We can roughly divide the left wing of the Congress into three groups, i.e., ‘terrorists’, ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘extremists’. The terrorists were a small group of young men who believed that the British rule was an unmitigated evil and that it had dangerous consequences for India. Violence, in their opinion, was the only method by which the British could be ousted from India. They considered it their duty to kill Europeans. Secret murders, destruction of government property and sabotage were their main weapons. They were intensely emotional young men, who believed in the cult of the bomb. In their opinion, the end justified the means. All means, fair or foul, would be good enough if the ends were achieved.
The terrorist movement played an important role in raising the political consciousness of the people and rousing them to move for the Struggle of Independence. It marked a vital phase in the history of the Freedom Movement, infused a new spirit and boosted the confidence and spirit of self-assertion in the people. The leaders of the terrorist movement, for the first time, gave the call for complete Independence from British imperialism. “No bones without bombs,” was on the lips of everyone in those days. In fact, the terrorist movement dominated the political arena from 1905 to 1915. The movement infused militancy even among the moderate elements in the country.
Inspiration for Revolution
The terrorists drew inspiration from the great revolutionaries in the West and their writings, particularly those
of Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi (both Italian patriots) and the anarchists and revolutionists of Russia. The India Sociologist wrote in December 1907: “It seems that any agitation in India must be carried on secretly and that the only methods which can bring the English Government to its senses are the Russian methods, vigorously and incessantly applied until the English rulers relax their tyranny and are driven out of the country.” Among Indian sources, the main inspiration came from Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s Anandmath, Abinash Chandra’s Vartman Ran Niti, V. D. Savarkar’s The 1857 War of Indian Independence and from Bhawani Mandi, Mukti Ka Path and Bhagwad Gita. It was Anandmath that immortalised both Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and the song Vande Mataram, which became India’s National Song on Independence. It was first sung at the 1896 session of the Indian National Congress.
The terrorists were also inspired by revolutionary events in the world, which precipitated their urge for armed liberation of the country. The Russian Revolution of 1905, the Young Turk Revolution of 1908, the Chinese Revolutions of 1908 and 1912, the nationalists’ armed revolts in the Balkans, etc. were some of the popular revolts which spurred the Indian revolutionaries to action. Ancient and modern history, too, especially the European literature of revolution, furnished examples that justified revolt and proclaimed its inevitable success.
The revolutionaries or terrorists had one single aim: the complete freedom of Mother India. According to the Sedition Committee, “The intentions of the revolutionaries were eventually to subvert by violent means the British rule in India.” The aim of the Anushilan Samiti was “Salvation of India”. The aim of the Gadar Party was the overthrow of the British Raj in India. In short, all the terrorist movements in India were born out of an emotional struggle of the Indians for the liberation of their mother country from the shackles of British imperialism. All of them, without exception, believed in the violent overthrow of the British rule.
Methods of Struggle
The revolutionaries adopted secret as well as open methods, organised various societies at centres all over the country and trained young men, particularly in the age group of 14 and 25 years, in the use of arms and ammunition. They were prepared for an armed rebellion.
The revolutionaries resorted to assassination of British officials or police officers to demoralise the bureaucracy and raise the morale of the people by paralysing the government machinery. Police officers, betrayers, police agents and diehard British officials were the main targets. Attempts were made on the lives of Lord Minto and Lord Hardinge, the Governors-General, because they symbolised British imperialism in India. Dacoities were committed either to procure arms and ammunition or to get funds for the revolutionary organisations. Some of the revolutionaries went to London and Paris to get training in the manufacture and use of bombs and other ammunition.
These secret methods were supplemented by open activity in the form of akharas for physical training, social service at melas and religious festivals, propagation of swadeshi and boycott of foreign goods. The revolutionaries even penetrated the armed forces to propagate their ideals and enlist the support of the courageous army personnel to stage an armed revolt in the country.
In Bengal, the movement became vigorous and militant because of the partition of 1905. Various organisations like the Brati Samiti, Suhrid Samiti, the Sandhya Samiti and the like came into existence. The Anushilan Samiti was the central and most widespread among them. It had about 500 branches with its headquarters in Dacca. In the Deccan, revolutionary activity was carried on by the Abhinav Bharat Society. Similar societies were formed in Madras. Newspapers like Kal, Vihari, Yugantar and Bande Matram spread revolutionary ideas and acted as spokesmen of the terrorists in India.
The terrorist movement had its branches in London and Paris. Shyamji Krishan Verma, V. D. Savarkar, Madam Cama, Lala Hardayal and others formed revolutionary groups there and were in constant contact with the Indian secret societies. A revolutionary movement emerged in Punjab with Sardar Ajit Singh, Lal Chand Falak, Sufi Amba Prasad and Dr. Dina Nath as pivotal figures. They founded Bharat Mata Society. The movement was later directed by Lala Hanumant Sahai, Master Amir Chand, Avadh Bihari, Lala Pindi Das and Ras Behari Bose. In 1903, the Gadar Party was formed in America by Lala Hardayal, Barkatullah and Kartar Singh. Its strength soon increased to 12,000 and about 8,000 of them came to India within two years with a view to bringing about a violent revolution for the overthrow of British imperialism. In December 1907, an attempt was made on the life of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, and in April 1908, Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki threw a bomb at a carriage which they believed was occupied by Kingford, the unpopular Judge of Muzaffarpur. Prafulla Chaki shot himself dead while Khudiram Bose was tried and hanged. By 1915, the terrorist movement had spread all over India. There was a network of branches all over the country. It became an all-India movement. The central wing of the secret and underground organisation planned an armed rebellion. February 21, 1915 was the date fixed for this purpose. The revolutionaries were successful in enlisting the support of garrisons at Rawalpindi, Ferozepore and Jabalpore. M. N. Roy secured support from Germany for the supply of arms and ammunition. The conspiracy was discovered before any action could be taken on account of the treachery of some Indians. Over 200 prominent leaders of the terrorist movement were arrested and tried for treason. It is known in the history of the national movement as the Lahore Conspiracy Case. Hundreds of the soldiers were court-martialled. Ras Behari Bose fled to Japan. The British Government was alarmed by these disturbing developments. Lord Minto described the movement as a dangerous anarchist movement and murderous conspiracy; he asked the British bureaucracy to wage a war against the terrorist elements and exterminate them completely. Whatever might be the opinion of the British rulers, the fact remains that the terrorists were imbued with a high spirit of patriotism. It was the blood of these brave sons of Mother India which nurtured the plant of independence. Their sacrifices will always be remembered by the people of India with admiration and respect. One may or may not agree with the methods
of terrorism, but the acts of heroic revolutionaries showed that the people of India would not take the diabolical acts of repression lying down.