The Covid-19 lockdown has forced one to look beyond books for meaningfully passing one’s time. I was never much for watching TV, especially the dreadful soaps that competed for eyeballs on various channels. News had turned into screaming competitions, with anchors rotating a known panel of experts (?) on every subject under the sun. These experts moved from one channel to another mouthing platitudes, openly exposing their biases (mainly anti-Modi, anti-Hindu, and often anti-Indian.) So, disgusted with the state of the TV industry in India, I did not renew my Tatasky subscription from August 2019. Until the lockdown in March, I did not miss anything. Social media was there to help remain abreast with the latest relevant information. But, once forced indoors, I decided to have a look at the streaming platforms, Netflix, Hotstar, and Amazon Video.
A couple of days ago I discovered that Amazon Video had a large library of regional Indian cinema, and while browsing through the Bengali section I came across the film “Gumnaami.” It is a 2019 film that dramatizes the Mukherjee Commission Hearings that took place from 1999 to 2005 trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance and death of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The protagonist, Chandrachur Dhar, a journalist, urged by his editor to delve deep into the Netaji files, gets so obsessed with his subject that he loses track of everything else. He resigns from his job, his wife walks out, while he puts together a team of “Mission Netaji” investigators who collect volumes of data that cast more than sufficient doubt on the official theory that Netaji died in a plane crash in Saigon and whose ashes are even now kept in the Renkoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan.
The film is well-researched-and-scripted. A more-than-watchable film, “Gumnaami” leaves you with a number of questions that any government should have answered long ago. But, as the final captions show, the original mystery continues to remain shrouded in secrecy, for reasons that should not have continued to exist after May 2014. We still do not know why the Nehru Government continued to spy on the Bose family till as late as 1964, the year of Nehru’s death, even though the official stand was that Netaji died in 1945. Although some 2204 files on Netaji have been declassified till date, we are nowhere closer to the truth. Following the order of the Allahabad High Court on 31st January 2013, an investigation was launched under Justice V. M. Sahai to ascertain the identity of “Gumnaami Baba.” The investigation was wound up in September 2017 (3 years after Narendra Modi became PM) but its findings continue to remain under wraps. The DNA testing of the ashes in the Renkoji Temple could have conclusively established if they were actually those of Netaji, but again, this investigation has not been undertaken.
The last caption at the end of the film reads:
“Hence, till date, Gumnaami Baba remains a fraud and a petty impostor for some, an IB plant to divert attention from the fact that Netaji was killed in Russia for some others, and for the rest, the true liberator of India, and possibly the greatest freedom fighter, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.”
One would think that the BJP would be happy to grab the chance of adopting Subhas Chandra Bose as a national icon, just like it did with Sardar Patel. The fact that Patel remained a loyal Congressman till his death did not come in the way of the BJP appropriating his legacy and giving him a larger than life stature in Gujarat and India. In Bose’s case the appropriation would have been much easier. The Congress had already dumped him as a war criminal and would have gladly handed him over to the Allied Powers had he been apprehended alive. Bose had every reason to disappear and fake his death to avoid capture and possible execution. But his image among the masses as an intrepid soldier devoted to the cause of Indian independence was much larger than that of any other leader of his times. If Clement Attlee said that it was not Gandhi but Bose and his INA that forced the British to quit India, he was only speaking the truth. After independence, however, Bose was quickly erased from history books to make space for a larger than life Nehru.
One can understand the reluctance of the Nehruvians to recognize Bose and his contribution in the struggle for freedom. After all he was against the idea of Indian soldiers fighting the Imperialist’s wars, and ready to take up arms against them instead. He did not hesitate to look for help from the Axis allies in pursuit of his goals. The Congress always used this rope to hang him with. He was certainly not in favour of Partition and had he been around, would not have permitted Jinnah and Mountbatten to prevail upon Gandhi and Nehru to accept a truncated free India.
Why has the BJP not pursued this avenue? What is there in the classified papers that even Modi and Shah wish to keep under lock and key? Are any of the leaders of the erstwhile Hindu Mahasabha, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, or RSS implicated in the Bose cover-up? This is a question that needs to be asked and answered. Netaji was every inch a Nationalist, and for a party that professes Nationalism as its creed, he would be an ideal icon. This son of Bengal has the same place in the hearts of the common people as Swami Vivekananda. Isn’t it obvious that by giving Netaji his due and appropriate position in the National pantheon, the BJP would be correcting a historic injustice, and thereby winning the trust and confidence of the people of Bengal?
The second Bose whom the nation has forgotten is Rash Behari Bose. Born in 1886 in a small village Subaldaha, in Purba Bardhaman district of Bengal, Rash Behari Bose came under the influence of a group of revolutionaries while working at the Forest Research Institute in Dehradun. He was part of the failed assassination attempt at the Red Fort in Delhi on the life of Lord Hardinge, Governor General & Viceroy of India, on 23rd December 1912. Forced to go into hiding, Bose later emerged as one of the leading figures of the Gadar Revolution that attempted to trigger a mutiny in India in February 1915, while most of the British Indian Army soldiers were deployed in the European theatre during World War I. The revolution failed, most of the leaders were arrested, but Rash Behari, like Subhas, escaped the dragnet, and reached Japan in 1915. When the British discovered where he was hiding, they put a lot of pressure on the Japanese Government to extradite him to India. To avoid that eventuality, Bose married Toshiko Soma, the daughter of Aizō Sōma and Kokkō Sōma, the owners of Nakamuraya Bakery in Tokyo, and became a Japanese citizen in 1923, living as a journalist and writer. His extraordinary talents led him to create a new Indian-style curry in Japan. Though more expensive than the usual English style curry, it became quite popular with the locals, and Rash Behari earned the sobriquet “Bose of Nakamuraya.”
As a Japanese citizen, he was able to influence the Government to extend Japan’s support for Indian independence. Bose convened a conference in Tokyo on 28-30th March 1942, and mooted the idea of establishing the Indian Independence League. It was Rash Behari Bose who first proposed the motion to raise an army for Indian Independence. A second conference was convened at Bangkok on 22nd June 1942, in which it was resolved to invite Subhas Chandra Bose to join the League and be appointed as its President.
The genesis of the Indian National Army (INA) that Subhas Chandra Bose raised on 1st September 1942 with prisoners of war of the British Indian Army captured by the Japanese in Burma and Malaya, is in Rash Behari Bose’s Indian Independence League. It was he, who selected the flag of the Azad Hind Fauj, and created the organizational structure we know today as Subhas Bose’s INA. Rash Behari Bose died in Tokyo on 21st of January 1945. He was 58. His successor disappeared from public view six months later in an alleged plane crash in Taipei, Taiwan on 18th August 1945.
The third Bose, and perhaps the most daring of them all was the 18 years old Khudiram Bose, born barely two weeks after Jawaharlal Lal Nehru, on 3rd December 1889, and hanged by the British on 11th August 1908. A quintessential revolutionary, Khudiram was indicted in the Muzaffarpur Conspiracy Case, involving the attempted assassination of a British magistrate, Douglas Kinford, when a bomb was thrown on his carriage. As luck would have it, the magistrate was seated in a different carriage, and therefore, escaped the attempt. However, two British ladies died in the bombing. Khudiram had a co-conspirator, Prafulla Chaki, who committed suicide before being captured, leaving the 18 year old to face the wrath of the imperialist judicial system alone. He was sentenced to death, and even though persuaded to appeal against it, the system persisted in imposing the maximum penalty, resulting in his hanging in Calcutta.
One of the youngest martyrs to espouse the cause of India’s independence from the imperialist yoke, Khudiram’s story inspires awe and wonder! A boy who had not yet crossed his teens gladly went to the gallows, with his spine straight, and with Vande Mataram on his lips. Predictably, Mahatma Gandhi lamented the death of the two women, while denouncing Khudiram’s act of violence. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, writing in his paper “Kesari” defended Khudiram and Prafulla, and gave the call for immediate Swaraj. Tilak was promptly arrested by the British and charged with “sedition.”
Apart from the three Boses, the BJP would do well to adopt the 1930 Chittagong Armoury Raid conspirators, led by Surya Sen, a schoolteacher by profession. In 1918 Surya Sen was elected as President of the Chittagong branch of the Indian National Congress. Sen recruited a group of young revolutionaries that included Anant Singh, Ganesh Ghosh and Lokenath Baul, organizing anti-imperialist activities and participated in the non-cooperation movement. He was arrested and jailed for two years between 1926 and 1928. The Chittagong Armoury Raid was a daring exploit in which some 80 British troops and about a dozen revolutionaries lost their lives. The revolutionaries did succeed in seizing the arms but failed to capture the ammunition. They hoisted the Indian National Flag above the Armoury and then escaped into the nearby Jalalabad Hills. They were surrounded by the avenging British forces, and in a fierce battle that ensued, a number of the revolutionaries died, while some were captured, but some, including Surya Sen, managed to flee.
Surya Sen moved from place to place, finding shelter with different people, but was eventually betrayed by a man called Netra Sen. He was tried, and hanged on 12th January 1934, barely 40 years of age. In his last letter Sen wrote:
“Death is knocking at my door. My mind is flying away towards eternity. At such a pleasant, at such a grave, at such a solemn moment, what shall I leave behind you? Only one thing that is my dream, a golden dream – the dream of free India. Never forget the date, 18th of April 1930, the day of the eastern Rebellion in Chittagong. Write in red letters in the core of your hearts the names of the patriots who have sacrificed their lives at the altar of India’s freedom.”
Free India celebrated the lives of these revolutionaries with whole libraries of books, and occasional films. But, generally, the political establishments have conspired to either ignore them or pay some lip service by naming an obscure railway station, road, or building after them. No posthumous Bharat Ratna has been awarded to them, while so many unworthy politicians have actually diminished the lustre of this award.
All of them belonged to the land of Bengal. First the Congress, then the Communists studiously ignored them. Mamata, of course, has no connection with Bharat and is busy appeasing those who promoted Partition. In her search for vote banks she has embraced those who would not mind breaking India apart into a thousand pieces.
The revolutionaries of Bengal can be a powerful magnet to bring together the forces of consolidation, to repel divisiveness and to give shape to their dream of a truly “free India.” The BJP would do well to recognize their contribution, adopt them as its icons, and put them on a pedestal like it did with Sardar Patel. For a start, it could nominate all of them for the Bharat Ratna award, thereby bringing honour to it.
In the assembly elections due next year BJP will need more than Tollywood heroes to defeat the present incumbents. The three Boses could perhaps turn the tide in its favour. Are J. P. Nadda, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi willing to undo the wrongs of history and redeem the pride of Bengal with these real heroes?