Friday, 8 September 2017

Conversation with Sugata Bose for Bose: Immortal Legend of India's Freedom - Re-Markings Special Number

Professor Sugata Bose at the Launch of Special Re-Markings Number
Bose: Immortal Legend of India's Freedom - Contemporary Critical Orientations at
Agra Club, Agra on 18 March 2017
“A Brighter Future is India’s Destiny”:
A Conversation with Sugata Bose

Nibir K. Ghosh*

Professor Sugata Bose, the grand-nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, is Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University, U.S.A., and Member of Parliament in the current Lok Sabha. A Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge (1983), his field of specialization is Modern South Asian and Indian Ocean history. A recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, his publications include Peasant Labour and Colonial Capital; A Hundred Horizons: the Indian Ocean in the Age of Global Empire; Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy; Nationalism, Democracy and Development; Credit, Markets and the Agrarian Economy of Colonial India; and South Asia and World Capitalism. His most recent book is His Majesty's Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle against Empire (2011). An eloquent orator, he has been invited for lectures and talks in various countries: Austria, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, France, Italy, Kuwait, Japan, Malaysia, Netherland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, UAE, U.K. and U.S.A. In this conversation with Nibir K. Ghosh, Professor Sugata Bose offers useful insights into the many dimensions of the life and work of the legendary hero, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Nibir: As an eminent international historian of Harvard fame, how does it feel to be so closely connected to the hallowed personality of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who is undoubtedly one of the greatest revolutionaries of the Indian Freedom struggle?
Sugata: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose used to say that his family and country were coterminous. My parents taught me since childhood not to claim any special relationship with the great revolutionary based on an accident of birth. I am proud, of course, to belong to the country that produced Subhas Chandra Bose. When my father Sisir Kumar Bose received popular adulation and heard the slogan “Bose khandan zindabad” on his release from prison in September 1945, his father Sarat Chandra Bose told him to remember that this was nothing but Subhas’s “reflected glory.” For Sisir, Netaji was his leader rather than his uncle.
Nibir: You, along with your revered father, Dr. Sisir Kumar Bose, have contributed immensely in bringing into limelight the life, work, speeches, letters and writings of Netaji through the Netaji Research Bureau. What motivated you into undertaking such a challenging enterprise?
Sugata: The credit for preserving and presenting Netaji’s book of life to the world belongs entirely to my father Dr. Sisir Kumar Bose who was ably helped by my mother Krishna Bose and a small band of dedicated workers. My father was convinced that the best traditions of the freedom struggle had to be bequeathed to future generations. He collected letters, documents, speeches, photographs, audio recordings and film footage connected with Netaji from all over the world and disseminated them to the wider public. Since I grew up in tandem with the Netaji Research Bureau he founded in 1957 (I was born in 1956), I helped out in this ambitious project in small ways. I had the good fortune of meeting the noble men and women who had fought for India’s independence under Netaji’s leadership and was inspired by the saga of their suffering and sacrifice. Their story had to be recorded and told. I began to take a more active role once my father’s health began to fail since Netaji’s work had to go on.
Nibir: In a talk delivered at the 5th International Netaji Seminar at Calcutta in January 1985, Peter Fay wondered: “What is the British perception of Netaji and the I.N.A.?” Fay answered the question himself: “Cloudy, I would suggest. Inverted which is a variety of being wrong. Finally, and most obviously, incomplete. It is an incompleteness that comes in part from just refusing to look. Do you know what happened to Netaji in British publications during the war? He disappeared.” In the light of this statement, how would you evaluate Hugh Toye’s The Springing Tiger, the first known assessment of Netaji by a Britisher?
Sugata: I hold a high opinion of Hugh Toye’s biography The Springing Tiger. Considering that it was written by a British intelligence officer who had fought against Netaji and interrogated INA prisoners, the book was remarkable for its broad-minded and balanced approach. Toye made some errors of fact and judgment. For example, he did not have access to records that would later show Netaji had sharply criticized Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. My father helped him with source materials in the early days of the Netaji Research Bureau and was even criticized in certain Indian circles for helping a British author. After my father’s death Hugh Toye wrote to my mother from Oxford on January 27, 2001, “I no longer take a daily paper, so that it was only the other day that I heard of the departure of your husband, a brave boy who became a great man. He was always very kind – unexpectedly kind – to me.” My father was always willing to help and make the NRB archives available to bonafide researchers. As Leonard Gordon mentions in the preface to his Brothers against the Raj, he never told historians what to write and respected their freedom of expression even if they were critical of the leader he himself adored. I fondly remember Peter Fay whom you quote. His book The Forgotten Army is elegantly written and is one of the finest contributions to scholarship on the Second World War. He was an eloquent speaker and gave a terrific interview for my film Rebels against the Raj, which was telecast on PBS in the late 1980s.
Nibir:  In his Foreword to Toye’s The Springing Tiger, Philip Mason writes: “There are elements repellant in Bose’s character—his arrogance and refusal to compromise….Power corrupted him; he grew more intolerant, more certain. But no one can doubt the stature of the man, his intellectual scope and the passion with which he held his convictions.” From the dual perspective of a historian as well as a kin of Netaji, what are your views on the picture of Netaji as portrayed by Mason?
Sugata: From the singular perspective of a historian (I take no view of Netaji as a family member) I am somewhat amused by Mason’s portrayal, which is quite typical of the old hands of the British raj whose condemnation was often leavened by a grudging admiration for a formidable opponent. The refusal to compromise with injustice and wrong was one of the most appealing features in Bose’s character. I am puzzled by Mason’s conception of power. No one spoke truth to power as Bose did. Bose’s life was an example of tyag or renunciation of power and privilege.
Nibir: How would you react to the opinion of Nirad C. Chaudhari on Subhas Chandra Bose that it was not his love of India but only intense hatred of the British that drove him through most of his life?
Sugata: Nirad C. Chaudhuri was a highly opinionated man who was mistaken in this opinion. It was not just Subhas’s love of India, but love as an essential element, that defined him. As he wrote in his unfinished autobiography, “I see all around me the play of love; I perceive within me the same instinct; I feel that I must love in order to fulfill myself and I need love as the basic principle on which to reconstruct life.” His hatred was reserved for oppressive British rule, not the British, and he advocated the friendliest relations with the British people once freedom was won.
Nibir: If there was an attempt by British historians and scholars to relegate Netaji to the margins of the then contemporary history, does it not seem strange that outside Bengal, the portrayal of Netaji’s role in the Freedom Struggle by Indian historians has not been much different? What causes would you attribute to such neglect of Netaji?
Sugata: Netaji has been neglected only in official histories and textbooks and by court historians in post-independence India. There is a certain price to be paid for being the alter-ego to those wielding state power. He looms large in popular memory, not just in Bengal, but throughout the subcontinent. In fact, I think he is more revered in Punjab and Tamil Nadu and by freedom-loving peoples in many peripheral regions of India than in Bengal. He need not be part of the official canon. I would much rather see him as a subject of independent scholarship in the future.
Nibir: The confrontation that Subhas Bose had with Professor E.F. Oaten at Presidency college, Calcutta led to his expulsion. In An Indian Pilgrim you have included the Poem “Subhas Chandra Bose” penned by Oaten in 1947, decades after the episode. What is your take on the poem especially with regard to Subhas?
Sugata: Oaten's poem is a very interesting one on the audacity and courage of Subhas Chandra Bose's challenge to the British Empire and strikes a note of mourning for the untimely stilling of his patriot heart. It is not by any means a eulogy, but conveys a sense of understanding, reconciliation and respect. My parents had a pleasant meeting with Professor and Mrs Oaten at their country home in 1971 and my father invited him to the First International Netaji Seminar held in January 1973. Professor Oaten could not travel because of poor health but sent a paper titled "The Bengal Student as I knew Him," which was read in absentia and then published in the proceedings Netaji and India's Freedom. My father believed Oaten's perspective should be recorded in the interest of history.
Nibir: In what way did the role and function of Netaji Research Bureau, established in 1957 in Calcutta, contribute to the correction of distorted or incomplete perspectives about the legendary leader?
Sugata: Netaji Research Bureau played a signal role in lighting a flame in 1957 that illuminated the multiple facets of Netaji’s life and work in the decades to come in the midst of complete official apathy. Instead of carping and complaining about governmental neglect, Sisir Kumar Bose set out to do the work that needed to be accomplished against stiff odds. In the process, Netaji Research Bureau was also able to show that the life was more fascinating and salient than the legend. Fringe groups styling themselves as devotees contributed to distorted perspectives on Netaji, just as officialdom could be blamed for incomplete ones. Sisir Kumar Bose lamented the emergence of “a strange and spurious Bose cult.” “Persistent rumors about Bose being alive and flights of fantasy in regard to his whereabouts,” he wrote in the introduction to the proceedings of an outstanding International Netaji Seminar in 1973 (published as Netaji and India’s Freedom in 1975), “prevented the development of a sober, scientific, historical appraisal of India’s only soldier-statesman of modern times.” The “spurious Bose cult” that he deplored is still doing the rounds. If Netaji gets once more shrouded in meaningless mystery, India will be in danger of losing sight of the life and work of a man who was much more than a mythical hero. There is much to learn from Netaji’s book of life in the present and the future.
Nibir: You have mentioned in your Preface to His Majesty’s Opponent that you were initially hesitant in writing a definitive biography of Subhas Chandra Bose. What was the cause of your hesitation? Also, as the grand-nephew of the gigantic historical figure, did you at any time, during the writing of the book, feel the tension of balancing personal relationship and history?
Sugata: I was hesitant because of the family relationship and I was clear that I wanted to write as a historian. Ultimately, I could see that if I had a bias it was likely to be shared by countless people in the subcontinent. Also, I felt the knowledge I had garnered by being associated with NRB and as joint editor of Netaji’s Collected Works had to be put to good use. It takes almost a lifetime of research to write a good book about Netaji. I wrote mine at a time when I felt I had the requisite critical distance and could place Netaji’s life in the context of modern global history.
Nibir: You have quoted a statement by Mahatma Gandhi in His Majesty’s Opponent wherein the Mahatma shows his admiration for Netaji in the context of the INA: “The lesson that Netaji and his army brings to us is one of self-sacrifice, unity—irrespective of class and community—and discipline.” Notwithstanding Netaji’s profound personal admiration and respect for Gandhi, he is candid enough to confess in The Indian Struggle 1920-34: “The leader of the Congress is Mahatma Gandhi–who is the virtual dictator. The Working Committee since 1929 has been elected according to his dictation and no one can find place on that committee who is not thoroughly submissive to him and his policy.” Do you think such an impression could have been instrumental in the ultimate parting of ways between Netaji and the Mahatma?
Sugata: I think Subhas was occasionally too blunt and tactlessly candid in his criticisms of Mahatma Gandhi in the 1920s and 1930s. He was honest in expressing his views to a fault, but he also genuinely admired Gandhi. There was no “ultimate” parting of the ways between Netaji and the Mahatma. They fell out in 1939 over the correct strategy to follow in winning freedom, but came closer in the aims and ideology from 1942 onwards. Gandhi recognized and respected Netaji’s greatest achievement in uniting all the religious communities of India.
Nibir: Netaji had inspired millions of Indians based in different parts of the world with his slogan, “Dilli Chalo!” Had he been present when the national flag was unfurled from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi on 15th August 1947, do you think India’s “tryst with destiny” may have been different?
Sugata: This question is about a big “if” of history. I think Netaji and the Mahatma working together may have been able to avert the tragedy of partition. Subhas Chandra Bose would certainly have worked towards an equitable sharing of power among India’s diverse religious and linguistic groups in a federal India. He would also have been more energetic in removing the scourge of poverty, illiteracy and disease in our country.
Nibir: As a historian, what are your perceptions of Netaji’s “discovery of India” with Jawahar Lal Nehru’s Discovery of India?
Sugata: Netaji’s discovery of India took place as a teenager doing social work among the poor and destitute well before his first trip to Europe. Jawaharlal Nehru found himself among the kisans of UP in his early thirties during the non-cooperation movement, having already spent his formative years in Harrow and Cambridge. Both were cosmopolitan figures, but Bose’s cosmopolitanism was more rooted than Nehru’s.
Nibir: From the exalted academic position of Gardiner Professor of Oceanic History and Affairs at Harvard University, what inspired you to take the plunge into active Indian politics? How do you come to terms with factors like the criminalization of politics which is so common in the Indian context?

Sugata: My primary identity is that of an historian, scholar and teacher. I am simply helping out in the political sphere at a critical historical moment in Indian politics. I felt there needed to be an alternative to the forces of religious majoritarianism and unbridled capitalism that seem poised to overwhelm Indian democracy. I was very reluctant to take the plunge into politics precisely because of the criminalization you refer to. But then, if there is any hope of cleansing Indian politics, we need good people from different walks of life to take active part in democratic political processes.
Nibir: As a Member of Parliament of the world’s largest democracy, what is your vision of India? How do you manage to cope with the challenges of caste, marginalization, communalism and rampant corruption so common to Indian polity?
Sugata: My vision is that of an egalitarian and federal India where historically marginalized people are fully empowered as equal citizens. I cope with the challenges by keep warning my countrymen not to confuse religious majoritarianism with democracy, and uniformity with unity. We need to reclaim patriotism from the chauvinists, religion from the religious bigots, and politics from the corrupt.
Nibir: In one of your recent eloquent speeches in the Lok Sabha, you remarked “I am a nationalist. I believe in a kind of nationalism that instills a feeling of selfless service in our people and inspires their creative efforts.” What is your own agenda for instilling in citizens the idea and practice of selfless service?
Sugata: Even when I speak in Parliament, I see myself as a teacher lecturing in a massive online course on political ethics. Having been a teacher in universities for three and a half decades, I think I communicate quite well with the 18 to 25-year old age group. I hope to persuade this younger generation of the virtue of seva and that they can achieve a sense of deep fulfillment in living for others less fortunate than themselves.
Nibir: “How many selfless sons of the Mother are prepared, in this selfish age, to completely give up their personal interests and take the plunge for the Mother?” This is a question which Subhas asked his mother when he was barely fifteen. Musing over this question a little over a century later, is it possible to respond with any kind of optimism? What, according to you, can be done to attract contemporary Indian youth to the legacy of love and passion for the motherland left behind by the Netaji?
Sugata: Optimism is a pragmatic necessity. In the letters that Subhas wrote as a fifteen-year old to his mother and brother Sarat he described darkness, despair and decline engulfing India. Yet he found refuge in Tennyson-like optimism. “A brighter future is India’s destiny,” he wrote to Sarat. “The day may be far off – but it must come.” I would urge contemporary youth never to lose faith in India’s destiny. However, they should avoid the snare of narrow nationalism. True love for the motherland can only bloom in the garden of a larger humanity.
*Nibir K. Ghosh is Chief Editor, Re-Markings

Monday, 29 May 2017

Bose - Immortal Legend of India's Freedom: Contemporary Critical Orientations

Re-Markings Special Number January 2017

Netaji Trail: The Bose Particle

Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy
Subhash Chandra Bose travelled from Calcutta to Peshawar as an insurance agent called Mohammed Ziauddin. As Khan Mohammed Ziauddin Khan, a mute tribal Pathan, he travelled on foot and by mule to Kabul. In the guise of a radio telegraphist and an Italian count Orlando Mazzotta, he reached Germany, met Hitler and eventually took a submarine halfway around the world to Japan to raise an army in the hope of liberating India from the yoke of British rule. There are many heroes who fought for India’s independence, but few as enigmatic as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. We retrace his incredible journey from Kolkata to Kabul, Berlin to Burma and across the Far East – Japan, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan and North East India to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands....
As a young radical returning from Cambridge to Calcutta, Bose quit the Indian Civil Service in 1921 and rose to the post of president of the Indian National Congress by 1938. In 1939, he showed up on a stretcher and despite being unwell, defeated Mahatma Gandhi’s candidate Pattabi Sitaramayya. Differences with Gandhiji on his revolutionary ideals led to Bose being ousted from the Congress. After a hunger strike led to his release from prison, he was put under house arrest by the British.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bose saw it as an opportune moment to wrest freedom from the British. Indian support to the colonial cause during World War I in the hope of getting independence had yielded nothing except Jallianwala Bagh and the Rowlatt Act. The time had come for more direct action and Bose could go to any length to see India free – even shake hands with the devil if he had to. He believed in the maxim, “An enemy of an enemy is a friend of mine” and sought help of the Axis powers Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to oust the British.
Accompanied by his nephew Sisir, Bose escaped British surveillance on 19 January 1941 in a car that is now on display at his home in Kolkata’s Lala Lajpat Rai Sarani. Run as a memorial and research center, Netaji Bhavan also houses relics of Bose’s footprints. He crossed the Indian subcontinent from east to west, reaching Peshawar and Kabul. British presence in the area made him travel under disguise as he finally reached Germany on April 1941, where the leadership seemed sympathetic to the cause of India’s independence. In November 1941, with German funds, a Free India Centre was set up in Berlin, and soon Bose was broadcasting every night on Free India Radio.
A 3,000-strong Free India Legion, comprising Indians captured by Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps was formed to aid in a possible future German land offensive of India. Few know that the title “Netaji” was given to Bose in Germany by Indian soldiers of the Indische Legion in 1942. The title was used by the German and Indian officials in the Special Bureau for India in Berlin, before it gained popularity in India.
Meanwhile, the Japanese occupied Singapore and by January 1942, Rangoon was the next to fall. On 23 March 1942, Japanese troops landed in Port Blair and captured it without firing a single shot. By spring, changing German priorities and Japanese victories in the Far East made Bose think of moving to southeast Asia. Bose met Hitler only once in late May 1942 and the Fuhrer arranged for Bose to be transported by submarine. On 8 February 1943, Netaji boarded the German submarine U-180 from Kiel and travelled around the Cape of Good Hope to the southeast of Madagascar, where he was transferred to the Japanese submarine I-29. This was the only civilian transfer between two submarines of two different navies during World War II. Bose finally disembarked at Sabang in Japanese-held Sumatra in May 1943.
If the term “Netaji” was coined in Germany, equally surprising is the fact that the Indian National Army (INA) was the brainchild of Japan! Japanese major and chief of intelligence Iwaichi Fujiwara met Pritam Singh Dhillon, president of the Bangkok chapter of the Indian Independence League, and recruited Mohan Singh, a captured British Indian army captain to raise an army that would fight alongside the Japanese. It had the blessings of Rash Behari Bose, head of the Indian Independence League. The first army was formed in December 1941 and the name INA was mutually chosen in January 1942. In February, from a total of 40,000 Indian personnel in Singapore, about 30,000 joined the INA, of which nearly 7,000 later fought Allied forces in the Burma Campaign and at Kohima and Imphal.
However, disagreements led to the first INA being disbanded by December 1942. Mohan Singh believed that the Japanese High Command was using the INA as a pawn and propaganda tool. He was taken into custody and the troops returned to the prisoner-of-war camp. However, with the arrival of Subhash Chandra Bose in 1943, the idea of an independence army was revived. In May, Bose travelled via Penang and Saigon to Tokyo, where he attended the Diet, met reporters and gave speeches addressing overseas Indians that were broadcast on Tokyo Radio. By July, Bose was in Singapore and it was with equal excitement that we arrived there on the INA trail.
As we drove past Dhobie Ghaut, the guide pointed out Cathay Cinema (earlier, the Greater East Asia Theatre), where the India Independence League’s Assembly of Representatives met on a drizzly morning of 4th July. To a resounding applause, Rash Behari Bose handed over the reins of the organization to Subhash Chandra Bose. Over the next few days, soldiers of the INA lined up in the padang (ground) opposite the Singapore Municipal Office for inspection and new recruits eagerly joined the ranks.
With Japanese support, Bose revamped the Indian National Army (INA), composed of Indian soldiers of the British Indian army captured in the Battle of Singapore. Bose received massive support among the expatriate Indian population in south-east Asia as many Indian civilians from Malaya and Singapore enlisted. Those who could not, made financial contributions. The INA also had a separate women's unit – the first of its kind in Asia. The Rani of Jhansi Regiment was headed by Capt. Lakshmi Swaminathan, a doctor from Chennai.
The India Heritage Centre in Little India has a small section dedicated to the Indian freedom movement. A bust of Subhash Chandra Bose stands in front of a wallpaper made of INA postage stamps. The INA troops were under the aegis of the Provisional Government of Free India (Azad Hind) formed in October 1943, which had its own currency, postage stamps, court and civil code, and was recognized by nine Axis states. An INA uniform was on display while letters, cheque donations and photographs lined the wall. A magazine cover showed Captain Lakshmi in military attire.
The Provisional Government, presided by Supreme commander Bose, was formed in the Japanese-occupied Andaman and Nicobar Islands. On 30th December 1943 Netaji hoisted the Indian tricolor in British-free Indian territory for the first time at Ross Island. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands were renamed Shaheed Dweep (Martyr Island) and Swaraj Dweep (Self-Rule Island). As head of the government, Bose stayed in the British High commissioner’s house and a memorial commemorating his visit was erected near present day Netaji stadium in Port Blair.
We followed the Bose trail past World War II bunkers dotting the island to Cellular Jail. When Netaji visited the infamous prison, he was welcomed by Admiral Ishikawa, who deliberately kept him away from incarcerated Indians and stories of Japanese torture. Like Singapore, the three year Japanese occupation of the Andamans was a dark chapter in history with innocent islanders tortured mercilessly on charges of espionage, often executed or imprisoned. Like the Changi prison, the Cellular Jail too bears testimony to the bravery of those fighting for freedom.
In early 1944, the INA marched through Kohima Pass and the national flag was hoisted in the Indian mainland for the first time at Moirang in Manipur on April 6, 1944. Kohima was strategically located on the lone road connecting the British supply depot at Dimapur (40 miles northwest) to Imphal (80 miles south). As part of Japan’s Operation U-Go, three columns aimed to cut off the Kohima-Imphal Road and surround Kohima. Between April and June 1944, Kohima witnessed the bloodiest and grittiest fighting seen in World War II.
The Battle for Kohima was fought in two phases: the 13-day siege from 4 April and clearing Japanese forces from mid-April to 22 June to reopen the Kohima-Imphal road. Both sides suffered high casualties. Grenades were lobbed at point blank range across the tennis court in “unending snowball fights” as soldiers dug holes to burrow or tunnel forward using plates, mugs, bayonets or anything they could lay their hands on. The carefully tended tombstones in the grassy clearing with pretty flower beds seemed a far cry from the bloodbath of World War II. The original Deputy Commissioner’s (DC) Bungalow was destroyed in the fighting and the historic tennis court could be distinguished only by the white concrete lines denoting the boundaries.
The 161st Indian Infantry Brigade’s stand at Kohima blunted the Japanese attack. With the opening of the Dimapur-Kohima road, the 2nd Division and troops from XXXIII Corps supported the counterattack in early May. General Sato, Commander of the 31st Division, ordered Japanese withdrawal, signaling the biggest Japanese defeat in history. British and Indian troops from Kohima and Imphal met at Milestone 110 on 22 June, formally ending the siege. The fierce hand-to-hand combat in the Battle of Kohima was a defining moment in the Burma Campaign and halted Japan’s foray into India. Near the entrance of Kohima War Memorial, the Kohima Epitaph bears the immortal words: “When you go home, tell them of us and say; For your tomorrow, we gave our today.
Despite the reverses on the battlefield, Bose travelled across Penang, Rangoon and Saigon, mobilizing support among Indian expatriates to fight the British Raj. He had great drive and charisma and he coined popular Indian slogans such as “Jai Hind”, “Chalo Dilli” and “Give me blood and I shall give you freedom”, which he said in a motivational speech at a rally in Burma on 4 July, 1944.
By 1945, almost half the Japanese forces and the INA contingent were killed. A vast number of INA troops were captured, defected or fell into British hands during the Burma campaign by March end. By the time Rangoon fell in May 1945, the INA was driven down the Malay Peninsula and disintegrated although some activities continued until Singapore was recaptured by the British. On 8 July, in Singapore’s Esplanade Park, Bose laid the foundation stone for a hastily-built memorial dedicated to the unknown fallen soldiers of the Indian National Army. On it were inscribed the proud motto of the INA – Etihaad (Unity), Etmad (Faith), Kurbani (Sacrifice).
Instead of surrendering with his forces or with the Japanese, Bose chose to escape to Manchuria in the Soviet Union, which he felt was turning anti-British. Taking off from Taihoku airport at Formosa in Taiwan, his overloaded plane crashed and he died from third degree burns in a military hospital nearby on 18 August, 1945. However, Bose was known for his miraculous escapes and dramatic appearances in the past. From eluding house arrest in Calcutta and his escape to Afghanistan and Europe under various aliases to his submarine journey from Germany to Singapore; his past exploits fuelled the myth of his future return.
To the Japanese, he was no less than an Indian samurai. Some believed he had become a sanyasi (holy man) called Gumnami Baba. According to various stories, he was seen as a recluse in the Naga hills or on an abandoned island, was a member of a Mongolian trade delegation in Peking, was hibernating in Russia or in a gulag (prison) and was spotted in the Chinese Army. Most believed he was preparing for his final march on Delhi and would reveal himself when the time was right. There were several Bose sightings, one even claiming he met Bose “in a third-class compartment of the Bombay Express on a Thursday.”
Though INA’s military achievements were limited and the British Raj was never seriously threatened by it, the psychological impact was immense. Indian troops fought on both sides at the Battle for Kohima –  Jats, Rajputs, Sikhs, Marathas and Gurkhas under the Allied forces versus soldiers of Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj. Had the eastern offensive through Burma and North East by Japan been coordinated with the German advance through Egypt, Iran and Iraq, a war on two frontiers would have stretched the British forces. A Japanese-INA victory and unfurling of the Indian flag could have prompted the Indian sepoy to switch loyalties. Even in defeat, the INA managed to ignite a revolt within the British Indian army.
Several former personnel of the British Indian Army, captured fighting in INA ranks or working in support of the INA’s subversive activities, were court-martialed. The British charged 300 INA officers with treason and the first joint trial of Shah Nawaz Khan, Prem Sahgal and Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon took place at Red Fort in Delhi. All three were sentenced to deportation for life. The INA trials led to huge public outcry and became a rallying point. It was the last major campaign where the Congress and the Muslim League aligned together. Immense public pressure, widespread opposition and demonstrations eventually led to the release of all three defendants.
Besides the protests of non-cooperation and non-violence, there was a spate of mutinies as support within the British Indian Army wavered. During the trials, mutiny broke out across the Royal Indian Navy from Karachi to Bombay and Vizag to Calcutta. In Madras and Pune, British garrisons faced revolts within the ranks of the British Indian Army as NCOs started ignoring orders from British superiors. Another mutiny took place at Jabalpur during the last week of February 1946.
There were several factors that guided British prime minister Clement Attlee to relinquish the Raj in India, but the most important reason was the INA activities of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, which weakened the Indian Army – the very foundation of the British Empire in India. The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny made the British realize that the Indian armed forces could no longer be trusted to prop up the Raj.
When Singapore was recaptured in 1945, Lord Mountbatten, Head of Southeast Asia Command, ordered the INA War Memorial to be blown to bits. It was partly an act of vengeance for the pain the allies suffered in Imphal and Burma as well as an attempt to stamp out proof of INA’s existence. After the war, fearing mass revolts and uprisings across its empire, the British Government forbade the BBC from broadcasting the epic tale of the INA. In 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the National Heritage Board of Singapore marked the spot of the original INA memorial as one of the eleven World War II historic site markers.
As we walked down Esplanade Park in Singapore, we struggled to find vestiges of the INA Memorial. The Cenotaph of the British Indian Army stood tall in honour of “Our Glorious Dead” of the two World Wars. Further down, a Chinese memorial commemorated Singapore war hero and resistance fighter Lim Bo Seng. Yet, there was no sign of INA – just a few stone slabs with peepholes. Often relegated as a footnote in history and denied the importance in the story of India’s freedom movement, was a memorial too much to ask? A local passing by noticed our perplexed look and kindly explained, “There was a signboard, but they’ve recently removed it for renovation.” We breathed a sigh of relief. Mountbatten may have demolished the original memorial, but the spirit of Bose and the INA live on...
Back home in India, the stories surrounding Netaji had always been shadowed by mystery and controversy for decades. Imagine, it was only on 14th October 2015 that the Government of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that it would declassify the famous “Netaji Papers”. Two months later, the whole country watched the broadcast of the event when the first lot of 33 declassified files were handed over by the PMO’s office to the National Archives of India. It was an emotional moment for several members of Netaji’s family and his admirers as the gesture promised to fill the many gaps and loopholes in tracing the legacy of Subhash Chandra Bose. Subsequently, 150 declassified files of the 250 files are now in public domain. Time and again, Netaji has reminded us how he would remain a statesman the world cannot ignore or bury in the dusty pages of history. 

Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy, Travel writing duo and media professionals, are regular contributors to leading magazines and newspapers. They have authored several books for national and international publications and run Red Scarab, a Bangalore-based travel & media outfit specialising in communication solutions for the travel and hospitality industry. They undertook a transcontinental journey in the footsteps of one of India’s most daring freedom fighters for this Special Re-Markings’ Number. Catch their stories on

 Copyright Nibir K Ghosh 2017
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Response from Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy:
ast year, out of the blue, Prof Nibir Ghosh from Agra University contacted us saying he was so impressed by our war story on Kohima War Cemetery, he wanted us to write an article on the travels of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose for an international biannual journal. Little did we know it will take the form of a book! Here are pics from the launch of Re-Markings, special issue on Subhash Chandra Bose, launched in Agra by Prof Sugata Bose. Couldn't attend the event, but felt happy to be in the company of professors and academicians in this collection of 'Contemporary Critical Orientations.' ...
Felt honoured that we were invited to contribute an article for 'Bose: Immortal Legend of India's Freedom', a special issue of Re:Markings, an international biannual journal. Pics from the book launch in Agra.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

"Foreword" to The Forgotten Ram: Lore and Legend of Sir Chottu Ram by Divyajyoti Singh

The Forgotten Ram: Lore and Legend of Sir Chottu Ram by Divyajyoti Singh (Authorspress, 2015)



Nibir K. Ghosh

When I received a request from the author to write the “Foreword” to this book, I was visibly intrigued. I hadn’t known much about the life and work of the legend the book celebrates. As I leafed through a few pages of the book, one thing that came to the fore was the passionate lyricism of the author in telling the tale of her forgotten hero. I was reminded of a statement made by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: “Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind” (Breakfast of Champions). I was charmed, no doubt, by the hymns of praise that the author displayed for a revolutionary leader hailing from her own community, an icon of undivided Punjab. However, I felt a little diffident in undertaking the task as the persona in question appeared to be remotely located in my consciousness in terms of both space and time.

A bit of biographical research provided the impetus to share the author’s adulation for Sir Chhotu Ram. I learnt that the cult figure was, by profession, an advocate who had lived and studied Law at Agra. Knowing that Law was then taught only at Agra College, Agra, where I was educated and am now teaching, I tried to locate Sir Chhotu Ram in the annals of the college’s history. It was a pleasant experience to learn that he was an alumnus of this College, having taken his LL.B. degree from Agra College in the year 1911. As the Coordinator of Agra College Alumni Association, I thought it would be unfair to shy away from the labour of love that would associate me with a fellow-alumnus.

The book effortlessly glorifies the man and the legend. Mixing history and fiction, reality and imagination, memory and desire, lore and myth, it projects Sir Chhotu Ram as a veritable object of veneration especially for the poor and struggling farmers not only in undivided Punjab but also in the entire northern segment of British India. It was he alone who realized how farmers were relentlessly exploited by money lenders whom he referred to as merciless “Shylocks.” His legal expertise and astuteness are evident from the many landmark legislations he was instrumental in initiating during his consistent struggle to alleviate the sordid plight of farmers and the downtrodden people.

Many of us are familiar with Premchand’s short story, “Sawa Ser Gehu” where Shankar, a poor farmer, borrows sawa ser gehu (wheat) from a money-lender to feed a saint who comes to his house. Consequently, Shankar remains enslaved to the money-lender as a bonded labour. After him, the onus of repaying the debt is transferred to his son. At the end of the story, Premchand says that the reader ought not to dismiss the facts stated in the story as fiction for it was a projection of the grim reality that actually existed in the society of his time. If we fast-forward the situation depicted in Premchand’s story to our own contemporary times, the harsh reality of farmers committing suicide is bound to convince us that the predicament of farmers, to whom we owe our very existence, hasn’t changed much despite the passage of more than three quarters of a century.

The book lucidly recreates how, cutting across class, caste, communal and religious boundaries, Sir Chhotu Ram became the epitome of the struggle for a world where the farmer could live his life with courage and dignity instead of being a mere cog in the economic machine. The book venerates Sir Chhotu Ram as a revolutionary thinker and leader who pioneered an era of unprecedented changes in the socio-economic lives of Punjab farmers. It looks at him as an embodiment of secularism who fought communal politics till the very end of his life. He is portrayed as a visionary for whom setting the farmer free of social, economic and mental slavery always remained a top priority in his scheme of things. In the contemporary context, the author rightly points out how India needs today a man like him to counter powerful moneylenders like “the IMF, the World Bank, and individual donor countries.” His life amply demonstrates how features of character are carved out of adversity. Endowed with a fiery scientific temperament, he was above religious or communal bias: “If the Hindu peasants called him “Ram,” the Muslims considered him a “Pir.” According to a folklore cited in the book,

“In temples they sing of Radha and Shyam

In fields you hear the name of Chhotu Ram!”

It is passing strange that a man of action who constantly strove to transform his vision and mission into attainable realities, a spirited leader who lived in the hearts of millions on account of his dedication to the common cause, has been relegated from the exalted position of historical body text to a passing footnote in contemporary history. I remember having come across a newspaper report stating that during the academic session 2004-05, an inspirational lesson on the Deenbandhu Sir Chhotu Ram prescribed in the Class V curriculum of government schools in Haryana had been unceremoniously withdrawn. After such knowledge what forgiveness!

I congratulate Dr. Divyajyoti Singh for celebrating, through this comprehensive quasi-fictional narrative, the precious life blood of a noble soul that resonated with the agony and anguish of the tillers of the soil. Since there is acute dearth of material on Sir Chhotu Ram, the book is bound to motivate truth-seekers to follow the trail of his footprints that appear to have been obscured by the ebb and flow of time. It is quite likely that the lore of the “forgotten  Ram” may inspire young leaders to move beyond vote bank politics to champion the cause of labourers and the peasantry to create a sublime world where nightmarish realities of “Sawa Ser Gehu” are rendered anachronistic or redundant.

About the Book


About the Book

The Forgotten Ram: Lore and Legend of Sir Chhotu Ram is a quasi-fictional biography centered on the stalwart peasant leader Chaudhary Chhotu Ram. It is woven out of folklore and oral narratives gathered about him. The book includes about twenty- two chapters spanning his life that illustrate a watershed time in the history of undivided Punjab. The text blends narrative, dialogue, sketches and commentary to imaginatively reconstruct the rural life of Punjab in 1900s. It also illustrates the political scene of the day where Chhotu Ram’s Unionist Party came with a thumping majority, changing the established equation between the farmer and the Raj forever. Though an eminent part of the lore in Haryana, Chhotu Ram has been relegated from mainstream historical accounts. His radical thoughts, rare agenda and the agrarian renaissance he ushered, however, demand to be chronicled.
For Chhotu Ram, reforms could have a lasting character, only if the farmer changed too. He brought in momentous legislations monitoring the economic and social life of the day. He was unfazed by serious and offensive opposition that tried to stall his programme. Furthermore, he urged the farmer to assume the role of a forerunner rather than a mere follower in the freedom movement. His arch-antagonist was not a person but the system of ‘compound interest’ that fleeced the farmer, but there was also Jinnah on the horizon slowly closing-in. Chhotu Ram perceived his destructive potential and undertook a blitzkrieg march from Peshawar to Hodal that should have concluded in a grand rally at Lyallpur (Faizlabad, in current Pakistan), had he lived. The fate took an unfortunate turn and after Chhotu Ram’s death due to high fever and fatigue, Jinnah was able to make a rapid headway in Punjab politics, breaking the secular bond that Chhotu Ram, Mian Fazli Hussain, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, and Khizr Hayat Khan had built dedicatedly over decades. 

- Dr. Divyajyoti Singh teaches English at the YMCA University of Science & Technology, Haryana.

In 2008 and 2014 two plays written by her on the life of the ‘Deenbandhu’ were also performed by student amateurs from Nehru College, Faridabad and YMCA University, Faridabad. She runs a blog on Sir Chhotu Ram: and is an ardent admirer of the great man. This book is her dream project.