Netaji’s Ghost: The Freedom Struggle

Didn’t know much about history, Indian or otherwise when I was in school. I went to a missionary school and I recall reading about English history (King Arthur comes to mind) and a bit about Indian history (Chattrapati Shivaji figured along with all sorts of Mughal emperors) but there was no attempt at communicating what I call a sense of history or instilling a spirit of inquiry about the history of India. My school did alright when it come to science and mathematics, but failed dismally in the social sciences.

Without assigning blame to others for my personal failings in not knowing history, I think I understand why our school did not teach much history. What was taught was circumscribed by what was (and is) politically correct. Nehru was the king and his word was the law of the land. And he was never at a loss for words. He wrote pretty speeches and history books and what he wrote became de facto politically correct. Then the dynasty took over and the rest is — how shall I put it — history.

The winners write history, naturally. In the struggle for Indian independence, the winners were the Gandhi-Nehru group and this win led to the Nehru-Gandhi hold on the country. The losers were an assorted bunch who were relegated to the dustbin of history. One such was the proud son of Bengal who was called “Netaji” (respected leader.)

To Bengalis (even non-resident Bengalis like yours truly), he was a hero. Of course, given my ignorance of history in general, I did not know precisely what Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had done but I had a vague notion that he was somehow a player in the freedom struggle and that his contribution was downplayed for motives unknown.

If one lives long enough, and if one is somewhat curious, one learns slowly but surely that all that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Or should I say that given sufficient time, a carefully constructed history can come apart. The ancient Indian declaration says Satyameva JayateTruth Alone Prevails. I suppose it is understood that that means “truth alone prevails” EVENTUALLY. You know that bit: you can fool some of the people some of the time, and some people for all time, but not all the people for all the time.

So the carefully constructed “reality” of who Netaji Bose was, what he lived for and how he died is slowly coming apart. Why was his image air-brushed from the pages of Indian freedom struggle? Who gained from his removal from the scene? Why were the winners of the freedom struggle (the Indian National Congrees of Gandhi and Nehru) so brave against the British so afraid of Bose?

Arzan Sam Wadia blogged recently on Who Killed Netaji and pointed to an NDTV report claims that documents reveal a British plan to kill Netaji.

Where, when, andhow did Netaji die are interesting questions, the answers to which may have something to do with what his role was in India’s independence. I think this article by N. S. Rajaram titled Netaji’s Ghost: The Freedom Struggle has some light on the matter.

I strongly recommend the article by Rajaram. Here, for the record, are a few excerpts.

Probably the most distinguished historian to highlight Bose’s real contribution was the late R.C. Majumdar. In his monumental, three-volume History of the Freedom Movement in India (which the Congress-led by Maulana Azad tried to suppress), Majumdar provided the following extraordinary information:

“It seldom falls to the lot of a historian to have his views, differing radically from those generally accepted without demur, confirmed by such an unimpeachable authority. As far back as 1948 I wrote in an article that the contribution made by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose towards the achievement of freedom in 1947 was no less, and perhaps, far more important than that of Mahatma Gandhi…” The ‘unimpeachable authority’ he cited happens to be Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister of Britain at the time of India’s Independence. As this is of fundamental importance, and Majumdar’s conclusion so greatly at variance with conventional history, it is worth placing it on record. (See Volume III, pp. 609-10). When B.P. Chakravarti was acting as Governor of West Bengal, Lord Attlee visited India and stayed as his guest for three days at the Raj Bhavan. Chakravarti asked Attlee about the real grounds for granting Independence to India. Specifically, his question was, when the Quit India movement lay in ruins years before 1947, what was the need for the British to leave in such a hurry. Attlee’s response is most illuminating and important for history. Here is the Governor’s account of what Attlee told him:

“In reply Attlee cited several reasons, the most important were the activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose which weakened the very foundation of the attachment of the Indian land and naval forces to the British Government. Towards the end, I asked Lord Attlee about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Gandhi’s activities. On hearing this question Attlee’s lips widened in a smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, putting emphasis on each single letter mi-ni-mal.

This ‘unimpeachable’ truth will come as a shock to most Indians brought up to believe that the Congress movement driven by the ‘spiritual force’ of Mahatma Gandhi forced the British to leave India. But both the evidence and the logic of history are against this beautiful but childish fantasy; it was the fear of mutiny by the Indian armed forces-and not any ‘spiritual force’- that forced the issue of freedom. The British saw that the sooner they left India the better for themselves, for, at the end of the war, India had some three million men under arms. Majumdar had reached the same conclusion years earlier, as far back as 1948 as he records. The most dramatic event after the end of World War II was the INA Trials at the Red Fort—not any movement by Gandhi or Nehru. This led directly to the mutiny of the naval ratings, which, more than anything, helped the British make up their minds to leave India in a hurry. They sensed that it was only a matter of time before the spirit spread to other sections of the armed forces and the rest of the Government. None of this would have happened without Subhas Bose and the INA.

The crucial point to note is that thanks to Subhas Bose’s activities and the INA, the Armed Forces began to see themselves as defenders of India rather than upholders of the British Empire. This, more than anything else, was what led to India’s freedom. This is also the reason why the British Empire disappeared from the face of the earth within an astonishingly short space of twenty years. Indian soldiers, who were the main prop of the Empire, were no longer willing to fight to hold the Empire together.

And he concludes his article with:

All this raises a fundamental question: did Nehru commit these colossal policy blunders because of his idealism, or was he influenced by the knowledge that China’s ally Soviet Union still held Subhas Bose in captivity who may be released any time? As Sandhya Jain puts it: “Since it is nobody’s case that the Congress would have suffered Nehru if Netaji were still alive, the former would logically have had to pay a price for such stupendous assistance. We will have to look very closely at the long road from August 15, 1947 as we seek the answers to these questions”. In other words, was India being made to pay for Nehru’s ambition to be Prime Minister, which was only possible as long as Subhas Bose was away from the scene?

Finding answers to these questions calls for full access to the records of the period. Scholars have found that important records in the Nehru Library and even the National Archives are not available to them without the permission of the ‘dynasty’, which means they are unavailable. As long as this situation prevails, with information coming in bits and pieces, there will be no end to conspiracy theories. These are state papers–not family property. The Government should help clear the air by releasing the Nehru papers to the public. It is also in the interests of the members of the dynasty.

Author: Atanu Dey


14 thoughts on “Netaji’s Ghost: The Freedom Struggle”

  1. Atanu,

    It is quite distressing that despite years of independence, we still do not have an unequivocal understanding of the freedom struggle. Though there would be a significant constituency that always harboured doubts about the ‘Congress-heavy’ slant to the freedom movement, that we’ve been taught, we’ve never had documentary evidence that could help challenge established wisdom. Are you in a position to create a body of factual information that could help, at least the future generations, understand the reality of the freedom movement, and acknowledge the contributions of the many who, by design or oversight, we chose to ignore all these years?

    Atanu’s Response: Surely you jest, Rahul, when you question if I could write a more accurate history of India’s independence.

    I don’t believe there is only one side to any complex story. The problem with Indian history is that it is Congress/Communist combine which has written it to push their agenda and the gullible Indians have gone for it hook, line and sinker. The people never had a chance to read and judge for themselves alternative interpretation of what occurred. Even today the official secrets act of the Indian government prohibits average citizens of this so-called democracy from finding out even the most common of information. Go figure.


  2. The Hindustan Times had a series of articles on the enigma. The reporter, Anuj Dhar consequently wrote a book called ‘Back from Dead’. I think he claims that SCB wasn’t killed in Russia but survived and resurfaced in India.

    George Fernandes made a statement earlier this year that the Congress Party had covered up the episode and lied to the nation. It is a pity that he is making such statements when the NDA is no longer in power. The Justice Mukherjee Commission was created to investigate SCB’s death way back in ’99 in response to a PIL, per Dhar. I think the BJP/NDA had enough time and opportunity to coerce the foreign governments to reveal what they knew about the episode, in official capacity. There is either nothing underneath, or they were inept.

    Anuj Dhar mentions that the Justice Mukherjee Commission is being stonewalled by the UPA and not getting extensions sought for, or papers it needs. See Dhar’s website for a whole lot more.


  3. Hi,
    Don’t be too pessimistic about Indians learning the roles played by each protagonist in the freedom struggle.As archives elsewhere than in India open up, one moves from circumstantial evidence to real facts.Hopefully the younger generations would have a coherent view of their recent history


  4. People may not be aware of the exact effect the revolution led by Netaji had on the (end of the) Empire, but I think every Indian knows in their heart of hearts that Netaji was a supreme patriot. Personally speaking, I take immense proud in the fact that his formative years were spent in Cuttack, Orissa, which is my home state (if I’m not mistaken, he was born in Orissa). It pains me however, that we may never find out the truth.


  5. Atanu,
    I would strongly recommend Leonard Gordon’s “Brothers against the Raj”. If you read Bengali, here is a perceptive online review –

    I also recommend Nirad C Choudhuri’s autobiographies – “Autobiography Of An Unknown Indian” and “Thy Hand, Great Anarch”. Other than the fact that both of them are fantastic reads, Niradbabu worked as a secretary for Sarat Basu, Subhash’s elder brother. He had a front-row view of how their political careers were destroyed by Gandhi-Nehru cabal. That eventually ensured Fajlul Haque’s rise among Bengali muslims, flawed plebiscite of 1946, partition of Bengal and endless downward spiral of West Bengal, creation of two failed states -Pakistan and Bangladesh. Fascinating stuff !


  6. Not being taught about Netaji SCB in schools? !!!!BullS#$%@#$
    His bust was mounted on a pedestal, next to Gandhi’s in my school.(Yes I do see the irony…)
    I agree that history the way was taught to me(i studied upto 9th grade in india) failed to give me any sense of history.
    I was taught about SCB in Hindi class as well as in history.
    A significant portion of indian history taught dealt with only the independence movement. Thats what i found ironic.
    Thats what was ironic. Congress,RSS,leftist all have a hand in this, and the easy compromise that is reached in the indian educational system is,”….OK OK we will put in couple of chapters in grade x course x about a ‘freedom fighter Y’ who hails from region Z.”
    Indian History is longer and a lot convulted and i have just begun to get a sense of it.


  7. Hi Atanu,
    I have read the contents in nuj dhar’s website.However I doubt as to whether soviet russia and stalin is anyway linked with the whole fact the m.k mukherjee commission team had gone to russia on this context and they did get more than anticipated help from putin as russia is no more in communist seems to get imaginery as to even think that a man with netaji’s stuff had remained imprisioned in soviet russia and then suddenly had to reappear in india and then again live till death under a sadhu’s name.
    george fernandes’s talk needs to get validated with valid documentary stuff.otherwise it would only act as plain this regard mukherjee commission failed miserably.
    moreover enemies of stalin could easily have divulged this secret long shouldn’t have waited for the mukherjee commission to dig the secret out.


  8. I watched a movie on netaji made by shyam benegal very recently & have been moved very deeply. ever since i have been pondering over netaji’s so called disapperance. I was not aware of history of indian freedom struggle & the contribution made by netaji as we were fed with diluted history .i am amazed with the fact that ina was the only force till the end fought against allied power,and ina was full of idealism and a secular in true sense. netaji was one person who was instrumental in uniting the x british army and because of him we gained freedom in 1947 as the british empire got scared of ina & the succesive revolt by indian navy .i feel younger gererations should be told about the role played by this great indian forgotten hero and he should be given due respect . I felt sorry that i had to learn about netaji from a movie ,where as our history book tells us only about nehru & his dynasty.


  9. I had interactions with INA men and they also at times seen the apparitions of Netaji in hilly regions , but I had a few times the same experience, when I asked Netaji questions, he replied his mission had not been completed.


  10. My name is Abir and I am from Malaysia.Just would like to tell everyone,Malaysian Indians,most of them from poor families joined INA and sacrificed their lives for Freedom Movement.In 1977,when I was just 10 years old,I honoured them in Penang.They were old,poor,but proud of their contribution,and never asked anything from anybody!! Tremendous sacrife from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his daring soldiers!!Time has come to realsie that it’s the masses who liberated India,not some crafty politicians favoured by the British!


  11. These conspirators on netaji have destroyed our country ever since, just to fulfill their hunger for power.

    But trust surfaces, so see all the people know what the truth is…….Netaji is now a legend.

    frien’s with all faith in ourselves and in our dear brothers lets help India to be a better n prosperous mother land.



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