Recent events in Mathura have once again demonstrated the cynicism and dishonesty of those who would use the name of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his now legendary deeds for their own selfish ends. At Mathura, heroic images of Netaji and the magic that surrounds him have been ruthlessly manipulated by a criminal mind to exploit the adoration for Netaji that lives on to this day.
Sadly, this cynical exploitation of his name has happened time and again in the seven decades that have passed since an announcement by Japan’s Domei news agency of his death in an air crash on August 18, 1945 in present-day Taiwan. This has included those who have claimed to be Netaji himself, others who have forecast his imminent return based on intimate association and yet others who have claimed reincarnation as Netaji. The imposters have come and gone.
One such character claiming to be none other than Netaji was actively pursued publicly and legally by our father Amiya Nath Bose, Netaji’s nephew. After threatening defamation proceedings against father, the man fled and was never heard from again. Others beat a path to the door of the Bose ancestral home at 1, Woodburn Park in Kolkata, purportedly carrying messages from Netaji for his old pair of spectacles and other personal items. Upon father’s request for a written message from Netaji, they too disappeared. Father never gave any credence to any ‘sadhus’ or ‘babas’ pretending to be his uncle Subhas, and given his astute legal brain, rejected such assertions or speculations as utterly false and mischievous.
Among those who contend that Netaji did not die in an air crash and lived on well beyond the last known sighting in August 1945, some argue that he was spirited away with Japanese collaboration and later returned to India to remain essentially incognito. One current campaign has it that a ‘holy man’ by the name of Gumnami baba, who died and was cremated in Uttar Pradesh’s Faizabad in 1985, was in fact Netaji. The holy man himself did not broadcast this, but a select few who met him firmly believed that he was Bose (unfortunately the key proponents of this story have passed on), and there are still some today who insist that Gumnami baba was indeed none other than the great man himself.
The persistence of such claims must be strongly challenged with rational arguments and scientific evidence where possible. Surely they cannot be based on the ‘belief’ of a select number of individuals, even of those who had known and worked with Netaji during the freedom struggle, and are persons who are widely respected and admired.
We must begin with a deeper understanding of the man himself. During the course of 1926 whilst incarcerated in Mandalay Jail in northern Burma, Netaji wrote by hand what he considered his first, unpublished book, Pebbles on the Seashore. As he noted at the time, “a few pebbles here and there have been picked up by me. The stray thoughts are as disconnected as pebbles lying on the seashore”.
Our father Amiya had observed that this ‘collection of stray thoughts’ represented a milestone in the evolution of his philosophical and socio-economic thinking. Thus in Pebbles, Subhas developed what he suggested could be the basis of a new ethical code, a set of principles by which he would live and by which he would encourage others to live. “Embracing Sanyasa when your country needs you is only a refined form of betrayal” he wrote; and “The ethical value of a man’s life depends largely on the performance of civic and national duty.”
Later in a letter on February 21, 1934 from Geneva in Switzerland, a now exiled Netaji sought to guide nephew Amiya on the development of strength of character, on the importance of selfless work as defined by Vivekananda. “To be the ideal worker – you have to be a Sanyasi, a Man of God. Every age has witnessed Sanyas in a different image. This age has identified a ‘Sanyasi’ as one who gives his life for work – the Karma Yogi.”
Netaji embraced these life principles to the full. He lost no opportunities to translate them into action in pursuit of independence for India – culminating in his escape from India, the formation in Europe of an Indian Legion, and the revival in South East Asia of the Indian National Army. Netaji was, above all, a man of action and achievement, in life-long pursuit of an independent, united, socialist India of his dream, a prosperous India for all of its peoples and communities. He was the consummate Karma Yogi.
It is quite simply preposterous to postulate, as some are doing today, that the man thus described would return to India to spend decades in virtual hiding, while his beloved homeland struggled through the long nightmare of partition and the agonies of communalism, of levels of socio-economic development which have persistently failed to raise millions of the Indian people out of oppressive poverty.
Netaji, the father of modern economic planning in India, driver of communal harmony, a warrior who led from the front – is this a man who would choose seclusion over involvement, allowing access only to a select few and not members of his family closest to him? Is this the man who berated his friends and others for turning away from the demands and vicissitudes of daily community and national life?
The mystery and doubts surrounding the disappearance of Netaji even after three official enquiries lie at the root of the emergence of a range of conspiracy theories and the phenomenon of Netaji reappearing in the guise of a ‘holy man’.
While some, including members of the Bose family, have steadfastly tried to pursue the truth to find out what really happened to Netaji, there were a few who took advantage of the situation. Netaji has entered the realm of a legend, an icon who represents in himself the ‘lofty principles’ that he himself aspired to in life. His adoring countrymen and women dearly wanted his return – a fertile ground for the ‘reappearance’ of Netaji was thus laid.
Where’s the evidence?
Those who are now proclaiming that Gumnami baba was indeed Netaji must come forward and place all the ‘evidence’ they have gathered in the public domain for scrutiny by persons who have no axe to grind and simply want the truth to be established. If Gumnami baba was the man they make him out to be, it is highly unlikely that the government of India with its very sophisticated surveillance system did not track him.
Let us hope that under the new regime of transparency and the public commitment made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release all government-held Netaji files, we may be enlightened about all those who through the decades have claimed to be Netaji either publicly, or in secret to a select few who were put under oath. The true followers of Netaji and future generations should not be served with yet another hoax.
Our concern is, above all, for the potential damage by both the deeply cynical as well as short-sighted Netaji admirers, to the legacy of Netaji as an ardent nationalist, a statesman, and a warrior saint. Could he really have retreated totally from his deeply-held principles, from his stupendous activism, and from his lofty ambitions for India and her people? The short and succinct answer to this is a resounding ‘No’.
Surya Kumar Bose & Madhuri Bose are Netaji Subhas Bose’s grand-nephew and niece respectively