In these times when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is appropriating the national icons, the Congress party is desperately trying to play up its decades-old narrative of the freedom struggle. Which is understandable: the Congress doesn't want to lose the hallowed status it has claimed all this while. With not much achievement to its credit in recent years, the Congress keeps falling back on Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru who played important roles in opposing the British rule in India. No one can deny that. But was it because of the Congress that India became independent?
The Congress wants us to believe that it was due to them that the British left India. If we have to go by the Congress version then India became free because of their leaders. But we all know that's not the accurate picture. The British would not have exited India just in fear of non-violent movements. That was not enough to shake the stranglehold of the colonial power. The British rule in India was not a decent affair and colonial power didn't care much about the decent, civil movements. They responded with brute force.
So what was the reason behind British exit from India?
Due to the Second World War the British economy was in bad shape and there was a constant fear that the British Indian Army, mostly comprising Indians, would not tolerate the British rule any more. The War left the British exasperated. And the British were scared that there could be another massive revolt like the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. This fear stemmed from the fact that there was a lot of sympathy among the Indian soldiers in the British Indian Army for the Indian National Army or the INA of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Though defeated in the end, the INA's heroic efforts to challenge the British might militarily was one of the catalysts behind the 1946 mutiny of Royal Indian Navy sailors. We all know that the trial of INA officers General Shah Nawaz Khan, Colonel Prem Shagal and Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon led to massive public discontent that spread among the Indian sailors and soldiers as well. There was also the revolt in the Royal Air Force over the slow demobilisation of the airmen which acted as a precursor to the naval mutiny.
In February 1946, several British MPs met the then British Prime Minister Clement Attlee who flagged him about the popularity of INA. To the prime minister they said: "? (a) We should arrange to get out, (b) that we should wait to be driven out. In regard to (b), the loyalty of the Indian Army is open to question; the INA have become national heroes?"
In 1955, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, in an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), had analysed the British exit in unequivocal terms. In that interview Ambedkar had said that it was the "national army that was raised by Subhas Chandra Bose" which made the British realise that sooner or later they have to leave India.
"The British had been ruling the country in the firm belief that whatever may happen in the country or whatever the politicians do, they will never be able to change the loyalty of soldiers. That was one prop on which they were carrying on the administration. And that was completely dashed to pieces. They found that soldiers could be seduced to form a party --- a battalion to blow off the British," Ambedkar said.
It is this reality which worried the Congress party and its leaders for decades. How can they give up their claim of being India's saviour? So they had to bury the valiant role of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army. It wasn't an easy task though. The collective consciousness soon after Independence was fresh and Netaji was very much alive in people's minds. So now we know why a wary Congress government snooped on Netaji's family. And we also understand why the Congress never invokes Netaji who was the party's president till he was forced to resign. It's such a shame!
Therefore, with the West Bengal government declassifying the Netaji-related files and the Narendra Modi government all set to follow suit, a clutch of so-called scholars have been propped up who are now questioning Netaji's credibility.
They link Netaji with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini; they say he would have welcomed Japanese rule in India once the British were kicked out. They also say that he wanted to be the country's supreme leader after independence. These elements want us to believe that Netaji was megalomaniac. But students of history would know none of it was true. Netaji was a visionary and a strong-willed leader, ahead of his times.
He was the jewel among the freedom fighters. He was an Indian first; more secular than any secularists of modern times. And that's why all of us still revere him.
It's a fact that Netaji did seek German help against the British. It's a fact that he got the Japanese to back him in his armed struggle. And neither the Germans at that time or the Japanese had the best of human rights record. But these two forces were opposed to the British and that's all mattered then. The world then was polarised between the Allied and the Axis powers. It was unlikely that any of the Allied powers would have helped the Indian struggle for freedom. The only help that was possible then was to come from the Axis powers. Netaji was clear about one thing: 'enemy's enemy is my friend'. So, he didn't want to lose out on this count by getting stuck in a morass.
And that's where Netaji was different from the leaders of his time. He understood realpolitik better than anyone else. With a clear vision of freedom for India, he strategised, moving away from the comfort of his home. He took the rugged path to freedom --- Bengal to Afghanistan, Russia to Germany --- rather than begging for dominion status. It is in Netaji's courage that the Congress saw defeat of its mawkish ways in those heady days. Even today the Grand Old Party cannot swallow the fact that its movements had a better competitor in Netaji.
To be fair, it may not be proper to cast aspersions on Pandit Nehru when we question what happened to Netaji after the reported plane crash in 1945. But there is no denying that the Congress party, even during Nehru years, repeatedly denied Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose the glory he deserved. That shameless denial continues even now. So if today the Congress is crying foul over the Modi government's appropriation blitzkrieg, then it has only itself to blame. Netaji has always been a national hero. But the Congress just didn't accept that.
Biswadip Mitra is a columnist
based i India