August 9, 2017
Sugata Bose speaks during a discussion on the 75th anniversary of Quit India Movement
Madam Speaker, August 9 is a red letter day in Indian history. On this day, 75 years ago, ordinary Indians became heroes, when they responded to Mahatma Gandhi’s death defying call ‘Karenge ya marenge’.
To make colossal sacrifices in their resolve to force the British to quit India, our first duty today is to together pay reverent homage to the noble martyrs of the Bharat Chhoro Andolan, who gave their all so that we may be born in free India.
Mahatma Gandhi had drafted his historic Quit India Resolution as early as April 1942. He indicated in an interview that he was even prepared to take the risk of violence to end the great calamity of slavery. It was a somewhat toned down version of Gandhi Ji’s radical Quit India resolution that was eventually moved by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and adopted by the Congress on August 8, 1942.
As our Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji has said in his eloquent speech, the Quit India Movement turned out to be the biggest civilian uprising in India since the great rebellion of 1857. It was orchestrated by middle ranking leaders because all the top leaders were clapped into jail in the early morning of August 9. It began as an urban movement of students, youths and workers. My own father was severely wounded as he led a students’ procession on the streets of Calcutta on August 13, 1942.
In late September in 1942, the uprising spread to the countryside where huge crowds of peasants attacked all symbols of British authority – revenue offices, post offices, police stations and so on. In some instances, arms were looted from the police stations. British administration collapsed in many districts of Bihar and Jharkhand, eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bengal (especially Medinipur district), Odisha, Maharashtra (especially Satara district). Bihar and Jharkhand were the storm centres of the rebellion and witnessed strong participation from peasants and Adivasis. Everywhere women played a crucial role in the resistance. Matangini Hazra showed the dignity of the Indian Tricolour was more precious to her than her own life as she was shot down in Tamluk. Parallel governments were set up in the liberated localities but overwhelming British might ultimately prevailed by March 1943, even though the underground leaders like Jay Prakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia and Aruna Asaf Ali were not apprehended until later.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji mentioned Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and how he made common cause with Mahatma Gandhi in 1942. He said in a broadcast on August 17, 1942, ‘The whole world now sees that the velvet glove which ordinarily hides the mailed fist of Britain has now been cast away and brute force – naked and unashamed – rules over India. Behind the thick screen of gas, underneath the heavy blows of police batons and the continual whistle of bullets and the angry defiance of the injured and the dying – the soul of India asks – ‘Where are the four freedoms?’ The words float over the seven seas to all corners of the globe – but Washington does not reply. After a pause, the soul of India asks again – ‘Where is the Atlantic Charter which guaranteed to every nation its own Government? This time, Downing Street and the White House replied simultaneously – ‘That charter was not meant for India.’
Netaji had desperately wanted to be in Asia by August 1942, but the submarine voyage from Europe to Asia could not be arranged until February 1943. Had the armed thrust of the Azad Hind Fauj coincided with the internal rebellion of the Quit India Movement, then the history of our country might have taken an even more glorious turn.
Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji has announced in his speech that the 5 years from 2017-2022 should replicate the extraordinary journey of 1942-1947, from Sankalp to Siddhi. Great events did indeed take place between 1942 and 1947. The Quit India Movement, the armed struggle of the Azad Hind Fauj, the popular upsurge at the time of the Red Fort trial in the winter of 1945-1946. But how can we forget that there was a gap between Sankalp and Siddhi in 1947. We got independent India, but unfortunately we did not get united India at that time. Nehru’s famous ‘tryst with destiny’ speech began with an honest confession. The pledge of freedom, he said, was being redeemed not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. He paid tribute to the architect of our freedom, the author of the Quit India Resolution. He said that we have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message. Mahatma Gandhi’s silence spoke louder than Nehru’s eloquence. Far away from the celebrations in New Delhi, Mahatma Gandhi chose to spend Independence Day in Kolkata. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry of the Government of India had asked him for a message and he said he had run dry.
The 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement, and the 70th anniversary of Independence, Madam Speaker, call for soul-searching introspection rather than chest-thumping celebration. It was the Mahatma’s moral force which ensured that peace reigned in Kolkata on August 15, 1947 and Hindus and Muslims chanted “Jai Hind” in unison.
Gandhi Ji published an article, “Miracle or Accident”, on August 16, 1947, and in it he said, “This peace was neither miracle nor accident; it was the determination of human beings to dance to God’s tune.”
“We have drunk the poison of mutual hatred”, Gandhi Ji wrote in Harijan, “and so this nectar of fraternisation tastes all the sweeter and the sweetness should never wear out.” The final five and a half months of Gandhi Ji’s life constituted a message for the predicament that we face in India today. Gandhi Ji had a keen insight when he commented, “Irreligion masquerades as religion.” Today we see irreligion masquerading as religion.
When the first AICC Session met in mid-November 1947, Gandhi Ji had a clear message for the ruling party and Government of the day. “No Muslim in the Indian Union”, he told them, “should feel his life unsafe.” And then of course he went on his final fast on January 12, 1948 to maintain peace in this great land of ours.
On January 23, which was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s birthday, he said, “Subhas knew no provincialism, nor knew communal differences and had in his brave army men and women drawn from all over India without distinction and evoked affection and loyalty from all over India, which very few have been able to evoke.”
In memory of that great patriot, he called upon his countrymen to cleanse their hearts of all communal bitterness. The 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement and the approaching 70th anniversary of freedom may be an apt occasion to ponder the relationship between the past and the future, between the old and the new.
Narendra Modi Ji has been talking about building a new India by 2022. We too have a dream for a new India inspired by the great leaders from the past. “Let new India arise”, Swami Vivekananda had proclaimed, “Arise out of the peasant’s cottage grasping the plough, out of huts of the fisherman, the cobbler and the sweeper.”
His message of equality went beyond class to embrace caste and gender as well. He said there were two great evils in our country: Trampling on the women and grinding the poor through caste restrictions. Vivekananda’s vision was fundamentally one of religious harmony. That is what led him to proclaim, “We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions are true”. Vivekananda taught us to mix with all the races of the earth, and every Hindu that goes out to travel in foreign paths, he believed, renders more benefit to his country than hundreds of men who are bundles of superstition and selfishness.
The sage had a balanced view of ancient India, which contemporary champions of India’s past would do well to heed. There were many good things in ancient India, according to Vivekananda, but there were bad things too. The good things are to be retained but the India that is to be the future India, must be much greater than ancient India.
Madam Speaker, it is not easy to get rid of bad things from the past. Today, in some parts of the country we are witnessing the recrudescence of the hatred that had marked the Cow Protection Movements of 1890s and the Suddhi and Sangathan Movements of the late 1920s.
Rabindranath Tagore’s book, Nationalism, published exactly a 100 years ago, in 1917, has a passage that sounds like an uncanny foretelling of the social and political crisis besetting India today. “The social habit of mind”, he wrote, “which impels us to make the life of our fellow-beings a burden to them where they differ from us even in such a thing as their choice of food is sure to persist in our political organization and result in creating engines of coercion to crush every rational difference which is the sign of life.”
I appeal to the Prime Minister to stop the engines of coercion in their tracks. Faith in India’s destiny rescues us from debilitating pessimism in the face of ferocious assaults on the expression of rational difference.
The song composed by Rabindranath that we have adopted as our National Anthem offers thanks to “Bharata bhagya vidhata” for the divine benediction showered so generously on our country and our people. The poet’s lyrics sang a paean to the expression of this divine glory that has many attributes.
The ‘jana gana mangala dayaka’ – the giver of grace — was at the same time in the later verses of the song, the ‘jana gana aikya vidhayaka’ – the one who crafted unity out of India’s myriad religious and regional diversity. The ‘jana gana dukkha trayaka’ appears in feminine form:
Ghoro timiro ghono nibiro nishithe
Pirito murchhito deshe
Jagroto chilo tobo obicholo mongolo
Rokkha korile ongke
Snehomoyi tumi mata.
The maker of India’s destiny gives solace in the darkest of times and offers the hope that the terror of a nightmare will pass. The appointed day has come, Nehru said of the tryst, the day appointed by destiny.
Was August 15 the day appointed by destiny? Viceroy Mountbatten chose the day randomly as he tried to quit India with the least possible harm to British interests. Yet, exactly two years before Independence, on August 15, 1945, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had issued a poignant last order of the day to those who fought under his leadership for India’s freedom: “Never for a moment falter in your faith in India’s destiny; India shall be free, and before long”. Today, we need to rekindle the spirit of India’s great freedom struggle.
When Narendra Modi Ji says that the next five years will be transformative – we sometimes wonder when he says that these years will be transformative because the three top constitutional posts are held by people belonging to the same ideology – we cannot but feel some concern. We need to be clear about what our ‘sankalp’ is for 2022. If he truly wants all evils to quit India by 2022, including communalism, in the pejorative sense of the word, we hope that he will unambiguously condemn and take stronger action against those who are spreading the poison of hatred and killing human beings in the name of religion.
In conclusion, Madam Speaker, a galaxy of great leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, led the people of India on their brave journey towards freedom. After Independence, sometimes we have had to ask, and say, ‘manzil unko miley jo shareek-e-safar na thay’.
That is why today, we have to make sure we don’t have a vision of untrammeled dominance of one community and one language. I agree with Dr Thambidurai that we must counterpose an alternative and a better vision of a New India based on the cultural intimacy of all of India’s different communities. A part of the battle for the soul of India will be fought in the realm of ideas, not in the trenches of party politics. So let us have healthy democratic contest during the next five years.
I know that those who are occupying the treasury benches today have their own gurujis. But for the next five years, I would invite them to join us on a journey on the broad highway illuminated by the halo of Mahatma Gandhi. Let us banish poverty, illiteracy and disease from this great land of ours. Our New India will be the most vibrant economy in the world, with its inhabitants enjoying universal access to education and health care. Our New India will be the home to some of the greatest institutions of learning, attracting the finest faculty and students from all over the world. An overarching sense of India’s nationhood will happily coexist with multiple identities of our diverse populace. We will celebrate and respect our differences to rise above them.
To move from that resolution to accomplishment, from that ‘sankalp’ to ‘siddhi’, we need peace. To ensure peace, we must avoid all temptations to be chauvinistic and jingoistic. To build a truly great new India by the 75th anniversary of our Independence, we must have grand vision inspire by a broad, generous and imaginative conception of India’s place in the world and our contributions of the cause of humanity.
It is time for us, as democratically elected representatives of the people of India, to not just affirm today’s resolution that you, Madam Speaker, are placing before us but also to renew the famous midnight pledge to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever new. We pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind.