BEFORE MY TIME-A brief narrative by Neta ji Subhas Chandra Bose

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

1920 Subhas Chandra Bose as student

On 23 August 2007, Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe visited the Subhas Chandra Bose memorial hall in Kolkata. Abe said to Bose’s family “The Japanese are deeply moved by Bose’s strong will to have led the Indian independence movement from British rule. Netaji is a much respected name in Japan. Infosys Technologies founder-chairman N. R. Narayana Murthy, delivering the annual Netaji oration, said, “We have not paid him due respect. It is time this is corrected.” Adding, “If only Netaji had participated in post-independence nation building.”

It requires a great deal of imagination now to picture the transformation that Indian Society underwent as a result of political power passing into the hands of the British since the latter half of the eighteenth century. Yet an understanding of it is essential if were to view in their proper perspective the kaleidoscopic changes that are going on in India today. Since Bengal was the first province to come under British rule, the resulting changes were more quickly visible there than elsewhere. With the overthrow of the indigenous Government, the feudal aristocracy which was bound up with it naturally lost its importance. Its place was taken by another set of men. The Britishers had come into the country for purposes of trade and had later on found themselves called upon to rule. But it was not possible for a handful of them to carry on either trade or administration without the active co-operation of at least a section of the people. At this juncture those who fell in line with the new political order and had sufficient ability and initiative to make the most of the new situation came to the fore as the aristocracy of the new age.

It is generally thought that for a long time under British rule Muslims did not play an important role, and several theories have been advanced to account for this. It is urged, for instance, that since, in provinces like Bengal, the rulers who were overthrown by the British were Muslims by religion, the Muslim community maintained for a long time an attitude of sullen animosity and non-cooperation towards the new rulers, their culture and their administration. On the other hand it is said that, prior to the establishment of British rule in India, the Muslim aristocracy had already grown thoroughly effete and worn out and that Islam did not at first take kindly to modern science and civilization. Consequently, it was but natural that under British rule the Muslims should suffer from a serious handicap and go under for the time being. I am inclined, however, to think that in proportion to their numbers,( According; to the 1931 census, the Muslims are roughly 24.7 per cent of the total population of British India which is about 271.4 millions; roughly 13.5 per cent of the total population of the Indian states which is 79 millions and roughly 22 per cent of the total population of India, which is 350.5 millions.) and considering India as a whole, the Muslims have never ceased to play an important role in the public life of the country, whether before or under British rule-—and that the distinction between Hindu and Muslim of which we hear so much nowadays is largely an artificial creation, a kind of Catholic—Protestant controversy in Ireland, in which our present-day rulers have had a hand. History will bear me out when I say that it is a misnomer to talk of Muslim rule when describing the political order in India prior to the advent of the British. Whether we talk of the Moghul Emperors at Delhi, or of the Muslim Kings of Bengal, we shall find that in either case the administration was run by Hindus and Muslims together, many of the prominent Cabinet Ministers and Generals being Hindus. Further, the consolidation of the Moghul Empire in India was effected with the help of Hindu commanders-in chief. The commander-in-chief of Nawab Sirajudowla, whom the British fought at Plassey in 1757 and defeated, was a Hindu, and the rebellion of 1857 against the British, in which Hindus and Moslems were found side by side, was fought under the flag of a Muslim, Bahadur Shah.

Be that as it may, it is a fact so far as Bengal is concerned, whatever the causes may be, most of the promenent personalities that arose soon after the British conquest were Hindus. The most outstanding of them was Raja Ram Mohon Roy (1772-1833) who founded the Brahmo Samaj( The Brahmo Samaj can best be described as a reformist movement within Hindu society, standing for the religious principles of the Vedanta in their pristine form and discarding later accretions like image-worship and the caste-system. Originally the Brahmos tended to break away from Hindu society, but their present attitude is to regard themselves as an integral part of it.) in 1828. The dawn of the nineteenth century saw a new awakening in the land. This awakening was cultural and religious in character and the Brahmo Samaj was its spearhead. It could be likened to a combination of the Renaissance and Reformation. One aspect of it was national and conservative——standing for a revival of lndia’s culture and a reform of India’s religions. The other aspect of it was cosmopolitan and eclectic seeking to assimilate what was good and useful in other cultures and religions. Ram Mohon was the visible embodiment of the new awakening and the herald of a new era in India’s history. His mantle fell successively on ‘Maharshi’ Devendra nath Tagore (1818-1905), father of the poet Rabindra Nath Tagore, and Brahmanand Keshav Chandra Sen (1838-1884) and the influence of the Brahmo Samaj grew from day to day.

There is no doubt that at one time the Brahrno Samaj focussed within itself all the progressive movements and tendencies in the country. From the very beginning the Samaj was influenced in its cultural outlook by Western science and thought, and wl1en the newly established British Government was in doubt as to what its educational policy should be whether it should promote indigenous culture exclusively or introduce Western culture—Raja Ram Mohon Roy took an unequivocal stand as the champion of Western culture. His ideas influenced Thomas Babington Macaulay when he wrote his famous Minute on Education( Macaulaycame to Calcutta as Law Member of the Governor General’s Council in the autumn of 1834. He was appointed President of the Committee of Public Instruction which he found divided into the Orientalist and English parties. On February 2, 1835, he submitted a Minute to the Governor General, Bentinck, supporting the English party which was adopted by the Government) and ultimately became the policy of the Government. With his prophetic vision, Ram Mohon had realised, long before any of his countrymen did, that India would have to assimilate Western science and thought if she wanted to come into her own once again.

The cultural awakening was not confined to the Brahmo Samaj, however. Even those who regarded the Brahmos as too heretical, revolutionary, or iconoclastic were keen about the revival of the indigenous culture of India. While the Brahmos and other progressive sections of the people replied to the challenge of the West by trying to assimilate all that was good in Western culture, the more orthodox circles responded by justifying whatever there was to be found in Hindu society and by trying to prove that all the discoveries and inventions of the West were known to the ancient sages of India. Thus the impact of the West roused even the orthodox circles from their self—complacency. There was a great deal of literary activity among them and they produced able men like Sasadhar but much of their energy was directed towards meeting the terrible onslaughts on Hindu religion coming from the Christian missionaries. In this there was common ground between the Brahmos and the orthodox Pundits, though in other matters there was no love lost between them. Out of the conflict between the old and the new, between the conservatives and the radicals, between the Brahmos and the Pundits, there emerged a new type the noblest embodiment of which was Pundit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. This new type of Indian stood for progress and for a synthesis of Eastern and eastern culture and accepted generally the spirit of reform which was abroad, but refused to break away from Hindu society or to go too far in emulating the West, as the Brahmos were inclined to do at first. Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, for instance, was brought up as an orthodox Pundit, became the father of modern Bengali prose and a protagonist of Western science and culture, and was a great social reformer and philanthropist( Speaking of the Pundit, the poet Madhusudan Dutt, the originator of blank verse in Bengali, once wrote ”You are not merely the ocean of knowledge (vidyasagar means literally ‘the ocean of knowledge’) us people know you in) —but till the last, he stuck to the simple and austere life of an orthodox Pundit. He boldly advocated the remarriage of Hindu widows and incurred the wrath of the conservatives in doing so but he based his arguments mainly on the fact that the ancient scriptures approved of such a custom. The type which Iswar Chandra represented ultimately found its religious and philosophical expression in Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1834-1886) and his worthy disciple, Swami Vivekanancla (1863-1902). Swami Vivekananda died in 1902 and the religio- philosophical movement was continued through the personality of Arabindo Ghose (or Ghosh). Arabindo did not keep aloof from politics. On the contrary, he plunged into the thick of it, and by 1908 became one of the foremost political leaders. In him, spirituality was wedded to politics. Arabindo retired from politics in 1909 to devote himself exclusively to religion; but spirituality and politics continued to be associated together in the life of Lokamanya B. G. Tilak (1856-1920) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869).

This brief narrative will serve as a rough background to the contents of this book and will give some idea of the social environment which existed when my father was a student of the Albert School   (Here he was a class-fellow of Sir P. C. Ray, the well-known chemist and philanthropist) in Calcutta. Society was then dominated by a new aristocracy, which had grown up alongside of British rule, whom we should now call, in socialist parlance, the allies of British ‘Imperialism. This aristocracy was composed roughly of three classes or professions—

(1) landlords,

(2) lawyers and civil servants and

(3) merchant-princes.

All of them were the creation of the British, their assistance being necessary for carrying out the policy of administration-cum-exploitation.

The landlords who came into prominence under British rule were not the semi-independent or autonomous chiefs of the feudal age, but mere tax-collectors who were useful to a foreign Government in the matter of collecting land-revenue and who had to be rewarded for their loyalty during the Rebellion of 1857, when the existence of British rule hung by a thread.

Though the new aristocracy dominated contemporary society and, as a consequence, men like Maharaja Jatindra Mohon Tagore and Raja Benoy Krishna Deb Bahadur were regarded by the Government as the leaders of society, they had little in the way of intellectual or moral appeal. That appeal was exercised in my father’s youth by men like Keshav Chandra Sen and to some extent, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. Wherever the former went, crowds followed him. He was, indeed, the hero of the hour. The spiritual fervour of his powerful orations raised the moral tone of society as a whole and of the rising generations in particular. Like other students, my father, too, came under his magic influence, and there was a time when he even thought of a formal conversion to Brahmoism. In any case, Keshav Chandra undoubtedly had an abiding influence on my father’s life and character. Years later, in far-off Cuttack, portraits of this great man would still adorn the walls of his house, and his relations with the local Brahmo Samaj continued to be cordial throughout his life.

Though there was a profound moral awakening among thc people during the formative period of my father’s life, I am inclined to think that politically the country was still dead. It is significant that his heroes —Keshav Chandra and Iswar Chandra( Both of them were educationists and, largely under their inspiration, u new type of teachers, possessing a high moral character, was produced. My father was also a teacher for some time and might have taken up teaching as a profession.) though they were men of the highest moral stature, were by no means anti Government or anti-British. The former used to state openly that he regarded the advent of the British as a divine dispensation. And the latter did not shun contact with the Government or with British as a ‘non-co-operator’ today would, though the keynote of his character was an acute sense of independence and self-respect. My father, likewise, though he had a high standard of morality, and influenced his family to that end, was not anti-Government. That was why he could accept the position of Government Pleader and Public Prosecutor, as well as a title from the Government. My father’s elder brother, Principal Devendra Nath Bose, belonged to the same type. He was a man of unimpeachable character, greatly loved and respected by his students for his intellectual and moral attainments, but he was a Government servant in the Education Department. Likewise, before my father’s time it was possible for Bankim Chandra Chatterji (1838-1894)( One of the fathers of modern Bengali Literature.) to compose the “Bande Mataram( Bande Mataram’ literally means ‘I salute the mother’ (i.e. motherland). It is the nearest approach to India’s national  anthem.) song and still continue in Government service. And D.L. Roy  ( One of the foremost Bengali dramatists and composer of national songs~—father of Dilip Kumar Roy. He died in 1913.)could be a magistrate in the service of the Govern-ment and yet compose national songs which inspired the people. All this could happen some decades ago, because that was an age of transition, probably an age of political immaturity. Since 1905, when the partition of Bengal was effected in the teeth of popular opposition and indignation, a sharpening of political consciousness has taken place, leading to inevitable friction between the people and the Government. People are nowadays more resentful of what the Government does and the Government in its turn is more suspicious of what the people say or write. The old order has changed yielding place to new, and today it is no longer possible to separate morality from politics-to obey the dictates of morality and not land oneself in political trouble. The individual has to go through the experience of his race within the brief span of his own life, and I remember quite clearly that I too passed through the stage of what I may call non-political morality, when I thought that moral development was possible while steering clear of politics while complacently giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. But now I am convinced that life is one whole. If we accept an idea, we have to give ourselves wholly to it and to allow it to transform our entire life. A light brought into a dark room will necessarily illuminate every portion of it.



Calcutta 23rd January 1948


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.