The first decade of the 20th century witnessed
the growth of various revolutionary societies in different
parts of the country. They believed that they would be able to demoralise the administrative machinery of the government by terrorising the big bosses of the imperial bureaucracy and thus win freedom for the country through coercive tactics. Since the government suppressed various political movements and imprisoned the national leaders, the activities of these revolutionary societies and groups gained a big momentum as underground patriotism.
The principal source of inspiration for the revolutionary patriots was the Great Revolt of 1857. The publication of the book entitled India’s First War of Independence by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1906 at London about the great uprising of 1857 helped to put the record straight and also to infuse a spirit of nationalism and rebellion among the youth of the country. They also derived their ideas and beliefs from the Russian nihilists and the British terrorists. Savarkar had earlier translated the life of Mazzini in Marathi. He was also the founder of Abhinava Bharata, a secret society of revolutionaries. It preached the gospel of freedom. It exhorted its workers to popularise its songs and ballads. Even after Savarkar who left for London in 1906, the Abhinava Bharata continued to flourish. Savarkar also secretly sent a large quantity of arms including Browning pistols to his Indian counterparts with Mirza Abbas, Sikandar Hayat and others.
In Bengal, the Anushilan Samiti was the first secret society organised by the revolutionaries. In 1905, it published a pamphlet entitled Bhavani Mandir (Temple of the Goddess Bhavani). It gave a plan in detail how a centre of revolutionary activity should be established in a temple on a secluded spot. Two years later, the Samiti published another book called Bartaman Rananiti (Principles of Current Strategy). It advocated guerilla warfare training to the revolutionary patriots. It further brought out another publication, Mukti Kon Pathe? (Which Way Liberation?) preaching how the Indian soldiers were to be won over to the cause of revolution and how foreign arms were to be obtained. The Samiti sent its members abroad to learn the manufacturing of bombs and explosives. A centre for their manufacture was opened at Muraripukar Garden house in Maniktala in Calcutta. It also opened its branches in various parts of the province, the most prominent among which was at Dhaka with 500 members.
The Anushilan Samiti also brought out a periodical named Jugantar (New Era). It openly preached for an armed revolt to create the necessary revolutionary fervour among the people. It made its impact. Attempts were made on the lives of two Lieutenant Governors of Bengal—one, that of newly created East Bengal and the other of the remaining Bengal—but without success. Their next target was Kingsford, Chief Presidency Magistrate of Muzaffarpur. Prafulla Chaki and Khudi Ram Bose accordingly went to Muzaffarpur to do the job. They threw a bomb at a carriage which they took to be that of Kingsford. It actually belonged to Kennedy. The result was that the latter’s wife and daughter were killed by mistake. Prafulla was arrested, but he shot himself. Khudi Ram Bose was tried and hanged. The incident took place on April 30, 1908. Two days later, the police searched the Muraripukar Garden house and seized many bombs and cartridges there. Thirty-four persons including Aurobindo Ghosh were arrested and charged with conspiracy. During the trial proceedings, the public prosecutor and the Deputy Superintendent of Police were both shot dead in the court premises. Subsequently, the traitor Narendra Gosain, who divulged the secrets to the authorities and became an approver, was also murdered inside the jail compound by Kanailal Datta and Satyen Bose. The people received the news of the traitor’s death with joy. Datta and Bose were hailed as the heroes. Later, when Datta was hanged, thousands shed tears and took it as a personal loss to them.
In Punjab, the revolutionaries became active as early as in 1904. They formed a secret society and pledged themselves that they would sacrifice their lives for the liberation of their motherland. When the government took up a stern attitude and deported Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh, there was a brief interlude of lull in the revolutionary camp. They again became active with the return of Lala Hardayal from abroad. He held classes for the revolutionaries at Lahore as to how they could bring about the destruction of the British power in India. Although Hardayal had to leave India again, his pupils carried on his work. The prominent among them was Rash Behari Bose. They threw a bomb at Lord Hardinge in Delhi, while he was riding an elephant in a state procession. The Viceroy was badly wounded. He also fainted from loss of blood. His servant holding the state umbrella was, however, killed on the spot.
In Madras, Vance Aiyar killed Ashe, the District Magistrate of Tinnevelly. At London, Madan Lal Dhingra shot dead William Curzon Wyllie at a gathering of the Imperial Institute in 1909. He defended his act in his statement that he shed English blood intentionally as a humble protest against the inhuman transportations for life and hangings of Indian youths. Dhingra himself was also hanged, but he won admiration and acclaim all over India and abroad. The revolutionaries could not withstand the police for long. They petered out, but they gave their countrymen the pride of their manhood.
The revolutionaries again became active after the suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement by Gandhiji in 1922. The old Anushilanand Jugantargroups were revived. They also established the Hindustan Republican Association in Kanpur in October 1924. Its principal objective was to organise an armed revolution. The leader of the revolutionaries in the United Provinces was Ramprasad Bismil. For organising the revolution, they needed money. Bismil advocated that this money should be looted from the government treasuries or deposits. He organised a dacoity in a train going from Kakori to Alamnagar. The revolutionaries boarded the train. They stopped it by pulling the alarm chain. They held the guard at the point of a revolver and decamped with a large amount of money. The plot was later unearthed. The authorities came upon them with an iron hand and arrested a large number of persons. They convicted them in the famous Kakori Mail Dacoity Case. Seventeen were sentenced to long imprisonment, four were transported for life and four sentenced to death. There was a lot of public resentment against the capital punishment. A proposal was also mooted by the non-official members of the Provincial Legislative Council to commute the sentence to life imprisonment, but it did not succeed. Bismil was hanged. His last words were, “I wish the downfall of the British empire”. His colleague, Roshanlal, bravely went up to the gallows with a smiling face. He had a copy of Gita in his hands and Vande Mataram on his lips. Ashfaqullah carried a copy of Koran in his hand when the noose was put round his neck. There was no fear on his face. He gave up his life with a smile and said, “I tried to make India free, but the attempt will not end with my life”. The revolutionaries later rechristened their organisation under the leadership of Chandrashekhar Azad in 1928 and called it the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA). They issued their manifesto under the caption : “The Philosophy of Bomb”. It stated that the revolutionaries believed that the deliverance of their country would come through the revolution. The leader of the Punjab wing of the HSRA was Bhagat Singh. He also formed the Punjab Naujawan Bharat Sabha. Bhagat Singh killed J.P. Saunders, the Assistant Superintendent of Police, Lahore, to avenge the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. He justified it by saying, “The murder of a leader respected by millions of people at the unworthy hands of an ordinary police official like J. P. Saunders was an insult to the nation. It was the bounden duty of the young men of India to efface it”. Later, he along with Batukeshwar Dutt, threw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly on April 9, 1929. They wanted to record their protest against the passage of the Public Safety Bill and the Trade Disputes Bill aimed at curtailing the civil liberties. The bomb did not kill any one as their intent was only to make the deaf “hear”. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt could run away, but got themselves arrested. During the trial, these patriots did not attempt to defend themselves but aroused the national consciousness by their defiant attitude. They were executed in the Central Jail in Lahore on March 23, 1931. The trio, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, mounted the gallows with a bright smile on their faces. The message to their countrymen was “very soon, the final battle will begin. Its outcome will be decisive. We took part in the struggle and we are proud of having done so”. The martyrdom of Bhagat Singh shook the entire nation and made him a legendary hero for the posterity. Among other revolutionaries, Jatin Das won martyrdom after his historic fast of 63 days in jail at Lahore. Chandrashekhar Azad died while fighting a pitched battle with the police at Allahabad. They were all crusaders for a cause—the freedom of the country.