PERHAPS he was the only one who took the assertion of his Party leader that he is the Lord Vishnu himself seriously. As is well-known, the Lord Vishnu comes down to earth in a different avatar each time there is some crisis that he needs to deal with. The only reason for his donning Subhas Chandra Bose’s black cap on the 21st of October when he decided to commemorate the day that the provisional government of Azad Hind (ArziHukumat e Azad Hind in Subhas’ own words) was established in Singapore is that he wanted to appropriate the persona of this most respected and loved of freedom fighters.
Subhas Chandra Bose is remem-bered by Indians on so many days and for so many reasons all over the country. Not only on various dates associated with important events in his life – his birthday, his adventurous escape from house arrest, his arrival in Singapore, proclamation of the Arzi-Hukumat e Azad Hind (the name given by Subhas to the provisional government) – his tremendous contribution to the emergence of a free, secular India and his immense charisma are remembered often. He is also remembered when various leaders fall short of peoples’ expectations as someone who would have avoided their shortcomings and errors.
It is interesting that Narendra Modi seems to be unaware of this constant remembrance of Subhas when he engages with his attempts to erase the contribution of Jawaharlal Nehru to the project of independent India. On the 21st of October, when he was to honour the memory of Subhas and his provisional government, he could not resist repeating, ad nauseum, his litany of criticisms of Nehru. He waxed eloquent on the fact that Nehru, the son of an important, aristocratic leader among the early freedom fighters, ensured that not only would he become the first prime minister of India but that he would be followed by hisdaughter and then his descendants. According to Narendra Modi, in order to achieve his dynastic ambitions he did everything in his power to erase the contributions and even the memory of towering leaders like Sardar Patel and Subhas. On various occasions, he throws broad hints that not just the memory but the person of Subhas waseliminated by Nehru.
It is not difficult to disprove these allegations by incontrovertible evidence of the close relationship that Nehru shared with both Sardar Patel and Subhas despite the serious differences that they had with each other, differences that never lessened their mutual respect and dependence. Had that not been so, Nehru would not have chosen the Red Fort, a monument so closely associated in public percep-tion with the memory of Subhas. Not only had the trial of his closest officers been held here, a trial that had mesmerised and galvanised the entire country, but his slogan of ‘DilliChalo’ was accompanied with a visual of the national flag flying on the ramparts of the Red Fort. It was this Red Fort, indelibly imprinted in public memory with the memory of Subhas and his Azad Hind Fauj, from which Nehru chose to hoist the first tricolour of the Indian nation. His choice was dictated by not only the mood of the nation but also by a generous and spontaneous desire to honour the contribution of his friend and comrade, Subhas, to making this moment possible.
Since the motivation for the current prime minister’s decision to commemorate the formation of the provisional government of Azad Hind was very different from that behind Nehru’s in 1947, the event itself was less than inspiring. In fact, it was farcical reminding one of Marx’ famous statement that when history repeats itself, it does so as farce.
The invitation to the event only mentioned Modi’s name in bold letters but did not even mention Subhas. It was as if every other name, of those past and of those present, was a threat not to be risked taking.
No other person spoke. No other person adorned the dais. It is usual, on such occasions, for members of families associated with what is being commemorated to be invited. This did not happen. There are members of families of those who were ministers in the provisional government of Azad Hind who are supportive of the prime minister. Not many but there are some. None of them was invited.
It was the prime minister and the prime minister alone who, wearing his appropriated black cap, stood on the dais, waving his arms, rolling his eyes, remembering Subhas very little, remembering Nehru and castigating him constantly and saying nothing at all about Subhas’ provisional government of Azad Hind or his INA.
In all fairness to him, there was little that he could have said. Had he spoken about Subhas’ government could he have used its official name? Could he have mentioned its motto – “Ittefaq, Aitmad, Qurbani”. If he had mentioned the trial, could he have said that one of the three officers was named Shah Nawaz Khan? While speaking of the trial, which Sanghi luminaries could he have named as having fought the case when, in fact, there were none? All those who represented the accused, Bhulabhai Desai, Tej Bahadur Sapru, Asif Ali, Jawaharlal Nehru himself, were Congressmen. Modi, therefore, had no choice but to say nothing about what he was supposedly commemorating to the extent that the only time that he referred to the provisional government he was constrained to use its English translation because, apparently, Urdu is anathema to him and his ilk.
These omissions were necessitated not only by amnesia and communal prejudices, but were necessitated by the role his SanghParivar played during the freedom struggle and because of its particular antipathy towards Subhas.
Savarkar, the founder of the Hindu Mahasabha and mentor of many in the RSS, was venomous in his attacks on Subhas whom he named a ‘Hindu jehadi’. The reason for this was the militant spirit of secularism that Subhas displayed all his life. As Congress president, he forced through a ban on any Congressman becoming a member of either the Mahasabha or the Muslim League. SanghParivar member, Sarvesh Tiwari, writes “In his weekly, Subhas wrote on May 4, 1940 ‘…the Indian National Congress has put into its constitution a clause to the effect that no member of a communal organisation like Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League can be a member of an elective committee of Congress’.
He goes on to say that ‘When Syama Prasad Mookerjee joined the Hindu Mahasabha, Dr Mookerjee wrote in his diary that Bose met him and told him if he went about building Hindu Mahasabha as a political body in Bengal, “He would see to it, BY FORCE IF NEED BE, THAT IT WAS BROKEN BEFORE IT WAS REALLY BORN.” ‘(italics are the author’s).
After the INA was formed, Savarkar and his supporters attacked it and its leader in the vilest of terms. This is not surprising when one considers what Savarkarhimself was doing at the time. At the 23rd session of the Hindu Mahasabha in Bhagalpur, 1941, he said “…every branch of the Hindu Mahasabha in every town and village must actively engage itself in rousing the Hindu people to join the army,
navy, the aerial forces and the different war-craft manufactories…We must flood the (British) army, the navy and the aerial forces with millions of Hindu warriors with Hindu Sanghatanists heart.”
SanghParivar leaders attacked Subhas incessantly. He dared to reserve jobs for Muslims when he was elected to lead the Calcutta Corporation because he was aware of the tremen-dous injustice that they faced in recruitment. As Congress president, he was unsparing in his attacks on communal politics. He was a standard-bearer of Hindu-Muslim unity. As the sipah-salar of the INA (his own phrase for commander-in-chief), one of his first acts was to place a chadar at the mazar of Bahadur Shah Zafar in Rangoon as homage to one whom he acknowledged as the leader of the greatest expression of Hindu-Muslim unity, the Mutiny of 1857. He vowed then that he would bring Zafar’s remains and bury them with fullhonours at the Red Fort, a Moghul monument and seat of power, his chosen symbol for Free India. At the same time, he insisted that all officers and soldiers of the INA should eat together, celebrate festivals together, sleep in the same quarters and observe camaraderie in thought and deed.
In actual fact, in the course erasing the contribution of Nehru in the most brazen fashion, the prime minister and his cohorts are also erasing memories of an even greater enemy, Subhas, the militant secular-nationalist. It is not only his cap that the prime minister is appropriating but his persona which he, and his fellow Sanghis, have been trying in the last few years to transform into that of a fellow Hindutvavadi.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the celebrations of 21st January were followed by the BJP troll army circulating the official photograph of Subhas inspecting a Guard of Honour presented by the Rani of Jhansi Regiment accompanied by Capt.
Lakshmi with one important amendment – Capt. Lakshmi had been replaced by the prime minister himself.
Perhaps, in due course, Subhas himself will be replaced by him. The appropriation of his cap is, perhaps, just the first step to the appropriation of Subhas’ persona, the first step to re-birth in his new avatar.