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Removing the Veil of Oblivion

Radhika Govindrajan

By Nirode K. Barooah
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 359, Rs. 645.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 2 February 2005

A largely ignored figure in Indian history, despite the role he played in highlighting India’s position under British rule at the international level, Virendranath Chatto-padhyaya finally gets his due with Nirode K. Barooah’s new biography Chatto. An extremely well researched book using a variety of European sources including newly available material from the archives of the former Soviet Union, it looks at Chatto’s gradual political and ideological evolution from a national revolutionary to a Communist internationalist. An uncompromising anti imperialist right from the start, Chatto was never willing to settle for anything less than complete independence from the yoke of foreign domination and led India’s struggle for freedom in Europe. He was able to internationalize the Indian question by taking it up at a number of international forums and established close links with a number of anti British and anti imperial forces like the German Foreign Office, the League against Imperialism, the Bolsheviks and the Comintern. His last days were spent in the Soviet Union till he was liquidated in one of Stalin’s purges in 1937. Apart from exploring Chatto’s rich political life, Barooah also looks at his tempestuous personal life, including his stormy marriage with Agnes Smedley from whom he separated in 1925.   Chatto’s political awakening came during his days in London, when he was infected by the mood of revolutionary nationalism that gripped India House, of which he was an inmate. Subsequently, he shifted to Paris in 1910 and gained a great deal of international experience, dealing with French socialists like Jaures and Longuet. The outbreak of the First World War saw Chatto shift to Germany where he established the beginnings of what was to be a long and fruitful relationship with the German Foreign Office (AA), which was interested in toppling British rule in India through a civil rebellion. He headed the Berlin India Committee which formed the liaison between groups of Indian nationalists in the Americas, the rest of Europe and Southeast Asia, and the AA. Unfortunately, all the German backed attempts at inciting a popular upsurge in India failed due to the incredible spy network of the British who managed to foil every plot.   In 1917, Chatto went to Stockholm to attend the anti war international socialist conference. Even though the conference failed, Chatto established an office for the Berlin Indians in Stockholm, with the blessings of the AA, and used the ...

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