Didn’t know much about history, Indian or otherwise when I was in school. I went to a missionary school and I recall reading about English history (King Arthur comes to mind) and a bit about Indian history (Chattrapati Shivaji figured along with all sorts of Mughal emperors) but there was no attempt at communicating what I call a sense of history or instilling a spirit of inquiry about the history of India. My school did alright when it come to science and mathematics, but failed dismally in the social sciences.
Without assigning blame to others for my personal failings in not knowing history, I think I understand why our school did not teach much history. What was taught was circumscribed by what was (and is) politically correct. Nehru was the king and his word was the law of the land. And he was never at a loss for words. He wrote pretty speeches and history books and what he wrote became de facto politically correct. Then the dynasty took over and the rest is — how shall I put it — history.
The winners write history, naturally. In the struggle for Indian independence, the winners were the Gandhi-Nehru group and this win led to the Nehru-Gandhi hold on the country. The losers were an assorted bunch who were relegated to the dustbin of history. One such was the proud son of Bengal who was called “Netaji” (respected leader.)
To Bengalis (even non-resident Bengalis like yours truly), he was a hero. Of course, given my ignorance of history in general, I did not know precisely what Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had done but I had a vague notion that he was somehow a player in the freedom struggle and that his contribution was downplayed for motives unknown.
If one lives long enough, and if one is somewhat curious, one learns slowly but surely that all that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Or should I say that given sufficient time, a carefully constructed history can come apart. The ancient Indian declaration says Satyameva Jayate — Truth Alone Prevails. I suppose it is understood that that means “truth alone prevails” EVENTUALLY. You know that bit: you can fool some of the people some of the time, and some people for all time, but not all the people for all the time.
So the carefully constructed “reality” of who Netaji Bose was, what he lived for and how he died is slowly coming apart. Why was his image air-brushed from the pages of Indian freedom struggle? Who gained from his removal from the scene? Why were the winners of the freedom struggle (the Indian National Congrees of Gandhi and Nehru) so brave against the British so afraid of Bose?
Where, when, andhow did Netaji die are interesting questions, the answers to which may have something to do with what his role was in India’s independence. I think this article by N. S. Rajaram titled Netaji’s Ghost: The Freedom Struggle has some light on the matter.
I strongly recommend the article by Rajaram. Here, for the record, are a few excerpts.
Probably the most distinguished historian to highlight Bose’s real contribution was the late R.C. Majumdar. In his monumental, three-volume History of the Freedom Movement in India (which the Congress-led by Maulana Azad tried to suppress), Majumdar provided the following extraordinary information:
“It seldom falls to the lot of a historian to have his views, differing radically from those generally accepted without demur, confirmed by such an unimpeachable authority. As far back as 1948 I wrote in an article that the contribution made by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose towards the achievement of freedom in 1947 was no less, and perhaps, far more important than that of Mahatma Gandhi…” The ‘unimpeachable authority’ he cited happens to be Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister of Britain at the time of India’s Independence. As this is of fundamental importance, and Majumdar’s conclusion so greatly at variance with conventional history, it is worth placing it on record. (See Volume III, pp. 609-10). When B.P. Chakravarti was acting as Governor of West Bengal, Lord Attlee visited India and stayed as his guest for three days at the Raj Bhavan. Chakravarti asked Attlee about the real grounds for granting Independence to India. Specifically, his question was, when the Quit India movement lay in ruins years before 1947, what was the need for the British to leave in such a hurry. Attlee’s response is most illuminating and important for history. Here is the Governor’s account of what Attlee told him:
“In reply Attlee cited several reasons, the most important were the activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose which weakened the very foundation of the attachment of the Indian land and naval forces to the British Government. Towards the end, I asked Lord Attlee about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Gandhi’s activities. On hearing this question Attlee’s lips widened in a smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, putting emphasis on each single letter mi-ni-mal.”
This ‘unimpeachable’ truth will come as a shock to most Indians brought up to believe that the Congress movement driven by the ’spiritual force’ of Mahatma Gandhi forced the British to leave India. But both the evidence and the logic of history are against this beautiful but childish fantasy; it was the fear of mutiny by the Indian armed forces-and not any ’spiritual force’- that forced the issue of freedom. The British saw that the sooner they left India the better for themselves, for, at the end of the war, India had some three million men under arms. Majumdar had reached the same conclusion years earlier, as far back as 1948 as he records. The most dramatic event after the end of World War II was the INA Trials at the Red Fort—not any movement by Gandhi or Nehru. This led directly to the mutiny of the naval ratings, which, more than anything, helped the British make up their minds to leave India in a hurry. They sensed that it was only a matter of time before the spirit spread to other sections of the armed forces and the rest of the Government. None of this would have happened without Subhas Bose and the INA.
The crucial point to note is that thanks to Subhas Bose’s activities and the INA, the Armed Forces began to see themselves as defenders of India rather than upholders of the British Empire. This, more than anything else, was what led to India’s freedom. This is also the reason why the British Empire disappeared from the face of the earth within an astonishingly short space of twenty years. Indian soldiers, who were the main prop of the Empire, were no longer willing to fight to hold the Empire together.
And he concludes his article with:
All this raises a fundamental question: did Nehru commit these colossal policy blunders because of his idealism, or was he influenced by the knowledge that China’s ally Soviet Union still held Subhas Bose in captivity who may be released any time? As Sandhya Jain puts it: “Since it is nobody’s case that the Congress would have suffered Nehru if Netaji were still alive, the former would logically have had to pay a price for such stupendous assistance. We will have to look very closely at the long road from August 15, 1947 as we seek the answers to these questions”. In other words, was India being made to pay for Nehru’s ambition to be Prime Minister, which was only possible as long as Subhas Bose was away from the scene?
Finding answers to these questions calls for full access to the records of the period. Scholars have found that important records in the Nehru Library and even the National Archives are not available to them without the permission of the ‘dynasty’, which means they are unavailable. As long as this situation prevails, with information coming in bits and pieces, there will be no end to conspiracy theories. These are state papers–not family property. The Government should help clear the air by releasing the Nehru papers to the public. It is also in the interests of the members of the dynasty.