#replug: my firstpost column on why #netaji still matters

January 24, 2016

this was published on 24 jan 16 by firstpost at http://www.firstpost.com/india/was-netaji-wronged-by-the-powers-that-be-and-does-he-continue-to-matter-to-indians-2597128.html 

here’s an excerpt from the original copy i sent them:

Does Netaji matter?

Rajeev Srinivasan on whether the iconic freedom fighter was wronged by the powers that be

There’s something incurably romantic about fighters pursuing a cause, even if the cause is a bit dubious. For example, the Spanish Civil War attracted idealistic Europeans, and they have been immortalized by Ernest Hemingway and the remarkable image of a dying soldier by photographer Robert Capa. More problematically, Che Guevara, with his signature beret and flowing locks, is an icon, although there is considerable debate about his extremism and legacy.

A visit to the Gadar Memorial in San Francisco, with its photos of glaring, long-dead men, leaves its mark on any Indian. The most heartbreaking, the most dashing, the most revered of all our fighters is undoubtedly Bhagat Singh, hanged at the age of 23 along with Rajguru and Sukhdev, although I find Kartar Singh Sarabha, of UC Berkeley and the Gadar Party, hanged at the age of 19, equally tragic.

Of all the major figures in India’s independence struggle, none captures the imagination as much as Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose does, in his military uniform, with his Indian National Army that almost managed to free India from the British yoke, with Japanese help. In one of those sad, “if only…” scenarios, we imagine that that an INA, supported by the Japanese army, would have been a much better bet than the brutal British imperialists, and then the Nehruvians, although that is debatable.

What is not debatable is that Gandhi and Nehru and the Congress Party treated Bose shabbily, in effect exiling him and refusing to support his legitimate struggles, and in retrospect, erasing him from memory. So far as I know, there is not a single Indian institution of importance named after Bose (compared to literally thousands forced to bear Nehru dynasty names). This patriot, flawed though he may have been, was treated like something the cat dragged in: offensive, but necessary to deal with.

This itself is reason enough to support Bose. Beyond that, there is the very real possibility – some are now articulating it after decades of being too afraid to consider it – that, contrary to the mythology, it wasn’t Gandhi’s pacifism and satyagraha that persuaded the British to leave, but a combination of post-war penury, and the very real danger that there would be an armed insurrection that would put their lives, and their embedded ‘assets’ in positions of power, in serious jeopardy.

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