This book describes the remarkable life and career of virendranath Chattopadhyaya (1880-1937), a major revolutionary and early internationalist working abroad for India’s struggle against British imperialism. Brother of Sarojini Naidu and a close associate of Jawaharlal Nehru, chattopadhtyaya, more famously known as chatto, spent most of his life in Europe. For the last few years of his life he lived in the Soviet Union as a social scientist and University teacher when he was executed in 1937 in one of Stalin’s mass purges.
This exhaustive political biography explores chatto’s family history and details his political activities in Europe including his propaganda against the British in India in the foreign press. It chronicles his intense involvement with anti-British and anti-imperialist forces in Europe such as the German Foreign Office, the 1917 Stockholm peace initiatives of the socialist International, the Bolsheviks of the Socialist International, the Bolsheviks, the League against Imperialism, and the Communist International, the communist International. The volume also dwells on Chatto’s vision of a more realistic Marxism regarding the social and economic conditions of the Indian sub-continent.
Based on meticulous research, this work includes interviews with Chatto’s co-workers and contemporaries. There is also extensive use of translation from several European languages of original material preserved in the archives and private paper collection in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Russia, USA, Britain, and India. These reveal new facts that explode myths and misconception based on hearsay, thus providing a new perspective on revolutionary nationalist activities in India.
Well-organized and lucidly written, this is the first detailed work on the political activities of Chatto. It fills a lacuna in mainstream history writing on the Indian national movements and will be read by historians, political scientists, students, and the lay reader interested in the Indian freedom movements and Indo-German relations.
Nirode K. Barooah is an independent historian working on Indian and German history. He was formerly a Research Fellow at the Universities of Koln and Heidelberg and has also taught at the University of Delhi.
The struggle for India’s freedom was not confined to India alone, but extended beyond its borders, roughly from the first decade of the last century. Perhaps no other freedom fighter was as persistently and steadfastly anti-imperialist as Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (1880-1937), whose field of operation was Europe. Mahatma Gandhi, who led the mainstream Indian movements from 1920 until Independence in 1947 intermittently made compromise with British imperialism all through the movement. So did his lieutenant, Jawaharlal Nehru, often against his own instinct, in the interest of unity and loyalty to the supreme commander. The ‘Lal-Bal-Pal’ trio* of the so-called Indian ‘extremists’ of the earlier period had also eventually patched up with British imperialism. At the end of World War I, even Har Dayal, the fierce advocate of violent revolution, turned into an admirer of British rule in India. But Chatto, as Virendranath Chattopadhyaya was popularly known, never made any compromises with imperialism, apart from using the German imperial power against British imperialism in India during WWI, declaring at the same time his own anti-imperialism.
Chatto’s tireless energy enabled him to involve the Indian freedom struggle with different anti-British and anti-imperialist force in Europe such as the German foreign Office, the 1917 Stockholm peace initiatives of the German Foreign Office, the 1917 Stockholm peace initiative of the socialist International, the Bolsheviks, the League against Imperialism, and the Communist International. The effectiveness of his propaganda against the British in India in the foreign press, and his political activities in Europe before, during, and after WWI, remained a constant thorn in the side of the British government, and the British Secret Service made strenuous efforts until 1931, in Switzerland, Sweden, and Germany either to capture or kill him. In the late-1920s, as secretary of the League against Imperialism, he played a key role in radicalizing Jawaharlal Nehru, and in the 1930s, in the Soviet Union, he earned a name for himself as a social scientist and university teacher. And yet there is no full-social scientist and distinguished patriot and fascinating figure. The government of independent India is lamentably indifferent to commemorating in a fitting manner the life-long sacrifices Chatto made for his countrymen’s freedom. It is truly astonishing that in spite of Nehru’s close relationship with Chatto during a very significant phase of the Indian freedom movement and his daughter Indira Gandhi’s intimate Knowledge of his work for India from Berlin when she was 181, the Nehru dynasty did next to nothing to honour the legacy of Chatto during its long tenure of power in India. The centenary of his birth in 1980 was allowed to pass unnoticed without even a token of remembrance and respect.
What is the reason for this neglect and indifference? We are not concerned here with the reason for the official neglect. But the obvious reason for the lack of a proper biography seems to be that not enough is known for lack of a proper biography seems to be that not enough is known in India about Chatto’s life in exile before and after WWI to awaken much curiosity. Even what little is known about his activities during WWI as an ally of Germany, is the language problem. During his active life abroad Chatto spent most of his time in continental Europe, and with knowledge of English alone, it is not possible to handle the basic materials preserved in the various European archives. Disregard of the half-truths by M.N. Roy in his Memoirs, minimizing the important of Chatto’s work in Berlin. Roy’s supporters in India are still spreading baseless stories founded on his observation. Last but not least, for many Indian Communists, the study and research of chatto’s life and work has remained taboo. Although the Soviet Union, throughout its existence, kept on feeding the Indian government concocted stories about the circumstances of chatto’s death, it has always been an open secret that he was liquidated in Stalin’s mass purges. And Stalin, of course, is still held in great respect and admiration by many Indian Marxist academics and communist activists.
This book is based primarily on the original archival sources. The major portion is derived from various German official archives. They are supplemented by those from the British, Swedish, American, Russian, Danish, and Dutch archives. Although the books cover all aspects of Chatto’s life, as far as possible, it is not a compact biography in the conventional sense. The nature of some of chatto’s activities was such, particularly sense. The nature of some of Chatto’s activities was such, particularly during the War that events developed without his actual presence. Yet, these events, being part and parcel of the full story, have to be detailed.
Chatto’s political life began at the time of the emergence of revolutionary nationalism in Indian politics after the assassination of Curzon Wyllie by Madanlal Dhingra in London in 1909. This event instantly made both the moderates and the so-called ‘extremists’ almost disappear from the scene as far as the substance of nationalism is concerned. Surendranath Banerjea, the premier moderate leader, then in London, started praising British rule in India in every meeting and, on the opposite side, in the face of the current British hostility to Indian nationalism, Bipin Chandra pal, the eminent ‘extremist’, also in London, declared that he had ceased to be an ‘extremist’. Shyamaji Krishnavarma and chatto debated, in the pages of times, the uses and abuse of Krishnavarma’s revolutionary ideas. Although for tactical reasons Chatto at first discarded Krishnavarma’s notions, he soon left London and pal’s camp to give a practical shape to those ideas from Germany as an ally of the German Foreign Office.
Although some welcome revision has lately taken place in projecting and judging the war-time ‘German conspiracies’ in India, in the wake of successive releases of erstwhile classified material by the British and American archives highlighting the equally underhand British tactics and conspiracies to malign Germany and the Indian nationalists in the neutral countries, further re-examination and redress have long been overdue in this area on the basis of the original German documents concerning these events. Pioneering Indian authors, who have evaluated the revolutionary nationalists and their rightful place in the history of India’s struggle for freedom, have not studied the role of these freedom fighters in the round, and German archival sources, especially on the subject of Indo-German co-operation, have almost wholly been ignored. They have depended more on hearsay evidence and deficient recollection of former revolutionaries than on authentic German materials. Consequently, some of their accounts are seriously flawed because of their failure to compare and verify individual reports and recitals with authentic evidence. The fraud and charlatanry of some so-called revolutionaries and their unsavoury actions have also remained unexposed. Since Oppenheim’s ‘India Committee’, which initiated the so-called German intrigues in India, comes under the complete management and control of Indians at the beginning of 1915, these intrigues must be identified as essentially Indian intrigues supported by Germany. Therefore the Indian revolutionaries share the blame for the failures, pretentions, incompetence, and cowardice of these intrigues. Further, in mitigation, it must be added that in the face of aggressive British diplomacy, espionage, and on-the-spot hangings of suspected ‘seditionist’, the untried Indian revolutionaries had no chance. It is significant how C.R. Cleveland, the head of the Indian Criminal Intelligence Department, praised his men in 1917.
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