Bhagwati Charan: Unveiling the man behind the ‘Philosophy of a bomb’

Bhagwati with his wife and young child

By Gaurav Sharma

The fight for India’s independence was a multifaceted movement comprising myriad regional campaigns, peaceful non-cooperation, civil disobedience, constitutional struggles and various other agitations.

Although the mass movement encompassed various sections of the society, the major part of the freedom struggle was shrouded under the influence of the mainstream views of the Indian National Congress.

The conflicting approaches

The later stages of the movement particularly saw the Congress adopt Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of nonviolence and civil resistance.

At the same time, the freedom struggle was brimming with an undercurrent of a rather radical approach formulated by the famous trio of Lal, Bal and Pal among other revolutionary leaders like Aurobindo Ghosh, Chandrashekhar Azad and Bhagat Singh.

The contrarian standpoints of the two sides, popularly known as the moderates and extremists, led to a scuffle between the philosophical polar opposites viz-a-viz an exchange of a series of articles.

The forthright, vocal articles began with Gandhi criticizing the bombing of the train moving on the Delhi-Agra railway line, in which the then Viceroy Lord Irwin was traveling in 1929.

Irwin managed to escape unscathed and Gandhi thanked God for the miracle. Subsequently, he condemned the move orchestrated by the revolutionaries by publishing “The Cult of a Bomb”, an article in Young India, consisting of his arguments against violence based on his opinions and beliefs.

The response of revolutionaries

Soon after Gandhi’s article was published, Bhagwati Charan, an outstanding Indian revolutionary associated with the faction of the socialist movement, issued his own response–”The philosophy of a bomb”–in consultation with Chandrashekar Azad.

Meant to quash Gandhi’s description of revolutionaries as “cowards” indulging in “dastardly” activities, the philosophy of a bomb enunciated the basic principles of the revolutionary movement and intended to foster a better understanding of the ideals that inspired the mutineers.

The Uniqueness of the bomb philosophy

The primary reason why Charan supported the extremist way was because he thought it would be most effective in banishing the proletariat rule and dethroning “social parasites” from political rule.

The triple motto of “Service, Suffering and Sacrifice” lay at the core of the revolutionary ideology directed towards the independence of India.

Charan believed that the deliverance of the country was dependent solely on a revolution which not only involved an armed conflict between the foreign rule and subjugated people of India, but also something that would usher in a new social order.

But perhaps the most important characteristic which made the bomb philosophy resplendent with unique radiance was the proposition that it would spell the “death knell of capitalism” and annihilate caste distinctions and exploitative inequalities.

Defense of Revolutionary Psychology

Quite in contrast to popular notions, the revolutionaries did not stand for violence in the form of physical brutality and injustice.

Charan, on the contrary, attacked the concept of nonviolence as practiced by Gandhi and his followers.

“What generally goes by the name of non-violence is, in reality the theory of soul-force, as applied to the attainment of personal and national rights through courting suffering and hoping thus to finally convert your opponent to your point of view”, Charan opined.

He then went a step further and defended the position taken by revolutionaries through a logical argument.

“When a revolutionary believes certain things to be his right he asks for them, pleads for them, argues for them, wills to attain them with all the soul-force at his command, stands the greatest amount of suffering for them, is always prepared to make the highest sacrifice for their attainment, and also backs his efforts with all the physical force he is capable of”, argues Charan.

By quoting a rational reasoning, Charan laid the contention that such methods cannot be termed as violent because “that would constitute an outrage on the dictionary meaning of the word.”

Hence, the entire argument is turned on its head by shadowing violence and instead highlighting the moral cum practical dilemma of using soul-force plus physical force or soul-force alone.

The question of the masses

Another pertinent argument that Charan makes while defining the means of activity is a view of the general populace.

According to Charan, the average Indian and human beings, in general, do not understand theological niceties about loving one’s enemy, a central tenet of Gandhian Ahimsa.

That people love their friend and hate their enemy, forms the fulcrum of the revolutionary thought process, as it does with the minds of the common people.

Furthermore, the efficacy of “the gospel of love” was questioned by Charan by showcasing the dearth of foreign rulers who had actually been converted by such a lofty ideal.

The revolutionary Modus Operandi–No Bullying

Quashing the misconception that revolution inherently involves extremist bullying, Charan attacked Gandhi for failing to understand revolutionary psychology.

“How easy and convenient it is to call people deluded, to declare them to be past reason, to call people deluded, to call upon the public to withdraw its support and condemn them so that they may get isolated and be forced to suspend their activities, specially when a man holds the confidence of an influential section of the public!”, wrote an astounded Charan.

Simultaneously, Charan emphasized reason as the sole premise on which a revolutionary functioned.

“A revolutionary believes in reason more than anything. It is to reason, and reason alone, that he bows. No amount of abuse and condemnation, even if it emanates from the highest of the high can turn him from his set purpose”, declared Charan.

The moral arguments against the revolutionary style of working aside, it cannot be but said that the “rebels” were men driven by logic, bereft of any fear for their own lives.

In this regard, Charan’s own words enlighteningly synopsize the revolutionary way of life;  Let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind. A revolutionary is the last person on earth to submit to bullying.