Mr Modi, we need to honour Netaji with the truth

Saswati Sarkar
Saswati SarkarDec 03, 2014 | 11:36

Mr Modi, we need to honour Netaji with the truth

The first political biography I had read were those of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose – two Bengali books in succession Subhash Ghare Phere Nai (Subhash Did Not Return Home) and Ami Subhash Bolchi (This is Subhash Speaking). I am unable to recall the authors of the books at this point. However, the heroic account of a brilliant student of Presidency College who confronted professor Oaten for his racist remarks against Indians and was expelled as a result, but refused to apologise regardless of the consequences, still remains with me. Bose graduated with a stellar academic performance, once allowed to resume his academic training. He moved on to qualify in Indian Civil Services (one of the most challenging exams of contemporary India), ranking fourth overall, only to reject the lucrative life that a resulting appointment would offer and plunge headlong in freedom struggle.


Brilliant orator and politician that Bose was, he rose to prominence in Indian National Congress to the extent that he won the Presidential election of INC despite stated opposition of the contemporary political giant, MK Gandhi. He espoused Swaraj through any means, including force, which was the principal cause of his ideological disagreement with Gandhi.

His firebrand politics led to multiple incarcerations and house arrests. Not to be deterred, during one such house arrest at his Kolkata home, he evaded British security to escape to Germany via Afghanistan and Russia, disguised periodically as a deaf and dumb Pathan (he could not speak Pashto though) and an Italian noble man. He went around the world in yet another epic journey in submarines, first German and then Japanese to reach Japan (his trip constituted the only civilian transfer between two navies during World War II). He assumed the leadership of Indian National Army, better known as "Azad Hind Fauj", constituted by another revolutionary Ras Behari Bose. In a first of its kind in Asia, INA had an all-woman brigade – the Rani of Jhansi Regiment – led by Captain Laxmi Swaminathan. He mobilised, with his inspirational oratory, Indian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese in World War II, and also civilians living in South East Asia. His rousing address of "Give me blood, I shall give you freedom, Dilli chalo. Jai Hind", still reverberate across Indian minds.

 Netaji and Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj).

Starting from Japan, INA unfurled the Indian tricolour in Manipur and Andaman. They continued despite heavy casualties – two-third of their total strength of 60,000 succumbed in action - perhaps one-of-a-kind in the history of warfare. INA was forced to eventually surrender when Japan could not sustain its supply lines owing to the fall of Rangoon to the Allied forces. Japanese radio shortly after reported the demise of Netaji Bose in an air crash. This is where our definitive knowledge of Netaji stops.

Netaji Bose was clearly an uncompromising nationalist who put the goal of Indian independence above any core ideology and could endure any amount of personal sacrifice for accomplishing this cherished goal. He did not hesitate to answer the call of the nation leaving behind his wife and infant daughter in Germany when the occasion arose.

Nazi Germany, which he criticised as "not only narrow and selfish, but also arrogant" was not untouchable in this quest. Although ideologically close to left, he firmly sided with the powers that were fighting a war against Communist Russia, primarily because he believed they were in a position to assist India in her war of independence.


This is in sharp contrast to Indian leftists denouncing Quit India movement of 1942 (as Russia was in alliance with England at the time) and refusing to denounce China during 1962 war. Owing to Netaji’s political choice, Indian leftists "affectionately" called him Quisling and Tojo’s dog during that time, only to apologise years later. Bose was reportedly willing to shake hands with the devil for India’s independence. His actions embodied the doctrine of "India First".

The impact of Netaji Bose on India’s struggle for independence has recently been aptly described by the current NSA, Ajit Doval: "Clement Attlee was asked, "Why did you (the British) leave India, after all you had won the World War II. The burst was over since then. The Quit India Movement was a flop in 1942. So what was the tearing hurry in 1947 that you decided to leave the country immediately? The then British prime minister replied that it was (because of) the spark that Subhash Chandra Bose created among the soldiers of Indian Army. Attlee said, It was the threat of Subhash Bose and the rise of Indian nationalism from which we understood that it was a matter of time"." 

 Subhash Chandra Bose believed in the doctrine of "India First".

Indeed, the trial of the surrendered generals of INA aroused patriotic sentiments throughout India. Shortly after, the Indian navy rose in revolt – the initial spark in Mumbai engulfed the units of Karachi and Kolkata. And the British knew that their time in India was up.

The supreme sacrifice of a revolutionary freedom fighter constitutes a moment of inspiration in the history of a nation. It does, however, become a tragedy when the nation that celebrates "Satyameva Jayate" as its principal motto is deprived of his truth. It is far from clear that Netaji Subhash Bose had met his end in an air crash. In fact, in an inquiry completed in 2006, Justice Mukherjee concluded that:

a) There is no satisfactory evidence of the plane crash; on the contrary, the story given out in that respect is rather improbable.

b) In the absence of any contemporaneous record in the hospital, the bureau and/or the crematorium, the oral account of the witnesses of Netaji’s death and cremation cannot be relied on to arrive at a definitive finding; and

c) A secret plan was contrived to ensure Netaji’s safe passage, to which Japanese military authority and Habibur Rahman were parties.’’

Dr Yoshimi in Taipei claims to have treated Bose after the air crash and issued a death certificate specifying third degree burns as the cause of death. He could, however, show Justice Mukherjee only a death certificate dated 1988, a photocopy, and cited memory loss when he met Justice Mukherjee.

Justice Mukherjee could not find any pictorial or written evidence of the crash in the Taipei airfield log, neither in the local newspapers or held by the Taiwan government, nor cremation or death certificates of others who reportedly died with Bose. Citing 200 documents, including 90 classified ones, journalist Anuj Dhar has claimed in his recent book India’s Biggest Cover Up that Netaji had probably gone to Russia after Japan faked his death. In an interesting precedent, Dr Ba Maw, President of Burma, in Rangoon in 1962, had confided in Bose’s nephew, Pradip Bose, that the Japanese had declared him dead in an air crash, in early 1945, while he was still hiding in Japan to escape the British.

Given the reported inconsistencies, activists like Anuj Dhar have legitimately demanded that the government of India declassify the information it has classified on Netaji. Successive Congress governments have declined such requests on the ground that the disclosures would jeopardise ties with foreign nations. Furthermore, Anuj Dhar contends that witnesses belonging to the Congress government and Intelligence Bureau were at best economical with the truth while testifying in the enquiry commissions preceding the Mukherjee Commission. The reports submitted by the Mukherjee Commission, which was instituted by Vajpayee, was summarily rejected by the Congress government who succeeded him. It was widely postulated that this was a deliberate move to protect the legacy of Nehru who could have known of the incarceration of Bose as a war criminal in a Stalinist camp in Siberia. The theory gained credence as successive Congress governments, in an attempt to ensure a pre-eminent stature of dynastic icons, had denied all pre-independence heroes their dues – Sardar Patel and Netaji Subhash Bose were both subtly cast as provincial icons of Gujarat and Bengal respectively.

The state Bose was associated with was not particularly keen to claim his legacy either. The party Bose founded had lost its political clout after he left Calcutta and remained a minuscule partner in the left government of Bengal. The stalwarts of the left government of Bengal had no political interest in claiming his legacy, given that that would invariably highlight their role in denouncing him as a "Quisling and Tojo’s dog". In short, there was no political constituency that pursued his truth. Even the title that his followers bestowed on him, "Netaji", has been usurped by a politician whose politics of caste and faith has very little in common with the lofty nationalism of his title-sake. But then it didn’t really matter, as Netaji would surely have treaded the path he did even if he had known that he would be all but forgotten in the country he so cherished.

Bose arriving at Bombay's Victoria Terminus railway station to inaugurate the All India Industrial Planning Committee meeting.

Hope for a closure on Bose was reignited with the emergence of Modi. First, he appeared to stand against the establishment of privilege that the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty represented. Even more, it was he who brought back the ashes of a revolutionary freedom fighter Shyamji Krishna Verma as chief minister of Gujarat. Verma had founded the India House in Britain which had nurtured several revolutionaries including Veer Savarkar and Madan Lal Dhingra. He died in 1930, leaving instructions for his ashes to be transferred to India should she acquire independence within 100 years of his death. Turns out that no politician before the then chief minister of Gujarat thought of honouring the last wish of this revolutionary before chief minister Modi in 2003. Those hopes were reinforced when during the peak of Lok Sabha campaign in 2014, the then BJP president Rajnath Singh demanded that the government of India declassify all information concerning Netaji. Netaji watchers were particularly reassured as BJP had run a full term government only a decade back in which the then leader of the oppositions were cabinet ministers. Thus, BJP could not but know the contents of the classified information and the implications of its release. In 2014, the prime ministerial candidate of BJP had even recalled in an election rally in West Bengal the message now immortalised by Netaji – "Give me blood, I shall give you freedom". He could not have but anticipated that citizens would demand the truth of Netaji from him – Netaji’s family members had requested him of the same in person a year back. Last, but not the least, Modi has acknowledged the enormous influence Swami Vivekananda had on his political values. For a year, he had tweeted Swamiji’s quotes every day. He would surely know Swami ji’s emphasis on truth, "Everything can be sacrificed for truth, but truth can not be sacrificed for anything."

India’s "Et tu, Brute" moment arrived when Modi’s PMO turned down the RTI request filed by Subhash Agarwal for access to classified Netaji documents on a ground similar to that cited by the preceding Congress governments: "Disclosure of documents contained in these files would prejudicially affect relations with foreign countries.’’ The ground is ludicrous to say the least – didn’t an independent India maturely handle the history of the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh? Isn't a similar ground contested by the ideological fountain head of the Sangh Parivaar, RSS, as a legitimate basis for a coloured exposition of the history of Islamic invasion and rule of India, and perhaps rightly so? Is denying India the truth of her history in the interest of relations with foreign countries upholding of the doctrine of India First that PM Modi expounded on in his election campaign?

Modi’s legions of followers on social media are counseling patience in their certainty that he would fulfill his party’s pre-election promise in due course. While sincerely hoping that the PM’s future choices justify the trust they have reposed on him, I conclude by presenting my humble request to him: "India does not deserve to pay homage to her revolutionary martyr until she honours him with his truth. Until then, Sir, consider sparing his memory of your tribute on annual Netaji Jayantis and in your next election rally in Bengal."

Last updated: August 19, 2015 | 11:35
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