We’re Sorry, Netaji

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Declaring 23 January, Subhas Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary, as Desh Prem Divas will increase public awareness and dispel myths about the personality

The careless manner in which the people of the Indian nation forget the contribution of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose towards attaining freedom for the country from British rule, which necessitates recollections and corrections repeatedly, is painful. While a freedom fighter is beyond his communal identity, Bengalis, by and large, appear to have grown over the extraordinary personality, or so has been found by an indefatigable pressure group of young people led by journalist-turned-author-turned-activist Anuj Dhar. The team called Mission Netaji, whose efforts led to the declassification of official files related to Bose, first by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and then by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have discovered to their utter dismay that the hero does not evoke the kind of response in most places including Bengal that it did until some decades ago. The Bengalis, otherwise known to have a poor opinion about the Indian National Congress since they believed the lobby in the party led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had offered their leader a raw deal, Dhar says, are now more in awe of the supposed efficacy of the non-violent movement. The MN activists have been running from pillar to post for years — with some despondence since the documents were made public — to get the whole truth about Netaji’s mysterious disappearance on 18 August 1945, which couldn’t be ascertained from the papers that have reached the archives so far. It is suspected with reason that the regimes of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi got rid of any material that could indict them, and the Japanese, the Russians and the British together can bring an end to the riddle, as the man couldn’t have disappeared in thin air without their connivance or collaboration on a day when no air crash had taken place anywhere in the world including Taihoku. However, Modi is unlikely to approach these foreign countries since the urge to get to the depth of the case is more or less, unfortunately, absent in the domestic circuit. The situation turned more hopeless when Justice Vishnu Sahai concluded via interviews that those who deposed before his commission of inquiry, saying that the Bhagwanji or Gumnami Baba of Faizabad was none other than Netaji had based their assertions on their “belief”. On the one hand, Justice Sahai did not go probe the case to the extent Justice Manoj Mukherjee had in the previous decade; on the other, an inopportune act of filing an application under the Right to Information Act to know from the government once again how Netaji had “died” complicated matters. Obviously, the government cannot abandon its air crash theory before some authority dismisses it once and for all.

With this backdrop, one of the grandnephews of Netaji, Chandra Kumar Bose, who also happens to be a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, is leading a campaign to press for an official appellation for the date 23 January, the day Subhas was born. Never mind the fact that the extended family of the Boses is now a house divided, refusing to back their cousin’s efforts collectively. MN alleges that the reason they pooh-pooh Dhar’s investigation is that the interest the Union government had recently evinced in the affair was credited to the journalist’s endeavour whereas relatives like Surya Kumar Bose had to play the second fiddle before television cameras despite being the hero’s kin because they had done nothing to ensure the mystery is unraveled for years. Besides, the activists argue, the association of another grand nephew with an NGO patronised by the previous government (of the INC), and membership of the Trinamool Congress, has clouded the judgement of an otherwise intellectual Sugata Bose. Importantly, the truth in the minutiae of family bickering is irrelevant for Modi. Whether the people of the country are worked up over the question will determine whether he explores foreign lands to reach the truth. There is a section of the Hindutva brigade that believes Subhas Bose was an appeaser of Muslims. Add to that the fact that the current prime minister is a Gujarati, from the land of Vallabhbhai Patel, and the Sardar was not known to have enjoyed a good relationship with Netaji. Further, the freedom fighter’s socialist beliefs — shared in varying degrees by the entire Indian political leadership in the first half of the 20th century and even in this day and age — are often passed off as communism by the north Indian gentry. Declaring the birth anniversary of Netaji as Desh Prem Divas will be a small step in increasing public awareness about the personality. Until then, his devout soul — it’s near impossible he’s still living — would pray, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they say.”

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