26 Apr 2009

Objective History in Four Lessons by Prithwindra Mukherjee

[Dr Prithwindra Mukherjee has recently been awarded the Chevalier in the Order of Arts & Letters by the Ministry of Culture, France (2009). An expert on the pre-Gandhian Indian revolutionary movement (1893-1918), and author of a PhD thesis supervised by Raymond Aron, he points out errors galore in Heehs' so-called scholarship, especially with regard to Bagha Jatin (Jatin Mukherjee), who was Dr. Prithwindra's grandfather.]


A recent enterprise in the West is to discredit India’s spiritual message by a vulgar and charlatan process of psychoanalysis, reducing age-old images of sanctity into clinical cases of sexual perversion, libelling spiritual experiences as “subjective (…), only hallucinations or signs of psychotic breakdown. Even if not, do they have any value to anyone but the subject ?” [1] While exploring Sri Aurobindo’s political career, drawing benefit from the light and shade of the secret societies that had cropped up under the Leader’s radical influence, one such biographer took himself to be the dispenser of the Destiny presiding over Indian historiography and suppress some significant militants, while ushering into limelight minor or undeserving dramatis personae.

In The Lives of Sri Aurobindo by Peter Heehs, singling out blatant instances of such a dishonest manoeuvre that are directly related to a topic on which I have been working since 1955 – pre-Gandhian freedom movement in British India (1893-1918) – I bring them to the notice of interested readers. The book was to be re-printed by Penguin India in November 2008, before it was stopped by a red signal from the Orissa Hight Court. Some of the conclusions, as mentioned in the petition are: “Aurobindo’s character, life, writings and thoughts did not hold integrity”, “He possesses a morally loose character”, “his claims to spiritual expression and realization [are] questionable and irrelevant” and that “his spirituality emerges from a streak of inherited madness.” [2]


Hagiographers deal with documents the way retouchers deal with photographs.” [3]

Invited by the late Jayantilal Parekh to visit the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives that he had just launched, and introduced to Peter Heehs – one of his assistants , - I was to know the latter off and on, for about twenty years. Heehs had consulted me about material in my possession, concerning the relationship between Sri Aurobindo and Jatindra Nath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin), my grandfather. In April 1995, Heehs had presented me a copy of his The Bomb in Bengal (1993 edition) with a friendly and generous acknowledgment : “To Prithwin/ from whose work/ I benefitted (sic!) in writing/ this, in the hopes that/ it will be of some/ use to him.” I was amused to see that his usual “Prithwin-da” [4] had already turned into “Prithwin” while dedicating this work.

On returning to Paris, I sent him a detailed letter on 8 May 1995, congratulating him for an overall happy result of his painstaking research. At the same time, I took the liberty of suggesting some minor changes, such as : (a) his classifying Kanailal Datta among the weaver-caste (p.192) : Datta – with its variants Dutta, Dutt - is a respectable name from the Kayastha caste (to which Sri Aurobindo belonged) ; (b) Minto’s friend “Rasbehari Bose” : it should have been Ghose (p.220); (c) notes 27 and 29 on p.295 referred to the Bengalee, February 1908 : it was 1909. More to Peter’s displeasure, I reminded him that unlike the American usage, the English noun ‘practice’ usually becomes ‘practise’ as a verb whereas – I pointed out to him - on p.72, footnote, he chose “to practice” and a few lines above he wrote “Aurobindo began practising”, just as on p.136 “to practise yoga”, before falling back to “practicing yoga”.

The other notes – certainly according to his expectation - concerned obviously Jatindra Nath Mukherjee. Verifying with and referring to “most authoritative sources” including some of my publications, Heehs had mentioned him altogether seven times :

Item 1 (p.52) :

Sri Aurobindo “had a more significant meeting with Jatindra Nath Mukherjee. A handsome young man whose ‘stature was like that of a warrior’, Jatin excelled in physical activities and was practically fearless. He earned his nickname, ‘Bagha Jatin’, by single-handedly killing a leopard (chitra-bagha) with a knife… After his meeting with Aurobindo and Jatin Banerjee [in 1903], Jatindra Mukherjee became one of the most active revolutionaries in Bengal.”

The very first point I raised was about “the leopard” : Peter in his Bibliography (Secondary Sources) had included Two Great Indian Revolutionaries (1966) by Uma Mukherjee. I informed Peter that no blood relation of Jatindra’s and somewhat biased against him, this author had, however, investigated honestly on Jatindra’s “courageous feat of killing a Royal Bengal Tiger with a dagger” (p.167) : in a footnote she admitted clearly, “The skin of the striped Bengal tiger (not leopard)… as well as the dagger with which it was killed was presented to Dr Suresh Prasad Sarbadhikari… Dr Kanak Sarbadhikari, son of Dr Suresh S. and at present Principal of the Calcutta Medical College, has stated… that his father who was then the leading surgeon of Calcutta took upon himself the responsibility for curing that fatally wounded patient whose whole body had been poisoned by the tiger’s nails.” (p.168)[5]

I ignore if Heehs – grown whimsically fond of his chitra-bagha - ever cared to modify his idiosyncrasy even apropos of this minor historical fact in the light of such irrefutable data. I was warned, all the same, that – as it will be seen later - the great historian suffers from an acute allergy to all critical observation.

Item 2 (p.195) :

The “revolutionary swami” [Jatin Banerji] kept his interest in the struggle, advising in later years “terrorists (sic!) like” Jatindra Mukherjee et al. I thought it charitable to inform Heehs that JB was hardly one year older than JM. Sorry for the injustice Barin Ghose had done to JB, out of sympathy and esteem JM had been in touch with this senior colleague and, in return, desirous to extend the Jugantar into a Pan-Indian movement, had derived timely collaboration from JB who commanded a great influence in Upper India.

Item 3 (p.221):

Released from prison, Sri Aurobindo published the Karmayogin in June [1909]: drifting from their initial spiritual slant, his speeches and writings became more explicitly political. Quoting an official document, Heehs wrote: “Simultaneously, he began quietly to rebuild the revolutionary network, encouraging leaders like Jatin Mukherjee and Satish Bose to continue recruitment, training and, when possible, action.” [6] Facts as they stand cannot justify, however, this bringing together of Jatin Mukherjee and Satish; the latter no more played any active part at this crucial turning point.

Item 4 (p.227):

[On 24 January 1910] the “hated detective” Shamsul Alam was shot dead by Birendra Nath Dattagupta. I may remind the readers that as an adequate counterpoint to the more and more fierce series of repressions from the Government, and to secure adequate defence for the patriots under trial, in Calcutta as well as in the districts, Jatindra enacted like a fireworks pageant a successive number of daring assaults in broad daylight : quite a few “outrages” (in 1908 : on 2 June and 29 November; in 1909 : on 27 February, 23 April, 16 August, 24 September and 28 0ctober), an attempt to murder the Lt Governor of Bengal (7 November 1908). [7] After the successful assassination of the Prosecutor Ashutosh Biswas (10 February 1909) came the turn of the Deputy Commissioner Shamsul Alam : both these officers were known for their zeal to get the capital punishment for most of the accused, including Sri Aurobindo.

In fact, few historians have attached enough importance to the fact that on 21 January 1910, Shamsul had received green light for arresting or re-arresting all those who were accused by Benga, a well-informed revolutionary turned approver, bought over by Shamsul. Taking into consideration a sample of some of Heehs’ “inadvertent” versions of presenting facts, I shall have to reiterate often an obvious example : Jatindra’s directing Satish Sarkar (who had accompanied Birendra) to tell Sri Aurobindo that the mission was over. Heehs’s Version 1 held: “According to Nolini Kanta Gupta, Aurobindo was ‘very happy’ when he received the news.” [8] Taken into custody and tortured, Birendra, the young excutor of Jatindra’s will for the Shamsul mission, made a clean breast of it and realised the blunder too late, shortly before he was hung. Jatindra was arrested.

Readers may remember that Sri Aurobindo, in his Bengali reminiscences of the prison days (Karakahini), mentioned that on the very first day of his arrest (2 May 1908), he was to be acquainted with “Maulavi” Shamsul Alam of the detective Police, who was not yet as influential and zealous as he was going to be; he had candidly discussed with the distinguished prisoner about the common essence of Hinduism and Islam, such as A-U-M and A-LA-M, which mean the same principle. This preaching was interspersed with innocent professional remarks like, “It has not been very clever of you to have accepted that your younger brother transformed the garden into a bomb factory.” Alam quoted the most valuable words of his father which had been serving him as guidance during his moral and financial career : “Never neglect the meal that has been served.” Sri Aurobindo narrated it with the comment that the way Alam had been ogling at him led to an impression that Sri Aurobindo himself was that meal. Behind this subtle humour, Sri Aurobindo revealed the course of Shamsul’s ambitious ascent that he had intuitively anticipated.

Item 5 (p.242):

Jatindra Nath Mukherjee – with “more capable hands” than Barin - was the “greatest exponent” of the “loose organisation type” of secret society. Dattagupta mentioned Jatindra Mukherjee and other unnamed leaders (“Aurobindo obviously being one”) as the organiser of the murder plot. Jatindra Mukherjee and forty-six associates were prosecuted in the Howrah Conspiracy Case, a sequel to the Alipore Case. Eventually Jatindra was discharged after a complex trial. Admitting the efficiency of Jatindra Mukherjee’s policy of a decentralised party, Heehs followed the conclusion - already published [9], - and wrote that only six of the forty-six men sent up were convicted : “The Government’s purpose in instituting proceedings was to break the back of the West Bengal organisation. As it turned out this strategy backfired.”(p.245). Heehs explains it as follows :

Item 6 (p.245) :

“During his year-long confinement as an under-trial prisoner, Jatin Mukherjee was able to bring together the ‘disjointed threads of the organization’, becoming after his release the ‘unchallenged leader of a more coherent party’.” [10] In his Report on Revolutionary Organisation, J.C. Nixon mentions how the earliest known attempts in Bengal to promote societies for political or semi-political ends were associated with Barrister P. Mitter, Miss Saralabala Ghosal and a Japanese called Okakura : their activities commenced in Calcutta somewhere about 1900, “and are said to have spread to many of the districts of Bengal and to have flourished particularly at Kushtia, where Jatindra Nath Mukherjee was leader.”[11] Contrary to data available in Nixon’s Report, Heehs maintained an enigmatic silence : (a) about Jatindra Mukherjee’s perfect command over the violence he had initiated [where Gandhiji was to fail, in Chauri Chaura], by suspending all ‘Actions’ for three years following his release; (b) about Jatindra Mukherjee’s “very early” intuition that the imminent outbreak of the War was making ‘the possibility of a revolution a much more tangible thing’; (c) about Jatindra Mukherjee’s meeting the German Crown Prince on visit to Calcutta in 1912 and obtaining the promise that arms and ammunition would be supplied for the planned insurrection.[12]

Item 7 (pp.248-249) :

After his release, Jatindra Mukherjee set himself up as a “law-abiding contractor.” “For the next two (sic!) years he and his associates worked quietly to rebuild the Jugantar organization. Under Jatin’s direction, revolutionaries like Amarendra Nath Chatterjee (a man previously associated with Upendranath Banerjee and Aurobindo Ghose) ) set up dummy (sic!) enterprises in Calcutta and the districts to serve as fronts for the transmission of funds and information. After (sic!) the War broke out Jatindra and his friends laid plans for procuring German money and arms…” On 9 September 1915, the battle at Balasore took place: Jatindra fought and died. He was recognised by the Government as “perhaps the boldest and the most actively dangerous of all Bengal revolutionaries.” / “The discovery of the wartime conspiracies prompted the imperial government to pass the Defence of India Act, under which hundreds of suspected terrorists were interned without trial for the duration of the war.” (The Bomb, p.249)

At this stage, as a conclusion, I learnt that in order to be eligible as informant of an objective historian, one has to be introduced by a respectable channel and – judging from Heehs’ eloquent silence, I presumed - has to prove how helplessly one lacks in all critical faculty.


“Biographers must take their documents as they find them.”[13]

Eager to see the consequences of my lèse majesty before the wrath of a learned champion of objective history, I had to await the Brief Biography of Sri Aurobindo by Heehs, brought out in 1999 by the same Oxford University Press. Requested by the well-known French publishing house Desclée de Brouwer, in 2000 I published my long expected Sri Aurobindo, released enthusiastically by Shri K. Sibal, India’s Ambassador in France. As a fatal irony, an erstwhile Aurovillian was prompted - by God knows who - to rush, translate into French and push-sale the Brief Biography by Heehs, scrubbing all other previous books on Sri Aurobindo as “hagiography”. Did not this sort of spirited exclusivity cause the destruction of the grand library at Alexandria ?

Confirming my apprehension, in his Brief Biography, Heehs - in a masterly hocus-pocus, - felled much of the critical supports of his previous book (The Bomb), in contempt of all available evident facts. As far as my specialised field was concerned, I realised how a turn-coat (“objective”) history-maker could cynically inform his readers – for instance, Heeh’s Version 2 [14] – about the killing of Shamsul Alam by “revolutionaries indirectly (sic!) connected with Aurobindo”.[15] By this blatant lack of cautious esteem for a well-known subject as this (very often badly treated), he proved how unworthy he was of any respect from his readers. And he proved also how glibly – probably apropos of other topics as well - he could dismiss facts as fiction, and entertain fiction as fact.

In quest of a reply to Heehs’ having hastily condemned Jatin Mukherjee as “indirectly connected with Aurobindo”, I brought together several adequate references found in the official British Indian archives; among them was W. Sealy’s most point-blank observation, which seemed to be a thumping slap meant for Peter’s cheeky face : it recorded that Jatindra Nath Mukherjee “worked directly under Arabinda Ghosh” [16]. The coup de grace came from the reminiscences of Suresh Chakrabarti (Moni) : he narrates that shortly before the Shamsul incident, Sri Aurobindo had been learning Tamil. One day, at the Karmayogin office, amused like a school-boy, Sri Aurobindo asked : “Do you know what is Piren-tir naat tattakoptaa ?” He told his dumb-founded listeners: “That is ‘Birendranath Dattagupta’ in Tamil.” [17] Most logically, this statement leads to the hypothesis that Sri Aurobindo was already familiar with the name of the one who was commissioned by Jatin Mukherjee to kill Shamsul Alam. Heehs himself had admitted that Birendranath’s “accomplice Satish Sarkar ran to inform Jatindra Nath Mukherjee, who had arranged the shooting. Jatin directed Satish to the Karmayogin office to tell Aurobindo (…)”[18]

Let us recall that F.C. Daly, DIG, Special Branch (Bengal), in his Note on the Growth of the Revolutionary Movement in Bengal has described Charu Ch. Dutt, Subodh Mullick’s brother-in- law and a Judge of the Bombay Civil Service, “as one of the prime movers of the conspiracy and one of the chief advocates of assassination. It was said by [F.C. Daly’s] informant that in 1907 he took Prafulla Chaki (…) to Darjeeling to throw a bomb at the Lieutenant-Governor, but they were unable to accomplish the deed for want of a suitable opportunity.”[19] As a complementary item, Moni’s book further states that while at Darjeeling, his friend Prafulla Chaki had approached Jatin Mukherjee for killing the Lt Governor. “That was the first occasion he had of meeting the famous revolutionary Jatindranath. Jatindranath promised him : ‘In the future I shall personally help you in this mission. Don’t regret. Go back.’ Appointed at the Secretariat of the Lt Governor, Jatin Mukherjee had been then posted at Darjeeling.”[20]


(This split) “marked the end (sic!) of the Bengal secret society. The groups in Calcutta that survived acted alone and without vigour.” [21]

Speaking about the wrangling between Barin and Jatin [Banerji], Heehs informs that in autumn (1904) Sri Aurobindo and Barin went to Deoghar… Letters arrived with fresh complaints against Jatin [Banerji]. Fed up, Aurobindo told Barin : “I can see that nothing will ever come of Bengal.” In The Lives the Jatin who has been mentioned about half a dozen times is Banerji, the unfortunate object of Barin’s hostility. With some success, Sri Aurobindo had tried to “get to the bottom of the conflict”. After this split, the historian Heehs claimed not only the ominous end of the secret society in Bengal but decreed further with self-sufficient authority : “The groups in Calcutta that survived acted alone and without vigour.” Before examining such a bombastic and cynical statement (which is an oversimplified misinformation reeking with malice), the very first question that disturbs us is “Was it really the end of the Bengal secret society ?”

Two other questions arise :

(1) What does he mean by acting alone ?

(2) What does he mean by vigour ?

Ample documents prove that – sensing the anti-Partition agitation in 1905 - Barin went back to Bengal and joined the secret society thriving under Jatin Mukherjee’s men who were neither alone - as far as official records reveal, - nor deficient in vigour. On deputation to the Central Criminal Intelligence Department, G.C. Denham, says in his report on Revolutionary Activities in Benares, that he followed Hrishikesh Kanjilal to Calcutta, in March 1906, when the publication of Jugantar was settled “upon the approval of Barin [Ghose], Bhupen [Datta], Jotin [Mukherjee] and others.”[23] Heehs may note that Nixon’s Report recorded that in the early part of 1906 there existed, other than the Jugantar : (1) The Calcutta Anushilan Samiti (with its branch in Dacca, under Pulin Das); (2) The Chhatra Bhandar; (2a) The Chhatra Bhandar mess; (3) the Atmonnati Samiti.[24] Nixon gave an interesting picture of how these groups came to exist and thrived.

The central secret society is recorded to thrive as well and had at last its successive headquarters at the Jugantar office in Calcutta : (1) in the area called Champatola : 27 Kanailal Dhar Lane (March 1906 to October 1907); (2) in the area called Maniktola [25] (November 1907 to April 1908); (3) in Deoghar : Seal’s Lodge [26] (January to April 1908); (4) in the area called Bhawanipore [27] (March to April 1908); (5) in the area called Shyambazar : 15 Gopimohan Datta Lane (April 1908). Sri Aurobindo had knowledge of all these centres.[28]

W. Sealy in his Connections with Bihar and Orissa, described Barin Ghose’s bomb factory at Seal’s Lodge near Deoghar and added : “Jatin Mukharji[29] visited the place also and left his family there on one occasion.”[30] Jatin Mukherjee’s close associate Bhavabhushan Mitra led there a very active life, as a link between Jatin and Barin. Hemendra Prasad Ghose, too, was a member of the centre in Deoghar where Jatin and Barin worked with their associates. Even Barin’s mother, Swarnalata Devi, volunteered to keep a watch on the bomb factory inside her cottage, with a sword.[31] It is further known that as “Sri Aurobindo’s direct contact” Jatin organised and led secret societies in the districts, up to Darjeeling.[32] The same source also confirms that Jatin Mukherjee backed the publishers of the Jugantar.[33] The List of Political Suspects in Bengal, upto 1912 records at this juncture four addresses for Jatindra Nath Mukherjee : (1) Koya, Kumarkhali, Nadiya; (2) Carstairs Town, Deoghar, Sonthal Parganas; (3) 59 Beniatola Street, Calcutta; (4) 275 Upper Chitpur Road, Calcutta.[34]

Nixon in his Report on Revolutionary Organisation identified the Maniktola Garden as the centre of the Jugantar party towards the end of 1907, “with its network of branch societies throughout Bengal… Of these branch societies, it is necessary to mention four (…): (1) Midnapore, led by Satyendra Basu; (2) Kushtia, led by Jatindra Nath Mukharjee; (3) Bankura, led by Ram Das Chakrabarti; (4) Chandernagore, led by Charu Chandra Ray.

“…The approaching Indian national Congress to be held at Surat in December 1907 was probably the immediate cue which led to the crop of outrages which now followed.”[35]

Truly speaking, in December 1906, at Raja Subodh Mullick’s house, during the session of the Congress in Calcutta, there was a historic conference of the revolutionary leaders, presided over by P. Mitter and attended by Sri Aurobindo. In addition to Subodh Mullick, were present Abinash Chakrabarty, Bhupendra Nath Datta (Vivekananda’s brother), Indra Nandi, Annada Kaviraj; among the important leaders who represented the districts figured Jatindra Nath Mukherjee and his uncle Lalitkumar Chatterjee (Nadia), Jnan Basu (Midnapore), Bireshwar Mukherjee (Jessore), Paresh Lahiri (Mymensingh), Nikhil Ray Maulik and Pulin Das (Dacca). Sri Aurobindo “explained the necessity of money” and admitted that it “could, then, be secured through only dacoity”. He said that money thus obtained “should be regarded as loan from the victims” of such a levy, “to be repaid after independence”. The suggestion was accepted unanimously. A similar conference was held in 1907 in the same house.”[36]

Nixon continued his survey of the situation in and around Calcutta and stated : “Besides the prominent parties already described, there existed many smaller gangs and samitis mostly owning a nominal attachment to one of the bigger parties and all proud to emulate their examples.”[37] Equally known as Sri Aurobindo’s man and Jatin Mukherjee’s close associate, Nanigopal Sengupta led the “Howrah Gang” “operating in the districts of Hooghly, Howrah and the 24 Parganas, and which had a fair membership towards the end of 1907. It claimed to be directly attached to the main Jugantar party.”[38]

Nixon located at Bhowanipore [Bhavanipore], early in 1908, a party under Bimala Charan De, “which considered its leader to be Jatindra Nath Mukherjee… It was this party which later in 1915 led the revolutionary movement (…)”[39] He located “still another party during 1908, at Bhatpara, associated with the name of Jogen Thakur. Under his influence, Bipin Ganguli and the Atmonnati members commenced a series of dacoities in 1913.[40] F.C. Daly, D.I.G. of the Special Branch, in his Report, noted that a new gang commenced operations on the Eastern Bengal State Railway, from June 1908 (soon after the arrest of the Maniktola conspirators) till April 1909. Bombs used were all cocoanut shells “with a mixture of sulphide of arsenic and chlorate of potash… highly dangerous… Bits of broken glass, nails, pins of jute combs, etc. were stuffed into the bombs (…) A gang of Brahmins of Bhatpara, near Naihati… [was] led by a person named Norendra Nath Bhattacharji.”[41] Recruited by the restless Vedic scholar Mokshada Charan Samadhyayi, Norendra turned out to be one of the close associates of Mokshada’s friend Jatin Mukherjee; he was to become M.N. Roy, known all over the world. Shortly before the arrests in the Alipore case, under the patronage of Munsif Abinash Chakrabarti and Jatin Mukherjee, Nikhilesvar Ray Maulik took over the control of the Jugantar newspaper and shifted the Press at 68 Maniktola Street, where he lived with Kartik Datta, one of the chief workers of the paper. With Keshab Chandra De, he was the brain behind the throwing of vitriol on the Police during the E.I. Railway strike in 1906. On 23 June 1908, when Nikhilesvar was arrested, Kartik took over the control of the party, issued the Jugantar leaflets with a detailed method of manufacturing picric acid bombs. He shifted the Press to 28 Shampukur Street and took a house in Chetla for the rendez-vous of the party members. Mokshada acted as its adviser. In September they moved to a house near Chandernagore.[42]

With the break up of Kartik Datta’s group, the Howrah party led by Nanigopal Sengupta came into prominence.

It has been pertinently observed that the arrest of the Maniktala group and the punitive “measures only made the terrorists (sic!) change their policy. Though the samitis had been carrying on their legally objectionable activities in secret, they had flourished openly as patriotic associations till the end of 1908. From 1909 they went wholly underground and their history became shrouded in a darkness…”[43] According to Nixon, at about 1910, the Province was said to be divided up as follows:

(1) Calcutta (led by Indranath Nandi); (2) 24 Parganas, Howrah & Huughli (Nanigopal Sengupta); (3) Rajshahi, Nadia, Jessore & Hooghly (Jatindra Nath Mukherjee); (4) Nator, Dighapatiya & Jamalpur (Satish Sarkar); (5) Mymensingh, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Jamalpur & Cooch Behar (Amaresh Kanjilal); (6) Berhampur & Murshidabad (Suren Chakabarti).[44]

Disapproving Barin’s centralised organisation (pattern to be followed by the Dhaka Anushilan) and his untimely terrorism in a spirit of showdown, Jatin Mukherjee had developed a loose confederation of regional groups which proved its merits during prosecutions like the Howrah Gang case. For instance, while managing the groups in Natore, Dighapatiya and Jamalpur under Jatin’s leadership, Satish Sarkar [45] did not know that Amaresh Kanjilal was playing exactly the same role in Mymensingh, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Cooch Behar. “Secrecy was absolute in those days – particularly with Jatin.” [46]

As a wise conclusion, aware of this internal arrangement, Nixon admitted : “Although a separate name and a separate individuality have been given to these various parties (…) it is very clear that the bigger figures were in close communication with one another and frequently accepted members of two or more of these samitis.”[47] This became evident during the consequent Howrah Case (1910-11), which began in 1908.

In the light of these details, can any reader rely on Heehs’ judgment concerning the split between Barin and Jatin Banerji as the end of the Bengal secret society? Or can anybody believe that the groups in Calcutta that survived were doomed to act alone and without vigour ? We learn that the punitive murders arranged by Jatindra Mukherjee “served some purpose.” The District Magistrate of Khulna was struck by the “fear shown by the great majority of the witnesses… It was obvious that many of them spoke with reluctance while a considerable number … made but the slightest effort to identify any of them… The demeanour of the witnesses was a striking testimony to the terror which the gang has inspired.” [48] Let us not forget that on 25 January 1910 (the day after Shamsul was assassinated), Viceroy Minto declared : “A spirit hitherto unknown to India has come into existence (…), a spirit of lawlessness which seeks to subvert (…) British rule…” [49] Overwhelmed, he left the Indian scene. Arrested on 27 January with forty-six major suspects, in the teeth of severe trials in the Howrah Case, Jatin and most of the co-accused got released on 21 February 1911. The newly appointed Viceroy, Hardinge, singling out Jatin as “the real criminal”, regretted the dismantling of the seditious 10th Jat Regiment and wrote : “Nothing could be worse (…) than the condition of Bengal and Eastern Bengal. There is practically no Government in either province…” [50]


“(Biographers) have to examine all sorts of materials, paying as much attention to what is written by the subject’s enemies as by his friends, not giving special treatment even to the subject’s own version of events.” [51]

Recently a well-wishing reviewer of The Lives has used information borrowed from Heehs which claims that Sri Aurobindo “supported armed insurrection” till around 1910 only. By then, “British repression had all but crushed the movement.” [52]

In spite of my audacity for proposing alterations in The Bomb, Heehs has granted, however, one single mention to Jatin Mukherjee in The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, (pp.201-202) : “Since his release from jail, Aurobindo had little to do with the revolutionaries. He advised leaders such as Jatindranath Mukherjee when they approached him, but his position as the country’s most visible Extremist made more active involvement impossible.” After Shamsul’s assassination – Version 3[53] , - “Rather rashly (sic!), Jatindranath told Satish to go to the Karmayogin office to inform Aurobindo. He was, Satish later recalled, ‘very happy’ to hear the news.” Does not the process of retouching photography come to our mind by this artifice of light and shade - rhetorically introduced - by Heehs with his crisp adverbs sugar-coated by an efficient alliteration (“Rather rashly”) ? Forgetful of my interview with Satish (that Heehs had himself mentioned earlier in a footnote referring to an official document[54]), he adds that the information concerning Satish’s mission was given to him by Nolini Kanta Gupta. Memory is indeed selective. Even Heehs nods (out of contempt for his own golden rule that looks down on hagiographers).

Let us not forget, however, that in The Lives a similar feat of compassion, on p.390, had led Heehs-the-David to deign cite only once his redoubtable Goliath of a “biographer” : K.R.S. Iyengar.[55] Several others, less fortunate, have been deprived of this immortality : trivial “hagiographies” by Diwakar, Keshavmurti, Pramode Kumar Sen, Rishabhchand, Sisirkumar Mitra never counted for Heehs-the-Great. Similarly, henceforth deciding to strip Jatin Mukherjee of all possible credit, The Lives has scrupulously dropped all references to such publications as by Arun Chandra Guha[56], Jadugopal Mukherjee, Uma Mukherjee. Unable to resist the temptation of including Sri Aurobindo’s timely advice to Bhupendra Kumar Datta (which determined the Jugantar attitude towards Gandhi in 1920), Heehs has overlooked my publications before finding a second-hand reference.[57] He has altogether kept clear of the track of Yogendra Vidyabhushan who had accommodated Sri Aurobindo in 1903 and had arranged for Jatin Mukherjee’s meeting with him. According to Hemendraprasad Ghose (K.D. Ghose’s nephew and Sri Aurobindo’s colleague on the Bande Mataram staff), Jatin led the Jugantar movement for over a yuga [twelve years].[58]

While Jatin Mukherjee was an under-trial prisoner since January 1910, before leaving Bengal for Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo had left his instruction with Motilal Roy to follow Jatin Mukherjee.[59] Momentarily dejected after his failed attempt to assassinate Viceroy Hardinge in December 1912, Rash Behari Bose with a medical leave had gone to Chandernagore in August 1913 and, immediately, accompanied Roy to the flood relief in Burdwan, to work under Jatin Mukherjee’s guidance.

Roy in his description of Jatin Mukherjee’s eagerness to listen to the account of Sri Aurobindo’s last days in Bengal showed how receptive Jatindra was to the Leader’s instruction.[60] Contact with Jatindra Mukherjee “added a new impulse” to Bose’s revolutionary zeal. In Jatindra Mukherjee, he “discovered a real leader of men.”[61] Several meetings between the two at one of Jatin Mukherjee’s headquarters (the Shramajivi Samavaya[62], a Nationalist enterprise run by Amarendra Chatterjee) led to “a plan of armed rising, modelled on the Rising of 1857, with the help of the British Indian Army.” Contrary to Peter’s pooh-poohing libel (“dummy enterprises”)[63], this group of stores had an immense success since the anti-Partition agitations, as we shall see. Thanks to his emissaries like Panchu Gopal Banerjee and Nikhileshwar Ray Maulik of the Chhatra Bhandar[64], Jatin Mukherjee had a long contact with officers of several regiments and, during the Howrah Case, the entire 10th Jat regiment was dismantled, and some of the officers court-martialled for having tampered with the loyalty of soldiers.

Bose requested Motilal Roy “to pay a personal visit to Pondicherry in order to obtain the blessings of Sri Aurobindo for the contemplated armed rising. Roy left for Pondicherry in September and returned in November 1913 “with the latter’s moral sanction to the cause.”[65]

Three months later, in February 1914, commissioned by Sri Aurobindo, Nolini Kanta Gupta, Saurin Bose (Mrinalini Ghose’s cousin) and Suresh Chakrabarty (Moni) went from Pondicherry to meet Jatindra Mukherjee at the Shramajivi : they were received by Amarendra Chatterjee. On seeing Jatindra coming down the stairs, impatient, Moni greeted him : “Dada, Sri Aurobindo wants you to take advantage of the War and do something.” Quick in observing that the boys from Pondicherry were dogged by two very active CID agents, Jatindra in mock anger cried out : “Go and tell Aurobindo Ghose that Jatin Mukherjee is still in Bengal and does not care for anybody’s advice!” Startled by this unusually histrionic voice and the unexpected choice of words designating Sri Aurobindo, Jatindra’s right-hand man, Atul Ghose, rushed down to appraise the situation.

In October 1963, when I interviewed Atul Ghose in presence of Bhupendra Kumar Datta, Atul explained the situation and wanted me to inform Nolini Kanta about the fact. On getting back to Pondicherry, when I informed Nolini Kanta about the incident, he appreciated the gesture and regretted that he would have liked to learn about it before 1950. Did he mean that the report of this mission could have astonished Sri Aurobindo ? Both Nolini Kanta and Moni in their respective reminiscences were to acknowledge that before they left, Amarendra presented them with a woollen shawl each; Nolini did not forget Amarendra’s affectionate comment : “Payable when able.” Moni was to remember that the one he had received was deep green.[66]

In spite of such a fallacious transmission, however, Sri Aurobindo remained attentive to the developments leading to an armed insurrection under Jatindra Mukherjee, which was going to be the culmination of one of his cherished projects. Nirodbaran confirmed it : “The Force has withdrawn !, commented Sri Aurobindo, following the nirvana of Jatin Mukherjee."[67]

Biographical Notes:

Better known as dreamer of human unity and founder of an integral yoga aiming at the Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was, unanimously, father of a militant nationalist politics which helped the Congress Party wriggle out of its Moderate and loyal practice of petition before demanding a self-rule (Swaraj). Labelled as Extremists, the trio Lal-Bal-Pal [68] supported this revolutionary turn. In 1905, the entire country rose against the Government’s decision to divide Bengal into two provinces in order to minimise the Bengali influence in the colonial administration. Sri Aurobindo seized this opportunity : in addition to an open challenge of boycotting everything British and of passive resistance, he added the dimension of a secret society crowning the movement with an armed insurrection. In 1910, he retired to Pondicherry for concentrating on experiments in spiritual living. In 1914, a French disciple joined him and was recognised as The Mother of the Ashram that developed around them.

Source: Prithwindra Mukherjee, The Asianists’ ASIA, Vol.5 (2008)

Bagha Jatin is a loving nickname people gave to Jatindra Nath Mukherjee (1879-1915), a fearless revolutionary leader. As a college student, desirous to be a monk, Jatindra had approached Vivekananda and had learned that even an honest family man can lead an ideal life : engaged in social relief, under the Master’s influence, he came to work for India’s political freedom as an indispensable condition for man’s spiritual progress. Among founders of secret societies, he took a creative part in Sri Aurobindo’s nationalist programme since 1903, inventing the ‘Extremist’ Jugantar movement.[69] While awaiting shipments of German arms on the coast of Orissa, he was surrounded by a detachment of armed police. Promoting the revolutionary endeavour from the phase of individual martyrdom to the guerrilla, he with his four associates fought and fell in 1915, leaving behind them suitable conditions for an imminent mass movement.

Source: Prithwindra Mukherjee
The Asianists’ ASIA, Vol.5 (2008)

Jayantilal Parekh was born near Surat in 1913. His father was a banker. Jayantilal had an inborn artistic talent. After a year in the Bombay School of Architecture, he entered the art school of Vishwabharati (founded by Rabindranath Tagore) as a student of .Nandalal Bose. While travelling the South in Tagore’s entourage, he visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. After finishing his course in Vishwabharati in 1935, he settled in the Ashram where - along with work of different sorts,- the Mother encouraged him to continue drawing and painting. Jayantilal played a significant role in the development of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, and was the guiding force behind the publication of the Sri Aurobindo Birth Centenary Library. In 1973 he established the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Archives, which continues the work of preserving and publishing the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. In 1995 he initiated the publication of the Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo. In January 1999 he died of a cancer. Jayantilal quietly produced lasting results.

Source: Peter Heehs in The Mother’s Lasso, an Internet site

Peter Heehs, after a brief college life, lived in a New York Yoga centre as a stock boy and taxi driver. He reached Pondicherry in the early 1970s. Asked by Jayantilal “to collect material dealing on the life of Sri Aurobindo, to organise his manuscripts and prepare them for publication.” Making full use of this springboard, Heehs gained momentum as historian, while preparing a so-called authentic biography of the most revered contemporary spiritual figure : Sri Aurobindo. His motivation behind this enterprise becomes obvious when we are told that the very first and warm review of this “biography” was published by one notorious Jeffrey Kripal who seems to be a personal friend of Heehs’.

Source: Peter Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo

Jeffrey Kripal's 1995 book from University of Chicago, Kali's Child: The Mystical and the Erotic in the Life and Teachings of Ramakrishna was a psychoanalytic study of the Bengali mystic Ramakrishna. He argues that "Ramakrishna’s mystical experiences...were in actual fact profoundly, provocatively, scandalously erotic." The book Kali's Child …caused intense controversy among both Western and Indian audiences which still persists unresolved. The deductions of the book Kali's Child have been disputed and argued to have been built on mistranslations, distortion of sources, misuse of tantra, misuse of psychoanalysis and Hermeneutics.

Source : Wikipedia

Prithwindra Mukherjee (Historian, Musicologist, Poet, Philosopher) :

*Born : Calcutta, 1936. Brought up : Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry (1948-1966).

*Studies : (a) “Higher Course”, Pondicherry (1958); (b) Docteur d’Université, Paris Sorbonne (1970); (c) Docteur d’Etat, Paris (1986). *Experience : (a) Teaching languages & literature at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education; (b) Lecturer on Indian Civilisation, University of Paris-INALCO (1974-78); (c) Lecturer on Indian Philosophy, University of Paris XII (1978-81); (d) Part-time Research Scholar at Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient, Paris (1971-81); (e) Author-Producer of Features, Radio-France (1973-81); Full-time Research Scholar at National Centre of Scientific Research, Human & Social Sciences (1981-2003). *Publications: more than 50 books, 350 articles & papers in Bengali, French & English. 12 LPs & CDs, 2 Documentary Films. *Distinctions: (a) French Government Scholarship (1966-70); (b) Fulbright Scholarship (1981); (c) Medal from the Society of Encouragement to Progress, UNESCO (1983); CNRS Bronze Medal, Paris (1986); Sri Aurobindo Award from the Governor of West Bengal (2003); CNRS Special Medal (2003);

Chevalier in the Order of Arts & Letters, Ministry of Culture, France (2009).


[1] Peter Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, Columbia University Press, New York, p.xiv, Preface

[2] Human Relations, 13 November, 2008 : http://humanrelations.blogspot.com/2008/11

[3] Loc. cit

[4] The suffix –da abbreviated from Dada, utilised in Bengal, is a mark of respect for someone senior in age and/ or experience.

[5] Italics by P.M.

[6] GOI HPA September 1909, 56-57

[7] Profuse information supplied by Arun Chandra Guha (First Spark of Revolution), Rowlatt (Report of the Sedition Committee) and Amiya K. Samanta, ed. (Terrorism in Bengal in 6 volumes)

[8] Heehs, The Bomb in Bengal, p.227: in the footnote, Heehs refers to my conversation with Satish Sarkar

[9] Political Trouble in India 1907-1917 by J.C. Ker (p.292), Report of the Committee by S.A.T. Rowlatt (Annexure 1/5) and First Spark of Revolution by Arun Chandra Guha (pp.175-177)

[10] Heehs quoted here as references J.C. Ker (Political Trouble in India 1907-1917) and A.C. Guha (First Spark of Revolution).

[11] Terrorism in Bengal, Amiya K. Samanta (ed.), Government of West Bengal, Calcutta, 1995, Vol. II, p.509

[12] “Nixon’s Report On Revolutionary Organisation” in Terrorism in Bengal, Amiya K. Samanta (ed.), Government of West Bengal, Calcutta, 1995, Vol. II, chapters V (p.544), VIII (p.591), IX (pp.611, 625) etc.

[13] Peter Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, p.xiv, Preface

[14] For Version 1, see Item 4, p.5 of this article

[15] Peter Heehs, Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography, Oxford University Press (India), 1999, p.69

[16] W. Sealy’s “Connections with Bihar and Orissa” in Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. V, p.63 (Italics by P.M.)

[17] Smritikatha, Pondicherry, March 1962, p.32

[18] Peter Heehs, The Bomb in Bengal, p.227

[19] Amiya K. Samanta (ed.), Terrorism in Bengal : A Collection of Documents, Vol. I, 1995, pp.16-17

[20] Suresh Chakra Chakrabarti, op. cit., p.350

[21] PH, The Lives, pp.76-77 (Italics by P.M.)

[22] The Lives, pp.74-77: (Italics by P.M.).

[23] Terorism in Bengal, Vol. V, p.156

[24] Op. cit., Vol. II, p.519

[25] No.32 Muraripukur Road (Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. II, p.513)

[26] W. Sealy gives the full address : “Ghorlas, Raidihi, P.O. Rohini, via Baidtanath, Deoghar”. (Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. V, p.16)

[27] Tegart’s Report on « Calcutta-Baranagar-Howrah Gang » in Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. III, p. 481, gives the address: No. 24 Kansaripara Road (Bhawanipore), where Jatin Mukherjee’s right-hand man Atul Krishna Ghose ran an important mess upto 1915. It continued to be a residence for important members of the secret society.

[28] Girijashankar Raychaudhury, sriaurobindo o bangalar svadeshi yuga, Calcutta, 1956, p.644.

[29] We maintain the variants of spelling (Jatin/ Jotin; Mukherjee/ Mukharjee etc.)

[30] W. Sealy’s Report in Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. V, p.27

[31] W. Sealy’s Report in Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. V, p.20

[32] Home Polit-Progs A, March 1910, No.33-40, quoted by Sumit Sarkar, The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal, 1977, p376

[33] op. cit., pp531-534

[34] Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. V, p.524

[35] Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. II, p.514

[36] First Spark of Revolution, by Arun Chandra Guha, pp116-117. Corroborated by Bhupendranath Datta in dvitîya swadhinata samgram, Navabharat, Calcutta, 1983, pp.168-169. Datta recalls that during the 1906 conference, he enquired about Jatin Mukherjee’s health, convalescing since his bout with the Royal Bengal tiger.

[37] Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. II, p.521

[38] Op. cit, Vol. II, p.522.

[39] Loc. Cit

[40] Nixon cannot hide his anger while writing : “Jogen Thakur is a disreputable relation of the Tagore family, closely connected with the Ramkrishna Mission.” (Op. cit., Vol. II, p.582).

[41] Terrorism in Bengal, Vol. I, pp26-27

[42] Op. Cit. Vol. II, pp.531-532

[43] Hiren Chakrabarti, Political Protest in Bengal, 1992, p.170

[44] Op. Cit., Vol. II, p.534

[45] Known by Sri Aurobindo’s intimates as kanishtha papishtha (‘the junior-most sinner’) [cf autobiographical writings by Suresh Chandra Chakravarti], this man will be commissioned by Jatin Mukherjee on 24 January 1910 to accompany Biren Datta-Gupta at the High Court to assassinate Shamsul Alam and to inform Sri Aurobindo that the mission was successful. Soon after this intimation, Sri Aurobindo will receive the command from within to go to Chandernagore.

[46] First Spark of Revolution, Arun Chandra Guha, Orient Longman, 1971, p163

[47] Op. cit., Vol. II, p.522 (Italics by P.M.)

[48] Political Protest in Bengal, p.173

[49] India under Morley and Minto, M.N. Das, 1964, p122

[50] Hardinge Papers, Book 81, Vol. II, No.231

[51] Peter Heehs, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, p.xiv, Preface

[52] Marcel Kvassay, in AntiMatter, posted by Tusra N. Mohapatra, Savitri Era Open Forum (internet). Italics by P.M.

[53] For Version 2, see at the bottom of p.8 of this article

[54] The Lives, p.440, No. 125, Heehs quotes two Government Proceedings (Home Department, series A, March 1910

[55] Sri Aurobindo’s official biography in 1471pp. (two volumes)

[56] Singled out as “a leading member of Jugantar” (The Bomb, p.243), whose account was certified by Heehs as “representative” and whose examples as “convincing” (p.267)

[57] Gitasree Bandyopadhyay, Constraints in Bengal Politics, 1921-41, Sarat Book House, 1984

[58] « Biplabi Bangala » in Galpa-bharati, kartik 1358 (October, 1951)

[59] Article by Motilal Roy in Anandabazar Patrika, Special Jatin Mukherjee Supplement, Calcutta, 9 September 1947.

[60] Amar dekha biplab o biplabi, Motilal Roy, 1957, p.115

[61] Two Great Indian Revolutionaries, by Uma Mukherjee, p.119

[62] “Working Men’s Cooperative”

[63] The Bomb, p.249

[64] « The Students’ Store », a group of flourishing revolutionary enterprise to sell Swadeshi goods and finance the needs of the secret society, transformed into the Shramajivi.

[65] Uma Mukherjee, loc. cit.

[66] Smritikatha, pp.81-86

[67] « Shishya bhagini nivedita » in Sister Nivedita Birth Centenary Souvenir, Vol. I, p74, Calcutta, 1966. Quoted by Prithwindra Mukherjee in Undying Courage: the Story of Bagha Jatin, Academic Publishers, 1992, p181

[68] Meaning Lala Lajpat Rai from Punjab, Bal Gangadhar Tilak from Maharashtra and Bipin Chandra Pal from Bengal. Tilak alone seemed to appreciate and encourage the Extremist programme

[69] J.C. Nixon of the Intelligence Department opened his Report with the promotion of societies since about 1900 in Calcutta “and are said to have spread to many of the districts of Bengal and to have flourished particularly at Kushtia, where Jatindra Nath Mukharji was leader.” [Report on The Revolutionary Organisations in Bengal]

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