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Subhas Chandra Bose's plunge into Indian politics - Non Cooperation

Unfolding of a Plan - Meeting M.K Gandhi

Subhas returned to India on July 16, 1921. In the same ship he had Rabindranath Tagore as a co-passenger. Subhas had left India on Sep 15 1919, a few days after the conclusion of World War 1. Along with occupying the fourth position in ICS, he had also obtained Tripos in mental and moral sciences from Cambridge. On 16th July his ship had come to the Mumbai port and on the same day he met Gandhiji. In February 1920 he had started corresponding with Chittaranjan Das, the well known barrister who had stood for Aurobindo Ghosh in Alipore case in 1908. Chittaranjan was now the most prominent leader in Bengal. "I should like to know what work you may be able to allot to me in this great programme of national service. Of education and intelligence I have but little, but I believe I have the enthusiasm of youth. I am a bachelor. As regards my education I have read something of philosophy because that was my honours subject in Calcutta and I am doing the same subject in my Tripos here. Thanks to the Civil Services Examination, I have had an all round education upto a certain standard...But I have the feeling that on my return to my country, I should be able to take up two kinds of work, teaching in college and writing for newspapers." In March he wrote another letter to C.R Das in which he chalked out a plan for himself around education and social service. Thus we find that Subhas Bose was now graduating from a youth in search of his destiny to one who had finally decided his goal and aim and was ready to give up everything, a lucrative career, family and friends for the sake of jumping to an idealism which he wanted to pursue with a single point determination for the rest of his life. In England for the first time Subhas experienced how people lived in a free country and he realized the importance of freedom by comparing it to the wretched condition in his own country. For the first time he participated in meaningful debates and discussions which were intellectually stimulating. He made friends outside his friends circle in Calcutta. He became aware of the unique problems faced by India and his determination to serve his motherland was shaped by his experience of what development and progress would mean for  country.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had come back from South Africa in 1914 and had joined Indian National Congress in 1915. In Congress he was being mentored by Gopalkrishna Gokhale. During first world war he had recruited Indian soldiers for the war effort. His breakthrough in Indian politics came with the Kheda and Champaran agitations in 1917. In 1919 the notorious Rowlatt Act was passed and Gandhiji and Congress discovered that in return for their support to the British in World War 1, they got nothing. A civil disobedience was followed against the Rowlatt Act in Punjab and in April 1919, in Jallianwalah Bagh in Amritsar, British soldiers under the order of Reginald Dyer opened fire on a large group of peaceful crowd that included a large number of women and children, killing thousands. This barbaric killing drew protests from across the world, though British men and women raised subscriptions for helping Dyer. Dyer was exonerated. Gandhiji now started the non cooperation movement in his demand for Swaraj and tried to bring the Muslims on the same platform by linking the issue of Khilafat or the displacement of the Caliphate in Turkey, an issue which was close to the Muslims. In 1921 he organized Congress and advocated Swadeshi or homespun khadi garments using spinning wheels and boycott of foreign goods. It was at this critical juncture that Subhas Chandra Bose, the young ICS, met him and interviewed him on his plan for India.


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Subhas Calcutta Muncipal corporation.jpg

Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das renounced a huge income and all his assets to steer non cooperation movement in Bengal and became the political guru of Subhas Chandra Bose. He was the alternative leader to Gandhi who was a pragmatist and had a clear goal and vision in contrast with Gandhian Utopia. Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Mahatma Gandhi had returned to India in 1915 after gaining reputation for his Satyagraha movement in South Africa. He was mentored by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Soon he launched Satyagraha in Kheda and Champaran and emerged as the undisputed leader of Indian National Movement. His emphasis on Non Violence means to fight British lent him a huge acceptability among the masses. He led the movement against Rowlatt Act from the front and started Non cooperation movement in 1920 that was hugely successful until its premature withdrawal. Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Subhas Chandra Bose became the CEO of Calcutta Municipal Corporation when Deshbandhu was the Mayor. He brought radical changes in its functioning by making it more people friendly and through constructive works, so much so that the British Government was alarmed and  put Subhas behind the bars in Mandalay. Image courtesy: Facebook

Beginning of political innings of Subhas Chandra Bose, Boycott of the visit of Prince of Wales

Plunge into Politics - Deshbandhu Chittaranjan and Subhas - The Guru and his worthy disciple

Gandhiji was staying in the Laburnum Road and Subhas on meeting him engaged in a long conversation about his programmes and plans. He was not satisfied with the interview as he thought that Gandhiji did not have any concrete plan of India's future beyond the immediate activities. Gandhiji also sensed his disappointment and advised him to contact Chittaranjan Das. After meeting C.R Das in Calcutta, Subhas was satisfied and decided to dedicate his heart and soul to the non cooperation movement that had been started by Gandhiji and was being spearheaded by C.R Das in Bengal. Subhas met C.R Das to find that he was not the same man earning thousands in days and spending the same in hours. C.R Das was a king of the youth, he could understand their mindset and he could get their allegiance as well. He could give everything that he had and also demanded everything that his followers could give him. Subhas thus put himself under C.R Das whom he would be following, though not blindly, for often they would argue on the methods and means, but in principle. C.R Das understood Subhas very well, he was perhaps the only person who could do so. He put Subhas in charge of the nationalization of education. Subhas became the principal of the Bengal National college. He also became the captain of the National volunteer corps, which he immensely liked as it gave him opportunity to build the youth of Bengal along the lines of army. He was also the Chief Publicity Officer of the Congress in Bengal. So efficiently he proved his mettle that even the Government took notice. Subhas set to work with the goal of building of character of the youth. So ably he organized the propaganda on behalf of Congress that the Statesman, the leading daily of the Anglo Indians remarked that Congress had got one of the most competent men whom the Government had lost. Chittaranjan introduced Subhas to all the important Congress leaders who came to a working committee session in September 1921. Subhas also took up the responsibility of negotiating a settlement between ex-revolutionaries and Congress so as to enlist their cooperation in the ongoing agitation. His sincerity and purposeful overtures won the day for him. Subhas became a lifelong and a trusted friend of the revolutionaries across India. This made him the arch enemy of the British police and the intelligence.

The first test of Subhas as an organizer came in December 1921. The Prince of Wales was visiting India. However Gandhiji wanted a complete boycott of this visit. The Prince landed in Bombay on 17 Nov and the whole country had observed Hartal or complete strike. It was also decided to observe Hartal on 24 Dec, the day Prince was supposed to visit Calcutta. Subhas worked tirelessly to make the hartal a success. At the same time he organized a large volunteer force to cater to the emergency needs of people who would be travelling, the needs of sick and others who would have to go to the hospitals etc. Cars were kept to ferry such people with special stickers on them. Government soon got the wind and they declared the volunteer corps as illegal. Now Chittaranjan Das showed his great spirit of renunciation - a leader should be the first to sacrifice. His family members first courted arrest while picketing, starting with his son Chiraranjan or Bhombal. Next was the turn of Basanti Devi, his wife, and other ladies of his houselhold including his sister. When Basanti Devi was arrested even the police constables were said to be so much enraged by it that the Government had to increase their salary to pacify them. However the pressure on the Government mounted and the police were forced to release Basanti Devi and the other ladies, though they soon arrested Deshbandhu, Subhas Chandra, J.M Sengupta and Birendranath Sasmal. Other Congress leaders were arrested on Dec 10. They were sentenced for 6 months imprisonment and were lodged in Alipore prison. "Just 6 months? Have I stolen a chicken?" was the belligerent reply of Subhas to the judge. Little did Subhas realize that it was the beginning of a long journey. Between 1921 and 1941 when he left India, Subhas was imprisoned eleven times, was sent to the second most notorious prison, that of Mandalay, and had to endure terrible agony. But this one son of India was steadfast and most obstinate, he would neither bend nor break. In these six months Subhas got opportunity to serve his guru for 6 months in the prison. The foods brought by Basanti Devi for Chittaranjan were shared with all his associates and they lived happily as a family.

End of Non Cooperation, Rise of Swaraj Party of Deshbandhu, Subhas as Chief Executive Officer

Ascent of Swarajya Party

Gandhiji had promised a Swaraj within one year, about a year back. But he was far from realizing it and time was running out.  Lord Reading, the Viceroy, was anxious to bring about a settlement prior to Prince of Wales's visit and he made certain proposals, among them the most important was unconditional release of all political prisoners. C.R Das thought this to be a God sent opportunity as it would be a face saver for Gandhi who was still far from delivering his promised "Swaraj in a year". But it was in vain on account of the obstinacy of Gandhi himself who demanded the release of the Ali brothers as well. Reading rejected it because Ali Brothers were arrested on account of their association with Khilafat Movement. By the time Gandhi agreed for a discussion on his position, a lot of precious time was wasted. C.R Das was livid, but he could do nothing, a major opportunity of settlement was squandered away by the not so prudent stand of Gandhi, a pattern which would be oft repeated in future. Gandhiji now sent an ultimatum to the Government that he would launch a no tax campaign in Bardoli in Gujarat. Similar activities were planned in other states. Detail steps were taken to carry out the plan of Non cooperation against the Government authorities in Bengal. Birendranath Sasmal led the no tax movement in Medinipur. Jatindramohan Sengupta led the labour strike. But after creating a lot of hype and expectation, Gandhi himself put a brake when a violent mob had set fire to a police station in Chauri Chaura, a village in U.P and killed few policemen. Gandhi called off the tax movement saying that people of India failed to live up to the ideals of Satyagraha and therefore it was not a proper time to demand Swaraj. Except for Gandhi loyalists (deemed as coterie) like Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajagopalachary etc. almost all prominent leaders like Chittaranjan Das, Motilal Nehru, Lala Lajpat Rai vehemently condemned the Mahatma for his thoughtlessness, for putting his personal agenda before the interest of the nation. Even Jawaharlal, his later day trusted aide, rued, that Chauri Chaura was a remote village and action by a small group of excitable peasants was not reason enough to top one of the most promising movements of India. Subhas, expressing his sense of disappointment wrote, "To sound the order of retreat just when the public enthusiasm was reaching the boiling point was nothing sort of a national calamity."

Gandhi was soon arrested and put behind the bars. The Non Cooperation ended as a failure. Khilafat movement petered away as Turkey chose the path of modernism and progressiveness under Kemal Ataturk. Hindu Muslim Unity was shattered with a series of communal disturbances, led by fanatic Muslim mobs fueled by their fundamentalist leaders including the Ali Brothers. 


Young Subhas, when released from prison set himself to work for the flood affected people of North Bengal. Under the direction of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy, Subhas organized a huge relief effort where he mobilized many volunteers. The notable among them in this effort was Leela Nag, one of the leaders of Sri Sangha and the first woman to graduate from the Dhaka University, who was to become Subhas's trusted aide in the later years. Lord Lytton praised the relief efforts. Through sheer perseverance and hard work Subhas rose into prominence within a short time and became, and became the right hand man of Chittaranjan Das. He was entrusted with the editorship of the daily of the Swarajya Party, Banglar Katha. He organized the All Bengal Youth League with himself as the president in 1923. He became the president of the Labour Union of the Tata Iron and Steel company and also the presided over the All India Trade Union Congress. In December 1922, at the Gaya Congress, Deshbandhu and Motilal Nehru clashed with the followers (read coterie) of Gandhi over Chittaranjan's proposal for the council entry. The proposal was rejected by the staunch Gandhi followers as it did not have the blessings of Gandhi. Therefore Chittaranjan Das resigned from the presidentship of Bengal Congress and floated his own party - The Swarajya Party and decided to enter the legislative councils, which at that time was dominated by the Moderates who would simply follow their British masters wishes. An entry to the council, would, according to Das, give them opportunity to fight the Government and extract important concessions for the people on important issues and would thus stay alive the possibility of swaraj. The purpose was to carry out continuous opposition to the Government on important issues, thereby paralyzing the administrative machinery, thus rendering British rule ineffective and handicapped.

When Swarajya party began its function, Subhas became its Secretary. An English daily called Forward was also started and Subhas was given its responsibility. The daily took up a major position among all the nationalist newspapers of India. Details about the publication and Subhas's dedication to it can be found in the two posts - Subhas Chandra and Forward publishing and  Subhas Chandra as journalist.


To further consolidate his position C.R Das took up the challenge headlong and did a whirlwind tour of South India, then considered as the bastion of Congress, in 1923. He received an overwhelming response. In the different provinces of India including that of Bengal the Congress and the Swarajists had become bitter rivals. This had caused great damage to the National cause. In 1923 under Maulana Abul Kalam Azad a special session of the Congress was held in Delhi. A compromise was worked out and Congressmen were allowed to contest elections of the councils and the position of the Swarajists was almost accepted, although Congress distanced itself as an organization from contesting elections. In the all India elections that followed, Swarajists displayed a wonderful performance, by either becoming the strongest opposition or winning the majority, esp. in that of Bengal and Central Provinces. In the local body elections of the United Provinces, the party did remarkably well under the stewardship of Motilal Nehru.

In 1923 Subhas became the secretary of Bengal Provincial Congress. He also became sensitive the needs of Hindu Muslim unity for fighting the British together through a genuine understanding of the needs of the Muslim in line with the ideals of Deshbandhu. He realized that the British policy of divide and rule would cost India much more and a divided house was house fallen. Therefore Deshbandhu tried his best to take the Muslims along in his quest for Swaraj and he accommodated them, but did not give in to their unjust demands. He knew about the fundamentalism in Islam, the inherent superiority complex that would prevent a section of their leaders to align with the Hindus for a common cause. Hindu Muslim unity was far off as the results showed right after non cooperation movement collapsed. Violent riots, fueled by the political immaturity of Congress and the cunning policies of British, started across the country, resulting in the terrible Moplah killings in Malabar. Only somebody like Deshbandhu, who was trusted by the leaders of both communities for fairness and justice, could take the two warring fractions along. Deshbandhu was farsighted in his dealings with the Muslims. He signed the Bengal pact in 1923 which was rejected by the Congress but was ratified by the Provincial conference in May 1924, that was instrumental in gaining the trust of the Muslims.

Subhas's reputation as a leader at such a young age could be gauged from the fact that he was invited to the fourth Congress of the Communist International in Moscow in 1922. However the police confiscated the communication and thus prevented him from attending. In 1924 Swarajists scored a massive victory in the Calcutta Corporation election and came into control of the Corporation. several Muslims won on Swarajist ticket even though the elections were held on the basis of a separate electorate. Chittaranjan Das became the mayor of Calcutta and Suhrawardi the deputy Mayor. Subhas was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer on April 24, 1924 and he was in this post till his arrest on Oct 25, 1924. Under the new administration several new initiatives were taken like giving milk to the poorest, setting up education facilities, esp. primary schools, setting up dispensaries, maintaining civic facilities, ensuring cleanliness of streets etc. Subhas himself took the lead and soon earned reputation as an able administrator. He reduced his salary from Rs 3000 to Rs 1500 saying that he did not need more than that. He used to sponsor the education of needy students with the remaining amount. All the parks and the streets were named after national leaders. No respect was to be paid to the British officials but only to the Nationalist leaders. All the employees were supposed to wear Khadi garments (Khaddar). Government who was least bothered about people's welfare, obviously resented these measures. The objective of the Corporation was outlined by the Mayor Chittaranjan Das, to improve the living conditions of the poor by providing them better healthcare and conditions of living. Subhas wanted to give a practical shape to this idea.

Subhas had many differences of opinion with Deshbandhu and argued with him vociferously as per his own tribute to him in a letter after Deshbandhu's death. However one person Subhas was extremely intimate with was Deshbandhu's wife, Basanti Devi. Prabhavati Devi had said to Basanti, "I gave birth to Subhas, but you are his real mother." As per the reminiscences of Basanti Devi, Subhas would often come to the Das household late at night and his demand to his beloved mother (Basanti Devi) was to cook for him something. Even though Basanti Devi would explain that the kitchen was closed, she ultimately had to go and cook a simple "bhate bhat" (a Bengali delicacy of boiled rice and vegetables served with clarified butter or ghee) and Subhas used to take that with heavenly pleasure. Basanti Devi remembered the night when she was arrested by the police for picketing and had returned home late at night when she was released, Subhas cried his heart out for her. Basanti Devi, it seems also tried very hard for Subhas's marriage. After Deshbandhu's death Subhas wanted Basanti Devi to come to the forefront and become the leader and the guru. But Basanti Devi stayed away from politics, perhaps wisely.

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Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, who renounced everything for the sake of the country and his worthy spouse Basanti Devi, who was the first to go to jail while volunteering for the Non Cooperation Movement. Deshbandhu was the first leader to send his own family members to prison to set an example to the people of nobility and sacrifice

Image courtesy: Wikipedia


Gopinath Saha - The young revolutionary who wanted to kill the brutal Police Commissioner of Calcutta Charles Tegart but by mistake killed an innocent European. He was sent to the gallows. His sacrifice deeply moved Subhas

Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Subhas Chandra Bose deported to Mandalay, death of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das

Arrest and deportation of Subhas Bose

In the meanwhile the revolutionary forces had intensified their activities. Gopinath Saha, a young revolutionary had tried to kill the notorious police commissioner of Calcutta Charles Tegart, but unfortunately had killed an innocent man named Ernest Day. Gopinath was taken to the gallows. Congress and Swarajists appreciated the courage and the spirit of sacrifice but condemned the violent act. Police was trying their best to frame Subhas. Now they got an opportunity. On the basis of intelligence reports that Subhas had a strong relationship with the revolutionaries, that Gopinath Saha was intimate with him, they trained their guns on him, being already jealous and weary of his success as a popular young leader and able administrator.


Subhas Chandra Bose was arrested on 24th Oct, 1924 along with Swarajist leaders Anil Baran Roy and S. C Mitra, and was put behind the bars in Alipore Central Jail, under Regulation Three, the notorious Defense of India act. Deshbandhu was away in Simla. The entire country went up in arms against the arrest. Deshbandhu himself was livid. "Subhas is no more a revolutionary than I am, Why haven't they arrested me? If love of one's country is a crime, then I am a criminal." He thundered. The English dailies like Statesman and Englishman started baseless allegations of Subhas being the brain behind the revolutionary activities thus justifying Subhas's arrest. His solicitors dragged them to the court and the allegations were dismissed. Condemning the arrest Gandhiji wrote an article in Young India. A massive rally was held in Calcutta on 31st October. Subhas started discharging his duties from the jail. But soon, because of the problems created by British police officers, he was sent to the Bahrampur Jail. In 1925 he was sent to Mandalay prison in Burma under the supervision of Assistant Inspector General of Police Lowman.

In Mandalay prison Subhas had Biplobi Trailokya Chakrabarty, famously called Maharaj, as company. Trailokya Maharaj was a unique person. He was in prison for thirty years and had the experience of living in the notorious prison of Cellular jail. Mandalay was no mean prison, it was a slaughterhouse. Tilak was lodged there for six years which hastened his death. Lala Lajpat Rai was imprisoned there for an year. Subhas was at his cheerful best despite the abysmal conditions. In a cheeky letter to his Mejda, Sarat Bose he described the painful conditions under which he and his fellow inmates were forced to live. The British officials were in good terms with him. In October 1925 Subhas and other Hindu inmates decided to perform the Durga Puja. Major Findlay, the Dy. Commissioner was approached and he agreed to the idea but the British Government refused to give permission. As a mark of protest Subhas and other inmates started a hunger strike. Finally the Government agreed to grant permission and also sanctioned a meager amount for the ritual. While in the prison Subhas learnt of the sudden demise of Deshbandhu.

Fall of a Star in high heaven - Death of Chittaranjan Das and the resulting political turmoil


Deshbandhu was not keeping well for a long time and yet he was working very hard. He was trying his very best for a negotiated agreement with the British, esp. for the release of Subhas and other political prisoners. Undaunted by the arrest of his trusted lieutenants, Deshbandhu went ahead with his Swarajist programme. In the early part of 1925 a compromise between him and Gandhi, called Gandhi Das pact, was put in place. The Swarajists were in charge of the political programmes. In Kanpur session of Congress in 1925 which was presided over by Sarojini Naidu, the decision was taken that Congress should take up the task of running the elections. Thus the position of Chittaranjan Das was vindicated. He met Lord Lytton in Belur Math for a settlement but nothing came out of that meeting. He was taken to Darjeeling for a change, but there he fell ill and passed away. This caused a great vacuum in Bengal and National politics and could not have come at a more opportune moment for the British. With Deshbandhu gone and Subhas away in Mandalay, the Swarajist party crumbled and the Hindu Muslim unity became a thing of the past. Rivalries started among the Bengal leaders as to each leader ego and self assertion became more important than the national cause. J. M Sengupta, among the Gandhivadis tried to take an upper hand over the Swarajists. Subhas remembered the great kindness of Deshbandhu that had transformed even a petty bandit like Mathur, his large heartedness and his self sacrifice for the nation and wrote a touching letter to his "Ma", Basanti Devi, the wife of Deshbandhu. Subhas deeply thought about the various problems of India and started to think about his future course of actions. With his mentor and guide gone, Subhas was now all alone in Bengal politics. He knew he had to begin in a new way but he had a dogged determination and confidence in himself. But his Mandalay jail term was to continue for the next 2.5 years and his health started degenerating causing great concern to his family members.

In his book Indian Struggles Subhas analyzes the rise of Swarajya party during this period and his impressions about Gandhi and Congress. He said that "mass of India had always been susceptible to the influence of avatars, priests and gurus. The spiritual man had always wielded the largest influence in India and he is called a Saint, a Mahatma or a sadhu. For various reasons Gandhiji came to be looked upon by the people of India as a Mahatma before he became the undisputed political leader of India." Subhas said that Gandhiji's austere lifestyle, his spirit of renunciation, were all his assets and thus the masses came to acknowledge him as their leader. "Consciously or unconsciously Mahatma fully exploited the mass psychology of people. He was exploiting many of the weak traits in the character of his countrymen which had accounted for India's downfall to a large extent." These included a "belief in the supernatural, indifference to modern scientific development, her backwardness in the science of modern warfare, the peaceful contentment engendered by her latter day philosophy and adherence to ahimsa or non violence carried to the most absurd length." Congressmen began to look upon Gandhi not merely as a political guru but also a religious messiah and developed a cult around him that ate vegetarian, adopted the same style of dress and behavior and talked of spiritual swaraj before political swaraj.  "And worst of all was the tendency on the part of the orthodox followers of the Mahatma to regard everything that he said as gospel truth without reasoning or arguing and to accept his paper Young India as their Bible." As long as Deshbandhu was there he was able to carry conviction and appeared as a genuine alternative to the Mahatma. "It was the unique personality of Deshbandhu Das that was able to combine into one party such dissimilar elements, to wrest the Congress machinery from the hands of the orthodox 'No-Changers' and to carry on a fight against the bureaucracy on many fronts. But in his absence, there was no one competent enough to continue his many-sided activities or to keep together the diverse elements that composed the Swaraj Party. The result was that the Swaraj Party remained in power only so long as the Mahatma did not emerge from his voluntary retirement. When he did emerge in 1929, the Swarajist leader, Pandit Motilal Nehru, surrendered without even the show of a fight." Indeed Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das had united the different traits of people, for instance the Maharashtrian wing of the Swarajists like Jayakar and N.C Kelkar who only believed in the theory of responsive cooperation as promoted by Lokmanya Tilak, in his Swarajist party, along with Pandit Motilal Nehru who believed in consistent opposition and did not see eye to eye with the Maharashtrian counterparts. Consequently after Deshbandhu passed away, major rift developed under the presidentship of Motilal Nehru who lacked the all encompassing love that Deshbandhu possessed, that had been the binding factor.

In this mortal world, everything perishes and will perish - but ideas, ideals and dreams do not

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