Rodda Arms Heist 1914
Shrish Chandra Pal was the chief architect of Rodda Arms Heist, a most memorable incident in the history of revolutionary movement in India, one of the greatest successes achieved by the revolutionary groups in Bengal that had helped in changing the course of the revolutionary movement. Different revolutionary groups had mushroomed under the command of different leaders. Jugantar was a radical outfit named after the publication edited by Bhupendra Nath Datta, Anushilon Samity was the most prominent. Atmannnoti Samity of Bipin Behari Ganguli and Harish Sikdar was another radical outfit in the guise of a social organization. Hemchandra Ghose's Mukti Sangha (later transformed into Bengal Volunteers) closely coordinated with all the groups.
In 1914 Shrish Chandra Pal (who took up the nickname Naren Datta), in one of the coordination meetings in Chhatawala Gali, proposed that the revolutionaries should conduct a heist of the arms consignment of the Rodda company that included fifty Mauser pistols and fifty thousand rounds of ammunition, with the help of a clerk in the company called Shrish (Habu) Mitra who had provided the information. Narendranath Bhattacharya (later M.N Roy) called this idea as "insanity". But the person who gave a concrete shape to this insane idea was Shrish Chandra Pal, actively assisted by the other daring revolutionaries like Haridas Datta of Mukti Sangha, Anukul Mukherjee, Kalidas Bose, Girindra Bannerjee, Khagen Das, Harish Sikdar, Ashutosh Roy and leaders like Hemchandra Ghosh, Bagha Jatin and Bipin Behari Ganguly.
Shrish Chandra Pal had taken the revenge on the inspector Nandalal Bannerjee, who was the culprit to arrest Prafulla Chaki. He was killed in broad daylight in Serpentine Lane of Calcutta by Shrish Pal, who was never caught. So it was natural that this daring revolutionary would take up all responsibility of converting impracticality into practicality. Several equally daring people came forward to help - Shrish or Habu Mitra, Anukul Mukherjee, Haridas Datta along with the entire organizational strength of the Atmannati Samity. The mission was supported by Bagha Jatin, Hemchandra Ghosh and Bipin Behari Ganguly. A bullock cart was needed for the operation for loading the consignment of Arms. Habu Mitra, who had joined Rodda company a year earlier, was to load the arms in the bullock cart after customs clearance, and Haridas Datta was to drive the bullock cart. The Arms consignment was meant for Tibet for the ongoing China Tibet border skirmishes.
Prabhudayal Himmatsingka helped in providing lodging in Marwari hostel and also in dressing up Haridas as a Bihari bullock cart driver. Anukul Mukherjee had provided the bullock cart as the seventh bullock cart that would go to fetch the consignment from the Customs. On 26th August, 1914 the great plan was executed. Datta was able to drive the cart as efficiently as any regular cart driver. Shrish and Khagen Das followed the cart. The cart arrived in Dalhousie Square and the revolutionaries were armed with weapons to fight it out in the event that they were caught. The cart was loaded as per plan. The load was brought to a predetermined location, in a warehouse in Malanga Lane from where Anukul Mukherjee and Kalidas Bose delivered most of the ammunition and all the Mauser pistols to the revolutionaries across Bengal. Few Marwari community members like Hanuman Prasad Poddar of Marwari Sahayak Samity, Prabhudayal Himmatsingka and Ghanashyamdas Birla, helped in storing the arms temporarily at their places. Dukoribala Devi, an aunt of Ranen Ganguli who was involved in killing Nandalal Bannerjee, had helped the revolutionaries by storing some of the arms, for which she had to pay a heavy price in her personal life. These Mauser pistols were used by Jatindranath Mukherjee in his final battle in Balasore. A part of the consignment went to Motilal Roy of Chandannagore group. Rashbehari Bose kept a Mauser pistol with him. Rest were distributed among the the revolutionaries of Anushilon Samity , Mukti Sangha, Atmannnati Samity in Dhaka, Calcutta and other areas of Bengal.
Habu Mitra and Shrish Pal escaped to Rangpur and stayed in Dr. Bardhan's house as his cousin, from where Habu Mitra was sent to Assam among the Rabha tribal community once police caught his scent. The consignment of the remaining cartridges had to be removed to the house of Bhujanga Dhar. From there it was shifted to a godown in Burrabazar area. The only hitch in the plan was that, since Kalidas Bose's own cart did not arrive on time, the revolutionaries had to hire two hackney carriages to move the big boxes of the cartridges, which proved to be fatal, as the carriage drivers could identify them to the police.
In about six days Rodda company discovered that their consignment did not reach the intended recipient. The British Government panicked. Every locality in Calcutta was put under strict vigilance and Tegart himself monitored any suspicious movement. Revolutionaries had a problem. They had not yet brought 21000 rounds of ammunition in safe custody. The box of the ammunition was placed in a storehouse belonging to a Marwari family. But Jorabagan police station was alerted and they deployed a police constable near that warehouse. Haridas Datta was entrusted to empty that warehouse. When he went to the owner of that storehouse he was detained by Shukdeo, the gatekeeper, and the police constable caught him and wanted to take him to the police station. Haridas tried to escape but was caught by the locals when the constable raised an alarm "Daku bhagta Hai". When brought to the police station, Charles Tegart told him, "Hallo, Royal Bengal Tiger! Now you are bagged." Police arrested Anukul Mukherjee, Kalidas Bose, Girin Bannerjee, Bhujanga Dhar, Prabhudayal Himmatsingka and others. Shrish Pal and Khagen Das had escaped.
Rodda Conspiracy Case ran for seven months. Haridas Datta, Kalidas Bose, Bhujanga Dhar and Naren Bannerjee were convicted and others were released. Hardidas Datta was put in prison for four years in Presidency Central Jail. Later he was rearrested under Defence Act three and put in Hazaribagh Central Jail. Khagen Das was also arrested later.
Habu Mitra died while traveling to China from Assam. His body was never found. Shrish Pal, who was living as Naren Datta, was arrested in 1916 and was imprisoned under Act Three. His health was broken but he was actively engaged in revolutionary activities until his death in 1939. Thus ended a most memorable chapter in the history of freedom movement.
(Adapted from Sabar Alakhye, by Bhupendra Kishore Rakshit Roy, the noted revolutionary leader)