Every day hundreds and thousands of people thronging Ganesh Chandra Avenue come across four half bust statues installed opposite Hind Cinema. But they seldom ever pause to think whom these belong to. The busts are of four revolutionaries – Anukul Chandra Mukherjee, Bipin Bihari Ganguly, Girindranath Banerjee and Haridas Dutta who were involved in the famous Rodda Arms Robbery case, a daring act committed on 26 August, 1914, just a century ago.
Following the arrest of several noted revolutionaries in 1908 including Aurobindo Ghose, Barin Ghose and Ullashkar Dutta in connection with the Alipore bomb case, there was an acute shortage of arms in the hands of the revolutionary groups. The revolutionaries led by Jatindranath Mukherjee of Jugantar, Bipin Bihari Ganguly of Atmonnoti Samity and Hemchandra Ghosh of Bengal Volunteers made desperate attempts to get arms. They managed some arms from some Chinese sailors who smuggled these through Chandannagore port. Arms dealers like Nur Mohammad of Chelta and Kishori Mohun Sapui of Chandannagore also procured some. They also tried to get arms from their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
Meanwhile Rodda and Company, a British firm used to import arms and keep them in its godown at Vansittart Row in central Kolkata. Srish Chandra Mitra alias Habu, an employee of Rodda and Company informed the revolutionaries that a huge consignment of arms will reach Kolkata Port in early August. On 24 August, the revolutionaries met at the house of Srish Mitra on Srinath Das Lane in Bowbazar to prepare a plan. Eleven revolutionaries including Naren Bhattacharya (MN Roy) were present at the meeting. Bhattacharya left the meeting criticizing the plan as impractical and absurd.
But Anukul Mukherjee resolved to go ahead and fixed August 26 to be the date of operation. On the night of August 25, Haridas Dutta went to the Marwari Lodge at Mitra Lane where PD Himmatsinka who later went on to become a noted lawyer, lived. PD was a close associate of Bipin Bihari Ganguly. He, with the help of a barber gave Dutta a hair-cut in order to impersonate a rustic bullock-cart- driver.
On August 26 around 12 noon, Dutta, wearing a black kurta, a short soiled dhoti with a black string attached to a brass amulet around his neck, reached the clearing house of Calcutta Customs. Seven bullock carts stood in a row on the courtyard. Srish Mitra was busy loading the consignments. Altogether there were 202 boxes containing Mouser pistols, springs, pistol case and ammunition. Six bullock carts were loaded with 192 boxes while the remaining 10 boxes were kept on the seventh bullock cart driven by Dutta. The carts left for Rodda’s godown. Mitra led the team. Khagen Das and Srish Chandra Pal walked on two sides on the last cart posing as employees of the firm. Dutta carried a revolver and a shovel to cope with any emergency situation and he was instructed to break open one of the boxes and hand over two Mouser pistols to Das and Pal who were walking close to the cart.
Six carts reached the company’s godown while the seventh cart reached Molonga Lane via Mission Row. The traffic police on duty did not suspect any foul play. Anukul Mukherjee distributed 50 Mouser pistols and 28,000 rounds of ammunition among the revolutionaries.
Dutta was asked to hire a godown and keep the remaining ammunition. He then contacted Himmatsinka who helped to hire a godown at Shibtala Lane in Burrabazar.
On August 29, the firm discovered the theft and found that Srish Mitra did not turn up for work. They lodged a complaint in the detective department of Calcutta Police at Lalbazar.
Sir Charles Tegart, the police commissioner instructed his subordinates to collect information about new tenants in Central Kolkata who had recently moved in and interrogated drivers of bullock carts. A cart driver told the police that he had delivered some boxes to a godown at Shibtala Lane.
Accordingly, a policeman in plainclothes, Ali Hossain, kept an eye on the godown. When Dutta came in, the caretaker told him to vacate the godown within two days while Hossain asked him to accompany him to the police station. Dutta, on their way to Lalbazar took a handful of sand and threw it into the eyes of Hossain and started running. Hossain raised an alarm and soon he was caught by the passer-byes and handed over to the police. He was taken to the chamber of Tegart who greeted him saying “Hello! Royal Bengal Tiger! Now you are bagged.” Police arrested Anukul Mukherjee, Kalidas Basu, Girindranath Banerjee, Bhujanga Dhara, PD Himmatsinka. Shirish Pal and Khagen Das were absconding.
Trial began for Rodda Arms Conspiracy case. Haridas Dutta was sentenced to four- year-rigorous imprisonment while Kalidas Basu, Bhujanga Dhar and Girindranath Banerjee were each sentenced to two years of imprisonment. Incidentally, Dutta who resided at 11 Gourmohan Mukherjee Street, close to the ancestral house of Swami Vivekananda, was taken to him by Hemchandra Ghosh while Swamiji was alive. He inspired him, bidding him to do something for the good of the nation.
About the Rodda arms robbery case the Sedition Committee wrote, “The theft of pistols from Rodda and Co. – a firm of gun maker in Calcutta, was an event of greatest importance in the development of revolutionary crime in Bengal. The authorities have reliable information to show that 44 of these pistols (numbering 50) were almost at once distributed to nine different revolutionary groups in Bengal and it is certain that the pistols so distributed were used in 54 cases of dacoity or murder or attempt to murder subsequent to April 1914. It may indeed safely be said that revolutionary outrages that have taken place in Bengal since August 1914 in which Mouser pistols were used had been stolen from the Rodda and Co.”