Monday, August 11, 2014

First Field Marshal

In my years in the land of the free, whenever the conversation turned to India's freedom movement, my American friends would ask me if Mahatma Gandhi was our "George Washington". My answer would always be an emphatic no.

To me, George Washington was the general on horseback who drove the redcoats to the north. "In the rockets' red glare and the bombs bursting in the air." Of all the founding fathers of the United States, he is the most revered. His military skills were so valued that it is said that long after he ceased to be president, the reigning president, John Adams wanted to bring him back as a General during the Quasi-war with France -- to "scare the French."

George Washington was the only American leader, who could "scare" a reigning superpower at the time.

And that, always brought me back to our own founding fathers and the empire that they took on. Having read all I have about Bapu, I understand that he worried the British a lot. But scaring was reserved for only one national leader, with the same stature as Gandhi. If the British were truly scared of an Indian independence leader, it was Netaji Subhash, because, he wanted a military end to the freedom struggle. The last thing that the British ever wanted, was another 1857, and so, Netaji scared them -- like no other leader did.

During the second world war, Netaji's INA was charging on India's north-eastern frontier.  For a few months, in a small part of Indian territory, the Indian national flag flew. That part of India (Hind) was made independent (Azad), and Netaji became the Indian general on horseback, who took on the redcoats and drove them out. To me, the leader from India's freedom struggle who was the closest to what General George Washington was to the Americans, is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. No one even comes a close second.

And that brings me to the fresh controversy that is brewing in the air. The newly elected Indian government, wants to honor Netaji Subhash with India's highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India). And since Netaji has never been honored (posthumously) due to a controversy surrounding his death, the new government feels that it is time to give Netaji his due. The people who oppose this thinking say that Netaji was way above this award, and giving him the award after it has been conferred on "lesser mortals", would tarnish his stature. So, I thought that I would give you Desi Babu's opinion in this regard.  

The only other Indian leader of that stature who has never been given the Bharat Ratna is Mahatma Gandhi, since the father of the nation is "above" the award. It is well known that the person who conferred that title on the Mahatma was Netaji Subhash. In addition, Netaji gave a modern perspective to India's freedom struggle and was known to be responsible for India's state symbol and the state salutation (Jai Hind). The only person in the history of the Indian National Congress that ever took on Mahatma Gandhi (and defeated him) was Netaji.

So, if Netaji has the same stature as Gandhiji, how exactly should we honor him?

One option is to do nothing, like we do in Bapu's case. We do not confer posthumous awards on Bapu, although, we do give out awards in his name. Perhaps, we could do the same for Netaji.
The other option, is to confer a military honor (bold emphasis needed) on Netaji. The highest civilian honor does not quite cut it, but honoring Netaji, who always considered himself a military man, should be a military matter.

In the year 1976, during the American bicentennial, General George Washington, the General on horseback who drove the redcoats to the north, was promoted by a special act of Congress to "General of the Armies" (equivalent to Indian Field Marshal), the highest military rank. Only one serving officer in American military history, received the honor before. This posthumous conferral was unprecedented, but if any American deserved this stature, then it would be Washington.   

So, in Desi Babu's opinion, the government should consult the military top brass and through an act of parliament, create an honorary title of "First Field Marshal". India has two field marshals already, but in the order of precedence, as the first general in command of the army of Azad Hind, Netaji needs to be first.

The Bharat Ratna is an award for civilians. A soldier of Netaji's stature, deserves a military honor of the highest category. And, as the Americans showed two hundred years after their independence,  it is never too late to do the right thing.