Sri Aurobindo at Pondicherry 2

Let us digress for a moment in order to peep into the flurried mind of the almighty British bureaucracy in India.

Sri Aurobindo’s second “An open letter to my countrymen”, published in the Karmayogin on the 25th December, 1909, was considered seditious, and a warrant was issued against him. But as the Police failed to trace him, the printer was convicted, sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and acquitted on appeal.

We reproduce below some of the secret documents of the British Government which provide more amusing fiction and fabrication than facts about Sri Aurobindo’s activities and whereabouts. Puck plays pranks even in the forbidden chambers of solemn officialdom and criminally obfuscates the intelligence of the Criminal Intelligence Department.

“…It is said that the accused, Manmohan Ghose, printer, personally had no wish to move the High Court against his conviction, as he feared an enhancement of the sentence, and the appeal appears to be preferred in the interests of Arabinda Ghose at the instance of Girija Sundar Chakravarty, former manager of this paper. It is believed that if, by any chance, Manmohan Ghose should be acquitted, it would mean the triumphant return of Arabindo Ghose to Calcutta….” (Karmayogin Sedition case — Extract from C.I.D. Weekly Report dated 6th September, 1910).

But the appellant printer was subsequently acquitted by Justices Fletcher J. and Holmwood who delivered two separate judgments. Justice Fletcher gave the following judgement:

“I have come to the conclusion that it does not appear from the article that it is such as is likely to cause disaffection or produce hatred and contempt of the Government, nor can I find from the article that such was the intention of the writer…. All that we have to decide is whether the law has or has not been broken by the publication of this article, and I have come to the conclusion that it has not.”

The acquittal of the printer was a blow to the pride and prestige of the Police, and a chagrined embarrassment to the Government. A telegram was sent to the Secretary of State as follows:

“The result is unfortunate, but there is nothing to be done. The able judgment of Fletcher J. will attract far more attention than the somewhat flabby remarks of his learned brother, Holmwood, and will enable a writer with a facile pen (such as Arabinda Ghose) to publish Sedition with impunity in the Bengals…”

Under the date, 5th (January?) a document reads as follows:

“The Chief Presidency Magistrate issued a warrant for the arrest of Arabinda Ghose under Section 124-A.I.P.C. The warrant remains unexecuted owing to Ghose’s whereabouts not been known.”

It appears that a telegram was sent to the Secretary of State in England, acquainting him with the situation. The Secretary of State wired to the Viceroy:

“…If so, under what law has the warrant been issued? Does the article contain inducement to violence or assassination? Do you know where Arabindo is…?”

To which the flustered Viceroy replied, “Law officers considered the article clearly seditious. Whereabouts of Aravinda Ghose unknown to Government of India. But it is rumoured that he is still in hiding in Calcutta.”

Another document says, “…Arabinda is reported to be in Pondicherry, but it is not certain. Papu Rao wired again yesterday (13.4.1910) from Madras — Arabinda Ghose is certainly here. Ajit Singh is also said to be here. Both intending to proceed to Paris. — Send one to identify.

“I think by ‘here’ Papu Rao meant Pondicherry. We wired again to Bengal Special Department to send a man at once to C.I.D., Madras, who would be able to identify Arabinda Ghose.

“I am of opinion we should stop Arabinda if we can, as I think he will do great harm if he gets to a safe asylum in France or elsewhere. So far we can’t find any law on the subject of executing a British Indian warrant on a French steamer in Colombo port…

“The difficulty may be evaded by the fact that transhipment is necessary in Colombo harbour, for there are no through steamers from Pondicherry to France. The fugitive would be arrested in course of transhipment in a local boat, though not (as Legislative Department at present advise) in the ship’s boat.

“The Law Member gives the opinion that a fugitive in a foreign boat in a British port is not immune from arrest…. This makes it quite clear that Arabinda could be arrested at Colombo if he goes to that port.

“Mr. Cleveland thinks it doubtful if he bolted to Pondicherry. He went by the ‘Dupleix’ from Calcutta and must have left that port about 2nd April. It is said a house has been taken for him at Pondicherry.”

A telegram was sent to the Viceroy: “…Arabinda is in Pondicherry. Necessary action taken to secure his arrest if he tried to go to Paris via Colombo.”

Telegram Director C.I.D. Ceylon: “Aravinda Ghose of Calcutta and Ajit Singh of Lahore, absconders charged with sedition likely to leave Pondicherry for Paris by French steamer. Will you watch for them and arrest under Fugitive Offenders’ Act in Colombo harbour using this as your authority?”

Report from Deputy Superintendent, Papu Rao Naidu, 9.4.1910:

“In continuation of my previous wire of this day, I beg to inform you that Arabinda Ghose arrived at Pondicherry by S.S. Dupleix on the morning of 6th instant.[1] He was received at the beach by the India office people. He is now kept in a separate house in the street wherein the proprietor Srinivasacharry lives. I am also informed that a few days before his arrival, Subramanya Bharati engaged a bungalow of Ganaprakasa Modely, a rich man of Pondicherry, and there opened a Library and Reading Room. I am making arrangement to watch him and the people who meet him every day. I am removing my Madras agent permanently thither and am sending my Sub-Inspector to stay in British limits close by Pondicherry. I have informed Deputy I.G. C.I.D. who has not known about his arrival.”

What follows is a crowning evidence of the efficiency, truthfulness, fertile imagination and clairvoyance of the British Police:

(Extract paragraph 4 from the Weekly Report dated 17.10.1910 from I.G. Police to Director C.I.D.)

“Arabinda Ghose’s disappearance — in regard to the reported arrival of Arabinda Ghose at Pondicherry, mentioned in my last week’s report, further enquiries made in Calcutta indicate that he probably left by the S.S. Dupleix of the M.M. Company on the 1st of April. The Dupleix is the only passenger boat from Calcutta which calls regularly at Pondicherry. On the 31st of March, the Special Branch Officer of Calcutta police who supervises arrivals and departures of Indians by sea reported that two native passengers who gave their names as J.N. Mitter of Uluberia, and Bankim Chandra Bhowmik of Nilphamari, Rungpore, had reserved berths on this steamer for Pondicherry. The Health Officer’s inspection for this ship was held on the evening of the 31st. The Calcutta Police Officer who was present at the Health Officer’s inspection reported that neither of these two passengers had turned up for inspection. On the 4th instant a letter was received from M.M. Company to the effect that these two persons had actually sailed on the Dupleix for Pondicherry but that as they had boarded the steamer at the last moment, they had not been seen by the Calcutta Police Officer. On enquiry it was ascertained from the Health Officer that about 9.30 p.m. on the night of 31st ultimo, two Bengalees giving their names as J.N. Mitter and Bankim Chandra Bhowmik came to his private residence and requested to be furnished with health certificates to enable them to sail on the Dupleix. The Health Officer granted them the necessary certificates. On a photograph of Arabinda Ghose being shown to the Health Officer, he stated that he was probably the individual who gave his name as Jotindra Nath Mitter. The Health Officer further stated that he was struck by the fluent English which this gentleman spoke.

“Enquiries at Uluberia show that there is such a person as J.N. Mitter residing there, but he is at present at home and has never left by sea. There seems little doubt that the J.N. Mitter who embarked on the Dupleix was Arabinda Ghose.

“It is believed that the other person Bankim Chandra Bhowmik may be Nolini Kanto Sen Gupta of Nilphamari, an acquitted accused in the Alipore Bomb case who was known to be an intimate friend and admirer of Arabinda Ghose, and who disappeared about the same time as Arabinda. Unfortunately no photograph of this man is on record, but the description furnished by the Health Officer of the man calling himself Bankim Chandra Bhowmik in many respects agrees with that of Nolini.[2]

“An officer of the Special Department received information that Arabinda had decided to proceed to Berlin to throw in his lot with the Indian Revolutionary party there — the party which publishes and sends out the Talwar. He intended to start from Bombay in the Austrian Lloyds steamer leaving on the 1st of April, but finding that he could not catch that steamer, he decided to leave Calcutta for Pondicherry in the M.M. boat.

“Some rumours state that Arabinda Ghose has taken Rs. 25,000 in sovereigns with him, but if it is true that he intended to proceed to Berlin via Trieste in the Austrian Lloyds steamer and eventually went off in a Messageries boat getting no further than Pondicherry, it looks to me rather as though there had been some difficulty about money.

“The Commissioner of Police is applying for warrants to be sent to Bombay, Madras and Colombo”.

Telegram from D.S.P. to Director C.I.D.:

“My Pondicherry agent identified Arabinda personally on Simla photo.”

The Hindu published the following on 13th November, 1910:

“Babu Aurobindo Ghose writes to us from 42, Rue du Pavilion, Pondicherry, under date November 7, 1910:

“I shall be obliged if you will allow me to inform every one interested in my whereabouts through your journal that I am and will remain in Pondicherry. I left British India over a month before proceedings were taken against me and, as I had purposely retired here in order to pursue my Yogic sadhana undisturbed by political action or pursuit and had already severed connection with my political work, I did not feel called upon to surrender on the warrant for sedition, as might have been incumbent on me if I had remained in the political field. I have since lived here as a religious recluse, visited only by a few friends, French and Indian, but my whereabouts have been an open secret, long known to the agents of the Government and widely rumoured in Madras as well as perfectly well-known to every one in Pondicherry. I find myself now compelled, somewhat against my will, to give my presence here a wider publicity. It has suited certain people for an ulterior object to construct a theory that I am not in Pondicherry, but in British India, and I wish to state emphatically that I have not been in British India since March last and shall not set foot on British territory even for a single moment in the future until I can return publicly. Any statement by any person to the contrary made now or in the future, will be false. I wish, at the same time, to make it perfectly clear that I have retired for the time from political activity of any kind and that I will see and correspond with no one in connection with political subjects. I defer all explanation or justification of my action in leaving British India until the High Court in Calcutta shall have pronouced on the culpability or innocence of the writing in the Karmayogin on which I am indicted.”


[1] Sri Aurobindo arrived on the 4th April, as we have already seen. The Deputy Superintendent was super-efficient!
[2] Nolini Kanta was in Calcutta at that time. It was Bejoy who accompanied Sri Aurobindo to Pondicherry. Nolini Kanta and Bejoy were as like as chalk and cheese!

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