Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism (Phase-1)

Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism (Phase-1)

This article deals with ‘ Rise of Revolutionary Terrorism (Phase-1) – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


  • New political trend ie  trend of Revolutionary Terrorism came in 1907 primarily because they could find no other way of expressing their patriotism
  • They were also led to ‘the politics of the bombby the Extremists’ failure to give a positive lead to the people. The Extremists had made a sharp and on the whole correct and effective critique of the Moderates. They had rightly emphasized the role of the masses and the need to go beyond propaganda and agitation. They had advocated persistent opposition to the Government and put forward a militant programme of passive resistance and boycott of foreign cloth, foreigners’ courts, education and so on. They had demanded self- sacrifice from the youth . But they had failed to find forms through which all these ideas could find practical expression.
  • They were more militant, their critique of British rule was couched in stronger language, they were willing to make greater sacrifices and undergo greater suffering
  • They wanted quicker results & were result of failure of policy of persuasion of Moderates & Policy of low grade pressure of Extremists .
  • Revolutionary youth decided to copy the methods of the Irish nationalists and Russian Nihilists and Populists. That is to say, they decided to organize the assassination of unpopular British officials. Such assassinations would
    1. Strike terror into the hearts of the rulers
    2. Amuse the patriotic instincts of the people
    3. Inspire them and remove the fear of authority from their minds.

Each assassination, and if the assassins were caught, the consequent trial of the revolutionaries involved, would act as ‘propaganda by deed’’

Their activities upto World War I (WW I)

1 . Maharashtra

Sedition Committee Report which came in 1918 observed that first indications of revolutionary movement in Maharashtra came in 1890s among Chitpavan Brahmins who were descendants of Peshwas. BG Tilak by starting Ganpati festival & Shivaji festival injected some pro-Swaraj & anti-British bias in politics of Maharashtra

1879 Revolt by Vasudev Balwant Phadke
Phadke was a Chitpavan Brahman and English educated clerk  . He seems to have been influenced by Ranade’s lectures on drain of wealth, experience of Deccan famine of 1876-77, and growing Hindu revivalism among Poona Brahman intellectuals.
In an autobiographical fragment written while hiding from the police in a temple, Phadke wrote how he had thought of reestablishing a Hindu Raj by collecting together a secret band, raising money through dacoities, and instigating an armed revolt through disrupting communications. ‘There is much ill-feeling among the people and now if a few make a beginning those who are hungry will join.’ Much of this clearly anticipates later revolutionary terrorism
Phadke’s band of forty included a few Brahman youths and many more low caste Ramoshis and Dhangars. The outcome was a type of social banditry, with the dacoits given shelter by the peasants.
After Phadke’s capture and life sentence, a Ramoshi dacoit band under Daulata Ramoshi remained active till 1883  

1890s Tilak’s attempt to promote militancy among the youth by his journals & by various festivals  
1897 Lt Ayerst Murder at Poona, 1897
First political murder of European
By Chapekar Brothers (Chitpavan Brahmins) Damodar & Balkrishna due to provocation by tyranny of Plague Committee on sending soldiers to inspect houses of civilians for plague afflicted persons
Although attack was targeted at Mr Rand (President of Plague Committee) but Lt Ayerst was shot accidentally. They were caught, prosecuted & hanged 
Along with them, Tilak was also persecuted on the charge of sedition for his writings & sentenced 18 months. His writings inspired Chapekar Brothers is accepted by experts too . On June 1897 he wrote in Kesari , ” Krishna’s advice in the Gita is to kill even our own teacher & our kinsmen . No blame attached to any person if he is doing deeds without being actuated by a desire to reap the fruits of his deeds. Get out of the Penal Code & enter the high atmosphere of Srimat Bhagvat Gita & consider the actions of great man
1899 MITRA MELA founded by VD Savarkar (also wrote 1857 – The First War of Indian Independence) .
1904 Mitra Mela merged with Abhinav Bharat (after Mazzini’s Young Italy) – secret organisation of Revolutionaries
– VD Savarkar was young graduate from Ferguson College , Poona & availed Krishnavarma’s fellowship offer and left for London in June 1906
1909 Unpopular District  Judge of Nashik was assassinated  by Abhinav Bharat Society (with pistol sent by VD Savarkar)

2. Bengal

Revolutionary terrorism was developing here since 1870s , when physical culture movement became a craze & akharas or gymnasiums  were setup everywhere to develop what Swami Vivekananda had described as strong muscles & nerves of steel .

1902 Anushilan Samiti :  Organised by Aurobindo Ghosh & Promotha Mitter ,  Jatindranath Banerji and Barindra Ghosh
Basically it was gym started after Vivekananda teachings  but gradually became secret society of revolutionaries
East Bengal counterpart was Dhaka Anushilan Samiti   led by Pulin Bihari Ghosh (Eastern Bengal outfits were more organised than Western Bengal outfits)
Philosophy – Force Must be encountered by Force
1905 Aurobindo Ghosh published Bhavani Mandir giving detailed plan for organising revolutionary activities
Another book Mukti Kon Pathe (Which way lies the Salvation) exhorted Indian soldiers to supply weapons to Indian revolutionaries
1906 – Yugantar Group : founded by Barindra Kumar Ghosh  and Bhupendra Nath Dutt
– News Paper called Yugantar also started
Group worked in close association with Anushilan Samiti  
1908 Muzaffarpur Conspiracy Case
– Murder attempt on  Kingsford , unpopular judge of Muzzafarpur but instead bomb was thrown by mistake on Mrs Kennedy’s carriage killing two english ladies  
Two revolutionaries who threw bomb were
1. Prafulla Chaki: later Shot himself
2. Khudiram Bose : boy of 15 tried &  hanged  

Alipur Conspiracy Case
Government searched for illicit arms in Calcutta & arrested 34 persons including Aurobindo Ghosh & his brother Barindra Ghosh . But after that sequence of murders started.
– Narendra Gosain who turned approver was murdered in jail
– 1909 : Public Prosecutor was assassinated  in Calcutta
– 1910 : DSP of Calcutta assassinated when he was coming out of Calcutta High Court
Atlast Aurobindo was released due to lack of evidences. He quit movement and took up religion

Bomb was thrown at Viceroy Hardinge II by Rash Behari Bose & Sachin  Sanyal at Chandani Chowk, Delhi
Many of his attendants were killed in this
Sanyal was arrested , tried and later released for sometime and in  that time he with Ramprasad bismil formed Hindustran Republican Army (HRA)  in 1924. Later he was convicted in Kakori conspiracy and died in jail.
Rash Bihari Bose was able to escape to Japan   

Note – Sachin Sanyal wrote  BANDI JEEVAN (Bible of revolutionaries at that time)  
World War I – Here, Yugantar Group under leadership of Jatindranath Mukherjee (Aka Bagha/Tiger Jatin) conspired to start an armed rebellion against the Britishers
– It depended on some of the agents who had already left India and gone to South East Asia eg Narendranath Bhattacharya (later became MN Roy , famous Communist)  . He established links with Germans to import arms and ammunition to Bengal which Yugantar party was to use to start more elaborate Arms Revolution. Ship carrying arms was to arrive at coast of Odisha but it was uncovered and ship was seized. Jatin died martyrs death in encounter

Important Notes :-

  • The ‘revolutionary’ movement took the form of assassinations of oppressive officials or traitors, Swadeshi dacoities to raise funds, or at best military conspiracies with expectations of help from foreign enemies of Britain. It never, despite occasional subjective aspirations, rose to the level of urban mass uprisings or guerrilla bases in the countryside. 
  • It was very much an elite action . This elite action postponed efforts to draw the masses into active political struggle. In a 1918 official list of 186 killed or convicted revolutionaries, no less than 165 came from the three upper castes, Brahman, Kayastha, and Vaidya.
  • The intense religiosity of most of the early secret societies (a note which however was to partly disappear over time) helped to keep Muslims aloof or hostile. The emphasis on religion had other negative aspects too . The much-quoted Gita doctrine of Nishkama karma stimulated a rather quixotic heroism, a cult of martyrdom for its own sake in place of effective programmes: ‘The Mother asks us for no schemes, no plans, no methods. She herself will provide the  schemes, the plans, the methods .’ (Aurobindo in April 1908).

Did they achieve anything ?

  • In terms of direct gains, they achieved little . Nor did they believe that assassinations or dacoities would alone bring India’s liberation.
  • But they also achieved a lot
    • Hanging of Khudiram & Bomb Case Trial publicized by Press and immortalized in folk songs, fired the imagination of entire Bengalee population
    • When Morley Minto Reforms were announced in 1909 , many believed these concessions were given due to the fear generated by the revolutionary activities
    • Partition of Bengal itself was annulled in 1911 which might not have been totally unrelated to such pressures.
  • They made a valuable contribution to the growth of nationalism in India. As a historian has put it, ‘they gave us back the pride of our manhood.’

Side Note – In 1911, when Partition of Bengal was nullified, capital of Raj shifted from Calcutta to Delhi. Hence, nullification of Partition should be seen more as sugarcoating measure . The Curzonian aim of weakening the Bengali Politicians was achieved in a different way and with much less resistance.

3. Revolutionary activities abroad

1 . Shyamji Krishan Varma

  • He was native of Kathiawar & studied at Cambridge University & qualified for bar
  • After coming to India he worked in several states but was disgusted by the attitude of political residents . He decided to work for India’s liberation from British oppression & chose London as his center of activities .
  • Established India House in London  & Started Anti imperialist newspaper called THE INDIAN SOCIOLOGIST. Lot of British Sociologists including Herbert Spencer supported him
  • He also started 6 fellowships of ₹1,000 each for qualified Indians visiting foreign countries
  • Very soon India House became Center of Indian activities in London. A group of Indian revolutionaries including VD Savarkar , Hardayal & Madan Lal Dhingra became it’s  members.
  • Many future leaders are to be born out of this India House

2. Madam Bikaji Kama

  • Parsee Lady born in Mumbai
  • Her husband was pro british lawyer
  • Was in touch with Shyamji Krishan Varma & in London was secretary of Dadabhai (at that time Dadabhai was head of British unit of INC )
  • Started Home Rule Society in London & newspaper Bande Mataram
  • Participated in International Socialist Conference

3. VD Savarkar

  • 1899: started  MITRA MELA
  • 1900 : Described Revolt of 1857 as India’s first war for Independence. Wrote book entitled this too.
  • 1904 : Mitra Mela merged with Abhinav Bharat   (after Mazzini’s Young Italy) .
  • Graduated from Ferguson College , Poona & availed Krishnavarma’s fellowship offer and left for London in June 1906
  • In 1909, Madan Lal Dhingra , roommate of Savarkar in London shot dead Col William Curzon Wyllie (political ADC to India Office) . He was hanged .
  • Case was registered against Savarkar too as pistols sent secretly from London by V.D. Savarkar were used to kill the Nasik district magistrate in December 1909.  Savarakar was arrested & deported to India where he was sentenced for life . 
  • Krishnaji Varma left London & settled in Paris

Activities shifted from London to Berlin

  • London wasn’t safe to carry on revolutionary activities
  • Anglo – German hostility bittered in 1909 & afterwards
  • Revolutionaries started to concentrate in Berlin
  • Main leader there : Virendra Nath Chatopadhyay

In later article, we will discuss Phase 2 of Revolutionary Terrorism. Click here to move to that article.

Leave a Comment