Seventy two years after he died or went missing, in the corporeal sense of the meaning, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose continues to exert tremendous influence on Bengali lives. It is therefore only natural that in this month of his end, at least from public view, we go back to him and try to understand the man and the politics he represented before he vanished for all time. And that word ‘vanished’ is at the core of much of our research on Netaji, for there are many of us who remain convinced that he did not die in August 1945 but may have been spirited away somewhere. Over the decades, students of the Netaji mystique have propagated the notion that he was abducted and taken away to Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union — because of his unforgivable dealings with the likes of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo — and never returned. There have been writers who have quoted people in the know about the reported plane crash in Taipei as suggesting that on the day in question nothing in the nature of a plane coming down or burning up in flames occurred.


The mystery behind Netaji’s disappearance has therefore never been resolved. The generation of Bengalis, born in the 1920s and which worshipped him without question, did not believe that he died in 1945. Various ideas were given out — that he had walked away from the scene when the inevitability of failure in the struggle against British rule stared him in the face, that he had quietly moved off into seclusion in a remote part of India and lived the remains of his life out there, that he had been spirited away by enemies unwilling to see him re-establish a foothold in Indian politics. In May 1964, as people filed past Jawaharlal Nehru’s body to pay respects to him, newspapers reported the presence of a saffron-clad sadhu who came and stood before the newly deceased prime minister’s corpse for a while before disappearing into the crowds. He bore something of an uncanny resemblance to Netaji, which fact led the media to have the image of the man published in the newspapers and ask the natural question: Could he have been Subhas Chandra Bose? No one saw the mysterious visitor again once he walked away from Nehru’s bier.

In the more than seven decades since August 1945, a veritable library of works on Netaji’s life, politics and death/disappearance has come up in India, which works have of course drawn passionate responses especially from Bengalis around the world. Among the more significant of works on Netaji is Sugata Bose’s detailed His Majesty’s Opponent and Leonard Gordon’s Brothers Against the Raj, the latter a compendium of the struggle against British colonial rule by Subhas and Sarat Chandra Bose. Add to that the fairly recent Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives by Rudrangshu Mukherjee. There are of course scores of others, some extremely emotional in tone and tenor and others dealing with the fraught relations Netaji had with both Gandhi and Nehru. To the credit of Indian historians and political leaders, though, Subhas Chandra Bose’s place in Indian history has never been questioned. Nothing has ever been done to airbrush him out of history on the ground that he solicited German and Japanese support in his war against British colonialism. In an era of historical distortions or misreadings of history, the resolve of Indians to keep Netaji on a high pedestal is remarkable.


Subhas Chandra Bose is today part of Indian and of course Bengali folklore. That the Indian national flag owes its original form to Netaji is remembered. Recalled too is his contribution to the choice of Rabindranath Tagore’s jana gana mana as independent India’s national anthem. Netaji’s sufferings, which were on a higher degree than the pains gone through by other Indian leaders at the hands of the Raj, have made a legend of the man. His principles were clear and unalloyed by convenience. At a time when any other politician would have heeded Gandhi’s advice to stay away from seeking a second term as president of the Indian National Congress, in the late 1930s, Bose went ahead to defeat the Mahatma’s man Pattabhi Sitaramaiya and reassert his appeal among Congressmen. It is of course another matter that Gandhi was peeved at Netaji’s victory. It remains a huge question as to how Indian history would have evolved had Gandhi not turned his back on Bose. Netaji did not receive the kind of support he thought would be coming from Nehru in his struggle, but of course Nehru had his reasons to stay clear of what he saw as Bose’s increasingly radical politics.

Rabindranath Tagore saw the future in Subhas Chandra Bose. In a preceding era, Bose for his part believed that Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das embodied the aspirations of freedom-seeking Indians. Das’ unexpected death in 1925 was an immense shock for Netaji and in a way left him to carry on the struggle alone, all by himself. It is a tribute to Netaji’s valour and wisdom that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman saw in him the heroic figure from whom he could draw inspiration for his own political struggles.

Subhas Chandra Bose remains an authentic epic tale in our telling and retelling of history.


(Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was born on 23 January 1897 and died/disappeared on 18 August 1945)

Syed Badrul Ahsanis a columnist.

5 Responses to “Netaji is part of our folklore”

  1. Feroz khan

    Thank you all for reminding us about the great Netaji.
    It is our shame and regret that free Bangladesh has not put Netaji alongside our great leaders. Our text books must be revised to provide the great history of our past. It seems our history only started with Pakistan! We are still stuck in the quagmire of Pakistan a nation of many nationalities ruled by and milked by a few.
    The Chinese government had to remind us about the great Atish Dipanker.
    Online papers and print papers and journals must play the advocacy role to bring about change to historical balance and continuity for future generations.

    Thank you all.

  2. golam arshad

    I ponder and wonder! Why Netaji Subash Chandra Bose till date not being honoured and ornated in Bangladesh? He deserves in all counts as the iconic Hero of Freedom. I pose this question to our leaders! Please ornate and ornate the Great Heroes of our Freedom. If you do that, Bangabandhu will stand out shinning after due recognition to all Heroes of Freedom like Netaji, Deshbondhu Chittoranhan Das, Swami Bibekananda and Great poets like Kobi Guru Rabindranath, Kazi Nazrul Islam and the iconic youth Hero Kobi Sukanto. Why those Heroes bedecked in Kolkata? They must be restored to their Heroic acts in the free soil of Bangladesh, not in the occupied territory! We Bengalis spilled blood to earn our freedom from the British! Gandiji, Nehru, Patel, Jinnah rejected us our leaders from Bengal: Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, Desh Bandhu, Sher-i-Bangla A K Fazlul Huq and Hussain Shahid Suhurwardy! Bengal in Bangladesh is free and sovereign. We will demonstrate our Hindu-Muslim harmony, our all-round potentials in all facets of life, including Music, drama and sports. Our unity over the years are being bombarded by non-Bengalis, including Punjabis, Guzratis and others. All Bangla speaking people must know: we are a Nation, blessed and ornated with potentials to be at the top of all Nationalities in all Great India!

    Golam Arshad
    Former Press Minister (2004-2007)
    Bangladesh Embassy
    Washington DC

  3. Sumit Mazumdar

    Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had influenced greatly not just on Bengalis but Indians as a whole. All through the 50s to 70s there would be rumors in West Bengal as well as elsewhere in India that he would show up somewhere on January 23 (his birthday), January 26 (republic day) or August 15 and literally hundreds of thousands of people would gather at the place based on just a rumor (TV came to India only after 1975). I saw one of the last of these on January 23, 1975 in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Villagers had traveled scores of miles (100s in some cases) by bicycles to see their Netaji!
    It is conceivable that Netaji could have prevented the Partition.
    Oral as well as written history of the Azad Hind Fauz have said that that was one place where Hindus and Muslims dined together, always. One of the highest commanders of the Fauz was General Shahnawaz Khan.
    Let us also not forget that the Fauz was the brainchild of another Bengali, Rashbehari Bose, who tried to organise a revolution during the First World War, escaped to Japan when his efforts failed and was never able to return to India and died in Japan.

  4. Anwar A. Khan

    “One individual may die for an idea, but that idea will, after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives.” – Subhas Chandra Bose.

    A splendid portraiture of Netaji has been egressed from the golden pheasant of the writer deserving of esteem and respect.

    In point of fact, among all the Indian freedom fighters, Netaji’s ranking concerning his contribution to Indian freedom struggle and popularity is next only to Gandhiji, I think. The towering charisma of Bose as a military leader at the forefront of Indian Independence movement has dwarfed many of his other contributions, especially as a social reformer and industrial relations expert. He was a great orator, prolific writer and a doer – one who practised what he preached. Though Netaji has never been a student of Sociology, he was always a keen observer of Indian Society. During his stay in Europe Netaji did establish and develop contacts with sociologists apart from political leaders, economists, literati, scientists and people from the cultural world. His ideas, writings, and actions provide enough material for serious sociological research, especially in the field of sociology of Indian Social Reforms and sociology of Indian industrial relations.

    He, once said, “By freedom I mean all round freedom… his freedom implies not only emancipation from political bondage but also equal distribution of wealth, the abolition of caste barriers and social inequalities, and destruction of communalism and religious intolerance…so long as social repression and economic inequality weighed heavily on these people, the idea of political independence could not inspire them.”

    He had an inherent faith in women’s power. He favoured women’s empowerment and breaking the social bondage of women, a bane of Indian women for centuries. Netaji was one of the early champions of women rights who strongly believed in the equality of men and women in civil and military life and considered the participation of women in the Indian freedom struggle extremely important. Netaji greatly admired Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, one of the heroes of the First War of Indian Independence.

    A serious academic interest and study of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s contributions to various academic fields including Sociology and Industrial Relations, itself will no doubt be a fitting tribute to the self-sacrificing, selfless revolutionary nationalist reformer.

  5. M. Emad

    Subhas Chandra Bose joined the side of Fascist Germany and Imperial Japan in the Second World War. In my views, this decision was not right. Japanese occupation in British India would be brutal and bloody like the other Southeast Asian countries and Andaman Islands.


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