The lesser known Bose: Remembering Sarat Chandra Bose, a non-conformist, visionary statesman

The elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose contributed immensely to freedom struggle

sarat-chandra-bose Sarat Chandra Bose | via Commons

The 131st birth anniversary of Sarat Chandra Bose will be celebrated on September 6, 2020.This assumes significance as an occasion to make known various aspects of his multifaceted personality which found expression in his roles as a humanist, a patriot and a freedom fighter, a political thinker, parliamentarian, legal practitioner, journalist, a philanthropist, and a man with the most exemplary qualities of head and heart.

Born in Cuttack, Odisha in 1889, Sarat Chandra was the second son and fourth child of Janakinath and Prabhabati Bose. After his early education in Cuttack and matriculation at the age of 12, he had his higher education in Kolkata. He completed his MA from the Calcutta University in 1909, and qualified as a lawyer in 1911.

Even though his father Janakinath was a legal practitioner of great distinction, it was Sarat Chandra who was the first in the family to go to England and qualify for the Bar (1912-1914). With the legendary Nripendra Nath Sircar as his mentor, Sarat Chandra achieved great fame as a barrister with exceptional powers of advocacy and penetrating cross-examination.

His professional earnings were unbelievably high. While, on the one hand, his lavish lifestyle was visible to many, very few knew about the significant sum of money he spent on helping the poor and the needy, particularly students, and also other freedom fighters in various ways, beginning with his younger brother Subhas Chandra. The brotherly love between the two was extraordinary, with Sarat always considering the achievements of Subhas as the fulfilment of his own dreams.

In the vortex of freedom struggle: 1923 – 1935

In their political life and in the freedom movement, Sarat Chandra and Subhas Chandra were both followers of 'Deshbandhu' Chittaranjan Das (1870-1925), totally confirming to his political ideology. A firm believer in rectitude in political behaviour, Sarat

Chandra believed that “Nothing which is morally wrong is politically right”. This served as his guideline throughout his long and eventful public life, which, after he had become a member of the Congress in 1918, really began in the early 1920s. His public life included the term as a Swarajya Party member of the Bengal Legislative Council where he established himself as an outstanding parliamentarian; getting elected as an Alderman in the Calcutta Corporation in 1924, and a Councillor from 1930 to 1932.

He became part of of the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930 and gave up his professional practice to devote himself entirely to Congress work. He spent vast amount of money from his professional earnings to secretly finance the revolutionary movement in Bengal, which he regarded as a valid alternative to the non-violent movement.

For his involvement in this movement, Sarat Chandra Bose was imprisoned under Regulation III of 1818 for more than three years in 1932 at the Seoni and Jabalpur Jails, followed by internment at his own house in Kurseong. In a report of the then government of India’s home (political) department, he was described as “a prominent Congress leader, the power behind his brother Subhas Chandra Bose, and the financier of the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930 in Calcutta”. This description was only one of the many in the department’s files, testifying its assessment of Sarat Chandra Bose in the 1930s.

Some others are as follow:

“Mr. Sarat Bose is unquestionably a most dangerous opponent of the government and a man who in intellectual attainments is far superior to the majority of Congress leaders in the province”.

“A revolutionary, a financier of revolutionaries and a corrupter of the press and the Calcutta Corporation”

“His (Sarat Bose) remaining at large was a danger to the security of the British Dominions from internal commotion. We feel constrained to add that, although his activities were less spectacular than those of his younger brother, Subhas, they were more subtly insidious and therefore perhaps no less dangerous”.

In 1931, he had openly led the defence in the Chittagong Armoury Raid Case. When he went from Kolkata to Chittagong to meet some of the revolutionaries he was defending, unknown to all, he carried in his briefcase, and arranged to hand over to them, live bombs with which they could attempt a jailbreak!

A note signed by Sir Charles Tegart, the then commissioner of police, Calcutta, stated that “Sarat Chandra Bose assisted the revolutionary movement for years by means of his purse, his press, and his prestige.”

“His press” referred to Forward, which had been started by 'Deshbandhu' Chittaranjan as the official mouthpiece of the Swarajya Party, later renamed New Forward, and thereafter Liberty, with Sarat Chandra as its managing director. Under his stewardship, the publication, as well as the Bengali daily Banglar Katha and the weekly Atmashakti, which were renamed Bangabani and Nabashakti respectively, set new standards in fearless and honest journalism. Liberty, particularly, “lauded those convicted of breaking the law, and vilified the administration in the most disgraceful and obnoxious terms”.

In 1929, he also established a news agency— Orient Press Agency. Much later, in the 1940s, he started and edited The Nation.

It is interesting to note that the Bose brothers had close connections with Irish revolutionaries. These had begun with Sarat Chandra’s meeting Madame Maud Gonne MacBride, the legendary heroine of the Sinn Féin and of the Irish revolution, in Paris on his way back from England in 1914. At this meeting, she predicted that Sarat Chandra would probably join politics and go far in life. Thereafter, Subhas Chandra had met her, and Sarat Chandra met her again at Dublin in 1948. He also met her son Seán MacBride, the president of Ireland, and the revolutionary leader Éamon de Valera—whom the brothers knew very well. Éamon de Valera had also met Sarat Chandra Bose during his visit to Kolkata earlier.

After 'Deshbandhu' Chittaranjan’s death in 1925—a great blow to the freedom movement and to the Bose brothers, among others—Sarat Chandra devoted himself to Swarajya Party work, including its propaganda inside and even outside India. It was during the mid-1920s that he, Bidhan Chandra Roy, Nirmal Chandra Chunder, Nalini Ranjan Sarkar and Tulsi Charan Goswami were referred to as the ‘Big Five’ of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee and of Bengal politics.

By the end of the 1920s, Sarat Chandra had become a front-ranking Congress leader. In 1928, he became a member of the Bengal Legislative Council. He played a prominent part in the boycott of the Simon Commission, and his speech on this boycott in the Bengal Legislative Council on February 9, 1928 was memorable for the brilliance of his arguments.

Earlier that year, the Nehru Committee Report supporting dominion status had been published. The Bose brothers took an active part in the Calcutta Congress held later that year, with Sarat strongly supporting Subhas’s demand for complete independence as the goal of the Congress. Moreover, he opposed, albeit unsuccessfully, at the subjects committee meeting, Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘compromise resolution’ on the ground that it would affect the prestige of the Congress in international politics.

In August, 1930, he was nominated for membership of the Congress Working Committee which had then been declared an illegal organisation. While in jail, in late 1934, he received – but refused to accept – a proposal for Congress nomination to the Central Legislative Assembly. As a candidate of the Nationalist Party formed by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya on August 18 that year, he contested the elections on the issue of the unequivocal rejection of the Government Communal Award, won, and was elected to the Central Assembly as a state prisoner.

A dauntless spirit that knew no compromise: 1935-1945

After his release in July 1935 and return to professional and public life, Sarat Chandra Bose was elected president of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee. In April, 1936, as a candidate of the Congress Nationalist Party, he successfully contested the Calcutta Corporation elections, and was once again elected an Alderman.

The second half of the 1930s was a period of hectic activity for the Bose brothers as prominent Congress leaders, with Subhas Chandra being the president in 1938 and 1939, culminating in their parting of ways with Mahatma Gandhi and his followers in the Congress, following serious differences, and leading to the resignation of all Congress Working Committee members in March, 1939. Subhas Chandra resigned from the post of the party next month, and t he brothers were suspended from the Congress soon.

It may be noted that earlier, in 1937, he had advocated the formation of a Congress-Krishak Praja Party coalition government in Bengal. As the Congress high command turned down his proposal, a great opportunity to forge Hindu-Muslim unity was lost, culminating in the Muslim League’s demand for the separation of the country and the creation of Pakistan.

Their parting of ways with the Congress high command in 1939 was indeed a turning point in the lives of the two brothers. Soon after, Subhas Chandra formed the Forward Bloc in May, 1939, and his programme of action of serving an ultimatum to the British government for immediate transfer of power to India was endorsed at the important Bengal Political Conference held at Jalpaiguri in 1939, presided over by Sarat Chandra Bose.

In 1941, after Subhas Chandra’s historic escape under disguise from house arrest and India and the start of the Indian National Army/Azad Hind Fauz phase of the Indian freedom movement, Sarat Chandra—who the majority of the members of the Bengal Congress Parliamentary Party chose to follow, even after his suspension—formed the Progressive Coalition Party, which became the majority party in the Bengal Legislative Assembly. He formed an alliance with A.K. Fazlul Haque of the Krishak Mazdoor Praja Party in Bengal with the aim to dislodge the rabidly communally minded Muslim League ministry in the state. He was successful in his efforts, and was to join the new ministry as the home minister in December 1941.

Sarat Chandra Bose could not do so as he was arrested on December 11, 1941, by the British government under the Defence of India Rules on the specious plea that his secret interactions with the Japanese had become known. He was arrested a day before he was to be sworn in, as the British government felt that “it was impossible to contemplate Sarat Chandra Bose as a Minister …his becoming a Minister must be prevented by any means”.

He was interned in southern India—first, briefly at the Trichinopoly Jail and at Mercara, Coorg, and thereafter for more than three-and-a-half years at Coonoor—where, the British government presumably felt, possibilities of his contact with the Japanese or any other anti-British power would be the least. Subrata Bose, his son, says, “My father’s arrest before, and not after, being sworn in as the home minister was obviously the best thing that the government could do for itself. The choice of the isolated bungalow ‘Fairlight’ in Coonoor for his internment for more than three-and-a-half years years reflected clearly the British government’s determination to ensure that there were no possibilities of his contact with anyone—least of all with the Japanese—and also that he was in reasonably good health, as the death of an important leader during internment would have embarrassed and created problems for the British government. This decision was taken after he had been kept for a few days each at The Trichinopoly Jail, where there were many other inmates, and at Mercara, Coorg, where an infection had adversely affected his health”.

About the visits of family members to Coonoor, Chitra Ghosh, his daughter remembers, “As if the poignancy of separation from near and dear ones was not enough, only three of us were allowed one-hour meetings at six-monthly intervals with my father—and these, too, with police officers present throughout—preceded and followed by three-day onward and return journeys from and to Kolkata. When, after the first two years, my elder sister and sister-in-law had to bear the indignity of body searches by the police at ‘Fairlight’, Coonoor, my father instructed us not to visit him any more!”

About his stay in Coonoor, another daughter, the late Gita Biswas, wrote “ did he spend his long periods of incarceration away from all his fields of activity? Even then, he did not rest. He spent his time in deep study, introspection and meditation …From his letters, we saw the vastness of his intellectual capacity. His range of studies was astounding—religion, history, politics, literature, both English and Bengali. There was no area he did not traverse. He came out from prison broken in health, but his mind became stronger and richer to shoulder the responsibilities that lay ahead of him”.

Last-ditch fights to realize his principles and exit from the Congress: 1945-1950

Following his release as late as September 1945, when the Second World War had well and truly ended, Sarat Chandra Bose made an important comeback to national politics. Surprisingly for many, under the Congress banner. He became a member of the Congress high command, leading the party to a convincing victory in the 1946 elections, and thereafter being made the leader of the opposition in the Central Legislative Assembly. He also became a member of the Congress Working Committee and a minister in the interim government which had been set up.

However, it was not long before he felt that the principles and policies of the other Congress leaders clashed with his. In 1946 itself, he opposed the cabinet mission plan, resigned from the interim government, thereafter from the Central Legislative Assembly, and finally, on January 6, 1947 from the Congress Working Committee.

Sarat Chandra Bose was the first to protest against the partition of Bengal and Punjab which he consistently and steadfastly opposed and almost single-handedly fought against, both before and after the publication of the Mountbatten Plan. It was on this issue that he resigned, starting a protest campaign as early as in February, 1947.

As an uncompromising secularist, Sarat Chandra Bose firmly believed that the freedom of India would be meaningful only if it was based on national integration and communal harmony. He played an active part in quelling the communal riots of 1946, and strongly advised the Viceroy to disband the Muslim League ministry in Bengal, and also dismiss governor of Bengal Sir Frederick Burrows. He toured eastern Bengal, and while in Noakhali, discussed possible solutions to the communal problems with Mahatma Gandhi.

In Kolkata, he also organised relief work with doctors and medical students under the Indian National Ambulance Corps (INAC).

He continued his untiring efforts to prevent partition in various ways till the very end, evolving ideas of possible alternatives to the fateful partition. These included the idea of a United Independent Bengal—an idea which remained an unrealised dream with the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha opposing it—even after Mahatma Gandhi had supported the proposal at first. When the partition of India became practically a settled matter, Sarat Chandra Bose wrote to Sardar Vallabhai Patel: “Future generations will, I am afraid, condemn us for conceding the division of India and supporting the partition of Bengal and the Punjab”.

Amiya Nath Bose, second son of Sarat Chandra Bose and also a barrister-at-law, was always by his father’s side as his political aide and confidante during the momentous and tragic years leading to the partition of India. Amiya commented at length in his lectures and writings on his father’s ceaseless efforts first to save the unity of India, and when that failed, the unity of Bengal. Amiya recalled his father’s words: “By accepting religion as the sole basis of the distribution of provinces, the Congress has cut itself from its moorings …To accept that concept (ie. of religious or theocratic states) in the year of grace 1947 and to apply it to India will mean pushing her back into the medieval ages” (press statement, 15 March 1947).

Sarat Chandra Bose also envisaged India as a union of socialist republics. To popularise and propagate this idea, he published The Socialist Republican, a periodical, and a daily newspaper The Nation in 1948. He also published Mahajati, a Bengali weekly. It was in a signed editorial in The Nation that Sarat Chandra Bose had urged East Pakistan to join the Indian Union as a separate state for the well-being of Bengali Hindus and Muslims as a whole. This editorial was published on 21 February 1950, the day after he passed away.

It was also in The Nation newspaper that Sarat Bose–who never believed that his younger brother Subhas had been killed in the alleged air crash in August 1945– published a full-page story on October 7, 1949, titled ‘Netaji in Red China'. In his interview to the United Press of America the previous day, he had also asserted that the government of India had definite information about Subhas’s presence in China.

The partition of Bengal and Punjab deeply disappointed Sarat Chandra Bose. However, with his indomitable spirit, he undertook sincere efforts during the last few years of his life to:

*finding a lasting solution to the problems created by the partition;

*preparing the country for socialism, based on Subhas Chandra Bose’s post-war programmes;

* uniting the socialist and leftist forces of the country;

*severely, but constructively, criticising the national and international policies of the Congress Government; and,

*establishing the United Nations of South Asia to ensure friendly relations between India and her neighbouring countries.

His efforts reflected a rare broadness of vision, far-sightedness and the perspective of an internationalist. Some of these deserve mention.

Rebuilding of post-Independence India

The originality of Sarat Chandra Bose’s thoughts and radical outlook found reflection in his proposals for the re-building of post-Independence India. In his presidential address at the first conference of the United Socialist Organisation held in Kolkata on October 20, 1949, he presented an eight-point programme for national reconstruction, which emphasised the need for complete independence, and an uncompromising anti-imperialist struggle to achieve it, a thoroughly modern socialist state, large-scale production on a scientific basis for India’s economic regeneration, social ownership and control for both production and distribution, individual freedom for religious worship, equal rights for every individual, linguistic and cultural rights for all sections of Indians, and the application of the principles of equality and social justice in building a new order in free India.

Efforts to establish left unity

Sarat Chandra Bose is also known for his efforts in forging a unity among the Leftists. Both he and Subhas Chandra believed in socialism the nature of which was not compatible with the principles and policies of the Congress. In August 1947, Sarat Chandra Bose formed the Socialist Republican Party, after his long association with the Congress had ended in January, 1947.

In 1949, Sarat Chandra formed the United Socialist Organisation, and sought to bring all the socialist forces of the country on a common platform. He also established a Provisional Left Coordination Committee, and thereafter formed the Left Coordination Council. The Leftist forces responded and rallied behind him so enthusiastically and effectively that he won, with a massive mandate from the electorate, the 1949 by-election for the South Calcutta Constituency (to fill up the vacancy caused by the death of his elder brother Satish Chandra Bose). This victory was in spite of Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel campaigning for the Congress candidate who opposed Sarat Bose.

However, the unity Sarat Chandra Bose had endeavoured to develop among the Leftists never acquired a solid foundation, with his untimely passing away in February, 1950 presumably being a major cause.

Thoughts on India's friendly relations with neighbouring nations

Sarat Chandra Bose contemplated a socialist India with a strong bond of friendship with her neighbours. He proposed that the newly independent South Asian countries form an alliance to safeguard their Independence, promote national development, and defend their neutrality.

Soon after India achieved her independence (i.e. dominion status) on August 15, 1947, Sarat Chandra advocated the setting up of a regional organisation with India, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma and Ceylon as its constituent members. On Burma’s Independence Day on January 4, 1948, he elaborated on the plan for his proposed United Nations of South Asia (U.N.S.A). He said, “The foreign policies of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Burma and Ceylon are bound to affect the positions of one another. If we are to maintain our neutrality, we have to endeavour from now to bring all these countries on a common platform as far as foreign policy is concerned …It will, of course, be necessary for the constituent members of the United Nations of South Asia to have military alliances with one another… It will also help the policy of neutrality”.

Bearing in mind the importance being attached by the government of India at present to the improvement of relations with neighbouring countries, it is important to note that it was Sarat Chandra Bose who had thought in this direction in the late 1940s. 'Deshbandhu' Chittaranjan Das, as the president of the Gaya Congress, had first expressed such ideas of co-operation as early as 1922.

The present-day South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), set up as late as 1985 may, but only to some extent, be considered a case of fulfilment of their dreams.

Sarat Chandra Bose visited Burma in 1949 on an invitation from General Aung San—the well-known Burmese freedom fighter, leader of the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL), and the father of Aung San Su Kyi—for discussions on closer collaboration between Burma and India. He also had contacted Dr Ba Maw who played an important role in Burma during the Second World War. These interactions opened up new vistas in his plans for the unity and well-being of South Asian countries.

Sarat Chandra Bose’s thinking extended beyond India’s immediate neighbours. Always a supporter of movements for liberation and independence everywhere, he hailed the liberation movement in China under Mao Tse Tung, and in 1947, appealed to all freedom-loving nations to support the Vietnamese freedom struggle. He stood for the unity of Asia’s south-eastern nations as well. Here, again, it may be noted that the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was set up later in 1967.

Sarat Chandra Bose’s untimely passing away on February 20, 1950 was a serious setback with regard to all his plans and also actions that he had initiated. Until today Sarat Chandra Bose remains little known, though those who knew him (very few of whom are now living) have talked and written about the tremendous impact of the sheer force of his towering and multifaceted personality – from the chambers of the Calcutta High Court, to the floors of the Central and State Assemblies, and in the frontline of the nationalist movement which began in earnest in the early 1920s.

Sarat Chandra Bose’s 131st birth anniversary celebrations on 6 September 2020, affords an opportunity to historians, scholars, researchers, journalists and everyone else to know more about his multifaceted personality and the values that he and his younger brother Subhas Chandra steadfastly upheld throughout their lives.

(The writer is grandson of Sarat Chandra Bose and a BJP leader)

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