by Chandra Kumar Bose
On Netaji’s 125th birth anniversary a grandnephew ferrets out little known personal details about India’s greatest freedom fighter from the family lore.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: the man, the patriot, the political thinker, the philosopher, the soldier, the statesman and the visionary.
I have had the privilege of knowing about Netaji, the man, from someone who knew him very closely as his nephew, political ally and trusted envoy. My father, Amiya Nath Bose, the second son of Netaji’s beloved brother Sarat Chandra Bose, grew up in the enlightened environment of the Bose family household at 38/2 Elgin road dominated by the Bose brothers, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose.
I would thus like to first share a few personal insights that I have heard from my father.
Subhas took much interest in the Bose family children. He was obviously very popular with them and they looked up to him as an inspiring figure. He was especially close to the children of his brother Sarat. During the years he lived with Sarat at 1 Woodburn Park from 1928 until his arrest in January 1932, he shared his room on the second floor with young “Ami”, which was my father’s nickname. My father has recorded those very special times in his memoirs thus: “From 1928 until his arrest in early 1932 and subsequent departure for Europe, my uncle Subhas and I shared the same room on the second floor of our 1 Woodburn Park house. He used to come back home very late after his days of hectic political work at about midnight or even later. He would first take a bath and then eat the food that was kept for him on the table in the room. He would then wake me up …” (Quoted from The Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insider’s Account by Madhuri Bose, Sage Publishers, 2016, pages 6 to 7).
During those long nights Uncle Subhas would talk to my father about the political developments of the day: about the role of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and others. He would also talk about the revolutionaries whom he admired and many of their leaders whom he knew well. Clearly, Subhas was seeking to both inform and inspire his nephew “Ami” about the importance of freedom for India and the struggle that would be needed to achieve it.
Amiya was deeply impressed with the single minded devotion of his uncle to the cause of Indian Independence. He found him to have a ‘magnetic’ personality. According to my father, what really stood out as a striking aspect of Subhas’ personality was the unwavering loyalty that he could command from the persons who came into contact with him. The officers and soldiers of the Indian National Army have often related how Netaji inspired them to be ready for the supreme sacrifice for the freedom of their Motherland.
Amiya himself took on a dangerous mission for his uncle Subhas. He carried a handwritten message from Subhas to the Soviet Government requesting Stalin for armed assistance in India’s battle for freedom against British imperialism. Of course after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the latter joined the Allies such assistance to India was no longer possible. While there is a record of this historic mission undertaken by Amiya for his Uncle Subhas documented by a member of the Communist Party of India Mr Batlivala, who assisted in this, the actual message from Subhas possibly still lies somewhere in the archives in Russia. This is dealt with in added and more detail in Madhuri Bose’s book, pages 140 to 144)
A little known aspect of Subhas, which I have gathered from my father is that though Subhas was generally of a serious demeanour, he could also be very disarming and “childlike” in the presence of children. Amiya talked about the times when Uncle Subhas would join in playful activities with the children of the family. While away in Europe, during the 1930s or while under detention Uncle Subhas would write to the children of Sarat and sign off as “Your Playmate”.
A person who knew Subhas well from a young age was his classmate and close friend Dilip Kumar Roy. Dilip Roy wrote in his reminiscences (Netaji the Man: Reminiscences) that Subhas’ “swadharma”, that is, philosophy of life, differed from his own. While he, Dilip Roy wanted to stay away from politics, Subhas had dedicated his life to a political struggle for the freedom of India. Nevertheless, Dilip Roy commented “Subhas had a genuine mystical outlook on life.”
What is also clear from the reminiscences of Dilip Roy is that Subhas’ leadership qualities were manifest from his student days. “… Whenever we undergraduates talked with Subhas, we somehow all looked up to him as our senior if not our mentor. He had a native power to lead and he knew it.”
They were all about seventeen years of age at the time. It was also during this time that the so-called “Oaten incident” took place in presidency college with Subhas assuming responsibility for it like a true leader and then being rusticated from college as a result.
Talking about the man that was Subhas, Dilip Roy noted in his reminiscences that “He (Subhas) had been born with a pronounced streak of tenderness in his composition.” He never failed to support anyone who came to him for help though sadly some of them betrayed him later. Subhas was also always greatly concerned about the political detenus and did all he could to help their poor families.
Subhas Chandra Bose was in all senses a man ahead of his time, a statesman whose attributes and achievements resonate to this day. He was a man of vision – of a free and independent India where all of its peoples regardless of religion, caste, gender or creed would enjoy the benefits of the resources and wealth of mother India, where every person would have enough to eat and every child would attend school. His Haripura address is just one of many statements to this vision.
His courage and fearlessness are legendary. He once wrote – “fearlessness in thought and action is to me the supreme virtue in life.”And throughout his life Subhas showed absolute fearlessness both in a moral and physical sense.
Netaji’s fearlessness had no limits. He took off from Calcutta while under house arrest on a long and perilous journey right across India and Afghanisthan via Voscow to Germany determined to enlist foreign assistance to fight for India’s freedom. Again, his submarine journey from Germany back to Southeast Asia during the height of the Second World War is a death-defying exploit.
During what was undoubtedly a most dangerous voyage on the high seas in the stifling environment of a submarine, Netaji was reportedly calm and stoic throughout the journey. His aide Abid Hasan has spoken about how Netaji continued to reflect and strategise about his dream of a free India while they travelled through the turbulent high seas.
Again we find, in retreat from Burma with the advancing Anglo-American army, Netaji shared the immense hardships of his soldiers of the Indian National Army. Netaji personally ensured that the soldiers of the Rani of Jhansi regiment were able to safely navigate their way back to Thailand to their homes through the jungles of Burma and Thailand. Netaji had a choice to travel in an army vehicle but he chose to walk with the Ranis.
Netaji never shied away from what he believed in. He did not hesitate in standing up for what he thought was right, whether towards the British authorities, his jailors in India and in Mandalay, and later in his dealings with the Japanese Imperial Army generals when he did not agree with them.
Even with the Mahatma himself over the fundamental issue of the use of force to achieve Indian Independence, Netaji Subhas stood his ground. And the Mahatma respected Subhas for it. On their final meeting Gandhiji told Subhas – “If his (Subhas’) efforts to win freedom for India succeeded then his (Gandhi’s) telegram of congratulations would be the first that he (Subhas) would receive”.
Netaji was a man of action, a dynamic and utterly committed life force who inspired all who came in contact with him. This was the man who in the short space of less than a year returned from Europe to Asia, negotiated at the highest levels of the Japanese Government, revived the Indian National Army, formed the Provisional Government of Azad Hind, and led the Indian National Army as supreme commander in a battle against the Anglo-American forces on the Indo-Burmese front.
The energy, commitment and sheer perseverance of this man were seemingly inexhaustible and remain as an inspiration to this day.
Netaji was a champion of gender equality and saw in Indian women much more than the traditional and time-honoured roles of running households and raising children. As a young man Subhas had supported C. R. Das in calls by the Swaraj Party of the early 1920s for women not only in the right to vote, but to be able to do so at a younger age than males! Subhas believed passionately that women had a vital role to play in the political, economic and social life of India. Perhaps his crowning achievement in this respect was the formation of the all-female Rani of Jhansi regiment of the INA.
Among the pantheon of leaders that we have seen over the 100 years of India’s struggle for independence, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose stands out. With the passing of years, the charisma and the magnetism of Netaji have not faded but grown and spread especially among the younger generations. What is heartening is that Netaji has found a permanent place in the imagination of the people despite the fact that his role and contributions have not yet been fully recorded in history books.
Chandra Kumar Bose is a socio-political activist, convener of the Open Platform for Netaji and member of Central Committee chaired by Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for the 125th birth anniversary celebration of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
This article was written with inputs from Madhuri Bose (author of “Bose Brothers and Indian Independence: An Insider’s Account, Sage Publishers, dated 2016), daughter of Amiya Nath Bose and granddaughter of Sarat Chandra Bose and grandniece of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
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