15th August is the day while we Indians particularly reminisce our freedom fighters many of whom will remain highly revered in our history. Without underplaying the great role in fighting the British of any of them, I share the feeling of countless Indians that Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was at their top. I have the particular advantage of reading Late Narayan Sanyal’s book in Bengali “Ami Netaji-ke Dekhechchi” (=I have seen Netaji) where Narayan’s extraordinary literary genius is manifest in every fold of the book, yet cannot be dismissed as his brainchild as its every episode is based on the facts/truths collected by “Netaji Research Bureau”. I strongly feel, these episodes should have a wide circulation outside the narrow Bengali circle, at least for the posterity, and that emboldens me to present a brief of one of those below in English.
The challenge that Netaji had shouldered in fighting the British, a fraction of that was far beyond contemplation of many of our so-called ‘Netas’ of his time who labelled Netaji as ‘Tojo’s (the Japanese General) dog’ who, in fact, were themselves dogs of the British. The single episode below I present, will be sufficiently illustrative which Sanyal has presented through Hargobind Singh, by religion Sikh, who was ‘Sardar-e-Jung’ in Subhas’ army “Azad Hind Fouz” [=Indian National Army (INA)] who, after Independence in 1947 had joined the Colonel rank in the Indian Army, who faced Brig. Md. Anwar Hussain of the Pakistan Army in 1965 Indo-Pak war while both of them were colleagues in Netaji’s INA earlier but even before that Anwar was in the British Army. It is a tale of that time.
At Palal Airport area, the British army had assembled which is at the base of a hill 500 feet high. Major General Kiani of INA had built a ‘pyre’ at the top of it by Hargobind 2 month back keeping its reasons secret. Soon after that the area was occupied by the British army. On the eastern side of the hill, only 50 out of 300 INA soldiers were still surviving under Major Abid Hussain who in a submarine had accompanied Netaj while they were taking long trip for 3 months from Germany to distant Singapore.
Major General Kiani on the western side of the hill which was earlier in occupation of INA, but subsequently captured by the British. Kianni’s worry was how to save the surviving 50 INA soldiers on the Eastern side of the hill. At that time, Kiani had not even the facility of radio signal. To communicate to Abid on the Eastern side that to approach further West was to face sure death which was now in occupation of the British, was a riddle to him. He caught hold of Hargobind, a Sikh. In that context, he invoked his dialogue with Netaji in the past when Kiani had asked Netaji which one is greater, Country or Religion? Nataji had replied ~ ‘Both’. At once Netaji flung the question to Kiani ~ ‘What can you give for your country?’ Kiani replied, ‘I can give my life’. Netaji retorted ~ ‘Just that?’ Then he had quoted from Tagore where a batch of Sikh soldiers, headed by Taru Singh, was taken captive by the Mughols. Nawab said to Taru ~ ‘Look Taru, you have fascinated me by your heroic fight. I won’t kill you if you just gift me your “Beni” (=the coiled hair which the Sikhs keep as a religious compulsion). Taru replied ~
“I owe you as your ‘Mercy’s nominee,
So, offer a bit more, my head with the Beni.”
As shaving off one’s ‘Beni’ was a sacrilege for a Sikh, thus was Taru’s reply and of course the Nawab cruelly beheaded Taru along with his ‘Beni’.
Now, there was a Buddhist temple atop the 500 feet high hill the tower of which was damaged by British bombing. 3 Burmese monks wanted to reach there to remove the statue of Buddha and other materials. But passage to the temple was unknown to them which was known to Hargobind by virtue of his erecting the ‘pyre’ there 2 months back. But how, Hargobind a Sikh, be requested to accompany the Buddhist monks with their shaven heads! The way was in occupation of the British, and they will surely capture the team lead by Hargobind! After lot of hesitation, Kiani told Hargobind the Tagore’s poem he had heard from Netaji and suggested him to shave off his ‘Beni’ and accompany the Buddhist monks by pretending that he was a ‘deaf and dumb’ person. Hargobind agreed.
On the way they were inevitably in the clutch of the British. Their Col. Simpson could not extract a word from Hargobind as he was (supposed to be) deaf and dumb! However, his tall and stout physique caused suspicion from the beginning. They detained Hargobind in Simpson’s camp. Of a sudden, their Captain Bob, just gasping, rushed into Simpson’s camp for which he had the latter’s reprimand. But Bob said, just now he had the BBC news that in the carpet bombing at Singapore Subhas Bose had been killed. A wail just slipped out of Hargobind’s mouth. But he was not supposed to do that; after all, he was deaf and dumb, incapable of hearing! So, he was caught red handed! Simpson was immensely pleased at the dramatic skill of Bob, though the so called BBC news about death of Subhas Bose was indeed cooked up!
On charge of spying, Hagobind was given death sentence by Simpson and wanted to know about the former’s last wish. Hargobind said after his death he desired to be cremated at the ‘pyre’ atop the hill. He further explained that the ‘pyre’ was built there under order of Major Abid Hussain of INA two months back on declaration that the INA soldier who would die exhibiting utmost valour in fight against the British, would be given the honour of a ‘martyr’ with right to be cremated on that ‘pyre’ and that Hargobind deserved that honour, he said. The story appeared to be credible to Simpson and he granted the prayer of Hargobind. Of course, the main purpose of Hargobind was to give signal by the lit up ‘pyre’ to Major Abid on the East of the hill that they should not proceed to further West but should divert Southward to escape the British.
Anwar along with two Sikh soldiers escorted Hargobind on foot to the hill top to execute and cremate him according to his last desire. On the way, Hargobind started telling them about the dedicated struggle of INA under Netaji which they started to hear spell bound, which was just the reverse of what the British had portrayed INA and Subhas as dogs of the Japanese!
At the end, not only the three escorts of Hargobind did not kill him, but ran away with him to join INA the Netaji’s Army. Hargobind and Anwar met again face to face after a long hiatus of about 2 decades after Independence in 1965 Indo-Pak war as enemies, but were overwhelmed at the meet, which is a different story.
To make the long story short, if Netaji’s “Delhi Chalo” expedition had been accomplished with full success, India would not be partitioned neither would there be Hindu-Muslim divide, which is plaguing our nation even after about long 7 decades after Independence, neither we would be burdened with millions of refugees which has been our plight under the aegis of our spineless and self-seeking ‘Netas’.