The Making of a 'Terrorist'

Mihir Bose investigates the case of Subhas Chandra Bose in Bengal in 1924 to show what can happen when a government is able to lock people up on the suspicion of terrorism.

Eighty years ago the British Raj used laws that are almost a mirror image of the anti-terrorism legislation recently passed by the British Parliament to detain suspects without charge. The ‘lawless laws’, as an Indian politician called them, were used against ‘revolutionists’, the word the Raj used for men plotting the violent overthrow of British rule in India. They show how a government that feels itself threatened by violence will act against its political enemies.

The name of Indian nationalist leader Subhas Chandra Bose now means little in the West – the few that know of him despise him for his wartime decision to use Axis help to rid India of British rule. In the mid-1920s he seemed an unlikely revolutionist. The Indian National Congress was firmly under the control of Gandhi and his non-violent, non-cooperation movement, designed to make the British give India the sort of self-governing status the White dominions already enjoyed. In 1921, aged twenty-four, Bose had resigned from the Indian Civil Service to join Gandhi’s movement, and in his home province of Bengal he worked closely with his political mentor, the barrister Chitta Ranjan Das, on a twin strategy. He sought to prove that the limited reforms the Raj had introduced were unworkable, but where these reforms gave the Indians real power he seized every opportunity to exploit them. When, in 1924, the Raj allowed Indians to run the Calcutta Corporation, then a body whose revenues were higher than those of many small Indian provinces, Bose became the chief executive officer.

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