Lucknow: Rarely ever in history has the enigma of a leader lived on for more than half a century after his demise. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose may have “died” in an air crash in August 1945, but for those who believe in him, he lives on and on as the ellusive “Gumnami Baba”.
Gumnami, in Hindi, means anonymity. Gumnami Baba — whom many believe was actually Netaji (Bose) lived in the guise of a sadhu at several places in Uttar Pradesh, including Naimisharanya (Nimsar), Basti, Ayodhya and Faizabad. He kept changing his place of abode, mostly within the city itself.
Baba, as he was called, remained a complete recluse and interacted with only a handful of ‘believers’ who visited him on a regular basis. He never stepped out of his house, rather room, and majority of the people claim to have never seen him.
One of his landlords, Gurbax Singh Sodhi, tried to take him twice to the Faizabad Civil Court on the text some work but failed. This information is corroborated by his son Manjit Singh in his deposition to Justice Sahai Commission of Inquiry, set up to identify Gumnami Baba. Later a journalist, Virendra Kumar Mishra, too lodged a complaint with the police.
Gumnami Baba finally settled in an out-house of Ram Bhavan at Faizabad in 1983 where he reportedly died on September 16, 1985, and was cremated two days later on September 18. If it were really Netaji, he would been 88 years old.
Strangely, there is no proof that any person really died. There is no death certificate, no photograph of the dead body or of the people present during cremation. There is no cremation certificate either. In fact, Gumnami Baba’s passing away was not known to people until, 42 days after his supposed death.
His life and death, both, remained shrouded in mystery and no one knows why. A local newspaper, Janmorcha, had earlier conducted an inquiry on the issue. They found no evidence of Gumnami Baba being Netaji. Its editor, Sheetla Singh visited Netaji’s associate Pabitra Mohan Roy in Kolkata in November 1985.
Roy said, “We have been visiting every sadhu and mysterious individual in search of Netaji, from Saulmari (West Bengal) to Kohima (Nagaland) to Punjab. In the same manner, we also visited Babaji at Basti, Faizabad and Ayodhya. But I can say with certainty that he was not Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.”
Despite denials from sources — official or others — his ‘believers’ refused to accept that Gumnami Baba was not Netaji. Though the Uttar Pradesh government has officially rejected the claim that Gumnami Baba was actually Bose in disguise, his followers still refuse to accept the claim.
The Gumnami Baba ‘believers’ had moved court in 2010 and brought out a judgment in favour of their petition with the high court directing the Uttar Pradesh government to establish the identity of Gumnami Baba.
Accordingly, the government set up an inquiry commission on June 28, 2016, headed by Justice Vishnu Sahai. The report stated that “Gumnami Baba” was a “follower of Netaji”, but not Netaji. A leading surgeon from Gorakhpur, who does not wish to be named, was one such ‘believer’.
“We kept asking the Government of India to declare that Netaji was not a war criminal but our pleas fell on deaf ears. Baba did not want to emerge as a criminal. It does matter that the government did not believe in him — we did and continue to do so. We want to be known as his ‘believers’ because we believed in him,” he told IANS.
The doctor was among those who regularly visited Gumnami Baba and still remain’ his staunch ‘believer’. In February 1986, Netaji’s niece Lalita Bose was brought to Faizabad to identify the items found in Gumnami Baba’s room after his death. At first sight, she was overawed and even identified some items to be of Netaji’s family. Baba’s room was filled up by the over 2,000 articles in 25 steel trunks.
No one had ever seen them during his lifetime. Handwriting expert Carl Bagget was also given the two sets of letters to analyse without being told the identities of the writers.
After he said they were written by the same man, it was revealed to him that the persons in question was Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Gumnami Baba. Baggett stood by his conclusion and gave a signed statement to that effect. Baggett was an authority on document examination with over 40 years of experience and had completed over 5,000 cases.
Faizabad, the epicentre of the Gumnami Baba’s myth, still believes in the story of the “sadhu”, ignoring the findings of inquiry commissions.
It matters little to the ‘believers’ that two consecutive commissions, headed by Justice Mukherjee and Justice Sahai, had declared that “Gumnami Baba was not Netaji”.
“My father was among those who strongly believed in Gumnami Baba. He respected Baba’s wishes and never tried to forcibly meet him. But whenever he passed by Ram Bhavan, he would bow his head in reverence. If the government of the time did not accept the truth, it does not take away anything from the truth,” said Ram Kumar, a local resident.
Dr Suman Gupta, the resident editor of Janmorcha in Lucknow and also a resident of Faizabad, said, “There were people who were in contact with Gumnami Baba and these people strongly believed that he was Netaji. “There are many who could never see him or meet him but still believe in him. It did not matter to them if the facts prove otherwise — it was a matter of faith and continues till this day.”