Chandra Shekhar Azad (23 July 1906 – 27 February 1931), popularly known as Azad (“The Liberated”), was an Indian revolutionary who reorganised the Hindustan Republican Association under the new name of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) after the death of its founder, Ram Prasad Bismil, and three other prominent party leaders, Roshan Singh, Rajendra Nath Lahiri and Ashfaqulla Khan. He is considered to be the mentor of Bhagat Singh and chief strategist of the HSRA.
Chandra Shekhar Azad was born in Bhavra village, in the present-day Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh. He was then called Chandra Shekar Tiwari. His forefathers were from the Badarka village near Kanpur (in present-day Unnao District. His mother wanted her son to be a great Sanskrit scholar and persuaded his father to send him to Kashi Vidyapeeth, Banaras to study. In December 1921, when Mohandas K. Gandhilaunched the Non-Cooperation Movement, Chandra Shekhar, then a 15-year old student, joined.
As a result, he was arrested. On being produced before a magistrate, he gave his name as ‘Azad’, father’s name as ‘Swatantra’ (independent) and residence as ‘Jail’. From that day onward, having announced his name to be Azad (The Liberated) in court, he was known as Chandra Shekhar Azad among the people.
After suspension of the non-cooperation movement in 1922 by Gandhi, Azad became more aggressive. He committed himself to achieve complete independence by any means. Azad also believed that India’s future lay in socialism. He met a young revolutionary, Pranvesh Chatterji, who introduced him to Ram Prasad Bismil who had formed the Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), a revolutionary organisation. Azad was impressed with the aim of HRA, i.e., an independent India with equal rights and opportunity to everyone without discrimination of caste, creed, religion or social status.
On introduction, Bismil was impressed by Azad, when Azad reportedly put his hand over a lamp and did not remove it till his skin burnt. He then became an active member of the HRA and started to collect funds for HRA. Most of the fund collection was through robberies of government property. He also wanted to build a new India based on socialist principles. Azad and his compatriots also planned and executed several acts of violence against the British.
Most of his revolutionary activities were planned and executed from Shahjahanpur which was also the hometown of Ram Prasad. He was involved in the Kakori Train Robbery of 1925, in the attempt to blow up the Viceroy’s train in 1926, and at last the shooting of J.P. Saunders at Lahore in 1928 to avenge the killing of Lala Lajpat Rai.
Azad made Jhansi his organisation’s hub for some time. He used the forest of Orchha, situated 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Jhansi, as a site for shooting practice and, being an expert marksman, he trained other members of his group. Near the forest he built a hut near to a Hanuman Temple on the banks of the Satar River. He lived there under the alias of Pandit Harishankar Brahmachari for a long period, and started teaching children from the nearby village of Dhimarpura. In this way he managed to establish good rapport with the local residents. The village Dhimarpura was renamed as Azadpura by the Madhya Pradesh government.
While living in Jhansi, he also learned to drive a car at Bundelkhand Motor Garage in Sadar Bazar. Sadashivrao Malkapurkar, Vishwanath Vaishampayan and Bhagwan Das Mahaur came in close contact with him and became an integral part of his revolutionary group. The then congress leaders from Raghunath Vinayak Dhulekar and Sitaram Bhaskar Bhagwat were also close to Azad. He also stayed for sometime in the house of Rudra Narayan Singh at Nai Basti, as well as Bhagwat’s house in Nagra.
Azad died at Alfred Park in Allahabad on 27 February 1931 when he went to the city to meet with a revolutionary colleague, Sukhdev Raj. The police were notified of his location by an informer. Faced with armed police, Azad fired upon them. He was wounded in the process of killing three policemen and wounding some others. His actions made it possible for Sukhdev Raj to escape. After a long shootout, holding true to his pledge to never be captured alive, he shot himself dead with his last bullet.
The file related to Azad is preserved inC.I.D. Headquarters, 1, Gokhale Marg, Lucknow. The Colt pistol of Chandra Shekhar Azad is displayed at the Allahabad Museum. The body was sent to Rasulabad Ghat for cremation without informing general public. As it came to light, people surrounded the park where the incident had taken place. They chanted slogans against the British rule and praised Azad.