A NOBODY DIES - The Nehru-Gandhis apart, national heroes' kin are anonymous

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By Ashok Mitra
  • Published 19.12.11
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A formidable group of eminent scholars, extremely jealous of their liberal credentials, has emerged in the country. They take a charitable view of most men and matters. Their liberalism, however, gets frayed at the ends at the mention of Lefties, whom they consider to be a thoroughgoing useless lot. Since the Bengali academics they have met have happened to be of Left persuasion, they began taking a dim view of Bengal’s scholastic tradition, which was soon transformed into a generic Bengali baiting. Their close friends with Bengali surnames were spared, otherwise poking fun at every aspect of Bengali existence became a grand pastime. The Bengalis, in the reckoning of these eminences, are an embarrassing cargo the Indian nation has to carry. In support of their point of view, these eminences will cite the authority of the only great personality Bengal has accidentally produced, Nirad C. Chaudhuri. It should have been a bit of an inconvenience that while Chaudhuri enjoyed running down his fellow Bengalis, he was actually even more derisive of India and Indians. That however has not dampened the Bengaliphobes.

For sure, these sage people have a case. Bengalis are often full of idiosyncrasies and angularities. They can be argumentative, cantankerous, clannish, verbose in their narratives with a tendency to make a mountain out of a molehill. They are, besides, most of the time over-emotional and waste an unconscionable length of time writing and hawking poetry. They have, in addition, developed the habit of idle pontification for hours on end in tea or coffee shop sessions. The typical Calcutta intellectual, who proudly announces that the title of the latest work by that what-is-his-name Latvian writer under the imprint of Gallimard is The percussion of supersonic and is greatly miffed when another friend in the adda claims to have already known about it, is particularly insufferable.

Still, the poor Bengalis, it will have to be conceded, have at least one thing in their favour: they have stayed away from the bane of dynastic succession which threatens to overrun the rest of the country. ‘Follow the leader blindly’ is the nation’s motto. What the oldest political party, the Indian National Congress, thinks or does at once becomes an integral part of national political culture. If a member of the Congress falls foul of the party leadership, he or she is expelled for a period of six years. The rest of the parties in the country — barring the pestilent Left — which do not really belong — reverentially adopt the Congress norm: be it the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Muslim League, if an errant member is to be disciplined, he or she is chucked out for half-a-dozen years. Nobody ever questions why the duration of banishment has to be six years, not four or five or seven. Cheeky questions go ill with India’s heritage.

The dynasty set up by Indira Gandhi — some will count it from Jawaharlal Nehru or even from his father, Motilal Nehru — is now generally accepted as part of the natural order. Is not India a democracy and a republic? So what: in the five millennia this nation has travelled through history, it has always felt comfortable under the protection of emperors and kings, Indians have the genius for adaptability, they can coalesce their concept of a republic with an ardour for royalty. Indian democracy will march from strength to strength even as its stewardship continues to rest with a Nehru-Gandhi for ever and ever; when the tenure of one N-G comes to a surcease, another N-G will take over. The norm set up at the Centre by the country’s leading party is followed by copycats in the states. Especially in this matter, Kashmir is, without any question, an inalienable part of India: from Sheikh Abdullah it has to be Farooq and on to Omar. In Punjab, it is from Papa Badal to Baba Badal; in Tamil Nadu, from M.K. Karunanidhi to M.K. Stalin; in Odisha from father Biju to son Naveen; in Bihar, from husband Yadav to housewife Yadav. Why waste space by adding further instances from other parts of the country?

Strangely enough, Bengal has escaped the grasp of the epidemic. Consider the address 38/2 Elgin Road in south-central Calcutta. It was the residence of Subhas Chandra Bose. Almost diagonally across is the house his elder brother, Sarat Chandra Bose, built — the postal address is 1 Woodburn Park. These two addresses are witness to many historic meetings, parlays and confabulations during the nation’s struggle for freedom just as Anand Bhavan and Swaraj Bhavan in Allahabad have been. The sacrifices undergone by the Bose family in the cause of the country are no less — one dares say, perhaps more — than that of the Nehrus of Allahabad. The Nehru descendants have garnered the juicier fruits the tree of independence has been, and is, yielding. Even the great-great grandchild of Motilal Nehru is entitled to Z plus category security cover. The trajectory has been different for the Boses. They are nobodies. Now and then a scion of the family might have sought to get elected to the state assembly or Parliament. He or she has sometimes failed, sometimes succeeded. But these have been individual enterprises, the family has not at all come into the picture. Recently, a person with a professional background has been named a minister in a state administration; very few know — and fewer care — that he is a grandson of the Bose family; the Boses can here claim to be on par with the descendants of Mahatma Gandhi. A Gandhi grandson, Rajmohan, was in the Lok Sabha for a very brief spell; he got elected on the anti-Emergency wave, and not because he is a Gandhi. He soon withdrew to the tranquillity of university libraries. No other Gandhi has cared to walk the political catwalk, flaunting his or her pedigree. The Boses have behaved in a similar manner; they are now commoners, indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd.

A nice quiet gentleman, yet to turn into the early eighties, died a fortnight ago in Delhi where he had lived on and off since the early 1950s. He, Pradip Bose, was a nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose. Nobody knew about it. He believed in his anonymity. Not that he was not interested in politics. Quite the contrary; politics was his obsession, but not any political activity which targets the capture of power. Pradip Bose’s focus was on the study of political ideology, particularly the ideology of the Left. He was a pure seeker of knowledge, keen to learn about the nuances of ideological postulates that influence the praxis of different parties professing to be on the Left. A convinced socialist, he had his own specific political philosophy. This he tucked within himself when calling on leaders and functionaries of various political formations, each claiming Marxist parentage. He was polite, soft-spoken, the gentlest of the gentle in framing his questions. When he would say thanks and withdraw, he would leave behind the image of a humble wanderer eager to cross fresh frontiers only for the purpose of gaining further insight, to know what lies on the other side, that is all, he does not want to intrude. While without any connections with any academic institution, Pradip nonetheless was scholar extraordinary. His stock of knowledge concerning political parties and political ideologies kept piling into a majestic mass. But he never flaunted it, just as he never dreamt of flaunting his pedigree.

He developed a link with the Socialist International, spent years in Europe, Vienna, London and elsewhere, continuing his quest for distilled knowledge. He returned to Delhi, settled in, kept calling on famous and not so famous personages, always a modest smile lighting his lips and eyes, full of humility, but full of dignity too.

The last occasion Pradip was in Calcutta, he was espied travelling from Jadavpur in the southern fringe of the city toward midtown in a jampacked ramshackle state transport corporation bus. A thought flashed across the mind of the acquaintance who spotted him. If only Pradip’s surname was not Bose, but Nehru-Gandhi, the special protection group would have cleared the bus of all other passengers; he would have travelled in lonely imperial splendour with crack Cobra sharpshooters hemming him in; the rest of the traffic would have been ordered to come to a dead halt.

Pradip Bose died as he lived, quietly, apologetically, he had no intention of disturbing the agenda of others. And he died a nobody, he did not quite remember he was a nephew of Subhas Chandra Bose.