“On his (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose) release, he invited me (Ansar Harvani) and Prabodh Chandra from Lahore by telegram to come to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to meet him…….. It was early January 1941, he told me that Gandhi was going to launch individual satyagraha to send political elements to jail in the most peaceful and nonviolent fashion. But something big is going to happen before the end of June when the monsoon will set in, and see that as many student cadres remain outside jails as possible…… I could not imagine in my wildest dream that he would march to Europe to head an Indian National Army.”
A Slice of History
Anasar Harvani recalled this incident in his memoirs. But who is Ansar Harvani? Like many of our freedom fighters who took sides with revolutionaries, he belongs to the margins of our history books. The fact that he was the maternal uncle of film lyricist, Javed Akhtar, brother of popular poet Asrar ul Haq Majaz didn’t help him much in becoming more known to the Indian public. A staunch supporter of Subhas Chandra Bose, he was advised by his mother, “She advised me to leave Subhas and join Gandhi if I needed a better personal future.” But, can those who love their motherland think of a ‘personal future’?
Ansar jumped into the freedom struggle, as a student, in the mid-1920s. Initially, Nehru impressed him but soon he found a leader in Subhas. He recalled, “as a student leader, I was deeply impressed by Jawaharlal. But, I was disappointed when he always compromised with Gandhi at every stage. I was more impressed by the militancy of Subhas Bose.” His attractive personality and oratory skills made him one of the most popular young leaders from Uttar Pradesh.
Ansar played an important role in the formation of the All India Students Federation (AISF) in 1936 to organise students in the freedom struggle. It was the time when he came closer to Subahs. He wrote, “The election of Subhas Bose as Congress President gave a fillip to the Students’ Movement. Unlike other Congress leaders who looked upon students and youth with suspicion, he had great faith in youth power…… despite the advice of local Congress Committees not to accept the invitation of the Students’ Federation he made it a point not only to address the meetings arranged by them but built up personal contact with local as well as provincial students leaders.
”Among the student leaders, Ansar was the closest to Subhas. He recalled, “When Subhas decided to contest the election of Congress President for a second term, I myself from U.P and Prabodh Chandra from Punjab were summoned by him to Calcutta for advice.”
After Subhas was forced to resign from the post of Congress President, the Independence pledge was also amended, an act disapproved by Netaji. Ansar, to show public support for Subhas, invited him to Lucknow on the day Congress was going to hold its meeting. Press wrote off Ansar’s effort as most of the Congress stalwarts were to be present at the meeting. But while the Congress meeting attracted a thin gathering, “Subhas Bose addressed a massive rally of youth and students presided by me (Ansar) in an adjacent park and was taken in a huge procession.”
Subhas confided in Ansar that he suspected Congress leadership to declare a compromise with the British to help in the World War at Ramgarh session. He was asked to reach Ramgarh and prepare for an anti-compromise conference there on the same day. Swami Sahjanand Saraswati and Dhanraj Sharma were also asked to prepare for the conference. It was a short notice and to take upon Gandhi backed Congress was not an easy task. Ansar himself was unsure of its success.
When he reached Ramgarh ‘"a sprawling township was being erected for the Congress session’ under the charge of Dr. Rajendra Prasad and with money from industrialists like Birla while Swami Sahjanand was living in a small tent. Soon, he witnessed the love of the masses for Subhas. He recalled, “within a few days, thousands of Kisan and Adivasi volunteers poured in carrying thatch from neighbouring forests to erect the township. These volunteers lived on a parched grain of gram and rice and worked throughout the whole day and night with unknown devotion in modern Indian history.”
On an appointed day, Subahs came early. Ansar wrote, “I took him around the camp. He even inspected urinals and latrines and suggested some improvements in them and left. This was the first glimpse of mine about his thoroughness which was amply displayed when he, later on, organised the legendary Indian National Army which hastened the retreat of British Imperialism from India.”
The anti-compromise conference drew a larger crowd than the original Congress session as students, peasants, and tribals gave their wholehearted support to Subhas. Ansar again proved to be the master planner for Subhas. He was one of the most prominent leaders of the Congress faction which supported Subhas and was called Forward Bloc.
Subhas left the country with the instruction with him that his supporters should avoid going to jail as he foresaw a Gandhi-led movement where nationalists would be locked up in jail making things easier for the British. Unfortunately, Ansar was arrested. It was the time when Indians were not getting any news of Subhas Bose. He wrote, “It was interesting that we got the news (while in jail) about the activities of Subhas Bose and his national army only from communist papers who highlighted them to paint him as a traitor and fifth columnist of the Germans and Japanese.” Locked up in Alipore jail, nationalists like him were enthusiastic about a Japanese attack.
He recalled, “On Christmas eve in 1943, some Japanese planes flew over Calcutta and dropped few bombs. We were locked in our cells but shouted ‘Bande Mataram’ welcoming Japanese planes for we knew that they were allies of Subhas Bose.”
When he was finally released in 1946, Ansar was the first to tell the world that several INA soldiers were hanged even before the trials. He said, “During my presence (Alipore Jail) at least two valiant soldiers of the Indian National Army were executed chanting ‘Jai Hind’. It was from them for the first time that we came to know that Subhas Bose was addressed as Netaji and had given a new national salutation ‘Jai Hind’, to replace many denominational ones.”
Ansar remained opposed to the compromise which Congress accepted in the form of the Partition.