I was at the India Gate on September 8, to witness two events being etched into India’s history. One was the unveiling of a statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and the other was the renaming of the road between the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and India Gate from Rajpath to Kartavya Path.
On this road, stood a statue of King George V until 1968, until a group of Bose followers vandalised it, and placed Bose’s portrait there. The space under the canopy stood vacant for more than five decades, which tells us reinstating Netaji’s legacy has been a complicated affair.
India’s freedom movement had two streams of approach against the British occupancy — ahimsa, and armed fight. India has always maintained officially that ahimsa played the crucial role in winning us freedom, and naturally the one who pioneered it — Mahatma Gandhi — became the founding father of our country. That said, the people of the country have always had a special place for revolutionaries in their hearts as tragic heroes, who challenged the convention, but failed to achieve their goal.
Bose’s only priority was India, as he was ready to shake hands with the devil for her freedom. He did the unimaginable — defeated Gandhi’s candidate to become the Congress President, resigned when he saw no support, escaped house arrest, reached out to other countries who could offer support, revived the Indian National Army, established a government in exile, and participated in the war. The INA-Japan combine retrieved some of India’s land from the British in the northeast and in the Andamans, despite heavy casualties. For him, the road to Delhi was the road to freedom.
BR Ambedkar, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee who granted India freedom, historian Michael Edwardes, and many more have attributed greater importance to Bose, the naval uprising, and the Red Fort trials, than Gandhi’s ahimsa in India winning freedom. Since Bose’s ways were opposed to Gandhi’s, they incommoded the leaders of free India, as Gandhi and Bose on the winner’s podium would seem contradictory to their eyes. As a result, Bose went into oblivion, and the recorded history of his army and its efforts never saw the light of the day.
In October 2015, I was at 7, Race Course Road (now Lok Kalyan Marg), witnessing the historic announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he would declassify the secret files on Bose. While the intelligence files are still beyond public reach, Modi did declassify about 1,000 files in the months that followed. He then took a series of steps to bring Bose back to our current memory — invited INA veterans to take part in the Republic Day Parade, hoisted the tricolour atop the Red Fort on Azad Hind Day, and later in the Andamans, inaugurated Netaji and INA museums at the Red Fort, visited Bose’s aides in Japan, declared Bose’s birth anniversary as Parakram Diwas, renamed several Andaman islands as a mark of respect for Bose, and inaugurated a hologram statue near India Gate on Bose’s birth anniversary (January 23) earlier this year.
For a country that believes in self-esteem, these steps are significant in restoring our legacy.
India at large has still not recognised Bose’s contributions even today. For many, the scope of his contributions is limited to his armed fight for freedom. They don’t know that he envisaged the concept of self-reliance through strong economic planning, science and technology, industrial revolution, co-operative federalism, and secularism. As Congress President, he championed economic development, and in December 1938, set up the national planning committee under Jawaharlal Nehru, which led to the formation of the Planning Commission post-Independence. The commission (superseded by NITI Ayog) described Bose as the pioneer of Indian planning, on his birth centenary in 1997.
Bose backed the concept of a research council, and believed that national reconstruction would be possible only with the aid of science and scientists, and voiced for an industrial revolution, with greater focus on power, transport, chemicals, and metal production.
He advocated co-operative federalism through regional autonomy, which became a reality later. As a staunch believer in secularism, he cancelled the dual membership of Congress workers in the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League, and said free India must maintain an impartial attitude towards every religion, and leave faith to the choice of individuals.
Against his contemporaries’ wish, Bose also wanted India to have a strong military. Today, we are the second-largest active force in the world. His Jhansi Rani Regiment was among the oldest all-women regiments in world history. To see how ahead of his times Bose was, think of this — Free India is still deliberating how women can be inducted into combat roles!
In many ways, Bose is the architect of modern India, who was far ahead of his times and contemporaries. As his brand of politics and nationalism was inconvenient to others, he remains largely unexplored and vague, much like his sudden disappearance in 1945.King George V was also known as the Emperor of India, whose statue offered a direct view from the Viceroy’s House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan), through the India Gate. It is poetic justice that the colonial emperor is now supplanted by the people’s emperor, in the heart of India’s capital, reminding one of not just adhikaar (power), but kartavya (duty) too. After all, the ‘road to Delhi’ in Bose’s clarion call was also one of kartavyas.