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Editorial 43

Subhash Chandra Bose : Netaji Immortal

Somen Chakraborty

Subhash Chandra Bose, a charismatic leader and an inspiring personality in the national freedom movement of India, was born in 1897 at Cuttack.  With a natural will power, determination and leadership acumen Subhash grew up under strict supervision of his lawyer father to become a suave bureaucrat of the British government. He indeed achieved this. After acquiring fourth rank in Indian Civil Service, Subhash decided not to become a British servant. He sacrificed the position, a highly coveted though for any Indian, and decided to devote his rest of life to free India from the colonial rule of 'his master', the British.

Subhash carried this nationalistic temperament as a flickering ember since his young age. It exhibited in his school yeas itself and became intense as he grew up. His interaction with larger society, especially exposure to the misery of the people during his college days in Kolkata left long lasting influence on his mind and contributed to cementing his belief and conviction for a free India. He firmly supported the students of Presidency college of Kolkata on the controversy around assaulting Professor E.F. Oaten. Imminent consequence was though known, he declined to relent to the persuasion and pressure and stayed firm in demanding apology from the British professor for anti-India comments and racial slur against the students. On communication of his rustication he calmly responded "Thank You" to his mentors and ended up his little over two and half years stint in this prestigious institution. He thus accumulated courage to put patriotism before the personal gains in life. With similar zeal he returned to India from England after becoming an ICS to devote himself to his final path of journey viz., the freedom of India from the British rule. A well educated, an achiever, an able organizer, a rousing speaker and an astute observer, Subhash was soon noticed by the Congress leadership. In 1930 he became the Mayor of the Calcutta corporation. In 1938 he became a Congress leader of national stature.

Subhash's patriotism is the outcome of his way of seeing society and misery of the people. He built up philosophical insights from his own life experiences. He neither embraced Gandhi's non-violence nor fully disapproved its utility and impact. He was also not inspired by the violent path of the revolutionary movements of his time. His intense interactions with labour leaders like Arthur Greenwood and Clement Attlee instilled in him a subaltern perspective. Discussion with Harold Laski, a Fabian socialist and a pluralist thinker, enlightened him about the socialist ideologies and also the limitations of totalitarianism. Subhas's strategy of freedom struggle and his vision about future India were in many ways influenced by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish leader who liberated the country from Ottoman empire through military actions with the support of well trained armed forces. Turkey under Atatürk rule transformed the country into a modern and secular nation-state through intensive political, economic and cultural reforms. He was inspired by the rights and freedom enjoyed by women in free Turkey. At home, instead of phased 'independence, of Gandhi, he stood for immediate and unqualified 'swaraj' from the British. He believed in Atatürk's socialist authoritarianism. His patriotism stood as a unique roadmap for freedom of India on its own strength and significance. In his admission, "I am convinced that if we do desire freedom we must be prepared to wade through blood".

Subhash was fully convinced that Gandhi's 'non-violence, non-cooperation and satyagraha' would never be sufficient to secure India's independence.  In the Tripura Congress session of 1939, he came out loudly about his prescription to achieve India's independence. He demanded a six-month deadline from the British Government for granting independence. He called for a nation-wide mass civil disobedience movement if it failed to do so. He believed that "... the country was internally more ripe for a revolution than ever before". Instead of extending any support to the British in the war he argued for mass civil disobedience to protest against the decision of the British government to declare war on India's behalf without any prior consultation.

He viewed the international crisis that emerged out of the world War II was a great opportunity for India to achieve her emancipation. This was the time when he thought of forging an alliance with the anti-British forces and if necessary to organise an invasion in India to oust the British forces. He, in fact, never supported totalitarianism of Hitler and other Axis forces, yet, he favoured short-term international alliances with the fascist forces for achieving his long-term goal of ending the colonial rule in India. For this he was open to collaborate with any anti-British organization and state. With the similar objective he made joint effort with other political outfits like Indian Independence League of Rasbehari Bose and reorganised the fledgling Indian National Army. He mobilised massive support among the expatriate Indian population in south-east Asia and inspired them to join the freedom struggle. Under the overshadowing influence of Atatürk's political actions, INA even formed a separate women's unit, the 'Rani of Jhansi Regiment', a first of its kind in India's independence movement and in political movement of Asia.

Subhash Chandra Bose was a great strategist. He dissented against the Congress position on independence, mobilized support in favour of his candidature as president and became the Congress president in spite of stiff oppositions. He promoted the Left United Committee within Congress to bring all shades of Congress on one platform. He formed the 'All India Forward Block' a political outfit within the party to assert his position. He developed serious differences with Gandhi, yet he never disregarded Gandhi. Instead of separating himself from the National Congress, he continued to work for freedom along with Congress leadership. Even after several years in a radio broadcast in 1944, Subhash was the first to call Gandhi the 'Father of the Nation'.

Although he always stood against bigotry or orthodoxy, the Bhagavad Gita was a great source of inspiration in shaping up his determination for independence and the struggle against the British.  He was neither an atheist nor did he view religion as opium like the Marxists. His nationalist thoughts, universality in his perception and his humanitarian perceptions were inspired by the writings of Swami Vivekananda. Ambedkar's thinking made him understood how deeply entrenched was the discriminatory social system that subjected millions of Indian to unequal treatment. While working with Cholera patients he came in direct touch with poverty and plight of the people in India.

Subhash was restless for India's freedom. He wanted Indian masses to believe that independence was at their  threshold. He became the head of the state and the government of the Provisional Government of Azad India that he founded in 1943 in Burma. The Indians living in South-East Asia became its 'citizens'. He placed the INA under the command of this government to recognise it as the national army of India. To streamline its operation further, the Azad Hind Government produced its own currency, postage stamps, court and formulated own civil code. To further strengthen its stature as the national government of India, Subhash obtained recognition from Germany, Japan, Italy, China, Croatia, provisional government of Burma and Philippines. He then gave the call to march forward to take over the motherland from the British.

An important element of Subhash's political strategy was his selection of key slogans to rouse the masses. When reviving the INA he wanted to give the feeling that independence was a near reality and his slogan was, "Give me blood, I will give you freedom". When mobilisng support of the Indian communities in South Asia, he used "Ittefaq, Etemad and Qurbani". Once he was prepared with his army, he gave the clarion call, "Dilli Chalo".  On the way towards the Indian territory his slogan became "Inquilab Zindabad" and on his first hoisting of Indian tri-colour on the Indian soil in Manipur he uttered "Jai hind".  Whatever might be their differences, Subhash always regarded Gandhi, Chandrasekhar Azad and Jawaharlal Nehru as co-companions. Naming two INA brigades after Gandhi and Nehru during the attempted invasion of India was his personal tribute to their sacrifice.

Subhash Chandra Bose was subjected to criticism from almost all political forces for his closeness with the fascist forces.

His vision about future India came out more explicitly after the Provisional Indian Government was established in Rangoon. In his view a country couldn't have a 'so-called democratic system', if the economic reforms had to take a socialistic path. Following the model of Turkey, he preferred India to undergo authoritarian rule for some years to expedite reforms.

The people of India today know him more as "Netaji" than Subhash. He earned this new identity during his stay in Berlin. The civilians and the soldiers there faced the problem in addressing him with due respect. One day a young soldier came forward and spontaneously uttered at him "Hamare Neta" - an Indian form of reverence to a pathfinder and a leader. The journey of a new identity "Netaji" as a combination of affection and honour began. For the millions of Indians 'Netaji' continues to exist even today as the most favoured honour for Subhash Chandra Bose, a legendary figure of our freedom struggle.


(The author is a researcher and academician. email: c_somen@yahoo.com) Views expressed are personal.