Chitharanjan Das

(1870 – 1925)
Poet, journalist and humanist, Chitharanjan Das (C. R. Das) was one of the most famous and successful lawyers of Calcutta and a nationalist leader who played a dominant role in the freedom movement of India during the early 20th century. Born in 1870 in a family of famous lawyers and activists in the field of culture, his father Bhupen Mohan and mother Nistharini Devi were members of the Arya Samaj as were the other members of the large family. After completing his degree course, young Chitharanjan was sent to London for studying law and appearing for the Indian Civil Service (I.C.S.) examination. He did not get the I.C.S., but returned to India as a barrister, started practicing in the Calcutta High Court, created history as a brilliant lawyer, and became famous as C.R. Das.

He founded ‘Swadeshi Mandali’, an organization with nationalist ideology. He worked closely with the Congress leaders like Surendranath Banerjea and Balagangadhar Tilak. When Aurobindo Ghosh was arrested and charged with treason and attempt to murder in the Alipore Conspirace case, Das appeared for him in court and his examination of witnesses and the final arguments attracted national attention and Aurobindo was freed. Das appeared successfully for several other cases lodged against political leaders.

In the meanwhile Das established himself also as a dominant leader of culture and literature. ‘Malanja’, a collection of his lyrical poems was his first published literary work. Soon came out other collection of his poems like sagar sangeet (1910) and kishor kishoree and these brought remarkable recognition and high acclaims for him. sagar sangeeth was translated into English by Aurobindo, and a couple of other poems by John Alexander Chapman. Das launched narayana, a literary-political magazine in 1914, a weekly magazine in Bengali in 1923 and forward, a daily in 1924. He was one of the founders of bandemataram, an English newspaper, edited by Aurobindo. And in 1915 he was chosen as the president of Bengali Writers Association. In 1917 he was elected the president of the Bengal unit of the Congress party. In 1920 he became a full-time politician, parting ways with the legal profession. And in the next year he was chosen as the president of the All India Congress Committee. He led the congress movements in Bengal efficiently and his speeches and writings enthused the youngsters into direct action. Das gave leadership to the founding of the Bengal National College in Calcutta for the continuing education of those students who boycotted classes to take part in the national struggle. Subhas Chandra Bose was the first principal of the college. By now, Das was conferred the title ‘desh bandhu’. But he parted ways with the Congress along with Motilal Nehru on the question of the party contesting for power, and together they launched a new Swaraj Party. The congress party patched up later with them, but in the elections to Bengal Assembly, the Swaraj Party won and Das was invited to form a ministry. But he refused to accept the offer in that he would not co-operate with the British Government. In 1924 Congress accepted the idea of electoral participation as a program. And Das was elected the first mayor of the Calcutta Corporation Council.

This great nationalist political ‘engine’ from Bengal died of poor health in 1925. Chitharanjan Locomotives of Calcutta, India’s first railway engine manufacturing unit, was named after C.R. Das when it was launched in 1950.