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  Historical Distortions and Indian Revolutionaries  

 

By: Dipak Basu
September 19, 2005
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iews expressed here are author’s own and not of this website. Full disclaimer is at the bottom.

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There were no shortage of pro-British politicians and intellectuals in India before 1947. They used to receive prestige and privilege due to their alliance with the British establishment. Similarly, the intellectuals of India today derive their recognitions and rewards because of their pro-Western attitude, without which they would not be able to publish in Western journals or by the Western publishers and, as a result, would not be recognized. If some academics would assert their independent opinion to pursue the truth, they would be denounced by the Western writers and editors as nationalist, fundamentalist Hindu or communal.

Due to these pressures, some historians of India recently are pursuing a policy to reflect and amplify the Anglo-American opinion, which is hostile towards India and particularly towards the Indian religions. Rewards for the pro-Western intellectuals and politicians are great and punishments for the seekers of truth are most severe. Rakhal Das Banerjee, who has discovered the ruins of Mahenjodaro, was expelled from the Archeological Survey of India as he has demonstrated direct links between the Indus valley civilization and the ancient Hindu civilization, thereby proving the Aryan invasion theory invented by the British colonialists as groundless. Jadunath Sarkar, by enhancing the British idea about the greatness of the Mughal emperors, received Knighthood. Romila Thaper, by repeating what her British tutors told her, received the Kluge Chair in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. in USA. Romesh Chandra Mazumdar, even after completing his monumental works on Indian history, could not get any recognition from the British or American but denounced as a communal historian.

The latest victims of these revisionist pro-British historians are the revolutionaries of India, who had sacrificed their lives for the independence of India. In this article I take up the cases of two very important revolutionaries of India, Mongal Pandey and Virendranath Chattopadhaya, both of them have become victims of the pro-British historians of India. The connection between these two historical figures is very important. Mongal Pandey has started India’s first war of independence in 1857. Virendranath Chattopadhya was instrumental in paving the road for India’s second war of independence started by the Azad Hind Fauz in 1942.

Mongal Pandey: a victim of historical distortion

British historians and their Indian agents have tried to prove that the revolt in 1857 was nothing but a mutiny of some undisciplined, uneducated soldiers, who had caused a lot of chaos and destructions but were unconnected to nationalist movement which came later. According to them, the battle of Plassey in 1757 was a war between the French and the British where the Nawab of Bengal foolishly had supported the French. Similarly, they cannot not see the reason why the Indians who were saved from the ‘thugis’ and ‘sati’ would revolt against the British who did their best to bring civilization to this dark sub-continent.

Mongal Pandey was described, by Rudranshu Mukherjee a very pro-British historian in his book ‘Mongal Pandey – brave martyr or accidental hero’, published by the Penguin Press, as a drunk, characterless person suddenly under intoxications had attacked his superior officer and he had nothing to do with the uprising of 1857. The same description of Mongal Pandey was there also in various history books written by the British historians (Sir Colin Campbell, Narrative of the Indian Revolt. London: George Vickers, 1858; John William Kaye, A History of the Sepoy War In India (3 vols). London: W.H. Allen & Co., 1878; Colonel G.B Malleson, The Indian Mutiny of 1857. New York: Scribner & Sons, 1891).

Although the above description of Mongal Pandey was disputed by Ramesh Chandra Mazumdar (Struggle for freedom, Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1969) and many other notable Indian historians, I will not quote from them, as they are already dismissed by the British historians and their Indian agents as “communal historians”. I am quoting here from Marx and Engels, as they cannot be called ”Hindu fanatics” by any means.

Mongal Pandey according to Karl Marx:

During the revolt of 1857, Karl Marx was writing regularly in the New York Daily Tribune about the progress and the suppressions of that revolt. His description of the Mongal Pandey’s courageous act is as follows:

“On the 22nd of January, an incendiary fire broke out in cantonments a short distance from Calcutta. On the 25th of February the 19th native regiment mutinied at Berhampore; the men objecting to the cartridges served out to them. On the 31st of March that regiment was disbanded; at the end of March the 34th Sepoy regiment, stationed at Barrackpore, allowed one of its men to advance (i.e., Mongal Pandey) with a loaded musket upon the parade-ground in front of the line, and, after having called his comrades to mutiny, he was permitted to attack and wound the Adjutant and Sergeant-Major of his regiment. During the hand-to-hand conflict, that ensued, hundreds of sepoys looked passively on, while others participated in the struggle, and attacked the officers with the butt ends of their muskets.” (Karl Marx on 4 August 1857, New York Daily Tribune).

Thus, Mongal Pandey was not alone; he was not drunk or intoxicated but he was a part of the Sepoys who could not tolerate any more the continuous humiliations or torture of their countrymen by the British.

According to the British historians and Rudranshu Mukherjee Mongal Pandey’s action was unconnected to the subsequent revolt that took place in Meerut much later in 1857. However, according to Karl Marx, the action of Mongal Pandey was the beginning of the revolt, which spread like bonfire after that incident.

Marx wrote, “Subsequently that regiment was also disbanded. The month of April was signalized by incendiary fires in several cantonments of the Bengal army at Allahabad, Agra, Umballah, by a mutiny of the 3rd regiment of light cavalry at Meerut, and by similar appearances of disaffection in the Madras and Bombay armies. (Karl Marx in August 4 1857, New York Daily Tribune).

The cause of the revolt was not just religious taboo or superstitions, as the British historians and their Indian agents have suggested, but torture and humiliations the people suffered in the hands of the army of the East India Company. On August 28, 1857, Marx published an article in The New York Daily Tribune in order to show that “the British rulers of India are by no means such mild and spotless benefactors of the Indian people as they would have the world believe”.

Marx cited the official Blue Books -- entitled "East India (Torture) 1855-57"-- that were laid before the House of Commons during the sessions of 1856 and 1857. The reports revealed that British officers were allowed an extended series of appeals if convicted or accused of brutality or crimes against Indians. Concerning matters of extortion in collecting public revenue, the report indicates that officers had free reign of any methods at their disposal. Marx also refers to Lord Dalhousie`s statements in the Blue Books that there was "irrefragable proof" that various officers had committed "gross injustice, to arbitrary imprisonment and cruel torture".

According to Karl Marx, before this there had been mutiny in the Indian army, but the present revolt is distinguished by characteristic and features. It is the first time that sepoy regiments have murdered their European officers; that “Mussulmans and Hindoos, renouncing their mutual antipathies, have combined against their common masters”; that “disturbances beginning with the Hindoos, have actually, ended in placing on the throne of Delhi a Mohammedan Emperor;” that the mutiny, “has not been confined to a few localities”; and lastly, that “the revolt in the Anglo-Indian army has coincided with a general disaffection exhibited against English supremacy on the part of the great Asiatic nations, the revolt of the Bengal army being, beyond doubt, intimately connected with the Persian and Chinese wars”.

“The ‘unorganized peasants’ of India fought one of the most powerful empires in the world to near defeat with limited resources and even more limited training. It is clear that British interference governments and the oppression of the Indian people, religious and economic, created a bloody revolution”.

“If there is a lesson to be learned from any of this, it is that a people, once pushed into a corner, will fight for nothing more than the freedom to fight, and live, if not for religion then for their basic right to live in freedom.” (in Marx, Karl & Freidrich Engels. The First Indian War of Independence 1857-1859. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1959).


Mongal Pandey has initiated that first war of independence in 1857 and he should be respected as such. However, the pro-British historians of India, like Rudranshu Mukherjee, are now doing their best to diminish the importance of both Mongal Pandey and the 1857 revolt.

Virendranath Chattopadhya: another victim of historical distortion

While Mongal Pandey had paved the way for the first war of independence in 1857-59, Virendranath Chattopadya, along with Veer Savarkar, has paved the way for the second war of independence of 1942-45. However, just like Mongal Pandey, Virendranath also came under attacks from the pro-British historians of India as some kind of rootless vagabond, anarchist, who has just ”wasted his life” (‘Lost Brother-seeking an enemy’s enemy’ by Rudranshu Mukherjee in The Telegraph, on 5 August 2005; ‘Spies, sex and an Indian anarchist’ by Aditya Sinha, Hindustan Times, 14 August, 2004). Frank Moraes (in his book, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, 1956, p. 115) did the worse by saying, “V. Chatto, a brother of the celebrated poetess and politician Sarojini Naidu, was one of the very few Indians who later worked with the Nazis. Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, for many years had lived a hand-to-mouth existence abroad. He died in extreme poverty in Moscow during the Second World War, friendless and alone.” What Frank Moraes wrote about Virendranath are all false; but he is an established figure among the pro-British journalists in India.

Like Netaji Subhas, Savarkar, Rashbihari Bose, Virendranath has spent all his life to organize supports from the foreign friends of India to drive out the British. Without his efforts, Azad Hind Fauz might not be a reality. It is sad that we do not remember his sacrifice.

Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (affectionately known as Chatto by his friends like Veer Savarkar and Jawarlal Nehru), brother of Sorojini Naidu, was one of the most important leaders of Indian independence movement in Europe during the 1907-1930s.

In 1908, he, mentored by Bipin Pal and Veer Savarkar, was the secretary of the Indian Nationalist Journal "Swaraj" in London. “Swaraj” was founded and edited by Veer Savarkar. When Savarkar was deported to the prison in Andaman Island, Virendranath took charge of ‘Swaraj’ and start publishing articles supporting revolutionaries of the Gaddar Party particularly Madan Lal Dhingra. As a result, British wanted to arrest him too but he had escaped to France, supported by Madame Cama.

He became the leader of Indian revolutionary group in Paris; has published journals, "Bande Mataram" and "Talvar". Virendranath and Nehru attended together the Brussels Conference of the ‘League against Imperialism’ in 1927. Virendranath was one of the general secretaries of the League and always maintained close links with Subhas Chandra Bose. From France he has escaped to Germany and became the leader of German Indian Committee, which was helping revolutionaries in India with weapons and sanctuaries. This committee had supplied weapons to the revolutionary groups in India like Jugantar, Anusheelal Samity, to Jatin Sarkar or Tiger Jatin and to the legendary Surya Sen. This Committee sent Narain Marathe in 1914 to Japan to secure arms. In 1915, they sent Heramba Lal Gupta to Japan. Rash Bihari Bose went to Japan in 1915. They are the frontrunner of the Azad Hind Fauz, organized later by the Japanese friends of Virendranath.

With the arrival of Hitler in German politics, Virendranath could not stay in Germany any longer. In 1933, he has escaped first to Sweden and then to the USSR to seek help from the Soviet Union to free India (Subhas Chandra Bose did the same in 1941). He became the head of the Indian Department of the USSR Academy of Science in Leningrad and became very close with the two very important leaders of the Russian revolution, Lenin`s wife Krupskaya and Kirov. As a result, he has drawn the wrath of Stalin, who has killed almost every leader of the Russian revolution and their associates. Kirov was killed in 1934. Krupskaya died in semi-imprisonment in 1938. Virendranath was arrested in 1937 and was killed in 1940 by Stalin.

His name with photo is exhibited in a room for the revolutionaries at the Nehru Memorial Museum in New Delhi. Some of his works and articles left behind were found at the Dimitrov Museum in Leipzig (in former East Germany or DDR). There was a Chatto section in that Museum.

Famous American writer Agnes Smedley wrote, “To me he was not just an individual, but a political principle. For me he embodied the tragedy of a whole race. Had he been born English or American, I thought, his ability would have placed him among the great leaders of his age.” (in Agnes Smedley, China Correspondent, first published in 1943).

Without Virendranath, the Azad Hind Fauz would not be a reality. He was the guiding spirit of the political organization founded by Japanese intellectuals in Germany, ‘The Association of Revolutionary Asians’.

Japanese government sent over a number of scholars to Germany during 1920s. To this circle in 1926-29, belonged many young scholars who later led the Japanese academics and culture. Rouyama, Arisawa, Kunizaki of Tokyo University, and professors from Kyoto University - Muraichi Horie, Yoshihiko Taniguchi, Katsuichi Yamamoto, and Katsujiro Yamada - were the founding members of ‘The Association of Revolutionary Asians’. In addition to these scholars, there were Japanese artists and journalists in Berlin in this group. Theatre and film personalities of Japan like Koreya Senda, Seki Sano, Yoshi Hijikata, Teinosuke Kinugasa, Souzo Okada, writers like Seiichirou Katsumoto and Seikichi Fujimori, painter like Ousuke Shimazaki, and architect like Bunzou Yamaguchi were also members when this group. Virendranath was the leader of this group of Japanese in the Association of Revolutionary Asians.

These Japanese intellectuals became very prominent upon their return to Japan. They have supported and financed the formation of the Azad Hind Fauz in Japan and hosted Indian revolutionaries including Mohan Singh, Giani Pritam Singh, Satyananda Puri, and Rash Bihari Bose. They have influenced the Japanese government to bring Subhas Chandra Bose from Germany to Japan and to release about 80,000 Indian prisoners of war held by Japan in Singapore in 1942 to fight for the freedom of India. Just like Mongal Pandey in the India’s first war of independence, Virendranath has acted as the catalyst for the second war of independence of India.

Conclusion:

Pro-British journalists and historians of India want to malign and admonish the revolutionaries and important personalities of India, modern, medieval, or ancient. They have taken up the task to satisfy their masters in the West, who as Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan wrote, “… tried their best to persuade India that its philosophy is absurd, its art puerile, its poetry uninspired, its religion grotesque and its ethics barbarous.” [in ‘Indian Philosophy’, Vol.II, Allen& Unwin, London, 1977, p.779].

The historians following the British tradition describe India as an inferior civilization, always poor, always defeated and fragmented. Both James Mill in 19th century (in The History of British India) and Gunner Myrdall in 1970 (in Asian Drama) said that India is a civilization without any quality. According to the British historians, whether MaxMuller in 19th century or F.R.Allchin and Bridget Allchin in 21st century, everything in Indian civilization was borrowed starting with the Sanskrit language and the Aryan civilization, which were both of foreign origin. It is unfortunate that some Indian journalist and historians are propagating for the British journalists and historians to gain favour and the Indian establishment supports them.

Mongal Pandey, following these historians and journalists in India, could have stayed as a loyal soldier of the army of the John Company, could have taken part in the loot that was followed after the suppression of the revolt of 1857, and could end up as the Raja of Balia; instead, he has decided to sacrifice his life for the honour of his people. Virendranath could have completed his study as a Barrister in London, could be a rich lawyer and after independence could be a governor or ambassador or a minister given his background as the brother of Sorojini Naidu; but he has chosen the path of revolutionary fire to free his country. It is sad that rather than respecting Mongal Pandey and Virendranath Chattopadhya for their sacrifice some journalists and historians of India for pure self-interest have decided to be the assassins of their characters.

Dipak Basu

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