachin Sanyal to Amritsar. In March 1915, Jiten Lahiri brought news of further developments from Chatto.
The Ghadar party got a shot in the arms in the Komagata Maru incident, which resulted in riots and killings of Sikh immigrants in Budge Budge after Canada refused them asylum. Atulkrishna and Satish Chakravarti welcomed a good number of Ghadar militants. The Ghadar men were directed to North Indian shelters to foment the planned revolution.
The plan of the Grand Mutiny in the barracks
Meanwhile, on the foil of the Partition of Bengal, since 1905, Jatin had been planning a most audacious attempt to incite a revolt in the British Indian army. Commissioned by Jatindra, Rashbehari started organising the revolution in North India in 1914, together with Vishnu Pingle, Sachin Sanyal, and several Ghadar leaders, while Jatindra remained in charge of East and North-East India. Jatindra also kept a close link with the revolutionary base in Batavia, while Ghadar had a close connection with the base in Bangkok created by G.D. Kumar, Taraknath’s associate. The rising in the North was planned with active connivance with the Ghadar party, and the revolutionaries circulated inflammatory materials. However, the British police got wind of the mutiny plot.
Ghadar party’s influence in North India & Asia Pacific
The Ghadarites in India were able to connect with the sympathisers within the British Indian Army and build networks with underground revolutionary groups. East Asia, including China and Hong Kong, were major transit points. The revolutionaries made several attempts to enlist the support of China and Japan in procuring arms. But it became difficult owing to Chinese and Japanese reluctance to side with Germany during World War 1. Therefore, the plan to procure arms by this route fell through. In the United States, the Ghadar party members, the revolutionaries, and the German ambassador made an elaborate plan and arrangement to ship arms from the U.S. and the Far East through Shanghai, Batavia, Bangkok, and Burma.
The Arms consignment – shipment plan
The steamers Annie Larsen and SS Henry were hired to ship the arms out of the United States and transfer them to the S.S. Maverick. The ownership of ships was hidden under a massive smokescreen involving fake companies and oil businesses in Southeast Asia. But because of the delay in dispatch, the coup failed as, by that time, the plot was unveiled, and British police arrested most leaders in India. British intelligence had already infiltrated the plot through Indian and Irish agents linked closely with the conspiracy.
The Mutiny’s Link with the Arms Shipment
In India, unaware of the delayed shipment and confident of being able to rally the Indian army, the plot for the mutiny took its final shape. Mutiny also prevailed in Singapore. The 23rd Cavalry in Punjab was to seize weapons and kill their officers on roll call on 21 February. This uprising was to be followed by mutiny in the 26th Punjab regiment, which was the signal for the rebellion to begin, resulting in an advance on Delhi and Lahore. However, treachery betrayed the plan, and almost all the mutineers were suppressed. Whereas their leaders like Kartar Singh and V.G Pingley were arrested and hanged, Rashbehari could escape to Japan, financed by Atindra Bose (directly initiated by Jatindra and founder of Simla Byayam Samiti). Before his departure, Rashbehari wanted to meet Jadugopal, but, for reasons unknown, the latter refused to see him off. There was a successful mutiny in Singapore, and the mutineers killed many British officers. But later, the mutineers had to pay a terrible price, and most of them were either killed or apprehended by the European forces.
Jugantar and the armed revolution
In the meantime, even after the February plot had been betrayed and given away, the plans for an uprising continued in Bengal through the Jugantar under Jatindra’s leadership. German agents in Thailand and Burma, most prominently Emil and Theodor Helfferich— brothers of the German Finance minister Karl Helfferich— resumed links with Jugantar members through Jiten Lahiri in March 1915. Jatindra sent Naren B to Batavia. He also sent Bholanath Chatterjee to Bangkok and Abani Mukherjee to Japan.
Christmas Day Plot
In April 1915, Jatindra’s chief lieutenant Narendra Bhattacharya met the Helffrich brothers and received information of the expected arrival of Maverick with arms. The Kaiser’s brother received Chatto representing the Berlin Committee in September 1914, and a treaty was signed by which Germany would help oust the British from India. Within a month, Narain S. Marathe and Dhiren Sarkar (brother of Professor Benoy Sarkar) carried a message from the Kaiser for the German ambassador in Washington, D.C. On 7 December 1914, German military attaché Von Papen informed Ambassador Bernstorff about arms he had purchased for Chatto’s party: to assist Jatindra’s insurrection, 11,000 rifles, 4 million cartridges, 250 Mauser pistols, 500 revolvers with ammunition.
A group Bagha Jatin selected would collect the consignment from coastal Bengal and Orissa. The date of the uprising was fixed for Christmas 1915, earning the name “The Christmas Day Plot.” Jatindra counted on winning over the 14th Rajput Regiment in Calcutta and cutting the railway connection to Madras at Balasore, thus taking control of Bengal. Jugantar also received funds (estimated to be Rs 33,000 between June and August 1915) from the Helfferich brothers through a fictitious firm in Calcutta. However, at this time, a defecting Baltic-German agent leaked the details of the Maverick and Jugantar plans to Beckett, the British Consul at Batavia. The conspiracy had a huge base extending from planned coups in the Middle East where many Indian soldiers were stationed, Afghanistan, Andaman, and Nicobar islands to free the prisoners there for joining the liberation troops.
Arms shipment foiled
Harikumar Chakrabarty, Jatindra’s associate, opened the Harry and Sons company in Calcutta. With the help of this shadow enterprise, this company established links with Germany thanks to a team of brilliant students of Acharya Prafullachandra Ray. As a result, Naren Bhattacharya could communicate with his fellow revolutionaries. After arranging for the Maverick to be shipped to Balasore, Narendra Bhattacharya returned with a confirmation that the steamer would contain 30,000 rifles, ammunition, and plenty of money. The responsibilities were allocated, the distribution of arms, and the plans for large-scale violence and war, including capturing Fort William, were all laid out meticulously. Since Jatindra was the most wanted revolutionary in Calcutta, he decided to go to Balasore. In the meanwhile, the Maverick was intercepted by a Dutch ship in Java. Two other ships – Annie Larsen and SS Henry - bringing arms consignment to Maverick from U.S. were also caught. Heramba Gupta, a member of the Berlin committee who was in SS Henry, got arrested. Later he was tried for conspiracy by an all-white Jury in Chicago.
The search narrows down – Police on Trail
The police had by now come to know the complete story and extensively searched Harry & Sons. They caught several revolutionaries, and the net was fast spreading around Jatindra. From Japan, Rashbehari seemed to make a last-ditch attempt to send a consignment of arms with one Nielson through China, but Shanghai police intercepted the consignment. Bholanath Chattopadhyay was arrested and committed suicide in Pune jail. Narendra Bhattacharya left India and went to the Americas. He was later arrested and tried. He took the name of Manabendra Nath Roy (M.N Roy) to cover his identity. Thus one of the grandest of the revolution attempts was foiled by the combined power of Britain-America-Japan-China-France-Holland.
The Amazing Brainpower
And yet, the sheer magnitude of the plan and the brain power of Jatindranath Mukherjee is no less surprising. We cannot even imagine the capability of a person who dares to take on a mighty British empire, without any financial power to back him, without any international country to stand up against Britain’s might and help him. He depended only on God and on himself and took up the entire responsibility on his shoulders as service to the Nation. He had only one vision, one dream, to see India free by waging war against the British Government, and had his plan succeeded, it would have been a major setback to Britain and would possibly have been a game changer in World War.
Jatindra goes to Balasore
Nobody, not even the Maharaja of Burdwan, a close friend and admirer of Jatindra, could not risk giving him shelter. A Jugantar leader in Howrah, Atulchandra Sen, was then the head of Bagnan High School. Jatindra went to stay with him. Atulchandra arranged with Chandra Samui, a reliable neighbour, to shelter him in a hut. Moved by the courageous hospitality of this patriotic rural man, Jatindra asked Chandra if he knew who the guest was and the consequences of hiding him. Chandra replied: “If they hanged me, this would lead me to heaven; it would not be a sin.”
The Bagnan High School was in the Rathtala fields. The building is still there beside the dule para (quarters of the palanquin-bearers). Bagha Jatin remained hiding in this building as a teacher for a while. One day the police visited the place, accompanied by their European Boss. That day Bagha Jatin was not present. But the headmaster felt nervous. Bagha Jatin had, by that time, set them dreaming of the rising for liberation. There were arms and ammunition scattered on the floor. The headmaster got chairs ready on the school campus in a calm temperament. If there is a perquisition, let there be. But hospitality, first of all. The police guarded the area. Altogether worried, the headmaster sought a solution to save the situation. The caretaker of the school garden turned up from his home in the dule para and enquired with the headmaster: “The Europeans have come; may I fetch water to quench their thirst, Sir ?” Before the headmaster could utter an inadvertent ‘yes,’ the man entered the building and carried off the baked clay amphora on his shoulder. And in no time did he bring the water expected. The Europeans found nothing in their search. The caretaker had removed all the arms before hiding them inside the baked clay amphora. Never had the employers kept him abreast of their revolutionary secret. He had, however, guessed that they were fighting for India’s freedom. A freedom in which he had his share.
From Bagnan, they took a train. An Englishman showered abuses on them en route, and Bagha Jatin could have been easily paid back, but Jatindra displayed wonderful self-restraint in view of the larger goal. He stayed for some time in Kanthi and Tamluk of Medinipur. He then went to Balasore on foot and stayed in the forested area in a remote village called Mahuldiha near Kaptipada. Fully aware of Jatindra’s mission, Manindra Chakravarty served him with his followers cordially for six months as their local guardian.
The police somehow got their scent by raiding Harry & Sons branch office in Balasore, and Jatindra decided to move towards the hilly areas of Mayurbhanj. Jyotish Pal fell ill, and Jatindra did not intend to move, leaving him behind. So police got a lot of time to get hold of the revolutionaries. Jatindra’s insistence on taking Nirendra and Jyotish with him delayed his departure. The police force led by Dy. Inspector General Denham and his associates Mr. Tegart and Mr. Bird had come to Kaptipada by getting information from a person who worked at Harry & Sons. But by then, the revolutionaries had gone to another village. Magistrate Kilby had by then sealed Balasore and all adjoining railway stations. Army from the adjoining Chandbali unit led by Sergeant Rutherford also came there searching for the escaping revolutionaries. Jatin and his companions walked through the forests and hills of Mayurbhanj under a drizzling sky and, after two days, reached Balasore Railway Station. They had walked without food, water, and sleep, and the end game was drawing near.
Local villagers turn hostile
Chittapriya and his companions asked Jatindra to leave and go to safety while they guarded the rear. Jatindra refused to part with them. The local fishermen disclosed the location of the revolutionaries to the police. The police had announced a reward for capturing five fleeing “bandits'', so the local villagers were in pursuit. When the revolutionaries fired on the villagers who had to catch them, one villager named Raju Mohanty got killed. With this, the villagers temporarily retreated, but the news of the skirmish reached the ears of the administration in hot pursuit. With occasional skirmishes, the revolutionaries, running through jungles and marshy land in torrential rain, finally took up position on 9 September 1915 in a spot suitable as a trench surrounded by undergrowth on a hillock at Chashakhand in Balasore, near the river Buri Balam.
The Final Battle
On 9 September 1915, Jatindra and his associates, tired and worn out from lack of sleep, food, and the immense hardships encountered, faced a huge contingent of police and army. The five fought bravely without surrendering for several hours with their Mauser pistols. Chittapriya went down fighting, Jatindra and Jyotish were seriously wounded, and Nirendra and Manoranjan were captured after their ammunition had run out. There was an unrecorded but heavy casualty on the Government side. So far, the revolutionaries had kept the large contingent at bay with their fighting skills, but then Chittapriya was hit and was seriously wounded, and Jatindra tried tending to his associate despite his injury. Another bullet hit Jatindra in the stomach, and he fell. He then asked for a ceasefire. When Magistrate Kilby appeared on the scene, Jatindra paid him due respect, saying that he was unaware that the magistrate himself had come. The magistrate was very pleased with his impeccable manners despite the grave circumstances. Nirendra and Manoranjan were arrested. Jatindra assumed all responsibilities for the fight and the revolutionary activities and gave a declaration that Nirendra and Manoranjan were innocent, he and Chittapriya having executed all the fighting (“please see that no injustice is done to these boys, whatever was done, I am fully responsible for that”). Jatindra was taken to the Balasore hospital, where he died the next day, 10th September 1915.
Tribunal for sentencing – betrayal of Indians by Indians
A special tribunal in Balasore then tried Jyotish, Nirendra, and Manoranjan and found them guilty. Nirendra and Manoranjan were hanged, and Jyotish was sentenced to deportation for life. It was a colossal shame for India that two of the three judges were Indians: one was Bengali, and the other an Oriya.
Aftermath – The deceit & shamelessness of the British administration
The administration suppressed Jatindra’s death and the news about the encounter. They did not even hand over the body to the family. The Press only announced that the police killed five criminals. But then it spread by word of mouth. Still, there was some doubt in the public regarding his death for a long period Tegart had told about Jatindra: “Though I had to do my duty, I have a great respect for him. He is the only Bengali to have died fighting from a trench.” Even though Tegart was respectful, his deceit was evident in framing Nirendra and Manoranjan for the death of a villager.
The Impact of Bagha Jatin and his legacy
The extent of Jatindra’s life, vision, and plan was so great that it had far-reaching international and national ramifications. Suffice it to say that had the United States not been a British ally and had a few other countries in East Asia joined Germany, it would have been impossible for Britain to retain its power base in India. But as discussed earlier, the plan was possibly thirty years too early, and India was not prepared for it. There was no cohesive leadership across all entities involved, like Ghadar, the Berlin committee, Jugantor, and Anushilan Samiti, and a lack of coordination was also evident. Moreover, treachery was the main reason for the downfall, as the British had established a successful espionage network that penetrated the revolutionary circle. Thus British intelligence knew most of the plans even before they could be hatched. Still, this was the most audacious and grandest attempt to free India. Afterward, it decided the entire course of the revolution movement and led to the meteoric ascent of M. K Gandhi, who could take advantage of the rising discontent among the masses, peoples’ admiration for the fighters for independence, and an understanding of the sinister nature of British rule.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was one of the most outstanding successors of Bagha Jatin, as he took many of his ideas later in 1942 to take over and renovate the Azad Hind platform. So Jatindra was, after all, not unsuccessful. He paved the way and led the foundation for two of the greatest leaders of India – Gandhi and Netaji Subhas Bose – by letting them relish the fruits of his hard work. His dream and vision of an independent India was realised thirty-two years later, but not in the way he envisaged as less worthy people driven by selfish motives hijacked his cause.
After independence, there was a petition by several Members of the Indian Parliament to rename Fort William after Jatindra, but it fell on deaf ears. One of his admirers was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh, who was greatly inspired by Bagha Jatin to liberate Bangladesh. Prithwindra Mukherjee, a noted scholar, historian, and writer established in France, published his comprehensive biography in 2010, named Bagha Jatin – Life and Times of Jatindranath Mukherjee. Jatindra’s centenary of martyrdom was celebrated in Bangladesh in the village of Kaya. Still, even there, the fear of the religious extremists has prevented the authorities from calling the local institutions in Bagha Jatin’s name. Nonetheless, it is still evident that people have not forgotten him, and no division can prevent people from acknowledging his greatness and paying tribute to his selfless courage.
Means versus ends – was Jatindra justified in using violence
Questions are often raised on the methods adopted by the Jugantar, mainly the Swadeshi armed robberies. Rabindranath Tagore was not sympathetic to one category of revolutionaries represented by Upadhyay Brahmabandhab. In his novel, Ghare Baire Tagore sketched a very deplorable character of Sandeep, a revolutionary. Even in Char Adhyay, Tagore showed the same animosity, welling out of a misunderstanding. This may have something to do with his dislike for the path of the armed revolution. However, he may not have done justice by demeaning and denigrating the revolutionaries and their sacrifices in this. Himself suspected of sympathy for them, Tagore nevertheless abdicated his duty of a protector towards them. For instance, in the case of Atul Sen, the headmaster of the Bagnan school, fully informed about his leading role in the Jugantar, Tagore wrote to console Sen’s wife on learning the news of the latter’s imprisonment.
The debate between means and ends is once and for all settled in the Mahabharata. When the goal is virtuous, when the end is to secure a selfless cause, any means can be identified. However, if the cause is selfish, even if that means name, fame, power, etc., the means adopted must be honest and transparent for the fighters. Even though some of the armed revolutionaries were compromised and were of questionable character, even though some of the atrocities committed were as heinous as the calculated oppression practised by the colonial authorities, most of the revolutionaries were extremely selfless. They did not stand to gain anything from any of their activities; instead, they sacrificed and renounced everything they possessed for the country's freedom, often facing great opposition from their own families and countrymen. Just as it is perfectly acceptable to kill an assassin in self-defence or while protecting somebody else, it is not at all a crime to commit robbery for procuring arms to snatch away one’s own country’s freedom. Unselfishness is the principle on which most of the Jugantar revolutionaries operated. Some of their operations went astray. There were betrayals and jealousies which compromised and foiled the plans. Still, none can deny the motive, the spirit of supreme sacrifice, the passion for achieving the impossible and daunting task of confronting a vast administrative machinery by adopting a path of deliberate aggression. Jatindranath Mukherjee epitomised this spirit, and he and his associates will therefore be always remembered for their supreme sacrifice and selflessness in the name of Mother India, in the name of her children free, happy, and prosperous. Even though present-day history books deny them a place, they have already achieved immortality, as promised in the Bhagavad Gita “If slain, you reach Heaven/ Conqueror, you enjoy the earth