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Netaji: Hero who didn't get his due

There are those who believe Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose died in an air crash after Japan surrendered to bring World War II to an end.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2006 19:45 IST
K. Datta
K. Datta
None

There are those who believe Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose died in an air crash after Japan surrendered to bring World War II to an end. And there are others who refuse to believe the air crash story and the claim that the ashes preserved in an urn in the Renkoji temple in Japan are his.

Let's leave it to the commissions, committees, researchers and investigative journalists to unravel the mystery. What is beyond question is the fact that the man whose 109th birthday falls on January 23 was a towering figure of the freedom movement, who has been denied pride of place in the history of the struggle.

So highly is Netaji held by his admirers that when some years ago, the idea of conferring the Bharat Ratna on him was mooted, they felt he was far above even the nation's highest state honour.

When Bose arrived in Malaya, now Malaysia, in 1943, he ignited the spark of patriotism in the hearts of Indians there. Allying with the Japanese Army, who occupied Southeast Asian countries during the war, he called for "total mobilisation" - and mobilised his followers became. Addressing them in various towns, he demanded: "Give me blood and I shall give you freedom!" His appeal to the British In dian Army prisoners of war to join the Indian National Army (INA) drew thousands living in PoW camps. So magnetic was his personality.

The first parade of the INA, armed with .303 rifles and other ordnance surrendered by the British, on July 5, 1943 at the Singapore Municipal Corp ground by the sea was a stirring spectacle. So was the day the provisional government of Azad Hind was announced at Singapore's Cathay Theatre. Over 62 years have gone by since then, but the occasion is still etched in the memory of this writer, who saw it all as a young boy.

Singapore became the rallying point of Indians not only of Malaya but of other Southeast Asian countries too. People who hardly looked soldier material became martial in outlook and bearing once they came under the leader's spell and were trained by instructors of the former British Indian Army. Women came forward to join the Rani Jhansi Regiment. The young offered to join the Balak Sena.

Netaji's INA knew of no separate kitchens on the basis of religion. All were Indian, eating the same food, singing the same marching songs and greeting each other with `Jai Hind'.

"Sudh sukh chain ki barkha barse Bharat bhagya hai jaga," a Hindustani version of the Jana Gana Mana, was adopted as the national anthem. Its singing filled one with pride and love for the country they'd come together to liberate. What a shame, as citizens of free India, not many of us are able to sing the anthem.

One was heartened to note that the Forward Bloc he founded demanded that his birthday be adopted Desh Prem day. Let's hope it succeeds in its endeavour, for the nation can do with some patriotism. Even in his absence, whether by death in an air crash or any other reason, Netaji can still be a rallying force for the country's masses.