Mahatma Gandhi’s influence is global but he never visited neighbouring Nepal and there are hardly any signs of his legacy there. Indeed, Nepal must be among the few countries that don’t have a Gandhi statue in a public place or a road or square named after him. This, despite the fact that many stalwarts of Nepal’s struggle for democracy participated in India’s freedom movement and were even imprisoned there.
Nepal, however, boasts a sterling moment in India’s struggle to rid herself of colonial rule. This happened during the Quit India movement.
In August 1942, after the call for “quit India”, mass arrests were carried out of important political leaders. Jayaprakash (JP) Narayan and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia were incarcerated in Hazaribagh Jail, now in Jharkhand. Being revolutionaries, “Surajis” as they were called, the idea of spending time in prison was an anathema to them and they broke out with several of their associates, most notably Suraj Narayan Singh, Jogendra Shukla, Shaligram Singh, Gulabchandra Gupta and Vijaya Patwardhan, sister of the legendary Achuyt Patwardhan.
The police crackdown in India to catch them was severe and it became difficult for them to hide in the jungles of south Bihar. The only way out was to cross over to Nepal even though the Rana regime was very friendly with the British and unsympathetic to political refugees.
The police in Nepal were also alerted and had set up check posts all across the border. JP and his associates managed to outsmart them with a beautiful story of JP on a horse and Vijaya Patwardhan in a palanquin being allowed to pass through on being told that “Sethji” was bringing home his new bride!
They finally reached Banarjhoola in the Kosidelta near the town of Hanuman Nagar in April 1943. Here a brave and liberal landlord, Rameshwar Singh, gave them shelter and became a willing accomplice in their revolutionary ways.
A conference of the Congress Socialist Party, JP’s party, was soon held at Banarjhoola with attendees coming from Bihar, UP and some even from faraway Odhisha, Bengal and Punjab. This conference decided to organise a unit of the Azad Dasta and train Nepali revolutionaries.
The training soon began in earnest with Sardar Nityanand, who had served with the Azad Hind Fauj, as chief trainer and an 18 person cadre. Vijaya Patwardhan got injured during the training and had to be sent back to India.
But, by now, word had spread that the “Surajis” were hiding in the Kosi delta, and intense pressure by Britain saw the Government of Nepal actively mobilise its police to apprehend them. By mid-May 1943, the police were in Banarjhoola and arrested JP, Lohia and some others, taking all of them immediately by bullock cart to the jail in Hanumannagar.
Though under strict vigil of the escorting policemen, JP managed to smuggle out a cigarette packet with the words “get me released, yours Sethji”. The “Sethji” code made clear to Suraj Narayan Singh, who had not been caught, that JP must be freed immediately.
With Rameshwar Singh’s wholehearted support, Suraj Narayan Singh galvanised the Nepali Azad Dasta and, on May 23, 1943, it started marching from Banarjhoola towards the Hanuman Nagar jail. Reaching the jail in the middle of the night, the revolutionaries didn’t hesitate and opened fire on the police, freed the “Surajis” and escorted them across the river Kosi to India from where they boarded trains for Kolkata. The jail was located within the premises of the district officer’s compound. Not surprisingly, the district officer hid under his bed once the attack on the compound began and he heard shots being fired!
The firing by Nepali people on their own police in Hanuman Nagar is the only such instance in 104 years of Rana rule in Nepal, and that too for India’s freedom struggle.
The people in Banarjhoola and adjoining villages faced severe reprisals and many were taken to jail in Kathmandu. A very large number, including Rameshwar Singh, were accused in the Hanuman Nagar case and several sentenced to jail terms. Krishnaveer Kami and Abdul Miyan died during the trial. The others were released in 1946 on an appeal by the Interim Government of India, ironically made at the behest of Gandhi.
And as to JP, while he was later arrested in Kolkata, there being no formal evidence of his presence in Nepal, he was not even charge-sheeted in the Banarjhoola case!
(The author is India’s Ambassador to Nepal. The views expressed are
Aug 16, 2019 07:25 IST