How free India has wronged the legacy of Rashbehari Bose

The saga of Rashbehari Bose is that of an endless sequence of revolutionary attempts driven by a burning zeal for freedom.

The saga of Rashbehari Bose is that of an endless sequence of revolutionary attempts driven by a burning zeal for freedom. It started with dropping a bomb on Viceroy Hardinge in a regal ceremony held for celebrating the coronation of the British emperor. During the First World War, he led a major attempt to oust the British power from Indian soil, which is now known officially as the Hindu German Conspiracy [8]. It failed and Rashbehari Bose was forced to flee the country to Japan in the guise of P N Thakur, a relative of the great poet, Rabindranath Thakur [7]. He attempted to send arms and ammunitions to his revolutionary comrades from Singapore, but his plots were unearthed by the British and failed. The British forced the Japanese to issue a deportation order on Rashbehari, yet he managed to dodge the Japanese police with the help of Toyama Mitsuru and the Soma family of Nakamuraya [7]. He married Toshiko, the eldest daughter of the Soma family, and managed to survive the ordeal of several years of constant hide and seek, and got naturalized and could afford the safety of a permanent home for the first time. But, immediately came the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, which destroyed this home [10].

The nation Rashbehari fought for deserted him in the resulting financial woes and desperation, save and except eminent exceptions, such as Rashbehari’s childhood friend Srish Ghosh, who was an eminent revolutionary, yet then destitute, himself, and the poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore [10]. And, within a year, a personal tragedy struck again in the form of sudden death of his wife [10]. But, Rashbehari was not one to relinquish his mission.

After his revolutionary attempts from India and East Asia failed, he bid his time for the earliest opportunity. He used his sojourn in Japan to spread the message of civilizational India in Japan, communicate the pain of her slavery, her exploitation by a foreign nation and raise awareness of the ongoing freedom struggle [4]. Arriving penniless in Japan in 1915, then possessing a Japanese vocabulary of 3-4 words, he mastered Japanese in four and a half months [7], and subsequently tirelessly built up contacts among the highest echelon in Japan, became her soft power there, kept himself abreast of the developments in India, continuously organized and assisted the Indians living in Japan, particularly the students and freedom fighters, who took refuge there, and sought to inform India about Japan, so as to initiate an alliance when the time is ripe [6]. He also championed the cause of Asian solidarity, partly out of conviction, partly because of its potential to bind the two ancient civilizations with a common sense of belonging [6]. He prepared as best as he could for the coming events, including attempting to anticipate the events to occur in India and elsewhere, so that the country would be best poised to strike to win freedom from the British. He therefore acted as India’s unofficial ambassador in every capacity [4], [6]. It is these non-military activities, engaged in a period spanning over two decades in Japan that provided the foundations for his last onslaught during the Second World War. He founded the Indian Independence League (IIL), which constituted the political and administrative wing of the Indian National Army (INA), and held together the INA in its most difficult times, before he could hand over its charge to his successor, Subhas, the other eminent Bose, and quietly walk into his sunset. The INA played the most significant role in weakening the British administrative hold on India, as was accepted by the erstwhile British Prime Minister Clement Atlee.

The country whose independence Rashbehari pursued offered him only hunger, privation, thirst and persistent hounding, but Japan recognized his stellar attributes. Nedyam Raghavan, who headed the All-Malayan Indian Independence League, who had known Rashbehari closely during 1942-43, has written: “Bose, I observed, commanded great respect in Japan. To many, his name was synonymous with Indian freedom. Both in civil, and what counted most then, in military circles, he had the reputation of being an ardent Indian patriot. All knew him. The fact that he had risked his life for his country was enough for a people famous for their patriotism. Moreover they knew him more than they knew any other Indian; and they must have come to know of many of his great qualities of head and heart. In his company, we met most Japanese statesmen, military and civilian leaders, writers, journalists, academicians and even humbler folk, and were able to form some impression of Japan’s sympathetic attitude towards Indian freedom.’’ pp. 436-437  [3] . Rashbehari counted among his intimate friends, cabinet ministers, lawyers, M.Ps, journalists in Japan, including Mitsuru Toyoma, a right-wing political leader, Dr. Syumei Ohkawa, the President of the Asiatic Society, Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi and cabinet minister Tokonami Takejiro [6]. Rashbehari had become so famous by 1924 in Japan that the famous art critic of Japan Mr. Nakayama Tadanao wrote about his life in the orient in 1924, in an article that was developed and republished as a book in 1942 [6]. He became the first non-official Indian to be invited to the Imperial Cherry Blossom Garden Party [6]. Kwabata-Ko, a famous collector of Japanese painting used to advise visitors to meet Rashbehhari, if they wanted to learn Japanese etiquette. He opined that very few Japanese stood on a par with Rashbehari on this p. 146, [12].

Yet, notwithstanding the adulation he received in Japan, could Rashbehari forget even for a moment the mission he had committed himself to. Rev. Nikki Kimura, an eminent Japanese contemporary to Rashbehari, has written about him: “Although he had been in Japan for more than 30 years as an Indian refugee, he was always thinking of Indian independence. He never forgot of the independence of his mother country……Indeed his activities were wonderful and his affectionate patriotism for his mother country was really something pathetic. We, the Japanese, always paid him our highest respect to find him as the splendid patriot of his mother country.’’ p. 41, [3] Nedyam Raghavan, has added: “ Rebel, revolutionary, exile, scholar, writer, teacher, and yet, he (Rashbehari) had a knack of enjoying life as average man did. Prudery, snobbery or pedantry never came his way. However, I noticed that if need be, he was capable of sacrifices and would subject himself to privations to a greater extent than many who lived poorly. I must say that many of those qualities, though excellent in themselves, were not the ones that attracted Rash Behari Bose to me. It was his intense love of freedom for his country. His one all-absorbing passion was to go back to India – a free man – and set foot on a free soil. He did not seem to nurse any hatred of the British or anyone else. Whenever he spoke of them, he spoke without rancor. ‘’ p. 438, [3].

Any free country would cherish the legacy of such a patriot, but, did India? To find an answer, we start from the end of Rashbehari’s journey, after he walked into his sunset:

Section A: The last few years and the end

A prominent Malayan-Indian barrister of Penang, Nedyam Raghavan, who headed the All-Malayan Indian Independence League, had known Rashbehari Bose closely, starting from March 1942 until Rashbehari retired from public life in July 1943 pp. 228-229 [3]. Nedyam Raghavan has written about Rashbehari Bose, just after he handed over the IIL and the INA to Subhas Bose in July 1943, and retired from public life: “Though in failing health, he was full of cheer, full of life. However, he said his health was giving way; and though Subhas Babu had given specific directions to have his health and comforts looked after, Rashbehari was anxious to get back to Japan for medical treatment. Again he expressed to me his faith in the genuineness of Japanese feelings towards Indian freedom. Whatever the militarists in South East Asia did, he said, the heart of Japan was sound and would beat in unison with that of Free India. With prophetic foresight, he also saw Indian Freedom looming in the distance. He said, before the war ended India would be free. In a feeble voice, not perhaps believing it himself, he added that he would return to a Free India. He did not. He left Singapore. I was afraid for his finances as I knew he had given everything to the Movement. I felt he would be in need; and ventured to send him a cheque. He returned it with many expressions of thanks. No; his needs were few and though he had given all his property to the Movement and was returning to Japan with empty hands, he felt certain that he would be looked after and properly taken care of. He needed no money. It was not long before that we heard that he has left us forever ; but in leaving us, he left behind the cherished memory of a good friend and a great patriot through whose life ran one unbroken purpose – that of winning India’s freedom ” pp-440-441 [3]

Rashbehari’s health had been failing from chronic consumption from 1942 onwards, the condition that worsened due to the tremendous effort that he had to invest in leading, managing, organizing and re-organizing the IIL and the INA in 1942 and up to the middle of 1943. He was weighing more than 183 lbs. when he left Japan in the middle of 1942, when he returned in June 1943, he was only 100 lbs. or a little more p. 72, [13]. He could not recover after he retired either.

By the end of 1944, Rashbehari’s health had reached a point of no return. Subhas Bose, who was fully consumed in directing the INA then from different parts of East Asia went to see the dying revolutionary in Tokyo p. 518, [15] in November, 1944 p. 356, p. 358, p. 359, [14]. Lt. General Kawabe writes, “Bose also visited Rash Behari Bose who was bed ridden at that time. He consoled the old and sick fighter by assuring that the day of independence of India was not very far.’’ p. 359, [14] Subhas would have no difficulty anticipating the prime concern of another revolutionary, though the duo had met only a few times before. It was the last meeting between the two great revolutionaries of India.

Rashbehari’s daughter was always at his bedside, when he became terminally ill 2563-2567, [9].

His close friend, Tatusjiro Machida (President, Kokusai Denshin Denwa Co., Ltd) has provided us a glimpse of Rashbehari’s innermost thoughts in his last few days: `In January, 1945, I called on him at his house to inquire after his illness, but found his condition so critical that no one was allowed to see him according to the advice of the doctor. As I was going back, a loud voice calling my name was heard behind. I turned round and saw his daughter saying he took notice of your voice and earnestly wishes to see you and call you back’’. I then moved to his bed-side slowly. He grew weak, but his eyes were brightened. He was already aware of Japan’s defeat and showed me his anxiety about the future of Japan, Asian problems, Indian problems, etc. His trembling and skinny hand shook mine and joined his hands to ask me for taking care of his daughter, Miss Tetsuko (now Mrs. Higuchi). This noble scene still remains vivid in my memory. ‘’ p. 60, [3].

Seizo Arisue, Ex Lieutenant General, Ex-Chief of the Information Bureau, Staff of the Japanese Ground Self-defence Force has recalled his last encounter with Rashbehari: “As I remember it, in January 1945 the illness of late Mr. Rashbehari took a critical turn. Hearing of this, H. M. The Emperor decorated him with the Second Order-of Merit of the Rising Sun, which I was directed to deliver him personally at the hospital. When I went, he was lying in bed in a serious condition. I handed over the Medals of Merit to him, he could not lift his head but with a nod and tears in his eyes he expressed his great appreciation deeply moved by the Imperial favour. With tears running down, he whispered into my ears very firmly – “Thank you very much for your kindness, in the past. I particularly solicit your further co-operation with us to accomplish our nation’s independence.’’ This he did, grasping my hand firmly. I could not help feeling a great admiration towards him seeing his devotion to the cause of India’s independence.’’ pp. 51-52, [3]

So, until his very last, the motherland, he had bade farewell to thirty years before, the land that gave him only privation, thirst, hunger and heartbreak, was never far off from his mind. He also remained a loving and caring father, who sacrificed the opportunity to raise his beloved daughter in the service of his motherland.

Towards his end, Rash Behari knew that his days were numbered Loc 2563 [9]. On the 21st of January, 1945, he passed away in his sleep p. 57, [3], Loc 2563 [9] with a plaque of Bande Mataram overhead and a Tulsi bead in his hand p. 592, [3].  

A Royal proclamation from Japan announced his death news over the radio, and his dead body was carried to the Yojoji temple the next morning in the decorated Imperial bier sent over from the royal palace. A few days before, the Emperor of Japan had conferred the Second Order of the Merit of the Rising Sun on Rashbehari Bose. The Second Order of the Merit of the Rising Sun is technically the third highest order bestowed by the Japanese government, in practice it is however, the highest ordinarily conferred order. The two higher orders like the Order of the Chrysanthemum, is reserved for heads of state or royalty, while the second highest order, the Order of the Paulownia Flowers is mostly reserved for politicians.

Rashbehari had willed that his body not be burnt after death, and that his head be donated to a University for research, but his loving mother-in-law did not agree p. 592. Right after his death, “the little house he had built in the suburbs of Tokyo went up in flames in an air raid” Loc 2563-2567, [9]

Section B: How India remembered her revolutionary son

India received freedom within two and half years of the death of Rashbehari Bose. The political leadership of free India treated his legacy with apathy, like that for other revolutionaries. No posthumous national awards were bestowed to honor him, or his benefactors in Japan, some of whom had survived him, in contrast to Japan honoring him with their highest ordinarily conferred award. Only, some stamps were issued in India in his memory. In 1950s it was decided to bring back his ashes to his birth place Chandannagar from Japan. On April 18, 1959, India’s President had sent a short message when it was decided to bring back the ashes to India: “I am glad that the ashes of the late Rashbehari Bose are being brought to India from Japan by his daughter. Rashbehari Bose was one of those well-known patriots whose love for the Motherland and his burning desire to see her free could never be curbed. As the last symbol of his earthly existence, we welcome his ashes back to the country of his birth. I am sure they will be a source of inspiration to all and sundry.’’ (pp. 1-11, [3]).  But, it took as long as 2013, to actually bring the ashes back. Neither the President nor prime Minister of India, nor the Chief Minister of Bengal, nor the mayor of Chandannagar, brought back the ashes. The ashes were immersed at the Hooghly River in a ceremony that remained largely unknown. It is only in 2016 that the Coal and Energy Minister of the Government of India, Piyush Goel, has announced the construction of a memorial in his birth place, Subaldaha village, honoring Rashbehari Bose. Coal Ministry officials have already visited the village and a committee has been formed. Government of India is considering a proposal to develop this village as a model village and project it internationally. A MP or a minister may adopt this village (Dainik Jugasankha, September 9, 2016).

The research on Rashbehari has been woefully lacking and many of his writings in Japanese remain untranslated into English, let alone Indian languages. An excellent book commemorating his memory has, however, been assembled primarily through the efforts of some dedicated Samaritans, who had constituted the Rashbehari Smarak Samity to preserve his memory.  There was no message from the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru in the said book (unlikely that he wouldn’t have been contacted). When Vice President of India, S. Radhakrishnan, was requested by the Rashbehari Smarak Samity, to contribute an article to the commemorative book, he declined (on 5 March, 1950), citing paucity of time due to Rajya Sabha and other engagements pp. 1-11 [3]. Among India’s leaders, the warmest acknowledgement came from Lal Bahadur Sastri, then home minister and future prime minister of India; he wrote the foreword of this book: “Shri Rashbehari Basu is one of those famous names which was on the lips of those of the younger generation during the early part of the twentieth century, who were fired with deep patriotic urges and emotions. Shri Basu was dedicated to the freedom and independence of India and he considered no sacrifice small for the attainment of his objective. He was gifted with a rare organizing ability and during the First World War, he and his other comrades had planned an armed revolt, of which he was the spearhead. When some of his plans were unearthed he had to escape to Japan and undergo very much suffering. A man of great faith and courage, he lived up to the traditions of the renowned leaders and patriots of Bengal who have left behind a deep and lasting impression on our countrymen. My sincere homage to a great soul.’’ [3] Then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr. B. C. Roy, also sent a message for the book pp. 1-11 [3].

In contrast to the indifference shown by most of India’s polity to the memory of Rashbehari Bose, the leaders of East Asia gave him his dues. Thakin U. Nu, who was the Prime Minister of Burma in 1951, paid rich tributes to Rashbehari in the same commemorative volume: “The story of Mr. Rashbehari Basu forms a vital part of India’s Struggle for Independence, and the victory which was finally achieved was in no small measure due to his organizational skill and wonderful spirit of sacrifice. It is also to be quoted here, “If Netaji came out in the light as Garibaldi of the movement, Rashbehari’s part in the drama was more than that of a Mazzini.’’ ‘’pp. 1-11, [3]. On 25th May, 1959, the Vice-Consul of Japan wrote: “Rash Behari Bose was one of those who lived the life of a Japanese in Japan, Rash Behari was in Japan for many years. He was an intimate friend of the whole of Japan and the Japanese. He was not merely a student of Japanese art and culture, but was a friend of his neighbors in Japan, always ready to help them in their weal and woe. On this memorable day we remember that magnanimous personality. We pray to God so that our friend India might find hundreds of Rash Beharis amongst her sons to lead the country and her people to prosperity.’’ (pp. 1-11, [3])

Section C: How Rashbehari’s immediate family fared in free India

Rashbehari’s parents had passed away before independence. His offsprings lived in Japan. In India, he was survived by a half-brother, Bijonbehari Bose, who did not need any financial assistance from the state, and a younger widowed and destitute sister Sushilabala Sarkar. All through his life, he used to be worried about her sustenance. He sent her money whenever he could from Japan, and used to correspond with her regularly as well. He would also write to his half-brother Bijonbehari Bose, asking him about Sushila, and requesting him to provide her monetary assistance. He had proposed that Bijonbehari rent out their ancestral home in Chandernagore, and remit a part of the rent to Sushila. On 17th July, 1937, he had written to Bijonbhari, “Do you correspond with Sushila? If not, do so please. If your financial condition permits, remit to her sometimes ten rupees or so. She will no doubt be glad. Who is now living in our house? I think it was rented. If so, what happened to the rent-money? I think Sushila could now and then be helped out of the rent to a certain extent. What is your opinion? If you agree, you can take necessary steps to effect it.’’ p. 62, [1]

Sushila used to live in Kashi as a destitute in the last phase of her life. She had come to know that a group had got together seeking to preserve the memory of her brother. On 16-10-1966, she wrote to one of them, Bibhutibhushan, giving a pitiful account of her life, and begging him for some monthly assistance: “I Srimati Sushilabala Sarkar, is the only (widowed in childhood) sister of the late Rashbihari Basu. I have been living in Kashi for the last 40-45 years. After the nation became independent, the respected Bengal government has arranged for a meager pension amount of twenty rupees per month for my subsistence. I have no other income, and currently due to inflation, I find it impossible to meet my livelihood expenses in this meager twenty rupees (from this two rupees is spent in commission for bank and traveling to and from it). There is no other way to sustain myself other than to beg. I have learned from dependable sources that you and the respected members of your committee are trying to preserve the memory of my elder brother Rashbehari Bose. Together with you, this is a matter of great pride and joy to us. I earnestly pray to you that if you send this elderly sister of yours some monthly assistance from your organization, your poor sister will remain ever grateful to you. I am very old now. Now, my age is more than 70 years and I am almost immobile. I hope that you and your organization, considering my helpless situation, arrange for my assistance as early as possible. I communicate my heartfelt love and affection to you and the other two brothers of the organization.’’  p. 62, [1]

Bibhutibhushan sent her some meager financial assistance. On 6-11-1966, she thanked him: “Dear brother, it is impossible to describe the immense joy I felt receiving the twenty rupees you sent. I knew that after my elder brother (Rashbehari) died, I have become helpless and have been orphaned, but today in this age of seventy-two years I feel encouragement and joy in my heart. Because today I am no longer helpless and orphaned – brothers like you are there to support me. I am so old that I may live only a few more years. If you and your brothers from the organization arrange to send me a monthly assistance, it would help me a lot. You and all brothers of the organization accept my affectionate greetings of Bijaya Dashami. When you or other brothers of the organization come to Kashi, meet me. What else? ‘’ p. 63, [1]

So, the only sister of one of India’s greatest revolutionary lived off begging and she was so impoverished that a meager financial assistance of twenty rupees came across as a great relief to her.

One cannot but contrast the destitution of Rashbehari’s only sister with the apparent resources of the descendants of another participant of the freedom movement, Jawaharlal Nehru, who went on to become India’s first prime minister, and two of his descendants assumed the same August office. Sonia Gandhi routinely travels to USA for receiving medical treatment, it is unclear why the best facilities in India have been inadequate for her condition which remains a closely guarded secret. Rahul Gandhi had received his higher education in expensive institutions in USA and UK.

Section D: How India thanked Rashbehari’s immediate family members from Japan

Right after his arrival in Japan in 1915, Rashbehari was hunted by the Japanese police and government, which wanted to deport him to India as demanded by the British. Several Japanese nationalists and Pan Asian supporters like the Soma family and the redoubtable Mitsuru Toyama – the representative of the traditional Samurai in Japan, gave him shelter at significant peril to themselves [7]. Even when Japan lifted the deportation order on him, he was still not safe owing to hot pursuit by detective agencies hired by the British in Japan with the express purpose of kidnapping or assassinating him. To ensure his safety, the Soma family married their eldest daughter, Tosiko to him so that she can accompany him all the time, and thereby make his stay less conspicuous as he could now choose how much to mingle with locals even for his daily needs. She stood as a human shield between Rashbehari Bose and the British hot pursuit [10].

The marriage was in defiance of the contemporary social values that frowned upon marriage with foreigners. The couple survived through the ordeal of several years of constant hide and seek with the British agencies, and Rashbehari got naturalized and could afford the safety of a permanent home for the first time. Right after, that is, when he became relatively safe, Tosiko Soma died, perhaps succumbing to the stress of several years. Rashbehari’s in laws raised the two children the couple had, and continued to stand by him all his life. In doing so, the entire family rendered invaluable help to the cause of Indian independence. But, free India did not recognize in any manner the debt of gratitude, she owed to Rashbehari’s family and friends in Japan. Incidentally, his mother in law survived until the 1950s, well after India received freedom. Syn Higuti, the ex-attache of Japan in Berlin had unostentatiously reminded free India of the contribution of the Soma family: “I appreciate most lightly the kind help of a simple Japanese family through so many political difficulties and financially, the Soma. We must not forget this family in establishing closer ties between the New India and Japan in future for world peace.’’ p. 63, [3] – to no avail, of course.

Rashbehari’s daughter, who lived in Japan, had wanted to visit his ancestral village, Subaldaha, during her trip to India, but no one gave her directions in the left regime of West Bengal. In contrast, the Japanese Consulate had sent a team to visit the village (Dainik Jugasankha, 9 September, 2016).  The eldest granddaughter of Rashbehari Bose, Ms. Keiko Higuchi had traveled to India on 24 January, 1969. She was accompanied by one of her aunts, Mrs. Yuriko Ianse, her friend Ikuko Koda and a Japanese author Jon Takemura. They had traveled to India to collect some definitive information about the life of Rashbehari Bose. Takemura was writing Rashbehari’s biography. They reached Calcutta via Delhi, and then on 4th February they came to see Rashbehari’s ancestral home etc. in Chandannagar. They were heartily welcomed and felicitated there. They were offered sweets. Keiko really liked the sweet, she was offered, “Jalbhara Sandesh’’, but it was seen that she was not eating it much. She was requested to partake of a few more pieces if she liked it. But, she still did not eat any more. Later with a lot of hesitation, she said that she had really liked the sweets she were offered, and she would take the two remaining pieces to Japan for her mother. All who had assembled there said she did not need to take those two pieces for her mother, she should eat them now. They would give her another packet full of Sandesh, which was done. She left for Japan on 5th February promising to return. From Tokyo, she wrote back: “Our first greetings from Tokyo to our dearest friends in Chandernagore. We came back safe with unforgettable memories of India, our dream country. How happy we were when we could find the people who still remembered our grandfather. We will never forget your warm kindness and scrupulous care. We are much obliged to you all for your trouble. We will write to you very soon and thank you for the sweet. We enjoyed it very much.’’ p. 64, [1].

Thus, all that the great revolutionary leader of Rashbehari Bose received from his motherland was a packet of sweets for his granddaughter.

Section E: Societal Contempt for Revolutionaries

Most revolutionaries have suffered the same apathy that Rashbehari was subjected to, or even worse. We present a portrait of his close friend and comrade, Srish Chandra Ghosh (1887-1941), who was a major revolutionary in his own right, to make our point.

Born to Birajkrishna and Mahamaya, Srish Chandra hailed from the ancestral village of Rashbehari, Subaldaha village of Raina post office in Burdwan district. Having lost his father in early childhood, he was raised by his uncle Bamacharan Ghosh at a home adjoining Rashbehari’s – in Phatakgora region of Chandernagore. Rashbehari’s mother Bhuvaneshwari Devi and Srish’s aunt Brajeshwari Devi were sisters, Rashbehari’s father Binodbhari and Srish’s uncle were childhood friends and both worked at the same governmental press p. 54, [1]. Srish and Rashbehari were lifelong friends. p. 3, [1]

Inspired by the renowned Professor Charuchandra Roy, Srish plunged into nationalism starting his student days in Duple School p. 54, [1]. Along with Moti Lal Roy, Srish became a member, and later one of the brains, of a secret society of Chandannagar, of which Charuchandra Roy was the kingpin. The Society maintained contact with the Calcutta Anarchists through Srish (and Basanta Banarjee). The goal of the Society was to liquidate investigating officers so as to kindle fear among other officers pp. 8-9 [11]. Srish became a key member of a wide range of revolutionary activities. He had assisted in the attempt to assassinate Mayor Tardival of Chandernagore, helped protect Jugantar press started by Barindra Ghosh, the brother of Aurobindo Ghosh, from police repressions, by transferring it from British ruled Calcutta to French ruled Chandannagar, delivered a revolver to Barindra Ghosh in jail, which Kanailal Dutta used in jail to shoot the revolutionary turned approver Narendranath Gosain in jail hospital p. 54, [1], pp. 13-14, [11] (Kanailal Dutta’s daring feat received huge publicity in Bengal, he received a hero’s ovation at death),  organized the manufacture of bombs in Chandannagar, and provided secretive refuge to multiple revolutionaries who escaped from British India to Chandannagar, including Aurobindo Ghosh.

Srish had introduced Rashbehari to the Bengal group of revolutionaries, including Moti Lal Roy, then leader of the Chandannagar group of revolutionaries p. 54, [1], p. 104, [12]. Both Motilal Roy and Pratul Chandra Ganguli, then an important leader of the Anushilan group of revolutionaries have attested that, in December 1911, in a meeting comprising of Moti Lal Roy, Pratul Chandra Ganguli and Rashbehari, it was Srish who had suggested the idea of dropping a bomb on Viceroy Hardinge, p. 105, [12]. Srish had learnt the art of Bomb making in Maanicktala garden, and had instructed others in the art p. 18, [11]. Srish was present along with Rashbehari in a trial run involving a similar bomb on the night of Kali Puja, 8 November, 1912 p. 112 [12]. The bomb was finally dropped on 23 December, 1912, and happened to be the first revolutionary effort that Rashbehari organized.  Rashbehari’s involvement was discovered, inevitably, and a warrant was issued for his arrest on 20 February, 1914. Rashbehari absconded. While Rashbehari was on the run, Srish used to be his constant companion, and Srish had tried his utmost to protect Rashbehari from all peril. He concealed Rashbehari in his house, locked the room from outside, and supplied food to Rashbehari under utmost secrecy p. 120, [12]. On March 8, 1914, this house was suddenly searched by the Calcutta police headed by Denham and Tegart. The Weekly report of the Bengal Intelligence branch dated July 29, 1914 states that “he (Rash Behari) was present at home on the night his house was searched at Chandernagore, and actually watched the search from behind a mango tree in his garden close by.’’ Rashbehari’s half-brother Bejonbehari has written that Srish had anticipated the coming danger and had hid Rashbehari in the vicinity of his house; following the police raid, Srish arranged for Rashbehari’s stay at Hatkhola for some time under the care of Narendra Nath Bannerjee pp. 120-121, [12]. Srish had also assisted in the attempt to incite mutiny among soldiers in 1915, which Rashbehari had led, and concealed the mauser pistols looted from Rauda company p. 54, [1].

In 1914, the British authorities had appealed to the French administration of Chandernagore to expel “the leaders of the Chandernagore gang of seditionists and revolutionaries’’ – they had identified Srish Ghosh as one of the most dangerous among them pp. 22-23 [11]. The extradition attempt failed, but dire circumstances delivered to the British the man they were seeking. The tragedy of Indian revolutionaries was that they had to scrape for funds (wealthy Indians rarely contributed to them, unlike their generous support for Congress, Gandhians in particular). Srish depended on his uncle’s family for his subsistence. He was ordered by his aunt to accompany his cousin to the home of her in-laws. Having no choice but to comply, in 1915, he was arrested by British police in Howrah station in broad daylight; he could safely traverse to British India alone and in the dead of the night, but his aunt forced him to go day time pp. 54-55, [1]. In a detailed note dated March 10, 1917, Charles Tegart, then the officiating Deputy General of Police, Intelligence Branch, CID, Bengal, has written that: “Srish, perhaps, was the most energetic and had greatest control over the party (Chandannagar group of revolutionaries); Moti Babu is the cleverest and is a good adviser; Rashbehari was impetuous and could do nothing in Chandernagore or Calcutta without Srish’s and Moti’s help. Now that Srish and Rashbehari have gone, Moti Babu is the real leader.’’ pp. 25-26, [11]. Leaving aside the fact that Tegart’s angst against Rashbehari was likely driven by the fact that British could never get him, dead or alive, despite massive manhunts they had launched for him, it is incontrovertible that Rashbehari’s principal organization was outside Bengal and he relied on Srish and Motilal for shelter while in Bengal.

Post his release, Srish remained in touch with Rashbehari, who was then living the life of an exile in Japan. Rashbehari lost his home in the great Kanto earthquake of 1923. The nation Rashbehari fought for, deserted him in the resulting financial woes and desperation, but childhood friend, Srish could not. Rashbehhari had a wife and two infant children to support. So, he requested Srish for an assistance of 1000 rupees. Srish was then penniless himself, and barely subsisted on charity. So, he publicized Rashbehari’s appeal, and contacted Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lala Lajpat Rai on Rashbehari’s behalf. A grand total of sixteen rupees could be collected as a result of this publicity. Finally, Rabindranath sent Rashbehari, through Srish, six hundred twenty one rupees he could raise in Shantiniketan’s Japan assistance fund [10]. Rashbehari used to regularly correspond with Srish from abroad, and also sent him books, and kept him abreast of all developments concerning him, including his naturalization in Japan [10] p. 55, [1].

Srish’s aunt refused to let him stay at her home in 1924. He took refuge in Motilal Roy’s Prabartak Sangha. Motilal had relinquished revolutionary activities by then; so Srish had to move to Benoarilal Saha’s home to continue the same p. 55, [1]. A British note dated 11 March, 1933, revealed that Srish and Brojen Pal had formed an organization called the Juba Samiti, and the former was in touch with Rashbehari p. 32, [11]. During this period, Srish again gave refuge to multiple revolutionaries hunted by the British: Eg: Dinesh Majumdar, who received life-sentence after attempting to assassinate Charles Tegart on 25 August, 1930 p. 29, [11] and escaped from the Midnapore Central jail (1933), Bipin Ganguly, the leader of the Hindusthan Socialist Republican Organisation, Nalini Das, who had escaped from the Hijli detention camp, Haripada Sen, who escaped from the Perojpur sub-jail, and the leader of the Anushilan Party, Sachindra Kar Gupta, a convict who escaped from the Midnapore jail p. 32, [11]. Eight or ten other absconders from Chittagong and other parties were also hiding in Chandannagar, Srish’s base p. 32, [11].

Finally, due to poverty and repeated persecution, Srish lost his mental balance. Having lost sanity, Srish would be seen moving around, tightly clasping to his bare chest the books that Rashbehari sent him. The books and Rashbehari’s letters were never recovered. Srish recovered his sanity, but committed suicide on 2nd May 1941 by consuming opium p. 55, [1].

Section F: A revolutionary’s take on India’s indifference to their breed

One of Rashbehari’s closest revolutionary comrades, Sachindranath Sanyal has described the indifference with which India treated her best and the bravest, even prior to independence: “Only the valiant knows how to respect another. How many Indians look upon the Indian revolutionary group in the manner in which the British did or still does? Indians have always neglected the revolutionary groups of India. They had very little empathy for the fearless revolutionaries. No one else has treated Indian revolutionary groups with as much contempt. Those from whom the revolutionaries had the highest hope of sympathy, they were the ones to curse the revolutionaries for atrocities, yet the revolutionaries never lost courage.’’ p. 91 [2]

Sachindranath Sanyal has gone on to contextualize as to why the revolutionaries have been at the receiving end of such deep-rooted contempt, yet we cannot, but miss the pain that motivated his pen: “The biggest guilt of these revolutionaries, it seems, was just this that they could not succeed in their mission. After striving in vain for month after month, year after year, they could only achieve a great failure. The path that has failure as its end result is it not wrong? Does this failure have any value? The experienced leaders and wise critics of India used to often ask these questions of the revolutionaries. We focus only on one aspect of failure; but how do the greatest treasures of this world conceal themselves behind such failures, how gradually accruing strength due to the failures one day suddenly success emerges, during the times of despondency of failure and defeats many of us cannot internalize these concepts. In all societies, at all times, the wise and experienced men of the society laugh at and humiliate the revolutionaries. The reason for this is that in almost every country the first attempt of all revolutionaries have failed, and the wise and experienced men of the society judge all aspects based on such failures. Per that rule the Indian revolutionaries were misguided in the opinion of the wise and experienced men. And among these critics those who are extremely knowledgeable and cautious they do not hesitate to call these revolutionaries as “idiots.’’ The wise editor of the established monthly periodical “Modern review’’ of India had said in reference to the revolutionaries “if there are even some Indians who are armed revolutionaries, then Indians would surely need to doubt their wisdom and intellect.’’ …. In reference to these revolutionaries, renowned legal expert barrister Mr. Norton had once said “All these revolutionaries fail in their mission that is why they are now criminals of the government, but if they could attain their goal then they would be celebrated as patriot, hero and saint in this very world.’’ The path that Indian revolutionaries had adopted, whether India would be liberated through that path or not, who can tell! Suppose if they are misguided; but our views don’t match theirs, for this reason it is not right to call them “idiots’’. Who knows among the civilized people of this world, whether these revolutionaries have better protected India’s reputation, or the force of the arguments of the critics opposed to them have ! But still we know that when all attempts of the Russian revolutionaries had failed in the last sixty years, when initially the handful of Italian revolutionaries had challenged the might of the Austrian empire, then the revolutionaries of these countries had to tolerate similar abuses and ridicules. After futile industry of sixty years, surviving many obstacles and failures, withstanding the opposition and neglect of the entire world, today Russian revolutionaries are going to fulfil their aspirations. After almost forty years of struggle, with what sacrifices, what suffering and what stress have Italy attained her freedom. But those who were the first travelers of this path of liberation, at the time of the failure of their first revolutionary attempts, how much criticism they had to withstand. In this connection, the ever-memorable saying of Irish hero T. Mcksweeny comes to mind: “Any man who tells you that an act of armed resistance – even if offered by ten men only – even if offered by men armed with stones – any men who tell you that such an act of resistance is premature, imprudent, or dangerous, any and every such man should be at once spurned and spat at, for remark you this and recollect that somewhere and somehow and somebody a beginning must be made and the first act of resistance is always and must be ever premature, imprudent and dangerous.’’ pp. 167-169, [2]

So, critics denounced Indian revolutionaries as “idiots’’, idiots they must have been to have given their all to an ungrateful nation just so that political opportunists and power-seekers can reap the fruits of their sacrifices? Who, but “idiots” can accurately be described as: “Like the wandering ascetics of old, these young men willingly forsook all that was dear and near to them, to carry on a life-long struggle for their goal. Fear of death and physical sufferings worse than death did not deter them; obstacles and difficulties like Himalayan barriers could not deflect them from their course. Deserted by friends and relatives, ignored, if not derided, by their countrymen, without means or resources to keep their body and soul together, haunted by spies and hunted by police, flying from one shelter to another, these young men carried on a heroic but hopeless struggle, from day to day, from month to month, and from year to year. They chose the life of hardship and privations and consecrated their lives to the service of their country. Many of them rushed headlong to destruction. They died in order that others may live. ” p. 72, [5] (Eminent historian R. C. Majumdar’s description of Indian revolutionaries).


[1] Rashbeharir Atma-katha O dushprapya Rachana, edited by Amal Kumar Mitra

[2] Sachindranath Sanyal “Bandi Jiban’’

[3] Rashbehari Basu – His Struggle for India’s Independence, Editor in chief, Radhanath Rath, Editor Sabitri Prasanna Chatterjee, Biplabi Mahanayak Rashbehari Basu Smarak Samiti

[4] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Jeck Joy, Dikgaj, “Rashbehari Bose: India’s Messenger in Japan’’

[5] “History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. 11, Struggle for Freedom”, Edited by RC Majumdar

[6] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Jeck Joy, Dikgaj, “Rashbehari Bose: The Revolutionary, The Statesman

[7] Saswati Sarkar, Jeck Joy, Shanmukh, Dikgaj Rashbehari Bose’s second war from East Asia – battleground Japan and Singapore

[8] Jeck Joy, Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj “The legend of Rashbehari Bose and the forgotten Hindu-German conspiracy’’

[9] M. Sivaram “The Road to Delhi’’

[10] Saswati Sarkar, Jeck Joy, Shanmukh, Dikgaj “Rashbehari Bose and the woman who saved him’’

[11] Sailendra Nath Sen “Chandernagore – From Bondage to Freedom,’’ 1900-1925

[12] Uma Mukherjee, “Two Great Indian Revolutionaries – Rash Behari Bose and Jyotindra Nath Mukherjee’’

[13] J. G. Ohsawa “The Two Great Indians in Japan’’

[14] T. R. Sareen, “Indian National Army – A documentary study,’’ Volume 4,  1944-45

[15] Leonard Gordon “Brothers against the Raj’’