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Bose’s stature reduced

Published Jan 27, 2013 12:15am


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WE measure power through size. Check any political poster. The boss gets the biggest face. Others in the pecking order descend till the miniature at the end.

Why was Subhas Chandra Bose struggling among the also-rans in the Bengal Republic Day tableau? Swami Vivekananda, understandably, had pride of place. But it might have been better to keep Bose out of the jumble rather than literally reduce his stature. If Bengal forgets, how long will India remember the only Indian to head a government of united India?

Bose declared independence before the British gave it in 1947. His government in exile did not have Gandhi’s sanction. It fought on the wrong side of the Second World War: but it was a proud and free government whose contribution to our freedom has been reduced by the domestic political forces he challenged.

Bose is an embarrassment to Congress because he challenged Gandhi, and was a powerful parallel icon to Nehru. Bose asked Indians to give him their blood, and he would give them freedom. Gandhi promised freedom without violence. Gandhi refused to join the British war effort in 1939; Bose went a step further, and led Indian troops on the side of the Germany-Italy-Japan axis. However, their horizon, freedom, was the same.

More than six decades later the argument might seem pedantic, and yet it is worth revisiting. Invaluable Indian blood and treasure helped Britain win the First World War. After victory, Britain reneged on its commitment to Indian self-rule within the empire without batting an eyelid. Instead of dominion status, Indians got vicious brutality at Jallianwala Bagh and the pernicious Rowlatt Act.

It is not generally known that Gandhi was not a pacifist: he served on British frontlines in the Boer and Zulu wars in South Africa, and was very eager to lead a medical unit to the killing fields of France in 1914, at the onset of the First World War. In 1918, Gandhi worked so hard as a recruiting agent for the British army, urging Gujaratis to prove they were not “effeminate” by picking up a gun, that he almost died of exhaustion. Farewell bhajans began to be sung before he recovered. Gandhi lost hope in Britain.

Britain had as much to protect in 1945 as in 1918. London knew that its empire would unravel at the point where it had begun, in India, once India became independent. What pushed Britain towards the exit gate? Of course there was the irresistible momentum of Gandhi’s nationwide struggle. But the British had faced this challenge before, in the non-cooperation movement 25 years before.

The significant difference was the nationalist sentiment unleashed by Bose among Indians in uniform. Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) showed them where their national loyalties should lie. Bose’s war also inspired the young to surge beyond the confines of Congress.

Even Gandhi, who only had faint praise for Bose in a 1945 obituary (“Subhas Bose has died well. He was undoubtedly a patriot though misguided”), had to admit in an article published on Feb 15, 1946: “The hypnotism of the Indian National Army has cast its spell on us ... [Netaji’s] patriotism is second to none...He aimed high but failed. Who has not failed? ... The lesson that Netaji and his army brings to us is one of self-sacrifice, unity irrespective of class and community, and discipline....”

When the British put three INA officers — Shah Nawaz, a Muslim, Sahgal, a Hindu, and Dhillon, a Sikh — on trial for sedition, India exploded in wrath. Nehru said on Dec 24, 1945: “The INA trial has created a mass upheaval.”

Bose broke the backbone of British rule when he destroyed trust between the British Raj and its armed forces. The eminently sensible Sir Claude Auchinleck, commander in chief, accepted that any extreme punishment for INA officers would make governance impossible, because Indians adored them as national heroes. This, he said, was the “general opinion held in India, not only by the public, but ... by quite a considerable part of the Indian Army as well”.

Subhas Bose’s contribution to the formation of a Republic of India was no less than that of the very greatest of our founding fathers. Bose proved in practice what an Indian secular state would be. At a time when the Muslim League was in ascendant, he had the love and trust of Muslims.

He lived his dream of gender equality when he set up the Rani of Jhansi regiment, under the fiery and beautiful Lakshmi Swaminathan. When Bose told the Japanese he was setting up a women’s-only force, they thought he was joking.

I do not believe Bose could have fought alongside Hitler, who advised the British to shoot Gandhi dead, and resented the Japanese advance because he thought Asia was being lost to white Europeans. Hitler was an undisguised racist, as were all Nazis.

Perhaps India can survive without Bose. But such amnesia will only diminish India.

The writer is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and editorial director, India Today and Headlines Today.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (42) Closed

NASAH (USA) Jan 27, 2013 04:50pm
For some unknown reasons -- the democratic Indians have always been soft on Fascism.
xeroxus Jan 27, 2013 03:13pm
Nice point.If Gandhi thought bose failed,he probably thought that Maharana Pratap and the others of his ilk failed too. We in India believe that failure lies in submission to the tyrant and not losing in a tactical battle.This belief in fallen heroes is the reason why we never accepted foreign culture. Bengal's amnesia for Bose is not new.Pala rulers' empire extended from Dhaka to Kabul but they are known better outside Bengal
andy (ON, Canada) Jan 27, 2013 03:30pm
thank you Mr Akbar for this excellent write up! tragic thing is over last 60 years the congress has systematically removed all the non-congress freedom fighters from history books. Bose is one example. There were also likes of Tilak, Savarkar, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev and so on. but the current and future generations sadly will know everything about Gandhi who in the end tried to play Saint and Nehru who at one point put his ambition of being the PM over everythingelse! Gandhi and Nehru are no doubt two of the tallest figures in freedom struggle but so are the others!
pashtunyar Jan 27, 2013 05:01pm
There was a man in our village that helped escape to Afghanistan! What an honour!
anuradha dasgupta Jan 27, 2013 04:19pm
Well sentenced, well informed, well punctuated, good article... and yes dreamers have the same fate ... but if it is M.J. Akbar .. hope he knows the mystery and the history we are living ... dear friend live withing your limit....
Nabarun Dey Jan 27, 2013 04:11pm
If Jawaharlal Nehru got India by allowing himself to remain behind bars couple of times, Jinnah got Pakistan on a platter virtually for no British danda or jail ! Netaji gave his life and got nothing in return for himself. To rub salt to the wounds of his followers,the successive governments of independent India used state power to suppress the elimination tale like another giant Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who would been a handful for the rest if allowed to survive a little longer. No wonder, minions like Mamata & Pranab Mukherjee are overwhelmed by the very thought of such stalwarts. It is a pity to find people making a living out of the goof-up of Netaji's disappearance. Good work MJA. Keep it up. At least you don't seemed to have selective amnesia.
Dr Khan Jan 27, 2013 04:05pm
Conclusion I can derive after reading this article: "Gandhi,s stature reduced"
Mandeep Jan 27, 2013 04:00pm
Absolutely. Even the patriotism in India has been politicised by Congress to suit their electoral interests. Anyone who does not agree with Congress's version of history and its heroes, is branded as a rightwing Hindu nationalist influenced by RSS. God kows how many sons of India, both Hindus and Muslims, have been pushed into oblivian by Congress's massive propaganda macninery as they could not be connected to Congress and Bose was one of them. Netaji Bose was a true son of soil who believed in action and he was above Hindu-Muslim divide. Had the Indian National Army not to fight a weeklong incessant rains at time he invaded India in the North east with the help of Japanese, history of the subcontinent been different today.
Anoop Jan 27, 2013 01:53pm
Always love M.J.Akbar's articles. A sea of knowledge and wisdom..
Raj Jan 27, 2013 01:33pm
There goes M J Akber with another of his authentic, and a beautiful article. BTW , I was a boy and remember seeing Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan of Rani of Jhansi Regiment in one of the local public rally's.
Gautam Das Jan 27, 2013 01:11pm
A thoroughly fair and balanced viewpoint on an Indian hero who is yet to receive his due.....
Koi_Bhi Jan 27, 2013 06:06pm
Best piece in Dawn so far..
NORI Jan 27, 2013 08:46am
Subhash Chandra Bose is a true patriot and a real national hero. An ICS officer from a wealthy family in Bengal, Bose's decision to leave ICS and join freedom struggle was a no-easy decision,but it was motivated by highest degree of patriotism. At one point, he was more trusted in Congress than Gandhi and his stooge Nehru. He was elected as President of Congress in 1940 even when Gandhi refused to support his candidature and fielded an opponent. However, he was frustrated by Gandhi, who through his cronies had made his working as President impossible. He resigned and decided to pursue his path. Unlike Gandhi, Subhash never cared for his personal name and fame. His ambition was free India and even joined hands with Hitler to achieve that. However, the way he was treated by successive Indian (Congress party) governments is a national shame. The fact that a day-dreaming and an incompetent PM (who acted on the advices of his sycophants) such as Rajeev Gandi gets more attention and recognition in India than Subhash bose sounds ridiculous and a shameful fact to Indians.I am sure that future generations will recognize his services to nation more than we did today and hope he would have his right place in Indian history.
MKB Jan 27, 2013 12:34pm
There is no question about Bose's contribution on freedom of India and it is not wise him to confine a Bengali leader. He had the all undivided India prominence. He is the only leader who had the support of all section of people. His exist from congress was also a well planned thought of other big boss of congress who see him a threat to their existence including Nehru and some extent Bapu Gandhi. When Dr. Sitaramia was defeated by Bose, Gandhi acclaimed that Sitaramia's defeat was his.
T. Ramakrishnan Jan 27, 2013 08:42am
Well put. Add to Bose, the Royal Indian Navy mutiny, the small Royal Air Force mutinies, the unrest among English soldiers to any delay in returning home and the desire of both business houses and people to rebuild the devastated country. A broke Britain needed money and men. But. Americans of all stripes were against the Raj, because of opposition to the "protected markets" and the desirability to a Congress government (lawyers, businessmen and moderate gradualist progressives) as a bulwark against "Communism". Success of INA or RIN would have averted partition. But democracy would have been unlikely, despite Bose's promises to the contrary. There is no point in 'fighting' or 'second guessing' history --- which is determined by random events.
kabir Jan 27, 2013 11:10am
Awesome article Mr.Akbar your are truly indeed an Akbar when it comes to erudite writings.INDIA will never forget Netaji subhash Bose despite the corrupt Indian Congress with their negative designs and hope pakistanis also remember him ! loves ur line '' farewell bhajans were sung long before he recovered ! Awesome...keep churning elite and erudite prose sir!
Bobby Srinivas Jan 27, 2013 01:18pm
Well said; well documented. M.J.Akbar as always true to his reputation has described, Bose's contribution to India's independence and no less to its secularist idealism. Bobby Srinivas, Nagpur India.
Mark Jan 27, 2013 07:25am
Brilliant tribute to a great son of India
S Jan 27, 2013 07:36am
A very timely and refreshing article by Mr. Akbar. Subhas Bose was the only leader of pre-partition India who commanded the respect of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, all three of the major communities. This is because he wanted to unite India using the strong sentiments of anti-imperialism and anti-repression, secular forces by construction, and not religion as was tried by Gandhi. His 1941 flight from India and the subsequent collaboration with the Japanese were a desperate last ditch effort to salvage the advantages of WWII as Gandhi and Nehru, along with the British who incarcerated him, left him with no option to do that in India itself. This was revealed by Azad in his book "India Wins Freedom". From personal anecdotes Azad also clarifies that Bose also indirectly influenced Gandhi announce the Quit India Movement in 1942, something he announced himself in 1940 Ramgarh. Bose's other major legacy was the widespread, bi-communal, anti-British revolution that broke out in 1945-46 in the aftermath of the INA trials, culminating in the revolts in the Indian Navy and Army. Thus in all the major anti-imperialist movements in the 1940's, which together hastened the British exit by at least 30 years as revealed by Ambedkar and Attlee, Subhas Bose and his legacy were the main driving force. It's unfortunate that Indian History, written by the Congress loyalists and the Nehru Gandhi sycophants, has not given this tallest leader of Indian independence his due. Even the precise cause of his death has remained an agonizing mystery for millions of Indians as the government has refused to make public the contents of 33 top secret files on the excuse that they may harm India's relationship with some of the "friendly nations"..
raw is war Jan 27, 2013 07:50am
good article.
Kannan Jan 27, 2013 07:10pm
Of course, Bose's patriotism is second to none. A very interesting article. But Bose stature is not diminished even after his death and still regarded as one of the fine freedom fighter India has produced. But I still do not understand his judgement of siding with German led Axis powers just for the sake of fighting the British. The efforts of INA were in vain just because of this bad judgement. It is debatable,.had India had won freedom through violent methods, how the Nation would have shaped after that?
The Hindu Jan 27, 2013 07:11pm
day by day your respect grows not only in indians but also in pakistanis...also your articles are very accurate and balanced.
abbastoronto Jan 27, 2013 07:39pm
Bose made a deal with the devil, and lost. Military men usually do. Except for freedom from the Raj he had no political program, no vision, not even the awareness of the internal strife that will be waged after the English left. He would have failed just as Begum Hazrat Mahal did, the only one in Indian history to have united Muslims and Hindus to rout the English and hold them at bay for a full year. She failed because for every 1 Hindu and every 1 Muslim who wish to live in peace and brotherhood, there are 4 who for a rupee will slit the other's throat, as well as of their own co-religionist.
hindi Jan 27, 2013 07:58pm
Excellent article, provides a fair counter-view to the accepted/state pedaled narrative of the congress being the single uniting force for the masses of undivided India. Only one disappointment though, even while praising Mr Bose's efforts at achieving gender equality in the INA, the author couldn't help being sexist himself by mentioning Ms. Swaminathan's beauty! Where in the context of this article is a reference to her beauty warranted? Lakshmi Swaminathan was a patriot and an icon, and that had nothing to do with anyone's perception of her beauty. It should simply be left at that!!
Mark Jan 28, 2013 11:51am
Actually, those were different days. Now we can think in a different way, thanks to the hind-sight. In those days the English were the ultimate enemies, as compared to the Germans or the Japanese. Now ofcourse, the times have changed. Bad judgement may be...but so far India has survived many such bad judgements...and I am sure, we would have survived that one, if at all.......considering that, most of the INA legion were self-less leaders.
Waqas Jan 27, 2013 08:34pm
No we have not forgotten Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. He will forever live in the hearts of Indians as an incredibly inspirational and visionary leader.
Dr. D. Prithipaul Jan 27, 2013 08:35pm
There is no doubt that Bose would have done great deeds had he lived, though this may be an idle speculation. What he shared in common with Gandhi is that each, in different circumstances, but for for the same cause of India's freedom from British rule, had a death which was a crowning of their life of sacrifice to, and love for, the honour of the Motherland The tentacles which the Congress Party spread after 1947 did succeed in suppressing the recognition of all that Bose stood for and the continuity of his action. Nevertheless there is one decision which appeals most to me as the most significant aspect of the idealism which sustained Gandhi throughout his life, and what would have been unthought of by Bose, was his stern admonition, in the last phase, to the Hindus to stop retaliation to the repeated Muslim League violence and enthusiasm for massacre. He asked the Hindus to accept without anger or hatred all the blows rained on them by Muslims without any form of retaliation. He went to the extremity of threatening the Hindus that otherwise they would bear the responsibility of his fasting unto death. Such a decision, unique in the annals of world history, unthinkable by any past or future prophet, would not have come to the mind of Bose. Gandhi paid with his life for that admonition. The Hindus got a momentary relief when the massacres stopped as the news of the Mahatma's death spread like wild fire. But Gandhi provided to the future of Hinduism the renewal of a moral category for the preservation of its soul. No Christian has ever more powerfully taught the moral force of turning the other cheek. And such a teaching does not exist in Islamic Orthodox Dogma. And none of the Harbi Muslims - who got trapped and stayed in impure India to mull over their jihadic lust for Partition - did ever understand what the Mahatma said and did. How could they?
Ahobala Jan 27, 2013 08:49pm
Capt.Laxmi Swaminathan-nee- Saigal(She married Col.Saigal of INA) died at the ripe old age of 98 yrs.serving the poor & the working class as a medical doctor,till the last day of her death.Although she belong to the Nair community(warriors) of devout Hindus of Kerala,she was in letter & spirit a confirmed atheist,nay, humanist,with a strong belief in leftist ideals.She was kind,loving & highly dedicated to the cause of the poor & downtrodden,irrespective of their caste,creed & religion.If such men & women abound in today's society,the narrow racial barriers that divide the countries would crumble to unite mankind based on love,mutual respect as a single human racece void of sectarian denominations. The highly learned author,M.J.Akbar belongs this category and commands high respect from all quarters.
kris Jan 27, 2013 09:55pm
Thanks, AkbarJi for an excellent article. First time I learn t so much about NetaJi. All the years my studies in History didn't say much about SCBose.
umesh bhagwat Jan 27, 2013 10:27pm
Bose is not the only one forgotten!
Rajeev Nidumolu Jan 27, 2013 11:55pm
"I do not believe Bose could have fought alongside Hitler, who advised the British to shoot Gandhi dead, " Historically incorrect as Bose started his armed resistance during world war two in Germany when he created Indian legion-Legion Freies Indien (attached to Waffen SS) from captured POW Indian soldiers which swore allegiance to Hitler and Bose. Bose as a patriot was second to none . His vision for post Indian independence fascist dictatorship if adopted would have been a disaster. He wanted to have dictatorship in first few years of Independence to combat fissiparous tendencies in diverse country. Foundation of modern Indian democracy owe to Gandhi , Nehru and Sardar Patel and not to Bose. Bose stature just like that of Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri and PV Narsimha Rao were deliberately reduced to give boost to brand marketing of heirs of Nehru family
Avik Roy Jan 28, 2013 12:17am
West Bengal may have reduced Netaji during the parade, but that only shows the decline of Bengal and Bengalis in India. Subhas Chandra Bose was much bigger than Bengal. While it is well known that Congress and others have tried, somewhat successfully, to put him in the background, his name will come up again and agin, I think, in the future. This is because he is the only figure who successfully united India on the secular line, above religion and caste. India and also Pakistan, degraded on and on after their respective independence. I remember several years back when Bose's birth centenary was being held in Calcutta a number of old Pakistani ex INA soldiers took the trouble of traveling all the way to Calcutta. such was the spell of of a true Netaji.
Surinder Singh Kade Jan 28, 2013 02:02am
Let us not forget the mutiny in then Royal Indian Navy.My uncle was in the navy at that time and another officer in army who switched to Neta Ji(Bose). Of course the the refusal to obey order given by Britich officer to open fire on personal of Signal regment at Jabalpur,MP(CP then) Surinder Singh Singh Kade New York
PKA Jan 28, 2013 02:40am
Simply put- a great article, my salute to the writer
indian Jan 27, 2013 04:09am
...Long live Netaji...if we come to muslims, please check wikipedia you will find most of his superior cadre consist of muslim fighters..
Rocky Jan 27, 2013 04:10am
Bose was a brilliant person and, of course, a true nationalist. However, he did not understand India and its colonizer the UK as well as Gandhi did. Gandhi knew early on that Indians can't simply outgun the British empire. As a result, he adopted mass movements like Satyagraha and hunger strikes. Palestinians need to learn a thing or two from Gandhi.
Ayesha Mohammad Jan 27, 2013 09:07am
"But such amnesia will only diminish India. " How true ? Shortness of public memory.
abhi Jan 27, 2013 06:40am
Doesn't matter what Bengal government does. Subhash Chandra Bose is hero for every Indian.
anil Jan 27, 2013 06:41am
@MJ Akbar, Netaji was from present day state of Odisha , not Bengal , the state which Emperor Chandragupta couldn't win over in his life , his Grandson Asoka could managed to win after 3 attempts and became Dharmasoka and invader-Mughals couldn't enter during their regime . The gene of patriotism was in Subhas's blood from birth . Nobody gives him his due , because he passed away tragically and couldn't push the momentum . But he had liberated Indian state of Manipur and formed his gov in Kohima . But I ask you a question ,If he wasn't successful , neither Gandhiji or Netaji . If Netaji had surrendered to eternal truth of death , then Gandhiji and Netaji had surrendered to a leader named Mr.Jinnah . Leaders like Netaji ,Bhagat and Sukhdev have more importance in Indian liberation than leaders like Gandhiji and Netaji . The former ones played it behind the screen and the later ones played it in front of screen .
sameer madan Jan 27, 2013 06:56am
Sir , we all respect Netaji and are aware that his contribution and sacrifices for India's freedom do not get the platform that they deserve. However most Indians are aware of this great son of India... Sameer
Jeet Jan 27, 2013 06:57am
Absolute Nonsense!!!Netaji's stature cannot be diminished or reduced as he has been dead for more than 60 years.The main question is whether he is relevant today.
K G Surendran Jan 27, 2013 08:28am
Besides the contribution of great freedom fighters M J Akbar forgot that after the end of second World War Britain was totally bankrupt and they had made India bankrupt also in their long rule that continuing holding on to a colony would have been disastrous for the British economy, so an Indian independence was the easy way out. no doubt with the usual divide and rule policy of the colonial masters, hence, the two nation theory ably abetted by leaders/politicians in a rush to grab power with a damn the people attitude. Even today leaders or to call them rightly, politicians on both sides of the divide continue to make merry at the peoples expense and possibly one of the reasons why the helpless masses look to a leader with revolutionary zeal, Bose like, who can offer solutions for their daily back breaking problems. But life is also not about quick fixes but the long haul where patience, perseverance and hard work are required in huge measure to surmount the odds.