Bipin Chandra Pal

You wanted magic. I tried to give you logic. But logic is in bad odor when the popular mind is excited. You wanted mantaram, I am not a Rishi and cannot give mantaram…I have never spoken a half-truth when I know the truth…I have never tried to lead people in faith blind-folded.

It was the 1921 Congress session, when one of the delegates made this scathing attack on none other than Mahatma Gandhi.  The attack was on Gandhi’s support to the Khilafat movement, which he felt was a disastrous move.  While Gandhi felt supporting Khilafat movement, would bring about Hindu-Muslim unity, he felt it would only promote Pan Islamism.

This man was was Bipin Chandra Pal, one of the members of the Lal-Bal-Pal trio in Congress, others being  Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai. A nationalist,  writer and thinker, and above all, a man who was uncomprosingly independent in his views.

The man who dared to take on Gandhi for his support to the Khilafat movement, was born on November 7, 1858, in a small village, near to Habibganj in Sylhet division( now in Bangladesh). His father was a leading lawyer, and came from a well to do Zamindari family. Though  not a very good student, he however read extensively, and was a great admirer of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, whose works along with the early Vaishnava poets, influenced his thoughts a lot. Emerson and Theodore Parker were Bipin Chandra’s favorite English writers, and he also studied Geeta, Upanishads.

Bipin joined Presidency, and he initially had problem in adjusting, as his Sylheti accent, was different from the Kolkata one. It was at college, he came into contact with many notable personalities, who influenced his views. Keshab Chandra Sen motivated Bipin to become a Brahmo and he was impressed by his eloquence, wanted to be an orator like him. And when he heard a speech by Surendranath Banerjee, he was convinced, destiny bought him to Kolkata, to make him a great orator.

However when Bipin’s mother and sister died, he began to look for solace, from his pain and it was during this time he met Sivanath Sastri, a brilliant poet and scholar. However his acceptance of Brahmoism, did not go down well with his father, a staunch Vaishnavite.  He was disowned by his father, did not receive the money for his studies, and  had to drop out. With his father disiniheriting him, he received no share in the property either, and he began to teach in various schools, to make ends meet.

He also worked as Librarian for the Kolkata Public Library from 1890-91, and wrote biographies on Queen Victoria, Keshub Chandra Sen. His political association started in 1877, where he combined,the social idealism of Brahmos with political idealism of Surendranath Banerjee. As a member of the Congress, Bipin Chandra Pal,compelled it to take up the cause of tea laborers in Assam, and their harsh lives.

It was around this time that the Nationalist movement in Bengal began to gain momentum. Bipin relocated to the newly founded Nationalist school in Sylhet, where he taught, and also worked as an editor for the Paridashak newspaper. Along with his childhood friend Sundari Mohan Das, who was now a doctor, he founded the Sylheti Sammelan, for the cause of women’s education.

Bipin went to England for higher studies at Oxford funded by his friends and well wishers. It was in England, he came to be known as a good orator, giving lectures on various topics, and he did the same in US too later. It was during this time, he realized, that he did not belong to a free country.  And felt that unless India attains freedom, it would never get due respect in the world. Returning to India in 1900 he  began the newspaper New India to advocate Purna Swaraj much before Congress advocated it, and vehemently criticized Curzon’s partition of Bengal in 1905. He however did not favor a centralized state like England or France, he was more in favor of a federal structure, where every province, district, village would enjoy a fair degree of autonomy. He was an ardent nationalist, and he also believed in value of personal conscience and universal humanity. It was around this time he became a close associate of Tilak too.

In 1906, he  started the daily Vande Matram, and the editor was Aurobindo Ghosh, whom he described as a stormy petrel. He advocated boycott of English goods, total severance with the British Raj, and national Government during his tour of India in 1907.  He was arrested by the British, when he refused to testify against Aurobindo in the Bande Mataram sedition case.  Though not a supporter of Aurobindo’s revolutionary activities, Bipin Pal, he neverthless backed him all the way. Aurobindo rightly called him one of the mightiest prophets of nationalism, his oration could move thousands of young people.

Released from prison, Bipin Pal, spent 3 years in England, where he conceived of a federal union, where India, UK would be equal partners. He was also a part of the India House, the meeting point for revolutionaries there, but post the assasination of Curzon Wylie by Madan Lal Dhingra, he had to move out, with the British cracking down strongly.

He was one of the few Congress leaders who recognized that Pan Islamism was going to be a major threat to India. This was why he opposed Mahatma Gandhi’s non cooperation movement because it was associated with the Khilafat movement, at a time when none dared to question the Mahatma. He was aware that the Khilafat movement was an excuse for perpetuating Pan Islamism, that always put religion above the state.  It was not just on Pan Islamism, he also differed with Gandhi on the economic boycott. Where the Mahatma, just wanted to reject foreign goods, Bipin called for a total economic boycott, that would strike at the very root.  He openly declared that mere moral pressure would not work against the British, but only factors like war in Europe, or an internal mutiny would do. He was prophetic, in a way, as Britain’s economic devastation post World War II, and the Naval Ratings Mutiny, played a major factor in their decision to quit India.

Bipin Chandra Pal’s stand on these issues, and his differences with the Mahatma, cost him politically as he ended up marginalized in the Congress. But then he was always independent in his stance,  be it in the social or political sphere, a true rebel of his times. He was ostracized from his own family, for becoming a Brahmo, and by marrying a Brahmin widow, he walked the talk. Again while a Brahmo, in the later stages of his life, he was greatly influenced by Adi Sankara’s Vedantic philosophy and later under Bijay Krishna Goswami, turned  towards the Vaishnava philosophy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. For him Swadeshi was not just political freedom, but also a spiritual revival,and he sought reform in education system.He wanted educational system to be reformed to inculcate feelings of nationalism and spiritualism among Indians.

Apart from being an activist, Bipin Pal was also a great writer too, he wrote extensively on Bengal’s rich Vaishnava heritage. He also wrote a series of biographies on Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshab Chandra Sen, Aurobindo, Tagore,Annie Beasant.And apart from that,he wrote expositions on Indian culture, history, interpreted the Bengal Renaissance.

Sadly with the Congress marginalizing him,  he spent his last days in relative obscurity and loneliness. And on May 20, 1932 one of the tallest leaders of the freedom struggle, passed away in Kolkata, unsung. Yet generations to come his insights and thinking would inspire many a freedom fighter and revolutionary.

 

 

 

Posted in Bengal, Indian Freedom Struggle, Indian History, Modern India | 1 Comment

Vasudev Balwant Phadke

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After the 1857 revolt, was effectively crushed by the British, they had become the sovereign masters of India. All the rebellious princely states, were disbanded, while the others ended up as their vassals. It also meant they created a whole educated class, that believed anything Indian was inferior, and it was the Western civilization that was the greatest. Caught between a self-loathing, educated class, indifferent to the plight of her people, and the ordinary masses, who were drained of their spirit, energy, and had become a victim to casteism, superstition, ignorance, India was passing through her darkest phase. However the darkest times often throw up some of the greatest heroes, and one such would emerge during that time.

Vasudev Balwant Phadke, often called as the father of the Indian armed revolt, an inspiration to many a revolutionary. He was an inspiration for Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s landmark novel Anand Math, which incorporated many references from his life. A Chitpavan Brahmin from Konkan, who rallied the lower peasant castes like Dhangars, Kolis, Bhils as well as warrior communities like Ramoshis against British rule. He often attacked rich English businessmen or zamindars, to raise funds for his liberation struggle and at one stage, managed to secure complete control over Pune.

Phadke was born in the coastal Konkan village of Shirdhon, in Raigad district, on November 4, 1845. He showed no interest in regular school education, and preferred to learn wrestling, horse riding. He dropped out from school, and after some time managed to secure a job as a clerk in the military accounts department in Pune. His mentor was Krantiguru Lahuji Salve, an expert wrestler, and Dalit belonging to the Mang community, who taught him sword fighting, dandapatta and rifle shooting. But more than anything, Salve, emphasized the importance of getting the backward communities in the freedom struggle to Phadke.

It was during this time too that Phadke, began to attend lectures by M.G.Ranade, where he came to know of how the British destroyed the Indian economy, and was deeply anguished. He founded the Aikya Vardhini Sabha, a voluntary organization in Pune to educate the youth, and inculcate nationalist feelings. He along with Laxman Indarpukar, and Waman Bhave also formed the Poona Native Institution which became MES, one of the leading institutes now.He   later started the Bhave School in Pune, and currently the MES runs around 77 institutes in Maharashtra. An interesting aspect, most of the freedom fighters in Maharashtra invested a lot in education, be it Tilak( Fergusson) or Phadke.

When the Gaekwad ruler of Baroda was deposed by the British in 1875, Phadke launched the protest against the Govt, and toured the Deccan, then reeling under a severe famine. However with most of the upper castes not supporting him, he felt only a mass based armed revolt, involving the smaller peasant communities, could strike against the British rule. The more backward peasant communities like Dhangars, Kolis, Bhils rallied around Phadke, while he took in the Ramoshis, who had a long history of being the footsoldiers in the Maratha wars.

These men were taught shooting, horse riding and fencing, and soon Phadke created an armed insurgent group of 300, that aimed to liberate India. In need of funds, he made his first raid on a small village near Shirur on a local businessman Balchand Sankla, in whose home, the income tax collected by the British was kept. Phadke attacked Sankla’s home, took the money for the benefit of the villagers, but was branded as a dacoit. Now on the run, he traveled from village to village, sheltered often by his followers most of whom were the poor peasants.

His followers were mainly small farmers, from the backward communities, who were worst hit by the British rule. The villagers of Nanagaon, offered him refuge in the forest nearby, from where he made his regular raids now.Soon he began to conduct many more such raids, primarily around Pune and Shirur, his followers began to swell. His raids were to raise funds for feeding the famine affected peasants, and would often involve cutting off all communications and raiding the treasury.

However Phadke suffered a major blow when his close associate, the Ramoshi leader,Daulat Rao Naik, was killed at Ghat Matha in Konkan on May 10,1879 by Major Daniel, while returning from a raid. He moved further south, to Srisailam, to escape from the British, where he spent some time incognito at the Mallikarjuna Temple. His grand plan of organizing multiple attacks on the British met with limited succcess. After a direct engagement with the British at Ghanur, a bounty was offered on his head. Phadke struck back offered a reverse bounty for the capture of the Governor of Bombay, and followed it up with offering bounty for any Britisher killed or captured.

Phadke tried to get the Rohillas in the Nizam’s army to fight along side him. However Abdul Haq then Police Comissioner of Hyderabad State, along with Major Henry Daniel, got wind of the plans, and he once again was on the run. The bounty offer by British was a succces, as one of his associates betrayed Phadke, and on July 20, 1879 he  was captured in a temple at Kaladgi( now in Bagalkot dt), en route Pandharpur, after a bitter fight.

Phadke was taken to Pune for trial, where he was was defended by Ganesh Vasudev Joshi, a prominent lawyer, also called as Sarvajanik Kaka, after the organization he founded. Ganesh Joshi would later be the guide to Tilak and Agarkar, and one of the first generation freedom fighters. He was housed in Pune for some time  district sessions court jail, located near Sangam Bridge that currently houses the state CID Dept.

Phadke was later transported to Aden, from where he tried to escape in 1883, breaking the prison door. He however was recaptured and went on  a hunger strike unto death in prison. Finally on Feb 17, 1883, he breathed his last in prison, giving up his life for freedom.  His legacy however would live on in Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s epic novel Ananda Math, which incorporated many episodes from his life. Coincidentally the year in which he passed away, would be the same year in which a certain Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born.

 

Posted in Maharashtra, Maharashtra, Revolutionary Movements | 2 Comments

Homi Jahangir Bhaba

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The young lad all of 18 was ready to make his trip to Cambridge in June 1930. His parents had wanted him to study Engineering, and make a career in Tata Industries. He however rejected it saying

I am burning with a desire to physics. …. It is my only ambition. I have no desire to be a  “successful” man or the head of a big firm.”

In those days when success was measured, by a steady job, and a comfortable life, it was the passion for physics that was pulling the young man. His parents gave in to his wishes and were sending him to Cambridge. The young lad, would soon become one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century, the father of India’s nuclear program,  Homi Jahangir Bhaba.

This young lad, who would head India’s nuclear program, and found iconic institutions like TIFR and Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay,  was born into a well to do family in Mumbai on October 30,1909 to Jehangir Hormusji Bhabha, a prominent Parsi lawyer, and Meheren. He was related to prominent Parsi businessmen like Dinshaw Petit and Dorabji Tata.  He attended Royal Institute of Science in 1927, and his uncle Dorabji wanted him to do engineering so that he could join Tata Group.

However Bhabha’s father understanding his son’s desires, agreed to fund his higher studies in Science, provided he passed the Tripos exam in Mechanical Sciences. Bhabha passed with first class in June 1930, and he later did his Mathematical Tripos under noted physicist Paul Dirac. Around the same time he also began to work at the Cavendish Laboratory, which was the center for a number of significant breakthroughs in science. Be it James Chadwick’s discovery of the Neutron or John Cockroft, Ernest Walton splitting the atomic nucleus. Around this time nuclear physics was gaining importance, attracting some of the best minds, primarily due to the fact that unlike conventional physics, there was much larger scope for experimentation here.

Bhabha had a lifelong passion for conducting experiments on radiation emitting particles and in 1933 he received the doctorate in nuclear physics, after publishing his first ever scientific paper “The Absorption of Cosmic radiation“.  Dealing with electron shower production in cosmic rays, he won the Newton Studentship in 1934 for the paper. He balanced time between Cambridge and working with the noted physicist Niels Bohr. In 1935 he published another paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society where he performed the first calculation to determine the cross section of electron-positron scattering, which was later named as Bhabha scattering in his honor. He also co authored a paper “The Passage of Fast Electrons and the Theory of Cosmic Showers” along with Walter Heitler in 1936, which described how primary cosmic rays from outer space interact with the upper atmosphere to produce particles observed at the ground level.

When World War II broke out in 1939,  Bhabha who was in India then decided to stay back, and accepted an offer to serve as reader in Physics Dept of then newly founded IISC. He set up a Cosmic Ray Research Institute there with the funding he got from Dorab’s trust, and he would later set set up the TIFR(Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) with ample support from JRD Tata. It initially operated from the IISc campus, in Bangalore, but was later shifted to Mumbai.

Bhabha was the first director of TIFR, and after independence he played a role in setting up the Atomic Energy Comission, in 1948, also served as it’s first chairman. Nehru also gave Bhabha the responsibility of heading India’s nuclear program. He literally built India’s nuclear program from scratch, considering there was no infra to do research in nuclear physics, cosmic rays when he started out. TIFR was the outcome of his dreams, as he raised the funds for it and then built it all the way with support from JRD.

There is at the moment in India no big school of research in the fundamental problems of physics, both theoretical and experimental. There are, however, scattered all over India competent workers who are not doing as good work as they would do if brought together.

It is absolutely in the interest of India to have a vigorous school of research in fundamental physics, for such a school forms the spearhead of research not only in less advanced branches of physics but also in problems of immediate practical application in industry.

More than anything he was the visionary behind India’s 3 point Nuclear Program. In sharp contrast to other nations that used uranium for nuclear energy, Bhabha focused more on India’s extensive thorium reserves, which made more sense, as importing uranium would have been costly.

The total reserves of thorium in India amount to over 500,000 tons in the readily extractable form, while the known reserves of uranium are less than a tenth of this. 

He envisaged a 3 stage program where

First Stage- First generation of Atomic power plants using natural uranium fueled pressurized Heavy Water Reactors to generate power, while generating Plutonium-239 as a by product. Most of the base of India’s existing nuclear power is first stage.

Second Stage-Plutonium 239 generated in Stage 1, would be used as fuel for Fast Breeder Reactors , which in turn would generate more fuel during fission process. The proposed Prototype FBR at Kalpakkam was in Stage 2, but delayed due to many reasons.

Third Stage – Would be using primarily self sustaining series of Thorium-232, Uranium-233 fueled thermal breeder reactors, however this can be expected to start only if a capacity of 50GW is generated by FBRs, and we still have a long way to go.

He was India’s representative at all IAEA conferences, in the 1950s and also served as President of UN Conference on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, in Geneva. However after 1962 War, Bhabha began to lobby aggressively for India’s nuclear weapons program.

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He gained fame deriving a correct expression for the probability of scattering positrons by electrons, which gave rise to the Bhabha Scattering in quantum electrodynamics. He also played a pivotal role in guiding Vikram Sarabhai in setting up ISRO.

January 24, 1966

The flight on which he was travelling to Vienna crashed on Mont Blanc, a terrible tragedy. The father of India’s nuclear program, Homi Jehangir Bhabha was no more. A brilliant career and life cut short.

There is speculation that Homi Bhabha could have been the victim of a CIA plot, with the US wary of India’s growing nuclear power, especially after the defeat of it’s ally Pakistan in the ’65 War. This was stated by ex CIA operative Bob Crowley in an interview.

Conversations with Crow, book on a series of telephonic talks and interviews between ex CIA operative Bob Crowley and journalist Gregory Douglas, has the former stating that the CIA had a hand in the plane crash that killed Bhabha, remains a mystery to date.

Atomic Energy Establishment at Trombay has been named in honor of Bhabha as BARC, The famous radio telescope at Ooty was another of Bhabha’s initiative, that went operational after his death. His sprawling bungalow Mehrangir named after his mother, was given to NCPA, which unfortunately was demolished by the Godrej Family in 2016 who had bought it in 2014.

Posted in Science in India | Leave a comment

The Writer and the Revolutionary

March 23, 1931–  To most of us, this would be familiar as the date on which Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged. However just two days, after Bhagat Singh, another freedom fighter, lost his life, trying to control a communal riot in Kanpur, that ironically broke out in the wake of  the hanging. He earlier had given refuge to Bhagat Singh in exile. And another freedom fighter, fasted unto death along with Bhagat Singh for better treatment of political prisoners in jail.

Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, the writer, and Jatindranath Das, the revolutionary, political activist. Two men from different backgrounds, but whose lives would intersect with that of Bhagat Singh in different ways. And both would make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom.  When Jatindranath Das passed away after his fast unto death, it was Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi who organized the gathering in Kanpur, that would pay respects to him.

“I am a fighter against oppression and injustice, I have fought all my life against oppression against inhumanity and may God give me strength to fight on till the last”

Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was born on Oct 26, 1890 at Hathgaon in Fatehpur district, his father Jai Narayan was a school teacher. Coming from a very humble background, he was also a devout Hindu, and highly nationalist from a very young age.

Jatindranath Das was born 14 years later on Oct 27, in Kolkata, and at just 17 years was an active member of the Anushilan Samiti, took active part in Gandhiji”s Non Cooperation movement in 1921. A brilliant student he passed his Matriculation, Intermediate exams with distinction.

Ganesh Shankar did his schooling in Mungeli ( now in Chattisgarh) and later  Vidisha, he however had to drop out due to financial difficulties. He later worked as a clerk for some time, and afetr some time, managed to get a job as a high school teacher.  His real interest was however in journalism, and regularly contributed to magazines like Karmayogi and Swarajya. It was around this time, he adopted the pen name of Vidyarthi, which became his surname later on.  His mentor was the great writer Mahabir Prasad Dwivedi, who was also known as the doyen of modern Hindi journalism. Dwivedi, offered him a job as a sub editor in his monthly Saraswati in 1911.

Jatindranath Das, on the other hand, was arrested while doing his BA at Bangabasi College, Kolkata in 1925, and sent to Mymensingh Central Jail( now in Bangladesh). It was there that he undertook the fast for better treatment of political prisoners. After 20 days, the jail superintendent apologized, and agreed to his demands.  The fast got him noticed, and he soon came into contact with the revolutionaries of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association( HSRA).  He was mentored by Sachindranath Sanyal, who also taught him how to make bombs.

Vidyarthi  was however more interested in political writings and later joined Abhyudaya, a well known political journal of that time. In 1913, he  came back to Kanpur, where he would spend the rest of his life as a fiery crusader for freedom and justice through his writings, taking up causes. He founded Pratap, the well known weekly from Kanpur in 1913, and soon began to take up the cause of ordinary people. He became the voice of the downtrodden masses, be it the peasants of Rae Bareli, or the mill workers of Kanpur, standing by them at every stage.

And Vidyarthi was no armchair activisit, as he faced lathi charges, was arrested 5 times, had to pay heavy fines. Yet none of them deterred him from his cause, as he relentlessly fought on behalf of the masses.

Now the time has come for our political ideology and our movement not to be restricted to the English-educated and to spread among the common people [samanya janta], and for Indian public opinion [lokmat], to be not the opinion of those few educated individuals but to mirror the thoughts of all the classes of the country…democratic rule is actually the rule of public opinion.

Vidyarthi felt that the freedom movement had to move from a tiny English educated elite to the masses, for it to be truly effective. It should not be just a few individuals, but should reflect aspirations of the masses.

The much-despised peasants are our true bread-givers [annadata], not those who consider themselves special and look down upon the people who live in toil and poverty as lowly beings

He met Gandhiji in 1916 at Lucknow and threw himself into the freedom struggle fully. One of the leading lights of the Home Rule movement in 1917, he was sentenced to two years RI, for championing the cause of the peasants of Rae Bareilly. was very close friends with both Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad, though he personally believed in a non violent struggle. When Bhagat Singh was in hiding, it was Vidyarthi who not just gave him shelter in Kanpur, but also gave him space to write in Pratap. The Beech Wala Chowk Temple in Kanpur, was where Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi used to host his meetings, he was the one who encouraged Shiv Narayan Tandon to join Congress, and who would later become Kanpur’s first Lok Sabha MP.

Vidyarthi founded the Mazdoor Sabha in 1928 which he led till his death, and in 1929, he was elected as President of UP Congress Comittee. He openly condemned Maulana Shakuat Ali for saying that the freedom struggle was anti Muslim.

 

Jatindranath Das was arrested in 1929 for the Lahore Conspiracy case, and put in prison along with Bhagat Singh.  It was here he would be known for his 62 days fast unto death demanding better treatment for political prisoners. The condition of Indian prisoners was terrible, unwashed uniforms, unhygienic food, rooms infested with rats and cockroaches. While the British prisoners got good treatment, the Indian prisoners lived in conditions which were sub human basically.

Jatin Das began his fast on July 13, 1929, the jail authorities tried to feed him forcibly, he was beaten up regularly by the prison guards.  His hunger strike was in response to Bhagat Singh’s fast on the same issue, soon it spread among the undertrials too, and the news spread all across the nation. The Punjab Government was forced to accede to some of the demands, for instance giving medical facilities to some of the undertrials. He meanwhile went into a critical stage following his fast unto death, and it was only Bhagat Singh’s intervention that made him break the fast temporarily.  He was too weak however by that time. With the authorities however refusing to release Jatin Das even on reccomendation of the comittee, the hunger strike continued, along with Bhagat Singh, Dutt and others. And finally on September 13, 1929 he passed away in prison, the first Indian freedom fighter to fast unto death.

Durgavati Devi, also known as Durga Bhabi, was the one who led the funeral procession of Jatindranath Das in Kolkata. It was Netaji who paid for the expenses of transporting Jatin Das body from Lahore to Kolkata by train. Thousand turned up in Kolkata to pay respects to Jatindranath Das, on his last journey, his fast unto death had an electrifying impact. It was not just Kolkata, there were crowds all along the route, that thronged to have one last look at the man who gave up his life for the cause of freedom. In Kanpur it was Vidyarthi who organized the crowds that came to have a look at Jatin Das’s mortal remains.

Vidyarthi had tried his best to save Bhagat Singh from being hanged, and also arranged a meeting between Chandrashekhar Azad and Nehru in Allahabad, which however ended on failure. The continous imprisonments also took a toll on his health. When Bhagat Singh was hanged on March 23, 1931, protests broke out in Kanpur. Unfortunately the protests turned into an ugly communal riot, and Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi rushed back to Kanpur, to control the disturbances.  In the midst of one of the worst communal riots ever in Kanpur, he  threw himself into the middle of it, trying to control tensions, saving many victims, but unfortunately he was killed by a mob while trying to control it, just 2 days after the hanging of Bhagat Singh.

Unfortunately post independence, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was largely forgotten, except in his home town Kanpur. Even in the media, nothing much was done to perpetuate his legacy or memory, considering his stellar contribution to journalism.  The award given to renowned journalists every year since 1989 is named after Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi. The medical college in Kanpur too is named after him, as also the erstwhile Phool Bagh now called Ganesh Shankar Udyan. And on 18 July 2017, the Kanpur airport was named after him by the CM, Yogi Adityanath, a fitting tribute to one of Kanpur’s most famous citizens. Incidentally, the famous actor Ashish Vidyarthi was named after Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi by his father.

Jatindranath Das, drew attention to the cause of political prisoners, not once but just twice, and at the age of 25 gave up his life for freedom. Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, the voice of the masses, who spoke out against British oppression through his writings. Two great men, associated with the legendary Bhagat Singh in different ways.

 

 

Posted in Hindustan Republican Socialist Army, Indian Freedom Struggle, Indian History, Modern India, Revolutionary Movements | Leave a comment

Subedar Joginder Singh- Battle of Bumla Pass

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Bum La Pass, 37 km from Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, at around 15,200 ft above sea level, was part of an old trade route that went from Tawang to Tsona Dzong in Tibet. Usually covered with snow all through the year, this was the route used by Dalai Lama, when he escaped Chinese occupation of Tibet and took refuge in India. It also has the beautiful Sangetsar Tso Lake, also called the Madhuri Lake, after a song featuring her in Koyla was picturized here.

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This beautiful place, was witness to one of the fiercest battles ever during the 1962 War. While the Battle of Rezang La during the ’62 War and Shaitan Singh’s bravery during that is well known, equally heroic is the feat of Subedar Joginder Singh, who took down 50 Chinese, at Bum La pass before being captured by them. Much like Rezang La, Bumla Pass was another tale of courage under fire, where a vastly outnumbered Sikh Regiment, held on till the end against a much larger Chinese army, and Joginder Singh’s defiance is the stuff heroism is made of.

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Joginder Singh was born on Sept 26, 1921 in a small village in Punjab’s Moga district, his father Sher Singh Sahnan, was a farmer, and his mother was Bibi Krishan Kaur. His father belonged to a Saini family that relocated to Malakhalan, his native village. He joined the Army for a sense of identity and purpose and was posted to the 1st Sikh Regiment on Sept 28, 1936. Though not much educated, when he joined the Army, Joginder later studied within the Army, passed the Army Education Exam. Joginder served on the Burma front during WWII, and when India became independent fought in the 1st Indo-Pak war of 1947. In 1954, India recognized China’s claim over Tibet, as per the Sino-Indian agreement. Yes one of the umpteen strategic blunders.

Anyway with Tibet in it’s pocket, the purge of the bourgeouise, Korean war over, Mao was fully in control of China by now. India was still in it’s “India- China Bhai Bhai” hangover, while Mao was preparing to bring down Nehru who was still in the Panchsheel hangover. China had made clear it’s intent a couple of times already with a series of attacks, but an establishment doped on Panchsheel, Indo-Chini Bhai Bhai was blissfully asleep.

Taking advantage of the Indian Govt’s sleep mode, the Chinese launched an all out attack in 1962, attacking North East and Aksai Chin, laying claim to it. By August 1962, the PLA occupied Thag La ridge in Sikkim, and the Dhola outpost south of Namka Chu.  Though the Government ordered the Indian Army to throw the Chinese out of Dhola, it was an impossible task,the Indian Army was woefully underprepared, under equipped to take on the PLA, and above all the Chinese knew the terrain in and out.

The Chinese had positioned themselves at key strategic points on the border, and marshalling the troops was a logistical nightmare in that region, for which the Indian Army was not all prepared by then. It was a herculean task to salvage the situation.Also around the same time, the CIA launched it’s disastrous Bay of Pigs operation, and the world’s attention was focussed on Cuba, leaving the field clear for the Chinese. By Oct 23, China had occupied the entire Dhola- Thang La area.

China’s main objective was the capture of Tawang, in Arunachal Pradesh, that would give it total control over the North East. And the fastest route to Tawang, was the 26 km track from the border via Bum La Pass, one of the few motorable ones in that region. The 1st Sikh battalion was given the task of defending this place, and cut off the Chinese advance to Tawang, not an easy task by any means.

The Delta Company commanded by Lt. Haripal Kaushik, was given the task of defending Bum La Pass. The 11th platoon headed by Subedar Joginder Singh deployed at the IB Ridge, had the job of setting up the defense to halt the Chinese. Capt Gurcharan Singh Gosal was the artillery in charge, while the 7th Bengal Mountain Battery would provide the cover to the Sikh Regiment.

October 20, 1962

JCO of the Assam Rifles notices thousands of Chinese advancing and immediately alerts the Regiment at Bum La.  Joginder Singh immediately sends a section under Havildar Sucha Singh, to reinforce Bum La, while requesting a 2nd line ammunition from the HQ. And one of the bloodiest battles of the ’62 war would begin which went on till the wee hours of Oct 23.

After pounding Bum La with mortars,to destroy the bunkers, around 600 Chinese swarmed in to attack the Assam Rifles post. However Sucha Singh fought back hard, killing several of the enemy soldiers, before retreating back to the IB Ridge. Just like in Rezang La, the Indian platoon at Bum La Pass was badly under equipped, just 4 days rations, ill fitting jungle boots, no proper winter clothing. It was under such odds, that Joginder Singh rallied his men against the PLA.

What Joginder lacked in resources, he more than made it up with his tactics. He asked his men to hold their ammunition and fire only when the enemy was in range, this avoided wastage. He also put the platoon on a steep ridge that was not easy to climb. In the meantime another Chinese unit attacked from the right flank, the firing was even more intense. Hit by a burst of machine gun fire in his thigh, Joginder Singh however refused evacuation, and kept on commanding his men, giving instructions moving around.

The battle began, one of the bloodiest ones ever, the Indian soldiers fired back with artillery guns at the advancing Chinese, inflicting heavy casualties on them. However half of the platoon was gone, only 17 managed to survive. Though a large number of Chinese were dead, Joginder Singh’s unit by now was down, most of the men either killed or badly wounder. He himself had killed around 50 Chinese, but by now he was exhausted, and on top of it the injury in his thigh.

By now down to just a handful of survivors, Joginder charged at the Chinese with bayonets, with cries of “Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”. The Chinese were taken aback with the resistance, and many of them were killed by the bayonets, sheer courage under fire. The heroic resistance however ended when Joginder Singh was surrounded and captured by the Chinese, taken as a POW. 3 of the 4 survivors who escaped, went on to narrate Joginder’s tale of raw courage and defiance, which is how his exploits came to be known.

Subedar Joginder Singh passed away in Chinese captivity on the same date itself, he was given the Param Veer Chakra for his heroics, and tactics against a much larger enemy force.  When the Chinese learnt that Joginder Singh, was given the PVC, they repatriated his ashes with full military honors on May 17, 1963. Yes he won the admiration of even the enemy, a true Ajatashatru. His  ashes were taken to the Sikh Regimental Center in Meerut, the urn was handed over to his widow. A memorial has been built in Moga, for him, and also another at Bum La pass in his honor.

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Lala Har Dayal

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Nalanda Club, Stanford University, 1913

The gathering place for Indian students there, a serious looking professor enters. The entry creates a rock star kind of buzz, among the students, as an air of expectation ran across the room.

“December 23, 1912, a date we should all remember”

As the students wondered about the importance of the date, the professor went on further.

“This date should be etched in the memory of every nationalist Indian. On this day, Basanta Kumar Biswas struck a blow on the British Raj.”  Basanta Biswas was the revolutionary who threw a bomb on the then British viceroy Lord Hardinge, an act the professor he believed, signalled the beginning of the end of British rule in India.

The professor ended with a couplet

“Pagari apna sambhaliyega Mir, Aur basti nahin yeh Dilli Hai”

Take care of your turban Mir( a term for the British), this is not any town, it is Delhi”

The professor was Lala Hardayal, the man who co founded the Ghadar Party in US, along with Sohan Singh Bhakna. A legend among revolutionaries, one of the key members of India House in London along with Shyamji Krishna Varma, Veer Savarkar and Madame Bhikaji Cama.

A brilliant polymath who turned down a lucrative career in the Civil Services, as he plunged into the revolutionary movement. A leader who inspired many expat Indians in UK, US and Canada to rise against British imperialism. A man known for his rather simple living and brilliant intellectual capability.

Lala Hardayal, was born on October 14, 1884, the 6th child of a large Kayastha Mathur family in Delhi, to Gauri Dayal Mathur, a district court reader and Bholi Rani.  Influenced by the ideals of the Arya Samaj at an early age, his other influences included Mazinni, the great Italian revolutionary leader, Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin, the Russian anarchist.  He later graduated in Sanskrit from St.Stephen’s and also did his Post Graduation in the same subject from Punjab University. An academically brilliant student, he got 2 scholarships from Oxford in 1905 for higher studies in Sanskrit. It was during this time,  he was exposed to the anarchist idelogy through Guy Aldred. In a letter to the Indian Sociology magazine,  he made clear his political views, by explicitly stating that “reforming government should never be the objective, but rather it should be to reform it out of existence, leaving only traces”.

His views made him noticed by the British Government, and in 1907, he turned down a lucrative career in the Indian Civil Services, saying “To Hell with ICS”, resigned from the Government funded scholarships. Returning back to India in 1908, he led an austere life, as his only passion now was freedom from British rule. He continued his radical writings, calling for overthrow of British rule, which were subsequently banned. On the advice of Lala Lajpat Rai, he left for France in 1909.

With a brilliant memory and an aptitude for languages, Hardayal, became the editor of Bande Mataram in Paris, where he began to interact with different thinkers and revolutionaries among the expat Indians. It was during this period, he came into association with Madame Bhikaji Cama, Veer Savarkar who was in exile in Paris, and their mentor Shyamji Krishna Varma. However finding Paris too stifling, he moved to Algiers and from there to Martinique, where he lived like an ascetic, eating a frugal meal of boiled potatoes, grain, sleeping on the floor and meditating all by himself.

It was then that he came into contact with another Arya Samaji leader Bhai Parmanand, who was also involved actively with the Hindu Mahasabha.  Parmanand asked him to use his immense intellect for the revolutionary cause, and advised him to go the US and fight for the rights of the immigrant Indian workers there. Hardayal joined Stanford in 1911, as a Professor of Sanskrit and Philosophy. He spent time in meditation, and learning about Japanese Buddhism. Soon he got involved with the trade unions there and became the secretary of the  San Francisco chapter of Industrial workers, based in Oakland.  It was at Oakland he set up the Bakunin Institute of California, which in his own words was the first monastery of anarchism. The organization allied with the Regeneracion movement involving Mexican anarchists.

Soon he began to reach out to the Indian immigrants in US, primarily Sikh farmers on the West Coast, who had emigrated there at the beginning of the 20th century. These immigrants having faced racism in both US and Canada, soon began to gather under him.  He exhorted the immigrants to develop a nationalist perspective, and study science  and sociology extensively. With the help of Jwala Singh, one of the more wealthy farmers there, he set up a fund that would provide scholarships for higher education to Indian students, which was named after Guru Gobind Singh. He opened an India House in Berkeley, modelled on the lines of Shyamji Krishna Varma’s in London, that became an accomodation for the Indian students.

Basanta Kumar Biswas daring attempt on the life of Lord Hardinge, further fuelled the nationalist spirit on him and soon began to address the Indian expats, exhorting them to take up arms against the British rule. The Ghadr movement co founded by him along with Sohan Singh Bhakna at Astoria, Oregon in 1913, for the cause of freedom, spread like wildfire, with a large number of immigrant Indians in US, joining it. A newsletter called Ghadar was published that openly called for armed revoution and overthrow of the British rule. It also had instructions on how to manufacture bombs and explosives.

With World War I breaking out, it was seen as the right time to launch the armed revolt against the British Government who were caught up in the conflict. Thousands of Indian immigrants in US, made the return journey back home to take part in the revolt. However the US Government, under pressure from the British, issued arrest orders against Lala Hardayal for propaganda of anarchist ideology.  He however managed to secure bail and fled to Berlin in 1914, where along with other Indian revolutionaries, he set up the India Independence Committee. Though World War I ended, he still lived in exile, staying in Sweden for a decade, where he taught about Indian philosophy, art and literature.

He later got his PhD from School of Oriental and African Studies for his dissertation on “The Bodhisatva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature”.  In 1932, he published one of his most well known books Hints of Self Culture, and gave lectures on a wide variety of subjects.  One of the most brilliant intellectuals ever, he was also a polyglot fluent in Urdu, Sanskrit, English, French, German and Swedish Languages.  On March 4, 1939, Lala Hardayal passed away due to a heart attack at Philadelphia while on a lecture tour of US. He died an exile, deeply regretting the fact that he could never return to India, because of the British restrictions.

Lala Hardayal one of the most brilliant Indian minds of the 20th century, an intellectual, a scholar, a revolutionary, a nationalist. A man who ignited the flame of revolution in the Indian immigrants abroad, founded Ghadar, a close associate of Savarkar, and a truly great soul.

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Arun Khetarpal

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The Battle of Basantar during the 1971 War, was one of the most intense and hardest fought battles in that conflict. One of the major tank battles post World War II, with both sides sustaining casualties. Much like the epic Battle of Asal Uttar during the 1965 War, this proved to be a heavy blow for the Pakistani Army, losing 48 Patton tanks in it’s own territory.  2 Param Vir Chakras, 4 Maha Vir Chakras, and 4 Vir Chakras were awarded of which 5 were posthmous.  And the battle had many heroes, Major Hoshiar Singh Dahiya,Major Vijay Rattan Chaudhary, Lt. Col.V.P.Ghai,  Capt R.N.Gupta, the 9th Engineer Regiment nicknamed the Thambi Regiment.  And above all 2nd Lt Arun Khetarpal of the Poona Horse, who was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the youngest recipient at just 21 years, who laid down his life in the course of action.

Arun Khetarpal was born on October 14, 1950 in a family that had served in the Armed forces from decades. His father Lt.Col M. L. Khetarpal was a Corps of Engineer officer, who would later retire as Brigadier. His great grandfather fought in the Sikh army against the British, while his grandfather served with the British Indian Army.  Arun studied in Lawrence School, Sanawar( Himachal Pradesh), whose motto “Never Give In” would symbolize his own life. A good student at school, he later joined NDA in 1967 and was comissioned in the 17 Poona Horse in 1971.

The 17 Poona Horse was the one in command of the 47th Infantry Brigade, during the battle and it’s main objective was to establish a bridgehead across the Basantar River in the Shakargarh sector. The battle theater was more specifically the Shakargarh Bulge,  which is basically a protrusion of Pakistani territory into Indian one. This particular territory was surrounded on all three sides by India, and was strategically important for both the nations. The road to Jammu from Punjab passed through this area, which meant that Pakistan could cut off access here. Straddling the more fertile Indus river belt, made this area economically important too.

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At December 15, 9 PM, the bridgehead was established, however the enemy territory was heavily mined,  and the engineers were still halfway into the task. The Engineering Task Force comprising the 3 units was grouped with 47 Infantry Brigade for crossing the Basantar River at Lagwal. This was the toughest part of the assignment, an operational track had to be constructed from Lohara to Lagwal, the enemy minefield had to be breached, and crossing places had to be constructed on two marshy nullahs.

Dec 16, 8 AM- The Pakistani 13th Lancers, having the state of art Patton Tanks, launched their first counter attack on the 17th Poona Horse at Jarpal. With the commander of the Poona Horse, calling for reinforcements, Arun who was with the A squadron,  responded with his Centurion tanks.  The first counter attack of the Pakistanis was repelled by the Centurion tank brigade, with every one right from the individual tank CO, to troop leader Arun playing their role to perfection.

The 13th Lancers launched two more attacks, and breakthrough the Indian defenses. Arun however launched right into the Pakistani attack, almost alone in charge against some very stiff resistance. He knocked out a Pakistani tank, however he was hit soon by enemy fire, and badly injured, while his tank was hit too. By this time however he stopped the Pakistani tanks from making a breakthrough, and gave the Indian Army a stronger position in the Shakargarh bulge.  When his superior officer ordered him to abandon his burning tank, his last words over the radio were.

“No, Sir, I will not abandon my tank. My main gun is still working and I will get these bastards.”.

And in spite of being injured, and his tank damaged, Arun Khetarpal fought back hard, destroying around 10 Pakistani tanks, including one just 100 m away from him. However the second hit, destroyed his tank, and a badly injured Khetarpal succumbed to his wounds.  His tank was named Famagusta, and the radio operator Nand Singh too was killed in the action. The driver Prayag Singh and the gunner Nathu Singh, were captured by the Pakistani troops, but released  after the end of the war. Arun Khetarpal died a hero on the battlefield, denying the Pakistanis a breakthrough and giving enough time for the Indian Army to secure Shakargarh.

The Indian Army secured Shakargarh, and came pretty close to the Pakistani military base at Sialkot. And expecting another massive assault, the Pakistani army called for surrender, which led to the ceasefire.  It was one of the most humiliating defeats for them after the Battle of Longewala.

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