Glimpses of the freedom movement - Subhas's release from Mandalay, council entry by defating J.N Bose, Gandhi's return and discomfort with Subhas in Calcutta Congress and Subhas's drifting away from Gandhi by opposing of Nehru resolution, Subhas and Jawaharlal Nehru coming together, Gandhi nominating Jawaharlal as president of the Lahore congress, Subhas as Mayor of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Simon commission and anti Simon movement across the country, death of Lala Lajpat Rai by lathicharge of Lahore Police, Lahore conspiracy case and Bhagat Singh's killing of Saunders, Jatin Das's heroic death and Gandhi's silence, Gandhi's Civil disobedience, Gandhi Irwin pact, Bhagat Singh's martyrdom, brutal assault of Calcutta police on Subhas on the streets of Calcutta and inside jail, Bengal Volunteer's revenge - Binoy Bose kills I.G Lowman in Dhaka, Binoy Badal and Dinesh courts martyrdom in the famous Corridor battle in Writer's Building after killing I.G prison Simpson, Chattagram Armoury Raid and martyrdom of Master da Surjyo Sen and his associates, rise of woman revolutionaries - Shanti, Suniti, Bina, Preetilata, Ujjwala, Kalpana, failure of Civil Disobedience, Subhas sent to prison
Release from Jail - An Entry into Bengal Legislative Council
About the Mandalay jail Subhas wrote in Indian Struggles, "Within these structures we were at the mercy of the elements. There was nothing to protect us from the biting cold of winter or the intense heat of summer or the tropical rains in Mandalay. We all began to wonder how we were going to live our life there. But there was no help and we had to make the best of a bad situation". Subhas read vigorously on history, literature, spiritual books, esp. on Tantra and on a host of other topics as permitted by censor. He reinforced his belief that one must sacrifice everything for the realization of one's ideals. He believed that suffering and pain would serve as incentives to greater deeds and nobler achievements. He learnt the Burmese language and developed a strong liking for the Burmese people. On the whole the relationship with prison officials was cordial. However as a result of the unfavourable climate and the hunger strike, Subhas's health deteriorated. During the winter of of 1926 he fell severely ill with Broncho Pneumonia and became bed ridden from April 1927. He also had suffered a severe weight loss. Government was initially casual about his health but given the alarming situation it reluctantly transferred Subhas to Rangoon where he was treated by a medical board composed of Lt. Col. Kelsal and his own brother Dr. Sunil Bose. While still detained in Rangoon Jail he had a severe disagreement with the superintendent Major Flowerdew. He was then transferred to another jail where he luckily had Major Findlay. Major Findlay took pity on him and sent a strong note to the Government. A recalcitrant Government finally agreed and laid down condition to the Bengal Provincial Congress that Subhas would be released only if he agreed to go to Switzerland for treatment at his own cost. Subhas rejected this offer, finding it too insulting. He wrote a letter to his brother Sarat Bose saying that it is better to die in the jail than to be away from the motherland for a long time. He wrote, "ideas will work out their own destiny and we, who are but clods of clay encasing sparks of divine fire, have only to consecrate ourselves to the ideas." Refusing to compromise he said to the Government, "I am not a shopkeeper, I do not bargain." In this blog post part of his letter is reproduced.
In May 1927, Subhas was removed from Insein jail and was onboard a boat which took him to Calcutta. I.G Lowman had been waiting for him and he was taken to a medical board comprising of the doctors like Nilratan Sarkar, Dr. B.C Roy, Lt. Col. Sands and Major Hingston. The Governor had released him on 11 May 1927, but the policemen had actively tried to prevent his release and delayed it as far as possible. Subhas was released on 16 May, 1927. Subhas had said that fortunately for him, the new Governor Stanley Jackson had come with an open mind and with an unerring instinct of a trained politician he had sensed the grievance of the people. Under Lytton's regime, Calcutta Police had been the defacto Governor. Stanley Jackson had changed this and tried to assert his own authority. It may be noted that Bina Das, who had tried to kill Bengal Governor Stanley Jackson in the Convocation Hall of Calcutta University in 1932 was the daughter of Subhas's master mohashoy of Ravenshaw School, Beni Madhab Das.
While Subhas was in Mandalay prison he was elected to the Bengal legislative council by a huge majority by defeating a formidable opponent, the liberal Mr J. N Basu, nephew of Bhupendra Nath Basu, ex Congress President (vide blog post Subhas wins his first election). By the time he was released he had lost his health and it took him a long time to recover. But this obstinate and desperate son of the motherland was not to be cowed down. He renewed his activities with greater vigour. He started movements for the interests of the farmers, the labourers, and the students. Gandhiji had been forced to retire from the active politics by the rise of the Swarajists under Deshbandhu. Now with Deshbandhu gone and Subhas still finding his ground, Gandhiji again became the undisputed leader of Indian National Movement. Also people began to shake themselves out of the stupour that had befallen the nation and the contribution of the youth was most vital. Gandhi was still retired from active politics and Motilal Nehru had traveled to Europe. Responsibility of the Swarajists rested on Mr. Narayana Iyengar who did a great job of restoring intercommunal friendship after a tour of India. He organized a unity conference in November in Calcutta. Bengal, which had been plagued by a series of communal violence in 1926, began to return to the fold of normalcy. In August the ministers were thrown out from Bengal Legislative Council because of a no confident motion moved by them. A strike was organized in the biggest railway workshop of the Bengal Nagpur Railway, in Kharagpur. The company acceded to the demand of the workers. Later in November the Bengal meeting of the Bengal Congress committee was held with Subhas as the President and Kiran Sankar Roy as the secretary. The Congress workers were rejuvenated and the Government had given the final impetus to the rising tide of Nationalism.
Biplobi Trailokya Maharaj - Subhas's jail mate in Mandalaya, a revolutionary who was in prison for 30 years and fought for independence of Bangladesh. Image courtesy Jayasree facebook
The infamous Mandalay prison that housed Subhas for more than two years from 1925 to 1927. He was transferred briefly to Insein prison. In Mandalay Subhas conducted a strike to get the right to perform Durga Puja and won the concession from British Government. Image courtesy; Wikimapia
Simon Commission, Calcutta Congress and Subhas's rift with Gandhiji, demise of Swaraj party
Simon Commission and the Declaration of Purna Swaraj
In Nov 1927, the Viceroy Lord Irwin made an announcement regarding the appointment of the Indian Statutory commission under section 84a of the Government of India Act which called for a once in a decade review of the political situation in India. The Congress had been pressing for a Round Table conference since 1920 for revising the Constitution for the early introduction of the Dominion Home Rule. But the Conservatives in the power in England, who had no sympathy for the demand, had decided to settle the question of India before 1929 elections. The commission had its chairman John Simon. It was to be a parliamentary commission composed of all the political parties of England but Indians were excluded from it. In Indian Struggles of Subhas Bose it is noted that, "the Commission was charged with inquiring into the working of the system of government, the growth of education and the development of representative institutions in British India and matters connected therewith and to what extent it is desirable to establish the principle of responsible government or to extend, modify or restrict the degree of responsible government then existing therein, including the question whether the establishment of second chambers of the local legislatures is or is not desirable." This announcement was received with a chorus of condemnation across India as Indians were getting accustomed to the idea of self rule and that their political destiny would be decided by the British parliamentary committee without any input from Indians was deemed as a major insult. Even the Indian liberals boycotted the commission. In the words of the Indian Struggle, "The attitude of the Liberals was explained by a resolution passed at a public meeting held at Allahabad in December, which was presided over by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and which considered 'the exclusion of Indians a deliberate insult to the people of India, as not only does it definitely assign to them a position of inferiority, but what is worse, it denies them the right to participate in the determination of the constitution of their own country'. "
Madras Congress in December 1927 decided to boycott Simon Commission at every stage and in every form. Influenced by the younger section of the congress led by Subhas, Madras congress passed the resolution of complete independence as the goal of Indian people. Gandhi as usual dithered and said that "it has been hastily conceived and thoughtlessly passed." The Madras Congress was presided over by M.A Ansari. The Madras Congress also took a resolution of drawing up a plan for an All India All party's conference for drafting the constitution of India. Subhas in the meanwhile had become the youth leader just like Jawaharlal Nehru, the son of Motilal Nehru, the Cambridge educated intellectual who was nine years elder to Subhas. He became the President of the Bengal Congress and also the joint general secretary of the All India Congress along with Jawaharlal and Qureshi. In 1928 a committee was formed under Motilal Nehru to draft a report on the principles of the new constitution that would meet the country's needs and Subhas was a member of the committee. However the constitution aimed for Dominion Status and not Purna Swaraj. Not satisfied with this constitution, along with Jawaharlal, Subhas established the Indian Independence League, with a goal of complete independence. The All India Muslim League meanwhile in the spirit of the Unity conference had adopted a resolution recommending Hindu Muslim unity, boycott of the Simon Commission and joint electorate with reservation of seats for the Muslims. Jinnah and Ali brothers joined the meeting. This gave a tremendous impetus to the Nationalist Muslims aligned to Congress. The voices of the labour unions were also growing stronger and inspired by the Russian Revolution Indian socialists and communists had gained ground steadily. The All India Trade Union Congress met at Kanpur. The Left wing in the Congress got a shot in the arms with the ascent of Jawaharlal and Subhas, both being sympathetic to the Left ideology. Jawaharlal had declared himself to be a socialist and Subhas had been aligned with the socialists within Congress.
The Nationalist movement was backed up by the trade union movements and growing resentment among the working classes. There were strikes called by the textile workers in Bombay, Jute mill workers in Calcutta, and the workers in Tata Iron and Steel. In the latter Subhas played a major role. In February 1928, John Simon wrote to the Viceroy suggesting some changes to make the commission more inclusive of the Indian concerns - a "joint free conference" with a body of representations chosen by the Indian Legislatures. But this was rejected by all parties. In the Indian Legislative council Lala Lajpat Rai moved a resolution rejecting the the Simon Commission. Assembly therefore could not appoint any committee to work with Simon commission. Except for the Central Provinces Legislative council, all the other provincial legislative councils however appointed committees to cooperate with the commission, in spite of the opposition of the Congress and the Liberals. Simon arrived in February 1928 and was greeted with hartals and black flags across India. Only in Bengal, Congress had launched a campaign for the boycott of the British goods. But in the rest of India, Congress could not cope with public expectation and Mahatma Gandhi did not come out of his voluntary retirement to lead the movement. Subhas observed in the Indian Struggle, "When the writer (Subhas) visited the Mahatma in May 1928, at his Ashram, at Sabarmati, he reported to him the public enthusiasm which he had met with in many provinces and begged him to come out of his retirement and give a lead to the country. At that time the reply of the Mahatma was that he did not see any light, though before his very eyes the peasantry of Bardoli were demonstrating through a no-tax campaign that they were ready for a struggle. During the whole of 1928 and 1929, there was so much unrest in the labour world that if a political campaign had been started at that time, it would have been well-timed. Moreover, in 1928 and 1929, there was more enthusiasm and excitement in provinces like Punjab and Bengal than in 1930. In 1930, when the movement was launched by the Mahatma, the labour unrest had subsided to a large extent and the situation in some provinces was much quieter than before. After starting the movement in 1930, the Mahatma observed in his paper, Young India, that he could have launched the campaign two years earlier. The responsibility for not utilising the situation in 1928 devolves not only on the Mahatma but also on the Swarajist leaders who had the Congress machinery in their hands at the time, but who had unfortunately lost their dynamic impulse. If a leader like Deshabandhu Das had been available then, the events following the boycott of the Prince of Wales' visit to India in 1921 would have been repeated in 1928." A leader of the stature of Deshbandhu was clearly missed in the current situation who could have organized a much larger movement and put a much bigger pressure on the Government.
Undeterred by the opposition the seven members of the Simon commission traveled from place to place and met with hostile demonstrations, black flags and shouts of "Simon Go Back." Government resorted to counter demonstrations using a section of the Muslims and the depressed classes. Government also resorted to unnecessarily harsh measures. In Lahore the black flag procession was led by Lala Lajpat Rai. Police struck with lathis and baton and Lala Lajpat Rai who was at the front was grievously injured. This indirectly resulted to his untimely death and Simon Commission became even more unpopular. The recommendations of the Motilal Nehru committee on the constitution rendered recommendations of Simon commission as superfluous. The committee presented its findings before the plenary session of the All-Parties Conference in Lucknow in August and the report was unanimously adopted.
Lala Lajpat Rai - the undisputed lion of Punjab, freedom fighter of three decades, died as a result of Lathi charge while demonstrating against Simon Commission
All over India demonstrations against Simon Commission became spontaneous. Even Liberals under Tej Bahadur Sapru joined hand with Congress. "Simon Go Back" was the call from every corner of India
Calcutta Congress 1928 - Gandhi takes the reign of Congress
The movement catapulted Subhas to the mainstream of the Indian politics. Until 1925 he was the right hand of Deshbandhu. But from 1927 onwards he became an all India leader, esp. of the youth, who could present his viewpoints and plan through the conferences and the meetings of the Congress. He was alone, but he was gaining strength and people across India came to love and respect him as a National leader. In May 1928 Subhas presided over the Maharashtra Provincial Conference at Poona. In his speech he advocated some lines of activities for the Congress which he had contemplated during his incarceration in Burma, that included organization of labours, students and separate organization for women. The first All Bengal Conference of students was held in August in Calcutta and was presided over by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. After the Conference, students' organisations were started all over Bengal and somewhat later, similar organisations were started in other provinces as well. The position was further cemented in the Calcutta Congress of 1928. The Calcutta Congress in December 1928, according to Nanda Mukherjee, biographer, was a landmark in Subhas's life. He was elected to be the president of the All India Youth Congress in Calcutta. He was the General Officer Commanding (GoC) of the Congress Volunteers. The session was presided over by Motilal Nehru. The attendance in the Calcutta session was the largest and all arrangements were made at a big scale. Subhas was in the lead and he was assisted by several important revolutionary groups, including the Mukti Sangha or the Bengal Volunteers of Hemchandra Ghosh, Sri Sangha of Anil Baran Roy and Leela Nag, Masterda Surjo Sen and his team, Anushilon Samity, Jugantar and other revolutionary groups from across Bengal. They had joined hands to use Congress as a platform to further the revolutionary activities and they had explicit trust in Subhas Chandra Bose. Major Satya Gupta helped in bringing the needed military discipline and even women were participants as volunteers under Latika Bose. This event was a taste of things to come in the form of I.N.A. A mounted battalion was prepared to escort the President. The conference was held in Park Circus Maidan, which was renamed as Deshbandhu Nagar. The volunteers were trained in battle like discipline and rules and regulations like checking the identify of every participant without distinction. It seemed to everybody that a huge army was marching past across Calcutta, an army entirely of Indians, under the leadership of an Indian. Everybody was amazed by the efficiency and dedication with which this event was organized. Gandhiji had initially refused to come to Calcutta Congress but Motilal Nehru had persuaded him to join to support his report.
In the Congress there were two groups - the older one contented with the Dominion Status and who would accept the Nehru report and the leftist group that would not settle without a full independence and wanted to accept Nehru report only on the basis of complete independence. A compromise was worked out in Delhi between the two groups but in Calcutta session Gandhiji refused to accept the Delhi settlement. Therefore the main resolution of Congress moved by Gandhi on Dominion Status was opposed by the entire left wing who supported the amendment moved by Subhas. A voting was held on the resolution and its amendment but the followers of Mahatma almost blackmailed people in voting for the resolution stating that if the resolution was defeated Gandhi would retire from politics. The amendment was defeated, but not without a good fight despite the blackmail. There were more reasons for the rift. Subhas had organized his volunteer corps well, in a military style. They were dressed in uniform and paraded as a well disciplined unit. However Congress old timers did not like the aggressive display and Gandhiji had equated it to a circus. Subhas summed up succinctly in his Indian Struggle, "The Calcutta Congress, coming after the Madras Congress, was in the nature of an anticlimax. The President-elect on the day of his arrival was given an ovation which would excite the envy of kings and dictators, but when he left, there was disappointment writ large on every face. There was tremendous enthusiasm all over the country at the time and every one had expected the Congress to act boldly. But while the country was ready, the leaders were not. The Mahatma, unfortunately for his countrymen, did not see light. Hence the temporising resolution of the Calcutta Congress which only served to kill precious time. Only madness or folly could have led one to hope that the mighty British Government would concede even Dominion Home Rule without a struggle. During the sittings of the Congress a procession of 10,000 workers visited the Congress pandal to demonstrate their solidarity with the struggle for national freedom and to appeal to the Congress to take up the cause of the starving workers. But all these signs of upheaval made no impression on the leaders." Subhas raised some pertinent questions - In the Dominion Status resolution Gandhi had given twelve month's time to the British Government. However they could not guarantee that there was a reasonable chance of getting the Dominion Status within that period. Why should not they then take up a bold stand? Nobody had an answer, least of all Gandhi, whose pet hobby again took precedence over national considerations.
Purna Swaraj, Civil Disobedience Movement and Round Table Conference, Revolutionaries strike
Plan to start round Table Conference, Youth Unrest
In the month of December Lahore Congress was about to begin. But Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, after consulting the Prime Minister Ramsay Macdonald, declared his intention to start a Round Table conference in London on the publication of the report of the Simon Commission. He said that it was implicit in the Declaration of 1917 that the natural issue of India's constitutional progress, was the attainment of dominion status. Congress lost no time to gather in Delhi and sent a joint manifesto accepting Viceroy's offer signed by Gandhi, Nehru duo, Pandit Madan Mohan Malavya, Dr. Ansari, Sardar Patel, Tej Bahadur Sapru, Annie Besant, Sarojini Naidu among others. Dr. Kitchlu, Abdul Bari and Subhas Bose issued a separate manifesto opposing the acceptance of Dominion Status and the idea of participating in the Round Table conference. Bose rightly pointed out that the Viceroy had laid a trap, as Lloyd George did for Sinn Fein.
In the meanwhile an attempt was made on the life of Lord Irwin when he escaped unhurt from a train bombing. In Lahore Congress a resolution was moved by Gandhi congratulating the Viceroy over his providential escape and this caused much resentment. Though a resolution on complete independence was passed in Lahore Congress, there was no vision or formula of achieving the same. A proposal of Subhas to form a parallel Government in the country organizing the workers, peasants and youths, was defeated. Subhas wanted an immediate launch of the campaign to recover the lost grounds, but Gandhi was in no mood to relent. He came out with a list of fifteen names as members of the working committee and Srinivasa Iyengar, Subhas and other leftists were excluded. Gandhi had two potent weapons in his arsenal, his typical blackmailing tactics of retirement and his call for fast unto death. Both worked wonderfully with his coterie who never raised their voices against his decisions. Gandhiji openly declared that he wanted a committee of one mind, that of his. No dissent, no differing opinions were encouraged. For the country this proved to be catastrophic in the long run as he became the sole representative in the Round Table Conference in 1931.
Gandhiji could not however decimate Subhas. He became the undisputed leader of the youth. He was the President of the All India Trade Union Congress and remained in that post until 1931. In Bengal the Jatindramohan Sengupta's group had in the meanwhile become an anti Subhas lobby. Sengupta became the leader of Swarajists and a Mayor of Calcutta corporation. He created a parallel Provincial Congress Committee and started fighting against Subhas. However he was defeated in all the elections. This was a dark chapter in the history of Bengal Congress as it showed the ugly side of partisan politics and selfish power hungriness by a section which overshadowed even National considerations. Subhas began to address the youth organizations all over the country, like the Naujawan Bharat Sabha, and he became quite popular as a trade union leader, among the working classes. The blog post here describes the deep division in Bengal.
The nation had not stopped even if its leader Gandhi had paused the momentum. Youth unrest and impatience was manifested through the revolutionary activities throughout the length and breadth of the country. An Inspector of Police, Saunders, was assassinated in Lahore as the revolutionaries believed that he was responsible for the attack on Lala Lajpat Rai. On April 1929, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Datta, threw a bomb in the Assembly at Delhi. A large no. of young revolutionaries were arrested which included Bhagat Singh, Batukeshwar Dutta, and Jatin Das of Calcutta who was a Major in the volunteer corps of Subhas and had helped in training the youth volunteers for the 1928 Calcutta Congress. The prisoners were held under Lahore conspiracy case. While still under trial, they went on hunger strike demanding better conditions in jail. Subhas writes in Indian Struggles, "Sardar Bhagat Singh was known to be the leader of the youth movement (called the Naujawan Bharat Sabha) in the Punjab, and the fearless and defiant attitude adopted by him and his comrades, after their arrest and during their trial, made a deep impression on the public. Moreover, Sardar Bhagat Singh came from a well known patriotic family — being a nephew of Sardar Ajit Singh, who had been deported to Burma in 1909 along with Lala Lajpat Rai." Jatindra Nath Das at first was reluctant to join the hunger strike because he considered it as a dangerous game. But then once he joined he never turned back from it. The Government made a half-hearted attempt to compromise by promising better medical treatment of the fasting prisoners. But the prisoners were adamant to extract the same concessions for all prisoners and this the Government did not accede to. The movement received wide recognition and in Calcutta Subhas Bose and other Congress leaders were arrested while supporting the movement. Jatin fasted for 61 days and then he died on 13 Sep 1929. The pages of Young India of Gandhi, ordinarily filled with all sorts of observations on all political events and also on the topics of health, diet etc. had nothing to say about the incident of Jatin Das. Subhas writes in Indian Struggle, "A follower of the Mahatma who was also a close friend of the deceased, wrote to him inquiring as to why he had said nothing about the event. The Mahatma replied to the effect that he had purposely refrained from commenting, because if he had done so, he would have been forced to write something unfavourable." And yet, Gandhiji, had taken up fasting as a tool for waging war not only against the British, but also against anything and anyone he did not like and could not cope with. But his countrymen did their bits. As the dead body of Jatin was moved from Lahore to Calcutta, thousands and thousands of people assembled in every station to pay homage. In Indian Struggle Subhas mentions, "Among the many messages that were received on the occasion was one which touched the heart of every Indian. It was a message from the family of Terence McSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork, who had died a martyr under similar conditions in Ireland. The message ran thus: 'Family of Terence McSwiney have heard with grief and pride of the death of Jatin Das. Freedom will come.'" Jatin was only 25 years when he died. Youth were charged up like never before. Everywhere youth organizations sprang up. Subhas himself presided over Punjab students' conference in Lahore, Central Provinces Youth Conference in Nagpur and Berar students conference in Amravati. In 1929 the Government made another attempt to tame Subhas. His paper Forward was fined to the tune of Rs 150,000 for writing defamatory article about Indian Railways. It was expected that the paper would close down. But the daily paper Liberty was born in its place and Subhas continued his tirades against the Government policies.
Jatin Das, a Major of Bengal Volunteer Corps and close associate of Subhas who died after a fast of 63 days in protest against British atrocities. Gandhiji termed his martyrdom as "Diabolical Suicide"
Gandhi and Bose - train travel with Gandhi to discuss on Purna Swaraj
Dinesh Gupta, Binoy Bose, Badal Gupta - the three intrepid Bengal Volunteer revolutionaries who killed I.G Prison Simpson for taking revenge against atrocities on Subhas in prison. The trio fought the corridor battle in Writer's and embraced martyrdom
Civil Disobedience Launched
Subhas meanwhile was also reaching out to the revolutionaries across Bengal. He surreptitiously met Masterda Suryo Sen and his team in Chattogram, in the room of a bank. He gave moral support to them for any plan of action. Soon that was executed. But before that lets rewind. In January 1930 Mahatma decided to act. January 26 was planned to be observed as an independence day. Mahatma had stated: 'Civil Disobedience alone can save the country from impending lawlessness and secret crime, since there is a party of violence in the country which will not listen to speeches, resolutions, or conferences, but believes only in direct action.' He prepared the nation for a Civil Disobedience. "We will therefore prepare ourselves by withdrawing, so far as we can, all voluntary association from the British Government, and will prepare for civil disobedience, including non-payment of taxes," he said. On 23rd January 1930 Subhas was arrested and taken to prison. He was sentenced to one year's rigorous imprisonment. On January 30, Mahatma issued a statement in Young India that he would be satisfied with the "Substance of Independence" and he mentioned eleven points to further clarify his position that included among others Prohibition, abolition of salt tax, reduction of land revenue, reduction of military expenditure, reduction of salary of high graded services, protective tariff on foreign clothes, discharge of all political prisoners (except revolutionaries charged with murder) etc. He termed it as Purna Swaraj. By February the Congress Working Committee had given Mahatma almost dictatorial power to carry out his plans. A large section of the Muslims including the Ali brothers were opposed to the plan of Satyagraha and Civil Disobedience. On February 27 Mahatma announced his plan of campaign that would be the hallmark of his political life. To assuage any fear of the repetition of the 1922 Gandhiji said, "civil disobedience once begun this time cannot be stopped and must not be stopped so long there is a single civil resister left free or alive." Gandhiji announced his intention of defying the salt law along with his ashram members. He planned to commence a march to the sea coast in Dandi from his ashrama on March 12. This was a master stroke as tax on salt, a necessary ingredient of the food of common man, which they can obtain freely from the sea water as was the custom from time immemorial, was an issue very close to the heart of all Indians. Gandhiji issued a letter to the Viceroy explaining his position and rationale. Subhas writes in Indian Struggle, "the march to Dandi was an event of historical importance which will rank on the same level with Napoleon's march to Paris on his return from Elba or Mussolini's march to Rome when he wanted to seize political power." His march all the way to Dandi roused the villagers like never before. On April 6, Mahatma started the Civil Disobedience. Everywhere boycott of foreign goods was started. Congress volunteers enforced boycott by picketing across India. As a result of Gandhiji's appeal women came out in large numbers to participate. Government resorted to severe suppression, confiscating property of the volunteers and declaring their activities unlawful. All the papers came under Government control and brutal measures of repression were undertaken. More than 60,000 people were put in prison. Police also resorted to killing of unarmed satygrahis and in Peshwar alone in one day several hundreds were killed. The sentiments of people were roused by such brutal repressions and a battalion of Garhwal soldiers were court martialed and were sent to long term imprisonment when they refused to open fire on their fellow countrymen. In Frontier province Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan developed red shirt volunteers called Khudai Khidmadgars who defied Government orders and carried out civil disobedience throughout the province. In the meanwhile Subhas had become the Mayor of Calcutta and also the treasurer of the All India Trade Union Congress. Gandhiji was also arrested on 5 May and was placed in Yervada prison in Pune.
Revolutionaries Strike Back
The brutalities of Government gave rise to the revolutionary movements across Bengal. In Medinipur atleast three district magistrates were killed - Peddie, Douglas and Berge, by the young revolutionaries. In Alipore prison Subhas Chandra Bose was badly beaten by the Pathan warders under instructions from the police top brass. In retaliation Bengal Volunteers planned for the killing of I.G Lowman in Dhaka Medical College and Binoy Krishna Bose, a medical student was entrusted with the work. Binoy killed Lowman from a distance of 15 m and seriously injured Hudson and escaped. On 8 December 1930, Benoy, together with Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta, latter belonging to Medinipur, carried out a daring attack in Writer's Building in the heart of the city of Calcutta and killed the notorious Col. N.S Simpson, I.G Prison, who was charged with atrocities committed on political prisoners, esp. on Subhas. After a heroic battle, also called corridor battle with the police force and the army, Benoy and Dinesh were injured and were caught. Badal committed suicide. Benoy died in hospital and Dinesh was sent to the gallows. Many more incidents followed one after another. One of the hallmarks of this time was the rise of a large no. of women revolutionaries. In 1932, Preetilata Wadeddar and her team led a daring assault on the European Club. Preetilata was killed but the act left a deep impression. Preetilata was associated with Sri Sangha of Leela Nag and Anil Baran Roy. In Kumilla magistrate Stevens was shot dead by Shanti Ghosh and Suniti Choudhury. Bina Das shot Governor Stanley Jackson in the convocation of Calcutta University. Ujjwala Majumdar actively participated in the attempt to eliminate Governor Anderson and was sentenced to deportation. Did this awakening result in Subhas's resolve to form an army of women in his final assault on the Raj?
Another remarkable event took place during this time. In April Masterda and his associates, Ganesh Ghosh, Ananta Singh, Loknath Bol, Preetilata, among others conducted a daring raid on the armoury in Chattagram, shot dead the guards on duty and took possessions of the premises, removed all the weapons that they could and declared independence. For three days Chattagram was blocked and all British men fled. When a large contingent of troops were sent for apprehending the revolutionaries, they had to escape to the hills and from there carried out an intense gun battle. Ultimately they were overpowered but not before fighting unto death. The revolutionaries, mostly young students of Masterda, were killed in the battle and Suryo Sen, though he temporarily escaped, was ultimately captured and put to death along with Tarakeshwar Dastidar. Ramkrishna Biswas, one of the masterminds of the planning of the armoury attack, took upon himself the responsibility of killing Craig, the I.G of Police but by mistake killed another police officer Tarini Mukherjee. Ramakrishna was hanged in August 1931. Chattagram armoury raid and the consequent battle had left a far reaching influence on the revolutionary movement in Bengal which had reached its zenith. In Sholapur, people of the town declared their independence. Troops were rushed in from Bombay and authority of the British Raj was restored. Martial law was established in several parts of India and this was often followed by a reign of terror.
Master da Surjyo Sen and Chattagram Armoury Raid - One of the most daring assaults on the British raj by a group of young revolutionaries who made Chattagram independent for three long days and engaged in an armed combat with the British army. Surjyo sen was betrayed and was sent to the gallows. His associate Preetilata launched an attack on European club and Ramakrishna Biswas killed an inspector Tarini Mukherjee while trying to kill I.G Craig
Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged in Lahore conspiracy case. Failure to protect them as part of Gandhi Irwin pact and the surreptitious manner in which they were hanged led to much protest against Gandhi, esp. by youth.
Civil Disobedience ends by Gandhi Irwin Pact and Round Table Conference, Subhas sent to jail
Assault on Subhas, the Gandhi Irwin Pact and its impact
The British Government took notice of the growing unrest and impatience in all the provinces and decided to release Gandhi and other leaders of the Congress on 25 January 1931. But Subhas was rearrested on 26 January 1931, after being seriously injured owing to a lathi charge while leading a procession as the Mayor of Calcutta, defying a ban. The British mounted police lathi charged a peaceful procession led by him, the Mayor. Subhas, Mr. Chattopadhyay, the education officer and Mr. Ghoshal, the Dy. License officer of Calcutta Municipal Corporation were all seriously injured. Let us recount in his own language what happened on that day - "On this occasion the writer had to spend 24 hours in the Lalbazar Central Police Station without food and drink and without change. There was only a small quantity of Tincture of Iodine available at the station for application to his injuries. This was soon exhausted and when he asked for more, he did not get any. The next day he had to appear in Court with his clothes covered with blood and his arm in a sling. He made a statement before the Magistrate regarding his treatment in the Police Station which was duly recorded. After his removal to prison he was X-rayed and it was then found that two of the fingers in his right hand had been fractured."
He was again sentenced to six months rigorous imprisonment by the Chief Presidency Magistrate of Calcutta. On 8 March he was released on account of general amnesty. Another incident had shaken the conscience of Bengal. In a detention camp in Hijli, where protesters and Satyagrahis were lodged, on 16 September 1931 police shot dead two unarmed detainees Santosh Kumar Mitra and Tarakeshwar Sengupta. Subhas Chandra Bose came down to claim their bodies, led the movement against this monstrous atrocity and shared dais with his arch rival J.M Sengupta to protest against the firing. Widespread condemnation took place in Bengal. Rabindranath Tagore condemned the incident in the strongest term in a meeting convened on 26 September 1931 at the foot of the Monument in Calcutta. Subhas resigned from the presidentship of Bengal National congress in protest against the police firing in Hijli.
Towards the end of 1930 and beginning of 1931 the situation was somewhat conducive to a settlement between the Government and the Congress as the Labour Party was in power in England and Capt. Wedgewood Benn was in India office. Also according to Subhas Lord Irwin's vision was broader than that of an average British politician and he had an innate sense of fairness and justice. On November 12 1930, the first Round Table Conference was held in London and Ramsay MacDonald, the British premier, was its Chairman. It had representations from British parties, Indian states and British India but none from Congress. To quote Subhas, "The net result of the first session of the Round Table Conference was the offer to India of two bitter pills — Safeguards and Federation. To make these pills eatable, they were sugar-coated with 'Responsibility'". The communal Muslims who were present in the conference accepted the proposal only if their demands around their community interests were settled satisfactorily. On Jan 19, 1931, the Round Table Conference was declared sine die. For the people of India there was only assurance for a better future and nothing else. On the day Ramsay MacDonald delivered his closing speech in the Round Table conference, the Viceroy made an appeal for the cooperation of Congress. Within a week of this Gandhiji and other Congress leaders were released. According to Subhas, "At Delhi, the Mahatma was surrounded by wealthy aristocrats and by politicians who were dying for a settlement and on the side of the Working Committee there was no one with sufficient personality who could force his views on the Mahatma. Even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who could have done so, failed on this occasion and as for the other members of the Working Committee, most, if not all, of them were more anxious for a settlement than the Mahatma himself." Jawaharlal Nehru who could have scuttled the pact, gave in, and on 5th March Gandhi and Irwin signed on the pact. When the pact created an uproar in the country, Nehru came up with a statement that he did not approve some of the conditions but as a loyal soldier he was obliged to follow. Subhas quipped, "But the country had regarded him as something more than an obedient soldier." The pact was by all means a disaster esp. after the nation had revolted to such a great degree responding to the clarion call of her leaders. It was a betrayal of the people who laid down their lives for satyagraha and the others who suffered under a tyrannical, ruthless regime, hoping that Gandhi would deliver them from all evils. Even Congress loyalists of Gandhi wondered why Gandhi signed the pact. It was a great disappointment. Youth organizations were dissatisfied. To the uneducated masses it appeared like a great achievement. The annual session of the Congress was planned in Karachi and suspending the constitutional procedure for the election of a president, CWC elected Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, a staunch Gandhi loyalist. The capitalists assembled around Gandhi also pressurized for a peaceful settlement as their business interests were getting impacted. Left wingers in Congress were at a great disadvantage as many of them were in prison and others like Srinivasa Iyengar had resigned, peeved by the shabby treatment received. In Bengal J.M Sengupta and his group pledged loyalty to the Mahatma.
Subhas came out of the prison on March 8, 1931. He found that the Pact was a settled one and there was no possibility of preventing its ratification in the Karachi Congress. Subhas had a long conversation with Mahatma in Bombay and told him that he would support Gandhi as long as he stood for independence. Gandhi gave him certain assurances to that effect, like mandate in Karachi Congress for the Round Table Conference would contain nothing that would be inconsistent with the demand for independence in Lahore Congress and that "he would use all his influence and strain every nerve to secure amnesty for those who had been left out in the Pact." (Indian Struggle). From Bombay Mahatma Gandhi traveled to Delhi and Subhas also traveled with him. Subhas saw that Gandhiji received standing ovation from a large crowd everywhere. It appeared to Subhas that Gandhi's "popularity had reached the high water mark." In Delhi they received a news that Government had decided to execute Sardar Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru in the Lahore conspiracy case. To be fair Gandhiji tried but not as far as to give an ultimatum to the Viceroy that the execution would be against the spirit of the Pact as he did not want to identify himself with the revolutionaries. Viceroy assured Gandhiji that he would look into the matter and people thought that the execution would be put off. But in March 24 when the Congress was about to meet in Karachi, Bhagat Singh and his comrades were hanged. The manner in which their dead bodies were surreptitiously disposed also created anger. When Mahatma arrived in Karachi there were hostile demonstrations everywhere and he was shown black flag with shouts of "Go back". Subhas and the leftists decided not to oppose the Congress Working Committee resolutions so as to not to divide the house. Subhas presided over a meeting of the Naojawan Bharat Sabha, the organization of Bhagat Singh, in Karachi. Subhas criticised the Gandhi Irwin Pact and the criticism met with general approval at the Youth Congress. A resolution was adopted condemning the Delhi Pact. Once again the fight was aborted by Gandhi when it had reached the crescendo, 1922 was repeated, albeit in a different way. Subhas's assessment was that the Pact was a curse. Gandhi could have achieved more through better bargaining. He said in Indian Struggles, "So far as the Mahatma is concerned, he alternates between obstinacy and leniency and moreover, he is too susceptible to personal appeals — and with such habits of mind, it is difficult to get the better of one's opponent in political bargaining." One of the issues was that the pact never pushed for an inquiry into all the police atrocities and excesses committed. That kind of inquiry, even on papers, would atleast have checked the police brutalities. Mahatma also failed to secure amnesty for all classes of prisoners, thus alienating further the revolutionaries and the trade union classes.
Round Table Conference - British Divide and Rule policy and Mahatma's failure
The Government was plainly buying time for dealing with Congress. They now knew its leaders, who were more dangerous and who were benign and they could formulate their strategy in dealing with that body accordingly. Subhas was always the number one enemy because of his uncompromizing stance. During the Round Table Conference, while the spirit of the Delhi truce was still on, Government was already planning for the next strike at Congress and this was sounded by Dr. M.A Ansari. Gandhiji had declared peace unilaterally, his olive branch was responded with brute force. New Viceroy, Lord Willingdon, who was opposed to any armistice, was preparing for a fight. Mahatma Gandhi had been the sole representative of the Congress in the second Round Table Conference. Subhas wondered, "Was it (the decision to send only Mahatma as representative) due to the vanity of the Mahatma who wanted to appear before the world as the sole representative of the dumb millions of India? Or was it merely one more error of judgment on the part of the Working Committee? Or was there some other motive behind the decision?" The first move of Mahatma, after Karachi Congress, according to Subhas, was not a prudent one, but the second one (to go alone to the RT conference) was a blunder. He was also conciliatory to the reactionary communal Muslim forces and this emboldened the two nation theory backers like M.A Jinnah. Subhas opposed the separate electorate demand from the communal section and expressed clearly his opinion to Gandhiji. The Nationalist Muslim leader like Dr. Ansari also supported him to press for a common electorate. Here Subhas comments that in the light of that incident the "attitude of the Nationalist Moslems in 1934 to the Prime Minister's Communal Award is inexplicable." Subhas also got the information that the British strategy in the Round Table Conference would be to divide the Indian representations on the basis of minor issues so that they never came to an agreement on the major issues. He informed Gandhiji. But events took place exactly as Subhas saw them happening.
With the assumption of office by Willingdon, situation had deteriorated in terms of the treatment of the Indians in the hands of the British administration. Gandhi went ahead with his London visit plan to participate in the Round Table Conference, dressed in his loin clothe. Gandhi also made a tour of Europe on his return, but he did not meet any prominent European leader to raise the issue of Indian independence. He visited Geneva but did not meet the League of Nation officials. He met Romaine Rolland. He also met Mussolini, and his hobnobbing with the Fascist leaders was universally criticized by the anti Fascist Europeans and thus ended the possibility of gaining their sympathy for India's cause. On his return Gandhi was disheartened to see the hard stance of the British in every province and the arrest of the prominent Nationalist leaders. His request for a meeting with the Viceroy was turned down. Subhas had advised Gandhi to not to seek an interview but others had differed with him, and once again Subhas was proved right. On 4 Jan 1932 Government issued orders for the arrest of the Congress leaders across the country before they could launch another Civil Disobedience. Gandhi's naivety and British treachery was now clear as daylight. On 5th January Subhas was arrested in the Kalyan station while returning from Bombay in the Calcutta Mail. He was first sent to Seoni prison and then, when he fell ill on account of food troubles, was sent to Jabalpur prison where he was lodged together with his elder brother Sarat Bose. Even here he was not keeping well and had to be transferred to Madras prison.
Ramsay MacDonald declared Communal Award on 17 Aug for allocating certain no. of seats on the basis of separate electorate, thus paving the way for the Partition of India in the future. Mahatma commenced his fast unto death on 20 Sep. On the fifth day of the fast an agreement was reached in Pun. e and separate electorate as the issue was done away with. This fasting soon became an international news item. Both Jawaharlal and Subhas were unhappy with the turn of the events. Subhas rued that so far international community knew of only one problem of India, that its subjugation under the British rule and its resistance to it. Now they got to know that she had an internal problem as well, that of caste divisions. British thought that "Gandhi's stock was so low and the civil disobedience movement was such a failure that he launched the fast unto death in Yeravada prison." Dr. Ambedkar termed the fast as a sheer political stunt. Congress activities dwindled and Civil Disobedience came to an end abruptly. Gandhi's fast in September 1932 and May 1933 and his increasing involvement in the untouchability issue at the expense of country's demands for freedom, were the only issues that grabbed National headlines.
Subhas had been observing all these developments from behind the bar. He had rounded up the personality of the Mahatma. He said in the Indian Struggles while trying to dissect the main reasons behind the Mahatma's inability to attain independence, "There was another deeper cause which accounted for the Mahatma’s failure. During his stay in England he had to play two roles in one person, the role of a political leader and that of a world-teacher. Sometimes he conducted himself not as a political leader who had come to negotiate with the enemy, but as a master who had come to preach a new faith — that of non-violence and world-peace. Because of his second role, he had to spend much of his time with people who were quite useless in promoting his political mission. In the absence of advisers from his own party, the place was filled by some of his British admirers. From the moment of his landing in Europe till the moment of his departure, he was surrounded by them."
On a hindsight it is absolutely true. Mahatma Gandhi tried to play the dual role of being a Mahatma and a Gandhi and he failed in both roles. As wisely summed up by Swami Ashokananda of Vedanta Society of San Francisco, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, who was a bitter critic of Gandhi even while he was the head of Advaita Ashrama, "Gandhi had a pet hobby, ahimsa, and he put his hobby before the interests of the country."
Probably in future an unbiased class of historians would evaluate Gandhi's contribution to the Indian freedom movement in a more holistic and realistic way. This is not as a mark of disrespect for Gandhiji. His contributions were significant, esp. in raising the consciousness of masses to their right to self determine their future and to get rid of the foreign yoke. But he alone did not bring independence to India, nor could his path of ahimsa ensure the achievement of that final goal as the later events would prove.
The Civil Disobedience Movement therefore started with a bang but ended with a whimper. However this period from 1927 to 1932 was extra ordinary for the rise of a mature and level headed Pan India leader who was only third in popularity to Gandhi and Nehru duo across India. Subhas Chandra Bose had really arrived on the national theater, out of the protective cover of Deshbandhu and out of the boundaries of Bengal province.
Characteristics of a great leader - How Subhas withstood persecution (adapted from St. Nihal Singh's reminiscences - A Saint Turns Patriot)
Subhas showed great courage in the face of adversity and persecution. He stood as the embodiment of his assertion that "If we aspire to become the makers of history we should be prepared for any amount of misunderstanding and any degree of persecution. For the most unselfish actions we should be prepared to get abuse and vilification; from our closest friends we should be prepared to get unwarranted hostility."
1) In 1928 during Calcutta Congress he was the G.O.C of the Volunteer corps and was in charge of the Congress pandal at Park Circus. A group of over 30,000 labourers from the workshops in and around Calcutta had demanded free admission. They wanted to occupy places for which others had paid admission fee. Subhas, with his handful of volunteers resisted unless there was any order from the High Command. Mob was infuriated and threatened to attack the pandal. Subhas prepared to protect it with his life. Timely intervention of Pandit Motilal Nehru ensured that entry was allowed to the labourers in an orderly and organized way. Subhas was praised for the exemplary courage displayed against an unreasonable demand.
2) In 1930, in a Trade Union Congress meeting in Tatanagar, of which Subhas Chandra Bose was the President, a rival group hurled brickbats at the President on the dais. However intrepid Subhas did not give in or took shelter elsewhere, and he continued from the very dais. The design of the opposition was defeated.
3) On April 21, 1931, the Pathan warders in Alipore Central Jail pounced on a group of young revolutionaries who had refused to board the police van in order to get their demands discussed with the jail superintendent. Subhas and a few other fellow prisoners had arrived at the scene and protested against the inhuman treatment meted out to the under trial prisoners. The warders turned upon Subhas and beat him mercilessly. Subhas was rendered unconscious by the blows and few intrepid revolutionaries like Major Satya Gupta tried to protect him. Despite the attack, Subhas did not budge an inch from the spot. He shared the pains and the tribulations of the fellow revolutionaries. Bengal Volunteers took revenge when Binoy Bose, Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta stormed into the Writer's Building and shot dead I.G Prisons, Simpson, who had unleashed the hyenas on Subhas and other revolutionaries.
4) On 26 January 1931, Subhas, the Mayor of Calcutta, organized a meeting to commemorate the declaration of independence about a year back, despite threat from the police who had banned the procession. Mounted police seriously assaulted Subhas and his comrades who included a large number of women. Police tried to snatch away the Congress flag Subhas was holding but he would not yield despite his grievous injury.
5) He was equally reckless about the loss of personal liberty. He violated section 144 in several instances and courted imprisonment instead of indignity of surrendering to the brute forces.