Recent allegations about a newly independent India under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru snooping on the kin of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose is what conspiracy theorists and spin doctors needed to push their agenda that Netaji was a greater patriot than Pandit Nehru. The “see-I-told-you” band of people, some of them public intellectuals, have kept the media and political circles abuzz with all sorts of activity ever since.
Every day, someone or the other claims to know what really happened to Bose and blames Pandit Nehru and the Congress for it. Any narrative or opinion that runs contrary to this new perception is immediately denounced as a work of traitors. However, Bose’s admirers conveniently ignore his Faustian treaty with Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan.
Netaji Bose, by his own admission in his book, “Indian Struggle” (published in 1935 in London), believed India needed a political system that was a mix of fascism and communism something that he called samyavad. Netaji made a special trip to Rome in 1935 to present a copy of his book to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, whom he greatly admired and whose ideals he would follow for the rest of his life. Bose’s reactionary views naturally brought him into conflict with the pacifist leaders of Congress, most notably Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru. But the friction didn’t happen in 1935, it happened much earlier.
Bose had organized the annual session of the Indian National Congress in 1928 in Calcutta. There, he organized a guard of honour in full military styleover 2,000 volunteers were drilled in military fashion and organized into battalions; half of them wore military uniforms with “officers” wearing metal epaulettes. For himself, Bose got a senior British military officer’s dress tailored by Calcutta-based British firm, Harman’s, complemented by an aiguillette and a field marshal’s baton; he also assumed the title of general officer commanding, much to the chagrin of Gandhi, who described the whole thing as ‘Bertram Mills circus’. But Bose’s love for militarism continued just like his love for a good show.
Subhas Chandra Bose (in military uniform) with Motilal Nehru at the Calcutta session of the Indian National Congress in December 1928.
In 1938, at the 51st session of the Congress at Haripura, Bose was the president. He organized for himself a grand ceremony that was no less than a victory march of a triumphant ancient Indian king returning from digvijaya. He supposedly entered the venue in a chariot drawn by 51 bullocks, accompanied by 51 girls in saffron saris, after a two-hour procession through 51 gates that also had 51 brass bands playing. He would do similar shows in Southeast Asia when he came to the helm of Indian National Army and Indian Independence League.
In October 1943, Bose announced the formation of the Provisional Government of Free India (Arzi Hukumat-i-Azad Hind). He arbitrarily assumed the titles of head of state, prime minister, and minister for war and foreign affairs the first he intended to keep when India was liberated. He demanded total submission and fealty from Indians everywhere; anybody who opposed him, his army or government could be executed (some accounts suggest many were indeed tortured or executed on orders of Bose or with his knowledge).
The INA’s proclamation put this into writing: “If any person fails to understand the intentions of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind and the Indian National Army, or of our Ally, the Nippon Army, and dares to commit such acts as are itemized hereunder which would hamper the sacred task of emancipating India, he shall be executed or severely punished in accordance with the Criminal Law of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind and the Indian National Army or with the Martial Law of the Nippon Army.”
In a speech the same year in Singapore, Bose spoke about India needing a ruthless dictator for 20 years after liberation. Then Singapore daily, Sunday Express (now defunct), printed his speech where he said, “So long as there is a third party, ie the British, these dissensions will not end. These will go on growing. They will disappear only when an iron dictator rules over India for 20 years. For a few years at least, after the end of British rule in India, there must be a dictatorship…No other constitution can flourish in this country and it is so to India’s good that she shall be ruled by a dictator, to begin with …”
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (right) with Mahatma Gandhi in February 1938.
By this time, Netaji seems to have liked Nazism more than Fascism. In a speech to students of Tokyo University in 1944, Netaji said India needs to have a philosophy that “should be a synthesis between national socialism (Nazism) and communism”. Around this time, of course, any form of cordiality that existed between Bose and Pandit Nehru had evaporated.
While Bose fancied himself as a world leader like Hitler and Mussolini, Pandit Nehru despised both individuals and their ideologies. He expressed his “intense dislike” for Fascism and said there can be no middle path between fascism and communism, the former being a “crude and brutal effort of the capitalist order”.
Nevertheless, after Bose “died” in that mysterious air crash in August 1945, Pandit Nehru paid a tribute to his former colleague, “In the struggle for the cause of India’s independence he has given his life and has escaped all those troubles which brave soldiers like him have to face in the end. He was not only brave but had deep love for freedom. He believed, rightly or wrongly, that whatever he did was for the independence of India … Although I personally did not agree with him in many respects, and he left us and formed the Forward Bloc, nobody can doubt his sincerity. He struggled throughout his life for the independence of India, in his own way.”