पृष्ठ

Chitta Ranjan Das

Chitta Ranjan Das

(1870-1925)

biography

         Ranjan Das was born on 5 November 1870 at Calcutta as the eldest son and the second child of Bhuban Mohan Das and Nastarini Devi. His father was a solicitor of the Calcutta High Court with a handsome income. Bhuban Mohan was a strong supporter of the Brahmo Samaj and edited the monthly Brahmo Public Opinion (later changed to Bengal Public Opinion) and was also the
author of some books. Bhuban Mohan was of a very generous disposition and could not help spending money on the poor and people in distress. In the process he incurred debt which he could not clear and was declared insolvent by the court. It was for his son Chitta Ranjan to clear the debt later in life.
chitta ranjan das

Chitta Ranjan received his early education in the London Missionary Societies Institution at Bhawanipur, and passed the entrance examination in 1885, as a private candidate. He graduated from Presidency College in 1890. The same year, he left for England to study law and to sit for the Indian Civil Service examination. He missed clearing the ICS by a narrow margin. He had joined the Inner Temple and was called to the Bar in 1894. Returning to India, he started practicing as a barrister in the Calcutta High Court. However, when he was still trying to establish himself at the Bar, pressure was brought to bear upon him by his father’s creditors to clear the debt and finding it difficult for him to redeem the liability, he too was declared insolvent.
         In 1897, he was married to Basanti Devi at the age of seventeen and led a happy married life. The Couple had two daughters and a son: Aparna (1898), son Chira Ranja (1899) and daughter, Kalyani (1901).
Before he was involved in law and later politics, his genius was revealing itself in poetry and literature. He inherited the literary trait from his father and was also inspired by Bankim Chandra. His first literary work was Malancha (1895), a collection of poems. Then followed Mala, also an anthology of his poems published in 1902; Sugar Sangeet (1911); Antaryami (1914) and Kishore-Kishori (1915). Some of these verses were rendered into English by Chitta Ranjan himself with the help of Aurobindo Ghose. In 1914, Chitta Ranjan started a literary journal, Narayan, with which were associated a number of eminent literary persons. He kept in constant touch with important literary organizations and people in the country, including Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra. He presided over the Bengal Literary Conference in î915. He was one of the founders and a member of the editorial board of Bande Matram started by Bipin Chandra Pal.
Like many other leaders Das took part in the Swadeshi movement started after the partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905. He had also become member of the Anushilan Samiti, a secret society working under the guidance of Aurobindo, Sister Nivedita, P. Mitra and Jatindranath Banerjee.
As a lawyer, success came gradually. The turning point in his legal career came when he was called upon to defend Sri Aurobindo in the famous Alipur Bomb Case in which Aurobindo was implicated for waging war against the King. This is the historic case during the freedom movement and Chitta Ranjan encountered with courage all obstacles and established himself as a barrister par excellence. His elocution originated, as if from Divine Essence, his vast learning, wisdom and foresight were amply vivid in the Concluding remarks of his arguments; “Long after this turmoil, this agitation ceases, long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as a poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism, and the lover of humanity. Long after he is dead and gone, his words will be echoed and re-echoed not only in India but across the distant seas and lands. Therefore, I say that the man in his position is not only standing before the Bar of this court but before the Bar of the High Court of history”. Never has such eloquence been matched in Indian courts. It has become a classic and has been repeatedly quoted. Das pleaded for eight days, and Aurobindo was acquitted by the Court of Appeal in May 1909. This elevated Das to the rank of a legal luminary and paved the way for a roaring practice. Success followed success and many were the sensational cases in which he served as a counsel, even outside Bengal, including the Dumraon Adoption Case in 1910. Consequently, he built up a large and lucrative practice and started living like a ‘prince’. In 1913, he followed the unusual procedure of applying for the annulment of the insolvency order and cleared his father’s and his debts. This is only one of the instances of the magnanimity and large-»heartedness which he showed during his life. The other most conspicuous court cases were those revolutionaries and freedom fighters: Maniktola Bomb Case, Decca Conspiracy Case, Delhi Conspiracy Case (1914). He did not charge any fee in pleading these cases. He would even bear the travelling and other expenses, while going to plead for such cases.
His entry in active politics began in 1917, when he presided over the Bengal Provincial Conference held in April that year in Calcutta. Soon, Das became the leader of the Extremist group of the Congress in Bengal. When the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms were announced in August, 1917, the Moderates hailed the reforms and wanted to give them a trial but the Extremists opposed. At both the Special Congress session (Bombay, August 1918) and AICC session (Delhi. December, 1918), C.R. Das took the lead in moving the resolution, denouncing the reforms as ‘inadequate, unsatisfactory and disappointing’, demanding full Provincial Autonomy instead. In the autumn of 1919, Das went to Punjab as a member of the Enquiry Committee appointed by the Congress to investigate into the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy and the working of martial law in Punjab. Das stayed in Punjab for three months, bearing all the expenses himself.
When Gandhi announced his historic Non-Cooperation Movement at the Special Session of the Congress at Calcutta in September 1920, where Lajpat Rai presided, CR. Das led those who opposed Gandhi’s proposal. He was supported by Bipin Chandra Pal. Madan Mohan Malaviya and Annie Besant. He was particularly opposed to the boycott of the Councils. Three months later, at the annual session of the Congress held in December, 1920 at Nagpur, C.R. Das made up his differences and endorsed Gandhi’s standpoint, after his heart to heart talk with him. Das also declared at the session that he would give up his practice at the Bar. Returning to Calcutta, he did give up his roaring legal practice and renounced all comforts and luxuries. The whole country was moved at this supreme act of sacrifice and his reward was the title which his admirers gave him, Deshbandhu (friend of the country). Dass example in giving up legal practice was followed by some other lawyers in the country. Das now put his heart and soul to making the Non-Cooperation Movement a success. He toured East Bengal to arouse people for noncooperation. He helped organize district Congress Committees throughout Bengal. In February 1921, he set up a National College at Calcutta, which was inaugurated by Gandhi. Thousands of miles away from home, a young man was inspired by the sacrifice made by C.R. Das and wanted to work with him, resigning from ICS apprenticeship. He was Subhas Chandra Bose, who wrote to Das from Cambridge on 16 February 1921. After introducing himself and his family, Subhas wrote, I should like to know what work you may be able to allot to me in this great programme of national service. Subhas Bose came back to India and started working under the leadership of C.R. Das. They formed a formidable team and would have given an alternative leadership to the country had Das not prematurely died after four years.
During the visit of the Prince of Wales in November 1921, which was boycotted by the Congress, C.R. Das organized a volunteer corps to protest against the visit and to court arrest for violating the ban on demonstrations. In the first batch of volunteers, his only son Chira Ranjan, was arrested on 4 December 1921, and was sentenced to six months imprisonment. This was followed by the arrest of C.R. Dass wife Basanti Devi and sister Urmila on 7 December. Other arrests included those of Subhas Chandra Bose and his own arrest on 10 December. His wife and sister were released soon after but Subhas and C. R. Das were imprisoned for six months. These arrests were made by the government in a bid to avert the general hartal proposed for 24 December 1921, the day of the visit of Prince of Wales. Incidentally, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy and governor-general of India, was ADC of the Prince of Wales on his visit to India. While still in prison, CR. Das was elected president of the Ahmadabad session of the Congress to be held in December, 1921. The government did not allow him to attend the session. His presidential address was read by Sarojini Naidu, while Hakeem Ajmal Khan presided.
Gandhi had started the N on-Cooperation Movement formally on 1 August 1920 and suspended it on 24 February 1922 without consulting any one. After the Ahmadabad Congress session, Gandhi had announced mass civil disobedience in Bardoli, a taluka in Gujarat. But before it could be started Gandhi withdrew it, again without consulting anyone. C.R. Das was upset. So were many Congress leaders. Subhas Bose, who was in the same jail with CR. Das describes how his mentor was upset with Gandhi’s sudden decision and was beside himself with sorrow and anger at the way Mahatma was repeatedly bungling.
On release from jail in August 1922, Das was unanimously elected president of the Gaya Congress (December 1922), where he sought to change the strategy of the nom-cooperation movement and pleaded for ‘Council entry’ as a tactical measure. lt was evident to everyone that the programme of boycott of Councils, courts and educational institutions had failed. All these bodies continued to run as before. Gandhi could notwin freedom for the country in one year. Still, when CR. Das moved a resolution for council entry in the Congress session, it was defeated by the followers of Gandhi, now called ‘no-changers’. CR. Das resigned in disgust from the Congress and along with Motilal Nehru, formed the Swaraj Party. CR. Das went around the country, starting with Bengal, propagating the reason for entering the councils to thwart the government from within. More and more people were turning towards the Swaraj Party as an alternative to the Congress, which had miserably failed. Ultimately, seeing the writing on the wall, Gandhi yielded and in the special session of the Congress at Delhi in September 1923, the Party was declared as the ‘parliamentary wing’ of the Congress.
During the November 1923 elections, the Swaraj Party swept the elections in Bengal and in some other provinces, as well as in the Central Legislative Council. By mutual agreement, it was decided that Motilal Nehru will lead the Swarajists in the Central Assembly and G_R. Das in the Bengal Legislative Council. The obstructive tactics of the Swaraj Party were a great embarrassment for the government and in many instances; the Viceroy had to use his powers to get things done. In the field of journalism too, the Swarajists made much progress. Das launched a daily paper, forward, in October 1923. Subhas was asked to look after the affairs of the paper. “Within a short time forward carne to hold a leading position among the nationalist journals in the country. Its articles were forceful, its news service varied and up-to-date and the paper developed a special skill in the art of discovering and exposing official secrets".
In 1924, Das was elected the first mayor of Calcutta with Subhas Bose as the executive officer of the Calcutta Corporation. Das was elected mayor for the second time in April 1925. The last AICC session attended by Das was the Belgaum session in December 1924, which Gandhi presided. There was complete reconciliation between the Swarajists, led by CR. Das and Motilal Nehru and Gandhi. Later, CR. Das presided Over the Bengal Provincial Conference held at Faridpur on 2 May 1925.
CR. Das donated his palatial house at Bhawanipur, Calcutta, to the nation and it was turned into a charitable hospital for Women, known as Chitaranjan sewa Sadan.
Since the early months of 1925, Das was suffering from a poor state of health and while trying to recuperate at Darjeeling, he suddenly died on 16 June 1925. His body was brought to Calcutta for the last rites, attended by hundreds of thousands of wailing Indians, including Gandhi. The whole country plunged into grief. “Though his active political career consisted of barely five years, his rise had been phenomenal. With a reckless abandon of' a Vaishnava devotee, he had plunged into the political movement with heart and soul and he had given not only himself but his all in the fight for Swaraj. When he died, whatever worldly possessions he still had, were left to the nation. He was clear headed, his political instinct was sound and unerring and unlike the Mahatma, he was fully conscious of the role he was to play in Indian politics”. Subhas Bose had lost his mentor. In future he had to fight his political battles single-handed against powerful foes.

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