Jaya dole for Netaji spy

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Chennai
  • Published 21.06.05
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Chennai, June 21: Eighty-three-year-old Saraswathi proudly carries a bullet wound ? a reminder of her time in the INA.

The wound, a couple of certificates and at least 10 portraits of Netaji that hang from the walls of a dingy tiled-roof room that she calls home are among her most precious possessions.

So are the INA khakis and cap that she donned before limping to Jayalalithaa’s secretariat to receive a dole.

For four years from 1942, when she was recruited into the Rani of Jhansi regiment in Burma where she was born and raised, Saraswathi was a member of the INA’s intelligence wing and joined operations in the Indo-Burma theatre of war.

About 60 years later, ailing, alone and with no money, Saraswathi turned to the Tamil Nadu government for help. “Four times, I have suffered heart attacks and I do not know how long I can go on.”

In a pre-election year, Jayalalithaa was quick to respond. She handed over a cheque for Rs 5 lakh from the chief minister’s public relief fund and the keys of a Tamil Nadu Housing Board flat where she can live free of rent.

The money will be deposited with the Tamil Nadu Power Finance and Infrastructure Development Corporation, out of which Saraswathi can draw a monthly interest of Rs 2,917 all her life.

“I am not able to speak much these days,” said Saraswathi alias Rajamani, whose parents belonged to Thanjavur. But she recalled with pride the rescue of a “fellow INA spy” abducted by British troops. It was “after tranquillising that British unit, we secured our comrade’s release,” she says. She was shot at and wounded as she fled the enemy camp.

Yesterday, before she took leave of Jayalalithaa, Saraswathi presented her a memento with a portrait of Netaji inscribed on it.

With an eye on elections, Jayalalithaa has announced a string of sops and is making sure they are not forgotten. Taking a swipe at the Centre for raising oil prices yesterday, she tom-tommed free bicycles to schoolgirls, free power for farmers, higher bank credit for women and free saree schemes.

“I am immensely pleased as the chief minister has quickly responded to my appeal,” said Saraswathi, one of about 60 INA veterans in the city, only three of whom are women. “The chief minister told me she would also arrange for medical assistance for me, but I politely replied that it may not be necessary.”