The regretfully belated acceptance of Subhas Chandra Bose’s stellar role in the Indian Independence movement may be symbolically dated to an event which took place over 50 years ago in December 1967, when his sword and other memorabilia were ceremonially received and displayed for three days in the Red Fort’s Diwan-e-Aam.

 

Denied a role by many commentators in India’s freedom struggle since his INA had failed to spark a nationwide rebellion in 1944, there is no question that in militarily challenging the might of imperial Britain, Subhas Chandra Bose exploded the myth of the invulnerability of British rule and demonstrated the possibility of a more equal relationship between rulers and ruled. The subsequent 1946 revolts in the Royal Indian Air Force and the Royal Indian Navy (in which 78 out of 88 ships mutinied) were a direct fallout of the INA precedent, seriously undermining the confidence of the Raj in the loyalty of its armed forces in India and hastening its withdrawal.

The regretfully belated acceptance of Subhas Chandra Bose’s stellar role in the Indian Independence movement may be symbolically dated to an event which took place over 50 years ago in December 1967, when his sword and other memorabilia were ceremonially received and displayed for three days in the Red Fort’s Diwan-e-Aam.

The ceremonial sword had been presented to Netaji by a Japanese citizen in October 1943 on a visit to Japan as Head of State, Provisional Government of Azad Hind and Supreme Commander, Indian Army. It carried the legend “destroy evil and establish justice”. In the immediate aftermath of the war, when a defeated Japan was occupied by Allied troops, it temporarily disappeared from view, to resurface later in Tokyo. Lt Gen Fujiwara, Netaji’s ardent admirer since the time when he as a young Major in 1943, had assisted him in organising the INA and participated in the Imphal operation, was able to acquire the sword and return it to India—specifically to the Netaji Research Bureau in (then) Calcutta in March 1967, 22 years after “Bose’s aircraft crashed” in (then) Formosa.

At the time, Bengal was led by Congress Chief Minister A.K. Mukherjee, heading a United Front government, which included the CPI(M). Despite the communists’ earlier condemnation of Subhas for fighting alongside the Axis powers, he was an undisputed hero in Bengal, whom even they had to acknowledge, and the Netaji Research Bureau was able to organise a befitting function for the occasion, with Governor Padmaja Naidu, daughter of nationalist poetess Sarojini, as chief guest. She lauded Netaji’s “high sense of mission”, bracketing him and Guru Govind Singh as “men of spiritual yearnings—associated with the cult of the sword”.

News of the return of Netaji’s sword to India served as a fillip to Bose’s admirers in Delhi who set up an All Party Parliamentary Committee to receive the sword in Delhi with Samar Guha, C.C. Desai, H.V. Kamath, Madhu Limaye, Amiya Nath Bose and P.K. Deo. Sanjeeva Reddy, Speaker, Lok Sabha was Chairman and M.L. Sondhi, MP, Convenor.
However the political atmosphere under the ruling dispensation was ambivalent, to say the least. The Indira Gandhi government, supported by the communists and leftist intelligentsia, continued to describe Bose as a World War II collaborator. Indeed, during the war, the CPI had informed on Bose’s movements in Kabul to British intelligence via the CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain), and Nehru had condemned Bose’s strategy of seeking help from Britain’s enemies, declaring that he would “oppose and fight Subhas Bose to the death”. But when the INA trials of 1946 electrified the imagination of the Indian public, Nehru hastened to don his lawyer’s robes and join the defence of captured INA officers, Dhillon, Sahgal and Shah Nawaz. Nehru’s admirers read it as a gesture towards an erstwhile friend, though others hint at political expediency and opportunism, given that provincial assembly elections were round the corner. Indeed, thereafter in independent India, Nehru did little to celebrate Bose and the INA. On the contrary, INA soldiers were prevented from re-joining the Indian Army on the grounds of being “deserters”, and their veterans denied pensions. (This canard of “deserters” was initiated by the British, who also blew up the INA Memorial in Singapore.) It was not until the 4th Lok Sabha that certain Opposition MPs including Samar Guha, Amiya Bose and M.L. Sondhi, fought for the right of INA veterans to pensions, finally awarded in 1972, albeit after many had died in abject poverty.

Thus in 1967, the Parliamentary Committee, especially Convenor Sondhi, had to fight every inch of the way to wring concessions out of a reluctant government. The first request for suitable arrangements resulted, as revealed by recently declassified documents, in an IB probe into the aims and objects of the Committee, though finally the Delhi government was persuaded to grant free use of the Red Fort Diwan-i-Aam for holding a meeting and displaying the memorabilia; the Ministry of Railways, first demanded commercial rates for and then sanctioned the free use of a ceremonial coach to carry the memorabilia from Calcutta to Delhi, and the Public Information Bureau contributed a large oversize portrait of Netaji for the stage. The Committee led by Sondhi managed the rest—posters, invitations, brochures, press notices et al.

On the appointed day, INA veterans from Haryana, Delhi and surrounding areas were among those gathered at the platform of Old Delhi railway station, along with the press and public dignitaries led by the Vice-President of India, V.V. Giri, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the special train. The memorabilia enclosed in a glass case were escorted by the Netaji Research Bureau’s Executive Director, Sisir Kumar Bose, Debnath Das of the INA and Samar Guha, MP: they had received tumultuous receptions at the train’s several halts all the way from Howrah to Delhi. As it steamed into the Delhi platform and the compartment door opened, a current of electricity ran through the assembled INA veterans—as though the charismatic Subhas himself was about to step out, the sacred manna of their beloved leader transferred to the case containing his sword, boots and cap. Reverentially hoisting the case on their shoulders, they carried it outside to a waiting jeep, switched off its engine and themselves pushed it all the way to the Red Fort through streets lined with cheering crowds—an electrifying homecoming for the spirit of the man who had promised to fly India’s flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort and whose favoured slogans had been “Dilli Chalo” and “Jai Hind”. (The latter, his rallying call to the INA and broadcast to Indians in British India, still echoes, its genesis mostly unacknowledged, at the Red Fort on every Independence Day, raised by all Prime Ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru onwards.)

A very emotional meeting followed in the surcharged atmosphere of the Diwan-e-Aam in the presence of President Zakir Hussein, who addressed the gathering. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had declined the invitation to participate, but on receiving reports of the white-heat public enthusiasm, her private secretary hastily phoned to request that she be allowed to attend. It is difficult not to see a parallel with Nehru’s last-minute participation in the INA trials. Her first request on arrival was to merely sit silently on the stage, but seeing the palpable enthusiasm of the audience, consummate politician that she was, she not only sought permission to speak, but went on to describe Bose as one of the heroes of her childhood! “I can still remember how when we were young and we looked into his inspired eyes, our hearts also filled up with fervour.”

Pt. Deendayal Upadhyay, MP, recalled that Bose as Commander of the INA had landed and formally liberated the Andaman Islands in December 1943, unfurling the flag of Indian freedom. Bose had renamed the islands Swaraj and Shaheed, but in free India, Nehru’s government reverted to the earlier name. Now Upadhyaya suggested “Subhas Dwip” as appropriate.

This emotionally charged event broke the “glass curtain” surrounding Bose in Delhi, enabling public reappraisal. His daughter, Anita Bose Pfaff began to be received by Indian political personalities, and the government allowed the release in instalments of information relating to his last years. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, which until 1967 had essentially regarded Maharana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji as its historical heroes, now fully adopted Bose. Sondhi believed that they were not merely rectifying a moment of history, but that the future of India lay with the kind of uncompromising nationalism that Bose represented, placing India’s national interests, when push came to shove, above all ideological and communal considerations.

As President Zakir Hussain put it: “He (Bose) demonstrated how Indians could organise themselves in one body, how people very different from one another and living in foreign lands could come together and be united. They set up an example of unity without which our country cannot go forward—an example which was demonstrated so well in that Army and in a manner not done anywhere else.”

Replies to “50 years ago, how Subhas Bose finally reached Delhi”

  1. Such a charismatic leader’s life ended either in Siberia’s prison or as a holy saint in 1985 due to the conspiracy of Nehru & his clans. The congress government since 1947 always tried to hide Netaji’s role in freedom movement with a mission to erase his name, his contribution from Indians’ minds. This is how they have saved the secret of Nehru’s treachery to Bose in joining hand with Clement Atlee. The new generation will never forgive the traitors.

  2. A fitting memorial should be erected in Delhi for Subhas Chandra Bose. He is a hero of Independence movement. The most suitable place would be the cenotaph where the statue of George V stood and is now empty on India Gate.

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