It is the birth anniversary today of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. In the annals of our freedom struggle Netaji stands out as a ‘prince among patriots’, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi. His stature was unrivalled and he surpassed in influence and charisma the tallest leaders of India of that time.

It was he who defeated Pattabhi Sitaramhiya, Mahatma Gandhi’s nominee, to become president of the Indian National Congress - who was called rashtrapati, the highest post in Indian public life open to Indians at the time. The term Rashtrapati used for the President of India after independence owes its origin to this Hindi term for the president of the Indian National Congress.

Netaji was the father of planning in India, for his pioneering steps to establish the Planning Committee in 1938 when he was Congress president. He established it under the chairmanship of Jawaharlal Nehru. It was Nehru who carried forward this legacy of Netaji’s, by establishing the Planning Commission in independent India. The idea of planning Netaji gave guided our nation till 1990.

As Supreme Commander of the Indian National Army, Netaji mesmerised the nation and gave a rare military dimension to freedom struggle. Launching the attack on British forces in India from foreign soil, he addressed a letter to Mahatma Gandhi calling him for the first time ‘Father of our Nation’ and seeking his blessings.

When he was being sworn in as prime minister of the Provisional Government of India somewhere in southeast Asia, a sepoy of the Azad Hind Fauj famously said, ‘In India people fight over Hinduism and Islam but here everything is “Jai Hind”’ - a salute which Netaji coined and which has now become a slogan for invoking communal nationalism.

But this slogan is secular, and has united Indians of all regions and regions. It was Netaji who became one of the first leaders to talk about special safeguards for religious minorities in independent India. It was he who mobilised Hindus, Muslims, Christians and people from different parts of India under the banner of Azad Hind Fauj to shed blood for India’s freedom.

It was Netaji who had the vision of unfurling the tricolour inside the Red Fort to mark the end of British rule in India. The British authorities mocked him by trying three exemplary heroes of the Indian National Army - Shah Nawaz Khan, Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon and Prem Kumar Sahgal - Muslim, Sikh and Hindu officers.

That trial became the trial of the British Empire. It triggered mutiny in units of the British Navy and lasted for four days. Even though that mutiny, involving lakhs of naval officers, was suppressed, it unnerved the British rulers.

A decade after independence, a British intelligence officer Hugh Toye who was given the responsibility to catch Netaji dead or alive wrote a book called The Springing Tiger and paid rich tribute to him. Toye passionately argued that India’s independence was hastened because of Subash Bose.

As a young boy Netaji wrote that nothing attracted him more in life than the call to explore the unknown realms of life and tread the unbeaten path. He did so. In the process he endeared himself to the whole nation for his immeasurable contributions to the cause of independence and nation building.

Mahatma Gandhi, when asked to comment on Netaji's march to India as head of the INA, and his slogan ‘Give me blood and I will give you freedom’, responded by saying, ‘Netaji Subash Bose has cast a spell on me.’ Today their portraits hang next to each other in the central hall of Parliament.

Netaji’s legacy will endure forever. A grateful nation will forever remain indebted to him for his signal contributions to its cause. My deep bow to Netaji on his birth anniversary.