Netaji was born on 23 January 1897. Significantly, Swami Vivekananda returned from the west in the same month of the same year with a determination that he would awaken the country from the stupor in which it was then submerged. He wanted to make men suitable for this arduous task. He had targeted the youth for the purpose and inspired them with his speeches. He urged them to love the country unconditionally and come forward to first shatter the shackles of her servitude “first”. Netaji was one such youth.

Although born in Swamiji’s lifetime, he had never met him as he was just five when Swamiji passed away in 1902. But, from the very beginning of his youth he was tremendously influenced by the lives and works of Swamiji and his guru, Sri Ramakrishna. He wrote: “How shall I express my indebtedness to Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda? It is under their sacred influence that my life got the first awakening.” He was deeply spiritual, too susceptible to their spiritual dispensations, and had remained committed to their ideals throughout his life. Sri Ramakrishna’s “gospel of the unity of all religions” impressed him profoundly and he followed it to organise his army comprising soldiers from various religious communities.

Netaji believed that Swami Vivekananda preached “the Hindu religion in its purest form”, in which caste and creed had no bearing whatsoever. In his perception Swamiji “took an active part in every form of healthy national activity. With him) religion was the inspirer of nationalism.”He trusted Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda who “were destined to have a great influence on the future course of the new awakening”. He regarded them “as two aspects of one indivisible personality”.

He said: “If Swamiji had been alive today, he would have been my guru, that is to say, I would have accepted him as my Master. Needless to say, as long as I live, I shall be absolutely loyal and devoted to Ramakrishna- Vivekananda.” He analytically established the relevance of Ramakrishna- Vivekananda in a historical perspective ~ “The aspiration of freedom manifested itself in various movements since the time of Rammohun Roy. This aspiration was witnessed in the realm of thought and in social reforms during the nineteenth century, but it was never expressed in the political sphere.

This was because the people of India still remained sunk in the stupor of subjugation and thought that the conquest of India by the British was an act of Divine Dispensation. The idea of complete freedom is manifest only in Ramakrishna- Vivekananda towards the end of the nineteenth century. ‘Freedom, freedom is the song of the soul’ ~ this was the message that burst forth from the inner recesses of Swamiji’s heart and captivated and almost maddened the entire nation.

This truth was embodied in his works, life, conversations, and speeches.” Netaji’s thirst for a spiritual life was indomitable. While he was a student of Presidency College in 1913 he even wanted to leave his hearth and home in order to join Ramakrishna Mission and become a sannyasin. With that desire, he met Swami Brahmananda, the then president of the Ramakrishna Order at Belur Math. The clairvoyant Swami could envision his future and told him that Sannyasa wasn’t his cup of tea; his love for the country would lead him decidedly to the realm of politics where he would play a major role for the country’s emancipation.

This changed the course of his life for good, though his inclination to lead a reclusive life was still quite strong. Swami Brahmananda’s vision about him proved true after some time. It is well known how famously he revealed himself in Indian politics subsequently. He confided the incident to his friend Dilip Roy who made its mention in his autobiography. Netaji’s interpretation of Swamiji was cogent. He said though Swamiji “never gave any political message, everyone who came into contact with him or writings developed a spirit of patriotism and political mentality”.

He felt that Swamiji’s influence had been “even greater” after his death. He precisely summed up Swamiji’s personality ~ “Reckless in his sacrifice, unceasing in his activity, boundless in his love, profound and versatile in his wisdom, exuberant in his emotions, merciless in his attacks but yet simple as a child ~ he was a rare personality in this world of ours.” According to him, Swamiji had “consecrated his whole life to the moral and spiritual uplift of his nation and of humanity”.

He believed the impact of Swamiji’s writings and speeches on the students of his time “far outweighed that made by any other leader of the country”. He conclusively proclaimed: “The foundation of the present freedom movement owes its origin in Swamiji’s message. If India is to be free, it cannot be a land specially of Hinduism or of Islam; it must be one united land of different religious communities inspired by the ideal of nationalism. Indians must accept wholeheartedly the gospel of harmony of religions which is the gospel of Ramakrishna- Vivekananda.” Netaji grew up to become an unprecedented leader.

Swamiji said: “Work unto death ~ I am with you, and when I am gone, my spirit will work with you.” Netaji showed Swamiji was correct. He loved the country passionately and worked unto death for its freedom. He was a “hero” full of “manliness”, as Swamiji had one in mind ~ honest, intelligent courageous, confident and, above all, self-sacrificing.

The way he escaped from house arrest by hoodwinking the British sleuths and went abroad and had alone envisaged an extraordinary means, unimaginable even to the most daring, to challenge as well as decimate the usurpers distinctly demonstrated his real mettle and originality, conforming to Swamiji’s spirit that he had assimilated. He repeated his strategy in the arena of politics of what Swamiji did in the domain of religion going abroad to uphold the banner of India alone amidst its detractors.

Clearly, he applied the idea of Swamiji that a knock from outside is greater than twenty knocks from inside, by which Swamiji explained the cause of his lecturing in the west aggressively. From his house at Bhowanipur, Netaji went to Afghanistan by rail, and from there to Germany via Italy. The Germans took him to the Mediterranean sea in a submarine and from there he was brought to Singapore by the Japanese. He reached Tokyo from Singapore by air and had delivered three inspiring speeches on the radio from Tokyo within a few months of his arrival. He earnestly appealed to his countrymen to assist him.

With aplomb he declared that as the British Government couldn’t resist his exit, similarly it will not be able to stop his triumphant entry to the country. It was a golden opportunity for the freedom of India. He was convinced that India couldn’t grapple with the British might without the help of a powerful country to which Britain was a sworn enemy. In this respect, Germany and Japan were friendly in this connection.

So he approached them and accomplished an insurmountable task of winning their favour for abolishing British rule in India. Japan agreeing to provide him with the logistic support while attacking the British forces in India had indeed offered a “golden opportunity” for the sake of the freedom of his motherland which he assiduously utilised.

Netaji was a patriot and his patriotism was embedded in his spiritual awareness which he achieved by dint of his in-depth study of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, who taught him how to love and worship the country as Divine Mother, offering everything to Her lotus feet for his own liberation as well as for the liberation of his entire race. He saw in Swamiji a path finder “as the spiritual father of the modern nationalist movement”, and followed him to become a spiritual patriot.

(The writer is with Ramakrishna Mission, Narendrapur)