By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, August 9 (IANS): On August 8, 1942, after Gandhiji’s historic “Leave India” appeal to the British Raj at the Gowalia Tank maidan in Mumbai, the police immediately intervened to arrest all the major Indian National Congress (INC) leaders present there in order to crush the movement.
The following day (August 9, 1942), a brave 33-year-old woman, Aruna Asaf Ali – who later defied even Gandhi – managed to sneak in and hoisted the Indian tricolor, brandishing Vande Mataram slogans, shaking the Brits.
This was at a time when most discouraged Indians thought all was lost, and with the INC’s top leadership behind bars, the ‘Quit India’ movement would be stillborn.
But, it was widely credited to Aruna’s audacity – under the noses of the British – which sparked new life in the crusade which ultimately saw the collapse of foreign rule in just five years – August 15, 1947 – and a grateful nation later, she was awarded a Bharat Ratna (1997) posthumously.
Born with a silver spoon into an elite Bengali Brahmin family in Kalka (Punjab) on July 16, 1909, little Aruna Ganguly was educated at the prestigious Sacred Heart Convent School for Girls in Lahore (now , Pakistan), then graduated from All Saints College, Nainital (now, Uttarakhand).
His father, Upendranath Ganguly was a prominent restaurateur and his mother was Ambalikadevi Sanyal from a reputed Brahmo family, while his younger sister Purnima Banerjee was later a member of the Constituent Assembly of India – which adopted the Constitution of India – and also served as an MP from Uttar Pradesh.
Aruna’s uncle, Dhirendranath Ganguly, was a renowned photographer, later one of the first Bengali film actors, producer-director-screenwriter and was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke award (1975), while his second uncle was Professor Nagendranath Ganguly was married to Mira Devi – the daughter of India’s first Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore – but their relationship was widely strained.
After graduating, Aruna worked as a teacher at the Gokhale Memorial School in Calcutta and also met a prominent INC leader, lawyer Asaf Ali – independent India’s first ambassador to the United States, later in Switzerland and was also Governor of Odisha twice, and imprisoned several times, including August 1942 in Bombay.
Their marriage in 1928 raised many eyebrows, not only because of the religious differences, but also because Aruna was only 19 and Ali was 40, so her family quickly disowned her as “dead. “.
Since Ali was a prominent member of the INC she also joined the party, the couple ‘witnessed’ the bomb thrown at Delhi’s Central Legislative Assembly in April 1929 by Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt which injured many Britons, then they (Aruna -Ali) participated in the Salt Satyagraha of 1930 after which she was arrested.
The following year, the famous Gandhi-Irwin pact, which among other things called for the abolition of the salt tax, the lifting of the ban on the INC and the release of all political prisoners, was signed. .
But, Aruna – accused of being a vagrant – remained in prison, only to be released after an uproar from fellow inmates, the general public and direct intervention from Gandhi.
In another stint at Tihar prison and later in solitary confinement at Ambala prison, she fought for better facilities for prisoners which led to several reforms afterwards.
After prison, although of an indomitable spirit, she remained physically weak and was largely inactive for almost 8-10 years.
However, it was her famous streak with the Habs on August 9, 1942 that propelled her into the history books, presiding over the remaining AICC session, dodging police bullets and then disappearing underground.
While in hiding, Aruna led a small group of revolutionaries fighting the British who announced a huge price of 5,000 rupees for information, and Gandhiji wrote her a personal letter.
“I have been filled with admiration for your courage and heroism. You are reduced to a skeleton. Come out and surrender and win the prize offered for your arrest. Reserve the prize money for the Harijan cause ( People of God),” the handwritten note reads.
Aruna defied Gandhiji’s appeal, later her properties were confiscated and sold, but she went on to edit the feisty INC publication ‘Inquilab’ with congressional stalwart Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia – who was the one of the secret congressional radio broadcasters run by another brave woman, Dr. Usha Mehta.
She only came out of hiding in 1946 after the warrant for her arrest was quashed, but despite other political differences and criticism from Gandhi, she treasured her hand-scribbled note until the end. end.
At one point Gandhiji openly castigated her for her support of the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny (February 1946) – as the demand for Pakistan peaked – and the revolt that started in Mumbai spread to the ports of Karachi, Calcutta and Madras, almost endangering Britain. commitment to give India full independence in August 1947.
After independence, she listened to Gandhiji and joined the INC, but after his martyrdom, she jumped to the Socialist Party (1948), followed by a few years with the Communist Party of India (CPI) in the mid-1950s, and came full circle back to INC in 1964.
Although a communist at heart, she devoted her energies to the media through the publishing house Link (founded after independence) with a weekly magazine and the daily newspaper Patriot which was patronized by the great and the powerful, starting by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
She started the National Women’s Federation (1954) and was Delhi’s first female mayor in 1958.
After joining the INC, she became close to the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi although she criticized the emergency (1975-1977).
In 1983, Aruna led a group of 100 volunteers to the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1983 to espouse social harmony at the pinnacle of militancy there, which led to Operation Blue Star (June 1984) and culminated in the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (October 1984).
Later, she even maintained a good relationship with the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, while continuing her media and social activities.
Having lost her husband in 1953, Aruna lived a full and active public life, still in her modest one-bedroom apartment in New Delhi, until her disappearance on July 29, 1996, at the age of 87, in New Delhi. Delhi.
She has won many honors, accolades and awards crowned by Bharat Ratna (1997), in addition to several routes, institutions all over India, postage stamp in honor of Asaf Ali (1989) and her ( 1998), and the All India Minorities Front’s annual ‘Dr. Aruna Asaf Ali Sadbhavna’ Award to Eminent Persons in His Memory.