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In the early twentieth century the British Empire was at its zenith- the sun never set on the empire, which spread all over the globe from Australia, New Zealand to Malay, Burma and India, to Yemen, Transjordan, Egypt, Africa, Guyana and on to Canada. Birendra lost faith in endless street agitations, conferences, meetings, the boycotting of British made goods and patriotic songs. He did not think these could ever achieve Independence. Birendra wanted to hit the mighty empire directly and did so independently with his faithful brave associates.
“Days of Glory” is a Memoir of Birendra Bhattacharjee who played a prominent role in the revolutionary cadres of the time in Bengal. Seeking more action and impact, he formed his own small organisation with some faithful associates and went on to strike out at the British Empire. Providence however did not grant him much time. His one act of insurrection became a prominent and celebrated case, but he was betrayed and turned over to the authorities, arrested, tortured and imprisoned.
There is considerable debate about how exactly India gained its freedom. In the late 1940’s and 50’s it was taught and widely accepted that it was Gandhi who gained the independence. It was said that the British were afraid of the damage that would be caused to their reputations by the sight of non-violent Indians being willingly beaten by stick-wielding policemen in the Raj’s employment.
Over time this belief has changed based on new facts and attitudes. Although this will be criticised as an unpatriotic stance, Independence did not turn out to be a matter of gaining a glorious freedom but was rather a transfer of power, leaving everything intact from the British administration and transferring the levers of power to the new rulers. This included placing Indian Governors / Rashtrapati in the Vice-regal palace.
At the outset there was only an administration that was selected by the preferences of a single man Gandhi, who won the hearts of millions of Indians. He preferred a simple agrarian life, cleaning latrines and spinning cloth and viewed all industrial progress with suspicion.
It all started with great enthusiasm. Mahatma Gandhi started the full independence movement in 1921 but after the violence in Chourichoura he abandoned the movement altogether. Bengal had steered its own course in the early part of the century. In 1905, it was Curzon, a staunch imperialist who undertook the division of Bengal. With the acquiescence of the Nawab of Dhaka, who was himself suspicious of the Hindu population and the prospect of a loss of power should the British leave. Curzon divided Bengal into the Muslim dominant east and the Hindu majority west. 1908 saw Arabinda and Barin Ghosh convicted in the Alipore bombing case. That was the year when Khudiram Bose was hanged for another bomb-throwing case.
The Bengali youth lost confidence in Gandhi’s approach. His approach of non-violence with its attendant motivations to embarrass the British, were not making sufficient progress in their eyes. The Bengali youth wanted action.
Birendra was born with the surname Bhattacharjee. His ancestors were all Gangopadhyay, but in native Bramhanbaria they took the title of Bhattacharjee. His was a lower middle-class family from an obscure village and the family income came from what little land they owned, supplemented by his father Mahendra Chandra’s salary from a Dhaka landlord’s office. The family was always financially constrained. Mahendra would disembark from the train several stops before his destination and walk up to twenty miles to save a few annas. Birendra was the great hope for the family. From a young age his intelligence, charm and charisma were remarked upon. But he left his family, his home and a comfortable professional path for a life of ideology, action, danger and ultimately arrest, torture and imprisonment. This sacrifice is impossible to understand in today’s world.