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Modi's Gujarat 'ignores' India's biggest donor of Azad Hind Fauj, Dhoraji's Habib Sheth

By Dr Hari Desai*

One surely feels happy that the statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is being installed near the India Gate in New Delhi. Every Indian and even Netaji’s 79-year-old daughter Prof Anita Bose Pfaff feels happy about the statue at the most important area of the capital.
In an interview with an Indian TV, Anita, who is a German citizen, mentions that she thinks if not Netaji’s only Mahatma Gandhi’s statue should have been there. She may be aware that there existed a plan to install life-sized statue of the Father of the Nation at that place. 
Even after differences with Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel which led Netaji to leave the Indian National Congress, Bose was the first person to call Mahtma Gandhi Father of the Nation on July 6,1944 in his Ragoon Radio broadcast, and sought Bapu’s blessings as the Supreme Commander of the Indian National Army (INA).
Till 1968 there was statue of King George V at India Gate. It was removed and placed in the Coronation Park, New Delhi. Until the installation of the actual statue of Netaji is completed, a hologram of Bose will be projected at the site of the statue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced: “At a time when the entire nation is marking the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, I am glad to share that his grand statue, made of granite, will be installed at India Gate. This would be a symbol of India’s indebtedness to him.”
The canopy at the India Gate, which has been lying vacant since 1968, will now house a granite statue of Netaji, with official sources saying its installation will be a case of India "reclaiming" its history.
When the entire nation is celebrating the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Gujarat, which is the home state of not only the Prime Minister but also of Amit Shah, Home Minister of India, is not only ignoring and insulting a small request on November 24, 2020 from Haji Afrojbhai Lakkadkutta, President of the Anjuman-e-Islam Memon Moti Jamat, Dhoraji, along with Nayan Kuhadiya, a local journalist, to at least name a road in the name of Memon Abdul Habib Yusuf Marfani, a Dhoraji-born donor, who gave away his entire fortune for Netaji’s Indian National Army (INA) in Burma (now Myanmar).
In fact, Marfani, known as Habib Sheth among those who knew him, was so close to Netaji that he donated Rs 1 crore in cash and jewellery worth Rs 3 lakh in 1944, all of which values around Rs 500 crore today. He also made other Gujaratis in Burma donate to INA. The Azad Hind Bank was established with his initial donation. 
A Dhoraji-based historian and a relative of the Marfani family, Yusuf Chitalwala, says Marfani was among the first donors, and Netaji expressed his gratitude by awarding him a Sevak-e-Hind medal.
Modi in INA cap: 2018
Not only Netaji’s lieutenant in INA Lt Col AC Chatterji but celebrated historians Raj Mal Kasliwal and Sugata Bose have praised the contribution of Marfani. 
Great grand nephew of Netaji and Harvard professor of history Sugata Bose records: 
"One such millionaire-turned-fakir was Abdul Habeeb Saheb who gave away his entire fortune amounting to one crore and three lakhs of rupees to the Azad Hind movement. At a public meeting in Rangoon in 1944 Habib Saheb walked up to the platform and emptied a basketful of diamonds and jewellery into a silver tray, placed a bundle of title deeds in one corner, and then lifted the tray and handed it over to Netaji with a smile. When His Excellency Netaji pinned the medal, Sewak-e-Hind, he said, 'I feet so proud and happy'.”
She told me:
 “Abdul Habib Saheb should be honoured properly in Gujarat for his magnanimity. We remembered him at Netaji Research Bureau (Kolkata) in the presence of one of his descendants a few years ago.” 
Saeed Khan wrote the following in the Times of India on July 14, 2012: 
“Marfani is not the only Gujarati Muslim to have contributed to INA. Surat’s Ghulam Husein Mushtaq Randeri was the recruiting officer for the army. During the recent celebration of Bose’s birth centenary, Marfani’s grandson Yacoob Habeeb was felicitated in New Delhi for his ancestor’s action. However, these references were missing from Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on the occasion last week, when he donned the INA cap and tried hard to establish the Gujarat connection with Bose.”
Today not only Gujarat but Dhoraji Municipality is being ruled by Modi’s party i.e. Bharatiya Janata Party. None from the ruling party has bothered to attend to the simple request to name a road after Habib Sheth’s name in Dhoraji. In fact, the view is stong, Memon Abdul Habib Yusuf Marfani should have been awarded posthumous Bharat Ratna by the Government of India for his yeoman service.
Donning INA cap and trying hard to establish Netaji's Gujarat connection, Modi’s speech in 2012 ignored Habib Sheth, felicitated by Centre
It is worth recalling how Marfani’s his father gave away everything of his to INA. Hailing from Dhoraji, Marfani migrated to Rangoon, the capital of Burma (now Myanmar), and became one of the rich business magnates of Rangoon.
In 1943, Netaji formed Azad Hind government and Azad Hind Bank. Later, at in a huge meeting on July 9, 1944, Netaji made an appeal to the public for ‘total mobilisation’. Marfani responded to the call of Netaji in full measure by sacrificing all that he had, and thus acquiring for himself a prominent place in the chapter of ‘total mobilisation’ in the history of INA.
Marfani magnanimously handed over a plateful of gold jewellery and cash along with a bundle of title deeds of his total property, all about the worth Rs 1 crore and 3 lakh (estimated to be worth Rs 500 crore at the present value) to Netaji. He requested Netaji to provide him with two pairs of INA uniform and allow him to serve as its full-time volunteer.
Marfani's son Noor Mohmmad Habib has described how, delighted with the ‘total sacrifice’ of Marfani, Netaji said, “Brother, I am very happy today that people have started realising their duties… People are ready to sacrifice everything. What Habib Sheth has done is commendable, and those who emulate him to serve the motherland are praiseworthy”. Netaji asked Marfani to be the Director General of the Azad Hind Bank. He became his devotee in the struggle for the freedom of the motherland.
In his article, published in the "Memon Welfare Magazine" (November 2006) Noor Mohammad, giving the background of the Marfani family said, Habib Seh and his wife Hajarabai Ali Mohmmad had one son and three daughters. He never returned to Dhoraji after he left his native before the first world war.
His son once visited Dhoraji in 1960s. One of the three daughters of Marfani, Fatimabai, shifted to New York with her husband. Other two daughters, Ayesha and Mariam, died earlier. 
Younus Chitalwala says, “We have almost lost track with the Myanmar-based family of Habib Saheb. When I was in Kolkata, the family members used to visit us there. Some eight years back, his grandson had come to Delhi for Netaji’s birth anniversary celebration.”
Even as losing track of the Marfani family, the people of Dhoraji feel proud of his contribution and the role he played in the freedom movement. The least they demand is the road in Dhoraji be named after the great man.
---
*Former editor of Gujarati daily of the Indian Express Group in Mumbai, currently based in Ahmedabad

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