August 2017


A lot has been written and said about the more known freedom fighters but little or nothing has been written about the role of ham radio operators who played a crucial role in our freedom struggle. One such hero is Bhavsingh Morarji Tanna, popularly known as Bob Tanna and also a resident of Malabar Hills. He acquired this name due to the inability of the British to pronounce his name. Bob Tanna`s father was the Divan of Panna, which near the then Bhavnagar State, where he spent his preschool days. There next to his house, atop a hill, the British army officers came to practice signaling with flags. From them, Tanna learnt morse code at the age of 8 years. Later on in 1931, at 16 years, on the streets at Flora Fountain, he came across a book which said communicate with the world sitting on your armchair. This got him interested in Ham Radio. His attraction was so great that he soon went to the General Post Office and gave his exams but had to wait for 5 years as the permissible age to procure a license was 21 years.

In 1942, at a time when Gandhian leaders were jailed and shunted out of the media, it was the Ham Radio operators who stepped forward and offered their technical expertise with the highest available technology risking their own personal safety and freedom. On 2 nd September 1942, he along with Nariman Printer, call sign VU2FU, began transmission on a 40metre Transmitter on a 50watt am unit on 7.12MHz, broadcasting protest music and uncensored economic views at 8:30am and 8:45pm daily. This was known as Azad Hind Radio which worked through the high point of Mahatma Gandhi`s Quit India Movement in September, October and November 1942 when all the leaders were arrested. To avoid detection by the British authorities, he had replaced his wife`s clothes line with antennae. Three spots were selected for the transmitter in Girgaum, Colaba and Santa Cruz. Despite sporadic jamming, the crystal clear control signal transmission was heard all over the undivided Indian subcontinents and in faraway Japan occupied Myanmar and even England. On November 11, 1942, inspite of having no evidence, Tanna was detained by British authorities and tortured but he didn’t mince a word about the underground Azad Hind Radio. He spent six days in police custody and nine months under detention in Arthur Road jail. Prosecution efforts to link him to the radio were unsuccessful and he walked out free.Nariman Printer agreed to co-operate with the colonial authorities and was let off. A special judge found Usha Mehta guilty and was sentenced to 5 years rigorous imprisonment.

Finally after Independence, Bob VU2LK as he was known on radio was officially recognized as a non- violent freedom fighter and was named a national hero for his underground radio work. He continued his work on ham radio till his demise with his ideals and was the most honored and senior most licensed radio operator. As someone once rightly said `Great Men Never Die. They Simply Pass Away`. May his soul R.I.P.