The sudden withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation Movement shattered the high hopes raised earlier. Many young people began to question the basic rationale of the leadership and its emphasis on non-violence and began looking for effective alternatives. Many took to the idea that only violent means could liberate India. Revolutionary terrorism became a romantic and attractive option and consequently, many took to this path. It is not accidental that most revolutionary terrorists during this period like Surya Sen, Jatin Dass, Chandershekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, had been enthusiastic participants in the non-violent Non-Cooperation Movement.
The revolutionaries in North India were the first to reorganize after overcoming their depression under the leadership of Ramprasad Bismil and Sachindranath Sanyal. They founded the Hindustan Republican Association in 1924 in Kanpur. The HRA was founded with to organize an armed revolution to overthrow the colonial rule and to replace it with a Federal Republic of India based on adult franchise. For this, they needed to conduct extensive propaganda and recruit men. All this needed money. The most famous “action” of the HRA was the Kakori Robbery in 1925. Ten HRA men stopped the 8-Down Train at Kakori near Lucknow, and looted its official railway cash. The Government was quick to respond and many were tried in the famous Kakori Conspiracy Case. Ashfaqullah Khan, Ramprasad Bismil and some others were hanged to death. Chandershekhar remained at large.
The Kakori Case was a major setback to the HRA. Younger men like Bhagat Singh, Bhagwati Charan Vohra and Sukhdev in Punjab set out to reorganize the HRA under the leadership of Chandershekhar Azad. Finally, they created a new organization i.e. Hindustan Socialist Republican Association in 1928.
The death of Lala Lajpat Rai, a much-respected leader of Punjab, due to the police lathi charge during anti-Simon demonstrations in Lahore, which was seen by the HSRA as a direct challenge. And so, on 17th December, 1928, Bhagat Singh, Azad and Rajguru assassinated Saunders in Lahore. He was a police official involved in the lathi charge on Lala Lajpat Rai. The HSRA now decided to change its strategy of individual assassinations and focus on letting the masses know about their objectives.
Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were asked to throw a bomb in the Central Assembly Hall in 1929 against the passage of the Trade Disputes Bill and the Public Safety Bill which would reduce civil liberties. The aim was not to kill because the bombs were harmless but as the leaflet they threw in the Hall proclaimed, ‘to make the deaf hear’. The goal was to get arrested and used the trial Court as a forum for propaganda so that the people could know about their movement and ideology. Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt were tried in the Assembly Bomb Case. Later, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru and other revolutionaries were tried in a series of famous conspiracy cases.
Displaying unstinted courage and fearlessness, they always entered the courts singing nationalist songs like” Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna Ab Hamare Dil Mein Hai”, “Mera Rang De Basanti Chola” and shouting slogans like “Inquilab Zindabad”. Naturally, this won them the sympathy and support of even those who believed in non-violence. Bhagat Singh became a household name in the country. He, along with Rajguru and Sukhdev, was hanged to death on 23rd March, 1931.
In Bengal too, revolutionary terrorists reorganized themselves. The most prominent among them was Surya Sen, popularly known as Master Da. He conducted the famous Chittgong Armoury Raid. A remarkable aspect of the revolutionaries in Bengal was the participation of many women. Under Surya Sen’s leadership, they provided shelter, acted as messengers and fought hand in hand with them. The names of Pratilata Wadedar, Kalpana Dutt can be prominently mentioned in this context.
The government action gradually decimated all revolutionary terrorists. With the death of Chandarshekhar Azad in a shooting encounter at Alfred Park, Allahabad in February, 1931, revolutionary terrorism virtually came to an end in Punjab, UP and Bihar. Surya Sen’s martyrdom in Bengal ended the prolonged saga of revolutionary terrorism there. A large number of revolutionaries later joined the Marxist and Communist movements.
The revolutionaries’ politics had several limitations. Above all it could never be a mass-based movement, they failed to galvanize masses into similar action, which was understandable. All the same, they made invaluable contribution to the national movement. Their deep patriotism, courage and sense of sacrifice stirred the Indians. They helped spread nationalist consciousness; and in northern India, the spread of socialist consciousness owed a lot to them.