Fortune Cookie

Why my father, a Netaji bhakt, would rubbish salesmen of conspiracy theories

The BJP's sudden love for Subhas Chandra Bose only helps it divert national attention away from the groundswell against its intolerant regime

 |  Fortune Cookie  |  5-minute read |   15-10-2015
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I must start with a disclaimer. My father, SN Bhattacharyya, was arrested in 1941 by the Calcutta Police from a "pice hotel" where he had shacked up for the night just to be with his political dadas who were in hiding. He was charged with aiding and abetting the escape of Subhas Chandra Bose, whom he had met from a distance a couple of times. All his life my father kept laughing at the trumped-up charge, for the historic escape was too big an operation to be assigned, even in parts, to a novice "revolutionary".

My father, then 21 years old, never got to appeal his arrest, which led to his spending five years in Presidency Jail, Kolkata, because the Defence of India Rules were in force. India, against the wishes of its people, was at war with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperialist Japan.

Years later, my father, despite being in the government, wrote an exhaustively researched book, Netaji Subhas Bose in Self Exile: His Finest Hour, which couldn't get a decent publisher because the Emergency was on and no one wanted to tread on powerful toes by glorifying a man opposed allegedly by Jawaharlal Nehru, the late father of the then prime minister.

Also read: Prime Minister, give our heritage back: Declassify Netaji files

My father may not have mattered to the Bose family - the closest he got to it was to befriend the author Nirad Chaudhuri, who was Sarat Bose's private secretary - nor were his views on Netaji ever taken into account, but he believed in three things (and so did, I believe, Shah Nawaz Khan, Netaji's deputy who served as a minister in the Nehru, Shastri and Indira Gandhi cabinets, and also headed a commission inquiring into his leader's death - my father got to know him fairly well):

(1) Netaji, they believed, had died as recorded by history and it was only in the interests of certain sections of his horribly divided family (as well as the Forward Bloc, the successor of the party that Bose had founded after leaving the Congress) to keep the controversy alive for political and pecuniary reasons (it was Sarat Bose's family, much to the disgust of Netaji's lesser-known descendants now coming into the spotlight, that gained the most because of its proximity to the Congress after Independence);

(2) Netaji, without doubt, was a blemishless patriot, but he was politically naïve, believing mistakenly that the enemy's enemy was his friend, and he didn't exactly cover himself with glory by aligning with Japanese warlords and appearing as a supplicant in the lairs of Benito Mussolini and that enemy of humanity, Adolf Hitler.

(3) Those who wish to glorify Netaji just to be able to run down Nehru - because they have inherited their political DNA from the toady RSS, which never acted against British misrule, and because they have never had a leader of the stature of Nehru - conveniently ignore two facts:

(a) Netaji was uncompromising in his opposition to "communal sores" and his Azad Hind Fauj was raised on the secular principles that were so anathematic to the RSS;

(b) Jawaharlal Nehru, and not some pracharak wearing khaki shorts, was a part of the team of legal luminaries, led by the legendary Bhulabhai Desai, who made, according to Justice Markandey Katju, "probably the first legal argument before any court in the world which sought to establish the legal right of an enslaved nation to wage a war of national liberation against its foreign ruler," at the historic INA Trials at the Red Fort in Delhi.

Also read: What makes Netaji the testosterone hero of India’s Independence

My father is no longer around, so I don't know how he would react to the spectacle of a former RSS pracharak trying to appropriate Netaji's legacy, as he attempted to do with Sardar Patel's and Swami Vivekananda's, by giving official sanction to the conspiracy theories abounding about Netaji's death.

Does anyone really care about oddball theories being floated about a death that took place conclusively seven decades ago? Aren't there issues of greater consequence for India today? An India where cows are shown more respect than women by the new ruling elite. An India where minorities - from NGOs fighting to give silenced communities a voice to people eating beef for no reason other than the fact that it is the cheapest meat available - are treated with suspicion and contempt by a ruling order that came to power on the promise of ushering in a new development agenda.

West Bengal has just shown what is to be done with such rulers. In the just concluded urban civic elections in the state, the BJP has been clean bowled even in those municipal wards where it had done stupendously well in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Also read: How much of a hero is Subhas Chandra Bose?

If Netaji's new drum-beaters truly believe in his principles, they should be less concerned about how he died and more about running India on the Azad Hind Fauj's three cardinal principles, laid down deliberately in Hindustani by its leader: Ittmad (faith), respect for all faiths; Ittefaq (unity), unity of all religions; and Kurbani (sacrifice) - well, that's one virtue we, as a nation, have forgotten, so why blame the bhakts alone!

They'd be better off reconciling themselves to the death of a man they really didn't care about in his lifetime in the same way as Gandhiji accepted the fact with much reluctance, that too after a briefing by Netaji's aide, Captain Habib-ur Rehman, who was the last of his confidants to see him alive. Netaji's death is being turned into a game of political football with an eye on the West Bengal elections. That is the second tragedy being heaped on a patriot who never got his due.


Sourish Bhattacharyya Sourish Bhattacharyya @sourishb1963

The writer is a columnist for Mail Today, blogger at Indian Restaurant Spy and a founder member of the Delhi Gourmet Club.

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