Chittaranjan Das

Chitta Ranjan Das (1870-1925) was an Indian lawyer and poet who became a nationalist leader. His main aim was swaraj, or self-rule, for India.

Chitta Ranjan Das was born in Calcutta on Nov. 5, 1870, into a progressive Brahmo family. His father, Bhuvan Mohan, was a solicitor and a journalist who edited the English church weekly, The Brahmo Public Opinion. Das graduated from Presidency College in Calcutta in 1890 and went to England to compete in the Indian civil service examination. He failed the exams but joined the Inner Temple and was called to the bar in 1892.

Das returned to India in 1893 and started law practice in the Calcutta High Court. Following his successful defense of Aurobindo Ghose in the 1908 Alipur bomb conspiracy case, Das rose steadily and built a lucrative profession.

From his early youth Das was a nationalist. He was an active member of the Students' Association (1886), where Surendranath Banerjee had lectured on patriotism. At Presidency College, Das organized an undergraduate association and moved for permitting the use of Bengali in university examinations. He came in close contact with Bipin Chandra Pal and Aurobindo Ghose and helped them in publishing the Bande Mataram, an English weekly for propagating the ideals of swaraj.

Das was politically most active between 1917 and 1925. In 1917 he presided over the Bengal Provincial Conference and put forward a plan for village reconstruction through the establishment of local self-government, cooperative credit societies, and the regeneration of cottage industry. The same year he began to attend the Indian National Congress sessions regularly and was elected to all important committees. His powerful oratory, political foresight, and tact gave him a leading position in the Congress. He denounced the Montagu-Chelmsford Reform, which established a dyarchy for India, and joined Gandhi's noncooperation movement in 1920. He toured the whole country, carrying the new creed to every door. In 1921 he was arrested with his wife and son and sentenced to 6 months' imprisonment. The same year he was elected president of the Ahmedabad Congress.

On the failure of Gandhi's noncooperation movement, Das devised a new strategy. As president of the Gaya Congress (1922), he advocated an obstructionist policy inside the legislative councils with a view to mending or ending the dyarchy. But the majority in the Congress rejected his proposal. Thereupon, Das formed the Swarajya party with Motilal Nehru.

The Swarajya party gained tremendous success in Bengal and the central provinces and won majority seats in the legislative councils (1924). In Bengal the party inflicted repeated defeats upon the government, and the British bureaucracy in its earlier form met its doom in Bengal. In 1924 the Swarajists captured power in the Calcutta Corporation, and Das became the first popularly elected mayor of Calcutta.

Das realized that Hindu-Moslem unity was essential for the attainment of swaraj. In 1924 he formulated his famous Communal Pact to promote permanent peace between India's two major communities. He also wanted an assimilation of Eastern spirit and Western technique. He envisioned a pan-Asiatic federation of the oppressed nations and advocated India's participation in it. For his devotion to the cause of self-rule he gained the title Deshabandhu (friend of the country).

Das's genius was also revealed in the field of literature. He founded and published a literary magazine, Narayan (1914), and composed a number of poetical works. His first collection of poetry, Malancha (1895), raised a storm of protest among Brahmos. He was branded as an atheist, and in 1897 the Brahmo leaders boycotted his marriage. His successive works, Mala (1904), Sagar Sangit (1913), and Kishore-Kishoree and Antaryami (both 1915), reveal a Vaishnava devotionalism. Das died in Darjeeling on June 16, 1925.


Further Reading on Chitta Ranjan Das

There are two major biographies of Das: Prithwis Chandra Roy, Life and Times of C. R. Das (1927), and Hemendra Nath Das Gupta, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das (1960). Critical treatments of Das's political, economic, and religious ideas are in Sukumar Ranjan Das, Chitta Ranjan (1922); Dilip Kumar Chatterjee, C. R. Das and Indian National Movement (1965); and Stephen N. Hay, Asian Ideas of East and West (1970).

Additional Biography Sources

Roy Choudhury, Pranab Chandra, C. R. Das and his times, Mysore: Geetha Book House, 1979.

Sen, Rathindra Nath, Life and times of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, New Delhi: Northern Book Centre, 1989.