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Subir Bhaumik
Date of Publish: 2016-02-19



The Netaji files controversy, rekindled by disclosure of a few  secret files related to Subhas Bose, has taken the country’s attention away from the legacy of the great leader. The focus has now shifted to questions like why these files were so long a closely guarded secret, why Narendra Modi or Banerji has disclosed them now and what these files do not contain as some more sensitive ones might have been destroyed.  The demand now is to get Modi to persuade Russia, Britain and other countries disclose whatever secretfiles they have on Netaji.

The latest controversy has rekindled memories of the Nehru versus Bose conflict , that historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee has discussed in some detail in his recent book “Parellel Lives” (Penguins), quoting Bose as saying that if there was one person who has damaged him the most, it was Jawaharlal Nehru.  The two key details that has emerged from the declassified files points to the sustained snooping on the Bose family  by the Nehru government   and its overlooking of the loot of the INA treasury by Bose colleagues Aiyar and Rammurthy, despite repeated warnings by Japan-based Indian diplomats.

These disclosures are fuel to the Indian political fire and it is not surprising that  the ruling BJP  would use them to attack the Nehru dynasty led Congress and the Congress would  defend itself. The spectacle  has somewhat played out already on national TV channels leaving the country with nothing but some exciting verbal duels .

Interestingly none of the TV warriors talk of Netaji's role in pushing for an understanding with the Krishak Praja Party to isolate the Muslim League  that would have saved Bengal from Partition -- or his role in bringing down Saadullah's Muslim League government in Assam , which ultimately saved the province from being dragged into East pakistan a la Chittagong Hill Tracts.  The Muslim population in Assam was much more than it was in Chittagong Hill Tracts -- but saved the province was the ouster of Muslim league government and the installation of a Congress regime led by Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi . Bose played a major role in bringing down the Saadullah government in Assam but in Bengal, he was trumped by the very stupid and shortsighted policy of the rightwingers who controlled the Congress High Command -- Patel, Rajendra Prasad and Chakrabarty Rajagopalachari. Gandhi was ultimately managed by them . Madhuri Bose's "Bose Brothers and Indian Independence" (Sage) details the sidelining of the Bose brothers that proved fatal for Bengal -- something that led Madhuri's father Amiyanath ( Sarat Bose's son)  to blame the Congress for the partition of Bengal. 

These huge historical mistakes underscore the  need to rescue the Bose legacy from the political mudslinging and use it for vision-driven national politics . When Forward Bloc’s aging patriarch Asok Ghose hailed chief minister Mamata Banerji  for ‘following Netaji’s path’ after she wished him on his 94th birthday, he seemed to have slipped from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Forward Bloc, the party founded by Subhas Bose , playing second fiddle to the CPI(M) is one of the tragic stories of Indian left politics and it can do better than fuelling speculations of cosying up to Banerji’s Trinamul.

It is Bose’s legacy of left-of-centre Indian nationalism that needs to be revived if the Indian Left is serious about confronting the rise of the Hindutva-driven right wing.  Soviet style Communism has lost global relevance and China survives by promotion of ‘market-driven socialism’ which Indian communists are yet to come to terms with.  CPI(M)’s comeback woes in West Bengal  sits atop a long list of challenges for  Sitaram Yechury .  Nearly 70 years after independence,  the Congress’ corrupt , inefficient governance for a decade ( 2004-`14) has further undermined the Nehruvian legacy  in all possible ways.  

So if there is one legacy that both the Congress and the Left can  fall back on to fight  the Hindutva steam roller, it is the one left behind by Subhas Chandra Bose. The legacy of uncompromising secularism  and anti-imperialism, of socialist planning  to fight poverty, illiteracy , disease and inequality through decisive government interventions, of a corruption-free  India that seeks its place in the world without undermining any other free nation.  Disruption of parliament by highlighting BJP scams will not work for the Congress and the Left – they need to project a viable alternative to the BJP firmly based in  ideology , not convenience and a vision of India free from the limiting sectarianism of political Hindutva. 

If the Congress has to move beyond the dynasty to save the party, which is felt by many but rarely expressed by any in the party,  it needs an ideology to sustain itself. The Left has to look beyond Marx and Lenin  and seek an Indian nationalist face  to retain its relevance. The nationalist component of Chinese socialism has given the likes of Deng and Xi the flexibility to introduce wide ranging reforms – do what the nation needs seems to be their motto. By the same yardstick, the nationalist legacy of Bose  can be used to provide India with a government that can tackle contemporary challenges with pragmatism and purpose and specially move towards a tension-free integrated South Asia. The INA legacy in south-east Asia will be so useful to drive the 'Look East' policy.  One should not forget the INA bonding still strongly cuts across divided India and organizations like the Bharat Bangladesh Pakistan Peoples Conference still seek to promote the Bose legacy  with events like a proposed cycle rally from Kabul ( seat of first exile government of free India) to Moirang in Manipur (where the INA first planted the tricolor in 1944), covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Narendra Modi’s demonstrated respect for Netaji notwithstanding, the BJP may not find it easy to accommodate Bose’s philosophy of aggressive secularism into its own RSS-driven political creed.  It is not easy for anyone from the RSS stable to emulate a leader who seems to have a Muslim by his side at each important moment of his political life – be it an Akbar Shah called to Calcutta to plan his escape, or an Abid Hossain on the dangerous submarine journey across three oceans  or a Zaman Kayani as the chief commander of INA forces  or an Habibur Rahman in his final air dash from Saigon.  But in the Bose legacy, the BJP also has an opportunity to selectively draw from, if it seeks to move from the Hindu right to the acceptable centre of Indian politics by making its relevance more enduring for India. By demonstrating his respect for Netaji and Vivekananda , Modi has only proved that the Hindutva pantheon of Hedgewar-Deoras-Golwalker-Upadhyay-Shyamaprasad is not good enough for him to depend on for running this huge country. 

Subir Bhaumik

( Subir Bhaumik is a veteran BBC journalist and author of three well acclaimed books on India's Northeast including the "Agartala Doctrine" that has just been published)


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