Netaji is a man who never died, not even as we celebrate his 125th birthday because if we suspend our reason for a while then in the heart of every Indian, there is hope that he would return to take charge of the country someday. For many years, Indians have lived with the anticipation that Netaji would come back, suddenly appear as the messiah to deliver us from the mess we find ourselves in every now and then.
Netaji led two instinctively parallel lives for which his biographers and commentators say that like Swami Vivekananda, he was forever caught between the horns of dilemma. For Vivekananda, it was a tough choice between an atheist rationalism and an advaita bhakti, while for Netaji it was the passionate armed revolution of Bengal revolutionaries and later the group led by Bagha Jatin and the structured and institutionalized platform of the Indian National Congress and hence, he was constantly torn, as all geniuses are between their own talents and capabilities and restrains of moderation that institutions demand.
Subhas’s separation with the Congress was partly this decoupling of his restless passions and energetic action with the staidness which the party was increasingly falling into. Both Subhas and the Congress seem to have geared towards Independence and while the Congress was busy setting the house in order so that a tidy nation with its institutions and structures would be in place when the British leaves, Subhas was becoming impatient for Independence to drop in asap. The Congress felt that it was like a parent who was decorating for a party and Subhas wanted to bite into the cake then and there. But that was not the real meaning of Subhas’s hurry. He was a focused and goal driven person and for him, the task that needed to be completed was India’s Independence. Like Arjun in Mahabharta, Freedom was the eye of the wooden bird.
But the state of the Congress’s mind did not seem to be quite focused singularly on Freedom; instead, as he thought that the Congress was wavering much into the planning for post-Independence in terms of linguistic organization of states, getting the princely states into the Indian dominion, the structure of the Parliament and of course, the Constitution and were more engrossed in doing the paraphernalia of Free India, when India was not yet promised Freedom. To Bose, it seemed like the proverbial jackfruit, as the Bengali saying goes which is yet unripe and one is oiling one’s moustache to be ready to bite into the juicy ripe pods.
The fundamental point which Subhas asked, when will India be free? Time and date. To this, the Congress had no explicit answer because as a party it had grown to such maturity and commanded such a monopoly and aggregation of the Indians’ surge for Freedom, that within the minds of its leading men, India was already free and Patel and Sitaramiah, Nehru and Jinnah, among themselves working out the disbursements of the spoils of war; a war, that according to Subhas may not even happen and the question of winning it may be as yet a distant dream. Hence, he started to walk alone, the spirit of Ekla Cholo Re would be more suited for him than Gandhi, though Tagore wrote it for the latter.
As a sole plotter of India’s Freedom, Subhas started to correspond with the Axis Powers so that he could use their support to threaten the British, the part of the Allied Powers. Gandhi, averse to war and alert to the danger that the Axis Powers could present to civilization, in his eagerness to dissuade Subhas from falling into bad company, and in a moment both desperate and yet hilarious started to write letters to Hitler, imagining that if Hitler be thus restrained, Bose could be reined in too. This was one of the noblest moments of Gandhi. And yet Gandhi, on grudgingly congratulating Subhas after his victory in the Tripuri session as the party President, wished that the minorities would feel safe with him. He was colouring Subhas in the same brush as Hitler, a mental virus that still braces the Netaji baiters even today. He tried to say that Subhas was a majoritarian and a persecutor of minorities. This was the most reprehensible moment of Gandhi perhaps ever in his career.
History showed that the end of Gandhian politics resulted in the holocaust of the Partition; India was as Partitioned as it was free. Even after Freedom, Indians did not emerge to their nobler and more ideal selves as they continued to slyly practice everything that they pledged by the Constitution not to do. The idealists among us started to represent what today most call as the sickularists and the libbus, meaning the secular liberals, a hopeless minority looked upon as the remnants of castaway colonials. The end of Subhas’s career on the other hand was remarkable; at the height of the communal frenzy, his INA swore by one India. Syed Mujtaba Ali writes in his essay, Netaji, given the communal frenzy raging back home could unite the Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh under a single flag and to a common purpose. He coined the slogan Jai Hind, at a time when Muslims in India balked at Hindi and the Hindus resented Urdu, when the south Indians would shirk everything in the North Indian and North India grudge any form of South Indian dominance. Yet, young boys fled homes from Andhra and Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Rajasthan, smuggled in the luggage holes of ships to land in Singapore to join the INA. Indian rubber barons donated liberally to the INA knowing that they were seeking the alliance of the Japanese. Such magic only Subhas could pull through.
Gandhi made much of Subhas taking the help of the Axis Powers, but Gandhi who, being much read in Gita should have understood the words of Krishna, that anything is fair in war and that friends and enemies during a war are not made around ideals but for strategies. Subhas used the knife for surgery, Hitler used it to murder; it was the instrument that mattered to Bose, he was not worried about the uses the owner of the instrument put it to. He wanted the weapons for his own use to Free India, and the price he traded it with was to hand over the enemy’s enemy, the British in this case. In the sense of the Gita, Subhas was the more genuine Arjuna.
Subhas often spoke of dictatorship rather than democracy; were he to have his way in the Tripuri Congress of 1939 and were he to become the Prime Minister of India or were he to have genuinely invited Japan to invade India and drive the British out of it, what could have been the consequences? Perhaps disastrous, perhaps the Japanese would have meted the same cruelty towards India as they did in China and southeast Asia and for which both Togo and Tojo were tried and hanged by the International Court. And if by chance the British would be defeated, then India may have become a Japanese colony with unprecedented persecution of its people. Or the British could have left India sooner and India become independent right in the middle of the war. But one thing is clear, and which is that India’s Freedom would not have the slur of the subtitle of the Partition.
Bose’s vitality, his charisma, his passions would have become the point towards which the mob energies could have been directed, the singular goal of Freedom without the Congress’s Kalnemi like planning for the aftermath would have appealed to the gut of the people eager to repose their ideals on to something concrete. Freedom would then look like a fight, and not a series of negotiations. Freedom would be then everyone’s flesh and blood and not something they were led onto by priests of sovereignty. That would seem more like having an agency, a direct participation, a more complete exhaustion of energies, those which could then drive away the mind’s narrowness of communal competition and strife. And if India was to fall to war, then at least for the nation, the Hindus and Muslims would have fought together, shoulder to shoulder and would have a history that was neither that of the Hindus nor of the Muslims, but something they could have claimed together. Therefore, when there is a Hindu Muslim conflict, people want to believe that Subhas will come back.
Subhas Bose’s immortality must be seen in the light of his energy; a force that is likely to sweep the narrowness of language, culture, religion, and caste into the creation of one large army of devoted and dedicated soldiers for the attainment of goals, no matter how impossible and fantastical it looked. It defied the pragmatism of the Congress in making India work as a free country, it scorned Congress’s paternalism in making everyday life so smooth for the ordinary person that there was hardly a feeling of a rites de passage from colonialism to Freedom. Therefore, whenever humans want to rise above their own narrowness, aroused in a sense of heroic martyrdom, to become conscious of having broken away from something and resurrected into something new, Bose is remembered. If Indians nurture their desire that there was a great war that could have been fought by everyone on the same plane so that they could have memories to share and stories to tell, Subhas will not die for them. For this spirit of his have always created nations, the passions he stirred rather than ideals have made people overcome divisions among themselves, and hence Netaji make us seek salvation in our unity and not partitioned land in the name of our autonomy. If Indians would want to be all brothers and sisters, if Indians would look to have a tryst with destiny, if India would desire the magic of the Purna Swaraj, Indians will desire Bose to be alive. Hence, as Gandhi said, when he asked his family not to perform the death rites, that Subhas was not dead. Reason? According to none other than Gandhi, Subhas could not die.