Updated: February 15, 2011 12:53 IST

Saluting the heroes of freedom struggle

A. S. Padmanabhan
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Public memory is proverbially short and fading. Lest it should totally fail, periodic reminders of what ought to be remembered are necessary. This book is a thoughtful attempt in that direction.

All the greats discussed played crucial roles in the freedom movement and Partition. Ambedkar fought for social equality and Jamshedji Tata laid the foundation for industrial growth. Surendranath Banerjea, who presided over the Congress, remained a moderate even though he was unfairly expelled from the ICS on concocted charges. Bankim Chandra Chatterji's ‘Bande Mataram' was secular, appealed to all, and became the battle-cry for Indian freedom.


Dadabhai Naoroji was the Grand Old Man who advocated India's cause in London as an MP and well-respected Indian. In his 80's, he presided over the Congress, which he founded with A.O. Hume. Gopalakrishna Gokhale was the most moderate and was liked even by Viceroy Curzon. All the moderates were mild-mannered. Their commitment to the cause of freedom and civil rights was firm; but they preferred a persuasive, well-reasoned approach. All of them were admirers of the British values, such as a sense of justice and fairness, and Parliamentary institutions. All of them were opposed to the Bengal Partition plan.

The extremists were impatient for securing the goal of freedom. For them, petitioning for rights was not acceptable. Bal Gangadhar Tilak thundered “Swaraj is my birthright” and brought about social consolidation through the Ganapati and Sivaji festivals. Lajpat Rai impressed even English and American audiences with his eloquence. Though radical, he was not for terrorism as a means. The removal of untouchability and adoption of Hindi as a national language were also causes dear to him.

Like him, Bipin Chandra Pal was a powerful orator and a radical. Both he and Aurobindo Ghosh, who worked with him as assistant editor, felt that Gandhiji's support to Khilafat sidelined the freedom struggle and led to a ‘Pan-Islamic sentiment' that helped the British to divide and weaken the national movement. C.R. Das joined Gandhi's non-cooperation movement; but differed with him on the boycott of the legislature. By the time Gandhiji came round, Das was dead.

Initially, Nehru had serious reservations about the Gandhi-Irwin Pact, but came under Gandhi's sway soon. Sensing the feelings of the radicals, Gandhi moved a resolution in the 1929 Lahore Congress demanding independence within a year. Both Subhas Chandra Bose and Nehru opposed Gandhi's stand on the Second World War. Even when Mohammed Ali Jinnah had little influence with the Muslim premiers of Punjab, Sind and Bengal, Gandhi did not exploit that to upstage Jinnah. It is worth recalling Gandhiji's statement as early as in 1919 that “my heart is not political, but religious”.

Tribute to Patel

Sardar Patel was also opposed to the partition of India. His greatest contribution to the nation was the integration of the princely States with the Indian union. The best tribute to him came from the Soviet leader Khruschev. He said: “You Indians are an amazing people. How on earth did you manage to liquidate the Princely rule without liquidating the princes!”

Subhas Bose dared Gandhi and defeated his nominee in the Congress elections. He founded the Forward Bloc within the Congress. He looked forward to the defeat of the Allies in the World War, escaped to Germany in disguise, and formed a government in exile in Berlin and a provisional government in Singapore. His methods would make even the extremists of those times look moderate. His impatience to free the country from the foreign yoke won for him the admiration of the youth.The chapter on Jinnah tells us that, far from being a bigot, he was a nationalist to the core and advocated Hindu-Muslim unity in the initial phases of his eventful career.

The book is a very useful link with the freedom struggle and the drama that preceded Partition. The text is aided by lots of references and quotes. One cannot help feeling that many other equally eminent leaders have not found a place. More such volumes are needed if the coverage is to be comprehensive. And there is, of course, the larger question: what about the anonymous millions who stoked the fires of freedom in the front and attained martyrdom?

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