Subhash Chandra Bose or ‘Netaji’ as he was popularly known, was a charismatic figure of Indian Independence movement. Though his ways and approaches were not quite in line with the majority of leadership at that time and maybe that’s why the honour he deserves is still due, but his contribution to the cause of freedom is truly unparalleled.
Subhash, born on 23rd of January, 1897 in Cuttack to Janakinath bose and Prabhavati Dutt, was an introvert fellow since his childhood. Having eight siblings elder to him and five younger, had profound psychological implications. According to his own testimony, he often felt ‘insignificant’. Brought up in his well-to-do middle class home, he escaped the unfortunate traits of selfishness and greed; and also, owing to the undaunting belief of his father in simplicity, he escaped the evils of pampering and snobbery of a home of luxury and lavishness.
At the age of five, Subhash was enrolled in an English school. This was his earliest firsthand experience of racial discrimination. Indian boys in the school, for instance, were told that because they were Indians they could not sit for certain scholarship examinations though in their annual examinations they topped the class. Anglo- Indian boys could join the Volunteer Corps but Indian boys were debarred. These small incidents impressed it starkly upon his young mind that Indians and British were two separate classes where one was the ruler and other one ruled. His disinterest in sports furthered his diffident attitude. Later he joined an Indian school, but as he has mentioned in his memoirs, conditions were not easy there as well. He was completely unaware of his own mother tongue and in his first essay, made a fool of himself in front of class with silly grammatical and punctuation errors. Though, thanks to his industrious nature, he soon overcame these hurdles and topped the college in annual examination. In the same school, he met headmaster Beni Madhav Das, who, with his strong principles and idealism, was a great influence on him.
Subhash, until now, was devoid of any strong political leaning. Atmosphere of Orissa was not quite politically charged yet, and his father being in government service, preferred to stay away from active politics. It was after his arrival in Calcutta in 1913- the hotbed of Indian politics at that time- that he started taking active interest in these matters. Simultaneously blossoming was the spiritual being inside him. He had inherited religiosity from his mother and after coming across the works of Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramhansa, his enthusiasm for spiritual seeking flared up like never before. His pursuit of a Guru took him to various monks and ash laden sadhus and even on a pilgrimage of northern India accompanied by a friend named Hemant Kumar Sarkar, but returned empty-handed and disappointed. These religious wanderings however, turned him from an obedient lad to a rebel. He began to defy the authority of his father, and started making decisions on his own- a crucial development in view of the future events.
While he was studying philosophy in presidency college, Calcutta, he got associated with many zealous youngsters who were brimming with nationalist sentiments. They organized themselves in ‘Neo-Vivekananda club.’ Thoughts of Aurobindo further stirred his patriotic feelings. A regular reader of Aurobindo’s monthly journal ‘Arya’, Subhash was impressed by mystic’s deeper yogic insights as well as the passion he found in Aurobindo’s simple words. The group, though stayed away from underground revolutionaries, still roused police suspicions. In February 1916, an incident involving Professor E.F. Oaten, led to his rustication from the university. Oaten was beaten by the students who claimed that he made denigrating statements about Indian culture. In this incident, Subhash was considered a participant and was thus suspended. It was after a long period of 18 months, and ceaseless efforts of his brother and father that he was again let in by the university, though in a different institute (Scottish church college).
London and I.C.S.
After finishing his BA, with a first class merit, he began to pursue MA in psychology. But in midway his father made him an offer to go to London and study for ICS. Subhash was never really enthusiastic about getting a government job. The life of ‘comfort’ and security did not match his temperament. But still he decided to go to London. Firstly there were just eight months left in the examination and he had no hopes for getting through it and secondly he desired to have a closer look at, and arrive at a better understanding of European civilisation. Subhash sailed for England on the 15th of September 1919. Arriving there five weeks later, he secured admission in Cambridge University and settled down to work in the first week of November. Early in July 1920, eight months after he joined Cambridge University, Subhash sat for the Civil Service Open Competition in London, and though he had worked hard, he was not very hopeful. To his surprise, however, he was not only successful in the examination but came out fourth.
This turn of events, most fortunate for any other person, but most troubling for Bose, put him in an unprecedented dilemma. His correspondence with his brother Sarat gives us a valuable insight into his mind-
“The Civil Service can bring one all kinds of worldly comfort, but are not these acquisitions made at the expense of one’s soul? .... National and spiritual aspirations are not compatible with obedience to the Civil Service conditions.
“On principle I cannot accept the idea of being a part of the machinery which has outlived the days of its usefulness and stands at present for all that is connected with conservation, selfish power, heartlessness and red-tapism.
“I am now at the crossways, and no compromise is possible, I must either chuck this rotten Service and dedicate myself wholeheartedly to the country’s cause or I must bid adieu to all my ideals and aspirations and enter the Service.
“If C. R. Das at his age can give up everything and face the uncertainties of life, I am sure a young man like me, who has no worldly cares to trouble him, is much more capable of doing so.
“The illustrious example of Aurobindo Ghosh looms large before my vision. I feel that I am ready to make the sacrifice which that example demands of me.”
After seven months of vexation, Bose finally made up his mind. The call of motherland was greater than anything else. He packed his luggage, and filled with a strong determination to follow this call, he returned to India.
Plunge into politics
On the morning of 16 July, 1921 he set foot ashore. Now was the time to plunge headlong into the political storm that pervaded the national atmosphere- a moment he had cherished for such a long time. One of the first tasks was to scrutinize the consequences of political developments that had happened in his absence in the leadership of the then colossus of Indian politics- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. In the very first meeting with Gandhi at his Laburnurn Road residence, the differences in their thought-processes became clear to him. While Bose, a realist, had no pangs in using any means- violent or non-violent, for achieving independence, Gandhi was a staunch believer in the doctrine of non-violence. Their vision of independent India also mightily differed. Bose considered it essential to have a strong centralised government in free India, while Gandhi thought of an extremely decentralised system, a conglomeration of numerous self-sufficient villages, as the ideal way of administrative and economic organisation. For next twenty years, Subhash tried to maintain as much concord as possible between the ideals of Congress (which actually meant Gandhi) and his own principles, but from their first meeting in 1921 to the last one in Wardha, 1940, these fundamental differences could never be fully eradicated and caused much turmoil in the latter half of 1930s.
With C.R. Das
Bose found his political mentor, one who was more approving of extremist ideas and aggressive nationalism, in Chittaranjan Das. Interestingly, he was referred to Chittaranjan Das by none other than Mohandas Gandhi himself. At that time, the non-cooperation movement was raging throughout the nation. How could bose stay aloof? He played an active role in the movement and propagation of triple-boycott (of foreign cloth, legislatures, and courts and educational institutions), and was arrested in December 1921, along with Chittaranjan Das and his close associates. This was his first journey to jail. From here to his escape to Germany, he was arrested total eleven times. This imprisonment however, brought to an abrupt end his work as Principal of the Bengal National College, Publicity Officer of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee and Captain of the National Volunteer Corps.
In 1923 he was elected the President of All India Youth Congress and also the Secretary of Bengal State Congress. By that time, a split had already taken place in the ranks of Congress over the question of entry in Legislative councils. Das along with Motilal Nehru and others formed Swaraj party to contest elections. An extension of the programme of council entry to the civic field in Calcutta resulted in a thumping victory for the Swaraj Party in March 1924. Deshbandhu Das was elected Mayor of Calcutta, and Subhash Bose was appointed Chief Executive Officer at the age of 27. As the head of the administration of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, and under the inspiring leadership of his chief and Mayor, Subhash revolutionized the relations between the Corporation and the public of Calcutta. He accepted just the half of the Salary allotted to his post and worked self-lessly. But in a series of arrests aimed at stemming the rising popularity of Swaraj Party, he too was detained and incarcerated in Mandalay Jail in Burma, where he caught Tuberculosis.
After his release in his in 1927, he had to encounter a political vacuum. Deshbandhu had passed away. Mohandas was in a virtual political exile and Motilal Nehru was abroad. Having gained enough experience in the apprenticeship of Das, and having figured out in contemplations in prison, what way nation must go in order to throw the British yoke off, he took on his own shoulders the responsibility to revive and re-organise the national movement. He was elected the president of Bengal provincial Congress committee and then played a crucial role in Simon boycott. Along with Nehru, he authored the script of a paradigmic shift in the approach of Indian National Congress in Lahore session 1929 when Swaraj resolution was adopted.
His repeated arrests and imprisonment; election as Mayor of Calcutta (1930); resignation of the office of President of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee as a protest against wanton police firing inside the Hijli Detention Camp (1931); election as Treasurer of the All-India Trade Union Congress for 1931-32; banishment to Europe for treatment of tuberculosis of the lungs and intestines, and establishment of personal contact with Vithalbhai Patel in Vienna (1932); arrival in Calcutta from Europe without the Government’s permission, and consequent order of home internment (1934); return to Europe for a major operation; attendance at the Conference of the Indian Central European Society held at Vienna; address to the Asiatic Students Conference in Rome opened by Signor Mussolini (1935); visit to Ireland; arrival in Bombay and arrest on board the ship (1936); unconditional release and departure for Europe (1937) - these were among the important events in his stirring political career.
Haripuri and Tripuri sessions
The irreconcilable differences in the approaches of Gandhi and Subhash, which were earlier alluded to in this article, clearly manifested themselves in the Haripuri and Tripuri sessions of Congress. Summing up the factors causing and intensifying this clash, Subhash wrote- “As Congress President, the writer did his best to stiffen the opposition of the Congress Party to any compromise with Britain and this caused annoyance in Gandhian circles who were then looking forward to an understanding with the British Government Later in the year 1938, he launched the National Planning Committee for drawing up a comprehensive plan of industrialization and of national development. This caused further annoyance to Mahatma Gandhi who was opposed to industrialization. After the Munich Pact, in September, 1938, the writer began an open propaganda throughout India in order to prepare the Indian people for a national struggle, which should synchronise with the coming war in Europe. This move, though popular among the people in general, was resented by the Gandhiites who did not want to be disturbed in their ministerial and parliamentary work and who were at that time opposed to any national struggle.”
The vantage points with which Gandhi and Subhash viewed the imminent world war were entirely different. According to RC Majumdar “The fundamental difference between Subhash Bose and the Gandhi-Nehru group was in their attitude towards Britain. Bose looked upon a war between Germany and Britain as a godsend which would enable India to exploit the situation to her advantage; for he followed the principle: England's necessity was India’s opportunity. Even in 1935, if not before, he had been thinking of the possibility of securing help from Britain’s enemy. On the other hand, Gandhi and Nehru had a soft corner for Britain and were definitely opposed to the idea of taking advantage of Britain’s peril.” This difference in approaches forms the backdrop against which the events of these two sessions and split in congress with Subhash on one side and Gandhian lobby on the other must be viewed.
In the Haripuri session Subhash Chandra Bose was unanimously elected president, but his ideas did not strike a chord with the majority who were under the influence of Gandhi. His appeals to the masses for being prepared for an imminent ‘satyagraha’ which will synchronise with the initiation of war in Europe chaffed many. But he still had the popular support behind his back, due to which, he could recontest the elections for president ship in Tripuri session of 1939 and defeat Pattabhi Sitarammaiya (who was supported by Gandhi). Gandhi took the election results as his own defeat- “Since I was instrumental in inducing (Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya) not to withdraw, the defeat is more mine than his.” This statement further stirred the ongoing clash and made the fight between dedication to democratic methods on the one hand and dedication to Gandhi on the other, with majority of Congress workers choosing the latter. Thirteen members of working committee resigned and the strain that followed culminated in the resignation of Subhash Chandra bose and formation of Forward block.