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.