History

How different and how similar were the ideologies of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi. Two of the popular freedom fighters of the country. What was the conflict between the two of them? How similar were their ideologies? And how much did their opinions differ? You will be surprised to know these. “After hoisting the national flag, President Subhash Chandra Bose said, “India is going to be free. and that we, fully today, are going to play a part in making India free. There is no power on earth, that can keep India enslaved anymore. Let us strive for India’s freedom. Vande Mataram.” Netaji was brilliant at studies when he was young, in 1913, he cleared his Matriculation Exam, and secure 2nd Rank in the entire State. Due to this, he secured admission to the prestigious Presidency College of Calcutta. While studying in Presidency College, in 1916, an interesting incident happened to young Subhash. that gave him the first glimpse into politics. His history teacher, Professor E.F. Oaten, it is believed that he was very racist, and was heavily biased against the Indian students. One day, he was coming down the stairs, and the Indian students ambushed him, and started beating him. Well, it would be an exaggeration to call it a beating, because no one beats up their teacher. There are several versions of this story. In some versions of the story, it is said that the professor was slapped with sandals but the actual word that is used to describe the incident is ‘manhandling.’ So you can say that he was a bit roughed up. It was later found that among the group of students that roughhoused him or manhandled him, one of the students was Netaji. After this was found out in an inquiry, Subhash Chandra Bose was expelled from the college due to this. It was an incident, that not only changed the course of Subhash Chandra Bose’s life, but it also changed the life of the professor. Seeing Netaji getting expelled from the college, the other students were infuriated. The other students protested it, they caused a ruckus, to the extent that the authorities had to agree to their demands. Though they didn’t permit Netaji back into the same college, but allowed him to complete his B.A. from the Scottish College. Netaji completed his studies with good grades. And achieved a B.A. in Philosophy degree. Interestingly, this one incident changed the professor’s life as well. His opinion of India changed. Later in life, the professor became a renowned scholar of Bengali literature. He authored the famous book Glimpses of India’s History. And when Bose’s plane crashed in 1943, he wrote a poem marking Bose’s martyrdom. Paying respect to Netaji. Can you imagine this? The professor who was manhandled, by Netaji when he was in college, the same professor paid his respects when Netaji achieved martyrdom. Coming back to our story, in 1920, Netaji went to England. To prepare for the toughest and most prestigious exam at the time. ICS. Indian Civil Services. It is equivalent to the present IAS exam. Netaji took the exam, and secured the 4th Rank. He was that good at studies. Then he had to stay in England for 2 years’ training, and to complete the probation period. Netaji was 23 years old at the time, at 23, his life and his career were totally set. The question then arises, why was he then motivated to come back to India, and to start a large scale movement against the British government? When his life and career was so secure. During the 1920s, a new leader was gaining prominence in India. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. With his new ideas of Satyagraha and Non-Cooperation, he was busy bringing the country together. ICS Officer Bose was observing all of it very closely. His heart and his mind were in conflict. He didn’t want to give up his set career, but his heart wanted to go back to India and fight for freedom. During 1920-1921, he wrote many letters to his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose, and his father regarding this. His elder brother was a freedom fighter too. So Subhash Chandra Bose was requesting his opinion on whether he should be back in India and be a part of the Freedom Movement. On 23rd April 1921, ICS Officer Subhash Chandra Bose, left his training incomplete and returned to India to become a part of the Freedom Movement. Back at home, he met Gandhi and Gandhi tells him that he should support Chitaranjan Das in Bengal. We know him as Deshbandhu. Netaji began his political career by being an editor of a newspaper. The name of the newspaper was Forward. In December 1921, he was arrested for the first time when he opposed the visit of Prince of Wales to India. At the young age of only 26, he became the President of the All India Youth Congress. The next year, in 1924, CR Das became the first elected mayor of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. And Subhash Chandra Bose became his Chief Executive Officer. During this time, Netaji continued his political movement against the British. So the Brits were very suspicious of Netaji’s role. And so he was jailed for the next 2 years. He was deported to Myanmar. He remains in jail for 2 years, till 1927. And during this time, he even contracts TB. TB was a deadly disease at the time. Thankfully he overcomes this disease and survives. When he returned to Bengal in 1927, his mentor CR Das had already passed away. This was the reason why Bose was elected as the President of Bengal Congress. Around the mid-1930s, Bose spends a lot of time travelling Europe for research. He wrote his book The Indian Struggle. It shows India’s struggle for independence between 1920 to 1934. By this time, two young and dynamic leaders had become the vocal spokespersons of the Congress Party. One was Subhash Chandra Bose and the other was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. If you remember, I told you this in the episode on Bhagat Singh, how Bhagat Singh had lauded Bose and Nehru both. In 1938, Bose became the President of Congress. “In January 1938, while abroad, he was elected the President of the Indian National Congress. Subhash Bose, at that time, was for direct action against the British government.” “Friends, outside India, the international situation appears to be favourable to India and her cause. And I believe that this is an opportunity which we cannot afford to lose. Which India will not lose.” He was in the favour of sending an ultimatum to the British to leave India and if they refused, to declare a complete revolution against them. On the other hand, Gandhi and other leaders who believed in his ideology wanted complete freedom too, but they did not want to ‘stoop’ to any level for freedom. They wanted freedom through non-violent means. During this time, friends, in the Congress, there was an evident Left-wing and Right-wing divide. When I talk about Left-wing and Right-wing here, it has many meanings. You can look at it from today’s context, or you can look at the left-wing and right-wing in the context of the French Revolution, so different people reach different conclusions. But when I’m talking about Left-wing and Right-wing here, it is basically regarding the Economic Policies. The Left-wing and Right-wing in the Congress then, both believed in the basic principles of Liberty, Secularism, Equality, Fraternity. But the differences between the two were about the economic policies. Dr Rajendra Prasad, Sadar Patel and Moraji Desai, favoured Capitalism and large scale industrialisation. According to them, the nation had to learn wealth creation first and it can concern itself about wealth distribution later. But on the other hand, left-wing consisted of leaders who believed in Socialism. Ram Manohar Lohia, Acharya Narendra Deva, Jayaprakash Narayan, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Netaji Bose. You can consider them as Leftists. Netaji was a staunch Leftist. Gandhi’s ideologies lay somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Because Gandhi believed in Trusteeship Principle. I talked more about it in the article on Socialism. How the ideology of Gandhian Socialism is a bit different from the normal idea of socialism. Gandhi’s Trusteeship Principle was based not on robbing the wealth of the rich, the factory owners and landowners, rather on trying to explain to them that their wealth which exceeds their need for survival, they are merely the trustee of it. And the owner of the extra wealth, was God. He said, “All land belongs to God.” That’s why it is quite difficult to categorise Gandhi into Left or Right-wing. In fact, the majority of Gandhi’s supporters were from the Right-wing. Talking about Pandit Nehru, he was a Leftist. But his ideology belongs to Fabian Socialism. Later on, when he actually became the Prime Minister of the country, his ideology shifted towards the centre. His economic policies were quite mixed. He believed in industrialisation and at the same time, he wanted industrialisation by government companies only. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. In 1939, the divide in the Congress Party between the Left-wing and Right-wing, was at its peak. In 1939, Gandhi wanted someone other than Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to be the President of Congress. When the election for President was held, C. Rajagopalachari had famously said that there were two boats, One of them was Bose’s leaking boat, but Congress should trust the old boat the bigger of the two, piloted by Mahatma Gandhi. On the other hand, there were many people in Subhash Chandra Bose’s favour. Like Rabindranath Tagore. He supported the notion that Bose should be the President again. And he was a friend to Gandhi as well, So he wrote a letter to Gandhi, asking him to let Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose be the President of the Congress Party again. The democratic elections in the Congress Party at the time, had become a very thrilling contest. But what was the result of the election? Subhash Chandra Bose had defeated Gandhi’s nominated candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya, with 1575 votes to 1376 votes. Gandhi did not like this. Subhash Chandra Bose became the President of the Congress Party again. G.B. Pant, one of the Right-wing key members of Congress then, after Bose became the President, told Bose, that for the Working Committee to be appointed by him as the Congress President Bose should make appointments according to the wishes of Gandhi. It was truly undemocratic. Because the President was Netaji Bose but he was asked to form his Working Committee according to Gandhi’s wishes. During the period, there was an ongoing court case between Sardar Patel and Netaji. It’s a famous court case. I won’t go into the details, but there were personal differences between Sardar Patel and Netaji, and an ideological divide of Left-wing and Right-wing. That’s why, when Sardar Patel saw the happenings, gave a justifying statement, By this point in time, the internal divide in the Congress Party between the Left and Right wings, had escalated to such an extent that the members of the Congress Party were worried, that the Party may be broken apart into two sects. It was unthinkable. Because the Freedom Movement was at stake, if the Congress Party split into two. That’s why several Leftists that were in Subhash Chandra Bose’s favour, started supporting Gandhi. A major Leftist, Ram Manohar Lohia had said, After this, the members of Bose’s Working Committee who were in Gandhi’s favour, executed a mass resign from their posts. Seeing this happen, Pandit Nehru strongly objected. He wrote a letter to Gandhi saying that what was happening was entirely wrong. And that they shouldn’t try to forcefully remove Netaji Bose from the post of Congress Presidency. But at the same time, Nehru didn’t favour Subhash Chandra Bose’s ideologies and opinions. In his opinion, Bose was leaning too much toward the Left-wing. But this letter had no impact. Eventually, no other option remained for Subhash Chandra Bose. Except resigning. Because the members of his Working Committee weren’t working with him. So he resigned from his post. And the new president of Congress was Dr Rajendra Prasad, a member of the Right-wing. The new Working Committee that was formed, was strongly loyal to Gandhi. They passed a resolution that no Congress member could launch Satyagraha on their own. Without prior approval of the Working Committee. Seeing this, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose protested against it. He wasn’t in favour of this. With this, Netaji was immediately removed from the Presidency of Bengal Provincial Congress. And he was disqualified from holding any post in Congress for the next 3 years. In response, Bose said that he welcomes the decision of the Working Committee. It was a display of Right-wing consolidation that made it inevitable. That he was paying the penalty for his crime. But Netaji was very committed to his values. He said, For this reason, on 22nd June 1939, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose formed the All India Forward Bloc. An organisation, that was formed by merging several leftist organisations. Friends, the interesting thing here is that despite such strong ideological differences, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Gandhi, harboured utmost respect for each other. “My father was a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, and throughout his struggle for Indian Independence always paid attention to whether he reacted to anything that my father did and what his reaction was.” When the Quit India Movement was launched by Gandhi in 1942, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was in Berlin, Germany. From his Azad Hind Radio there he sent a message in the favour of the Quit India Movement. He calls Gandhi’s this movement non-violent guerrilla warfare. On another occasion, he calls the movement as India’s Epic Struggle. 

You might get confused about it. Because on one hand there was a clash between the ideologies of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Gandhi, but still, some years later, why was Netaji supporting Gandhi’s movement? Netaji let his reasons be known in his radio address on 12th October 1942. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose thought of his struggle to be complementary to Gandhi’s struggle. He didn’t think that either his struggle for freedom movement would exist, or Gandhi’s struggle would. He believed that both had to struggle because they had a common goal of getting independent. If Gandhi could get Independence with his non-violent ways, it would be great for everyone. And if he couldn’t, Bose planned to continue with his struggle. That’s why in his Azad Hind Fauj, he named his three brigades, on Nehru, Gandhi and Maulana Azad. Hearing this, you may feel that the respect was merely one-sided. That though Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was giving so much respect to Gandhi, Gandhi might be behaving terribly against Bose. But it wasn’t so. Gandhi was very affectionate towards Subhash Chandra Bose. Look at what Gandhi had written about Netaji. “Though the Bengal government had restricted Netaji’s movement, he escaped them. And by sheer courage and resourcefulness, reached Kabul. Passing through several European countries, he finally reached Japan. He formed an army of brilliant men drawn from all communities and parts of India. And so dared to battle a mighty government.” This may confuse you yet again. Mahatma Gandhi, who believed in non-violence, why would he support the violent struggle of Subhash Chandra Bose? The reason for this is very simple. Many people misunderstand Gandhi’s non-violence, actually. They also misunderstand Bhagat Singh and Netaji’s violence. Neither was Gandhi as non-violent as you think, nor were Subhash Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh as violent as you think. Lord Ram had killed Ravana, but do we see Lord Ram as a violent person? No. Because Hinduism believes that violence shouldn’t be used for revenge, and it shouldn’t be used to harm others, violence is justified when when it is used to prevent violence on a larger scale, to prevent violence on innocent people. Gandhi believed himself to be a devotee of Lord Ram. And had a lot of faith in the Bhagavad-Gita. In fact, Gandhi’s continued belief in non-violence, can be seen as a strategy as well. Because Gandhi had looked at history, and he believed that though the French and Russian revolutions were violent, and they overthrew their monarchy, but what came after that, wasn’t satisfactory. After that came the problem of dictatorship. Because if one responds to violence with more violence, one would never reach a solution, as he believed. If we truly want a long-lasting solution, it can be achieved through non-violence only. One that neither the French Revolution nor the Russian Revolution could achieve. In 1944, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose gave his famous radio address from Burma (Myanmar). There, for the first time, addressed Gandhi as the Father of the Nation. The title of Father of the Nation that’s bestowed on Gandhi, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was the one to honour him with this title. While Gandhi titled Bose as the Prince of the Patriots. You may not be aware of this. But Gandhi had indeed bestowed a title on Subhash Chandra Bose, as a sign of admiration. Many people would give you a narration of Gandhi versus Bose. This ideological clash between Gandhi and Bose, was limited to the ideologies only. In reality, the two of them respected and admired each other truly. It is something that we don’t get to see between the Left-wing and the Right-wing. Or between people who do not agree with each other’s opinions. Perhaps it is something that we can learn from Gandhi and Bose both.