Netaji Bose, Nehru and Anti-Colonial Struggle

India’s anti-colonial struggle has been the major phenomenon which built modern India into a secular democracy. Many political streams were part of this movement, and all of them struggled in their own way to drive away the British. There were also some political streams, the ones who upheld a narrow nationalism in the name of religion, who were not a part of this movement; today, in order to gain electoral legitimacy, either they are making false claims about their being a part of it, or are trying to distort events to denigrate the leaders of the freedom movement, particularly Jawaharlal Nehru. This came to the surface yet again when Prime  Minister Modi was hoisting the Indian flag on the occasion of 75th anniversary of the proclamation of the Azad Hind Government. On that occasion, Modi claimed that the contributions of Bose, Patel and Ambedkar have been ignored by the ruling Nehru–Gandhi family.


Nothing can be farther from truth than this statement of his. One knows that Ambedkar was given the task of being the Chairman of the drafting committee of the Indian constitution; he was also made a minister in the first Cabinet of India, and was asked to draft the Hindu code bill. Sardar Patel was the Deputy Prime Minster, looking after the Home ministry. The compilation of Sardar Patel’s letters, ‘Sardar Patel Correspondence’, has been edited by Durga Das. From this book, it becomes clear that Nehru and Patel were very close, and till Patel was alive most of the decisions taken were with his consent or due to his initiative. Patel regarded Nehru both as his younger brother and his leader. Some time ago, Modi tried to propagate that Nehru ignored Sardar Patel and did not attend his funeral in Bombay. Moraji Desai’s biography refutes this claim too. He says that Nehru did attend the funeral; this was also reported in the newspapers of that time.


As far as Netaji Bose is concerned, Nehru and Bose were close ideological colleagues. Both were socialists and part of the left wing of the Congress. Unlike the followers of Hindutva politics, Bose was very secular. Hindu nationalist leaders attacked Subhas Bose incessantly as he dared to reserve jobs for Muslims when he was elected to lead the Calcutta Corporation. Bose was aware of the tremendous injustice that Muslims faced in recruitment. Bose opposed both the Muslim and Hindu communalists. At the Tripuri Convention of the Indian National Congress (INC) held in 1939, Bose was elected President. Gandhi opposed to him mainly on the ground of non-violence. Bose tended to support violent means. Due to opposition within the INC, Bose left Congress to form Forward Block, a left party, which has been part of the left coalition in West Bengal for a long time. Bose and Nehru were on the same page as far as future of industrialisation and role of the public sector were concerned. Bose’s biographer Leonard A. Gordan writes that Bose believed that: “Each [person] should privately follow his religious path, but not link it to political and other public issues. Throughout his career, he reached out to Muslim leaders, first of all in his home province of Bengal, to make common cause in the name of India. His ideal, as indeed the ideal of the Indian National Congress, was that all Indians, regardless of region, religious affiliation, or caste join together to make common cause against foreign rulers.”


The major difference between Gandhi–Nehru on one side and Bose on the other was on what should be the role of the INC during the Second World War. The INC in due course came to take an anti-British stance and Gandhi launched the Quit Indian movement in 1942. Bose was of the opinion that an alliance with Germany–Japan may give freedom to India. It was indeed doubtful whether an alliance with fascist forces was the right way. In case of their victory, India might have come under the control of the Japan–Germany axis which would have pushed India back by many steps. While Congress opposed the British through a mass movement, Bose launched the ‘Azad Hind Fauz’ (AHF). Be that as it may, Bose strongly believed in Hindu–Muslim unity and this was again exhibited when he offered a Chadar on the Mazar (tomb) of Bahadur Shah Zafar (the leader of 1857 uprising) in Rangoon, Burma, and pledged to bring his mortal remains to Delhi and bury them in the Red Fort. In contrast, the Hindu Mahasabha actively supported British war efforts by urging Indians to join the British army. Savarkar urged upon his followers to be part of the official war committees set up by the British; the latter in turn accommodated leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha on these committees.


Savarkar also declared “No support to armed resistance against British”. It is interesting that while Netaji was fighting the British from across the border, Savarkar and Hindutva Nationalists were helping the British army which was fighting AHF of Subhash Bose! The claims that Modi and Co. are following the footsteps of Netaji is absolutely false. The fact of the matter is that the efforts of Savarkar directed against the interests of the army raised by Netaji. In contrast, even though it did not agree with Netaji’s line of action, it was the Congress which raised the legal support to fight the cases of the personnel of AHF after the war ended. Bhulabhai Deasi, Kailashnath Katju and Nehru himself came forward to battle in the courtrooms on behalf of AHF. 


Today, when we are witnessing name changing of all Muslim sounding names by the BJP rulers, these false claimants of Netaji’s legacy need to be reminded that in AHF, both Hindustani and Muslim sounding names were very common. The Provisional Government formed by Subhas Bose in Singapore was titled Aarzi-Hukumat-Azad Hind (Provisional Government of free India). The name Azad Hind Fauz is on similar lines. Several Muslims were a part of this Provisional Government. What we need today is to revive the spirit of amity, which Netaji stood for and which was being practiced in AHF.


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