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Beyond Tributes~I

It is difficult to find an equal of Subhas Bose in the entire history of the Indian freedom struggle against the British. He was born to an affluent family, had great academic excellence and oratorical power fit for a great statesman. Yet he was always different and aloof from other Congress leaders including Gandhi and Nehru. He was the only Indian nationalist to confront the British on the battlefield

MANAS DAS | New Delhi |

The air is heating up amidst the chill of winter. Every year enthusiasm and debates rise anew in the cold New Year regarding the great Indian patriot and national icon Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, his activities and sudden disappearance.

The mystery of the plane crash remains where it was with little new hope of solving it. While scholars and politicians argue, the veil remains as strong and immovable as ever.

A sad tale is best for winter as Shakespeare said in The Winter’s Tale and nothing fits this description better than the tragic mystery over Netaji’s disappearance.

But mystery and controversy fail to detract from public memory the sterling personality and contributions of Subhas Chandra Bose and the golden legacy he left for his countrymen to follow.

As the debate goes on as to why Netaji should not be paid the greatest homage and respect by cherishing his ideals such as tolerance, courage and selfless service, instead of ostentatious display of tributes, the crux of the matter remains that the charisma of Netaji remains intact more than seven and a half decades after his reported death in a plane crash in Taihoku.

Even though government after government in independent India continues to appear decidedly hesitant, insincere, or careless about solving the Netaji “death” mystery and pay him due honour, crores of Indians still cherish a genuine love and adoration for Bose whom Gandhiji called a patriot of patriots.

The amount of love, admiration, or veneration that he has received from his countrymen is hardly equaled by any other leader during the freedom struggle and in liberated India.

Yet many countrymen feel that true homage has not yet been paid to Netaji with the accusing finger pointed mostly at the seats of power in Delhi.

But the era of oppressive silence, incriminating indifference and fact suppression seems to be slowly but gradually receding. Times are changing, albeit not as much as we can be euphoric about.

The present dispensation at Delhi has done a few things over the last few years as part of offering tribute to Netaji, which were long overdue.

In spite of vast differences that exist between the ideology and beliefs of the incumbent party at the Centre now and those of Subhas Bose, a number of things have been done and a number of wishes of millions of Indians fulfilled over the last few years. These had remained unattended decade after decade under other regimes.

Some of the works accomplished include the installation of a Netaji statue at India Gate; creation of a Netaji and INA museum at the Red Fort; declassification of many Netaji files; speeches by the prime minister from the Red Fort on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the formation of the INA and from the Victoria Memorial on the 125th birth anniversary of Bose; felicitation of INA veterans on Republic Day and on other occasions; renaming Ross, Neil and Havelock islands as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Island, Shaheed Dweep and Swaraj Dweep respectively, and instituting a national award after his name meant for organisations and individuals for their brave and selfless works in the aftermath of any disaster.

Yet what is more conspicuous to all Indians, habituated so long in seeing the remembrance of Netaji being ignored greatly by one central government after another, is the relative absence of apathy or reluctance on the part of the Prime Minister or the President or other ministers at the Centre in mentioning the name of this national icon or garlanding his portrait on various occasions.

No other country had treated a freedom fighter of the rank and calibre of Netaji with such apathy or indifference as India had done over the decades.

Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister of free and divided India in 1947, but well before that Netaji became the head of the Provisional Government of Free India (Arzi Hukumat-i-Azad Hind) which was recognised by a host of Asian and European countries including Japan, Germany, and Italy.

Well before India achieved her freedom from British rule, Netaji’s INA hoisted the Indian national flag on British-ruled Indian soil in the Northeast when that territory was freed by INA troops after a grueling battle.

It is difficult to find an equal of Subhas Bose in the entire history of the Indian freedom struggle against the British.

He was born to an affluent family, had great academic excellence and oratorical power fit for a great statesman. Yet he was always different and aloof from other Congress leaders including Gandhi and Nehru.

He was the only Indian nationalist to confront the British on the battlefield. The defining moment of his life was when on an afternoon in the summer of 1944, the Indian National Army, holding the tricolour, advanced through the dense jungles of Imphal and Kohima along the India-Burma border with the war cry “Delhi Chalo” (“Onwards to Delhi” ).

As Subhas marched toward the British Indian capital with shells blasting, guns blazing and blood flowing all around, he dreamt of an India which would be an emblem of unity, progress, strength and prosperity.

But Netaji had an abiding interest in things like uniforms and parades.

In a photograph taken at the 1928 Congress session in Calcutta, amidst a rank of Congress leaders dressed in Indian style (kurtas and dhotis, sherwanis, turbans and Gandhi caps) Bose stood apart like an army officer with his jackboots, jodhpurs, buckle, cap, and baton. In that session of the Congress, Subhas organised a guard of honour in full military style.

Gandhi, whom Netaji hailed as “Father of the Nation”, termed the entire business as “Bertram Mills Circus”. Military affairs always fascinated Bose greatly. While other leaders went for passive resistance vis-à-vis British oppression, Bose made the push for action.

He was of the view that soft power was not the solution. So, he wrote after the First World War: “The War had shown that a nation that did not possess military strength could not hope to preserve its independence”.

Yet Bose was a greater visionary than most of his contemporaries. Side by side with his advocacy of sovereign powers, he stressed the need for industrialisation and population control once the country became free.

(To Be Concluded)