Nehru or Netaji, Idols of National Icons Showing Warts Need not be Whitewashed

Published: 18th April 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 18th April 2015 11:43 AM   |  A+A-

Nehru or Netaji

Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the most beloved names in the pantheon of Indian freedom fighters, continues to cast a powerful spell long after his exit from Indian scene more than 75 years ago. The circumstances of his death remain shrouded in mystery and have contributed, in no small measure, to keeping the halo glowing. His image remains that of a hero snatched away by cruel fate at the peak of his glory. Few are prepared to recall that before the aircrash, Japan, his ally, had been driven to defeat by the Allied Forces and the men who had responded to Netaji’s call to sacrifice their all for freedom were an army in disarray. The tide had turned against them and wind was blowing in favour of the Allies. All this, however, can’t distract from the superhuman courage and historic achievements of the man who was literally hounded out of the Congress by those who had hitched their wagon to the rising star of Jawaharlal Nehru.

What had sealed Bose’s fate was the stamp of approval put on Nehru as his political heir by Mahatma Gandhi. Ever since Bose has been projected as an impetuous man who ‘dared’ to oppose Bapu, questioned the wisdom of choosing non-violence as the best weapon to fight the British with, and always displayed a strong streak of dictatorial tendencies that swerved him ultimately from democracy to Fascism. It is necessary to refresh our memory about certain historic facts before we can understand what is fuelling the present controversy about ‘surveillance’ ordered by the Government of India to keep tabs on members of the Bose family.

Various apologists of the dynasty have tried to put different spins ever since the story leaked out. Some would have us believe that all Nehru wished to find out was if Netaji’s immediate relatives had ‘reconciled’ to his death. Other have not very ingeniously put the blame squarely at the desk of Sardar Patel, who was then the home minister and supervised the work of IB. This isn’t the end. Another idea floated is that this may have been done at the behest of powerful chief minister of Bengal, B C Roy. Unfortunately, for the Congress spokespersons, Nehru’s noting in the files of the external affairs ministry and communications received from the mission in Tokyo leave no scope to wriggle out of this scoopgate. It was the great man himself who was curious about what the Bose clan was upto in and outside India. There is no doubt that in coming days we will hear a lot more about this affair.

To our mind, this issue is not just about unacceptable violation of a citizen’s rights in independent India and abuse of official machinery by those in power. Nor can the controversy be shrugged away by cynically sighing that all governments have to carry on surveillance all the time and details can never be made public etc. What is disturbing is how blatantly those committed to the idea of dynastic democracy are trying to blame the present government of defiling the reputation of national icons. What we must ask is if all the national icons are owned by INC? Is it impossible to take a critical look at anyone included in this protected list? How many holy cows can a democratic republic afford to maintain?

It is well known that disenchantment with Nehru had set in soon after the first general elections. The gap between his speeches and policies was distressing for many colleagues who had so far trusted and followed him blindly. With the departure of towering leaders like Patel and Maulana Azad, there was no one to rein him in. Nehru postured as a Colossus in international arena, but his feet of clay were glaringly visible. As economy failed to gain momentum and living conditions of the downtrodden remained abysmal, the masses began to yearn for some other saviour.

The question was frequently asked, “How different the country would have been had Netaji, not Pt Nehru, were at the helm?” Many felt that what was needed to get out of the mire was not lectures on fabian socialism, threats to world peace and democracy but a strong leader who could stand up to external pressures and heal internal dissensions. It was in this climate that rumours were rife in the 1950s that Bose was waiting in the wings to emerge at the opportune time to lead India out of the mire. Netaji, after his death, continued to haunt Nehru—his memory was enough to dent and diminish the charismatic appeal of the latter.

It isn’t difficult to understand why Nehru was interested in keeping tabs on Netaji’s kinsfolk. Those inspired by an alternative vision of Resurgent India could well rally around the memory of the martyr and act as a catalyst for the opposition to acquire a cohesive critical mass. Sad that Nehru doesn’t come off very well after the latest disclosures. But we owe it to the national icons—in this case both Nehru and Bose—to not whitewash the idols or airbrush their portraits that show warts.


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