MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts- Part 03
In search of the Golden Fleece
As the tension between England and Japan mounted following the dispute over the Korean Peninsula in 1910; and later as the war clouds were gathering over Europe by 1913, a new fervor seized the revolutionary outfits operating within India as also the groups of exiles striving from outside India , particularly in Europe and California (USA) . And, the insurgency within India took on a new dimension and a different orientation. These developments led all the groups of revolutionaries to look towards Germany and Japan with hopes of securing their help and support for fighting the British, the common enemy of all the three.
One of the earliest attempts made to secure Japan’s support to fight the British in India was in May 1910 by Virendranath Chattopadhyaya (brother of Sarojani Naidu) and his associates. The response from Japan was rather tepid. With the worsening political instability, the apprehensions of an impending war began to look more ominous. And, eventually with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914 a war did break out. The Great War, which later was named the World War I, struck the globe on 28 July 1914 and spread like wild fire; and, it did not subside until 11 November 1918.
[As the war began to engulf more and more countries, term “First World War” coined by the German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel, first came into use by September 1914. Ernst Haeckel claimed that “there is no doubt that the course and character of the feared ‘European War’ … will become the First World War in the full sense of the word.]
As Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg, before moving towards France, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. As Germany and Britain came into direct conflict, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya along with his friend Dr. Abinash Bhattacharya ( who was said to be close to Kaiser’s inner circle) and other Indian nationalist formed , at Berlin, in September in 1914 “German Friends of India Association”. The group soon thereafter met the brother of the belligerent German Emperor William II. The Group (representing India) and the Germans signed a treaty agreeing on German help to oust the British from India. With the help of Baron Max von Oppenheim, who was an expert on Middle Eastern affairs in the German Foreign Office, Virendranath drafted further plans; and, informed Indian students in thirty-one German universities and the rebel groups operating from France about the Association’s future plans.
Following that treaty, by about the end of September 1914, the German Ambassador in USA Von Bernstorff ordered Gen. Von Papen, his Military Attaché, to arrange for steamers, and purchase arms and ammunition, to be delivered on the Eastern Coast of India. The news of these developments was conveyed to Jatin Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin) the leader of the insurgent movement in India.
Even much before these developments took place; Jatin Mukherjee accompanied by Narendra Nath had met Wilhelm, the German Crown Prince during his visit to Calcutta in 1912. The Indian group had obtained from the Crown Prince an assurance that arms and ammunition would be supplied to them to fight the British Rule in India.
Later, on receipt of the message from Virendranath in Sept 1914, Jatin Mukherjee began re-organizing his group; and, asked Rash Behari Bose (another prominent Jugantar member and an insurgent leader operating underground in UP and Punjab ) to expedite preparations for the an armed uprising.
Jatin Mukherjee, Narendra Nath, the Germans in Berlin and the German Counsel in Calcutta were in contact; and, drew plans, which sounded fantastic.
The initial plan was to use German ships interned in a port at the northern tip of Sumatra, to storm the Andaman Islands and free the prisoners there. The escaped prisoners from the internment camp were to be formed into a Liberation Army. The Army was to be moved by big armored vessels (as many big German vessels usually were) ready for warfare. The warships were to be loaded with several hundred guns, rifles and other small arms with an adequate supply of ammunition. These arms were to be procured through Chinese smugglers who would get then on board the ships….The Liberation Army was to land on the Orissa coast.
As said , the plan looked great; but , it just did not work, At the last minute, money for purchase of arms from the Chinese and for the conduct of the operation failed to materialize and the German Consul General “mysteriously disappeared on the day when he was to issue orders for the execution of the plan.”
Then, again, by the end of 1914, the Germans asked the Bengal revolutionaries to send their reprehensive to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies (now known as Jakarta in Indonesia) identified as suitable neutral place for delivery of arms and money. Batavia lies on the north coast of Java, in a sheltered bay, over a flat land consisting of marshland and hills, and crisscrossed with canals.
Narendra Nath was chosen by Jatin Mukherjee to negotiate the arms deal with Germans. In April 1915, Narendra Nath left for Batavia under the false name of Charles A Martin a reprehensive of M/S. Harry & Sons (a fake company set up under Harikumar Chakravarthy, a close friend on Naren). This was Narendra Nath’s first trip abroad.
Through the German Consul at Java, Naren met Theodore Helfferich, brother of Karl Helfferich (German politician, economist, and financier) who assured him that a cargo of arms and ammunition was already on its way, “to assist the Indians in a revolution.” It was agreed that a cargo ship, an oil steamer , S.S. Maverick would deliver 30,000 rifles with 400 rounds of ammunition of for each, at Rai Mangal, a remote island in the wilderness of Sunderbans in South Bengal. In addition a sum of Rs. Two lakhs was promised. Narendra Nath, after spending about two months in Java returned home with some money; and to make arrangements for receiving and unloading arms , for dispatching them to different parts of India. He did make the necessary arrangements. Between June and August 1915, Helfferich wired a total of Rs. 43, 000 to M/S. Harry & Sons of Calcutta. Naren had returned to India by the middle of June 1915; and was waiting for the shipment. But, the promised cargo of arms failed to show up. Naren thereafter ruefully remarked: the coveted cargo of Golden Fleece was after all a wild goose chase’.
Thereafter, a new plan was drawn up by the Berlin committee, according to which the German arms were to be delivered at two or three places like Hatia on Chittagong coast, Rai-mangal in the Sunderbans and Balasore in Orissa. The plan included organizing guerrilla forces to start uprising in several parts of the country, backed by a mutiny among the Indian Armed Force.
Naren again had to go to Java to work out the details of the arms delivery. Before going out on his second mission, in August 1915, Naren met Jatin Mukherjee who then was hiding is a safe place at Mohandia, near Balasore in Orissa; and, promised Jatin not to return this time without the arms. Jatin, it is said, told Naren in his farewell meeting “Come back with or without arms”. That, sadly, turned out to be Naren’s last meeting with Jatin.
Unfortunately the whole plot got leaked, through a Czech counter-revolutionarily E. V. Voska who was in touch with his network of minority -Czech patriots in USA engaged in espionage and spying on the activity of the Germans. The British Intelligence came to know of the plot through their counterparts in USA. The German plot thus was busted.
[ Emanuel Viktor Voska, (1875-1960) of Czechoslovakia was a triple secret agent based in USA during the periods of the First and the Second World Wars. When the First War broke out in 1914, Voska was running the intelligence network of minority Chez patriots. And, with the advice of President Woodrow Wilson, Voska took up the task of monitoring the anti-British espionage activities of the Germans and Austrian diplomats. (He later narrated the activities of his group in his book Spy and Counter-Spy published from London in 1941)
Soon after Voska got wind, through his pro-British, pro-American and anti-German network operating in India, of the German plans to supply arms and to fund the revolutionary group headed by Bagha Jatin, he passed on the information to T G Masaryk, the Chez leader and a friend of President Woodrow Wilson (Masaryk – 1850 to 1937 – later in November 1918 became the first President of Czechoslovakia). Masaryk rushed the intelligence he gained to President Wilson, who alerted the British. And, eventually the Bagha-German plot was busted by the British police in India.
Thus a distant Czech spy-master Voska is held indirectly responsible for the fall of Bagha Jatin and for the end of militant revolutionary movement in India. Voska is also credited with the exposure of the Hindu–German Conspiracy; and, similarly for smashing the German efforts to supply arms to the Irish nationalist groups, both in Ireland and in USA. Voska’s network is also said to have uncovered spy activities by the German Ambassador in Washington and caught an American journalist doubling as a German agent . Voska also helped in frustrating the efforts of German agent Franz von Rintelen to restore Victoriano Huerta to the Mexican presidency during World War I.
Thus, E V Voska had a highly successful career as a spymaster; but, his later years were miserable.
Voska returned to his country after the end of the Second War. And, soon thereafter in 1948, the Communists staged a coup and took over Czechoslovakia. Voska was arrested and put on trial for treason. Even though he was now an old man of 75, he fought hard against the charges, arguing that being then an American citizen, nothing he might have done could have been considered treasonous. Voska spent the next ten years in prison. Some satisfaction did come to him during show trials, when a number of the communist leaders who had persecuted Voska were themselves tried and executed for treason. What clinched their guilt were the bunch of old letters found in Voska’s files showing that they had met with him to discuss anti-Franco operations in Spain.
In 1960, the communists finally released the 85-year-old Voska; and, he died, a few days later, as a free man. ]
As soon as the British got the tip, the whole of the Ganges Delta and the all the sea approaches on the eastern coast from the Noakhali–Chittagong side up to Odisha were sealed off. And, New Emporium a branch of the Harry & Sons in Balasore was raided. The raid yielded the clue to Jatin’s hiding place at Kaptipada a nearby village. The British forces, in a military action, stormed Jatin’s hiding place. The prolonged gun battle between the Police and the revolutionary fighters ended in “unrecorded number of casualties on the Government side and on the revolutionary side”. Jatin and his close associate Jatish were seriously wounded and captured. The others – Manoranjan Sengupta and Niren were also captured after their ammunition ran out. Bagha Jatin died in Balasore hospital on 10 September 1915.
[ In an article titled Jatin Mukherjee (Independent India, 27 Feb 1949) MN Roy talked about Jatin with great affection; and, described his meeting with Jatin as the turning point in life. He wrote: ‘At that time, I did not know what the attraction was. Later on, I realized, it was his personality. Since then, I have had the privilege of meeting outstanding personalities of our time. These were great men. Jatinda was a good man; and, I still have to find a better… Good men are seldom given a place in the galaxy of the great. It will continue to be so until goodness is recognised as the measure of genuine greatness”. “I admired Jatinda because he personified, perhaps without himself knowing it, the best of mankind” .. “Jatinda’s death would be avenged if I worked for the ideal of establishing a social order in which the best in man could be manifest”.
Jatin was a true revolutionary; he expressed his motto in simple words: “Amra morbo, jagat jagbe” — “We shall die to awaken the nation”. Even his adversaries respected his courage and valor. It is said; Charles Tegart a British Police Officer involved in hunting down Jatin remarked: “Had Jatin Mukherjee been an Englishman, the English would have erected his statue at Trafalgar Square, by the side of Nelson’s”. During a conversation with Charles Tegart on 25 June 1925, Gandhi qualified Jatin Mukherjee as “a divine man.” Interestingly, Ross Hedvicek an author of Chez origin remarked: had he not been killed in that encounter , the Father of Indian Nation would have been Bagha Jatin and not Gandhi”.
The 10 September 2015 marked the Centenary of the martyrdom of Jatindra Nath Mukherjee, described as one of India’s most fearless sons and the pride of every Bengali. It was celebrated both in Bengal and in Bangladesh.]
Naren left for Batavia in August 1915 to make fresh arrangements; this time under the name of Hari Sing (Little did he know then that he would not see his homeland again for 16 years) .
The alternate plan , this time , was to bring arms into India from China by overland , through the North-Eastern Frontiers of Assam (NEFA) , where the local rebellious independent tribe Abors had risen in revolt against the British. The plan, among other things, was also to help the armed revolt of Abors.
This time, Naren found to his surprise, the German diplomats in Java were not very enthusiastic; they were not even cooperating. The German Consul complained that Indians lacked discipline and organization; and, were bad at keeping secrets. He also said that Germans had no men to spare ; and were not also willing to risk their vessels. Naren had three or four meetings with the German Consul but found he was making no impression or progress.
He made another attempt to secure arms from Indonesia; but, the Germans were reluctant to fund the venture.
Naren was disappointed and disgusted. But, he had resolved not to return to India without arms. It was while he, in desperation, was wandering aimlessly in, Manila, Philippines that he learnt about the death of his Mentor and ideal Jatin Mukherjee in a shootout at Balasore. His immediate resolve was that ‘Jatin’s death must be avenged’.
He was now more determined than ever to secure arms and funds to carry on armed struggle against the British Rule in India. For about one and a half years he wandered about in the Far East, pursuing his mission by contacting various groups of revolutionaries in Malaysia, Indonesia, Indo-China, the Philippines, Korea and Japan.
Naren went to Japan as Mr White; and in Tokyo he met Rashbehari Bose (25 May 1886 – 21 January 1945) his co-revolutionary of the Jugantar days. Rashbehari Bose was then on the ‘run’, hunted by British Police, following his failed attempt on the life of Lord Hardinge while he was returning from the Delhi Darbar of King George V on 12 December 1912. Rash Behari managed to escape British intelligence and reached Japan in 1915. There, in Japan, Bose hiding from the British Police, found shelter with various Pan-Asian groups.
Rashbehari Bose advised Naren to defer the armed struggle for Indian independence till such time as Japan was ready to take over the Asian leadership. Rashbehari Bose, however, put Naren in touch with other Asian revolutionaries taking shelter in Japan. It was then that Naren met the exiled Chinese President Dr Sun Yat-Sen (12 November 1866 – 12 March 1925) who had escaped to Japan following the failure of the July 1913 uprising in Nanking.
When Naren approached San Yat-Sen for help in his task of organizing anti-British revolution in India, he pleaded his inability to get involved , directly , in such ventures, mainly because of the British control of Hong Kong, which then was Sun’s base of operations in South China.
By then, that is by the end of 1915, an armed revolt against Yuan Shi-Kai’s plan to restore monarchy in China was brewing in the two Chinese provinces of Yunan and Szechuan, bordering Burma and India. The rebels had more than adequate supply of arms. Naren requested San Yat-Sen whether he could help in diverting some of those arms to Indian revolutionaries across the border. Sun Yat Sen approved the idea; and suggested that Naren could approach the German Ambassador in Peking for a sum of Five Million Dollars for purchase of arms from the Chinese rebels. Sun Yat Sen also said he would first send his emissary to Yunan to brief the rebel groups; and Naren could later follow up that with the German Ambassador.
As suggested by Sun Yat-Sen, Naren (Mr. White) reached Hankow (now called as Hankou) to meet Admiral Paul Von Hintz, the German Ambassador in China. The Ambassador agreed that from the military point of view Naren’s plans was worth trying. But, he rued that the amount involved was too huge; and he had no authority to sanction such sums of expenditure. He, however, suggested that Naren could submit his plans for consideration of the German Supreme War Authority and the General Staff, in Berlin.
[MN Roy later wrote that the Germans never meant to give us any substantial help; and the whole German plan of giving arms to Indian revolutionaries was a mere hoax, a veritable swindle.]
Since Naren was determined to take his plan for German funding to the German Ambassador in the United States, before heading to Germany itself, the German embassy in Peking put him as a stowaway aboard an American ship with a German crew, bound for San Francisco. It also provided him with a fake Frech – Indian Passport.
The understanding was that the offer of German arms would be routed through the resident Indians in California, which is located midway between Japan and Europe (The Axis). Narendra Nath, thus, travelled to America primarily to negotiate an Arms deal and to secure funds from Germany to fuel the Indian revolutionaries.
On the way, the British raided vessel in international waters; but were unable to track down Naren who was hidden in a secret compartment. When the ship next landed at Kobe, Japan, Naren stealthily disembarked and escaped into Japan.
And there in Japan, with the help of Japanese Intelligence, he obtained an American Visa on the ground that he was travelling to Paris by way of USA. He used a fake French – Indian passport given to him by the Germans in China. He (as Martin Charles Allen) boarded a ship named Nippon Maru that set sail to San Francisco, California from Yokahoma (Japan) in Tokyo Bay, South of Tokyo, on 25 May 1916.
After series of disappointments, failures and aimless wandering as a fugitive over the whole of South East for about eighteen months, Narendra Nath set sail to USA in pursuit of his incomplete mission to secure German arms to fight the British in India.
As Roy had earlier remarked; the coveted cargo of Golden Fleece was after all a wild goose chase. And, it continued to elude.
Sources and References
1, M N Roy by V B Karnik, National Book Trust, 1980
2.M N Roy, A Political Biography by Samaren Roy
3.Political Philosophy of M.N. Roy by Dr. Prakash Chandra, Sarup & Sons, 1992
4. Numerous pages from Wikipedia