On 6 September 1889, Sarat Chandra Bose was born at Kodalia village in the 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, not far from the then imperial city of Calcutta. Sarat Bose was the fourth child of Janakinath, a lawyer and Prabhabati Devi, who were widely respected in the community for their support and generosity. Ten more siblings were to follow, one of the youngest, his much loved brother Subhas Chandra Bose.
Sarat Bose’s student years in Calcutta coincided with the heady days of the early 1900s, when an emerging Congress began to stir the fires of patriotism and nationalism. He joined Presidency College from where he both graduated and with a Master’s degree in English literature (1909), followed by a law degree from the Calcutta University (1910). As a young man, Sarat witnessed and imbibed the early revolutionary fervour which swept across Bengal in those years. He joined the agitation against the failed imperial attempt to partition Bengal.
Sarat Bose married Bivabati in 1909, which marked the beginning of a life-long partnership of love, companionship and mutual support in the shared objective of service to the motherland. In this heroic journey, brother Subhas assumed a central position, and the saga of the Bose brothers against the raj will continue to inspire successive generations. At the same time, the trials and tribulations faced by the brothers and their family were many. But the long and several periods of detention and the political turmoil were faced with a steely determination to continue with the battle for freedom.
Sarat Bose’s illustrious legal career began in Cuttack in 1911, under the eye of his father Janakinath and other senior members of the bar. Two years at Lincoln’s Inn in London followed from where he qualified as a barrister-at-law. Upon his return to India in 1914 he enrolled at the Calcutta High Court and joined the chambers of Sir Nripendra Nath Sirkar.
Sarat Bose rapidly became a respected and eminent practitioner of the law, renowned for his knowledge and legal skills, and in particular his power of cross-examination. It was said that the very presence of Sarat Bose in court could strike fear into the hearts of his opponents. It has been reported that one witness for the opposing side in a case fainted when he realised that he was about to be cross-examined by Sarat Chandra Bose.
Sarat Bose was drawn into the vortex of the nationalist movement early in life. With the return to India of Mahatma Gandhi in 1915 and the emergence in Bengal of the Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das around the same time, the nationalist movement entered a new phase. Sarat Bose, still a year short of 30 years, started participating in the Congress movement. He was joined by Subhas in 1921, and they both provided critical support to C.R. Das and the Swarajist movement, and to the Mahatma in those early days of non-cooperation with the then colonial masters.
From that time onward, Sarat Bose’s name occupies a prominent place in the annals of Indian pre-Independence history. In addition to having to earn a living to support a large family, Sarat Bose plunged into the determined push for independence—in the Mahatma’s non-cooperation movement, in concerted efforts to bridge the communal divide between Hindus and Muslims, and in the early moves to construct a vision of an independent and united India.
Along with his brother Subhas, Sarat himself was jailed or detained twice for long periods. This included the particularly long detention from December 1941 to September 1945, when he was taken by the British to Coonoor in the Nilgiris. Sarat Bose was not released by the British colonial powers until after the war had ended. During this time his mother Prabhabati had passed away in Calcutta and he had not been allowed to even attend her funeral. Also, he had received the heart-wrenching news of his beloved brother Subhas’ “death” in an alleged plane crash in Taiwan.
With the end of the war and with Independence now on the horizon and approaching fast, Sarat upon his release answered the call of the Mahatma to re-join him in active Congress politics and give the final push to end the imperial yoke. The euphoria of the restoration of personal freedom and the tantalising prospect of liberty at last for Mother India, sadly did not last long. After his election in 1946 as leader of the Congress party in the Central Legislative Assembly, and after a short stint as a Cabinet minister in the short-lived interim government later that year, Sarat in January 1947 resigned from the Congress Working Committee. He had seen the despair and resignation on the faces of his colleagues, and their growing resolve to divide colonial India into two states, the one predominantly Hindu and the other Muslim.
Sarat Bose would have none of it, and when the Northwest was lost, he fought like a lion to preserve the unity and integrity of his beloved Bengal. He first sought a united Bengal as a province of the new, truncated state of India. When that was clearly going to fail, he tried to guide Bengal towards becoming a sovereign state in its own right. Sadly, it was all too late, and on 1 August 1947, Sarat Bose resigned from the Congress movement that he had served for four eventful decades. But the tragedy of partition did not daunt him for long. On the very day he had resigned from the Congress, he had announced the establishment of his Socialist Republican Party. In the last few years of his life, he was back in the legal arena providing for his family, back on the political stage as the leading light in the building of a socialist India, and back on the national stage as an advocate for what he saw as a fully independent Republican India, beyond the dominion status granted by the British on 15 august 1947.
But the long years of incessant toil and struggle, exacerbated by detention and imprisonment, had exacted their toll India and he left us prematurely on 20 February 1950.
Let us reflect on this remarkable human being: on his priceless contribution to our Independence, on his opposition to partition; and, most of all, on his humanity and his vision of an India where each and every one of its citizens would be enabled to contribute to the common good.
Chandra Kumar Bose, a social activist, is the grandson of Sarat Chandra Bose and grandnephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.