Patriots > Extremist Leaders > Pal,Bipin Chandra
Pal,Bipin Chandra (1858-1932)
Born on 7 November 1858, in village Poil in the District of Sylhet, now in Bangladesh, Bipin Chandra belonged to a well-to-do Hindu Kayastha family, his father Ram Chandra Pal being a village zaminder, an eminent member of the Sylhet Bar and a man of status in the locality. Ram Chandra himself had no formal English education, but was a good Persian scholar and a strong-willed man. He was a Vaishnava by faith, but there was a blending of Hindu ritualism and Islamic thought in his religious views.

Bipin Chandra was temporarily alienated from his father when he openly embraced Brahmoism and renounced caste (1880), but was again reconciled to the old man before the latter’s death (January 1886). Bipin Chandra’s mother Narayani Devi (d. 1875) had no formal education at all, but was remarkably reserved and self-reliant and also a strict disciplinarian.

Bipin Chandra was the only son of his parents, but he had a sister, Kripa by name. In December 1881, he married his first wife, Nrityakali Devi, a Brahmin widow, in Bombay, and after her death nine years later he married again (1891), this time also a Brahmin widow, Birajmohini Devi, who happened to be a distant cousin of Surendranath Banerjea. He had by his two wives three sons and five daughters.

Bipin Chandra did not attend any Bengali ‘pathsala’ as was the practice in those days, but learnt the three R’s from his father and Persian from a ‘Maulavi’ before he was sent to an English school in the town of Sylhet. (1866). He attended two missionary schools one after another, and finally passed the Entrance examination of the Calcutta University from the Sylhet Government High School in 1874.In 1875 Bipin Chandra went to Calcutta for higher studies and joined the Presidency College, but unfortunately he failed twice in the First Arts examination (1877-78) and there ended his formal education.

During his students days in Calcutta Bipin Chandra came in contact with some eminent people, some of whom became his close friends and associates, and others his inspirers or ‘gurus’. Among the former mention may be made of Dr. Sundarimohan Das, Anandamohan Bose, Dwarkanath Ganguli, Dr. P. K. Ray and Aghorenath Chatterjee. Among the latter Keshab Chandra Sen, the great Brahmo leader, attracted him to the Brahmo movement, Sivanath Sastri imbued him with the spirit of social revolt and patriotism, and Bijay Krishna Goswami later moulded his spiritual life to a great extent.

Though never a brilliant student, Bipin Chandra read extensively in his school and college days and acquired a great literary competence. He was fond of Bengali poets and novelists like Hem Chandra and Bankim Chandra and the medieval Vaishnava poets. Among English writers, Emerson and Theodore Parker were his favourites. He also studied deeply the Geeta and the Upanishads in his later life. In politics he at first accepted Surendranath Banerjea as his ‘guru’, but in later years moved far away from him and worked in collaboration with extremists like Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Aurobindo. Ranade of Maharashtra also influenced him to some extent.

Bipin Chandra started his career as the Headmaster of a high school in Cuttack, the Cuttack Academy, in the beginning of 1879,but he did not stick to any job for a long time. He worked as Headmaster in several schools in succession, in Sylhet (1880), in Bangalore (1881) and at Habiganj (1886). He also seriously took up journalism, started the Bengali weekly paridarsak in Sylhet (1880), served as Assistant Editor of the Bengal Public Opinion (1882) and joined the Lahore Tribute in the same capacity for a short time (1887).

For a year and a half he acted as the Librarian and Secretary of the Calcutta Public Library (1890-91). His literary activities which had really started in his school days continued throughout this period and he published a biography of Queen Victoria in Bengali (1887) and a work on Keshab Chandra Sen in English (1893), besides one or two small tracts. In January 1892 he took up the mission work of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, of which he had been a regular member since its inception in May 1878, but preached “not so much its creed as its idealism”. In 1895 he received his spiritual initiation from Bijay Krishna Goswami, but did not sever his relations with the Brahmo Samaj.

Bipin Chandra's political career also started during this period. In the autumn of 1877 he was ceremonially initiated by Sivanath Sastri as a member of a group which combined the social and religious idealism of the Brahmo Samaj with the political idealism of Surendranath Banerjea and the Indian Association. He attended the Congress session of 1886 as a delegate from Sylhet.

In 1887, in the third annual session of the Congress, Bipin Chandra along with his friend Dwarkanath Ganguli forced the institution of an elected Subjects Committee for discussing and drafting resolutions to be placed before the open session. The two friends also took up the cause of the Assam tea-garden labourers who were extremely ill-treated by the planters and sometimes even flogged to death. The Congress was compelled to take up the matter in 1896; Sir Henry Cotton, the Chief Commissioner of Assam, was moved to action and the worst evils were eradicated.

In 1898 Bipin Chandra went to England for theological studies on a scholarship granted by the British and Foreign Unitarian Association. But he gave up his scholarship after a year and utilised his carry on political propaganda for his country. At the invitation of the National Temperance Association of New York he visited the U. S. A. on a four months’ lecturing tour. In 1900 he returned to India imbued with a great patriotic fervour and at once plunged into the freedom movement of his country.

Through his weekly journal, the New India (1992), he preached the ideal of Swaraj or complete political freedom to be achieved through courage, self-help and self-sacrifice. He did not agree with Tilak’s concept of Hindu nationalism, but preached a “ composite patriotism.” which was better suited for a country of so many diversities like India. The partition of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905 caused an unprecedented political upheaval in the country. In 1996 Bipin Chandra started a daily paper, the Bande Mataram, as the Editor of which Aurobindo Ghose appeared “ like a stormy petrel in Bengal politics”.

The doctrines of passive resistance, boycott of English goods, severance of all association with the foreign Government in the country and

national education were fervently preached by Bipin Chandra during his memorable propaganda tour of Bengal, Assam, U. P. and Madras in 1907.

Though he was opposed to secret terroristic activities, advocated by Aurobindo and others, the British Government regarded him as their great enemy and imprisoned him for six months on the ground of his refusal to give evidence against Aurobindo in the so-called Bande Mataram Sedition Case. On coming out of prison, he at once left for England to lead the life of an enforced exile (August 1908).

During his three years’ sojourn in England (1908-11) Bipin Chandra developed a new political thought which he called the empire-idea. He pleaded for reconstitution of the British empire as a federal union in which India, Great Britain and all the British self-governing colonies would co-operate as equal and free partners.

On coming back to India he started a monthly journal, the Hindu Review (1973), and tried to popularise the idea, though without much success. He then joined the Home Rule Movement of Besant and Tilak and rejoined the Congress in 1916. He tried to make the people conscious of the great dangers which political pan-Islamism presented to the future of India. The empire-idea alone, in his opinion, could provide an effective remedy for this evil.

After the First World War he visited England for a third time as a member of a Congress and Home Rule League deputation led by Tilak. The economic exploitation of India by Britain and her self-governing colonies now appeared to him as the greatest menace which India would have to face in the coming years. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia also powerfully appealed to his mind and he described it as marking the birth of a new world.

He came back to India in 1919 and presided over the Bengal Provincial Conference held at Barisal in 1921. But, unfortunately, he kept himself completely aloof from the non-violent non-cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi which was now sweeping the country, and this made him extremely unpopular. He also criticised G. R. Das, the idol of the Bengalee nationalists, and entered into a bitter controversy with Maulana Muhammad Ali over the nature of the communal problem in India (1920-25).

He opposed the non-cooperation movement mainly because it was associated with the Khilafat cause and pervaded by a blind reverence for Gandhiji’s leadership. His importance as a public figure declined from active politics though he continued to express his views on national questions through books and articles till his death on 20 May 1932.

Aurobindo rightly described Bipin Chandra as one of the mightiest prophets of nationalism. His fiery orations moved thousands of men and women during the early days of the Swadeshi Movement (1905-07). He boldly preached the ideal of complete independence long before the Congress accepted it as its goal. But, as he clearly stated in his Barisal address of 1921, he did not want India to grow up as another centralised class-ruled State like England, France of Japan.

He stood for a federal Indian republic in which each Province (linguistically reorganzied), each district and even each village would enjoy a large degree of local autonomy. He was once regarded as an extremist in politics, but he was never really a narrow nationalist. His ideal of patriotism was a part of his ideal of universal humanity. That explains the empire-idea of his later years. Moreover, Bipin Chandra valued personal freedom of conscience as much as he valued national freedom.

His independent spirit led him to revolt quite early in his life against social evils and abuses under the banner of the Brahmo Samaj and, in this process, court poverty and separation from his own kith and kin. He ceased to believe in caste when he was only fourteen and demonstrated the sincerity of his belief later by marrying a widow of a higher caste twice in his life. By lending his powerful support to the Age of Consent Bill (1891) he completely alienated the social conservatives and even ran the risk of assassination.

In politics also he refused to compromise when it was a question of his conscience or conviction, and was ready to court unpopularity and estrangement from his friends. His concern for the poor and the downtrodden led him to champion the cause of the Assam tea-garden labourers in the last quarter of the 19th century. In his book, ‘The New Economic Menace of India’, he demanded increased wages and shorter hours of work for the Indian labourers. He not only gave the Bengali labour journal Samhati its name, but also helped it with contributions from his pen.

Bipin Chandra’s religious views underwent a process of evolution. He became a Brahmo in his youth, but in his later life he was greatly influenced by the Vedantic philosophy of Sankaracharya, and finally, under the influence of Bijay Krishna Goswami he was drawn to the Vaishnava philosophy of Sri Chaitanya. His universalism was, according to one of his biographers, “enriched by his own experiences of higher Vaishnavic realisations”, whose meaning was revealed to him by the inspired teachings of his “guru” Bijay Krishna.

Bipin Chandra wanted the Swadeshi Movement to bring about not merely political freedom, but also a real spiritual revival among his people. That is why he put so much emphasis upon reorganizing our educational system on completely national lines. He joined the movement for national education in Bengal and was associated with the National Council of Education from its very inception.

Bipin Chandra was not only a great preacher but also a prolific writer. Besides regularly contributing to the journals of his day, he wrote on the philosophy of Bengal Vaishnavism, contributed a series of studies on the lives of some of the makers of modern India like Rammohan Roy, Keshab Chandra Sen, Aurobindo Ghose, Rabindranath Tagore, Asutosh Mukherjee and Annie Besant, gave expositions of some of the fundamental aspects of Indian culture, attempted an interpretative history of the modern renaissance in Bengal and left for us memoirs of his own life and times.

As a leader of thought, Bipin Chandra has undoubtedly an honourable place among the men of his time. He never had much power and money, but he possessed an undaunted spirit which knew no defeat.

Author : Amitabha Mukherjee