Back of the Book
The early phase of Indian Independence Movement saw several revolutionaries who took up arms against the British. Khudiram Bose, perhaps the younger revolutionary in the history of India’s freedom movement, was one such worthy son of Mother India.
Disillusioned with the British after the partition of Bengal, Khudiram Bose blazed the horizon of freedom struggle by his daring revolutionary activities. His bombing of the carriage of the British officer sent tremors of fear among the British authority.
With a smile on his face, this eighteen year old revolutionary embraced the gallows and illuminated the way for hundreds of revolutionaries to follow. Events of the early phase of freedom struggle have been woven into a rich tapestry in this book which is bound to stir patriotic fervour in reader’s heart.
Hitendra Patel is a young scholar of repute. He teaches at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata.
The Kesari, a famous nationalist paper, commented on 26 May, 1908, less than a month after the Muzaffarpur bomb episode, ‘Neither the Jubilee murder of 1897, nor the reported tampering with the Sikh regiments had produced so much commotion, and the English public opinion seems inclined to regard birth of the bomb in India as the most extraordinary event since the mutiny of 1857.
Going by the press reactions to the acts of Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki, two young men from rural Bengal, who threw the bomb with the intent of killing a hated British official, there must not be any doubt over the historical significance of the act. A historian has aptly observed that, ‘the revolutionary movement first caught the attention of Indian people when Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki threw bomb on a British District Judge of Muzaffarpur.
The act of Khudiram and Prafulla symbolised a powerful physical threat on those who thought that the Indians could not use destructive violent path to fight against the foreign rulers. Their act acquired a different hue because those who had organised these plots were not ignorant or uneducated men. These revolutionaries were patriots who wanted the foreigners to leave this country and they were ready for any sacrifice for achieving this political objective. In J many ways, they were linked with the contemporary political process as supporters of the extremist wing of Congress politics. But, in some ways, they also represented an uncompromising nationalist spirit which was close to any kind of negotiation with the foreign rulers. In this respect, they were like the rebels of 1857 who wanted to oust British by force and for whom it was a national as well as a religious duty to fight against the foreigners. Their religious spirit was not parochial and it was never anti—Muslim. These revolutionaries did not get enough time and space for articulating their ideology but going by the history of following two decades, 1910s and 20s, it would be fair to say that these revolutionaries were true nationalists who wanted to free India by force and popular support.
One should place the history of 1857 rebels, the revolutionaries of closing decade of nineteenth and opening decade of twentieth centuries, the Ghadar Party revolutionaries of 1910s and the Hindustan Republic Army of 1920s in continuum. It should not surprise anybody that the revolutionaries were the first educated people who appreciated the national spirit of the rebels of 1857 and the Ghadar Party was the first organisation to fully appreciate and propagate the revolt of 1857 as a national movement. It was logical on the part of the revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and others to appreciate 1857. In 1930s the revolutionaries were very much part of the Congress led national movement and various leftist organisations’ political initiatives and no sensible national leader or organisation could ever dare to condemn militant revolutionaries after that.
These revolutionaries have always been remembered by people of this country with great admiration but, sadly, the historians have not given adequate attention to the history of military revolutionary movement in India. Some books started appearing in 1960s and 70s which tried to prepare accounts of their activities and study their ideological orientations. Often, the lives of great revolutionaries are not available for consultation. It is true that preparing history of these revolutionaries is difficult as the sources- written by them or on them- are unavailable. The British official accounts, the main I source of history writing even today, were recording their activities as activities of criminals, a source of threat to civic life of common t people. In these accounts they were misguided youth who were trying to destabilize peace in society.
The revolutionaries were not misguided youths. To get an idea of what these revolutionaries aimed at Matilal Mukherjee, a pleader, in one of his speeches gives an idea of the aim of these revolutionaries where he talked about three duties of a revolutionary and his understanding of colonial rule:
"Why are 4 men, who returned after learning the process of making instrument for crushing the Firingis, sitting idle? Let them do their work, the first of which is self defence, second killing Firingis, and the third- self government.... Where ever you see Firingis kill them at the cost of your lives and do not fear them. For the purpose of Self Government, we shall, on the fixed date, boycott Firingee courts and give up their slavery all at a time. We shall bring whole India under our full control just as we have municipalities under us. If the Firingees beg for anything they have it in the shape of alms. They would get nothing by force. Our Firingee king is a cheat. We have no faith in him. At the time of the Muhammedan Rule, this motherland was covered with gold.... Since Firingees have come to the land, we are dying for morsels of food. They are blood suckers and tyrants. They are enjoying all comforts by draining away our money while we are begging about for food."
] Still, as these revolutionaries’ memory serve as a great source of popular national expression of common Indians who hated foreign colonial masters, a comprehensive history of these revolutionaries —their activities and their ideological moorings, must be prepared. Some works have been done but those are mostly in Indian languages which have been prepared by none—experts who had neither orientation nor expertise to prepare historical accounts and analysis.
This book intends to portray, in brief, life history of one of the most famous militant revolutionary figures of India- Khudiram. There is not much to say about his life before he became a member of revolutionary organisation even while he was a school student. Still, some important pointers are available in some Bengali biographies of Khudiram, written by his near contemporaries and relatives, which give us the idea that he was a social worker, a fearless young boy and a swadeshi activist who wanted to drive the British out of his motherland by adhering to revolutionary path.
His daring act of throwing bomb to kill an English officer in 1908 made him immortal as the symbol of militant revolutionary movement. This act’s historical significance can be appreciated only if we place this act in its historical context. It is necessary not only to know the history of the two exceptional young men— Khudiram and Prafulla Chaki, who decided to kill a British official in a most daring fashion. The way they behaved: one preferred to commit suicide to be arrested and the other carried himself in a most heroic way without any concern for his life, went a long way in demonstrating that these young men were not mere “terrorist”, as they were referred in those days, but nation loving young men. As a student of history, perhaps, more important task before us is to relate this daring act with the ongoing revolutionary movements ` which started with a clear understanding of uncompromising nationalism in the late years of nineteenth century and continued _ well into l920s when Bismil, Bhagat Singh and Azad gave it a well formulated ideological and organisational base.
As already mentioned, in many ways there was a continuum in the revolt of 1857, the revolutionary movements of early twentieth century of Maharashtra and Bengal and the revolutionary activities of the Punjab, Maharashtra, Bengal, the United Provinces, and other states in the 1920s. This tradition of uncompromising nationalism did not believe in any negotiation with the foreigners for independence. Rather, they were convinced; the foreigners were to be ousted by force to regain the independence of this great country.
Some historians have tried to argue that this militant nationalism was ideologically linked with the emerging new Hindu ideology in the nineteenth century which sought to take inspiration from European militant nationalism and the new Hinduism of Dayanand Saraswati, Bankimchandra and Vivekananda. This new Hinduism, articulated by Tilak in Maharashtra and Aurobindo in Bengal gave a full fledged ideology of militant nationalism in the 1890s. According to this view, the militant national ideology ignored internal weaknesses of Indian society and sought to believe that the main problem of this society was the foreign rule. In this view, the early exposition of this new ideology could be found in Aurobindo’s ‘New Lamps for Old’3i and Tilak’s efforts of organising Ganeshotsav and Shivaji Utsav from 1893 onwards.
It is argued that the 1890s and early 1890s witnessed a gradual and decisive shift towards new Hinduism. On the basis of the readings of Lala Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghosh and others, Amalesh Tripathi has argued that these new leaders of India had finally accepted the need to use Hinduism for nationalist mobilization. These interpretations should be linked with the history of Sabha- Samiti and secret organisations in Bengal. We do not have very detailed accounts of these secret societies so far. Still, on the basis of whatever information available to us, we can say that these secret societies had a very important role in the first decade of twentieth century Bengal. Judging from this perspective it can be said that these revolutionaries’ love for their religion was closely linked with their love for motherland. It was not associated with any hostility to adherents of other faiths.
With some honourable exceptions4 historians did not pay much attention to the ideological dimensions of this revolutionary movement till Amalesh Tripathi’s The Extremist Challenge was published in 1967. But, this book’s scope was not to go into the history of revolutionary movement. In that sense, in 1970, Ramesh Chandra Majumdar was the first major historian of Indian history who gave this subject a serious attention.5 It was imperative to know, in details, as far as possible, the activities and ideas of revolutionaries who represented militant tradition of Indian nationalism which believed that Indians must come together and pull their strengths together to oust the foreign rulers by force. At least, since the days of Partition of Bengal movement days, the militants had been consistently advocating the use of force to achieve independence.
Jugantar, an important paper of Bengal, categorically summed up this in its editorial on 22 April, 1906 in which it was maintained that the solution lied with the people themselves. It said that the thirty crore people’s sixty crore hands must be raised to counter the oppression of the government. A force could be countered only by force. From roughly 1870s a shift in the "universe of discourse and action of the intelligentsia towards various forms of nationalism" is widely accepted among the historians. In historical literature, however, the varieties of nationalism do not get adequate attention. It is commonly understood that the revolutionary militant movement (which is still called terrorism) was a post partition (of Bengal) development. The accepted version is that partition gave national politics a push towards extremism. Attempts have been made to see the ideological links of post partition "terrorist" acts with Hindu revivalist ideology which had inspired hundreds of youths to take arms to oust the foreigners by using violent means. Very rarely these nationalists have been taken as representatives of an alternative uncompromising nationalism which had consistently opposed the British rule. It is significant that these militants were the first to A attach great importance to the revolt of 1857 as a war of independence. In the other variety of nationalism, led by the Congress, the revolt was considered a national movement decades later. This revolutionary militant movement can also be seen as a precursor of a more mature and modern revolutionary movement of 1920s which produced Bismil, Bhagat Singh, Azad and others. The obvious disadvantage of these militant revolutionary efforts was that it never got the organisational support.
In the colonial context, these militants were not only facing a hostile and powerful colonial power but also a liberal educated middle class which had been critical to the use of violent means for national ends. In this context, the militants had been misunderstood by people also. One of the major concerns of militants had been to prove that they were not blood thirsty people and they had been using violent means only against a power which could not be fought with passive resistance means and so on. We find many instances when the desperate militants coming out to show that their efforts were not against the Congress rather, they were supplementing the Congress. In one case a young man goes to Nehru to seek his guidance about what to do only to get advice that he must leave whatever he and his associates were doing! The desperate young man was Azad! It is documented historically that the middle class nationalism did not treat militants as nationalists at least till Bhagat Singh’s execution case highlighted the maturity of their political understanding of the militants.
Unlike the militants of 1920s the militants of Bengal of post partition days have found sympathy and admiration of their Bengali people. Khudiram Bose represents the spirit of militancy of Bengal which had remained in public memory ever since the news of his execution reached Bengal. Khudiram Bose should be considered a true icon of Bengal of revolutionary movement days. Songs have been written inspired by the story of his taking permission from his mother to take leave (for serving his motherland) the most notable being Ek bar bidai de ma ghure aashi. A historian has rightly noted that in Bengal "a street beggar’s lament for Khudiram could still be heard in Bengal decades after his execution."
Khudiram Bose lived a very short life and not many authentic accounts are available to historians to say much about this remarkable young man. One can fill many pages on his impact on Indian national movement in general and Bengal presidency in particular but, perhaps it is more important to see the moment of Khudiram’s hurling of bomb as a signifying moment to reconstruct the history of extremist wing of Indian nationalism. The details of Khudiram Bose’s life should be researched as much as possible but two most important areas of research related to him should be the extremist movement before him and Khudiram as a symbol of militant nationalism.
This book aims to engage general readers who may not be well versed with the details of militant movement of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For their convenience there is a discussion on the background in which young revolutionary like Khudiram could emerge and make such powerful impact. While collecting material for this book it came as a pleasant surprise that Khudiram was a very committed social activist and a champion of swadeshi.
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