Delhi Durbar

Remembering Netaji

Jayanta Roy Chowdhury

24 January, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Remembering Netaji

As we celebrate the 125th Birth Anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the “Prince Among Patriots,” we must ponder over whether and why he is still relevant even after an interval of nearly 75 years since his last address through a radio dispatch towards the end of World War II.

After all three generations of South Asians have been born since his disappearance or death on 18th August 1945. Many ideas which were revolutionary while he was still alive no longer seem to find resonance with the world of today. Communism has all but died out. Fascism that Adolf Hitler propagated was snuffed out only to be reborn in the last two decades in other forms.

To understand the relevance of Netaji, we have to delve into his thought process and understand what he stood for and re-evaluate them in today’s circumstances. Indeed we have to keep asking at all time, do these principles stand the test of time?

To my mind Bose stood for three basic tenets - democracy, secularism and socialism. Despite attempts to paint him as a fascist, by referring to his meetings with Hitler and Benito Mussolini and his reported statement during the World war II where he said an election should be held soon after India’s independence, but once a Government was in place it should be given emergency powers to rid India of its problems of caste and communalism, Bose followed the path shown by his political mentor Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das and was a democrat to the core.

In his Presidential speech at the Haripura Congress in 1938, Bose made his political ideas on the future of India very clear: “Our goal is that of an Independent India and in my view that goal can be attained only through a federal republic in which the provinces and the states will be willing partners.”

He was clear that this federal republic would be a multi-party democracy. Speaking on the form of India that the congress was striving for and the nature of party politics that should ensue after independence he made it clear: “The state will possibly become a totalitarian one, if there be only one party as in countries like Russia, Germany and Italy.”

He also very clearly enunciated the fundamental rights for all citizens in his landmark Haripura  speech – “(i) Every citizen of India has the right of free expression of opinion, the right of free association and combination, and the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, for a purpose not opposed to law or morality; (ii)   Every citizen shall enjoy freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess and practise his religion, subject to public order and morality; (iii)  The culture, language and script of the minorities and of different linguistic areas shall be protected; (iv) All citizens are equal before the law, irrespective of religion, caste, creed or sex; (v) No disability attaches to any citizen by reason of his or her religion, caste, creed or sex, in regard to public employment, office of power or honour, and in the exercise of any trade or calling; (vi) All citizens have equal rights and duties in regard to wells, tanks, roads, schools and places of public resort, maintained out of state, or local funds, or dedicated by private persons for the use of the general public; (vii) The state shall observe neutrality in regard to all religions; (viii) The franchise shall be on the basis of universal adult suffrage; (ix) Every citizen is free to move throughout India and to stay and settle in any part thereof, to acquire property and to follow any trade or calling, and to be treated equally with regard to legal prosecution or protection in all parts of India.

These clauses of his resolution seem to have eventually found its place in India’s Constitution when it was drafted. It also in his own words “make(s) it clear that there should be no interference in matter of conscience, religion, or culture, and a minority is entitled to keep its personal law without any change in this respect being imposed by the majority.” 

However, for him democracy was not a borrowed idea taken from Europe. Making a historical survey, Bose in an address ten years before Haripura, cited the examples of Republics in ancient India and referred to the principle of democracy, as applied in India in the governance of villages and towns. “...from the above historical narrative it will be evident that democratic republican forms of government existed in India in the ancient times. They were usually based on a homogenous tribe or caste. In the Mahabharata, these tribal democracies are known as ‘Ganas’… (Even) in monarchical states also, the people enjoyed a large measure of liberty, as the King was virtually a constitutional monarch. This feat, which has been consistently ignored by British historians, has now been fully established through the researches of Indian historians.”

Now let us take up his ideas of socialism – Communists and many others have termed it as “jumbled”. Possibly their rejection of his “Samyavad’ came from the fact that he rejected the Marxian dogma of class struggle, despite admiring certain goals of Marxism anddescribing himself openly as a Socialist.

Calling his ‘Saumyabad’ the doctrine of synthesis, Bose’s ideas stood on four pillars: 1) Freedom of Conscience, 2) Political Democracy, 3) Economic Democracy or Indian Socialism and 4) Dignity of Man.

That he clearly felt that Nazism and Hitler were an unmitigated disaster is quite clear to those who have read him and those who managed to interview his close followers with whom he confided. In a letter written in March, 1936 to Dr. Franz Thierfelder, co-founder with Dr. Tarak Nath Das, of the Indian Institute of Munich, Bose wrote “When I first visited Germany in 1933, I had hopes (of) the new German nation, which has risen to a new consciousness of its national strength and self-respect .... Today, I regret that I have to return to India with the conviction that the new nationalism of Germany is not only narrow and selfish, but also arrogant.”

When Hitler referred to white superiority in a speech in 1936, Bose denounced the Führer in a press conference in Geneva and advocated a trade boycott of Germany by Indians. Similarly, when Hermann Göring’s made disparaging remarks about Mahatma Gandhi, Bose was stinging in his criticism. Later in conversations with his close associates Bose dubbed Hitler “baddhapagal”(raving mad).

However, the fact remains that Bose took the help of Germany and Japan in trying to win freedom for his motherland. This his followers would readily term as ‘Realpolitiks’ of the kind that Chanakya or Machiavelli would have followed.

Many accused him of trying to replace one colonial power – Britain with another - Japan.  However, he was aware that this was a distinct possibility and had warned his closest associates in the Indian National Armyor Azad Hind Fauj to “prepare for a second war”, after India won its freedom, with the Imperial Japanese Army, if the need arose.


The writer is a senior Indian journalist