Bureaucrat Bankimchandra

Recently one blogger on boloji abruptly asked me, ‘However, my qs to you are: How to re-vamp the bureaucracy? Everybody cries foul of the IAS. As a member of the "steel frame" of India, what is your take on that? Has there been a genuine corrosion in the structure?’
My curt reply was - 
The ICS is more or less a myth, like many myths it has been magnified out of proportions.

It functioned as a static structure in a bureaucratic government while the IAS is very dynamic and functions in a democratic set up. The ICS was its own master, the IAS is not and works under its masters who are - well what should I say - mostly rascals most of whom should be behind bars. Politics everywhere is now highly competitive and therefore Gresham's law operates - bad money drives away good money. The present day IAS or for that [matter] all public servants are victims of this social degeneration. They are not alone to blame. We get what we deserve.’
This brought to my mind that Bankimchandra was also a bureaucrat and I was fortunate to have served as Sub-divisional Officer in the same sub-division where that great man had served in the same capacity about one hundred years ago and I lived in the same bungalow where he had lived! A marble plaque on the front wall at the entrance proudly announces this fact. It is a two storey building and stands on the bank of the river Dwarakeswar. In his time the name of the place was Jehanabad, in my time it became known as Arambagh. In his time our country was under foreign rule, in my time our country had become independent. He belonged to the provincial service, but I belonged to the prime all-India service - Indian Administrative Service, which people think is the successor of the ICS.

Radhanagar where the first modern Indian, Raja Rammohan Roy (1772-1833), was born falls within this sub-division. Here in the village of Kamarpukur was also born the poor Brahmin boy Gadadhar, who later became Ramkrishna Paramhansadev (1836-1886), whom Romain Rolland called the essence of India’s two thousand years of religious life. Joyrambati, the birthplace of his wife Saradadevi, the closest companion of his religious life, is close by.

During the reign of Akbar in the medieval period this area became a veritable battleground and frequently changed hands between the Pathans of adjoining Orissa and the Mughals. On the Mughal side Jagatsingh conducted the war as the deputy of his father Mansingh, the famous Rajput general of Akbar. A district in Orissa, Jagatsinghpur, still bears the name of this Rajput prince. The loyalty of the local chieftains was sought by each warring side. A small fort in ruins known as Garh Mandaran in the village of the same name, thought to have been the seat of authority of one such chieftain, is now a place of tourist attraction. A small rivulet called Amodar runs by its side. It is not far from the Malla principality of Vishnupur of those times.
In a daring raid the Pathans once took Jagatsingh prisoner. On this slender theme Bankimchandra wrote his first Bengali novel Durgeshnandini. It opens with the scene of a summer storm – the nor’wester, known as kalbaisakhi in Bengal. In this storm the young and exquisitely beautiful daughter of the chieftain of Garh Mndaran, along with her chaperon, had taken shelter in the temple of Saileswar (Shiva). When Jagatsingh also went there to take shelter he fell in love at first sight with that young lady. The novel took the readers by storm. It marked the birth of a new age in Bengali literature. It is a romantic novel the like of which the Bengali readers had never read before. The influence of the great novelist Sir Walter Scott is apparent. It has similarities with his famous novel Ivanhoe no doubt, but it is an original creation. It made its author famous overnight. He became known as the Scott of Bengal. But one incident in the life of Bankim that took place while he was working as a Deputy Magistrate at Berhampore, the district headquarters of Murshidabad, transformed him both as a man and as a writer and deeply influenced the course of the history of modern India.
My friend and colleague Pradip Bhattacharya has recounted this incident in his article – The Inspiration of Bankimchandra’s Ananda Math published in boloji long ago. He came to know about it when he worked at Behampore as the District Magistrate of Murshidabad. To quote him – “The seeds of Bankimchandra's anti-British sentiments were sown in Berhampore, the district headquarters of Murshidabad district where he was posted as a Deputy Magistrate. It was the 15th of December 1873 when Bankimchandra was, as usual, crossing the Barrack Square field opposite the Collectorate in his palanquin while some Englishmen were playing cricket. Suddenly one Lt. Colonel Duffin stopped the palanquin with some abusive remarks and insisted that it should be taken out of the field. When Bankim refused to abandon his customary route, Duffin apparently forced him to alight from the palanquin and pushed him violently (as reported in the Amrita Bazar Patrika of 8.1.1874). Witnesses to the incident included the Raja of Lalgola Jogindranarain Roy, Durgashankar Bhattacharji of Berhampur, Judge Bacebridge, Reverend Barlow, Principal Robert Hand and some others. Furious at the insult, Bankimchandra filed a criminal case against the Colonel, with the Lalgola Raja, Durgashankar Bhattacharji and Hand cited as witnesses. Duffin had to get a lawyer from Krishnagar in Nadia district, as no one in Berhampore was willing to appear for him, while all the local lawyers had signed vakalatnamas for Bankimchandra.

On 12th January 1874 the Magistrate, Mr. Winter, summoned Duffin and had just begun to question him when Judge Bacebridge entered and requested a few words in his chamber. After a little while they called in Bankimchandra and Duffin. Apparently they told Bankimchandra that Duffin had not recognized that Bankim was a Deputy Magistrate and regretted the incident. They requested Bankimchandra to withdraw the case. This he was not prepared to do and after much persuasion agreed, provided Duffin offered a formal apology in open court. Reluctantly, Duffin agreed. Winter took his chair in the court thereafter and in his presence, before a packed court, Lt. Col. Duffin offered an unconditional apology to Bankimchandra.
Almost immediately thereafter we find Bankimchandra taking three months leave. After this incident there must have been considerable resentment in the Berhampore Cantonment among the British militia and, apprehending bodily harm, Rao Jogindranarain Roy took Bankimchandra away to stay with him in Lalgola.”
Pradip has shown that at Lalgola Bankim found the ideas and the models of the characters of his novel and the theory of the scholars like Sir Jadunath Sarkar and Dr. R.C.Majumdar that Anandamath is pure fiction is wrong. The readers are advised to read that article.
What we want to point out is that it was long before the first political party – the Indian National Congress - was born in 1885 that one frail young Bengali, that too an employee of the foreign government, risking his coveted job and sure persecution in service took a courageous stand alone against the British Empire. How many instances can my interlocutor show me of IAS officers in independent India taking a similar courageous stand against an inept and thoroughly corrupt politician in power? It is common knowledge that even the members of the ICS grovelled before Nehru like slaves. It is to Sardar Ballavbhai Patel that the whole credit goes for the creation of the IAS as the successor of the ICS and his sayings and deeds unmistakably show us his sincere intention to build it up as an institution of exceptional integrity and high aptitude. But the rot started as soon as it was created and once that iron man was gone there was none to stop that rot.
Now let us go back to Bankim. He didn’t stop here. Before this incident he had started a periodical – Bangadarshan or The View of Bengal in 1872. He composed the famous song Vande mataram long before the publication of his immortal novel Anandamath in 1875. It became the war cry of the freedom fighters and many of them went to the gallows singing this song. As soon as this novel was published he became a marked man. He was hounded throughout his service career for his burning patriotism and defiant attitude towards the foreign rulers. He was promoted to the rank of Assistant Secretary only months before his retirement in 1891. While still in service he published many other novels on patriotic themes. His essay Bangadesher krishak, the introductory part of which has already been published in translation in boloji, shows how acutely he was aware of the conditions of the poor peasants of our country and we have a suspicion that this essay might have inspired the great agrarian riot that took place in 1873 in the district of Pabna.
Before we talk about frames, steel or otherwise, let us answer the question - How many bureaucrats are there in independent India who can compare with Bankim?

Read Also:  Bankimchandra and the Peasants of Bengal

More By  :  Kumud Biswas

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Comments on this Blog

Comment Thank you Pradip. Let me quote Tagore -
Having suffered a lot
Those whose minds are wrought
The base of whose existence becomes shaky
Those who are listless
Let them listen –
Don’t ever forget yourselves.
Let you meet every day
Those who have won over death
Those who have kept their torch aflame
Above whatever is mean and small
If you make them dwarf
The sin of their disrespect
Will make you dwarf as well
And you will suffer that indignity forever.
Make yourselves honourable
Honouring them
 In the world
 Those who are memorable men.

04-Jul-2011 11:53 AM

Comment  Excellent. As Commissioner Burdwan Division I lived in the Dutch governor's bungalow. Here Bankimchandra was PA to the Commissioner and used to cross over the Hooghly in a boat daily from Naihati. There was an armchair lying in the godown in disrepair that I liked to think he had used. I repaired it and used to recline on it on the 1st floor verandah overlooking the river--a wonderfully relaxing experience.
The British had hounded Bankim considerably, transferring him to very difficult posts. I think he was in 24 parganas also and did valuable work there. Finally they did honour him with "Rai Bahadur" as far as I recall.
I had begun observing his birthday as "West Bengal Civil Service Day" when I was director of the administrative training institute in calcutta to inspire the trainees. Typically, that has stopped following my retirement. No wonder Nirad Chaudhuri called us "the suicidal bengalee".

pradip bhattacharya
04-Jul-2011 09:57 AM


I fully agree with you there, Dipankar. One more thing - in independent India a bureaucrat like Bankim would lose his job. The British disliked him no doubt, but they also respected him for his manliness.

22-Oct-2010 06:37 AM

Comment Kumudbabu: The information about Bankimchandra carries great value. Coming down to the last question, I am sad to say that we live in a society governed by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who are sycophants at best and invertebrates at worst. What do I say? I don't even feel any anger nowadays. There is no hope for us, none at all.  

22-Oct-2010 05:57 AM

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