The most aggressive form of freedom struggle was the revolutionary movement adopted by the highly charged up nationalist youth. Apart from the colonial rule—their exploitations, injustices, etc. the political system of contemporary India was also responsible for the birth of a revolutionary movement, which was termed by the British authorities as terrorist acts and treated as mere law and order problem.
Various Government policies and political development of late nineteenth and early twentieth century were responsible for the rise of the revolutionary movement.
The Indian Council Act of 1892, which failed to introduce an elective element in India, disappointed the nationalists. It provided for the selection of some members. The educated aspirants of the civil services were disappointed when the Government refused to hold the examination in India too. Indians in general and traders, in particular, opposed the Tariff and Cotton Duties Acts of 1894 and 1896. The famine of Maharashtra in 1896 and the pathetic responses from the Government aggravated the situation. Many nationalist leaders like Damodar, Balkrishna (Chapekar brothers) and Bal Gangadhar Tilak were put to trial and convicted to the charge of the killing of Rands, the Collector of Pune and his associate, Lt.Ayerst. Nathu and Hari were detained without trial and their properties were attached. The people of educated classes, especially the youth, were not happy with the censorship of the press (1904) and Indian University Act (1904), which established the Government’s control over the universities. The defeat of Russia by the Japanese (1904-1905) inspired thousands of youths as it showed how a small Asian country defeated a great European nation. Above all, the decision to partition Bengal, where the circulation of the newspaper was the most, was shocking news for the awakened Bengalis. Overall in India, the circulation of the vernacular newspaper went up from 2,99,000 in 1857 to 8,17,000 in 1905. Many of these newspapers like Kesri (in Marathi) and Bangbhasi (in Bengali) were opposing moderate politics of Congress. They were preparing the groundwork for the revolutionary movement.
The eastern and western regions of British India, mainly Bengal and Maharashtra, were two of the earliest centres of the revolutionary terrorist movement. Ideologically, socially, and politically, these two regions were more active than the rest of India. However, the revolutionary terrorist movement spread in other parts of India and even abroad as well. Various secret organisations were formed, and pamphlet and journals were published. For propagation, training and purchase of arms, the revolutionaries adopted the method of Swadeshi dacoity. They attacked selectively, oppressive officials and traitors. Their immediate objective was to create terror in the hearts and minds of the British and to remove fear from the Indians. The ultimate objective, however, was to end the colonial rule.
The revolutionary journals like Yugantar and Sandhya were actively preaching against the British in the eastern part of India. Anushilan Samiti set up at Calcutta in 1902 by Purshottam Mitra, Jatindranath Banerji and Barindra Kumar Ghosh and active in Bengal against the British, was one of the earliest revolutionary groups. Khudi Ram Bose and Prafulla Kumar Chaki, in an attempt to kill Kingsford, the controversial magistrate of Muzaffarpur, killed two English ladies of Kennedy family. Chaki committed suicide while Bose was, after the trial, hanged. The revolutionaries of Abhinav Bharat killed Jackson, the controversial District Magistrate of Nasik, on December 21, 1909.
To suppress the revolutionary movement, the Government of India passed many repressive acts, like the Prevention of Seditious Meeting Act (1907), the Explosive Substances Act (1908), the Indian Criminal Law Amendment Act (1908) and the Press Act (1910). To avoid arrest, many revolutionaries went abroad. Krishna Verma, who had set up the Indian Home Rule Society or India House at London in 1905, propagated revolutionary ideas and started publishing ‘The Indian Sociologist’, a monthly journal. Many revolutionaries like Madanlal Dhingra, V.D.Savarkar, Lala Hardyal got a platform to carry forward their activities. Madanlal Dhingra, in July 1909, shot dead Col. William Curzon Wyllie, the India Office bureaucrat. Madam Bhikaji Cama, a Parsi revolutionary, started her movement from Paris and Geneva and developed close contact with French sociologists like Jean Longuet. She also brought out the ‘Bande Matram’. Some revolutionaries of Punjab like Lala Hardyal, Sohan Singh Bhakna, Ramchandra and Barkatullah formed ‘Ghadar’ party and published a newspaper—’Ghadar’ in Urdu and Punjabi. Hardyal was compelled to leave the USA; so he settled in Berlin(Germany), where he formed Indian Independence Committee. The Committee had a plan to mobilise Indians living abroad, to help revolutionaries in India and to free India through arms struggle. One reason why Indian revolutionaries were more enthusiastic in Europe was that they were in contact with the Irish Republican Army and the Communist.
The revolutionaries of post World War I was influenced by the Marxist ideas and inspired by the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. They could see the revolutionary potential of the proletariat class and actively participate in the Non-Cooperation movement, under the leadership of Gandhi. The vibrant youths—Jogesh Chandra Chatterji, Surya Sen, Jatin Das, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Shiv Varma, Bhagvati Charan Vohra and Jaidev Kapoor—had been enthusiastic participants in the non-violent Non- Cooperation Movement. But the sudden withdrawal of the movement shattered the high hopes raised earlier.
They had not only lost hope in Gandhi’s satyagraha and non-violence but also were disillusioned with the parliamentary politics of the Swarajist.
The revolutionaries, thus, decided to move on their own. Some revolutionaries like Ram Prasad Bismil, Jogesh Chatterji, Sachindranath Sanyal of northern India met at Kanpur in October 1924 and founded the Hindustan Republican Association (or Army) to overthrow colonial rule and establish the Federal Republic of the United States of India based on adult franchise. Its members were involved in the Kakori rail dacoity for which Ram Prasad, Roshan Singh, and Ashfaqullah Khan were hanged, and many were sentenced to life-long imprisonment. HRA was restructured as Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) at Firoz Shah Kotla, Delhi, in 1928, under the leadership of Chandra Shekhar Azad, and also attended by Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Bhagvati Charan Vohra, Jaidev Kapoor, Shiv Verma and Bejoy Kumar Sinha. Revolution for them was ‘not the cult of the bomb and pistol’, but a total change of society culminating in the overthrow of both foreign and Indian capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The member of HSRA wanted a revolution by the masses. To draw their attention and to oppose the controversial bills like Public Safety Bill and Trade Dispute Bill, Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt threw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly on April 8, 1929. Their aim was not to harm anyone, but as they claimed—to make the deaf hear’. They had every chance to escape but dared not to do that, as they were convinced that they did nothing wrong. The Revolutionaries used the trial court as a form of propaganda and chanted the slogans which were patriotic, revolutionary and secular like Inquilab Zindabad, Sarfroshi ki Tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai, Mera rang de Basanti Chola, down down with imperialism and long live the proletariat. The message, the news, and the photographs of the revolutionaries were headlines of the newspapers. Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were hanged on March 23, 1931. Chandra Shekhar Azad was killed earlier in an encounter with the police at Allahabad on February 27, 1931. Jatin Das also died after 64 days of fast in the jail.
The Chittagong (Chattagram) Armoury raid of April 18, 1930, was another daring act of the revolutionaries. Surya Sen, Ambika Chakravarty, Ananta Singh, Loknath Bal, Ganesh Ghosh, Ananda Gupta, Tegra Bal, Kalpana Dutta and Pritilata wadekar set out to attack the Europeans in Chittagong at four centres.
They looted the rifles (Lewis Gun) but forgot to take Cartridges. A counter-attack by the British led to the killing of many troops. Many revolutionaries managed to escape.
After the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh and the death of his friends, the prolonged saga of revolutionary terrorism came to an end. A large number of revolutionaries turned to Marxism, socialism and Gandhism. Though they failed to bring the masses in their movement, as it required more sacrifices; yet their courage, sacrifice and love for the motherland stirred and inspired the Nation. Most importantly, they succeeded in removing the fear from the hearts and minds of millions of Indians.