(Sanjeev Sanyal, the principal economic adviser to the Government of India, also an acclaimed author, stirred a hornet’s nest when he termed Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, much in news in last few days, as the first prime minister of independent India. Arnab Goswami got him talking on Republic TV network, and not just on his provocative tweet).
Arnab Goswami: Sanjeev firstly explain your tweet this morning when you said what a fitting tribute to Netaji first Prime Minister of independent India …
Sanjeev Sanyal: So, let me first say I’m absolutely thrilled that Netaji’s statue will be put up under the canopy because it’s a really fitting tribute to a man who I at least, and many millions of Indians, consider to be one of the key architects of modern India.
Now why did I say that he was the first prime minister of free India? Well as it turns out he was the prime minister of the Azad Hind government that had been set up in Singapore; it was in control of part of India, part of Manipur in fact, and of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; he had an army in the INA and he issued his own currency! And very importantly, he was recognised as the official government of India by a large number of countries—of the Axis alliance and Ireland as well. So you know he was leader of a legitimate government in control of part of India. So it’s fair to say he was in that sense the first Prime Minister of an independent India.
Arnab Goswami: Sanjeev, you are constantly attacked you are not a trained historian. When we spoke recently you spoke about the need to revisit our own history. What do you mean by revisiting our own history?
Sanjeev Sanyal: I have never claimed to be a trained historian. (But) I have raised issues about other aspects of history and in every single case, basically what they are saying is that I have not been forced to go through the brainwashing of the usual academic system. But most of the people they quote were not trained historians too—like Alexander Cunningham who was a British general and John Prinsep who was an official with the East India Company. So why they should criticize me for not having a history degree when the people they quote also don’t have history degree?
Now to the second point. I think we have a compelling reason to rewrite our history and the best place to start is with our freedom struggle.
I am astounded that some of the history we read in our textbooks, for example our revolutionary movement, has been wiped out in our history books. I mean occasionally you would hear about some chap called Chandrashekhar Azad or Rash Bihari Bose but you are never given a sense of their importance in our history. So you get the impression these brave people did some unconnected acts of individual bravery. But the fact is there was a concerted revolutionary movement lasting over decades with clear leadership. This is never brought up.
I’ll give you other examples. Even in the history of the congress. For example you hear about the internal fights between the Moderates and the Extremists. You immediately know who wrote the history. Because you get the sense that the Moderates were reasonable people and the Extremists were some irrationals. But Lal-Bal-Pal were basically asking for Poorna Swaraj (Full Freedom). Whereas the so-called Moderates were effectively asking for minor changes and pleading with the British. The better way to characterise is the way Sri Aurobindo would’ve used to characterize them: One group that was Nationalists and the other Loyalists.
Simply changing the nomenclature slightly and the whole narrative becomes different.