Story of Netaji must be retold, the significance of his sacrifices made apparent
Today we celebrate the 124th birth anniversary of the great hero Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. We remember him more now for the values he stood for and the role he played for India's freedom movement. His words "Give me blood, I will give you freedom" was a clarion call for many to join the freedom movement and the great motto of the Indian National Army (INA) that he founded, "Ittehad, Itmad aur Qurbani" which meant Unity, faith and sacrifice that made many make the ultimate sacrifice for the motherland. Netaji's lead from the front with so many personal sacrifices is a rarity in history and people came in huge numbers to join him and also support the INA with resources. Across the country, till date, he is revered, yet one is bound to ask if the nation after 72 years of its independence has given its rightful due to this great patriot.
The mystery surrounding Netaji is yet to be conclusively addressed after 75 years of his last appearance. While the Modi government has declassified many files related to Netaji and some information has surfaced around the great leader and also the INA, there is much to be done to unravel the actual situation. A large section is not convinced that he died in the disputed air crash in Taipei on August 18, 1945. Another section doesn't believe that he had been sent to Russia and another section doesn't believe a bold man like Netaji could have come and lived as an ascetic or 'Gumnami baba' in some corner of India. Years have thus gone by but the mystery still remains.
In October 2014, I spent ten days in Japan with the crew while they were filming for my documentary on the second war in north east India called 'Memories of a Forgotten War'. After 5 years if one asks me what is the most striking memory that I carry home from that trip, it is the respect and adoration that Japanese people have for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. As part of the entourage, we had opportunities to visit Renkoji temple and Yusakani Shrine in Tokyo. In Tokyo as well as some remote areas of Japan where I met a few surviving Japanese soldiers who had participated in the Burma Campaign, the respect for Netaji and INA was very high.
In Renkoji temple, I had the opportunity to spend time with the current priest Kyozen Mochizuki and a few other senior citizens who were involved with Japan India friendship engagements. People there definitely believe that Netaji died in the Taipei air crash and his ashes are kept inside Renkoji temple and it is open to the public only on August 18 every year. Lucky that I was, to be permitted to film inside the temple, it was touching to see Netaji being worshipped as the priest narrated his name a few times in the 2 hour Shinto ceremonial prayers. As per this fourth-generation priest of Renkoji temple, since the day his ashes were brought and his revered predecessor had accepted to give a funeral to Netaji, they have been worshipping him like this and till the Indian government decides to take those ashes, they would continue keeping his ashes there and praying for him. In November 2019, when I visited Renkoji temple again, priest Mochizuki mentioned that more people had started visiting the temple since the last couple of years.
Netaji is still respected in many parts of the world including the South East Asian countries. Till date in Singapore and Malaysia, the reverence for Netaji and INA is seen among the common citizens. It was in the year 1943 that Netaji announced the establishment of the provisional Government of Free India or Azad Hind in Singapore. With support of the Japanese government and its military, Azad Hind had presence in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and parts of Manipur and Nagaland. Azad Hind had formed the army unit and the INA was the first armed force to be formed to fight the British power in India. The INA had around 60000 soldiers out of which 26000 died for the freedom of the country during the Second World War time period.
In the recent past, many voices were heard mentioning if Netaji had been there as the country gained freedom, the country would have taken a different course. Netaji's vision and idea of an inclusive India was way ahead of its time even in those struggling dates. His decision to empower women during those days was still an incomplete aspiration in many countries. He formed the Rani of Jhansi Regiment containing all women to fight shoulder to shoulder with their brothers in the freedom of India. The Rani of Jhansi regiment had played important roles in guerrilla infantry and nursing corps and had strength of approximately 1000.
Needless to say, Netaji's inspiration guides many minds in the country as can be seen overseas also. An effort has been made to recognise his contributions, albeit late and this has to be invigorated by the country's leadership so that his valiant moves are known by one and all. Stories of his principles, sacrifice, boldness and firmness need to be disseminated among the younger generations.
Subimal Bhattacharjee is Director of Jookto which works in grassroots in North-east India and a former country head of General Dynamics. Views expressed are strictly personal
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