Much has been written about Netaji’s contribution to freedom struggle, on how the Bengali freedom fighter masterfully commandeered Indian National Army (INA), and liberated several regions before the imperial Army swung into action. His 123rd birth anniversary is a reminder of his politics, always secular. Of his resolve and sheer determination. And his iron will that many tried to bend, but nobody succeeded.
A reminder that the ideals Netaji passed on to the soldiers of the Azad Hind Fauj were three Urdu words: ‘Itmad’ (‘Faith’), ‘Ittefaq’ (‘Unity’) and ‘Kurbani’ (‘Sacrifice’).
During a trying time in every which way for the country, Bose’s brand of nationalism that seeked to unify communities, and not divide them, becomes of even more importance. As a Scroll article points out, critics of the Narendra Modi government have often accused the administration of “appropriating” the freedom fighter. This, despite historical documents proving that Netaji Bose was a staunch proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity. Multiple scholars verify his support for religious diversity as one of the reasons why his popularity has endured for so long, especially in West Bengal.
In an article published on One India on August 18, 2015, sociologist Ananda Kar says, “Bengalis suffered a lot due to the partition which saw a great Hindu-Muslim divide. It is people’s perception Netaji could have prevented the division.”
The same Scroll article points out how in his 1935 book, The Indian Struggle 1920-1942, Netaji wrote in no uncertain terms about the Hindu Mahasabha and communal politics: “The Hindu Mahasabha, like its Moslem counterpart, consisted not only of erstwhile Nationalists, but also of a large number of men who were afraid of participating in a political movement and wanted a safer platform for themselves. The growth of sectarian movements among both Hindus and Moslems accentuated intercommunal tension.”
The article also quotes Netaji’s biographer, Leonard A Gordan who despite calling Netaji a “privately a religious Hindu”, clarified that he was secular in his politics: “Throughout his career, he reached out to Muslim leaders, first of all in his home province of Bengal, to make common cause in the name of India. His ideal, as indeed the ideal of the Indian National Congress, was that all Indians, regardless of region, religious affiliation, or caste join together to make common cause against foreign rulers.”
Even the INA, his brain child, is often held up as the epitome of religious unity. According to historical accounts, the positivity created at the news of an all-Indian force taking on the British briefly is said to have somewhat drowned the communal tensions prevalent in the years preceding the Partition. Netaji had once said, “One individual may die for an idea, but that idea will, after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives.”
The question to ask now is this: Who now stands for the ideals of secular nationalism that he believed in, and fought for?