Legacy of a left-wing patriot

In light of the recent opening to the public of previously classified files on the renowned Indian nationalist Netaji Bose,Ashis Ray appraises the life and work of an Indian hero.

On 23 January last—Subhas Chandra Bose’s 119th birth anniversary—the Indian government made public files relating to him that were previously classified under the Official Secrets Act. This delighted academics and was welcomed by Bose’s economist daughter Professor Anita Pfaff, who resides in Germany.
It was, though, a slap in the face for a section of Bose’s extended family and his irrational followers who had lobbied for such disclosure in the belief that the documents would disprove the fact of Bose’s death in a plane crash in Taipei on August 18 1945.
Of course, those at the forefront of the campaign for declassification need to be congratulated, as does Narendra Modi for conceding the demand, even if he misguidedly thought the revelation would unearth that Jawahar Lal Nehru did the dirty on Bose.

The writer is the creator of www.bosefiles.info which has since December 7 posted documents to prove Subhas Bose died in 1945 as a result of a plane crash. 
The Bharatiya Janata Party seems eager to embrace Bose before this year’s state elections in West Bengal. A drip-feed of the declassification process will, it hopes, sustain speculation, which it can then exploit at the hustings.
For communalists to claim proximity to Bose, who was naturally secular, is amusing. To paint him as an enemy of the Indian National Congress is a travesty of truth.
Bose returned to India from England in 1921 at the age of 24 after sensationally declining an offer to join the coveted Indian Civil Service. Notwithstanding long spells in incarceration and extended periods of exile from the country, he fairly meteorically reached the summit of being unanimously elected Congress president at the age of 41.

Naeemur Rehman (standing first left), son of Subhas Bose's ADC Col Habibur Rehman with Roma Ray (sitting), niece of Bose, in Delhi in 1992. Naeemur claimed his father put an un-cremated gold-plated tooth of Bose in the Urn with the ashes, now at Tokyo's Renkoji temple.
Naeemur Rehman (standing first left), son of Subhas Bose’s ADC Col Habibur Rehman with Roma Ray (sitting), niece of Bose, in Delhi in 1992. Naeemur claimed his father put an un-cremated gold-plated tooth of Bose in the Urn with the ashes, now at Tokyo’s Renkoji temple.

The US-headquartered international newsmagazine TIME put him on its cover, a great accolade. It reported from Haripura in Gujarat: ‘Among the slick, satisfied top handful of Congress politicians, most of them obviously enjoying the incense of power and prestige, Subhas Bose stands out.’
Bose was in essence a left-wing patriot. In his presidential speech, he stressed: ‘Our chief national problem relating to the eradication of poverty, illiteracy and disease and to scientific production and distribution can be effectively tackled only along socialistic lines.’ Gandhians and right-wingers in the Congress, though, were resistant to Bose and opposed his re-election as president. Indeed, Vallabhbhai Patel specifically asked Bose to step aside.
Bose replied he would not contest if a leftist stood as a candidate. This did not happen and he triumphantly defeated Pattabhi Sitaramayya by 1,580 to 1,375 votes.
Gandhi fumed: ‘Since I was instrumental in inducing Dr Pattabhi not to withdraw… the defeat is more mine than his… it is plain to me that the delegates do not approve of the principles and policy for which I stand.’
In contrast, Bose was conciliatory. ‘It will be a tragic thing for me,’ he stated, ‘if I succeed in winning the confidence of other people but fail to win the confidence of India’s greatest man.’
But the Mahatma ruthlessly instigated the resignation of all working committee members, other than Bose’s elder brother Sarat. Besides, a resolution passed at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) session in Tripuri in Madhya Pradesh insultingly bound Bose to selecting a working committee ‘in accordance with the wishes of Gandhiji’.
Bose’s attempts to reach an understanding with Gandhi were rebuffed. He therefore resigned. At a special meeting of the AICC in Kolkata, Nehru moved a motion to urge Bose to withdraw his resignation, suggesting re-constitution of the previous working committee, barring two members, who would be replaced as per the president’s choice. But Bose stuck to his stand of a more representative committee.
In effect, a rightist plot—orchestrated by Patel, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, Jivatram Kripalani and Rajendra Prasad and blessed by Gandhi—succeeded in dethroning a democratically elected Congress president.
Bose now formed a group within the Congress, which he called the ‘Forward Bloc’, to consolidate left forces within the organisation. In retaliation, the working committee under Prasad decided that ‘for the grave act of indiscipline’ the former president be disqualified from being a member of any elected body of the party ‘for three years as from August 1939’.
It was a condemnable error. Bose was most upset with Nehru for abandoning him. They were bedfellows on socio-economic matters. Yet he did not part company with the Congress.
In January 1941, Bose dramatically escaped from India to spend the remaining four and a half years of his life in Europe and East Asia. In his radio broadcasts from abroad, he would, in fact, often make suggestions to the Congress as one who was still a part of the fold.
When it came to forming his Indian National Army (INA), he named its brigades after Gandhi, Nehru and (Maulana) Azad. As the INA mounted its mission to enter North-East India, Bose, on February 22 1944, took to the airwaves from Yangon on his Azad Hind Radio. ‘Father of the Nation,’ he appealed to Gandhi, ‘in this holy war for India’s liberation, we ask for your blessings and good wishes.’ This was the first time anyone had so conferred the overarching mantle on the Mahatma.
Gandhi later acknowledged: ‘The hypnotism of the Indian National Army has cast its spell on us. Netaji’s name is one to conjure with. His patriotism is second to none. His bravery shines through all his actions.’
When in 1945 the British officers of the INA were put on trial at the Red Fort, Nehru, who had earlier opposed Bose’s alliance with Japan, unhesitatingly admitted: ‘The INA trial has created a mass upheaval.’
In the winter of 1960-61, when Bose’s half-Austrian daughter Anita visited Delhi for the first time, she was an honoured house guest at Nehru’s prime ministerial residence.
However, while Bose generally figures among a pantheon of past leaders whose images constitute a montage over Congress meets, the party hasn’t since Independence been really enthusiastic about him.
At the same time, for sectarian elements to stake ownership of Bose rather sullies his impressive commitment to inter-religious harmony.

The writer is the creator of www.bosefiles.info which has since December 7 posted documents to prove Subhas Bose died in 1945 as a result of a plane crash. 


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