Against the tide~I

Source: By Shyamal Krishna Basu: The Statesman

I recall that my cousin had once asked me, “Between God and Netaji, whom should you prefer to see?’ I replied without batting an eyelid, ‘I would prefer to see Netaji.’ Years have rolled by, decades have passed but the emotion remains. Indeed, to write about the stormy and eventful life of Netaji, which has an epic dimension, space is the impediment and this makes hopping and skipping inevitable. The Netaji was always profoundly religious. Spirituality was ingrained in him, and he was deeply devoted to Swami Vivekananda. As he wrote in India Pilgrim, ‘I was then 15 and Swamiji entered my soul.’

As Sister Nivedita states, ‘To Swamiji India was the queen of adoration.To Subhas, India was a ‘divine motherland’. Freedom of the motherland was his overriding passion, his dream. That is why he resigned from the ICS, telling his family, ‘I must chuck this rotten service and dedicate myself wholeheartedly to the country’s cause.’ To sum up his total attributes, he was a quintessentially selfless, altruistic, dynamic Karmayogi.

He was incarcerated on as many as seven occasions, including a stint in the dreaded Mandalay jail where he was seriously ill with one lung badly affected because of persistent torture and torment and exile forced upon him by the British. This had destroyed his health necessitating treatment in Europe. He returned to the country in 1937.

That was the year when he was chosen for the post of president of the Congress in view of his commanding popularity. In 1938, Haripura, a small village in Gujarat on the banks of the Tapi river, played host to the 51st session of the Congress. It elected Subhas Bose, then 41, as the party president. A rousing reception was organised for the newly-elected president, and the celebration was attended by two lakh Congress delegates. Bose arrived on the opening day on a chariot drawn by 51 bulls.

After assuming the responsibility of the highest post in the Congress, Subhas charted the course of action to be undertaken after the country attained freedom. He announced the abolition of feudalism and a radical reform of the land system would be a major objective. The policy of radical transformation of the economy that he envisaged ran counter to the simplistic Gandhian model that assumed all is good in a village. In fact he was too independent-minded to be guided by the instructions of Gandhi. His uncompromising attitude towards the British was at variance with the conciliatory gesture of the Congress.

To lend an impetus to his policies, he decided to contest for the second term. He won the election against the candidate chosen by Gandhi. The opponents raised a cry that Subhas was baiting Gandhi. It requires to be mentioned that Jawaharlal Nehru shared the leftist progressive views of Subhas. But Nehru being a man with fragile vertebrae, malleable conscience and direly opportunistic nature crawled over to the other side to catch hold of the coattails of Gandhi.

Because of the persistent opposition, Subhas resigned and left the Congress. But undeterred by the mean conspiracy, Bose formed the Forward Bloc and continued his political activity. The British were always wary of Subhas. To them Gandhi and Nehru were amenable to the British way of thinking. But Subhas was an altogether different person.

World War II was then in full swing; the British dared not keep Subhas free. He was put behind bars under the draconian Defence of India Act, 1939. Bose could fathom their design; they wanted to keep him captive till the war ended. Time was running out. Bose became restive. He undertook a hunger strike and wrote to the Government on 29 November 1940. It was a famous letter.

Release me or I shall refuse to live. The individual may die so that the nation may live. Today I must die so that India may live with freedom and glory.’ The Government panicked; if anything happened to him all hell would break loose. In December 1940, the Government put him under house arrest in his family home in Calcutta’s Elgin Road.

Subhas sprang a surprise to all by escaping from his home almost miraculously on 16 January 1941. And scaling a mountain of obstacles and unforeseen dangers he went to Berlin on 2 April 1941. Netaji was a glittering figure in the pantheon of the greatest Indians. He was subjected to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune throughout his life and he fought with courage the onslaughts of misfortune.

In Germany, the meeting between Subhas and Hitler was held on 29 May 1942. It transpired that Hitler was not interested in the Independence of India. His concern was expanding his empire in Europe. In spite of this, because of the personal magnetism of Bose and seeing his grit and determination to free his country from foreign yoke, Hitler and other leaders were impressed. Hitler even acknowledged in an uncharacteristic manner shedding his condescending attitude, that he was the leader of seven crore Germans and said, Subhas was the leader of 38 crore Indians. ‘Germans salute you. I salute you’.

Though the mission was not successful he made the best use of this failure and extracted as many gains as possible from his predicament. The Indian Legion was initiated by Bose after his arrival in Germany in 1941 and raised from among Indian prisoners of war and expatriates. Eventually, a fighting force of 3000 was raised.

Bose went about building the Indian Legion with utter seriousness and zeal. Its emblem, the springing tiger, aptly described what Bose wanted the body to do. It was the members of the Legion who began addressing Bose with the honorific ‘Netaji’, the epithet by which he has been immortalized. The salutation “Jai Hind’ so commonly used in India now, especially in the modern Indian armed forces, has its origin in the Indian Legion. With the approval of Netaji, it also adopted Jana Gana Mana as its anthem. The story of Netaji’s stay in Germany cannot be completed without reference to the Azad Hind Radio that was established in Berlin.

It started broadcasting from 19 January 1942 with the avowed objective of presenting world affairs from the purely nationalist viewpoint to counter British propaganda through the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which in Netaji’s terminology was, ‘Bluff and Bluster Corporation’. On 28 February 1942 after the fall of Singapore to the Japanese, Netaji felt it imperative to leave Berlin and move to the far eastern Front. With this end in view Netaji undertook an extremely perilous journey by submarine. He set out on 8 February 1943 and reached Tokyo on 13 June after a claustrophobic journey of eighteen weeks.

On 27 June, Netaji arrived in Singapore from Tokyo. The soldiers who were prisoners of war and civilians were ready to receive the Man of Destiny. The turbulent past, the still mysterious escape from India, the negotiations with the dictators, Hitler and Mussolini and his achievements in Europe guaranteed his acceptance. They welcomed him boisterously.

A week later on 4 July at a public meeting Rashbehari Bose, officially passed over the mantle of leadership of the Indian Independence League and the INA to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The Provisional Government of Free India was formed. Netaji renamed INA as Azad Hind Fauz. Delhi Chalo was its battle cry. Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana was chosen as the National Anthem for the Provisional Government of free India.

At the end of July, Netaji began a tour of East Asia and South-east Asian countries to enlist the moral and financial support of the resident Indians. The response was warm wherever he went ~ from Rangoon to Bangkok to Penang and Saigon. He was able to influence the Indians there with hope and enthusiasm. In frantic eagerness they contributed in cash and in kind. There was a spilling wave of expectation and joy. A huge amount of money was collected.