Bagha Jatin – an alternative ‘Father of Nation’

Republished on 26 October 2018: First published on 12 September 2018

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By:    L. W. C.        

 Had Bagha Jatin been an Englishman, his statue would be next to Lord Nelson’s at Trafalgar Square”,  said Charles Tegart, the British officer who tracked him down near Balasore, after he put up a heroic resistance for 75 minutes. Such was the admiration he evoked at the hands of his enemy.

Bagha Jatin was born as Jatindranath Mukherji, at Kustia now in Bangladesh, the ancestral land of Rabindranath Tagore, on December 8, 1879 to Sharat Shashi and Umeschandra Mukherji. Losing his father early, he was brought up by his mother, a gifted poetess herself. Growing up to be a strapping young lad, Jatin was known for his physical strength, as well as being a gifted actor, especially in playing roles of Pauranic characters like Prahalad, Hanuman, Dhruv etc. Driven by a nationalist fervor, he used the drama to spread nationalism.

Finishing his studies from Krishnanagar, Jatin joined the Kolkata Central College (now named after Khudiram Bose) to study Fine Arts in 1895. It was here he came in touch with Swami Vivekananda, who influenced his ideology, and he became one of Swamiji’s most ardent devotees. Jatin was one among the youth volunteers whom Swamiji desired with “muscles of iron and nerves of steel”, and played an active role in assisting the poor and needy, especially during floods and famines. He proved himself to be a good leader and organizer. Jatin actively assisted Bhagini Nivedita, in her service missions and also learnt wrestling. Fed up with the English education system, he began to write regularly, showcasing the British exploitation of India and the need to have an Indian National Army.

In 1900, he was married to Indubala Banerji of Kumarkhali, and had 4 children. However, when he lost his elder son Atindra, he went on a pilgrimage to Haridwar, where he found inner peace. Returning to his native village, Jatin had that encounter with the tiger, when searching for a notorious man eating leopard. He managed to kill the tiger with a khukhri, but not before being severaly wounded himself. The surgeon Lt. Col. Suresh Sarbadhikari, who treated him, and removed the tiger nails from his body, published an article, impressed by his bravery. And that is when he got the title “Bagha” Jatin, that also became his more popular name.

Jatin played a vital role in setting up one of the branches of Anushilan Samiti, at Dhaka, where he met Sri Aurobindo in 1903, and decided to collaborate with him. He played a key role in spreading both Anushilan Samiti as well as Jugantar through out Bengal.  During a processession of the Prince of Wales in Kolkata in 1905, Jatin assaulted a group of English soldiers, who were misbehaving with the Indian ladies, drawing attention of the higher ups.

Along with Barindra Ghose, one of the founding members of Jugantar, Jatin set up a bomb factory near Deoghar (now in Jharkhand), while Barindra did the same at Maniktala. He also began to set up a loose network of sleeper cells, to spread the revolutionary activities. He simultaneously developed a loose network of autonomous sleeper cells, which organized relief missions, welfare activities, as well as religious congregations like the Kumbh Mela, and celebrate the birth anniversaries of Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda annually.  By now he was fully under British surveillance, who saw him as one of the biggest threats. Soon he began to spread his activities, setting up branches of the Anushilan Samiti in Darjeeling and Siliguri, apart from being noted for his regular fisticuffs with the British officers.

One such clash led to legal proceedings, and when warned by the Magistrate to behave, Jatin shot back, stating he would not hesitate to do so again for the rights of his fellow Indians. When the British cracked down on the conspirators of the Alipore Bomb Case, Jatin was one of those who managed to get away. He soon filled up the leadership vacuum, taking over the Jugantar Party and began to set up it’s units all over Bengal, as well as in Odisha and Eastern UP. When the British government struck back with a series of repressive measures, to suppress the revolutionaries, Jatin hit back with a series of actions, most conducted in top secrecy. Assasination attempts were made on the Lt. Governor of Bengal in 1908.

Finally on January 27, 1910, Jatin was arrested in connection with the assasination of prosecutor Ashutosh Biswas, and DSP Samsul Alam, but released. Only to be arrested again in connection with the Howrah-Sibpur conspiracy case, along with 46 others. Jatin was charged with waging war against the Empror, as well as instigating Indian soldiers in the Army to revolt, in the style of 1857. However, the case failed due to lack of proper evidence and in the meantime, he also made good contacts with other fellow revolutionaries in prison. On his release from prison in 1911, Jatin temporarily suspended his revolutionary activities for some time. Having lost his job, he left Kolkata and started doing contracts on the Jessore-Jhenaidah railway line, that gave him ample time to revitalize the units in Bengal.

Going on a pilgrimage to Haridwar, Vrindawan he got in touch with Swami Niralamba, an ex revolutionary Jatindra Nath Banerji, who took up Sanyas. He soon coordinated with Ras Bihari Bose, and Lala Hardayal in spreading the revolutionary work in the Northern part of India. On his return to Kolkata, he reorganized Jugantar, continuing his relief activities, especially during the devastating Damodar river floods, in Midnapore, Burdwan districts. Ras Bihari too joined him around that time, calling him a real leader of men.

Soon Ras Bihari along with Jatin, began to plan a 1857 kind of revolt, negotiation with disaffected Indian army officers at Fort William in Kolkata, the nerve center of the British Indian army then.

Jatin’s fame had spread abroad too, and expat Indian revolutionaries in US, Europe were inspired by him. His emissary Taraknath Das, along with Guran Ditt Kumar was already organizing evening schools for Indian immigrants on the West Coast of US and Canada.  These Indian immigrants on the West Coast were primarily migrant Hindus and Sikh workers spread across Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, San Francisco. Apart from teaching them simple English, they were made aware of their rights, and the message of nationalism. Lala Hardayal meanwhile resigned from his teaching job at University of California, Barkley in 1913, and travelling along the West Coast, openly exhorted the Indian migrant workers to revolt against the British rule.

Lala Hardayal founded the Ghadr Party in US, made up primarily of Sikh and Hindu Panjabi emigrants in the West Coast of US, Canada and soon became one of the key players in the Indian revolutionary movement, and later was associated with Savarkar too. When World War I, broke out in September 1914, the Berlin Committee was formed by Virendranath Chattopapdhyaya that included members of the Ghadr party too. It’s aim was to foment an 1857 style uprising in India. With the British engaged in the War, it was felt this was the best time to stir up an 1857 style armed uprising. The German Government supported the mission with arms, ammunition and funds, while a large number of Ghadr party members too began to leave for India.

It was Jatin who carried out the entire mission, leading the Jugantar, while Ras Bihari Bose began to execute the plan in UP and Punjab. Called as the German plot or Hindu-German conspiracy, he began to raise funds organizing a series of armed robberies, using taxicabs. With police surveillance intensifying, Jugantar members urged Jatin to shift to a safer spot like Balasore on the Odisha coast, which was also the entry point for German arms into India. He went into hiding at a small village Kaptipada in Mayurbhanj district.

Jatin sent one of his close associates Naren Bhattacharya, who would later become more well known as M. N. Roy, the founder of the Communist party in India, to make a deal with the Germans regarding financial aid and arms.  However a group of Czech revolutionaries, who had infiltrated the network, uncovered Jatin’s plans, and soon the information was leaked out to the higher authorities in Britain and US. Also it was aided by some of the Indian associates, who acted as spies for the British.

The British sealed off the Eastern coast of India from Chitgong to Gopalpur, as well as the entire Gangetic delta. The British also raided Harry and Sons, which Jatin had set up as a front, for smuggling in the arms, and soon traced his location to Kaptipada village. Jatin was hiding at Kaptipada, with his fellow companians, Chittapriya Ray Chaudhari, Manoranjan Sengupta. He was advised to flee at once from the place, however his insistence on first getting with him two more companions of his – Niren and Jatish – caused a delay.

That delay was enough for the police to reach Kaptipada, with a large contingent, along with an army unit from Chandbali, cutting off all escape routes for Jatin and his fellow associates. They were trapped from all sides.  For two days, Jatin along with his companians fled through the thick forests of Mayurbhanj, before reaching Balasore station. However tempted by the reward for capture of the five “bandits” announced by the British, the local villagers, informed the police.

Finally on September 9, 1915, Jatin and his associates took up position in a small trench at Chashakhand near Balasore. Inspite of Chittapriya, asking him to flee, Jatin refused to abandon his companions and fought back against the British. For 75 minutes, Jatin and his four  associates armed with just Mauser pistols, held out against a much larger fully armed military force assisted by police contingent, inflicting heavy casualties on them. It was one of the most heroic resistance ever, as Jatin fought to the end like a tiger. Chittapriya died in the firing, Jatin was severely wounded, while Manoranjan and Niren ran out of ammunition and were captured. And the tiger, Bagha Jatin himself severely wounded was taken to the Government hospital in Balasore.

On September 10, 1915, the man who fought and killed a tiger with bare hands, Jatindranath Mukherji, aka Bagha Jatin was no more, dying of the bullet wounds he received. Truly a tiger, who fought till the end, gave sleepless nights to the Indian enemy – the British. His heroic resistance to the end won the admiration of Charles Tegart the British intelligence officer, who led the capture. “Though I had to do my duty, I have a great admiration for him. He died in an open fight.” Salute and respect to you, Jatin Bagha, truly a hero. Charles Tegart also claimed that had Bagha Jatin been an Englishman, his statue would be right up there along with Lord Nelson’s in Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately in our country, not many even know about him, except in Bengal and Odisha. Our history of revolutionary movement to free India has been suppressed by our rulers – simply to gain legitimacy and respect for their so-called non-violent struggle to free India. We are unfortunate for this willfull suppression of truth..

I could not forget the injunction of the only man I ever obeyed almost blindly, Jatin Da’s heroic death must be avenged. But in the meantime I had come to realise that I admired Jatin Da because he personified, perhaps without himself knowing it, the best of mankind,” said M. N. Roy.

Bagha Jatin’s ideals were inspired by Swami Vivekananda, he was truly the youngster with muscles of iron and nerves of steel, whom Swamiji wanted. “Amra morbo, jagat jagbe” – that is, “We shall die to awaken the nation”. And he indeed did that, his heroic fight was an inspiration to many brave sons and daughters of India who fought for her independence. It were revolutionaries, like Jatin Bagha, who made the British dreadful of another specter of 1857 and ultimately made them decide on their own to leave India in their own interest. There is no iota of doubt that in fact it were these Indian revolutionaries who made India free and the contrary claims are intentional falsifications of history.   

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Impact of History on Future: Cult of Non-violence | Indian People's Congress
  2. Trackback: Electing Parliament: The On-line Way (2) | Indian People's Congress

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