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“Indian Robinhood” Ananta Lal Singh: How a Revolutionary Nationalist went down in history as a propounder of anarchy?

We remember the controversial revolutionary on his 120th birth anniversary who led the valorous Chittagong Armoury Raid during the Civil Disobedience Movement (1930) and later committed bank robberies in post-British India.

The protagonist of this article, Ananta Lal Singh, is an archetypal ‘anti-hero’ of the Indian National Movement. The title of his autobiography, “Keu Boley Dakat, Keu Boley Biplobi” (Bengali for ‘Some Call Me a Robber, Some Call Me a Revolutionary’), exemplifies how this man lived his life through his own rules and dedicated each breath in his pursuance to make India an egalitarian state. He was a revolutionary turned anarchist whose story is befitting of fetching him the tag of “Indian Robinhood.” Bear with me as I present the story of a benevolent anarchist and freedom fighter, Ananta Lal Singh!

Early life and lead up to the National Struggle: 

On December 1st, 1903, Anant Lal Singh Ji was born in Chittagong to a Punjabi Rajput family that had migrated from Agra to Bengal. During his schooling in the Chittagong Municipal School, Ananta came under the tutelage of another revolutionary nationalist, Master Da Surya Sen. 

As a stoutly built young boy, Ananta had an intimidating profile. His utter physical strength brought him to the spotlight. Sensing the implications of his sturdiness, Master Da Surya Sen introduced him to the Anushilan Samiti. Later, under Master Da’s mentorship, he became one of the first members of the Indian Republican Army.

Such was his strength that he could uproot railway tracks with his bare hands! The tale of his vigour was such that his comrades would say, “he (Ananta Singh) could out-shoot and outfight anything, irrespective of size, provided it was within his range.” 

The tale of the Communist Bolshevik revolution overthrowing centuries of oppression by the Russian Tsars inspired many Indian revolutionaries. Master Da’s camp bore no exception to this. Frustrated by the oppressive British regime, many Bengali revolutionaries gravitated toward Vladimir Lenin’s revolution. India’s resentment against British imperialism was manifested through Master Da’s “Indian Republican Army” (founded in 1930).

Chittagong Armory Raid:

Inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution, Master Da wanted to execute a local coup in Chittagong and disaffiliate it from the British empire. Through this, he hoped to set an example for the rest of India to carry out similar coups and snatch back their sovereignty. 

Thus, on April 18th, 1930, the Indian Republican Army, with Ananta Singh at its helm, decided to attack numerous critical places to disrupt any attempt at retaliation by the British. These places were the Chittagong Railway Station, Telegraph Lines, Police Quarters, and the British Armory, and the siege lay central to their plan, as it stored the much-needed ammunition to carry out the later phases of the mission. Ananta Singh roared before Master Da, “Tell me what to do. How to do it is my headache.”

However, when the attack unfolded, they discovered that the Armory did not contain sufficient ammunition, a severe blow against their advancements. British reinforcements arrived faster than anticipated, and the rebels had to flee to the nearby jungle. Despite the Britishers hunting down many insurgents, Singh made a narrow escape. Upon hearing about the news of torture against his comrades, Ananta Singh surrendered to the police ten days later. The British authorities sentenced him to transportation for life to the Cellular Jail (Kaalapaani) in Port Blair.

In 1932, during his detention in Kaalapaani, Ananta Singh went on a hunger strike that agitated the British, and they were forced to transfer him back to a jail in mainland India. During his detention, he gravitated further towards Communism and became a staunch believer in the Marxist doctrine of “Class struggle.”

He was released in 1946, but by then, he had already decided to enrol in the Communist Party of India (CPI). Years of detainment had made him obstinate, and his loyalty towards Marxism started transcending all reasonable limits.

Descent to Anarchy:

In the early 1950s, the Indian National Congress held an upper hand over national and regional politics, and the Communists at that time were their fiercest political rivals. Ananta Lal Singh, too, was upset with the social order established by the Congressmen and realised the necessity of increasing the CPI’s funding to emerge as the sole alternative to the INC. Once, while discussing the matter, Ananta Singh maintained, “You leave it to me (the issue of raising funds), for peoples’ struggle every means, every method is justified.” 

Ananta Singh undertook the profession of Bengali film production and dealership of motor vehicles, and he donated the lion’s share of his hard-earned money to the CPI to wage war against the ‘Bourgeoisie.’ Following the Indo-China war in 1962, the CPI split into two in 1964, and Ananta Singh joined the CPI(Marxists) faction.

However, his means to overthrow the ‘aristocrats’ was not democratic at all. Soon, he founded a left-wing extremist group named MMG (Man-Money-Gun) based in Kolkata. Later, he renamed the group to the Revolutionary Communist Council of India (an amalgamation of doctrines of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism). He had an intricate nexus with the Naxalite movement, orchestrating numerous bank robberies in Kolkata to fund their cause. In 1969, the United Left Front Government of West Bengal arrested Ananta Singh from his hideout in a forest near Jaduguda at Jharkhand and sentenced him to jail till 1977.

On January 25th, 1979, Ananta Lal Singh passed away due to cardiac ailments. His dream of a ‘class revolution’ had made him a fanatic, which explains why, instead of living a life of comfort and affluence, Ananta Singh dedicated his life to anarchy. For him, it did not matter if he went down in history as a hero or a radical extremist. 

Unfortunately, even today, he remains sidelined by his own party and by Indian Historians. This loyalist of Master Da Surya Sen deserves a lot better. “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain,” regrettably, Ananta Lal Singh became the latter. However, this is our attempt to ensure that the person who created history stands recognised for his struggles and priceless sacrifice!

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