Today, the 23rd of January, 2022, is Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary. And a special one at that — the 125th.
For some two years now, his birthday has been officially incorporated in the celebrations around our Republic Day. And it has been given an apposite name — Parakram Divas, the Day of Valour. Netaji and valour went together. But if I were to think of an expression, a phrase, which I would reflexively connect with Netaji, it would be — ‘Jai Hind!’. Whenever we see a photograph, oleograph, painting or statue of him, that phrase comes to mind as a salute and a greeting, an emphatic celebration of the Hind we have cherished, the Hind ‘here-and-now’ that we belong to and an aspiration for the future.
Some figures in history have expressions or phrases indelibly linked to them.
Dadabhai Naoroji, the Grand Old Man of India’s freedom struggle, who enunciated the Drain of Wealth theory in 1876 and advocated in 1904 a comprehensive boycott of British monopolies and their substitution by indigenous production, invokes ‘Swadeshi’. Lokamanya Tilak, after the famous statement in Marathi attributed to him — “Swarajya ha majha janmasiddha hakka ahe, ani to mi milavanarach (Swarajya is my birthright, and I shall have it!)” — is synonymous with ‘Swaraj’. The word, concept and method with which Gandhi will forever be linked is ‘Satyagraha’. The equivalent for Shahid Bhagat Singh is ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. And with Netaji it is ‘Jai Hind!’, as imperishable as Netaji’s magnetic memory itself is.
But not as a phrase alone.
‘Jai Hind!’ is Netaji’s gift to India’s sense of its self. And that is a stellar gift. I do not wish to over do this characterization, just as I would not wish to portray Netaji’s — or anyone’s — place in time beyond its true scale and scope. That would make for neither good history, nor fair biography, only bad writing. I know very well that the voltage of the phrase, ‘Jai Hind!’, whether as a slogan, a salute, greeting or tribute fluctuates now. When said mechanically in any site or on any occasion, it can and does sound flat. Said routinely, without feeling, and out of mere ‘form’, as a speech-ending, it sounds flatter. And, yet, when intoned or heard in the fullness of its power, as from the Red Fort on Independence Day or at Wagah, it shows all that Netaji intended it to be — pride, confidence, aspiration, joy and, above all, solidarity.
Proud the phrase is, proud of Hind, of the people of Hind, of the self-respect of Hind. Confident it is, of its strength and perseverance in adversity, under challenge. It is aspirational, without doubt, for the very summit of achievement in what it is undertaking. And it has in it a seam of pure joy which the song, “Nanha munna rahi hun, desh ka sipahi hun, bolo merey sang — Jai Hind! Jai Hind!”, captures in the 1962 film, Son of India. But more than anything else, ‘Jai Hind!’ bespeaks solidarity, a togetherness of the peoplehood of Hind.
A togetherness, not sameness. Netaji’s ‘Jai Hind!’ is not about we, the people of India being the same or identical digits, but being together while being ourselves and being ourselves while being together.
In his carefully-researched biography of Netaji, His Majesty’s Opponent, Professor Sugata Bose tells us: “Bose asked his followers to find a common national greeting that would have a nice ring to it and would be acceptable to all religious communities. One day, Abid Hasan heard some Rajput soldiers greet each other with ‘Jai Ramji Ki’ — a phrase that had a musical quality. Hasan changed it to ‘Jai Hindustan Ki’. This did not quite work, but the abbreviated form ‘Jai Hind’ (Victory to India) sounded perfect, and Netaji enthusiastically embraced it as India’s national greeting. These words became India’s national slogan in 1947, and continue to reverberate across the length and breadth of India.”
On the very first occasion that Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation as India’s prime minister from the Red Fort in 1947, he invoked it. And he did so unfailingly, year after year through all the seventeen years that he unfurled the flag from that iconic perch. And every prime minister has done so since. Nehru said on that first occasion something that needs to be recalled today. In his expressive, sensitive Hindustani, Nehru said what is poorly translated as “If I miss someone today, it is Netaji.” That was not a politician speaking for courtesy’s sake. That was not a Congressman speaking for the record. That was the honest historian in Nehru speaking. The man who knew Netaji could well have been unfurling the flag that day and doing so not just before an exhilarated multitude but, more to the point, for an un-fractured India.
If Netaji had not exited from India to fight for her freedom from outside her shores and, instead, opposed the raj through World War II from within the country, whether as a Congressman or as himself, he would have put all his force against the communalization, polarization and brutalization of Indian politics in the name of religion. And, enjoying the trust of all Indians, like Gandhi and Nehru, he would have strengthened the nation’s opposition to the demand for Pakistan. He would have done more. He would have worked to see that the reasons for any section of Indian society to feel so alienated as to want to be separate are removed. He would have protected Hind from anyone subverting its Hindyat or Hindyatvam.
Netaji and Panditji were vastly different, as persons, as leaders. But their minds did converge, powerfully, in their sense of five things. First, in their valorous patriotism. Second, in their uncompromising secularism. Third, in their socialist faith. Fourth, in their international mindset. But fifth and most significant, in their sense of ‘Hind’. It is that Netaji that Panditji was missing, and recalling in 1947.
And this is a moment when we should recall who gave Gandhi the description, ‘Father of the Indian Nation’. Others may have thought of Gandhi as being that. But it was Netaji, and none else, who actually gave him that honorific, with ardour and faith. When we behold the statue that is to come up in the canopy vacated by that of George V, we must remember that. Those who see (and help create) a distance between Subhas and Gandhi beyond the span that existed between them will do well to remember this. Like Jawaharlal who plunged into a crowd that was shouting “Let Gandhi die…” outside the fasting Mahatma’s room in Delhi in 1948 with “Who is saying that, who?... Let him kill me first…let him kill me first…,” Subhas would have been a sentinel not just for Gandhi’s person but for his ideal of an India where people across communities protected and cherished each other.
On this 125th anniversary of Netaji’s birth, which coincides with the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence, it is imperative that we remind ourselves that ‘Hind’ is, geo-politically and in the language and lines of cartography, identical with ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’, the two official names of the country. But even as a person might have, in addition to a ‘formal’ name, a home-name which identifies him/her or his/her essentiality, her or his individuality, so do India and Bharat have in Hind that which makes our nation home, a safe home, to all her people in their unique individual-nesses — an ideal to which Dr Ambedkar dedicated our Constitution.
To that Hind, Netaji, on your 125th birthday today — Jai!