When Mahatma saved the Netaji revolutionaries from the gallows
Mahatma Gandhi wrote seven letters to then-Viceroy of India, Lord Wavell, to commute the death sentence and then free four young revolutionaries convicted by the British of providing information to the army Indian National (INA) of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
The startling historical fact is just one of many mentioned in the prison diary of freedom fighter Jyotish Basu who died in 2000. The diary was compiled by renowned researcher Pallab Mitra in the form of a book—- ‘Phansi Theke Phire’ (Return from the Gallows) – and details Basu’s final days in the Presidency Jail where he was brought back from the gallows, just a minute before he was to be hanged.
The four revolutionaries for whom Gandhi requested clemency were Jyotish Basu, Amar Singh Gill, Pabitra Roy and Haridas Mitra. Haridas Mitra is the father of West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra and his wife Bela was Netaji’s niece.
All four were released in July–August 1946. Although not much is known of Gill and Roy’s later life, Mitra joined Congress and later became the Assembly’s Vice President of West Bengal. Basu spent his life in various social and cultural activities and died in 2000, at the age of 92.
According to historians, the only known case where Mahatma Gandhi urged the British to commute the death sentence was in Bhagat Singh. The freedom fighter was finally hanged on March 23, 1931. “As far as we know, it was in the case of Bhagat Singh that Gandhiji intervened,” says Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, historian and former chairman of the Indian Council for Research historical.
It was in the residence of Jyotish Basu at 6A, Bipin Paul Road in Kolkata that the revolutionaries, who were then part of the INA secret service, set up a communication center. It was in this house that Basu was arrested on December 31, 1944 while three others were taken into custody some time later.
After a trial that lasted a few months, all four, imprisoned in the Presidency prison in Calcutta, were sentenced to death.
The book details the fearlessness of the revolutionaries. When asked if they had one last wish before they were hanged, Gill said he wanted to watch a dance recital by Sadhana Bose, while Basu said he wanted to hear Kanan Devi’s songs. .
Bela Mitra, then 22 years old, wife of Haridas Mitra, went to Poona and begged Gandhi to write to the Viceroy asking for release, or if that was not possible, commutation of sentence of the four. A few days later, Basu’s father Ranjan Bilas Bose also met Gandhiji with the same request.
Gandhiji wrote seven letters asking for the release of first Haridas and then the other three. All these letters have been kept in the National Library in Kolkata.
In his first letter, dated September 14, 1945 and sent from Poona, Gandhiji writes: “Shri Haridas Mitra, holder of a master’s degree from the University of Calcutta, and the husband of the young niece of Shri Subhas Chandra Bose, aged 22 years old, is on death row. on what appears to be on untenable ground. I have taken note of the request for pardon from the uncle of the condemned man as well as from the lawyer Carden Noad. I suggest that they provide compelling reasons for the exercise of mercy. Either way, the pardon case becomes irresistible as the war with Japan is over. It will be a political mistake of the first magnitude if this death sentence is carried out”.
“… My attention was drawn to the matter by the prisoner’s wife as she often sang at my prayer meetings when I had the honor of being a guest of the barrister Sarat Chandra Bose (elder brother of Subhas Bose) of whom I am happy to hear the government of India has ordered to be released”.
About five years ago Jyotish Basu’s daughter told Pallab Mitra about the diary. “I consulted the historians Amalendu Dey and Basudeb Chattopadhyay, then I read Gandhiji’s letters. It was a wonderful revelation that through his intervention four precious lives were saved from the gallows,” says Pallab Mitra.
Repeated calls and text messages to Minister Amit Mitra elicited no response.