History

Subhas was here: a big lake and a little library still echo with Netaji’s footfalls

By Rajesh Sinha.

Disagreements with his Congress colleagues about the mode of struggle that should be adopted in order to drive out the British from India led Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to undertake journeys to different parts of the country. He was keen to gauge the sentiments of the people of India. This included a two-day trip to Bihar’s Champaran District. There the fiery revolutionary who championed the cause of India’s Independence found crowds of men, women and children throng to him, with a burning desire to join the struggle. On Netaji’s birth anniversary, Champaran-based veteran journalist Rajesh Sinha writes about those heady days a century ago when Bihar’s people were driven by a desire to free India and rues the current administrative neglect of history.

Nagrik Pustakalaya (Public Library) at Mehsi, nearly 45 kilometres from Motihari, which Netaji had visited during his 1940 visit to Champaran, Bihar. Photo by A.K. Verma (courtesy of Rajesh Sinha).
The remarks Netaji wrote in the visitors’ book at the public library in 1940. Photo by A.K. Verma (courtesy of Rajesh Sinha).
Entrance to the park by the lake, Moti Jheel, where Netaji had addressed a massive public gathering in 1940. Renamed ‘Subhas Park’ it however has become a den for encroachers of all kinds. Photo by A.K. Verma (courtesy of Rajesh Sinha).

Every year, on the eve of his birth anniversary, rich tributes are paid to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the greatest political thinkers and amongst the pioneers of Indian Independence. But this remembrance is unfortunately limited to January 23. The rest of the year, he is, by and large, forgotten. The complete lack of initiative by the administration towards properly developing and preserving the different places that Bose visited during his stays in Bihar as important historical sites, is a classic example of this neglect. The Bengali Association of Bihar has been demanding that “Subhas Park”, which is situated in the heart of the city of Motihari, be declared a “heritage site” but action in this area has been pending for long.

Nearly a hundred years ago, Netaji had addressed a mammoth public gathering on the banks of the Moti Jheel, a large lake, in heart of the city of Motihari, and apprised the people of his mode of struggle for independence. Since then the said ground which was earlier named after a British Collector was referred to as and eventually formally renamed “Subhas Park”. 

Champaran District, where Motihari is located, has a very rich cultural as well as revolutionary heritage and freedom fighters like Jyotsana De, Sunil Kumar Bose, Shyam Sunder Thakur, Lal Mohan Ray and Dr Ajit Kumar Ray were a few among over a dozen followers of Netaji. In 1940, while Netaji was in the process of founding the Indian National Army (INA), he was on a two-day tour of Bihar. These men and women of Champaran, drawn by his high ideals and passionate calls to join the movement, flocked to Netaji, spending the two precious days in his inspiring presence. They were all highly influenced by Netaji’s revolutionary mode of struggle for independence. After his ideological differences with many leaders of the then Congress party which was first witnessed during the Tripuri convension of Central Province (presently the state of Madhya Pradesh) in 1939, in fact, Champaran was one among the many important places of the country which Netaji had visited in order to gauge the public sentiment on his personal point of view regarding the struggle for independence.

On February 6th that year, Subhas Babu had also visited the Nagrik Pustakalaya (Public Library) at Mehsi, nearly 45 kilometres from Motihari, on the Motihari-Muzaffarpur road and noted his remarks on the visitors’ book. Netaji was very pleased with the way that the library was maintained and praised its organized running. In his remarks he mentioned that the library was a useful institution and he wished it success in the future, while recognizing the enthusiasm with which the librarians worked there. Not finding a fountain pen to write with, however, he scribbled his observations with a pencil.

The demand for declaring all these places that Netaji visited as important heritage sites has been raised by several prominent citizens of Champaran recently. Sanjay Thakur, a journalist associated with a Hindi daily, expressed concerns about administrative apathy towards preservation of these historical sites. Incidentally, he is the son of Shyam Sunder Thakur, the late freedom fighter from Champaran’s Rupaulia village, who was made the security in charge of Netaji during his Champaran visit in 1940. Among those to have repeatedly raised the issue is Pushkar Banerjee, associated with the Bengalee Association of Bihar.  

On several occasions concerns about illegal encroachment into the public park has also been raised by the citizens of Motihari. The issue of the desired beautification of this public park was raised before the District Administration and Nagar Parishad through written applications. But these failed to yield any result so far, according to Sarjeet Bose and Ramendra Narayan Saha, who are associated with the Motihari Chapter of the Bengali Association of Bihar in different capacities.

This year, the Central government has declared that January 23, Netaji’s birthday, will henceforth be observed as “Parakram Diwas” or Valor Day. This extraordinary gazette states that, “In order to honour and remember Netaji’s indomitable spirit and selfless service to the Nation, the Government of India has decided to celebrate his birthday, the 23rd day of January every year as ‘Parakram Divas’”. It further points out this day ought to inspire the people of the country, especially the youth to act with fortitude in the face of adversity as Netaji did and to infuse in them a spirit of patriotic fervor. Quoting from this, Satyajeet Bose of the Bengali Association of Bihar, however said that any tribute to the great man could be completed only when the places associated with Netaji could become freed from the shackles of neglect and apathy.

Not that no action has been taken by the administration. In a bid to pay tributes to Netaji, the Indian Railways changed the name of the popular Kalka Mail to Netaji Express. Howrah-Kalka Mail which has been plying over 150 years, is one of the oldest trains operational in the country. This train was used by the British during the colonial period to travel between Calcutta and Shimla, which was the summer capital of India. Thereby, it connected the two capitals of the country and was patronized by the British Civil Servants. This train was first operated on January 01, 1866 and was known as Howrah-Peshawar express.    

During what has come to be known as the Great Escape, when Netaji escaped from house arrest in Calcutta, he travelled by car all the way to Bihar. He finally boarded a train from Gomoh in Dhanbad district.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Rajesh Sinha is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

Categories: History, Opinion, Tribute

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