Das, Chitta Ranjan

Chitta Ranjan Das

Das, Chitta Ranjan (1870-1925) better known as CR Das and popularly known as Deshabandhu, was one of the most dynamic political leaders of twentieth century Bengal. Born in Calcutta on 5 November 1870, he belonged to an upper middle class family of vikramapura in the district of Munshiganj. His father Bhuban Mohan Das was a solicitor of the Calcutta High Court. He received his early education at the London Missionary Society's Institution at Bhawanipur (Calcutta). He passed the Entrance Examination in 1885 and obtained his graduation degree in 1890 from the Presidency College, Calcutta.

He went to England, joined the Inner Temple and was called to the Bar in 1894. In the same year he returned to India and enrolled himself as a Barrister at the Calcutta High Court. The trial of aurobindo ghosh in 1908 brought CR Das to the forefront of his profession. He defended the case so brilliantly that Aurovinda was finally acquitted. He was the defense counsel in the Dhaka Conspiracy Case, which was initiated in 1910-11. He was an expert in both civil and criminal law. CR Das came to politics early in the twentieth century. He was associated with the revolutionary organisations like the anushilan samiti. As a co-worker of surendranath banerjea, bipin chandra pal and Aurovinda Ghosh, he utilised the issue of the Partition of Bengal (1905) for expanding revolutionary activities in Bengal. He presided over the Bengal Provincial Conference held at Bhawanipur in 1917.

Responding to the call of MK Gandhi during the non-cooperation movement he left his lucrative practice at the Bar and took a leading part in the boycott of the visit of the Prince of Wales to Calcutta in 1921. The government imprisoned him on many occasions. CR Das, however, strongly criticised the announcement of the suspension of the Non-cooperation Movement by Gandhi and condemned it as a serious mistake. In his opinion, this action of Gandhi demoralised the political workers to a great extent.

At this critical hour, he came forward with his formula of the Council Entry Programme, or non-cooperation from within the Councils. He was vehemently opposed to the Congress principle of boycotting the Legislatures. He held that entry must be gained into the Legislatures with a view to offering uniform, continuous and consistent obstruction to the government. His proposal of Council-Entry was, however, rejected by the annual session of the indian national congress, held at Gaya in December 1922. Thereafter he resigned the president ship of the Congress and laid the foundation of the Swarajya Party within the Congress in collaboration with Pandit Motilal Nehru, Hakim Azmal Khan, the Ali brothers and others. In the election to the Bengal Legislative Council, held in 1923, the Swarajya Party achieved a remarkable victory.

Deshabandhu was of the opinion that the obstructionist policy of the Swarajists would not succeed without the wholehearted cooperation of the Muslim members who formed a substantial group in the Bengal Legislative Council. Indeed he was a political realist with deep-rooted convictions and never diverted himself even in the face of the most vigorous opposition. Himself an ardent advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity, he succeeded in resolving the communal problem of Bengal in a memorable way. He won over the Muslims of Bengal to his side through an agreement commonly known as the bengal pact. The terms of the agreement were accepted at a meeting of the Swarajya Council Party held on 16 December 1923. Unfortunately the Pact was opposed by many of the Congress leaders of Bengal. The Bengali middle class Hindus, led by SN Banerjee, BC Pal and others, offered stubborn resistance to it. They feared that the Pact would weaken the political influence of the Hindu community. They accused CR Das of surrendering the rights of the Hindus. Even many moderate Hindu leaders held that CR Das had gone too far in trying to win the confidence of the Muslims.

The Muslims of the province welcomed the Pact wholeheartedly. But they were disillusioned when the Pact was rejected by the Cocanada Session of the Indian National Congress]], held in December 1923. In their opinion the blunder that the Cocanada Congress had committed was the worst in the history of the Congress movement and dealt a serious blow to the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity and the cause for which the Congress stood. CR Das stood solid as a rock in the face of all oppositions. He criticised the stand of the Indian National Congress and declared: 'You may delete the Bengal Pact from the resolutions but you cannot delete Bengal from the Indian National Congress 85 Bengal will not be deleted in this unceremonious fashion. I cannot understand the arguments of those who cry 'delete the Bengal Pact'... Is Bengal untouchable? Will you deny Bengal the right of suggestion on such a vital question? If you do, Bengal can take care of itself. You can not refuse Bengal the right to make a suggestion'. Though rejected by the Indian Congress, he, however, succeeded in getting the terms of the Pact ratified by the Bengal Provincial Congress Conference, held at Sirajganj in June 1924.

CR Das was elected the first Mayor of the calcutta corporation following the victory of the Swarajists in the election of that organisation in 1924 and was reelected for the next term also. He presided over the All India Trade Union Congress held at Lahore and Calcutta in 1923 and 1924 respectively. He presided over the Bengal Provincial Conference held at Faridpur in 1925. He founded the weekly Forward, the organ of the Swarajya Party in 1923. He also founded the Municipal Gazette, the official organ of the Calcutta Corporation in 1924. He was against caste distinctions and untouchability. He favoured women's emancipation and encouraged female education as well as widow remarriage. His advocacy of inter-caste marriage is proved by the marriage of his own daughters with Brahmin and Kayastha families.

Deshabandhu died in June 1925 when he was only fifty-five. His premature death came as a blow to the cause of communal harmony of Bengal and India as well. 'If he had not died a premature death', observed abul kalam azad, 'he would have created a new atmosphere in the country'. He added, 'It is a matter of regret that after he died, some of his followers assailed his position and his declaration was repudiated. The result was that the Muslims of Bengal moved away from the Congress and the first seed of partition was sown'. [Chitta Ranjan Misra]