Shilajit Kar Bhowmik

"Cowards die many times before their death,
The valiant never taste of death but once."
This oft-quoted remark by Roman Emperor Julius Caesar calls up a courageous association. The Roman Emperor was forbidden to step out of his residence for that might result in the denouement of his life. This was a premonition by his consort; Calpurnia who had a terrible nightmare which signalled Caesar's violent death. Coincidentally, the dream was realised. Caesar was stabbed to death by some of his most faithful comrades. Thus, he attained the death of a valiant mortal.

In the modern context, the aforesaid Caesarian quote can be attributed to the characteristics of a feisty and formidable leader who sought our blood and promised freedom from generations of foreign tyranny. He sacrificed the pleasures of a mundane life for our sake. He stood the risk of a violent death in the hands of our colonial masters. But this was a man who refused to subordinate to the will of cowardice. He refused to comport with the will of slavery. He is India’s venerable Netaji who installed the Provisional Azad Hind Government on 21 Oct, 1943.

He was invariably endeared to the masses irrespective of religion, caste, creed, gender or race. He conversantly strived for Hindu-Muslim unity and thus; mooted the idea of the Holwell Monument agitation in Calcutta's Dalhousie Square. The monument named after a British official symbolised severe indictment on the soul of Siraj-Ud-Daula, the last Nawab of independent Bengal. Hindus and Muslims alike made common cause with the agitation. A meeting was scheduled to be held on 3 July, 1940. And it was attended by a vast concourse. It would be interesting to note a promising Muslim League student leader turned up among the audience. He later grew up to father the foundation of Bangladesh. He was none other than Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Netaji was arrested and lodged in Presidency Jail. It was wartime. World War II dominated every fibre of international politics. Netaji's wisdom knew this situation should be exploited against the British. War would debilitate the British Empire. India should enter the international arena. However, he also knew he would not be released from prison by just legal means. Therefore, he took a fast-unto-death at the end of Nov, 1940 on the day of Kali Puja. Initially, the Central Government kept a stiff upper lip. But the Bengal Government condescended as they feared Bose might attain martyrdom. And thus, he was placed under house arrest.

Therefore, the witty Bose planned the great escape with his nephew Sisir Kumar Bose and niece Ila furtively. Meanwhile, Bose contacted a close associate from Peshawar named Mian Akbar Shah who responsively turned up and was introduced to Sisir.  A few days before his eternal departure from home, Bose announced he would seclude for a few days. He would not entertain guests or callers on the telephone. His room was curtained off. Only Sisir, Ila and Akbar Shah was privy to his actual plans. It was 17 Jan, 1941, 1:30 AM. The house was asleep. It was a foggy and misty night. It was a silent night. Bose was in the garb and guise of an upcountry bearded Muslim named Mohammad Ziauddin. He was driven to Gomoh by Sisir and boarded a long-distance train to Peshawar. Subsequently, from Peshawar he made his way to Kabul through the Khyber Pass and reached there on 27 Jan, 1941.

He got in touch with German Ambassador Dr. Pilger who was quite recalcitrant. After several rounds of negotiation through the Italian Ambassador, Pietro Quaroni, Germany agreed to let Bose proceed to Berlin to plan a German-Italian overture to Indian soldiers. On 18 March, he left for Moscow with a fake Italian passport. From Moscow, he flew to Berlin on 2 April, 1941.

Towards the end of 1941, Bose set up the Free India Centre, a diplomatic mission. The Free India Centre established a Planning Commission for reorganising India socially and economically post-independence. The Centre had its own insignia of the Congress tricolour with the outline of a springing tiger embossed on it. Tagore's 'Jana Gana Mana' was adopted as its National Anthem. The common and universal form of greeting 'Jai-Hind' was introduced for the first time ever in modern Indian history. Subhas Chandra Bose was accorded the venerable appellation of 'Netaji'.

Towards the end of May 1942, Netaji had a conclave with Hitler which dissatisfied the former to a certain extent. However, the ‘Fuehrer’ agreed to provide Netaji with facilities to travel to the Far East in a submarine. 

It was a tall order. But Netaji was not a man to fight shy of challenges. On 18 Jan, 1943 he boarded a German U-boat at Kiel with the company of his Man Friday, Abid Hussain. The inner atmosphere of the Submarine reeked of diesel oil all over. Even the food served had the stench. But the great leader was a man of iron. He refused to take rest even under the most trying circumstances. It was an odyssey for three months. It was indeed a great escapade. Ultimately, they reached Singapore and thereafter flew to Tokyo.

Around mid-June 1943, Netaji ultimately had two historic audiences with Japanese Prime Minister Tojo. His flamboyant personality cast a mesmerising spell on Japan’s Premier. Consequently, Tojo invited Netaji to the Japanese Diet (Parliament) where in the latter’s presence, the Japanese Premier officially affirmed full espousal of India’s independence. 

Notably, during the year which preceded Netaji’s arrival in East Asia, efforts were made by patriotic Indians to organize the Indian independence movement. The veteran Indian revolutionary, Rash Behari Bose formed the Indian Independence League. While Mohan Singh formed the Indian National Army in league with a young Japanese officer, Iwaichi Fujiwara. Unfortunately, owing to inadequacy of leadership and inexperience of international affairs, these organisations broke down. However, the arrival of Netaji resurrected hopes. He left no stone unturned in reinvigorating those organisations. He slogged to revive them tooth and nail.

On 4th July, 1943 Rash Behari Bose significantly handed over the leadership of the entire movement to Netaji.
During the following three months, Netaji incessantly laboured and toured extensively to imbue a new sense of patriotism and nationalism among Indians scattered all over East India. He became an embodiment of the hopes and aspirations of countless Indians. Ultimately, on 21st Oct, 1943 he set up the Provisional Government of Azad Hind at a historic assembly in Singapore. The proclamation of the Azad Hind Government is a document which should be historically enshrined in gold. Netaji wrote it by spending a sleepless night over cups of coffee.

After proclamation of the Government, Netaji took the oath as the Head of State and Prime Minister. It was an emotionally charged moment to the extreme. He broke down and tears rolled down his cheeks.
The Azad Hind Government was recognized by nine states including Japan, Germany and Italy. 

The war waged by the Azad Hind Fauj is history. The battle was lost, but the cause won. It helped to debilitate the backbone of the British Empire leaving it devoid of resources to govern. And this phenomenon facilitated India’s freedom which was yearned for so long.

As Azad Hind Fauj suffered military reverses, the undaunted Netaji told his soldiers, "I have only one word of command to give you, and that is that if you have to go down temporarily, then go down with the national tri-colour held aloft, go down as heroes, go down upholding the highest code of honour and discipline. The future generations of Indians, who will be born, not as slaves but as free men, because of your colossal sacrifice, will bless your names."

On a personal note, I pay tribute to Netaji through Shakespeare as follows:
His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up to say to all the world, 'This was a man'.

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