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Bipin Chandra Pal biography

Bipin Chandra Pal

(1858-1932)

biography

Bipin Chandra Pal
Bipin Chandra Pal
        Bipin Chandra Pal’s life is an example of vicissitudes and reversals; from an undisputed national hero he was reduced to a non-entity in later life. His is an inspiring tale; his is a tragic tale. In the Swadeshi days of Bengal (1905-1908), he was a fire spitting prophet. Along with Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the trio led the nation and came to be known as ‘LaL, BAL and Pal’.
He gave shape to the political philosophy of India during the first decade of the twentieth century and awakened the nation through his impassioned patriotic Writings and fiery speeches. The same militant nationalist, in later life, underwent a complete transformation and started singing praises of the British Empire. The people, who worshipped him earlier, began to scoff at him and he died unsung and unhonoured. There have been very few Indian nationalists who have suffered as Bipin Chandra did in later life. His rise was meteoric; so was his downfall.
Bipin Chandra Pal was born in a village in Sylhet district (now in Bangladesh) on 7 November 1858. His family was quite well-off, his father being a Zamindar. He was the only son of his parents but had a sister Kripa. Bipin learnt the three Rs from his father and was then sent to an English school in 1866 in Sylhet, followed by two missionary schools. He passed the entrance examination of the Calcutta University in 1874, at the age of sixteen. The following year, he went to Calcutta for higher studies, joining the prestigious Presidency College. He was not a good student and was not interested in studies and failed twice in the First Arts examination. This was the end of his formal education but his self-education continued. He had developed a taste for reading, thus acquiring notable literary competence, and equipping himself` for his future tumultuous life.
In spite of his incomplete formal education, he started his career as a headmaster of a high school in Cuttack in 1879 as his grasp of various subjects was extraordinary. But he was a restless being and went 0n Changing jobs, working as headmaster in several schools one after another: Sylhet (1880), Bangalore (1881) and Habiganj (1886). For a year and a half, he acted as librarian and secretary of the Calcutta Public Library (1890-91).
     While studying in Calcutta, he had come in Contact with Brahmos like Keshab Chandra Sen (Whose biography he wrote in 1893). He was much influenced by the philosophy of Brahmo Samaj and joined the organization, antagonizing his orthodox father, and was temporarily alienated from his family. However, before his death in 1886, his father forgave him and reconciled with him. The philosophy and doctrines of Brahmo Samaj had influenced Bipin Chandra’s personal life to a great extent. In December 1881, at the age of twenty-three, he married a widow out of his caste, and after the death of his first wife in 1890, he again married a widow out of his caste, which showed the strength of his character, as such marriages were quite rare at the time.
     Bipin Chandra started using the power of his pen early in life as a journalist. He wrote articles for several journals published in Bengal and also worked for several of them and founded more than one. His first journalistic venture was a Bengali weekly Paridarshak which he published from Sylhet at the age of twenty-two in 1880. It did not survive for long. He worked in the Tribune, Lahore during 1887-88. Like in his teaching career, in journalism too, he did not stick to one place or to one journal for long. He started an English weekly, New India, in 1901. In 1906, he started his most significant journalistic enterprise Bande Matram, an English daily paper, with Aurobindo Ghose as its editor. These were the turbulent anti-partition agitation days and Bande Matram played a momentous role in spreading the message of swadeshi, boycott, passive resistance and Swaraj in Bengal. The Bande Matram leaped into popular favour almost in a day, and soon achieved for itself a remarkable position in the field of Indian journalism_ No newspaper that we know of, has evoked such passionate personal enthusiasm as the Bande Matram did during its short tenure of life"
To spread the message of swadeshi, passive resistance et al to wider audiences, Bipin Chandra undertook a tour of Bengal, Assam, U.P. and the most memorable one of Madras, in 1907, and emerged as a national hero. He was one of the most forceful speakers of the time and the government had begun to fear him. The report of the Intelligence Branch reported: “He (Bipin Chandra Pal) is a good speaker and has the power of carrying his audiences with him, and the aftereffects of this man’s visits to different centers are nearly always more in evidence, than when other agitators have taken the lead. Oratory had never dreamed of such triumphs in India; the power of the spoken word had never been demonstrated on such a scale, observed Srinivasa Shastri after listening to one of his speeches in Madras in 1907. Lord Minto, the viceroy acknowledged in his Confidential Minutes dated 3 May 1907, that, lecturing as practiced by Bipin Chandra was far more dangerous than any number of newspaper articles."
The year 1907 brought fresh laurels for Bipin Chandra when he voluntarily courted arrest and imprisonment in connection with the Bande Matram sedition case, in which Aurobindo Ghose, the editor of the paper, was being prosecuted. Bipin Chandra was summoned as a witness but he refused to give evidence. He was charged with contempt of court and sentenced to six months imprisonment. When Bipin Chandra was released from jail after six months on 9 March 1908, the day was widely celebrated throughout the country as a day of rejoicing Meetings, processions, illuminations and fireworks were witnessed at several places. This gave a great impetus to the swadeshi movement and everything else for which Bipin Chandra stood for.
Bipin Chandra visited England thrice; each time with a different purpose. He went to England for the first time in 1898, for theological studies, on a scholarship granted by the British and Foreign Unitarian Association which was working in tandem with the Brahmos in India. But he gave up the scholarship after a year and used his stay in England to preach Hindu theism and to carry out propaganda for his country. At the invitation of the national Temperance Association of New York, Bipin Chandra visited U.A. on a four month lecture tour. In 1900, he returned to India as a fiery nationalist; and for the next eight years, he led, along with Aurobindo Ghose and others, the national movement in Bengal which inspired the whole country, as stated above.
His second visit to England was in 1908. His trip was sponsored by Shyama ji Krishna Varma, a revolutionary working in England, and later in France. This time Bipin Chandra stayed in England for three years, making scores of speeches and writing articles for papers. The tenor of his speeches and writings underwent a sea change. He started condemning the cult of violence and terrorism, and was convinced that it was in the interest of India to be part of the British Empire. He often said that if a choice was to be made between absolute but isolated sovereign independent India; and an equal partnership with Great Britain and her colonies in the present association called British Empire, he would definitely prefer the second alternative. Krishna Varma, who had sponsored his trip to England to join the band of revolutionaries, was deeply hurt by the change his thinking and called it a good example of Indian apostasy. While in England, Bipin Chandra started at least three newspapers IndiaIndian Sociologist and Indian Student one after the other, but all these faded away for want of funds as all these were extremely moderate in tone. On his return to India in 1911, Bipin Chandra tried to propagate his views about the ‘theory of the Empire’ idea, and he even started a monthly journal the Hindu Review in 1913 for the same purpose, but without much success. Sensing the growing antagonism to him and his Empire Idea, he tried to retrieve the situation by joining the Home Rule League of Tilak and Annie Besant, and also rejoined the Congress which he had left after the arrest of Tilak in 1908.
The third time Bipin Chandra went to England was as a member of the Congress and Home Rule League delegation led by Tilak in 1918. During this visit, his views about the Empire idea notwithstanding, Bipin Chandra was very much concerned about the economic exploitation of India by the British and spoke on the subject while in Britain. He returned to India in 1919 and summed up his ideas in the book The New Economic Menace to India (1920).
When Gandhi started the Non-Cooperation movement in 1920, he, like Annie Besant, Madan Mohan Malaviya and others, opposed it and did not join the movement. Bipin Chandra’s opposition was essentially due to the fact that the main plank of the movement was the Khilafat cause. He warned the nation that it had nothing to do with the freedom movement and that it would strengthen the cause of pan-Islamism which posed a grave danger for the future of India. He also believed that one reason for his advocating the Empire idea was to meet the challenge of pan-Islamism. The Empire idea, he believed, could provide an effective remedy for this evil.
In 1921, Bipin Chandra presided over the Bengal Provincial Conference held at Barisal. He spoke against the Non-Cooperation movement of Gandhi who had promised Swaraj in one year. The erstwhile idol of the people was hooted out. His words that I do not know magic, but I know logic, implying that Gandhi did not have a logical programme, blew him up." After that, he almost retired from public life. The last eleven years of his life were spent in poverty, isolation and misery. The change of tide overwhelmed the man and he died unsung and unhonoured on 20 May 1932. Gandhi did not write an obituary after his death, as was his wont, though he had borrowed much from his adversary, including the concept and philosophy of swadeshi and boycott.
Bipin Chandra was a prolific writer, besides being a compulsive journalist. Some of his books are: The New Spirit (1907), The Spirit of Indian Nationalism (1910), The Soul of India (1911), The New Economic Menace to India (1920) and Memoirs of My Life and Times, (1932).

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