(5 November 1870 – 16 June 1925) was an Indian politician and Founder-leader of the Swaraj (Independence) Party in Bengal under British rule.
He belonged to the famous Das family of Telirbagh (Vaidya-Brahmin), in Bikrampur, Dhaka (now in Bangladesh). He was the son of Bhuban Mohan Das, and nephew of the Brahmo social reformer Durga Mohan Das. Some of his cousins were Satish Ranjan Das, Sudhi Ranjan Das, Sarala Roy and Lady Abala Bose. His eldest grandson was Siddhartha Shankar Ray and his granddaughter is Justice Manjula Bose.Educated in England, where he became a Barrister, his public career began in 1909 when he successfully defended Aurobindo Ghosh on charges of involvement in the previous year’s Alipore bomb case.
He was a leading figure in Bengal during the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1919-1922, and initiated the ban on British clothes, setting an example by burning his own European clothes and wearing Khadi clothes. At one time, his clothes were tailored and washed in Paris and he maintained a permanent laundry in Paris to ship his clothes to Calcutta. He sacrificed all this luxury when he became attached to the Freedom Movement.
He brought out a newspaper called Forward and later changed its name to Liberty to fight the British Raj. When the Calcutta Municipal Corporation was formed, he became its first Mayor. He was a believer of non-violence and constitutional methods for the realisation of national independence, and advocated Hindu-Muslim unity, cooperation and communal harmony and championed the cause of national education. He resigned his presidency of the Indian National Congress at the Gaya session after losing a motion on “No Council Entry” to Gandhi’s faction. He then founded the Swaraj Party, with veteran Motilal Nehru and young Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, in 1924, to express his uncompromising opinion and position . His legacy was carried forward by his disciples, and notably by Subhas Chandra Bose.
He is generally referred to by the honorific Desh Bandhu meaning “Friend of the nation”. He was closely associated with a number of literary societies and wrote poems, apart from numerous articles and essays. He married Basanti Devi (1879- 1974)and had three children, Aparna Devi (1898 – 1972), Chiraranjan Das (1899 – 1928) and Kalyani Devi (1902 – 1983). Basanti Devi also plunged into the freedom movement and was the first woman to court arrest with her sister-in-law Urmila Devi in Non Cooperation movement in 1921. Her warmth and affection for everyone was legendary and she held the position of a matriarch in the freedom fighters fraternity. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose used to regard her as ‘Ma’.
In 1925, Das’s health began to fail due to overwork and in May he withdrew to “Step Aside”, a mountain home in Darjeeling, where Mahatma Gandhi visited him. On 16 June 1925, with a severe fever, he breathed his last. A special arrangement was made to bring his cortege by train to Calcutta.
Thousands and thousands of people accompanied Deshbandhu’s funeral cortege to the burning ground at Keoratala Mahasamsan in Calcutta. The mass gathering and the manner in which people paid their last respects to this beloved leader, whom many described as “the uncrowned king of Bengal”, evoked a feeling in Rabindranath Tagore who penned a couplet that has immortalised the person to whom these words were offered : “Enechhile sathe kore mrityuheen praan/ Marane tahai tumi kore gele daan.