Despite Netaji’s appropriation, BJP continues to disregard his secular and pluralistic worldview

Just a few days ago, the Union government announced that the Republic Day celebrations would now run from January 23 to 30 every year. January 23 was chosen as it marks Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s birthday; a date Prime Minister Modi announced earlier would be celebrated as ‘Parakram Diwas’.

After Modi took office, he put several classified documents regarding Netaji into the public domain. Many believed that these articles would make explosive revelations about Netaji’s allegedly conflicted relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru. Rather, they served to reflect the warmth and respect between the two men.

Modi and the BJP repeatedly invoke Netaji’s name in their politics and often unfairly accuse Nehru of not giving the former adequate space in history. However, we must remember that Prime Minister Modi ironically abolished the Planning Commission, something deeply connected to the legacy of Nehru and Netaji.

Abolish the planning commission, a representation of Netaji’s legacy

Netaji established the Planning Committee in 1938 as chairman of the Indian National Congress (INC) and appointed Nehru as chairman. After India gained independence, Nehru, as India’s first Prime Minister, continued Netaji’s legacy by renaming the Planning Committee the Planning Commission. The Commission thus represented how Netaji’s legacy has shaped our nation.

But today, a remnant of that legacy is unfortunately no longer present and in its place we have a new institution; the NITI Aayog, which has nothing to do with Bose’s worldview.

As the Commission is torn down, Netaji’s rich and enduring values ​​of secular worldview and religious pluralism are also threatened by systemic majoritarianism pushed hard at all levels. The Hindu-Muslim binomial is used very frequently to cause strong polarization within society and the polity as a whole, dividing people along fault lines of religious faith.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose reviews the troops of Azad Hind Fauj – 1940s. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Netaji invoked the legacy of Tipu Sultan

Reading the historic proclamation of the Azad Hind government while being sworn in as the first Prime Minister, Bose spoke of the courage and bravery of many heroes and heroines who had sacrificed their lives in the fight against British rule and, among them, was Tipu Sultan.

Bose had done this to be inspired by it and to fight for our freedom. Imagine how shocked he would have been to see the BJP leaders objecting to the Karnataka Congress government’s decision to celebrate Tipu Jayanti; to hear Prime Minister Modi mocking Congress for celebrating the “Sultans’ Jayantis”.

Even President Ramnath Kovind’s laudatory references to Tipu’s legacy in his speech to the Karnataka legislature in 2017 were derisively dismissed by BJP leaders who absurdly claimed that the president’s speech was redacted by the then congressional government in the state.

Such actions by the BJP leadership serve to undermine Netaji’s life and work.

Netaji supported Urdu

Netaji’s Azad Hind Fauj motto included three words in Urdu: “Ittehad, itmad aur qurbani‘ (unity, faith and sacrifice). He would no doubt have been appalled at the hatred against Urdu that India has witnessed in recent years.

In 2021, a few days before Diwali, when fashion brand Fabindia released an advertisement containing the Urdu words, ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’ as part of their festival campaign, BJP MP Tejasvi Surya objected to ad, claiming that a Hindu festival cannot be ‘Abrahamized’ with the association of Urdu words, calling on citizens to boycott the brand. The ad was eventually taken down.

Such forces, representing hatred and negation of our composite culture, would not only have violated the motto of the Indian National Army (INA), but would also have undermined the Urdu terms”Sipah-Salar’ (commander in chief) which have been used to describe Netaji.

Netaji in the context of the BJP’s’Barah-sau saal ki gulami’ story

Bose would have been appalled by Modi’s controversial and distorted phrasing, “Barah sau saal ki gulami ki maansikta humen pareshan kar rahi hai (“The 1,200-year-old slave mentality worries us”).

Such a twisted understanding of history, mischievously portraying Mughal rule as a time of “slavery” solely because of their faith, contrasts sharply with Netaji’s constructive view of pre-British India, marked by a common heritage. and shared coined by both Hindus and Muslims.

In his book, An Indian pilgrim, Bose described the composite culture of the two communities who shared a common destiny for thousands of years and shaped their future together, in the face of all kinds of challenges. In the book, he describes the Battle of Plassey as a joint Hindu-Muslim endeavor to confront an adversary that has caused an existential crisis. It is worth quoting his words:

“History will confirm me if I say that it is inappropriate to speak of Muslim domination to describe the political order in India before the advent of the British. Whether we are talking about the Mughal emperors in Delhi or the Muslim kings of Bengal, we will find that in both cases the administration was run by Hindus and Muslims together, with many prominent ministers and generals being Hindus. Moreover, the consolidation of the Mughal empire in India was affected with the help of Hindu commanders-in-chief. The commander-in-chief of Nawab Sirajudowla, whom the British fought at Plassey in 1757 and defeated, was a Hindu.”

Subhash Chandra Bose
An Indian pilgrim
Jayasree Patrika Trust, 23 January 2013, originally published in 1937.

Netaji’s critique of communal forces

Today, when majoritarianism poses a mortal danger to the ideas of equality and equal opportunity embodied in India’s constitutional vision, it is worth remembering Bose’s words: “If we want to make Truly great India, we must build a political democracy on the bedrock of a democratic society. Privileges based on birth, caste or creed should disappear and equal opportunities should be open to all, regardless of caste, creed or religion.

Against the backdrop of the bloody calls to arms and for the genocide of Muslims, Netaji’s words, “religious fanaticism is the greatest thorn in the path of cultural intimacy…and there is no better remedy to fanaticism than secular and scientific education”, ‘ assume greater relevance than ever.

These words represent exactly why Netaji sharply criticized communal forces represented by both the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League. In his book, The Indian struggle, Bose describes the communal and bigoted approaches of Savarkar and Jinnah and how their vision negated the broad and inclusive tendencies of nationalism.

Bose wrote: ”Mr. Jinnah then thought only of how to realize his idea of ​​Pakistan (division of India) with the help of the British. The idea of ​​waging a joint struggle with the Congress for the independence of India did not please him.

“Mr. Savarkar… was only thinking of how Hindus could get military training by joining the British Army in India. From these talks, I was forced to conclude that nothing could be expected from either the Muslim League or the Hindu Mahasabha.’

On the 125th anniversary of Netaji’s birth, there is a disturbing upsurge in religious fanaticism and bigotry in the country and this is chillingly represented by the open calls for chaos and murder by the leaders of the Hindutva, in the name of faith. Bose’s prescription for secular and science education takes on greater importance in addressing growing crises caused by rising hate speech, often endorsed by silence and tacit government approval despite calls from civil society to take punitive measures against those who deliberately stir up hatred and violence.

Gandhi called Netaji a ‘prince among patriots’

Netaji was the one who called Mahatma Gandhi the “father of the nation” and even named the INA brigades after him, Nehru and Maulana Azad.

Gandhi, while disapproving of Netaji’s methods of securing India’s freedom, describes him as a “prince among patriots”. Exactly a week before his assassination on January 30, 1948, Gandhi invoked Netaji on the latter’s birthday, January 23, 1948, at a prayer meeting in New Delhi and said he could enlist Hindus. , Muslims, Parsis and Christians as soldiers in the INA in complete disregard of parochialism and caste distinctions; in his eyes, all were Indians and servants of India.

Locating Bose in the context of Hinduism, Gandhi said that a Hindu was one who had equal respect for all religions and claimed that Bose had these same qualities, treating all religions equally and easily winning the hearts of people.

The secular values ​​and religious pluralism embodied in Netaji’s life and work were deeply reflected in the conduct of INA soldiers, whether they were on the battlefield for India’s freedom or be imprisoned for this reason. When Gandhi on April 11, 1946 went to interact with INA soldiers in prison, he was impressed to see officers representing so many different races and religions of India, united in the common cause of freedom of India and living like members of a family. For him, it was like a “breath of fresh, invigorating air from the free India that must be”.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose with members of Azad Hind Fauj, circa 1940. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“Hindu tea” and “Muslim tea”

The detained soldiers informed Gandhi, with pain and sadness, that they had been discriminated against on the basis of religion by being served either “Hindu tea” or “Muslim tea” and “Hindu food” or “Muslim food” in prison. officials. Gandhi responded by asking, “Why are you suffering?”

“We don’t,” the soldier replied, saying, “We mix Hindu tea and Mussalman tea, exactly half and half, then serve. Same with food.”

Gandhi burst out laughing and said, “That’s very good.

At a time when communal poison and violence is spreading and being justified in the name of faith, food and clothing, the exemplary role played by INA soldiers in maintaining the unity of the India at the time of the partition violence is of enormous significance. By staying tuned to Netaji’s secular vision, the idea of ​​India can be saved and defended.

SN Sahu was OSD and Press Secretary to former President of India, KR Narayanan.

James C. Tibbs