India should finally let Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose die

There is nothing preventing the government from running a DNA test on the freedom fighter's ashes.

 |  6-minute read |   25-01-2016
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Once every year Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose makes his appearance. He is normally glimpsed first in The Telegraph office in Kolkata, then in the frontier north-eastern states, followed by a rather non-committal entry into The Times of India's office on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, but invariably he ends up, in uniform, cross-belt and jackboots, in Parliament, where all sorts of superstitions and false notions are allowed to teem and flourish in an ecology of absolute, unrelenting and fervent debates untouched by intelligence. And it is bedlam for exactly three days. Then Netaji disappears. Till next year, same time, same places.

No matter what witnesses say of his death in the Taipei plane crash of 1945, patriots, mostly from the right-wing now, would not let him die. In their head, socialism, Fabian socialism and communism are all one. And Jawaharlal Nehru embodies it because he didn’t believe in god.

Captain Lakshmi, Bose’s close aide and devoted INA (Indian National Army which Bose founded to fight the British) soldier has quoted Habibur Rahiman, another close Bose aide, who survived the crash, that Bose died of 90 per cent burn injuries sustained from the accident. But no, Bose only disappeared. He can’t die primarily because we like enigmas. We are a mystic nation, remember?

Also read: [Revealed] Modi releases Netaji files. Will India finally have closure?

It’s well known that the Japanese had a soft spot for Netaji — from some angles, he even looks like one — and kept his ashes in an urn at the Renkoji Temple, in Tokyo. Even this is disputed, of course. Disputes are the ethereal stuff on which myths survive. Disputes that do not let science get a word edgeways.

There is nothing preventing the Indian government from running a DNA test on the ashes, and see if the results match with Bose’s daughter, Anita, who lives in Germany. If the results match, Bose is dead; if not, he is an immortal out to grab headlines periodically, a disease we understand only too well now.

Also read: How Netaji won us Independence while Nehru destroyed India

India is not likely to let Bose rest in peace. Bose injects a stream of blood-red militant heroism into the pale, pallid body of the Indian freedom struggle, rendered into a sort of protracted process of attrition by sufferance thanks to Mahatma Gandhi. Death is a master, Paul Celan said, from Germany. Well, freedom is a mendicant from India, Bose might well have thought.

Bose represents a certain streak in us that is desperately in need of self-respect.

And it’s difficult for us to accept, though Gandhi seduced our forefathers into a certain kind of long trance, which suspended them in the indeterminate state between freedom and any immediate need for it, and made us chant songs that convinced us freedom was an eventuality - a mix of non-violence, Congress and Lord Ram - that would come to us sooner or later if only we were passive long enough. And sure enough, it did.

We need Bose in jackboots more than Bose himself might have realised towards his last days. The new Bose files that the Narendra Modi government declassified last week throw little new light on the subject. What we take Bose to be, the man who wanted Indian freedom through the barrel of a gun and founded an army of motley Indians, was actually a tragic figure.

Also read: Who was Gumnami Baba, if not Netaji?

Bose had been elected president of the Haripura session of the Congress against Gandhi’s wishes in 1938. Gandhi wanted Maulana Azad to run for the presidency. When both Nehru and Azad protested, Gandhi proposed Pattabhi Sitaramayya who lost to Bose. Roughly from then on, Bose was an outcast.

And he continued to be so everywhere he went. One good reason: his ideology — he tended to be progressive and forward, a loose leftist - was at loggerheads with what he thought was his and India’s strategic needs.

He visited Germany and met Hitler in 1942, with the offer of forming an army of Indian prisoners driven into German captivity by Rommel from the deserts of North Africa where the British were engaged in war with him.

There is a photograph of Hitler limply shaking hands with Bose on the internet; in the event all Bose got was a radio station, Azad Hind Radio, which Germany sponsored so Bose could make his fiery speeches and keep himself occupied.

Hitler was preoccupied with the Second World War’s eastern (Soviet) theatre, having launched Operation Barbarossa, in June 1941, which after initial advances was running into rough weather and resistance. Neither Bose nor India could have figured much in Hitler’s thoughts, though he fleetingly once had said India was to Britain what the Soviet Union would be to Germany.

Bose then looked to Japan, where he had a warmer welcome and stay, and where he raised the standards of the INA to the semblance of a fighting outfit. He formed a Provisional Government of Free India, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, then under the occupation of imperial Japan.

In late 1944 and early 1945, Bose’s army, along with the Japanese army fought the British for the upper hand in Manipur, Imphal, Kohima, and Burma, and then were driven back through the Malaya Peninsula. The INA folded up completely with the British recapture of Singapore.

Bose, though, had refused to surrender to the British. He planned to flee to Manchuria and from there to the Soviet Union, because he saw or hoped for the animus between the Soviet Union and the Britain to be of advantage to him in his future military efforts. Apparently he was taking off for Manchuria from Taipei (now Taiwan) when the plane crashed. The rest is mystery.

That’s roughly the story.

But consider the sad and endless political confusions of India’s only international military hero. It’s not clear to a neutral observer if it was anti-British sentiments or the humiliation he thought he was subjected to by Nehru (there is that famous 20-odd page type-written letter in which he accuses Nehru of many hateful things), or the fact of persistent frustration with the Congress - he was just unable to break into the insider ring of the party, no matter what he did - or his conflicted idea of the ideology of freedom that rendered alliances strictly tactical: fascist Germany, imperialist Japan, communist Soviet Union.

Almost all these alliances were apparently tactical. But it’s not clear how Bose would have handled any one of those countries or ideological systems if at all he had won his bet.

All one can say now is Bose was a brave man, caught in the tidal waves of the history of the mid-20th century, who clutched at any straw. Indian freedom struggle had reduced him into a international desperado. At best an adventurist.

This is not to take away anything from his private battle for glory. But it is what it is: a skirmish in the wings in the stage of history. On the eve of 67th Republic Day, India would be doing a service to Bose’s memory, if she lets him die. There are enough battles to be fought in the grave, too.


CP Surendran CP Surendran @cpsurendran

Senior Journalist

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