A man crossed into India via the Gorakhpur Border in 1955. From ’55 to ’65 this man lived in almost-total, self-imposed isolation at locations in Lucknow, Sitapur, Basti and Ayodhya. From 1965 to 1985, he lived in a room at the back of a house smack in the middle of Faizabad, as a special tenant of Thakur Guru Dutt Singh.
So special a tenant, that in two decades the landlord never once saw his face. To the rest in the know of his existence he was Gumnami Baba: the holy man whose name is lost. Others had access to him too as per his wishes and instructions but it was all covert, dead of night access. Some came regularly, mostly from Bengal, mostly on the 23rd of January and during Durga Puja. Others came occasionally, big names, in government cars, and always left before dawn.
It is said he died on September 16, 1985 and was cremated at Guptaar Ghat – Ghat of the secret immersion, 10 steps from where Rama walked into the Saryu and vanished – in the presence of 13 people, draped in the tricolour, by the light of a motorcycle’s headlamp.
There are 25 iron trunks full of Gumnami Baba’s possessions kept under lock and key by court order, in the DM’s custodianship, at the Faizabad District Treasury. Given their contents – a court-authenticated inventory of which is available for all to see – if the Baba was not Netaji, then who he was is an even greater mystery. An accidentally-recorded video clip of Justice Mukherjee, who headed the Vajpayee-appointed Commission of Enquiry, is also available for all to see on YouTube. “Don’t quote me,” he says in it, “but i’m 100% sure that it was him.”
Being a judge of the highest integrity Mukherjee did not make this personal conviction an official conclusion in his report, citing a lack of clinching evidence. He did conclude, however, that Netaji did not die in Taiwan in a plane crash on August 18, 1945, for the excellent reason that there was no plane crash in Taiwan on August 18, 1945. In 2006, the report of the Mukherjee Commission was summarily dismissed.
The situation is unconscionable. The government, even this government, says that declassifying Netaji’s files will be detrimental to India’s interests. No one who reveres Netaji can ever wish harm upon India’s interests, and i believe several in this government revere Netaji.
To them i say: It is your right to not declassify the files. But your duties are threefold: tell the people from the ramparts of Red Fort this 15th August that Netaji did not die in a plane crash; officially give him the title Tagore gave him: ‘Deshnayak – Hero of the nation’, for that is what he was; and award the Param Vir Chakra to the entire Azad Hind Fauj for supreme sacrifice in the service of India. It is literally the least you can do.