There is a firestorm over Rahul Bedi’s recent article “Indian PM strips islands of British colonial names - and renames them after freedom fighter”. I have read the article. It is insidious, derogatory and ill-informed. Such an article should have been ignored; however, it seeks to slander one of India’s greatest freedom fighters, Subhas Chandra Bose, widely referred to by his much-loved nom de guerre, Netaji.
When we quote history, context is important. Hitler was an evil man, and of that there can be no doubt. But the British were evil, too. They enslaved India for 200 years, causing death and destruction on an unbelievable scale. Winston Churchill’s signatures on a file ordering the withholding of grain, otherwise meant to feed India’s starving masses, just to feed the white Tommy, is a chilling reminder that when it came to naked self-interest, the British and Hitler were the same. Churchill’s signature cost millions of Indian lives. India’s contribution to the First World War and Second World War pushed India into penury. Famine led the way, followed by vultures.
When Bedi points a finger at Bose, accusing him of partnering with Hitler, Imperial Japan and Mussolini, he forgets the times Bose lived in. Democracy had thrown up both Hitler and Churchill. Bose picked up arms when he could tolerate the humiliation of foreign yoke no longer. He simply shook hands with the enemy’s enemy.
Bedi describes Bose’s army, the Indian National Army, as a “rag-tag” bunch. Rag-tag they may have been, but they died fighting for what they believed in. That alone is worthy of honour.
The islands that were re-named, the focus area of Bedi’s article, have an interesting past. Havelock Island, now named Swaraj Deep, carried the name of the British Officer who “crushed” the Indians in the 1857 War of Independence. For 161 years, India carried this shame, tattooed across her forehead. Ross Island, named after a colonial surveyor is now Subhas Chandra Bose Island and Neil Island, named after an East India Company officer, is now Shaheed Dweep. Good riddance, I say.
Bedi calls Bose a ‘Radical Hindu Nationalist’. I don’t know why. And, in all probability, neither does Bedi. Bose was always liberal, secular and left of center. Bose was a soldier and lived and died for a cause far greater and worthy than faith. He lived and died for India. I would be failing as a soldier myself if I was to mention the faiths of the soldiers of the Azad Hind Fauj, but I must do that. Bose’s inner circle comprised of people from all religions. A few of those brave men were Colonel Shaukat Ali Malik, Major General Shah Nawaz Khan and Major General Mohammad Zaman Kiani, who was commander of the Indian National Army. There were Sikhs, Hindus and Christians, too. Their motto was “Ittehad, Itmad aur Qurbani”, or Unity, Faith and Sacrifice. That is what they did. That is who Bose was. The Indian National Army was the army of Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind or Provisional Government of Free India.
Thousands of INA soldiers died fighting and many perished in death camps. By marching to certain death, they forever sanctified Netaji’s call to war “Give me blood and I shall give you freedom”.
There is a certain romance to what Bose did. A man rages against injustice and leads an army of volunteers against one of the greatest empires on earth.
There were many who were responsible for India’s freedom, but Bose was amongst the movement’s brightest stars. And history bears witness that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was a man of his word.
We gave him blood. He gave us freedom.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
Consulting Editor – Republic TV
(The views and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Republic TV/ Republic World/ ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd.)