Many sung and unsung heroes have enriched the freedom movement but there were few exceptional leaders among them. Much of their efforts probably have not been recognized to that extent as they should have been. Jatindranath Mukherjee was perhaps the foremost of them. Raymond Aron, noted French philosopher who had guided Prithwindra Mukherjee (grandson of Jatindranth) in writing the biography of Jatindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin – Life and Times) said, “Jatin embodies the “thinker in action” who furnishes the “missing link” in modern history.” American publicist, Ross Hedvicek put it, “had E.V. Voska (the Czech spy who betrayed the Indo-German plot) not interfered in this history, today nobody would have heard about Mahatma Gandhi and the father of the Indian nation would have been Bagha Jatin.” Such was the grandiose plan of Jatindra that had it succeeded it would possibly have established a new world order and changed the course of World War 1 and with it would have sealed the fate of British Empire some thirty years earlier. Jatindra’s audacious design earned him laurels from none other than his main hunter Charles Tegart, the notorious commissioner of police of Calcutta who said that had this person (Jatindra) been born in England his statue would be put up beside Nelson in Trafalgar Square. Mahatma Gandhi in 1925 called him a “Divine Man”. Many others had showered laurels on him, yet he stands neglected in his twin countries of India and Bangladesh.
It was Jatindra who coined the famous and oft repeated phrase during the revolutionary period – “Amra Morbo, Jagat Jagbe” – “We shall die, but the world will awake by our sacrifice”.
Neglected by history and political leadership
It’s a pity that Jatindra was born in India where very few historians valued his contribution, least the so called National historians belonging to a particular political ideology by whom he was disdainfully neglected. Political leadership of the country also did not find it necessary to look beyond certain leaders for ascribing the success of freedom movement and Jatindra was relegated to the status of the leaders who tried a violent path but failed. He along with many other pre Gandhi and contemporary to Gandhi Nationalist leaders, does not even find a passing remark in the text books.
An evaluation of his contribution
However time has come to evaluate his contribution and perhaps it would not be unwise to state that he was one of the chosen few who did the ground work which saw the sprouts of mass movement later on which Gandhi and other leaders could build their edifice. It was no mean achievement to establish an international conspiracy, to remain incognito for seven years and to carry out the massive covert operation against British and to hatch a brilliant plan of a huge uprising almost in line with 1857 mutiny. The plan unfortunately got exposed owing to a betrayal by Czech revolutionaries in faraway America which showed that time was not ripe for India to enjoy freedom. Its people were simply not prepared for independence.
Treachery – Bane of India
It must be remembered that British could enjoy their rule owing to the servitude and loyalty of a section of Indian administrative elite and officials who could beat their own English bosses in the game of inflicting terror upon their own countrymen for the sake of their narrow selfish gains – a few crumbs from the British masters to these pet dogs. And these were the ones who were primarily responsible for bringing down the first phase of the freedom movement to a close by ruthlessly exterminating their own brothers and sisters. And then there were spies everywhere. British Government destroyed industries but provided alternative employment to a huge espionage network of local sleuths. It is this network that helped in sustaining its edifice.
Early Years – Childhood days
Jatindranath Mukherjee or Bagha Jatin was born on 7 Dec 1879 to Sharatshashi and Umeshchandra Mukherjee of Kayagram, a village in Kushtia sub division of Nadia district which lies in present day Bangladesh. His ancestral home was in Sadhuhati-Rishikhali in the Jhenaidah subdivision of Jessore district in now formed Bangladesh. He had an elder sister Vinodbala and younger sibling Surendranath who died very young. His father Umeschandra had been an extremely truthful and pious Brahmin who in protest against the atrocities of the indigo planters on farmers refused to work for them. Being honest he could not amass any wealth. Umeshchandra died when Jatindra was only 5 years old and he was brought up in Koyagram under the tutelage of his maternal uncle Basanta Kumar Chattapadhyay.
Influence of Mother
From his mother he could listen to many stories of bravery and selflessness as illustrated in Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas in his childhood and learnt the science of bearing physical hardships and leading a selfless life from her. It is said that great children are born to outstanding parents, esp. the mother has a big role to play as she builds the moral character and sets an example herself. Sharatshashi was no exception. She helped everybody in the village in their distress, served them as nurse during illness and despite her own hardships and struggles was generous enough. Large-hearted Sharatshashi thus instilled the spirit of self-sacrifice and renunciation at a very early age. Despite her personal losses and grief she was steadfast in her devotion. She was also educated enough. Some of her character was inherited by her daughter Vinodbala who was a culturally accomplished wise lady and an outstanding poet herself. Her younger son Surendra was named after Surendranath Tagore, who was a close family friend. Sharatshashi passed away while serving a cholera patient, caught by the germ. She left a legacy. The brothers and sisters were brought up with love by their maternal uncles who were no less noble than their sister.
Early Childhood Exploits
There was a small river named Garui flowing through the Kaya village and Jatindra would be swimming across this river many times. He also liked to ride horses. He learnt how to shoot rifle from one of his maternal uncles and another of his uncles Lalit Mohan Chatterjee taught him to ride horses and row boats.
As Jatin grew in age he gained reputation for his bravery and charitable disposition. He was also spiritually inclined and was instrumental in staging Puranic plays and acting in principal roles of devotees like Prahlad, Dhruva, Hanuman and others. His innate spirituality also found expression in his exemplary courage. He helped people irrespective of caste and religion and helped in spreading the nationalistic fervor in the country side taking help of village bards. He was admitted in the Anglo Vernacular School in Krishnanagar. He learnt swimming, riding and wrestling. He was very interested in physical fitness but his school or village did not have a gymnasium. He therefore tried to enroll with the Gymnasium in Krishnanagar College but there was one problem. Only students of the college were allowed in that gymnasium. Jatindra however was indomitable. He went to the European principal of the said college, Prof. W. Billy and requested his permission to join the gymnasium. Prof. Billy was amazed by his courage and earnestness and therefore gave his permission. He developed a strong and muscular physique under the training program of one Mr. Surendranath Bannerjee, the physical training teacher.
The Heroic & Softer sides
About this time Jatindra did a heroic feat which was much appreciated in the town. An untrained and tough horse of a local lawyer escaped its stable and ran amok in the town scaring and injuring people. Jatindra was buying pencil when he witnessed the danger it posed to the townsmen. He therefore waited for his opportunity till the horse passed by him, jumped on to it and cleverly restrained its movement. Thus many people were saved from an imminent danger of being run over. Another time his compassionate and selfless nature was brought forth. While he was taking a ferry to cross a river he saw that an aged woman was carrying a huge load of grass and was requesting everybody to help her with the load but nobody was paying any heed. Jatindra not only helped her, but also took the load on his own shoulder and accompanied the woman to the local market, thus saving her much pain and anguish.
Every year during Durga Puja Jatindra’s uncles did Puja with much fanfare and many poor were fed on the occasion. Jatindra and his friends cooked almost all the rice relentlessly and fed all the poor and then partook some food. He also organized a voluntary force for the treatment of poor.
In his later years when he was an established leader of the Jugantar group it seems that Jatindra had killed a tigress which attacked him while on a trip through jungle as part of his business. He took her cubs to his home and reared them. Thus his indomitable courage as well as his compassionate nature both manifested in various ways, a fact that characterized his almost entire life.
Education and Training – Pre Jugantar days
After passing the entrance examination in 1898 he joined Calcutta Central College as a student of First Arts (FA). He came to stay with his maternal uncle Hemanta Kumar Chatterjee in the Shobhabazar area of Calcutta, along with his sister Vinodbala. He also took lessons in steno typing for a career in order to break free from the university education which he perceived to be a molder of colonial slavery. His health was in a bad shape and his uncle Lalit Chatterjee admitted him in the akhada of the wrestler Kshetranath Guha. He got a job in Amhuti and company in Calcutta. His nature was to help others and hence he did not bat his eyelid to donate his entire salary for the month for the treatment of the critically ill mother of his friend who did not have the means to get her treated.
On completing his steno course he joined a European firm and later he went to Muzaffarpur to join barrister Pringle Kennedy who was a lawyer and an editor of Trihoot Courier. However later in 1900 he got a job with Bengal Government and had a prosperous career. He worked for H.A Wheeler, ICS who had a great command over administration in Bengal. Wheeler liked Jatindra for his efficiency and attitude. Many Zamindars and members of the royalty of the princely estates of undivided Bengal came to meet Wheeler and they were also impressed with the attitude and behavior of Jatindranath and became his close friends.
In 1900 He got married to Indubala of Kumarkhali in Kusthia. The couple had four children – Atindra, Ashalata, Tejendra and Birendra. Atindra was short lived. He died in 1906. Devastated by the untimely death, Jatindra, together with his wife and sister underwent a pilgrimage to the Haridwar and Rishikesh. There he met a very holy man, revered Bholananda Giri and took initiation from him. The saint had advised him to work for the country, knowing his propensities.
The story of Jatindranath Mukherjee will remain incomplete without mentioning anything about his elder sister Vinodbala. A child widow, this lady of immense learning who wrote numerous poems of her own, was the main inspiration behind Jatindra’s selfless work for his country. She encouraged him in every possible way and took up the responsibility of his entire family in his absence. The reason why Jatindra could devote a lot of time in revolutionary activities despite being married and having children was Vinodbala and perhaps to a large extent wife Indubala as well. His affection and concern for his family in his absence is evident from his letters to Vinodbala and Indu.
Taming of the Tiger – Getting “Bagha” as the epithet
After Jatindra came back to his native village, he heard the disturbing presence of a tiger which had terrorized villagers and went to kill it himself together with his cousin Phani who carried a rifle. He met a ferocious Royal Bengal Tiger and fought with it bare handed, with just a dagger. The tiger severely wounded him, but he eventually killed the tiger using the dagger. He was almost dead by the tiger’s brutal assault. It took an expert surgeon, Dr. Suresh Sarbadhikari’s skill to save him. Even then he was completely bed ridden for six months. Eventually he got back the ability to move his limbs. Dr. Sarbadhikari published the heroic feat in an English journal and that prompted Bengal Government to recognize his bravery and present him with a memento. From that time onward he came to be regarded as Bagha Jatin (literally Jatin, the tiger).
Taming of the Tigers – Rowdy Europeans
He came into limelight again by publicly thrashing three Europeans in Siligudi Railway Station. These were English military officers who included Capt. Murphy and Lt. Somerville. There was an extensive press coverage and a court case against Jatindra. However government could not pursue a case against him. The story goes like this. As part of his work Jatindra had to go to Darjeeling quite often during summer times. Once when he was on the way to board a train from Siligudi he found that a small child was thirsty and was asking for water. However his father, afraid that the train would leave the station soon, could not go to fetch water. Jatindra therefore took the responsibility of fetching water for the kid but while he was coming back the train started leaving the station. As Jatindra was trying to board the train, three European military men guarded his way and pushed him. Any other Indian would have probably digested the humiliation, but not Jatindra whose source of inspiration was Swami Vivekananda. Manliness and courage were his mantra. He therefore thrashed the three army men singlehandedly. Not being able to cope with the strength of a Bengali the white men took out their knives and yet Jantindra persisted and even succeeded in disarming and injuring them. The army men were hospitalized and launched a police case against him. Fearing bad publicity and the fact that humiliation of three white army men in the hand of a Bengali would encourage youth to thrash the Europeans more often, Government withdrew the case. Mr. Wheeler heard everything from Jatindra and appreciated him even more for his courage and strength. In Jatindra’s language in his telegram to his cousins, “Three military aggressors substantially taught”.
This was not the last incident of his thrashing Europeans as he did so several times whenever he came across any injustice. We need to remember that this was the time when Indians used to be mortally afraid of Europeans and used to suffer all indignities silently rather than protesting. Those who protested were often physically lynched or put behind the bars on flimsy grounds. So even though people may think that it was unnecessary to pick up fights with Europeans, it was needed to teach them to respect Indians and also to teach Indians to stand up and face the brutes.
In 1905 when the partition of Bengal movement was at its pick, Jatindranath decided to draw attention of the authorities to the brutal behavior against Indians of a section of the Englishmen during a visit of the Prince of Wales. He saw that a group of English soldiers were creating nuisance by heckling a few Bengali ladies in a bye-lane and went atop their car and fell them by repeatedly slapping them. This incident was noted by the then Secretary of State John Morley as he was against the indecent behavior of English officers towards the natives.
Jatindra’s interaction with Vivekananda
When Swami Vivekananda returned to India in 1897 Jatindra started visiting him, and was very much influenced and inspired by him to serve the country and people. This was possible owing to the plague relief work done by him under Sister Nivedita. Sister Nivedita was very impressed by his work and took him to her guru. Another version says that it was Swami Akhandananda, a brother disciple of Swami Vivekananda and the pioneer of relief activities in Ramakrishna Order, first took him to Vivekananda. Whoever it was it seems that the meeting was predestined. The Swami had stared at Jatindra for a long time and what he saw he did not care to tell others. But possibly he lit a fire as enlightened sages are often said to teach or initiate by mere look, touch or even through silence. Swami Vivekananda, in order to develop him holistically, sent him to the gymnasium of Ambu Guha, where he himself had once wrestled, to practise wrestling and build his body.
Birth of Anushilon Samity and Jugantar
Jatindranath Bannerjee, another fiery freedom advocate which later embraced spiritual life as Niralamba Swami, and Aurabindo Ghosh came from Baroda to organize armed revolution. Barrister Pramatha Mitra came back from Britain and started Anushilon Samity. Many gymnasiums were established in which youth were secretly trained for being physically fit to lead a combative life. Aurabindo came to stay in the house of Yogendra Vidyabhushan, another ardent Nationalist and writer, where Jatindranath Mukherjee first met him. It was Yogendra who wrote the biographies of Mazzini and Garibaldi to inspire the youth. Jatindra’s uncle Lalit had married the daughter of Yogendra Vidyabhushan, so they had a close relationship which was further cemented by their common love for the country. In Ambu Guha’s gymnasium, Jatindra had met among others Sachindranath Bannerjee, who was the son of Yogendra Vidyabhushan.
The meeting between Aurobindo and Jatindra in Yogendra’s house was a historical moment as it is where the seeds of the future revolutionary movement of India were sown. Aurobindo knew that in Jatindra he had found a trusted lieutenant. Jatindra knew that Bengal had finally got the leader it wanted.
Reaching out to the masses and preparing the youth
At this time nationalistic messages were delivered almost through all mediums. Brahmabandhob Upadhyaya edited the fiery Sandhya publication, where he was almost on a daily basis asking masses to rise against a tyrannical rule. Satishchandra Mukherjee tried to instill courage and love for country through his Dawn magazine. Satish Mukherjee also formed the Dawn Society which put emphasis on holistic, esp. spiritual and moral development through lectures on Gita and other scriptures for students. Sister Nivedita was a regular visitor to the society and so were other Nationalistic leaders including Jatindra.
Theatres and stage plays were played around National heroes like Shivaji, Rana Pratap and other Bengali icons like Raja Sitaram. Bankimchandra had earlier written the Ananda Math which was considered seditious by British and its performance in any form was banned by the authorities. Similarly Girish Chandra Ghosh’s immensely popular play Chattrapati (Shivaji) was banned, so were his other plays Mirkashim and Siraj Ud Daulla, as they were deemed to be unfavorable and inimical to the British rule.
Proposed Partition of Bengal and its impact
In 1905 Partition of Bengal triggered a huge round of protests against Curzon in particular and repressions from administration increased. Other major developments around this time was the imminent split in Congress between Moderates and Extremists. The revolutionary movement was slowly gathering momentum under the leadership of Aurobindo Ghosh and Barindra Kumar Ghosh. Sister Nivedita played a pioneering role in coordinating among the leaders of various Nationalistic activities and inspiring the youth to sacrifice their lives for the country. Her words instilled courage and hope in the lives of many youths who had left their home and hearth to serve the nation. Several of them joined the armed revolution struggle, being disillusioned with Congress and the politics between moderates and extremists.
The beginning of the era of armed revolution – Bomb Cases
In 1908 two very young revolutionaries Kshudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki hurled bombs at the carriage of Kingsford, the despotic magistrate in Mujaffarpur. Unfortunately the bomb killed two European ladies and both the revolutionaries were caught. Prafulla killed himself while Kshudiram was hanged. This incident triggered a massive manhunt and many revolutionaries including Aurobindo and Barindra, were arrested. When Narendra Goswami agreed to become a key witness thus putting almost everybody’s life at risk, he was eliminated in the jail itself by Kanailal Dutta and Satyen Bose and they were hanged as a retribution. Most of the revolutionaries in this case, which became famous first as Muraripukur bomb case and subsequently as Alipore bomb case, got deportation for life, including Barindra and Ullaskar Dutta. Charges could not be proved against Aurobindo and he was freed. This trial also saw the meteoric rise of a young barrister Chittaranjan Das who successfully defended Aurobindo Ghosh.
Search for the fugitives – Administration Retaliates
The manhunts were led by Indian officials who took every pains to be in good books of their British Masters. The two most active Government officials who were terrorizing the freedom fighters and were implicating them by hook or by crook, Superintendent of police Shamsul Alam and prosecutor Ashutosh Biswas, were eliminated subsequently thus somewhat dampening the Government effort to choke the revolutionary movement completely.
Aurobindo returns to a life of seclusion – Leadership Vacuum
In Aurobinda’s absence his work of editing and publishing Karmayogin and Dharma magazines were carried out by none other than sister Nivedita. After Aurobindo was freed he shunned active political life, escaped to French occupied colonies of Chandernagar and later to Pondicherry and spent his remaining life as a spiritual seeker. So there was a leadership vacuum in Bengal and Jatindra assumed the responsibility in the background. He became the undisputed leader of all revolutionary activities for the next seven years.
Morley Minto Reforms – Too Little, Too Late
During this time to assuage the widespread dissonance in the wake of partition, Morley Minto reforms were proposed to enhance participation of Indians in the decision making process of governance. This brought some respite from the perception of alienation and Government could enlist some support of the elite Indians. Thus the revolutionary movement lost its initial momentum but its splinters kept burning here and there.
Emergence of Jatindra as leader
Several Government reports mention Jatindra as one of the founders of Anushilan Samity and one of its key leaders. He led the Samity in Kushtia. One of the agenda of Jatindra was to win over Indian soldiers of British Government and organize a revolution. He started a branch of the Anushilan Samity called Bandhab Samity..
In 1905 he set up chhatra bhandar or student cooperative stores. These were organizations used as a camouflage to induct and train revolutionaries. Jatindra was a master planner. He mobilized a large group of young revolutionaries who would later do his bidding and would participate in large and small operations throughout Bengal to destabilize the administration.
Jatindranath together with Barindra Kumar Ghosh, had set up a bomb factory in Deoghar, but he was against unruly or terrorist activities that would claim innocent lives. During Alipore bomb case when almost all major leaders of the revolution were interned, Jatindra remained outside and this gave him the opportunity of leading the Jugantar party. He would establish a number of decentralized organizations which had loose connections with each other, in order to operate in secrecy and not to leave behind any trail of operations. This was a major successful strategy as police could not collect enough evidence against him and his organizations. During this time several major robbery incidents happened which were popularly called as Swadeshi robberies, because it was believed that the freedom fighters were involved in these incidents to gather funds for their activities. This caused popular resentment and was one of the major reasons why revolutionary activities at these time could never become a mass movement. In some of these cases of robbery Bagha Jatin’s name as the leader was revealed and the police conducted a search in the house of his maternal uncle Lalit Mohan Chatterjee. It was noted that Bagha Jatin was the leader of all organized activities in the districts of Nadia, Hooghly, Jessore and 24 Parganas.
Arrest of Jatindra – The Howrah Conspiracy Case
About this time Shamsul Alam, who was probing Bagha Jatin’s role was killed by a young man called Birendra Duttagupta. Birendra gave in writing that he was deputed by Jatindra to eliminate Samshul Alam. Birendra and Charu Chandra who had earlier killed Ashutosh Biswas were hanged in retaliation.
Jatindra had a grand plan of involving British Indian army in a major uprising. He had kept close touch with the 10th Jat regiment of Fort William in order to achieve the same. British police somehow got the wind of this plan.
Jatindra was arrested by Charles Tegart along with two of his uncles based on the information gathered from Birendra and others. About fifty other revolutionaries across Bengal was arrested and The Shibpur conspiracy case was started. A Government report had noted that rather than arresting forty six misguided youths, the authorities should have concentrated its 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 10 Jat Regiment and inspire them for a mutiny. However no evidence could be gathered as Jatindra operated mainly as a lose heterogeneous organization of many local leaders, so none of the people arrested, even if they were to turn approvers, could have complete information. 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 freed in 1911 and started to take contracts for Government works in various districts of Bengal.
Living on the Razor’s edge
During this time he had to live very carefully because police had kept a strict watch on his movements. However he tried utmost to keep his revolutionary flock together an established extensive contacts with revolutionaries within and outside Bengal. This was possible because he was extremely hard working and could withstand almost any physical hardship. Together with his razor sharp intelligence and forbearance he could carry out surreptitious activities without getting detected. To 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 and that 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 and not a single revolutionary activity was reported to disrupt the lull period. Even then police had engaged several spies to keep a watch on him day and night.
Jatindra as the executive leader and influencer
At this time when Jatindra was busy with organizing the district level work, he left the Calcutta work on Atul Krishna Ghosh, his right hand man. He also influenced several students through Shashi Bhushan Ray Chaudhury, noted among them being Bhupendra Kumar Dutta. Bhupendra, it seems, in a reply to the young Subhas chandra Bose who had asked whether Bagha Jatin was a “Mukta Purush” to lead National movement, said that he was the most accurate personification of Gita that he had ever seen. Jatindra was also noted for his training to the youth in military style discipline. Dr. Taraknath Das, another noted revolutionary who was actively associated with the international uprising and conspiracies in 1914-1916, also mentioned about the military discipline of Jatindra and how it helped Bengal revolutionaries. Bagha Jatin was a pioneer in planning and execution. He planned a series of daring taxi cab robberies to lift the sagging morale and spirit of the revolutionaries. Even though the robberies were a questionable means the motive behind them was impeccable and none of the revolutionaries gained anything personally from them. The fund was used strictly for procurement of 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 network
Jatindra was also very active during famine, flood, epidemics and other relief activities and worked with Ramakrishna Mission volunteers to reach out to people during distress. He also actively participated in spiritual events like celebration of Sri Ramakrishna birth day celebrations. These events gave him enough opportunities to interact with potential and would be revolutionaries, inspire and induct them in his work and maintain his organizations. This was noted in a report by Charles Tegart, the then police commissioner.
In 1913 when the Damodar flood affected many people, Jatindranath actively participated in the relief work. Many other revolutionaries joined the relief effort and ideas were exchanged to rejuvenate the revolutionary activities. Jadugopal Mukherjee, who took up the leadership of Anushilon Samity after Jantindranath, became close to Jatindranath during this period. Jatindranath became the undisputed leader of activities in Bengal and Rashbehari became the point of coordination for all efforts outside Bengal. Leaders like Sureshchandra Mukherjee of Barishal, Satyendrachandra Mitra of Noakhali, Bipinbihari Ganguli of Atmannoti Sabha, Amarendra Chatterjee, Atulkrishna Ghosh and several others accepted Jatindra as their supreme leader. Several cases of targeted attacks were reported and officials were killed or wounded but none of them could be traced back to Jatindra. It was the Dhaka branch of Anushilon Samity under Pulinbihari Das that did not fully comply with Jantindra’s plans. Some of its prominent members like Sachindranath Sanyal severed connection with Dhaka branch and started working with Rashbehari Bose in Upper India.
Revolutionaries turn spiritual – Impact on Ramakrishna Mission
In Alipore bomb case of 1908 several persons who were freed of the charges later embraced spiritual life, among them were Debabrata Basu, another Jugantar leader and the right hand man of Aurobindo who later became Swami Prajnananda, and Sachindranath Sen, who later became Swami Chinmayananda. Both of them, along with several other noted revolutionaries had joined Ramakrishna Order and this had endangered the newly formed Belur Math with the risk of being banned by the authorities. This was also a reason why Ramakrishna Mission’s activities were considered suspicious by police and Government and for a long time during British rule and the most damaging aspect was a speech from Lord Carmichael that identified it as an organization for providing shelter to freedom fighters. However later he retracted it.
Bagha Jatin meets Sri Sarada Devi
Bagha Jatin was also a great admirer of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, perhaps getting to know about her from his intimacy with Ramakrishna order and his associates like Sureshchandra Majumdar who was a direct disciple of the Mother. Jatindra met her secretly while boarding a train to Balasore in a railway station, when he came to know that she was in an adjacent train with her companions. About him the Mother’s recorded impression to her female companion was, “I saw in him a living ball of fire.”
Start of Participation of Women in revolutionary movement
This phase also saw the participation of women in revolutionary activities, though on a much smaller scale than that happened in the later half of 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 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 took part in any of the revolutionary activities but her sole objective was to instill a sense of manhood among Bengali youth.
A noted revolutionary contemporary to Jatindra was Nanibala Devi, also famously called Pishima. She was a child widow but was learned and intelligent. She rose into 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 chili 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 Goldi for giving false promises. Another iron lady was Sindhubala, who was arrested along with her pregnant sister in law of the same name and 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.
Rashbehari & Jatindra – The birth of a great plan
Rashbehari Bose was during this time another leader of the revolutionary movement. He somehow escaped the Alipore bomb case. He arranged for throwing bomb on the procession of Lord Hardinge in Delhi by Basanta Biswas. By then the capital was India was Delhi instead of Calcutta. Rashbehari had come in close contact with Jatindra and both had extensively discussed about the plan of action. Both agreed that the immediate priority was to organize all the disparate groups working in different areas under one cohesive force and that the motto should be a complete overthrow of the British rule. Rashbehari and Jatindra met when the latter travelled to Benaras on a spiritual journey. There Jatindra also met Niralamba Swami who helped him in establishing contacts with revolutionaries in the upper Gangetic Plain.
The Chandernagar Meet
At this time World War 1 was announced and the revolutionaries decided that it was a great opportunity for them to try to evict British from India. Many Bengal revolutionaries participated in a secret meeting in Chandernagar including M.N Roy (Narendranath Bahttacharya), Srishchandra Ghosh, Makhanlal Sen, Narendranath Sen etc. It was decided that ten thousand youths would be prepared for revolutionary activities by Anushilon Samity and the tasks to organize many secret societies were handed over to key revolutionary figures. Bagha Jatin proceeded quickly to organize 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 Rodda Company arms heist. Shrish Chandra Sarkar 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 the cart containing 50 Mauser pistols and ammunition. This heist became sensational at that time and police tried in vain to recover the arms. The arms were used 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 the bars.
Taxicab robberies & other daring acts of defiance
In order to procure more arms, Jatindra’s comrade in arms Narendranath Bhattacharya and Chittapriya Roy Chaudhury, conducted several daring robberies, most famous being that of Beliaghata and Garden Reach. Chiitapriya also killed a police inspector in Hedua near Calcutta University. When Jatindra and Chittapriya were busy discussing and planning in a residence in Pathuriaghata, chance brought a police spy in their midst. Jatindra ordered to kill him but he somehow survived to reveal their names. So it was imperative for Jatindra to leave Calcutta, however he could not because his major associates, Narendranath Bhattacharya, Atulkrishna Ghosh, Patitpaban Ghosh etc. were in jail awaiting trial. Narendranath was the connection between Jatindranth and the Indo German conspiracy so he had to be saved. He could get a bail and was then sent by Jatindra to Batavia for getting the consignment of arms. Narendranath left the country with the pseudo name Charles Martin.
The earliest mention of an international conspiracy for armed revolution in India appears in Nixon’s Report on Revolutionary Organisation, which reported that Jatindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin) and Narendranath Bhattacharya had met the Crown Prince of Germany during the latter’s visit to Calcutta in 1912, and obtained an assurance that they would receive supplies of arms and ammunition.
Activities in Europe
The onset of the World War 1 pinned new hope and faith in the minds of the revolutionaries. Outside India preparations have been going on for long for setting up support in favour of independence. At the time of partition of Bengal Shyamji Krishna Varma founded the India House in London and got extensive support from Madam Bhikaji Kama, Dadabhai Naoraji, Lala Lajpat Rai and other notables. Varma established the Indian Home Rule Society in 1905.
The organization was an association for Indian students but used to promote Nationalistic ideals. Many youth who later joined independence movements were associated with it like Madanlal Dhingra, V.D Savarkar, Virendranath Chatterjee and Lala Hardayal.
The first flag of Indian independence was raised in Stuttgart, Germany in 1907. It was designed by Madam Kama and Shyamji Krishna Varma.
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. Virendranath went to Germany, Lala Hardayal and few others went to Paris.
Revolutionary Activities in America
In United States secret societies sprung up to support the cause of India. Several noted Indian revolutionaries had been to various parts of United States, among them being Bhupendranath Dutta, the younger brother of Swami Vivekananda, Taraknath Das etc. Myron Phelp, an acquaintance of Krishna Varma and an admirer of Swami Vivekananda, founded an “India House” in Manhattan in New York in January 1908. They helped maintain relationship with international revolution societies across the globe, esp. 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 Anushilon Samity. Disguised as a monk under the name of Tarak Brahmachari, he left for Madras on a lecture tour and subsequently he went to Japan and then to America. With Panduranga Khankoje (B.G. Tilak’s emissary), Taraknath founded the Indian Independence League. Jatindra sent some other associates on a study trip to 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
Lala Hardyal in the meanwhile has been working with Ghadar party in Canada to help poor expatriates, mostly Sikhs. The party’s key founders and members included Kartar Singh, Mohammed Barakatullah and Sohan Singh. Its later members included Vishnu Ganesh Pingle and Rashbehari Bose. It worked among Indian immigrants to provide them 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.
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. Its chief architects were Chidambaram Pillai and Virendranath Chatterjee and were later joined by Mohammed Barakatullah, Vishnu Ganesh Pingle, Lala Hardayal and several other noted revolutionaries. Berlin committee was supported by Max Von Oppenheim and Arthur Zimmermann, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of the German Empire. Berlin committee maintained a very close relationship with Jatindra with the help of Narendranath Bhattacharya. Virendranath sent a report of the activities of Berlin committee in 1914 to Jatindranath through Vishnu Pingle.
Indo German Conspiracy
The Indo German conspiracy took its root whereby Germany had decided to support the armed revolution against British rule in India and therefore supported Ghadar party.
Ghadar party got a shot in arms with Komagata Maru incident which resulted in riots and killings of Sikh immigrants in Budge Budge after they have been refused asylum by Canada.
The plan of Grand Mutiny in the barracks
In the meanwhile Jatindra and Rashbehari Bose planned a most audacious attempt of fomenting a revolt in the British Indian army. Bose was organizing the revolution in North India together with Vishnu Pingley and Sachindranath Sanyal and several leaders of Ghadar party while Jatindra was in charge of East India. Jatindra also kept a close link with the revolutionary base in Batavia while Ghadar had a close link with the base in Bangkok. The revolution in the North was planned with active connivance with Ghadar party and inflammatory materials were circulated. However the British police got the wind of the mutiny plot.
Ghadar party’s influence in North India & Asia Pacific
The Ghadarites in India were able to establish contact with sympathisers within the British Indian Army as well as build networks with underground revolutionary groups and East Asia including China, Hong Kong were major transit points. Several attempts were made to enlist the support of China and Japan in procuring arms. But it was made difficult by china and Japan’s reluctance to side with Germany in World War 1 and therefore the plan to procure arms by this route fell through. In the United States, an elaborate plan and arrangement was made to ship arms from the country and from the Far East through Shanghai, Batavia, Bangkok and Burma.
The Arms consignment – shipment plan
The ship Annie Larsen and the sailing ship SS Henry were hired to ship the arms out of the United States and transfer it to the SS Maverick. The ownership of ships were hidden under a massive smokescreen involving fake companies and oil business in south-east Asia. But because of delay in dispatch the coup failed as by that time the plot was unveiled and most leaders in India were arrested. The plot had already been infiltrated by British intelligence through Indian and Irish agents linked closely with the conspiracy.
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 was also planned in Singapore. 23rd Cavalry in Punjab was to seize weapons and kill their officers while on roll call on 21 February. This was to be followed by mutiny in the 26th Punjab, which was to be the signal for the uprising to begin, resulting in an advance on Delhi and Lahore. However treachery betrayed the plan and almost all the mutinies planned were suppressed. Their leaders like Kartar Singh and V.G Pingley were arrested. Rashbehari Bose escaped to Japan. In Singapore there was a successful mutiny and many British officers were killed. 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 Jatindranath. German agents in Thailand and Burma, most prominently Emil and Theodor Helferrich— brothers of the German Finance minister Karl Helfferich— established links with Jugantar through Jitendranath Lahiri in March that year. Jatindra sent Narendranath to Batavia. He also sent Bholanath Chattopadhyay to Bangkok and Abani Mukherjee to Japan.
Christmas Day Plot
In April, Jatindra’s chief lieutenant Narendranath Bhattacharya met with the Helfferichs and was informed of the expected arrival of the Maverick with arms. Although these were originally intended for Ghadar use, the Berlin Committee modified the plans, to have arms shipped into India to the eastern coast of India, through Hatia on the Chittagong coast, Raimangal in the Sundarbans and Balasore in Orissa, instead of Karachi as originally decided. Bagha Jatin’s group would be collecting the consignment from coastal Bengal and Orissa. The date of insurrection was fixed for Christmas Day 1915, earning the name “The Christmas Day Plot”.
Jatindra estimated that he would be able to win over the 14th Rajput Regiment in Calcutta and cut the line to Madras at Balasore and thus take 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, it was at this time that the details of the Maverick and Jugantar plans were leaked to Beckett, the British Consul at Batavia, by a defecting Baltic-German agent. The conspiracy had a huge base extending from planned coups in Middle East where a large number of Indian soldiers were stationed, Afghanistan, Andaman and Nicobar islands to free the prisoners there.
Arms shipment foiled
In the meanwhile in Calcutta revolutionary and associate of Jatindra, Harikumar Chakrabarty opened a company called Harry and Sons. With the help of this shadow company links with Germany could be established and Narendranath Bhattacharya communicated to the revolutionaries. After arranging for Maverick to be shipped to Bengal, Narendranath came back. In this ship there would be 30,000 rifles, ammunition and plenty of money. The responsibilities were allocated and the distribution of arms, the plans for large scale violence and war including capturing Fort William were all laid out meticulously. Since Jatindra was most wanted in Calcutta, he went to Balasore. In the meanwhile Maverick was intercepted by a Dutch ship in Java and two other ships which were bringing arms consignment to Maverick from US – Annie Larsen and SS Henry were also caught and Heramba Gupta, the revolutionary & Berlin committee member who was in SS Henry was arrested and later tried for conspiracy by an all-white Jury in Chicago.
The search narrows down – Police on Trail
Police had by now known the complete story and they had extensively searched Harry and Sons, Several revolutionaries were caught and net was fast spreading around Jatindra. Rashbehari made a last ditch attempt from Japan to send consignment of arms through his friend Nielson through China, but Sanghai police intercepted the consignment. Bholanath Chattopadhyay was arrested and committed suicide in Pune. Narendranath Bhattacharya had left India and went to Americas. He was later arrested and tried and took the name of Manabendra Nath Roy (M.N Roy). Thus one of the greatest and grandest of the revolution attempt was foiled by the combined power of Britain-America-Japan-China-France-Holland.
The Amazing Brain power
And yet, the sheer magnitude of the plan and the brain power of Jatindranath Mukherjee surprises us to no less extent. We cannot even imagine the capability of 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 was dependent only on God and on himself and took up the entire responsibility on his shoulder as service to the nation. He had only one vision, one dream, to see India free by waging war against 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 1.
Jatindra goes to Balasore
Nobody, not even the Maharaja of Burdwan who was a close friend and admirer risked giving shelter to Jantindra. Atulchandra Sen was then the head of Bagnan High School and he was in charge with revolutionary movements in Howrah. Jatindra, Manoranjan Sengupta, Chittapriya Roy Choudhury, Nirendranath and Jyotish Pal went to stay with him. Then they went to Balasore in a train. A group of Englishmen had showered abuses on them en route and they 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 over foot and stayed in the forested area in a remote village called Kaptipada.
Police somehow got their scent by raiding Harry and Sons office in Balasore and Jatindra decided to move towards the hilly areas of Mayurbhanj, but 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 of taking Nirendra and Jyotish with him delayed his departure and gave a lot of time to police. Police force led by Dy. Inspector General Denham and his associates Mr. Tegart and Mr. Bard had come to Kaptipada by getting information from a person who worked in Harry and 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 adjoining Chandbali unit also came there in search of the escaping revolutionaries. Jatin and his companions walked through the forests and hills of Mayurbhanj, and after two days reached Balasore Railway Station. They had walked without food, water and sleep and by now the end game was drawing near.
Local villagers turn hostile
Chittapriya and his companions asked Jatin to leave and go to safety while they guarded the rear. Jatin, however refused to leave them. Police had got the information of the skirmishes and were closing on them. They were also given away by the fishermen folks who informed the police of their whereabouts. The police had announced a reward for the capture of five fleeing “bandits”, so the local villagers were also in pursuit. When the revolutionaries fired on the villagers who had come on a hot pursuit one villager Raj Mohanty was killed. With this the villagers temporarily retreated, but the news of the skirmish reached the ears of the administration who were 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 trench in undergrowth on a hillock at Chashakhand in Balasore, near the river Buri Balam.
The Final Battle
On 9th Sep 1915, Jatindra and his associates who were tired and worn out from lack of sleep, lack of food and the immense hardships encountered, faced a huge contingent of police and army. The five fought bravely without surrendering for about two 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 by their fighting skills, but then Chittapriya was hit and was seriously wounded and Jatindra tried tending to his friend despite his own 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, and the magistrate was very pleased with his impeccable manners even at the critical moment. Nirendra and Manoranjan were arrested. Jatindra accepted all the responsibilities for the fight and the revolutionaries activities and gave a declaration that Nirendra and Manoranjan were innocents, he and Chittapriya did all the fighting (“please see that no injustice is done to these boys, whatever was done, I am fully responsible for that”). He was taken to the Balasore hospital where he passed away the next day, 10th Sep.
Tribunal for sentencing – betrayal of Indians by Indians
A special tribunal in Balasore then tried Jyatish, 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 2 of the three judges were Indians and one was a Bengali and another an Oriya.
Aftermath – The deceit & shamelessness of British administration
Jatindra’s death and the news about the encounter was suppressed by the police and administration. They did not even hand over the body to the family. They only announced that five criminals had been killed. But then it spread by word of mouth. Still there was some doubt in public mind regarding his death for a long period of time. Tegart had told about Jatindra, that “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, his vision and plan was so great that it had far reaching international and national ramifications. Suffice it to say that had United States not been a British ally and had 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, Berlin committee and Jugantar and Anushilon Samity and lack of coordination was also evident. Moreover treachery was the main reason for the downfall as British had established a very successful espionage network which even penetrated the revolutionary circle. Thus most of the plans were known to British intelligence before they could be hatched. Still this was a most audacious and grandest attempt to free India. Afterwards it decided the entire course of revolution movement and led to the meteoric rise of M. K Gandhi who could take advantage of the rising discontent among masses and peoples’ admiration for the fighters for independence and the understanding of the sinister nature of the British rule.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was one of the greatest successors of the 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 giving them the fruits of his hard work. His dream and vision of an independent India was realized some thirty two years later, but definitely not in the way he envisaged as less worthy people driven by selfish motives hijacked his cause.
There was a demand to rename Fort William after Jatindranath by several of his associates after independence but it fell in deaf ears. One of his admirers was Shaikh Mujibar Rahman of Bangladesh who was greatly inspired by Bagha Jatin to liberate Bangladesh. Jatindra’s worthy grandson Prithwinda, a noted scholar, historian and writer who was established in France had written and released his comprehensive biography in 2011, named “Bagha Jatin – Life and Times of Jatindranath Mukherjee”. His martyrdom anniversary was celebrated in Bangladesh in Kaya village, but even there fear of the religious extremists have prevented the authorities from naming the local institutions in Bagha Jatin’s name. None the less, it is still evident that people have not forgotten him and no division can prevent people from acknowledging greatness and paying tribute to selfless courage.
Means vs. ends – was Jatindra justified in using violence
There are often questions raised on the methods and means adopted by Jugantar party, esp. the Swadeshi armed robberies. Rabindranath Tagore was not sympathetic to the revolutionaries and in his novel Ghare Baire he sketched a very deplorable character of Sandeep as one of the representatives of revolutionaries. Even in Char Adhyay, Rabindranath showed the revolutionaries in rather poor light. This may have something to do his with dislike for the path of the armed revolution, however by demeaning and denigrating the revolutionaries and their sacrifices in this he may not have done justice. The debate between means and ends is once and for all settled in 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 a selfish one, even if that means name, fame, power etc. for the fighters, then the means adopted must be honest and transparent. Even though some of the armed revolutionaries were compromised and were of questionable character, even though some of the atrocities committed were heinous, most of the revolutionaries were extremely selfless. They did not stand to gain anything from any of the activities, instead they sacrificed and renounced everything for the sake of the freedom of the country, often facing great opposition from their own families and countrymen. Just as it is perfectly acceptable to even 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. This is the principle on which most of the Jugantar revolutionaries operated. Some of their operations went astray. There were betrayals, there were jalousies which compromised and foiled the plans, but 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 are epitomized for this spirit and his associates will therefore be always remembered for their supreme sacrifice and selflessness. Even though history books deny them a place, they have already achieved immortality.