On January 31, 2013, the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court asked the Uttar Pradesh government to preserve the belongings of a mysterious sadhu named Gumnami Baba under the supervision of a curator. Since his death in Faizabad in 1985, some people have floated the suggestion that the sadhu was actually the freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose living under an assumed identity. For over two years the UP government did nothing to carry out the court order. But over the past few months, it has gone about the task with great zeal.

The state’s Samajwadi Party government has decided to display the sadhu’s possessions in a new museum in Ayodhya ‒ the Ram Katha Sangrahalay. To preserve these artefacts, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party on August 17 sanctioned Rs 1.5 crore for the preservation of these artefacts.

The move to display these articles in the museum – even though there is no clinching evidence that Gumnami Baba was indeed Netaji, who is reported to have died in a plane crash in 1945  – is being seen by political observers as an attempt by the Samajwadi Party bid to score points over the Bharatiya Janata Party. So far, it is the BJP that has been at the forefront of the campaign to establish that the Faizabad sadhu was actually Bose.

Birth anniversary celebrations

According to a senior official of Uttar Pradesh Museums Directorate, which is in charge of the Ram Katha Sangrahalay, Gallery No IV of the Ayodhya museum will be converted into memorial for Gumnami Baba. “All the belongings of Gumnami Baba will be preserved and displayed in this gallery,” he said. Tentatively, the gallery is likely to be inaugurated by Akhilesh Yadav on January 23 next year.

January 23 is the date on which Bose was born in 1897. It was also the day when Gumnami Baba used to celebrate his own birthday, according to the people who are trying to claim that Bose survived the Taiwan plane crash in August 1945 and eventually took on the guise of a sadhu. Displaying Gumnami Baba’s belongings in a museum would go a long way to establishing in the public imagination the still-dubious idea that he was actually Bose.

Of course, Ayodhya is no stranger to such dramatic transformations of historical identities. On the night of December 21, 1949, for instance, a Hindutva group planted an idol of Lord Ram inside the Babri Masjid. This act played a vital role in establishing the very controversial notion that the Ram had been born on the very spot on which the mosque stood. In this case, too, there is no evidence for this hypothesis.

The attempt to cast Gumnami Baba in a new light and the Ramjanmabhoomi campaign aren’t entirely unrelated. Ram Bhawan, the bungalow in Faizabad’s Civil Lines area in which Gumnami Baba spent his last days, was built by Guru Datt Singh, who was the city magistrate of Faizabad in 1949. Singh and KKK Nair, who was then the deputy commissioner and district magistrate, were soon implicated for being the facilitators of the Hindutva activists who planted the idol in Babri Masjid. Singh was forced to retire from his post a few months after the incident.

Guru Dutt Singh’s grandson, BJP leader Shakti Singh, is the present owner of Ram Bhawan and an ardent crusader in the campaign to establish that Gumnami Baba was actually Bose. The organisation he has floated – Subhash Chandra Bose Rashtriya Vichar Kendra – was one of the petitioners in the High Court plea asking for the sadhu’s possessions to be preserved.

Shakti Singh said that the Samajwadi Party government’s decision to display Gumnami Baba’s belongings was long overdue. “The shifting of these items from district treasury to the museum should have taken place two-and-a-half years back,” he said. “It is possible that many of these documents and other artefacts might have got further damaged during this period.”

However, not everyone in the Samajwadi Party approves of the Akhilesh Yadav government’s decision on the exhibition.  Suryakant Pandey, a senior Samajwadi Party leader from Faizabad has written a letter to the chief minister asking him to review the decision.

Some opposition

“I have come to know that honourable High Court has asked for the preservation of Gumnami Baba’s belongs but the government wants to display them,” he said in the letter, dated September 15. “This decision of the government would lead to Ram Katha Sangrahalay becoming a place of deception and future generations would harbour all kinds of deceptive illusions with regard to this place and Gumnami Baba.”

As a previous article in this series has noted, the campaign to establish that Gumnami Baba was actually Bose was started by a Faizabad paper called Naye Log shortly after the sadhu’s death. The Samajwadi Party leader Pandey was among the early supporters of that effort. But he has since changed his opinion.

“I got carried away by the campaign in those days,” he told Scroll.in. “But soon I realised that the kind of people who had been instrumental in getting Rama Lalla manifested in Babri Masjit in 1949 were also the ones who were running this campaign.”

This is the final article in a three-part investigation into the Gumnami Baba myth. You can read the other parts here.