Declassified Files Record Nehru’s “Warmth and Respect” For Bose
Secular patriotism and economic planning were chief among Netaji’s contributions
Netaji manifested in an exemplary manner a burning passion for India's independence, by mobilising Indians of all faiths and uniting them to shed blood in the cause of our country's freedom. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Azad Hind Government by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in 1943, it would have been most appropriate on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to gratefully recall and celebrate the legacy of the Indian National Army. Instead he blamed late PM Jawaharlal Nehru and his family for not recognising the contributions of Netaji, or of Sardar Patel and Dr B.R. Ambedkar.
The 75th anniversary of the Azad Hind Government and the bright features associated with Netaji’s assumption of the office of its Prime Minister were hardly and inadequately recalled by the incumbent prime minister. The first thing he should have recalled is the statement of an unidentified INA soldier when Netaji was taking oath as prime minister in some secret location in southeast Asia.
That statement has been recorded in the book The Springing Tiger written by Hugh Toy, the British intelligence officer who was supposed to catch Netaji dead or alive. He could not do so and wrote that book to pay tribute to him in glowing terms. In it he recalls the remarks of an INA soldier to the effect that in the India of 1943 people talked of Hinduism and Islam, but there, in the oath taking ceremony of Netaji electrified by the spirit of the independence of the motherland, everything was reduced to Jai Hind.
That legacy of Netaji and the INA, anchored on Jai Hind, has been negated by a vision articulated by none other than the prime minister, based on a binary of shamsaan and kabristan (cremation ground and graveyard). The rallying slogan of Jai Hind uniting all Indians needs to be celebrated to defeat majoritarianism which is polarising society dangerously.
It is worthwhile to recall Netaji’s statement as Congress president, that in independent India there would be special safeguards for Muslims in any scheme of governance. We must ask ourselves: Has this vision and legacy of Netaji remained intact on the 75th anniversary of the Azad Hind Government being celebrated in twenty-first century India?
Prime Minister Modi, who blames Nehru quite often, should be mindful of the fact that Netaji Subhash Bose established the Planning Committee in 1938 as the president of the Indian National Congress for the cause of nation building, and he appointed Nehru as its first chairman. And when Nehru became prime minister of India after independence his government through a cabinet decision in 1950 carried forward Netaji’s legacy by continuing the Planning Committee in the new nomenclature of Planning Commission, specifically mentioning that the Planning Commission owed its origin to the Planning Committee established in 1938.
That legacy of Netaji for nation building which was sustained for decades by successive Governments is no more there, to remind the grateful nation about his historic and monumental role in making India a modern and vibrant nation. The new body called NITI Ayog established by the Modi government in 2015 through a cabinet resolution never traced its origin to the Planning Committee of 1938. Today there is despair that this invaluable legacy of Netaji has been erased even as Netaji lives on in the hearts and minds of Indians.
When in 1942 the people of India under Gandhi’s leadership were engaged in the countrywide Quit India movement for liberating our country from British rule with a clarion call of Do or Die, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose mesmerised the nation by launching a military attack on Britain through his Indian National Army, forming brigades named by after Gandhi, Nehru and Azad, exhorting the nation through his slogan "Give me blood and I will give you freedom", and summoning fiery patriotism from the depths of Indians by heroically saying "Delhi Chalo", to unfurl the tricolour at the Lal Quila.
It was from the battlefield that he appealed to Mahatma Gandhi by calling him "the Father of our Nation", to bless his mission for India’s freedom. At that time the top leaders of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, whom Prime Minister Modi considers role models, had kept away from the people's struggle for the independence of India from colonial rule.
Even when INA heroes Capt Shaha Nawaz, Capt Dhillon and Capt Sahgal, one Muslim, one Hindu and one Christian, were tried for treason by the British authorities at Red Fort, it was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru along with Bhulabhai Desai, Asaf Ali and others who defended them, by donning lawyers’ robes and marshalling all the fine points of law and jurisprudence to prove the point that Netaji and INA were not war criminals but patriots fighting for independence of India.
None of the prime minister’s role models hailing from the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha were anywhere near that trial, which eventually became the trial of the British empire. Even some British personalities including historians have recorded that the defence of the INA officers by Nehru and other Congress leaders during the trial at Red Fort roused and intensified public opinion in favour of India's independence, and that in fact the independence of India was hastened following the trial and defence of those INA heroes by Nehru and others.
Even in the post-independence period Prime Minister Nehru urged the chief ministers to provide gainful employment to former INA personnel. He could not induct them into the Indian Army as there were conflicting opinions from within the army about their induction, on several grounds. Chief among these were: some of the senior INA personnel were associated with Forward Block, the political formation established by Netaji, and many of the INA soldiers had crossed the age for their placement in military services.
In a letter to chief ministers dated February 23, 1948 Nehru wrote sensitising them about ex-INA soldiers, and urged them that every effort should be made to give them employment, and special efforts should be made to absorb them into the police and home guards as instructors which were much required in those establishments.
The files concerning Netaji Subhash Bose declassified by the present government reveal Nehru's warmth and respect for Bose and his family.
It is important to celebrate such a legacy and deepen it. This cannot be done by blaming Nehru, but by turning the searchlight inwards and remaining tuned to the secular vision of Netaji which enriched and defended the idea of India, and which is now being endangered by forces representing majoritarianism.
The real tribute to Netaji will be paid if our leadership with people's mandate to govern eschews the practice of blaming others, and lives upto Netaji’s ideals, which continue to inspire generations of Indians, and who was described by none other than Mahatma Gandhi as a prince among patriots.
(S.N. Sahu served as officer on special duty and press secretary to President of India late Shri K.R. Narayanan and had a tenure as director in the Prime Minister's Office and joint secretary in the Rajya Sabha Secretariat).