Chitta Ranjan Das, whose life is a landmark
in the history of Indias struggle for
freedom, was endearingly called Deshabandhu
(Friend of the country). Born on 5 November
1870 in Calcutta, he belonged to an upper middle
class Vaidya family of Telirbagh, Vikrampur,
in the Dacca district. His father, Bhuban Mohan
Das, was a reputed Solicitor of the Calcutta
High Court. An ardent member of the Brahmo Samaj,
he was also well-known for his intellectual
and journalistic pursuits. For his generous
disposition and extravagant habits, he became
an adjudicated insolvent towards the end of
his career (d. 1914). Chitta Ranjans patriotic
ideas were greatly influenced by his fathers.
Chitta Ranjan was the second child and eldest
son of his parents. His youngest brother was
P. R. Das, a Judge of the Patna High Court.
In 1897 Chitta Ranjan married Basanti Devi,
daughter of Barada Nath Haldar, Dewan of Bijni
Estate in Assam. After receiving his early education
at the London Missionary Societys Institution
at Bhowanipore (Calcutta), Chitta Ranjan passed
the Entrance examination in 1885 as a private
candidate. He graduated from the Presidency
College in 1890. He then went to England to
compete for the I. C. S.; but he was the
last man out in his year. Therefore he
joined the Inner Temple and was called to the
Bar in 1894.
In his intellectual pursuits Chitta Ranjan was
fond of Sheeley, Browing and Keats in particular,
and in general of European literature including
plays. He was deeply interested in Religion
and Philosophy: he studied Brahmo religious
books as also Vaishnav literature; the teaching
of Ramakrishna Paramhansa and the ideas of Swami
Vivekananda impressed him too. He was conversant
with the writing of Bankim Chandra, D. L. Roy,
Girish Ghosh and Tagore. In later life, while
in prison, he used to read books on political
philosophy, It was Bankim Chandra who partly
influenced him in his political ideas. Brahmabandhav
Upadhyaya also influenced him, making his nationalism
dynamic and kinetic.
While in England during 1890-94, he gave electioneering
speeches on behalf of Dadabhai Naoroji, besides
an address at a protest meeting, presided over
by Gladstone, in connection with offensive anti-Indian
remarks made by John Maclean. In 1894 Das came
back to Indian and enrolled himself as a Barrister
of the Calcutta High Court. But he did not get
the backing badly needed to make a good start
in the profession.
The Calcutta Bar was then crowed with great
personalities like Griffith Evans, T. Palit,
Monmohan Ghosh, W.C. Bonnerjee and T. A. Apcar.
His anxiety to remove the stain of insolvency
on his fathers name made his mark as a
criminal lawyer. It however took some time to
render his financial position satisfactory.
Like his father, Chitta Ranjan had also to take
shelter of the Insolvency Court.
In 1907 he appeared as the defence lawyer of
Bramabhandhav Upadhyaya and Bhupendranath Dutta
who were prosecuted for general admiration,
though he did not succeed in baffling the prosecution.
The turning-point in his career came when he
was called upon to appear on behalf of Aurodondo
Ghose in the Alipore Bomb Case (1908). It was
due to his brilliant handling of the case that
Aurobindo was ultimately acquitted.
In his eloquent advocacy in this case he concluded:
. . . a man like this who is being charged
stands not only before the bar in this
court but also stands before the bar of the
High Court of History
he will be looked
upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet
of nationalism and the lover of humanity
words will be echoed and re-echoed not only
in India, but across distant seas and lands
Success in this case brought Das to the forefront
of professional and political platform.
Chitta Ranjan was the defence counsel in the
Dacca Conspiracy Case (1910-11). He was an adept
in civil law as much as in criminal law. His
success in the Dumraon Raj Adoption Case bears
testimony to his emience as a civil lawyer.
Within a very short period he built up a fabulously
lucrative a practice. In 1920 his professional
monthly income rose to Rs. 50,000. In 1913,
when Chitta Ranjan rose almost to the top of
his profession, he took the rather unusual procedure
of paying his as also his fathers time-barred
joint debts for which they had gone to the Insolvency
Court. This act, prompted by his high moral
sense, made a profound impression on his countrymen.
Early in life Chitta Ranjan gave vent to his
intense patriotic feelings as a student of the
Presidency College and also while away in England
during 1890-94. In 1901 he financially contributed
to support the agitation in South Africa. He
was associated with the revolutionary organisation,
the Anusilan Samity. During the Anti-Partition
Agitation he played his role as a co-worker
of S. N. Banerjea, Bepin Pal and Aurobindo Ghose;
he gave lectures on Swadeshi movement and associated
himself with two nationalist organs-the New
India and the Bande Mataram. He also raised
his voice against Curzons Indian Universities
Bill and indictment against the Bengales.
It was, however, not before 1917 that Das came
to the forefront of nationalist politics. In
that year he was invited to preside over the
Bengal Provincial Conference held at Bhowanipore.
At the Conference Chitta Ranjan gave in Bengali
his memorable presidential speech, animated
by lofty idealism and patriotic fire. Chitta
Ranjans political career was brief but
meteoric. In course of only eight years (1917-25)
he rose into all-India fame by virtue of his
ardent patriotism, sterling sincerity and political
field in 1917 took place at a crucial moment.
Patriotism was a consuming passion with Chitta
Ranjan -a part of his religion and not
an imitation of European politics. It
was echoed in his speech at a meeting held at
Mymensingh in October 1917. In the field of
Indian nationalism Deshabandhu was a seer; he
had no doubt about the final victory of the
cause and the fulfillment of Indias cultural
and spiritual mission in the world.
In 1917 Chitta Ranjan played a significant role
in the controversy over the election of Mrs.
Annie Besant President of the Indian National
Congress for its Calcutta Session. During this
period (1917-18) he also took part in the agitation
against the Government policy of internment
and deportation under the Defence of India Act.
On the eve of the Calcutta Session (1917) of
the Congress, he had been on a lecturing tour
in Eastern Bengal, addressing large gathering
on Self-Government. In his impassioned address
on the Self-Government resolution at the Congress
Session, he affirmed: I want the power
to build my own constitution in a way which
is suited to this country.
In 1918, both at the Congress special session
in Bombay and at the Annual Session in Delhi,
Das opposed the scheme of Montagu-Chelmsford
Reforms. The demand for Provincial Autonomy
was successfully propounded in the teeth of
vehement opposition from Mrs. Besant and others.
In 1919 Chitta Ranjan went to the Punjab as
a member of the non-official Jallianwala Bagh
Enquiry Committee. At the Amritsar Congress
(1919) he made the first advocacy of obstruction
while opposing the idea of co-operation with
the Government in the implementation of the
In 1920 at a special session of the Congress
held at Calcutta under thepresidency of Lajpat
Rai, Gandhiji gave his famous programme of Non-Cooperation
with the Government.
Das sought some changes in it but in vain.
He, however, had the support of Pal, Malaviya,
Jinnah and Mrs. Besant. Three months later the
Congress met at a Nagpur where he, however,
accepted Gandhijis lead and came back
to Calcutta to renounce his large practice at
The whole nation was deeply impressed to see
this supreme act of self-sacrifice. Deshabandhu
now threw himself heart and soul into the movement.
Besides the Non-Cooperation Movement, the large-scale
exodus of the Coolies from the Assam tea gardens
and the strike of the Assam-Bengal railway employees
engaged his attention in 1921. The same year
he was elected President for the Congress Session
to be held at Ahmedabad.
In its repressive measures the Government declared
as illegal the Congress Volunteers organisation
which took a leading part in the boycott of
the visit of the Prince of Wales (1921). Deshbandhu
decided to defy the arbitrary government order.
Along with Subhas Bose, Kiran Sankar Roy and
many others, his wife Basanti Devi, son Chira
Ranjan and sister Urmila Devi were arrested.
Deshbandhu himself was arrested and sentenced
to six months imprisonment. After his
release in 1922, he was elected President for
the Congress Session at Gaya.
With the suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement
at the instance of Gandhiji, following the Chauri
Chaura incident, the whole country went into
despondency. At this critical hour Deshbandhu
endeavoured to give a new orientation to Indian
politics through his Council Entry programme,
i.e. "Non-Cooperation from within the Councils.
He however met with vehement opposition from
the Mahatma and the No-changes.
At the Gaya Congress C. Rajagopalachari led
the Council-Entry opposition. His motion being
lost, Deshbandhu resigned the presidentship.
Thereafter he organised the Swarajya Party within
the Congress in collaboration with Motilal Nehru,
the Ali brothers, Ajmal Khan, V. J. Patel, Pratap
Guha Roy and others. It was initially known
as the bitter criticism launched by the No-changers
like Shyam Sundar Chakraborty and J. L. Banerjee,
the Jalpaiguri Conference was organised by the
Swarajists, Maulana Azad was elected President
of the Congress special session at Delhi, where
the programme of Council-Entry was approved.
The programme was later confirmed at the Cocanda
At the General Election of 1923 the Swarajists
swept Bengal. Deshbandhu spurned the offer of
Lord Lytton to take the responsibility of the
Transferred Department. In the Council he followed
the policy of smashing the official and semi-official
machinations, despite the Governments
repressive measures. Chitta Ranjans policy
of Council-Entry was vindicated by the Governments
defeat on the Budget. He not only succeeded
in killing Dyarchy in Bengal but also in shaking
the Bureaucracy in India to its very foundations.
In 1924 the Swarajists captured the seats of
the Calcutta Corporation. Deshbandhu was elected
the first Mayor of the Corporation. He proved
to be an ideal Myor in every respect. He was
re-elected as Mayor the next year. In 1923 he
presided over the All India Trade Union Congress
at Lahore, and in 1924 at Calcutta. In 1925
Deshbandhu was the President of the Bengal Provincial
Conference held at Faridpur. In this last Presidential
Address he put forth his ideas on Swaraj and
Deshbandhu wanted Swaraj for the masses,
not for the classes. To him, Swaraj
is Government by the people and for the people.
In his made out a strong case for Dominion Status.
He held: Dominion Status to-day is in
no sense servitude
advantages in the real
spirit of co-operations.
Further, he believed in non-violent and constitutional
methods for the realisation of national independence.
He explained: I am one of those who hold
to non-violence on principle
It is for
India to show light to the world-Swaraj by non-violence
and Swaraj by the people. (Presidential
speech, Gaya Session of the Congress, 1922).
An advocate of communal harmony and Hindu-Muslim
unity, Chitta Ranjan effected, in 1923, the
Bengal Pact between the Hindus and Muslims of
Bengal, though opposed by a section of the Congress.
In the economic field, Das stressed the need
of constructive work in villages. He did not
favour the idea of mere industrialisation and
held: "Industrialisation reduces man to
a machine. For the re-construction of
the cottage and national
industries he wanted the agriculturists to be
trained up in the ways of useful handicrafts.
A champion of national education and vernacular
medium, he felt that the masses should be properly
educated to participate in the nationalist movement.
He deprecated the prevalent Western system of
education that would only promote a kind
of soulless culture. He was associated
with the foundation of the National Council
of Education and other similar institution
such as the Gauriya Sarvavidyatan
and Calcutta Vidyapith . In 1921
he presided over the National Educational Conference
held at Vikrampur.
Chitta Ranjan also made his mark as a poet and
an essayist. The Malancha, his first
book of verse, was published in 1895. Later
four more volumes of lyrics were pusbilsed-Mala,
Sangit. He contributed short stories and
articles to different journals. As a journalist
his contribution was likewise note-worthy. He
started a literary quarterly, the Narayan, in
1914, and an evening daily, the Bangler Katha,
in 1922, both in Bengali. In 1923 he founded
the Swarajya Party organ, the Forward, and in
1924 the official organ of the Calcutta Corporation,
the Municipal Gazette.
Chitta Ranjan was ostentatious in his mode of
living till he joined the Non-Cooperation Movement:
after 1921 he led a simple life. His religious
and social outlook was liberal. Under the Brahmo
influence he was first a Vedantist, but later
showed leanings towards the Sakta
(Mother-cult) and Vaishnavism. He was against
caste-discrimination and untouchability. A believer
in womens emancipation, he supported the
spread of female education and window he gave
his own daughters in marriage in Brahmin and
Chitta Ranjans munificence in the social
filed was proverbial; there were innumerable
cases of his private charity. He made over his
property to a trust for the countrys service.
At his Bhowanipore residence is now located
the hospital named Chitta Ranjan Seva Sadan.
Chitta Ranjan passed away on 16 June 1925 at
Darjeeling at the age of fifty only. His mortal
body was taken back to Calcutta where the last
rites were performed. Thousands of people with
Gandhiji at their head joined the over two-mile-long
funeral procession to pay homage to the departed
Great as a jurist, Chitta Ranjan was the greatest
and most dynamic leader of the Bengal. He was
an eloquent exponent of her thought and culture.
Above all, he was apostle of Indian nationalism.
In the words of Tagore, the post gift
that Chittaranjan left for his countrymen is
not any particular political or social programme
but the creative force of a great aspiration
that has taken a deathless form in the sacrifice
which his life represented.