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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 2, January 24, 2009

Netaji: The Undying Legend

Monday 26 January 2009, by R K Bhatnagar


[(January 23 happens to be the 112th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. We remember that indomitable freedom fighter and uncompromising crusader against British imperialism with the following tribute.)]

Is there any parallel that a leader of his eminence has a date of birth (January 23, 1897) but none for his demise? Even after 112 years and three Commissions of Enquiry, the Indian people do not believe that he is no more. Even Indira Gandhi observed that Netaji Subhas Bose is a hero of our freedom movement. His courage and restless energy made him one of the frontranking leaders of young India. His dramatic escape during the war years and the exploits of the Azad Hind Fauj under his leadership are an undying legend. The words “Jai Hind”, which we have adopted as our national rallying call, are a constant reminder of how much we owe to Netaji.

A legitimate question arises: how did he die? Where and when did he die? Did he live for some period in exile? These are some of the many questions that are baffling for the past 63 years since the 1945 Taihoku plane crash. While the nation still debates the whereabouts of Netaji, his intelligent and practical daughter, Anita Plaff, believes that her father in all probability perished in the air accident. Anita Plaff, 67, who was in India, said:

I don’t think he survived. Unless some fantastically new evidence comes up, if I look at the data available to me, he did not survive. I have been present at the interview of some of the survivors of the plane crash, including some Japanese officers, and their story sounded quite consistent, credible and reasonable.

Elaborating further, she said:

There are stories circulating that my father is still alive. I do not think so. Yes, he continues to remain alive in the memories of scores of people, but it is impossible to believe that he is living at the age of 112. If it was true, he would have definitely established contact with his homeland and not kept quiet for 63 odd years.

Beginning his political career with the Congress in 1920 he was elected as its President at the Haripura session in 1938. The following year in 1939, Bose contested against Pattabhi Sitaramayya and won. Mahatma Gandhi threw his weight behind Dr Sitaramayya saying: “Pattabhi’s defeat is my defeat.” Gandhi’s opposition of Bose—fostered doubtless by the latter’s strong Leftist leanings—forced him to resign from the Congress, and he launched the Forward Bloc, a new outfit.

IN 1939, the Second World War broke out. Subhas was arrested in Calcutta in July 1940. In December he went on a hunger strike in prison as a protest against his continued detention and threatened to fast unto death if he was not released. The government released him but kept a strict vigil at his house to watch his movements. The whole country was thrilled one morning in January 1941 to hear the news that Subhas had escaped the vigilance of the CID and had disappeared from his ancestral home in Calcutta. He got out of the house in the guise of a Muslim divine at dead of night. He got into a car and 40 miles away from Calcutta boarded a train. The tight pyjama and a long beard made him look like a maulvi. He reached Peshawar on January 17, 1941 and spent two days there. On January 19, he drove out of Peshawar, dressed as a Pathan. The onward journey to Kabul was done partly on foot and partly in lorry in the guise of a deaf and dumb man. In Kabul he underwent the most excruciating physical and mental agonies before he reached Moscow. From Moscow he flew to Berlin in March 1941, with the assumed name of an Italian. It was nearly a year later that he revealed his presence in Berlin by speaking to his countrymen at home on German radio with glowing tributes to Gandhiji. In fact it is Subhas who called for the first time Mahatma Gandhi as the Father of the Nation.

Netaji’s most extraordinary move was to form a Provisional Government of Azad Hind on October 21, 1943 and to declare war on Britain and America. The Azad Hind Government received recognition from nine sovereign countries soon. In a broadcast from Rangoon, addressed to Mahatama Gandhi seeking his blessings, Netaji said:

Once our enemies are expelled from India and peace and order are established, the mission of the Provisional Government would be over. The only reward that we desire for our efforts, for our suffering and for our sacrifice, is the freedom of our motherland. There are many of us who would like to retire from the political field once India is free.

Such was his vision and thought.

Subhas not only inculcated courage and bravery but inspired supreme self-confidence and fearlessness in the face of odds in the INA. The INA soldiers marched mainly on foot. They traversed the whole distance of 1100 miles separating Singapore from the Imphal front on foot. There were occasions when Subhas himself walked for miles. There were no fixed scales of pay. Everybody got enough to cover his needs. A Lieutenant got Rs 85, a Captain Rs 125, a Major Rs 180, a Lieutenant Colonel Rs 300 and a Colonel Rs 400. Yet there was a time when nobody got more than Rs 250 for months.

Subhas collected donations from Indians throughout Asia. Once during a mammoth meeting in Rangoon a flower garland, which had earlier been offered to him, fetched rupees two lakhs when auctioned. In Penang a small flower vase was presented to Nejaji. He announced his intention to auction it for Rs 25,000. His eyes were filled with tears of love and affection when the first bid was for Rs 51,000. He collected Rs 25 crores from Indians in Burma, now Myanmar. A Muslim businessman gave away all his worldly possessions worth over a crore of rupees. He even established a national bank of Azad Hind in Rangoon. Once, when the Burmese Government had no money to make payments to its soldiers, the bank made a gift of Rs 5 lakhs.

In brief, Subhas was an embodiment of bravery and courage. In statesmanship, administrative ability and catholicity of views, he was like Akbar. Morally, spiritually and intellectually, he was like Swami Vivekananda.

R.K. Bhatnagar, former Press Secretary to the President, was a consultant to the Prime Minister (1993-96).

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