Netaji – The Clamour For A Different Past

by Nidhi Mahesh - Apr 16, 2015 07:01 PM +05:30 IST
Netaji – The Clamour For A Different Past

In all the uncertainty around the death or disappearance of Netaji, one thing can be said with certainty, Indian nation wants Netaji to have survived and changed the course of history.

It was sometime in 2002 or 2003 when I met Anita Bose, daughter of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, in Kolkata. The first thought I had was, she looked so much like Netaji! When I asked her about the death of her father, whom she never saw, she said in a matter of fact tone, “it is time there was a closure”. She refused to accept, though, that the alleged air crash had killed him. In the same breath she had said that she did not think that he (Netaji) would have lived as a Baba if he would have survived. That he was dead (by then) is sure. How, is a question that needs answer.

She felt that this country (India) is obsessed with the idea of Netaji, and has created multiple fantasies surrounding him.

Some sections had accepted him as some sort of a God, who was above human emotions and as such refused to believe that he actually married and has a daughter! There was another section which was trying to play down his role and wanted him painted as a traitor – “Tojo’s dalal” as he was referred to, for his dealing with the Japanese dictator in order to garner support for the INA. There was yet another section which always wanted to see him in conflict with the Congress. Certainly, Netaji has been an enigma that refused to die even though he was unceremoniously declared dead! The mystery of Netaji has mesmerised generations and the secretive attitude of successive governments has only fuelled it further.

The scuffle that broke loose over the last weekend with the revelation of a dirty little secret from the past – Nehru snooping on Netaji’s kin – is matching the weather in our country, the unexpected rains are killing crops while bringing a cool wetness in dry cities. Paradox is the name of the game. Netaji was never dead, at least not in spirit. The fresh controversy has brought him to life once again. As for Nehru, though he is long dead, successive governments at the centre and in many states refuse to bury him. Indian people have been hung on past and it is that glory (?) that the politicians evoke every time they come knocking for another lease of life.

India has a troubled past, but Indians have always romanticised it. The idea of a non-violent movement throwing off 300 years of British subjugation has euphoric elements. Many historians claim, getting India freedom at midnight, without a bloodshed has been an unmatched feat by statesmen anywhere in the world, and as such Gandhi and Nehru have no parallel in history. Our history books have glorified the non-violent movements while keeping us inspired with the valour of likes of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Khudiram Bose, Master da Surya Sen, the trinity of Binay, Badal, Dinesh and scores of young men who took on the British might and made them restless with handmade crude bombs, and country-made guns.

It is obvious, these men and their valour has been painted as a side plot, divorced from the main story of Indian freedom struggle which has always been described as the monopoly of Indian National Congress. Every student of Indian history, worthy of his salt, must have wondered at this strange divided approach where parts do not add up to the whole. It almost seems that to ensure glory to some, credit has been snatched away from many others. While we seem to be bowled over by the idea of a non-violent freedom struggle, blood of innocent people spilling on streets in sectarian violence, or execution of thousands of young men up in arms against the Raj, has been almost forgotten. The Hindu-Muslim riots that marked the birth of India and Pakistan have been assigned as collateral damage, price of which is still being paid by citizens of both the nations.

There has always been a desire in many in the country to see the history of Indian freedom struggle in a different light, where they are not blinded by the larger than life characterisation of Gandhi-Nehru and their accomplishments. But alas, the history that we read all along did not tell us much of any leader who could snatch the focus from these self-sacrificing, zealous patriots of Congress.

In Netaji, Indian nation always searched for that leader who could challenge the established norms. If anything, this recent controversy has brought forth painfully the burning desire for an alternate leader, even if he existed in the past. A leader who was not apologetic and had the vision to overthrow the subjugating powers rather than politely asking them to leave! Because in such a leadership, Indians not only see a different past but a much different present as well. The legend we have been fed upon has lost its charm. With time and distance, there is a new perspective. There is more rational approach to history today which is willing to question those who were always protected with an aura of being above reproach.

While we clamour for a new version of history, what is also a danger is all that we have held sacred and pinned our glory on, may fall flat on face. We may be robbed of a comfortable back story which built our foundation. In such circumstances what will happen to the edifice? Are we prepared for it? What could be the implications, beyond the “bearing on friendly relations” with some countries, as the Government claims to be the reason of keeping the past buried? We have been fed on the fable of “once upon a time there were British and once they left on the insistence of Gandhi-Nehru, the two nations they left behind, lived unhappily ever after”.  We have not only believed but lived by this fable for over half a century. Can we afford to cast it aside now? Are we prepared to put a knife to the wounds which never healed but congealed, sparing further blood spill?

These are uncomfortable questions. I am sure, with equally uncomfortable answers. In all the uncertainty around the death or disappearance of Netaji, one thing can be said with certainty, Indian nation wants Netaji to have survived and changed the course of history. And, that is enough reason at least for those preserving the current version of history, to shield the secret more zealously.  We may never know what actually happened, because the retelling of past is always one school of perspective against another, but we know for sure, what we wished would have happened. For now, this seems good enough as the beginning, of a different past!

Nidhi has worked in the media and communication industries for over 15 years. She has also provided training and workshops to academia and corporates in services marketing, go-to-market strategy, organizational communication and managerial communication.
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