The Government Loves Netaji Bose, But Do They Really Remember What He Stood For?

Politics

The Government Loves Netaji Bose, But Do They Really Remember What He Stood For?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked Subhas Chandra Bose’s 123rd birth anniversary on Monday with a sagely composed tweet. “India will always remain grateful to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose for his bravery and indelible contribution to resisting colonialism. He stood up for the progress and well-being of his fellow Indians.” It’s convenient to pay tribute to a long-gone figure from the freedom struggle. However, were Bose to be alive today, would the establishment still feel so warmly about him and his message?

As a democratic socialist, Subhas Chandra Bose stood for everything that is readily branded anti-national today. He was a staunch leftist who admired Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his vision of Turkey as a secular nation state. He also believed that Indian freedom could only come in two stages: an Indian revolution against the imperialists, and then a proletariat agrarian revolution against the new Indian imperialists. If he existed today, make no mistake, he would have been labelled an “Urban Naxal”.

Netaji’s popularity in the Sangh Parivar is because of his belief in militarisation, but in a strange myopia, Hindutva forces wish to delete the ideology in which Bose believed. A man who believed in the proletarian revolution and workers’ rights is today honoured as a “forgotten hero” by a government accused of suppressing dissent through state machinery and bending over backward to satiate the interests of capitalists and industrialists.

Netaji’s popularity in the Sangh Parivar is because of his belief in militarisation, but in a strange myopia, Hindutva forces wish to delete the ideology in which Bose believed.

A recent trend on Twitter was the hashtag #CommunismKills, as if all horrible things that happen in this country do so because of a Leftist conspiracy. It reminds me of American McCarthyism, where anyone who opposed the paranoid government was called “anti-American”. That was in Cold War-era USA, but even in present-day India, university professors have been harassed and booked for having “leftist” books in their collections. Take the example of Vernon Gonsalves, one of the social activists arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon case. He was asked by the Bombay High Court why he had objectionable material like War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy in his collection. It is both confounding and fascinating how the very same people who live in fear of Urban Naxals continue to uphold Bose as a national hero.

Last year, PM Modi accused former Congress governments of downplaying the role played by Bose in the freedom struggle. “In an effort to highlight the role of one family, efforts were made to deliberately ignore and forget contributions made by others in the Independence struggle and later in creating a new India,” said Modi, wearing the cap made famous by Bose’s Indian National Army. “But our government is changing all that.”

However, even though the BJP prides itself on being different from the “elitist” Congress, it is just a darker shade of the same yellow. It has the same economic policies (just more conservative), and also espouses a unique brand of ethnic nationalism that Netaji – who even allied with fascist and imperialist contemporaries like Germany’s Hitler and Japan’s Emperor Togo – would never endorse.

Oddly enough, the closest ally to Bose’s line of thinking in his time was Jawaharlal Nehru, BJP’s bête noir and a self-proclaimed socialist and secularist. As Congress president, Bose was repeatedly disgruntled by how divisive and short-sighted the Hindu Mahasabha was. He was frustrated by their refusal to join the nationalist cause during the municipal elections in Bengal, and wrote (with palpable annoyance), “The Hindu Mahasabha has given evidence of greater desire to do down the Congress than to save the corporation from British domination.”

When BJP leaders declare their love for Netaji in their Twitter handles, I urge you to remember his daring exploits and chants of “Give me blood and I will give you freedom”.

The actual truth is summed up by Sekhar Bandopadhyay in his book, From Plassey to Partition and After: A History of Modern India, where he describes how Nehru and his ilk took up the cause of INA soldiers who were arrested after Netaji’s death: “Subhas might have been a renegade leader who had challenged the authority of the Congress leaders and their principles, but in death he was a martyred patriot whose memory could be an ideal tool for political mobilisation.”

It appears that the BJP, remembering how for years earlier Congress governments had spied on and hushed up the role and death of Netaji, thought it would be smart to cash in on his legacy for political points. Of course, the irony is not lost on us from Bengal, who have always celebrated Bose – not for his exploits in the INA, but for his beliefs.

When BJP leaders declare their love for Netaji in their Twitter handles, I urge you to remember his daring exploits and chants of “Give me blood and I will give you freedom”. In these times, where students from all over the country are protesting in the streets, I urge you to remember that he was expelled from Presidency College for boycotting a British professor who had insulted his culture. The real Bose was the one who said, “Yeh zindagi hain qaum ki, tu quam pe lutaye ja”; the man who would go to any lengths, even stand against Mahatma Gandhi, whom he named “The Father of the Nation”, for equality for all. 

The real Subhas Chandra Bose is not the one to mince words. He is the one who would stand up and resist. 

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