Unveiling the enigmatic Netaji

Nostalgic The Netaji Birth Place Museum in Cuttack, Orissa

This radio station was Azad Hind Radio, which was set up by none other than Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, a leading crusader of India’s freedom struggle.

The Azad Hind Radio was born in Germany and aired its first programme on January 7, 1942 — in English and Urdu — from there, for its Indian listeners. Subsequently, the radio station aired its programmes in other Indian languages like Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil and Telugu too. The radio station was set up to unite Indians to fight for the country’s freedom.

Netaji had his first broadcast over Azad Hind Radio on March 25, 1942. “This is Subhas Chandra Bose, who is still alive, speaking to you over Azad Hind Radio,” were his opening lines that kept ringing in the ears of Indians for a long time.

Since then, the Azad Hind Radio has traversed a bumpy ride. In 1943, just after the first year of its inception, the radio station had to shift its base from Germany to Holland because of World War II. Then again, it was shifted back to Germany following heavy bombardment on Holland by allied forces. Later, the Azad Hind Radio was able to air its programmes from other countries like Singapore and Bangkok.

Similarly, another rare fact is that it was Subhas Chandra Bose who conceptualised the opening of the first private bank in India. The National Bank of Azad Hind Limited or the Azad Hind Bank was set up in Rangoon, now Myanmar, on April 5, 1944 with voluntary donations from the Indian community. The bank had begun its operations with an authorised and paid up capital of Rs 50 lakh and Rs 25 lakh respectively and also had its own currency.

The primary objective of this bank was to collect funds and utilise it properly to run the Indian National Army (INA) formed by Netaji to launch an armed struggle against the British rulers in India. It also supported the Provincial Government of Azad Hind (PGAH), proclaimed by Netaji, while he was still in exile.

These and many other interesting facts about the life and time of Subhas Chandra Bose are on display for general public at Janakinath Bhawan in the Oriya Bazar area of Cuttack, the erstwhile capital of Orissa. Cuttack, situated about 30 km from the state capital Bhubaneshwar, has great historical significance as this is where Netaji was born on January 23, 1897.

The old building which was gifted to Orissa government by the Bose family in 1954 has been turned into the Netaji Birth Place Museum. The Orissa government has set up a trust, headed by the chief minister, called the Netaji Birth Place Museum Trust, which is now in-charge of the museum’s maintenance.

 Subhas Chandra Bose was not only born in Cuttack but had also spent the first 16 autumns of his life in the 1,000-year-old coastal Orissa town. He studied and passed his matriculation from Ravenshaw Collegiate School, Cuttack, which still continues to be one of the leading educational institutions of Orissa.

He left for Kolkata in 1913 to join the famous Presidency College, but continued his ties with Cuttack. When the Korei area of Jajpur district, which was part of Cuttack district then, was hit by cholera in 1914, Subhas Chandra Bose, along with some of his friends, landed there to extend a helping hand to those suffering.

Bose had also returned to Cuttack and stayed in his ancestral home for a brief period in March 1916. His father, Janakinath Bose, was a practicing lawyer in the coastal Orissa town.

After the Orissa government decided to turn Janakinath Bhawan into a museum, the INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) took over the job in 1999 at a cost of Rs 1 crore. By 2005, the two-storeyed L-shaped building which had as many as 22 rooms was ready as a wonderful museum.

Initially, the museum had four galleries, which have now gone up to 12. Apart from two galleries dedicated exclusively to the Azad Hind Radio and the Azad Hind Bank, other galleries include the room with the old wooden cot where Bose was born, and the one showcasing the personal study table of Netaji with his old geometry box which he used during his school days.

One gallery in the museum displays important letters Netaji had written to various leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as to his family members. There is also a rich collection of rare photographs of the eminent freedom fighter which is preserved in another gallery.

The surviving family members of freedom fighters who had joined Bose’s INA have also donated many articles to the museum, said the curator and caretaker of the museum, J P Das.

Since its inception in 2005, thousands of tourists from within and outside the country have been visiting the museum. The growing popularity of the museum has prompted the Orissa government, in collaboration with the Union government, to transform the spot into a major tourist destination. Apart from additional developmental works in the museum, the Tourism Department of the state government is also planning to develop its periphery into a multi-facility hub to attract tourists. This on-going project is called Destination Tourism Project, which is indeed a tribute to Netaji on his 114th birth anniversary this year.

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