New Delhi: Today is the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. In the annals of our freedom struggle, Netaji stands out in the words of Mahatma Gandhi as a “prince among patriots”. His stature was unrivalled and he even surpassed in terms of charisma and influence the tallest leaders of India of that time. It was he who defeated Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the nominee of Mahatma Gandhi to become the President of Indian National Congress who was called as Rashtrapati, the highest post in public life of India open to Indians at that time. The term Rashtrapati used for the President of India after independence owes its origin to that Hindi nomenclature given to the President of Indian National Congress. Netaji was the father of planning in India because of his pioneering steps to establish the planning committee in 1938 when he was President of Indian National Congress. He established it under the Chairmanship of Jawaharlal Nehru.
As the Supreme Commander of Indian National Army, he mesmerized the nation and gave a rare military dimension to freedom struggle. While launching the attack on British forces in India from foreign soil he addressed a letter to Mahatma Gandhi and called him for the first time Father of our Nation and sought his blessings. When he was being sworn in as the Prime Minister of Provisional Government of India somewhere in South East Asia, a Sepoy of Azad Hind Fauz famously said “In India people fight over Hinduism and Islam but here everything is “Jai Hind” which has become a slogan for invoking nationalism. 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 minorities in independent India. It was he who mobilized Hindus, Muslims, Christians and people of different parts of India under the banner of Azad Hind Fauz to shed blood for India’s freedom. He had the vision of unfurling the tri colour on Red Fort to mark the end of British rule in India. The British authorities mocked him by trying three exemplary heroes of INA- Maj Shah Nawaz Khan, Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon and Col. Prem Kumar Sahgal – a Hindu, Muslim and a Sikh officer. That trial became the trial of British Empire. When the trial began it was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhullabhai Desai and Asaf Ali who put on lawyers’ robes and defended them. The trial and the defence by Nehru and other lawyers triggered mutiny in units of British navy and it 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 Toy who was given the responsibility to catch Netaji dead or alive wrote a book “The Springing Tiger” and paid rich tributes to him. He passionately argued that it was because of Subash Bose that India’s independence was hastened. Enemy indeed paid rich tributes to a man who rose as a colossus of our struggle for independence. Netaji in the proclamation of the Provisional Government invoked so many heroes and heroines of India who fought against British rule. One of them was Tipu Sultan who laid down his life fighting the British regime. It is important to invoke this aspect of legacy of Netaji at a time when Tipu Sultan’s name is being vilified by the BJP regime on communal grounds even as President of India Shri Ramnath Kovind paid rich tributes to Tipu Sultan while addressing the Karnataka legislature.
Netaji Subhash Bose was the supreme commander of the Indian National Army, the solders of which were arrested and detained after INA was defeated by the British Army. On April 11, 1946 Mahatma Gandhi went to interact with Indian National Army (INA) soldiers in prison. He was highly impressed to see so many officers and men of INA representing so many different religions and races of India united together for the common cause of India’s freedom and living like members of one family.
For him “It was like a whiff of fresh invigorating air from the free India that is to be”. He felt that “The absence of the third party had enabled them to obliterate all communal distinctions and develop a perfect spirit of camaraderie in exile”. However, in detention they informed Gandhi with pain and sadness that they were made to feel the distinctions based on religion. One INA soldier told him “We never felt any distinction of creed or religion in the I. N. A. But here we are faced with ‘Hindu tea’ and ‘Mussalman tea.” He then asked “What are we to do?” Mahatma Gandhi put a counter question by asking, “Why do you suffer it?” The soldier answered by saying, “No, we do not,” and revealed, “We mix ‘Hindu tea’ and Musalman tea’ exactly half and half, and then serve. The same with food”.
Gandhi had a hearty laugh saying “That is very good”. At a time when communal poison is spread in the name of food and dress the exemplary role played by INA soldiers in upholding the unity of India assumes enormous significance for twenty first century.
As a young boy he wrote that nothing attracted him more in life than the call for exploring the unknown realms of life and tread the unbeaten path. He did tread the unbeaten path and explored the unknown realms of life. In the process he endeared himself to the whole nation for his immeasurable contributions to the cause of independence and nation building. The idea of planning he gave in 1938 guided our nation till 1990. No wonder that 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” had said that “Netaji Subash Bose has cast a spell on me”. His portrait adorns the place in the Central Hall of Parliament just next to Mahatma Gandhi.’ It signifies his immortal place in the annals of our history. His legacy would endure forever. A grateful nation would forever remain indebted to him for his signal contributions to the cause of freedom struggle. My deep bow to Netaji on his birth anniversary.