“Netaji: Living Dangerously”: by Kingshuk Nag

On his birth anniversary on January 23, I had paid tribute to one of my biggest heroes in Indian history, Netaji Subha Chandra Bose. In that post, I had briefly mentioned the author, Kingshuk Nag. Today, I write my impressions about his book , “Netaji, Living Dangerously”.

I admired the way Nag has crafted this book. He has touched upon the key points of Netaji’s interesting and illustrious career in a 208 page book without sacrificing the essence of his deeds. Since the book was published as recently as 2016, he has been made use of the latest information available on the subject. Earlier authors on Netaji could not do so as all the archives about Netaji were classified. They were not made available to the public by successive Governments in India.

One may wonder why Governments took this approach given Netaji’s reputation and name all over India. His fame, ironically, was the reason why Congress Governments- starting with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s first cabinet- made it their mission to downplay Netaji. They supported the story that he had died in an air crash in modern day Taiwan in 1945.

Nehru did not want Netaji to emerge in India post Independence as by then he was the tallest leader in the country. He knew that Netaji could pose a threat to his popularity and political fortunes, hence the deliberate downplaying of anything abut Netaji. Indeed, we know now from archives made public, that Netaji’s family was under surveillance for decades after Independence. Nehru and his successors wanted to know if Netaji was planning to return to India. This started the surveillance activity.

Nag also writes about the mysterious Gumnami Baba who first came to Uttar Pradesh in the mid-1950s. He was also called Bhagwanji or Gumnami Baba as he had no name! Many believed that based on anecdotal and other evidence found over the decades that he was indeed Netaji. He died in 1985 with his secrets intact. What was the true story of Gumnami Baba remains in the realm of speculation.

The reader is explained the political developments that took place towards the end of the Second World War. You will remember that Netaji had allied himself strongly with the Japanese who surrendered in 1945 bringing the Second World War to an end. The British Empire, weary after the long war was on it’s last legs. Netaji had influenced an armed struggle for the first time in British India. The mutiny by Indians in the Royal Indian Navy was a major event which made the British decide to leave India once and for all. On the other hand, the United States and Soviet Russia had become the most powerful countries in the world.

Nag suggests that post 1945, Netaji was a prisoner in the Russian labour camps. The Russians under Stalin had no interest in him, Japan was seeking a new beginning, Nazi Germany had been vanquished, and India had become an independent nation under Nehru and the Congress. Where would Netaji fit in – in this new world? Perhaps his experiences in Russia convinced him to live incognito in the future? Did he therefore emerge as Gumnami Baba to live out the rest of his dues in relative anonymity?

I have said enough about the book. You should read it to come to your own conclusions. I can assure you it makes for highly interesting reading, especially if, like me, you are fan of Netaji and a student of Indian history and politics.

Salute to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose!

Today we remember with reverence one of India’s greatest sons on his 125th birth anniversary. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was born in Cuttack on January 23, 1897. I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that for me, and millions like me, Netaji was the most charismatic and effective Indian leader in the period from 1935-1945. What makes his story all the more fascinating is not only what he achieved when he was alive but the speculations about his death which exists even till today!

I did a quick search in this blog and I find there are numerous blog posts about Netaji. They are summarized here for the benefit of those, especially among our youth in India, who may not know much about him and would be interested in knowing more:-

  1. In “India’s Biggest Cover Up” by Anuj That, I review this extremely interesting book which talks of what actually happened to Netaji after he was supposedly killed following an air crash in the then Formosa on August 18, 1945.
  2. In “The Indian Spy” , I review a book by Mihir Bose on Bhagat Ram Talwar, who escorted Bose out of India to Kabul in the early years of World War II.
  3. In this post on “Our Super Patriotic Hindi Sir ‘, I write about Mr B L Singh, our Hindi teacher at The Lawrence School, Lovedale, who was the first person who told me and my classmates about Netaji. He instilled in us the keen interest to know more about this hero. This post also contains links to many more books about Netaji.

I guess we will never know for sure what actually happened to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. A recent article by Kingshuk Nag suggests he may have been living or imprisoned in Siberia after he went to Russia towards the end of World War II. Mr Nag is a well-known journalist who wrote a book, “ Netaji: Living Dangerously” in 2016.

Whether he died in Russia or in Formosa or in his motherland India is still uncertain. However what is most certain is that Netaji’s leadership galvanized a section of India’s youth during the crucial years when he chose to fight for freedom.

As the leader of the Indian National Army or Azad Hind Fauj he was the first to hoist the flag of an independent India on December 30, 1943 in the Andaman Islands, which he declared the first place to get freedom from the British.

Many were the memorable quotes attributed to Netaji but perhaps the most famous of his words were, ” It is blood alone that can pay the price of freedom. Give me blood and I will give you freedom.”

Let us today- and indeed everyday- remember with pride the man who was more responsible for the hasty retreat of the British from India in the post- World War II years than any other.

Jai Hind!!

Our Super Patriotic Hindi Sir

This story again dates back to my school days at The Lawrence School, Lovedale. On September 13, I had written about Mr Gupta and his “steady slap”. Today’s tale precedes Mr Gupta by quite a few years. We must have been around 10-11 years of age and we were in the Junior School. Mr B L Singh had the difficult task of trying to teach us Hindi. I must say he did his best and a more sincere teacher it would have been hard to find.

However, we were more playful at that age. Many of us were recipients of his slaps, for work not done, for dreadfully wrong answers etc. Almost 60 years have gone by since those days but I can still vividly remember his saying, ” Bewakoof Ladka, ek chaanta maarega tho ghir jayega” or words to that effect. A Google search tells me that it means, “Foolish boy! If I give you one slap you will fall down. ” We may not actually have fallen down but those slaps stung!

If he had a fault, it was that Mr Singh was super patriotic. Now, being patriotic is indeed laudable but perhaps not to the extent he was – in the context of his being a teacher. He was likely to get carried away with his stories, much to our amusement. When he was in the mood, one story would follow the other until it was too late to get much Hindi text book work done in that period.

It was easy to lead him away from the task at hand by asking him about India’s freedom Struggle, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Mahatma Gandhi and the like. Often when he spoke of Netaji and the fight of his Indian National Army, his eyes would become moist. He would say one of his favourite phrases with dramatic pauses, ” Believe it or not , boys……..Ladai Huaa…..” .

On the day a Hindi Test was scheduled, Mr Singh was greeted on entering the class by the sight of two boys arguing loudly, standing chest to chest and on the verge of having a physical brawl. He broke up the fight by employing a technique most schoolmasters of his time used. He pulled them apart by holding one ear of each of the boys! When he asked what the matter was, Boy A said excitedly , ” Sir, he is saying Godse shot Gandhi because of the British”. Boy B hotly denied this . ” No Sir, he says Gandhi shot Godse.” Boy A : ” Sir, he says Netaji ran away to Germany because he was scared! ” Boy B : ” Sir, how can he say ” ran away”? You told us he went by submarine! ”

” Silence! ” roared Mr Singh. After giving them a slap each to cut short their arguments, he settled down on the edge of the table, his usual story telling position. He began with shakes of his head as if telling himself to be calm irrespective of how maddeningly ignorant these boys were.

” Boys, in January 1941………” he started off. Soon he was telling us ( though he had told us this story many times before) how Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose escaped from Calcutta, under the eyes of the British Intelligence. As the minutes went by, we sat , some like me, deeply interested in his story, others listening quite indifferently, some playing “book cricket” the immensely popular pastime of those days. Despite our varying levels of interest we were all privately happy that there would be no Hindi Test that day.

The events that Mr Singh spoke off had taken place just 20 years before that time and must have been fresh in his memory. He went on and on, assisted by some questions from an eager audience ( to keep the flow going) and was about to conclude when the bell rang signalling the end of his period. He mumbled something about the Hindi test being postponed to the next week. He then strode off, not before glaring at the errant boys who fought at the start of the class.

As soon as Mr Singh left, many boys rushed up to congratulate Boy A and Boy B the brave volunteers who had fielded a slap and a tug of their ears by Mr Singh for the greater good of the class!

You would have guessed by now that Mr Singh failed in his attempts to teach me Hindi. However, I thank him so much for instilling in me a great admiration for Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, who I firmly believe was the most admirable public figure in the India of the 1940s. Those interested may like to check out this link on books about Netaji.

“The Indian Spy” by Mihir Bose

I thought I was reasonably well read about the Second World War but reading “The Indian Spy” by Mihir Bose showed just how ignorant I was! I had never come across any story about an Indian spy as famous/infamous as Bhagat Ram Talwar. I was truly astonished to know that during the War years, Talwar (or Rahmat Khan or Silver as he was often called ) was a spy for not only the British and the Russians but also for the Italians, the Germans, and the Japanese! How remarkable is that!!!

I had of course read about how Rahmat Khan helped Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, acting as a deaf and dumb man, escape from India to Kabul during the early years of the Second World War. Little did I know that Netaji’s guide for this trip was the man who Mihir Bose describes as the ‘Most Remarkable Secret Agent of World War II”.

Talwar was first initiated into spying by the Italians in Kabul, which even then was a hot bed of intrigue and politics. He had initially wanted to work for the Russians as he was a member of the Kirti Kisan Party, a little known Communist party active in those days in the Punjab and the North West Frontier Province of an undivided India. Spying for the Germans then followed as they were the allies  of the Italians in the Second World War. Netaji Bose had by then reached Germany and Talwar became a full time spy shuttling between Kabul, Afghanistan and the Punjab and the North West Frontier of India.

He was soon asked to work for them by the Russians. Talwar’s ties to the Russians was based on his fascination for the Communist ideology. What amazes me is how gullible the Germans or at least his handlers in Kabul were! Talwar cheated them for years without their knowledge. He invariably briefed the Russians soon after his meetings with the Germans, and gave them whatever he got from the Germans!! Ironically, the Germans helped him the most monetarily and he served them the least.

India was ruled by the British in those days and soon Talwar was engaged by the British. Incredible as it might sound, the Russians shared their knowledge about Silver with the British as Russia and Britain were then Allies against the Axis forces. Without knowing about his links with their enemies, each of these countries trusted Talwar. They extracted whatever they could from him, much of which, of course, was misinformation!!

In the later years of the War, the Italians crossed over to join the Allies. By then, the Japanese had joined the Axis and Germany had lost all interest in the Far East and South East Asia. It was inevitable that Talwar became a spy for the Japanese as well.

The author covers in much detail how Talwar transformed himself over the years from being an amateur in the game to becoming a master spy. Equally interesting is the role of Peter Fleming ( brother of spy writer Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond ) who was his handler for the British in India.

Talwar apparently lived on in post-Independence India right up to the early ’80s. He even took part in a seminar on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose which was held in Calcutta in 1973!!

All in all, I found this book to be extremely interesting.

My end note: This is not written in this book but left me wondering……….Talwar seems to have lived in the state of Uttar Pradesh where the mysterious Gumnami Baba also lived. Many believe that Gumnami Baba was none other than Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose! Given the personalities of both of them, is it not likely that Netaji and Talwar were in touch with each other in those post- War, post -Independence days? I like to think they were!!

“India’s Biggest Cover-Up” by Anuj Dhar

The mystery surrounding Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose has fascinated millions of Indians including me over the decades.  It was with great interest therefore that I bought, “India’s Biggest Cover-Up” by Anuj Dhar.  Considered Enemy No. 1 by the British Raj, Bose was branded a traitor for his links with Hitler ‘s Nazi Germany and the Japanese. His Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj) founded in 1942 was portrayed as being a rag-tag bunch of losers, many of whom were Prisoners of War who changed sides to fight alongside Bose. This was the story propagated by the British but in reality they feared him more than any other prominent Indian leader of those times. We now know that Bose’s role in India getting independence with the end of the British Raj in 1947 was considerably underplayed.

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“Little Man From The East” : Maj. Gen. M.K.Paul (Retd)

“Little Man From The East: Marching Through Tumultuous Decades” is , in my view, a “must read” for anyone interested in 20 th century Indian history. It also happens to be the story of a soldier engineer commissioned into one of the oldest Regiments in the Indian Army,  the famous Madras Engineer Group. This outfit, more commonly called The Madras Sappers, and more fondly as ‘The Thambis’ was raised  in 1780.  Major General M K Paul (retd), the author, served with distinction in the Indian Army for nearly 37 years before retiring in 1991.

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