Rarely ever in history has the enigma of a leader lived on for more than 77 years after his demise.
Subhash Chandra Bose may have ‘died’ in an air crash in August 1945, but for those who believed in him, he lived on and on as ‘Gumnami Baba’.
Gumnami, in Hindi, means anonymity.
Many believe that Gumnami Baba was actually Netaji (Bose) who lived in the guise of a sadhu at several places in Naimisharanya, Basti, Ayodhya and Faizabad.
He kept changing places, 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 regularly. He never stepped out of his house, rather room, and majority of the people claim to have seen him only from a distance.
One of his landlords, Gurbax Singh Sodhi, tried twice to take him to the Faizabad Civil Court on the pretext of 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.
Strangely, there is no proof that any person really died. There is no death certificate, no photograph of the dead body nor 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 at Kolkata in November 1985.
Roy said: “We have been visiting every sadhu and mysterious individual in search of Netaji, from Saulmari to Kohima 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 Subhash 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 ‘believers’ had moved court in 2010 and brought out a judgment in favour of their petition with the high court directing the UP 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. It does not 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 remains his staunch ‘believer’.
In February 1986, Netaji’s niece Lalita Bose came 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 with 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 were 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 over 5,000 cases to his credit.
Faizabad, the epicentre of the Gumnami Baba 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 from 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.”