Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: Ideology

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Early life

India Today

Mridula Mukherjee

April 9, 2015

Unlike Nehru, Netaji believed that authoritarian rule was essential for achieving radical social goals

A misguided patriot

Subhas Chandra Bose fulfilled a promise to his father that he would sit for the Indian Civil Service examination in London. He secured the fourth position in 1920 but then went on to fulfil his own wish. He resigned from the coveted service the following year, saying "only on the soil of sacrifice and suffering can we raise our national edifice". Returning to India, he plunged into the national struggle and by 1923, was secretary of the Bengal State Congress and president of All India Youth Congress.

By 1927, he emerged, along with Jawaharlal Nehru, as leader of the new youth movement, which came into its own by playing a major role in the anti-Simon Commission agitation which swept India that year. He was also the chief organiser of the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress (INC) in December 1928, which demanded that the goal of the Congress be changed to 'Purna Swaraj' or 'Complete Independence'.

Imprisonment in the Civil Disobedience movement followed by bad health in 1932 took him to Europe where he observed European politics, particularly Fascism under Mussolini and Communism in the Soviet Union. He was impressed by both and believed that authoritarian rule was essential for achieving radical social goals.

In fact, it is in this period that the political views of Nehru and Bose begin to diverge sharply, especially on the issue of Fascism and Nazism. Nehru was so vehemently opposed to Fascism that he refused to meet Mussolini even when the latter sought him out, whereas Bose not only met Mussolini but was impressed by him. Nehru was sharply critical of the growing danger to the world from the rise of Hitler. Bose, on the other hand, never expressed that kind of aversion to Fascism, and was quite willing to seek the support of Germany and later Japan against Britain. However, he was not happy with the German attack on Soviet Union in 1941, and that was one reason why he left Germany for Japan. For Bose, Socialism and Fascism were not polar opposites, as they were for Nehru.

In 1938, Bose was unanimously elected, with the full support of Gandhiji, as Congress president for the Haripura session. But the next year, he decided to stand again, this time as a representative of militant and radical groups. An election ensued which Bose won by 1,580 to 1,377 votes, but the battle lines were drawn. The challenge he threw by calling Gandhian leaders rightists who were working for a compromise with the British Government was answered by 12 members of the Working Committee resigning and asking Bose to choose his own committee. Nehru did not resign with other members but he was unhappy with Bose's casting of aspersions on senior leaders. He tried his best to mediate and persuade Bose not to resign.

The crisis came to a head at Tripuri in March 1939, with Bose refusing to nominate a new Working Committee and ultimately resigning. The clash was of policy and tactics. Bose wanted an immediate struggle led by Gandhiji, whereas Gandhiji felt the time was not ripe for struggle.

Having burnt his boats with the Congress, Bose went first to Germany in January 1941 and then to Japan in 1943 to seek help in the struggle against their common enemy, Britain. He finally went to Singapore to take charge of the Indian National Army (INA) which had been formed by Mohan Singh in 1941 from Indian prisoners of war captured by the Japanese. The INA was clear that it would go into action only on the invitation of the INC; it was not set up as a rival centre of power. Bose made this more explicit when on July 6, 1944, in a broadcast on Azad Hind Radio addressed to Gandhiji, he said, "Father of our Nation! In this holy war of India's liberation, we ask for your blessing and good wishes".

The INA was allowed to participate with the Japan Army only in the Imphal Campaign, and the experience was none too happy-discriminatory treatment, a painful retreat and surrender to the British. Captured soldiers were brought back to India and threatened with court martials. The Congress, led by Nehru, demanded leniency, calling the INA men patriots, albeit misguided. There was a wave of sympathy across the country, and Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Sapru, Katju and Asaf Ali donned lawyer's robes to defend the INA leaders in the Red Fort trials.

Meanwhile, Subhas Bose succumbed to burn injuries received in a plane crash in Taiwan on August 18, 1945. What Nehru said of the INA soldiers may well be said of him: a patriot, albeit misguided.

‘Samyavad': a mix of Fascism and Communism

The Times of India, Apr 20 2015

Netaji wanted dictatorship for 20 yrs

Manimugdha Sharma

Recent allegations of the Nehru government snooping on the relatives of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose have led to conspiracy theorists propounding that Netaji was a greater patriot than India's first Prime Minister. What is conveniently ignored is his treaty with the evil Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan in raising the INA. By his own admission, in his book Indian Struggle (published in 1935 in London), Netaji said India needed a political system that was a mix of Fascism and Communism: something he called `samyavad'. Netaji made a special trip to Rome in 1935 to present a copy of his book to the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whom he greatly admired, and whose ideals he followed. Bose's reactionary views naturally brought him in conflict with the pacifist leaders of Congress, most notably Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru. But their friction didn't occur in 1935; it happened much earlier.

Bose had organized the annual session of the Indian National Congress in 1928 in Calcutta. There, he organized a guard of honour in full military style: over 2,000 volunteers were drilled in military fashion and arranged into battalions; half of them wore military uniforms with “officers“ wearing metal epaulettes.

For himself, Bose got a British military officer's dress tailored by Calcuttabased British firm, Harman's, complemented by an aiguillette and a field marshal's baton. He also assumed the title of general officer commanding, much to the chagrin of Gandhi, who described the whole thing as `Bertram Mills circus'. But Bose's love for militarism continued.

In 1938, at the 51st session of the Congress at Haripura, Bose was the president. He organized for himself a grand ceremony that was no less than the march of a triumphant ancient Indian king returning from conquest. He is said to have entered the venue in a chariot drawn by 51 bullocks, accompanied by 51 girls in saffron saris, after a two-hour procession through 51 gates that also had 51 brass bands playing. He would do similar shows in Southeast Asia when he helmed the INA and Indian Independence League.

In October 1943, Bose announced the formation of the provisional government of free India , assuming the titles of head of state, prime minister, and minister for war and foreign affairs. He demanded total submission from his countrymen; anybody who opposed him, his army or government could be executed.

The INA proclamation stated: “If any person fails to understand the intentions of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind and the Indian National Army , or of our Ally , the Nippon Army , and dares to commit such acts as are itemized hereunder which would hamper the sacred task of emancipating India, he shall be executed or severely punished in accordance with the Criminal Law of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind and the INA or with the Martial Law of the Nippon Army .“

In a speech the same year in Singapore, Bose spoke about India needing a ruthless dictator for 20 years after liberation. The now-defunct Singapore daily , Sunday Express, printed his speech in which he said, “So long as there is a third party , ie the British, these dissensions will not end. They will disappear only when an iron dicta tor rules over India for 20 years. For a few years at least, after the end of British rule in India, there must be a dictatorship...No other constitution can flourish in this country and it is so to India's good that she shall be ruled by a dictator, to begin with.“

By this time, Netaji seems to have preferred Nazism more than Fascism. In a speech to Tokyo University students in 1944, Netaji said India needs a philosophy that “should be a synthesis between National Socialism (Nazism) and Communism“. Around this time, of course, any form of cordiality that existed between Bose and Nehru had evaporated.

Nonetheless, Nehru's tribute to his former colleague read, “He was not only brave but had deep love for freedom.He believed, rightly or wrongly, that whatever he did was for the independence of India.... Although I personally did not agree with him... nobody can doubt his sincerity .He struggled throughout his life for the independence of India, in his own way .“

The Chinese Liberation Movement and Netaji

The Times of India, Sep 19 2015

Did Bose play a role in Mao's revolution? 

Did Netaji take part in the Chinese Liberation Movement against Kuomintang forces? Was he hiding in China in 1949? The files declassified on Friday reveal several intelligence agency inputs that hint at Subhas Chandra Bose's refuge in China in 1949. In a note dated January 26, 1949, agencies tracked developments after Subhas's brother Sarat Bose's return from Europe where he'd organized several meetings. On his return, he held crucial meetings with Forward Bloc and Socialist Republican Party leaders.

Bose, who led Forward Bloc, later formed the Socialist Republican Party, advocating a socialist system for Bengal and India.

During a meeting with key party functionaries including Leela Roy, Jyotish Joardar, Anil Roy and Satya Bakshi, Sarat said he'd gathered information in Europe that suggested Subhas Chandra Bose took part in the Chinese Liberation Movement against the Kuomington forces. He believed Netaji was alive and continued to be in China.

At the time, China was wracked by civil war between forces loyal to the Kuomintang-led government and the Communist Party of China. The war came to a close in 1949 after Mao Tsetung declared creation of the People's Republic of China.

In a January 26, 1949 note, an intelligence agency quoted Sarat Bose claiming Subhas Chandra Bose played a role in the Communist Party's victory in China.

This unfolded at a time when Sarat Bose was trying to unite Leftist parties, including Forward Bloc and Socialist Republican Party, to find a common formula and work on a single platform against the Congress.

The intelligence agency inputs claim that Sarat Bose was also trying to unite those who believed in Netaji's ideologies.

The files report Sarat Bose being quoted saying that initially he was surprised by the news, but looking at it in the backdrop of world events, the move by Netaji seemed “sound“.

His ideas on Gandhi

Bose dubs him ‘Father of the Nation’

January 24, 2023: The Indian Express

Netaji’s slogans of ‘Jai Hind’, ‘Give me blood and I will give you freedom’, ‘Chalo Dilli’, ‘Itmad (Faith), Ittefaq (Unity) and Kurbani (Sacrifice)’ are well-known. But did you know he was the person to first address Mahatma Gandhi as the Father of the Nation?

Bose and Gandhi

Much has been said about the relationship between Gandhi and Bose, and their often public differences of opinion. A major flashpoint between the two leaders was when Bose had to step down as Congress president in 1939 in face of Gandhi’s strong opposition to him occupying the post. Yet, that Bose continued to carry the strongest respect for Gandhi is evident in the condolence message he sent after the death of Kasturba Gandhi, over the Azad Hind Radio on June 4, 1944.

The website of the Gandhi Sevagram Ashram (which was founded by Gandhi in 1936), says, “Ba and Bapu had been interned at Aga Khan Palace, Pune in the wake of the Quit India Movement. It was while serving the prison term Kasturba passed away on 22 February, 1944. Concerned about Gandhiji, Netaji sent the following message to the Mahatma on Azad Hind Radio, Rangoon on 4th June, 1944. “…Nobody would be more happy than ourselves if by any chance our countrymen at home should succeed in liberating themselves through their own efforts or by any chance, the British Government accepts your `Quit India’ resolution and gives effect to it. We are, however proceeding on the assumption that neither of the above is possible and that a struggle is inevitable. Father of our Nation in this holy war for India’s liberation, we ask for your blessings and good wishes”.”

When Bose took over the Indian National Army (INA), he constituted four regiments, three of which were named after Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Maulana Azad.

What happened in 1939?

As reported in The Indian Express earlier, historian Satadru Sen has said about the ideological divide between Gandhi and Bose that while “Gandhi was willing to wait a long time for Independence, Bose wanted immediate action, if not immediate results. Gandhi was anti-materialistic and hostile to modern technology, Bose saw technology and mass production as essential to survival and dignity. Gandhi wanted a decentralised society and disliked the modern state; Bose wanted a strong central government and saw the modern state as the only solution to India’s problems. And finally, Bose did not share Gandhi’s dedication to non-violence.”

In 1938, Bose was elected the president of the Congress. In 1939, he wanted to contest again, despite the opposition of Gandhi, Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. An election ensued, and Bose defeated Pattabhi Sitaramayya, the Gandhi-backed candidate, by around 200 votes. Gandhi saw this as a personal defeat.

In a statement he wrote: “I must confess that from the very beginning I was decidedly against his re-election for reasons which I need not go into. I do not subscribe to the facts or the arguments in his manifestos. I think that his references to his colleagues were unjustified and unworthy. Nevertheless, I am glad of his victory. And since I was instrumental in inducing Dr. Pattabhi not to withdraw his name as a candidate when Maulana Saheb withdrew, the defeat is more mine than his.” Bose was unhappy that Gandhi had chosen to see his election as a personal setback. Eventually, with the Gandhi-Patel-Nehru faction unwilling to compromise, Bose stepped down as president.

What Indira Gandhi said about Bose

When the relics of Netaji arrived in Delhi on December 17, 1967, Indira Gandhi, speaking on the occasion, talked about the differences Bose had with Congress, but asserted that “Netaji was truly a symbol of India’s bravery”.

“Netaji was truly a symbol of India’s bravery.I still remember how thrilled we used to get as children by just looking into his fiery eyes. It was this fire, this patriotic fervour in him that led him to create the Indian National Army which brought many brave fighters for freedom, men and women alike, together, and which gave, a new impetus to our struggle for independence.The struggle for India’s independence was a long struggle; it was sustained by the sacrifices of millions of Indians. Among those who sacrificed their all in this struggle, the name of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose takes a high place. He will always retain a place of affection and honour in every Indian heart,” Indira said.

In the same speech, she added, “His restless and dynamic spirit led him to a path that was somewhat different from our own. Gandhiji used to say that the only wrong path is the path of cowardice. The path of courage can never be wrong. Netaji’s was a path of courage, and it did bring the goal of independence nearer. Bankim Chandra gave us Bande Mataram, which became the marching song of the freedom struggle. On becoming free, we adopted Rabindranath Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana as the national anthem. But today our biggest national slogan is Jai Hind. This slogan can be heard from NEFA, Nagaland and Kashmir in the north right down to the deep south. This slogan was given to us by Netaji. It reminds us of him, and also of the ideals which he placed before us.”

The Germans and Nazis

Was Netaji a ‘Nazi collaborator’?

Anshul Chaturvedi, July 13, 2019: The Times of India

Subhas Bose (left) with Adolf Hitler during their only meeting in late 1942
From: Anshul Chaturvedi, July 13, 2019: The Times of India

Volumes can be written about the topic, and then it gets lost in hyperbole and sentiment, so I am attempting a brief, bullet-point summation of why an American description of Bose as a Nazi collaborator is massively preachy and sanctimonious: 1. The USSR, the cherished Allied partner in WW2, was a ‘Nazi collaborator’ till the morning of Operation Barbarossa, courtesy the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Soviet trains loaded with foodgrains and oil were steaming into German territory till the moment the first guns opened up. Much is made of Germany’s invasion of Poland – after all, Britain and France declared war on Germany in response to Hitler marching into Poland. But did Germany occupy all of Poland? No. While the Poles were still fighting, the eastern half of Poland was occupied by Stalin’s troops as per a German-Soviet pact. Did the Allies therefore declare war on the USSR as well, since the issue was guaranteeing Polish sovereignty? Of course not. The US, a sovereign nation, subsequently allying with Stalin as soon as he was at war with Hitler, on the ‘enemy’s enemy’ rationality, wasn’t ‘collaboration with a dictatorship’, but Bose, a citizen of a colonised state nobody was willing to support militarily, seeking support from nations that were at war with Britain was? 2. There were thousands upon thousands of Nazi collaborators in Europe. Half of Europe was collaborating with the Nazis during the occupation, when Hitler seemed unstoppable, either out of ideological necessity or out of the need for self-preservation. Nations that proudly talk of liberty today were filling trains with Jews and sending them off as ordered, without the least resistance to German instructions. Anti-Semitism in Europe existed before Hitler and didn’t die with him. Vichy France’s troops fought the Allies on multiple fronts, on multiple occasions. Fact check: More French troops bore arms for the Axis than for the Allies during the course of WW2.

3. Bose was no Nazi fanboy. If at all, he was on better terms with Mussolini than with Hitler, with whom he had one single, unflattering meeting that left him distinctly unimpressed. In a letter to Dr Thierfelder, in 1936, he spelt out his views on the culture the Nazis were instilling in the country: ‘When I first visited Germany in 1933 I had hopes that the new German nation which had risen to consciousness of its national strength & self-respect would instinctively feel a deep sympathy for other nations struggling in the same direction. Today I regret that I have to return to India with the conviction that the new nationalism in Germany is not only narrow and selfish, but arrogant… The new racial philosophy which has a very weak scientific foundation stands for the glorification of the white races in general, and the German race in particular’. If he thereafter came back to that Germany, despite not being a fan of Nazism, it was on as pragmatic a ground as on Britain and the US coming to Russia’s aid despite not being lovers of communism. In times of war, you cannot pick and choose basis nuances.

4. Should he have gone to other nations to seek help in securing India’s freedom? As a Leftist, he may well have considered reaching out to the USSR, but when Germany declared war on the Soviet Union, the option of joint German-Soviet support became impossible. The US, which today is discussing his status as a collaborator, should ideally have been the first option for anybody seeking liberty from colonial occupation. But Uncle Sam was busy propping up His Majesty’s forces to retain their colonies across Asia vs the Axis, howsoever it may be worded in retrospect. 2,00,000 American soldiers were garrisoned on Indian territory during the war. How would the US have supported India’s independence movement while itself having an Asian colony in the Philippines, till the Japanese snatched it? It is easy to describe things in black and white in retrospect, but which side had its hands clean? Did the US not act as a collaborator with imperialism while Bose acted as a collaborator of Nazism? The Congress, by then having distanced itself completely from Bose, resolved at Wardha in December 1941 that a ‘subject India’ could not ‘offer voluntary and willing help to arrogant imperialism which is indistinguishable from fascist authoritarianism’- and that was a very polite way of putting it. But, for once, the tone was not politically correct – it WAS indistinguishable. Being an imperialist collaborator was worse than being a fascist one – at least the latter option had the possibility of freedom, while the former only reinforced slavery.

Bose was clear on his plan even in 1940, while imprisoned, to head out & seek freedom with the help of global powers. “In spite of being in a precarious position, the British would not hand over power to the Indian people and the latter would have to fight for their freedom… India would win her independence if she played her part in the war against Britain and collaborated with the powers that were fighting Britain.” That is what he had envisioned, that is what he did till the day he lived. Too bad he had to go via Berlin and Tokyo to do that, and too bad the press in the US doesn’t like that today, but if the Statue Of Liberty was beckoning him then, to actively support the fight for India’s freedom, there is no recorded evidence of it. So let’s keep the moral high ground out of it, thank you.

See also

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: Biography

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: Ideology

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: After-1945

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: Declassified papers

Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army)

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