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Subhas Chandra Bose: The myths, the distortions and the biases

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By Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh and Dikgaj

Editor’s note: In its weekend edition that appeared on 30 January, Firstpost carried a lengthy exploration of the meaning Subhas Chandra Bose holds to Indians. Given the polarised views such an inquiry normally elicits, we received censure and praise in equal measure. One email was of particular interest, rendered thus by the scholarly nature of its contents, and the measured arguments it offered. We invited the author of the message, Saswati Sarkar, to present a counter to the piece in question. She sent us a response of impressive length and erudition, co-authored by Shanmukh and Dikgaj. Firstpost will reproduce it in two parts, over two days, beginning with this one.

With the renewed (and welcome) interest in the history of Subhas Chandra Bose, several myths are being pedalled about him, by political activists and historians alike, of different political persuasions. We seek to rest some of the flagrantly false ones, primarily relying on the protagonist’s own writing, but also well-documented biographies as also accounts of contemporary politicians and our prior work.

Myth I: Subhas Bose was a Communist

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Reuters

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Reuters

Subhas Bose was a leftist, but his notion of leftism was quite different from what is commonly understood by the term today. In particular, he was a leftist in the sense that he was an anti-imperialist and believed in attaining undiluted independence, not merely substance thereof. Thus, neither economics nor communism was central to Bose’s notion of leftism. In his own words, “In the present political phase of Indian life, leftism means anti-imperialism. A genuine anti-imperialist is one who believes in undiluted independence (not Mahatma Gandhi's substance of independence) as the political objective and in uncompromising national struggle as the means for attaining it. After the attainment of independence, leftism will mean socialism and the task before the people will then be the reconstruction of national life on a Socialist basis. Socialism or socialist reconstruction before attaining our political emancipation is altogether premature. ‘’ pp. 27-28. He described rightists as negation of leftists, as those “prepared for a deal with imperialism.’’ p. 28,  and considered B Tilak and Aurobindo Ghosh as leftists (clearly neither was a communist) p. 15 in The Indian Struggle (1920-1942).

In fact, Subhas Bose had explicitly and repeatedly disassociated himself from communism – he considered himself “a socialist, but that was a very different thing from being a communist’’ p. 348, Brothers Against The Raj. A primary distinction between communists and socialists lay in their respective emphasis on internationalism vis a vis nationalism. Bose had ridiculed the internationalism of the communists and had disparaged them for attacking the concept of nationalism: “The attack is not only ill advised but unconsciously serves the interests of our alien rulers...before we can endeavour to reconstruct Indian society....we should first secure the right to shape our own destiny...When political freedom has been attained, it will then be time to consider seriously the problem of social and economic reconstruction. As far as I am aware this is also the opinion of prominent communists in other lands. To introduce fresh cleavage within our ranks by talking openly of class war and working for it appears to me at the present moment to be a crime against nationalism. To what straits we may be reduced by a mal-assimilation of Karl Marx and Bakunin becomes manifest when we come across a certain class of Indian labourites (or communists, if you call them so), who openly advocate the use of British or foreign cloth on the plea of internationalism.’’ p. 166, Brothers Against The Raj. In 1927, in a letter from Mandalay jail to his brother, he had disassociated himself from Communism: "If I had the remotest intention of becoming a Bolshevik agent, I would have jumped at the offer made and taken the first available boat to Europe. If I succeeded in recouping my health, I could then have joined the gay band who trot about from Paris to Leningrad talking of world revolution and emitting blood and thunder in their utterances. But I have no such ambition or desire.’’ p. 146, Brothers Against The Raj. In addition, while independence was primary, and unionisation secondary to Bose and other socialists, radicalisation and organisation of the workers was primary to Indian Communists p. 207, Brothers Against The Raj.

Bose had predicted that Communism will not be adopted in India, based on its denunciation of religion, among other things: "There are several reasons why Communism will not be adopted in India. Firstly, Communism today has no sympathy with Nationalism in any form and the Indian movement is a Nationalist movement – a movement for the national liberation of the Indian people. (Lenin’s thesis on the relation between Communism and Nationalism seems to have been given the go-by since the failure of the last Chinese Revolution.) Secondly, Russia is now on her defensive and has little interest in provoking a world revolution though the Communist International may still endeavour to keep up appearances. The recent pact between Russia and other capitalist countries and the written or unwritten conditions inherent in such pacts, as also her membership of the League of Nations, have seriously compromised the position of Russia as a revolutionary power. Moreover, Russia is too preoccupied in her internal industrial reorganisation and in her preparations for meeting the Japanese menace on her eastern flank and is too anxious to maintain friendly relations with the Great Powers, to show any active interest in countries like India. Thirdly, while many of the economic ideas of Communism would make a strong appeal to Indians, there are other ideas which will have a contrary effect. Owing to the close association between the Church and the State in Russian history and to the existence of an Organised Church, Communism in Russia has grown to be anti-religious and atheistic. In India, on the contrary, there being no association between the Church and the State, there is no feeling against religion as such. Further, in India a national awakening is in most cases heralded by a religious reformation and a cultural renaissance. Fourthly, the materialistic interpretation of history which seems to be a Cardinal point in Communist theory will not find unqualified acceptance in India, even among those who would be disposed to accept the economic contents of Communism. Fifthly, while Communist theory has made certain remarkable contributions in the domain of economics (for instance the idea of state-planning), it is weak in other aspects. For instance, so far as the monetary problem is concerned, Communism has made no new contribution, but has merely followed traditional economics. Recent experiences, however, indicate that the monetary problem of the world is still far from being satisfactorily solved.’’ pp. 352-353, The Indian Struggle (1920-1942).

Incidentally, Bose was not a rarity among contemporary leftists in his denunciation of Communism. The Social Democratic Party of Germany, a Leftist Party, voted in favour of the World War 1 in the Reichstag and expelled its Communists in 1917 and later, under its leader, Fredrich Ebert, supported the Imperial German Army against the Communists leading post war riots. It was still considered a Leftist Party, while its own attitude was anti-Communist.

During the lifetime of Bose, the acceptability of socialism, as posited as a new economic concept, was so pervasive that most politicians espoused the same.

In Harijan, on 14 April 1940, Gandhi wrote, an article approving the socialistic principles suggested by Jaiprakash Narayan: "I have claimed that I was a socialist long before those I know in India had avowed their creed. But my socialism was natural to me and not adopted from any book. It came out of my unshakable belief in non-violence. No man could be actively non-violent and not rise against social injustice no matter where it occurred. Unfortunately, Western socialists have, so far as I know, believed in the necessity of violence for enforcing socialistic doctrines....Shri Jayaprakash’s propositions about land may appear frightful. In reality they are not. No man should have more land than he needs for dignified sustenance. Who can dispute the fact that the grinding poverty of the masses is due to their having no land that they can call their own ?'' pp. 144-145, 'Jayaprakash's Picture', Gandhi's article in Harijan. Then, "This brings me to socialism. Real socialism has been handed down to us by our ancestors who taught: “All land belongs to Gopal, where then is the boundary line? Man is the maker of the line and he can therefore unmake it.” Gopal literally means shepherd; it also means God. In modern language it means the State, i.e., the people... That the land today does not belong to the people is too true. But the fault is not in the teaching. It is in us who have not lived up to it. I have no doubt that we can make as good an approach to it as is possible for any nation, not excluding Russia, and that without violence.’’ pp. 231-232, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi speech at Faizpur.

Nehru had said in a Press Statement issued on 18 December, 1933: "I do believe that fundamentally the choice before the world today is between some form of Communism and some form of Fascism, and I am all for the former, that is Communism. I dislike Fascism intensely and indeed I do not think it is anything more than a crude and brutal effort of the present Capitalist order to preserve itself at any cost. There is no middle road between Fascism and Communism. One has to choose between the two and I choose the Communist ideal. In regards to the methods and approach to this ideal, I may not agree to everything that the orthodox Communists have done. I think that these methods will have to adapt themselves to changing conditions and may vary in different countries. But I do think that the basic ideology of Communism and its scientific interpretation of history is sound.’’ p. 351, The Indian Struggle (1920-1942).

Further, even RSS leader BS Moonje was fashioning 'Hindu Socialism’ with Bhopatkar in 1945-46. They were engaged in building a socialist agenda that 'avoided the evils of capitalism and secured the fruits of socialism’. The HMS leader, then, (and later BJS founder) Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, wanted to fashion the Hindu Mahasabha for the 1946 polls based on 'principles of socialism’. (The Emergence, Crystallisation and Shattering of a Rightwing Alternative to Congress Nationalism: The All India Hindu Mahasabha 1937-1952 by Keith Meadowcroft)

It is of some interest to point out that the the popularity of socialism continued well-beyond the times of Bose. BJP is also a socialist party as evidenced by its own constitution, which swears allegiance to `Socialist principles’ as mandated by the constitution of the country p. 1, [26]. Further, Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared that his party stood for 'Gandhian Socialism’. Speaking at the launch of the book of former Prime Minister S Chandrasekhar, Vajpayee said, "For the Bharatiya Janata Party, Gandhian socialism is what we want to achieve and make society free of exploitation and full of opportunities. So, we need to start this debate again,". In 1976, even a hard-core capitalist as GD Birla said (in Manila): "I am a capitalist but I believe in a socialism which means equal opportunity, more employment and a fairer standard of living for everyone. Socialism should not mean socialising poverty but raising the quality of life.’’ p. 227, The Emissary G. D. Birla, Gandhi And Independence by Alan Ross.

Despite the all-pervasive popularity of socialism during his times, Bose did not identify Forward Bloc, the party he formed, with Socialism, when he founded it. Bose set the goals of the Forward Bloc as follows, "Forward Bloc will rally all progressive, radical and anti-imperialist elements in the Congress, whether they be Socialists or not. Through this consolidation, the people will equip themselves for the anti-imperialist struggle that will bring India her birthright of liberty.’’ (The Role of Forward Bloc by Subas Chandra Bose), Banke Bihari Misra, the author of The Indian Political Parties, has summarised Bose’s views as "In the peculiar colonial situation of the country, his Leftist views did not go beyond being anti-British. From a Socialist point of view, it was no doubt surprising, though perfectly consistent with the tradition of the Indian Revolutionary Movement.’’ p. 475, (The Indian Political Parties)

Summarily, Bose was leftist in the sense that he was a fierce, unyielding anti-imperialist, all the rest associated with leftism was non-negotiable as far as he was concerned.

Myth II: Subhas Bose was an atheist

As Subhas Bose’s biographer, Leonard Gordon has observed, "Subhas issued no public statements on religion, but his Hinduism was an essential part of his Indianness’’, p. 263, Brothers Against the Raj – Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose. "His mother was devoted to Durga and Kali’’ p. 32, [10] and "his inherited and chosen form to worship the divine was in the form of the Mother Goddess, especially as Durga or Kali.’’ p. 123, Brothers Against the Raj – Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose. An even cursory perusal of Bose’s letters, in particular to his close family members and apolitical friends, as also accounts of his contemporaries who were close to him establishes the same.

1) On 26/12/1925, from Mandalay jail in Burma, he wrote to his sister-in-law, "Who knows how long we shall have to be in prison? But, all our suffering will be bearable if we get the chance of worshipping the Mother once a year. In Durga, we see Mother, Motherland and the Universe all in one. She is at once Mother, Motherland and the Universal spirit.’’, p.170, In Burmese prisons, Subhas Chandra Bose Correspondence May 1923-July 1926,Netaji Collected Works, Volume III. Elaborating further in a letter to his brother, Sarat Bose, a year later on 16/10/1926, he wrote, "It (Durga Puja) is a source of aesthetic enjoyment, intellectual recreation and religious inspiration and affords abiding solace. Today is Bijoya Dasami and throughout Bengal relations, friends and even enemies - children of the same Mother - will be soon embracing one another in fraternal love.’’ p. 84, Netaji Collected Works, Volume IV. Citing this letter, Bose’s biographer, Leonard Gordon has written: "So Durga Puja was the moment in the round of the year when he (Bose) and his Bengali prison-mates felt united with the Bengali people from whom they had been arbitrarily separated.’’ pp. 135-136, Brothers Against the Raj – Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose.

2) On his way to Europe, from the ship called S S Gange, Bose wrote on 5 March, 1933, to his close friend Dilip Kumar Roy,  "To be quite frank, I am torn this side and that - between my love for Shiva, Kali and Krishna. Though they are fundamentally one - one does prefer one symbolism to another. I have found that my moods vary - and according to my prevalent mood, I choose one of the three forms - Shiva, Kali and Krishna. Of these three again, the struggle is between Shiva and Shakti. Shiva, the ideal Yogi, has a fascination for me and Kali the Mother also makes an appeal to me. You see, of late (i.e., for the last four or five years) I have become a believer in Mantra Shakti by which I mean that certain Mantras have an inherent Shakti. Prior to that, I had the ordinary rationalistic view, namely that Mantras are like Symbols and they are aids to concentration. But my study of Tantra philosophy gradually convinced me that certain Mantras had an inherent Shakti - and that each mental constitution was fitted for a particular Mantra. Since then, I have tried my best to find out what my mental constitution is like and which Mantra I would be suited for. But so far I have failed to find that out because my moods vary and I am sometimes a Shaiva, sometimes a Shakta and sometimes a Vaishnava.‘’ p. 2, Subhas Chandra Bose India's Spokesman Abroad, Subhas Chandra Bose, Letters, Articles, Speeches and Statements 1933-1937 Netaji Collected Works Volume VIII. This actually showed that Bose had delved deep into Hindu philosophy, including Tantra. Worthy of note is, Dilip Roy had been a close friend of Bose since his Presidency College days, both had studied in England simultaneously and had maintained their friendship though their paths diverged in that Roy never joined politics.

3) Years later, when Bose was illegally incarcerated, in Presidency jail, he announced a fast unto death in protest. He announced it on the sacred day of Kali puja (30.9.1940) to affirm his faith. He wrote to the Superintendent of Prison: "I repeat that this letter, written on the sacred day of Kali Puja, should not be treated as a threat or ultimatum. It is merely an affirmation of one's faith, written in all humility.’’ pp. 187-189, The Alternative Leadership.

4) Subhas Bose’s faith in Hindu spirituality continued until the very end of his known life. As his biographer learned from interviewing Bose’s INA subordinates, as also Swami Siddhartananda and Swami Stidananda (on July 13, 1979, Singapore), that ,"While Bose was in Singapore, Bose frequently visited the Ramakrishna Mission in Norris Road and spent hours in the shrine room meditating. While bombs were beginning to fall on Berlin, he practised his spiritual exercises late at night in his own home, but in Japanese-occupied Singapore he was able to make a connection to the congenial monks of the Ramakrishna order who spread the teachings of Sri Ramkrishna and Swami Vivekananda which had so moved Bose and were still meaningful to him. It was a haven from the surrounding storm of war and a place where he could make contact for himself with things eternal.’’ p. 502, Brothers Against the Raj – Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose.

Myth III: Discrimination based on religion and ethnicity was at the heart of Subhas Bose’s politics:

Subhas Bose is said to have appeased Muslims, discriminated against South Indians and was an Islamophile. An analysis of Subhas Bose’s public stance on Muslims deserves a full-fledged article in itself, a topic which we plan to explore in some depth, within possibly a year. At this point we would limit ourselves to countering a subset of the misconceptions prevalent in social media by positing them in contemporary context.

First, Bose was by no means infallible, and his writings on Muslims do reveal his lack of understanding of doctrines of Islam and the history of Muslim atrocities. But, that apart, whether he would or could have acted any different if he had a better understanding of the above is unclear as many of his actions pertaining to Muslims match those of Hindutva doyens like Savarkar, Shyamaprasad Mookerjee, and those termed Hindu heroes (by BJP, RSS eco-system) like Patel, Rajagopalachari, Rajendraprasad, etc. Bose’s politics, starting from the period he struck out on his own (post CR Das’ death), was largely based on the principle of equal rights for all religions. In particular, he never shied from publicly taking up the cause of religious discrimination against Hindus, and pointing out appeasement of Muslims and Christians, which would be deemed Hindutva in current political parlance. He had actually stepped into the territory that even current RSS eschews.

1) While being incarcerated in Mandalay, Subhas Bose, and a set of others wrote to the Chief Secretary, of the Govt. of Burma on 2 February 1926, demanding that they receive financial allowance for performing Durga and Saraswati pujas, Holi and Dol Purnima, in the jail, citing allowances for observance of religious practices provided to Christians:

"To the Chief Secretary to the Govt. of Burma

Mandalay
2.2.26

Re-Allowance for Religious Ceremonies

Dear Sir,

We submitted to you dated the 16th January, 1926, regarding allowance for the Saraswati Puja to which no reply has yet been received by us.

We have already requested the Inspector general of Prisons that there are three important religious ceremonies which we have to perform here (viz the Saraswati Puja, the Holi and Dol Purnima Festival and the Durga Puja) and that we expect Government to sanction the expenditure in connection with those ceremonies.

...It would not be out of place here to mention that in the Alipore Central Jail a sum of Rs. 12000 per annum is spent for the Christian convicts in connection with their religious worship (vide report Indian jail Committee 1919-20 vol III page 744).

Yours faithfully,
S.C.B., S.C.M., T.C.C., B.B.G., M.M.B., M. M. G., S.S.C., J. L. C’’ pp. 207-208, [20]

 

And when the prayers of the prisoners were ignored, Bose wrote a stinging rejoinder to the Chief Secretary, along with a declaration of intent to fast until their demands were conceded. The contrast to the present politicians, who are basically people of straw, should be starkly apparent.

 

To the Chief Secretary to the Govt. of Burma
Through The Superintendent of Jails, Mandalay, Dated,
Mandalay, the 16th February, 1926

Dear Sir,

We are sorry that we have received no satisfactory reply to our representation of the 16th January and the 2nd February, 1926. Neither has the question of the last Durga Puja been yet settled to our satisfaction, though six months have elapsed.

....
By failing to meet our religious demands, your Government have shown a lamentable ignorance of the religious instincts of the Indian people and of their past and present history. To us orientals, religion is neither a social convention nor an intellectual luxury nor a holiday recreation. It is life itself. Religion is woven into the very texture of our daily and social life and it permeates our whole being-individual and national.

The pages of Indian history teem with the undying examples of martyrs who suffered and died for the sake of their religious beliefs. They died so that India may live. And in spite of our misery and degradation, India still lives. She lives because of her soul is immortal - her soul is immortal because she believes in religion. We have lost much. Political freedom is no more. Economic independence is a thing of the past - even our national culture is being daily undermined by the subtle policy of peaceful penetration. But we still have our religion. We still claim the right to worship our God after the fashion of our glorious ancestors, and we shall sooner cease to exist than succumb to the religious domination of the West.

...From the ashes of the dead past India is again rising phoenix-like to take her place among the free nations of the world, so that she may deliver her message, the message of the spirit, and thereby fulfill her mission on earth. India lives today because she still has a mission unfulfilled. For no other reason has she survived the onslaughts of time. Civilizations have risen and fallen, empires have grown and have melted away into thin air; Babylon and Nineveh, Carthage and Greece have crumbled into dust. But Indian culture is as potent a factor today as it was thousands of years ago when some of the foremost nations of the modern world were no better than savages. And do you think, Sir, the people who have suffered so much and braved so much throughout their whole history will obsequiously acquiesce in an arbitrary infringement of their religious rights ? We hope against hope that the lessons of the war of 1857 and of the Akali and Tarakeswar Satyagraha movements of yesterday have not been altogether lost on this Govt.

The action or rather the inaction of your Government constitutes an unwarranted interference with our religious rights. It militates against the spirit of the Queen's proclamation which promises liberty of worship to the different religions and sections in India. Further - and this is of much greater import - it is a violation of God's Law, as we understand it. Spending Rs. 12000 per annum for the religious worship of a few Christian criminals lodged in the Alipore central jail - and refusing to sanction a pie for the religious ceremonies of the Hindu detenus of high education and culture - is not this, Sir, an outrage on justice and fair play ?

The utterly unreasonable and uncompromising attitude of your Government has left us no other alternative and for the vindication of our religious rights as well as the redress of several long-standing grievances, we are being compelled to adopt the only honourable course open to persons in our position. We have accordingly resolved to commence hunger strike on Thursday, the 18th Feb, 1926.

..... Subhas Chandra Bose (and others) pp. 221-226, In Burmese prisons, Subhas Chandra Bose Correspondence May 1923-July 1926, Netaji Collected Works, Volume III

So, on 18 February, 1926, in Mandalay jail, Bose had organised a fast in protest against the authorities who denied financial allowances to the prisoners for conducting Durga and Saraswati Puja pp. 221-226, [20].

2) Throughout the British regime, Hindus were often denied permission to play music in proximity of mosques even during Hindu festivals. In late 1920s Satindra Nath Sen led the Patuakhali Satyagraha in Barisal, Bengal, which was based on the demand of Hindus to be allowed to play music before mosques. We quote the Calcutta High Court judgment on Satindra Nath Sen And Ors. vs Emperor on 14 July, 1930: "The appellants are said to have associated together in what is known as the Satyagraha movement which started at Patuakhali in the Backergunje District in 1926 in connexion with a dispute between the Hindus and Mahomedans because the latter objected to Hindu processions with music passing a certain mosque. The authorities intervened and, in order to prevent breaches of the peace, such processions were prohibited. The members of this movement defied the law and a number of them were sentenced to terms of imprisonment.’’ On 7 July 1928, Government of Bengal withdrew the charges, possibly under public pressure, but rearrested Sen again in March 1929. Subsequently, throughout 1929, Subhas Bose campaigned vociferously against the Government of Bengal's unfair treatment of Satindra Nath Sen of Barisal, and demanded national support, notwithstanding the fact that it appeared to be a narrow Hindu issue for the appeasement politics that was in full swing even then pp. 200-201, Brothers Against the Raj – Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose. It is pertinent to note that RSS is yet to have taken up the cause of Kamalesh Tiwari who have been slapped by the UP state government with a charge under the National Security Act for calling the Prophet of Islam a homosexual – a characterization which has been deemed offensive by a section practicing Muslims. The BJP government at the centre is yet to seek an explanation for the blatant breach of freedom of expression of the citizen of a supposedly free country.

3) Fourteen years after his first hunger strike demanding the right to perform Durga Puja in British jail, on 20 September 1940, again citing the fact that Muslims and Christians are granted the freedom to observe their religious practices in British jails, Bose demanded that Hindu prisoners be allowed to perform the Durga Puja exactly as prescribed by Hindu religious practices and at the time required by astronomical calculations. He wrote to the Superintendent of the Presidency Jail,

"The Superintendent
Presidency Jail
20. 9. 40

Dear Sir,

...The following points regarding the Durga Puja have to be noted:
(1) It is the great national festival among Hindus in this part of the country.
(2) It is a congregational worship. Hence it is called not merely `Puja' but `Utsav' also.
(3) Three priests are necessary for Durga Puja - including `Chandi Path' the recital of Chandi. It is physically impossible to do with less than two - and that is possible only by saddling one of the priests with `Chandi Path', which they often refuse as involving too much strain.
(4)The hours of Puja are fixed by astronomical calculations. For instance, the most important ceremony is `Sandhi Puja' which is held on the 8th day of the moon - and the Puja hour is often late at night (I do not know yet what the hours for `Sandhi Puja' are this year).

Durga Puja in Jail will consequently be possible only if the following extra concessions are being allowed:
(1) Since Durga Puja is congregational in character all Hindu prisoners who are so desirous should be permitted to participate. It may be remarked here that similar facilities are given to Muslim prisoners during Id and to Christian prisoners in Alipore Central Jail during Christian festivals. In any case there is no reason why all Hindu political prisoners should not be allowed to participate.
(2) At least two priests should be allowed.
(3) They should be allowed to perform the ceremony in the hours fixed by astronomical calculations, whatever those hours may be.
(4) Minimum music should be allowed. Music is essential for `Arati' ceremony in particular. (The question of Puja allowance should be considered along with the general question of our status which is under consideration).

If these concessions are not allowed it will mean virtually that Govt. do not allow Durga Puja in Jail. This will be an unjustifiable cancellation of the concessions we gained after considerable suffering in Jail in the fifteen-day hunger strike in 1926. It will mean, further, that concessions allowed by the bureaucratic regime are being withdrawn by the popular ministry.

The consequences of such situation will naturally be serious for us...

Yours faithfully
Subhas C. Bose pp. 182-183, The Alternative Leadership, Speeches, Articles, Statements and Letters, June 1939-1941 Subhas Chandra Bose, Netaji Collected Works, Volume 10

3) Years later, when Bose was illegally incarcerated, in Presidency jail, he announced at fast unto death in protest. He wrote to the Superintendent of Prison on 30.9.1940: "There is no other alternative for me but to register a moral protest against an unjust act and as a proof of that protest, to undertake a voluntary fast. This fast will have no effect on the `popular' ministry, because I am neither the Maulavi of Murapara, Dacca nor a Muhammadan by faith. Consequently, the fast will, in my case, become a fast unto death. ... Britishers and the British Government have been talking of upholding the sacred principles of freedom and democracy, but their policy nearer home belied these professions. They want our assistance to destroy Nazism, but they have been indulging in super-Nazism. My protest will serve to expose the hypocrisy underlying their policy in this unfortunate country-as also the policy of a Provincial Government that calls itself `popular', but which in reality, can be moved only when there is a Muhammadan in the picture pp. 187-189, The Alternative Leadership, Speeches, Articles, Statements and Letters’, June 1939-1941 Subhas Chandra Bose, Netaji Collected Works, Volume 10. Bose is therefore pointing out the Muslim appeasement of the Provincial Government of Bengal, then led by Fazlul Haq.

It is important to note that current BJP and RSS rarely if at all points out how their political opponents are partisan in favour of Christians and Muslims, while directly naming the religions concerned. When Durga Puja was recently banned in a village in West Bengal, and restrictions were imposed on immersion processions in both Bihar and West Bengal to ensure that Muharram processions can be conducted on time, neither BJP nor RSS organized any mass protest. Bose’s actions under very similar circumstances are tales in contrast.

Bose motivated Indians towards freedom struggle through Hindu symbolisms as appropriate for the audience. On December 9, 1930, he had called upon the women to participate in liberation struggle, invoking the imagery of asuradalani Durga: "Women had not only duties to their family, but they had also a greater duty to their country. When the gods found their sliver almost vanquished in their fight with the demons, they invoked the help of "sakti" in the form of mother. The country was in a sad plight, therefore the country looked up to the mothers to come forward and inspire the whole nation.’’ p. 238, Brothers Against the Raj – Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose, also here.

Next, Bose is often accused of appeasing Muslims because he advocated the use of Hindustani as the national language of Indians. Hindustani is a synthesis of Hindi and Urdu, and the utilization of the latter is considered Muslim appeasement in Hindutva politics. In particular, Bose is castigated for naming Indian National Army as Azad Hind Fauj, the phrase is Hindustani with origin in Urdu. It is right to debate, and perhaps even appropriate to oppose, the selection of Hindustani as the national language. But, does that indicate appeasement of Muslims, or Islamophilia per se? To know this, let us examine who all supported Hindustani and generously used Urdu in their public discourses.

Mahatma Gandhi. Getty Images

Mahatma Gandhi. Getty Images

Indian National Congress had selected Hindustani as the national language of India in 1925, and it was championed all along by Mohandas Gandhi. In the 1925 Congress session in Kanpur, the Congress adopted the following resolution, "The proceedings of the Congress shall be conducted, as far as possible, in Hindustani. The English language or any provincial language may be used if the speaker is unable to speak Hindustani, or whenever necessary. ‘’ p. 212, Pilgrimage to Freedom. We quote Brij Kishore Sharma, former chairman, copyright board, former chairman, national book trust, India, and additional secretary in the ministry of law: "The Congress under the leadership of Gandhiji adopted a language policy which was in tune with its method of forging Hindu-Muslim unity. As part of this policy, Gandhiji stated that the Congress supports Hindustani. Hindustani would be neither Hindi nor Urdu, but a mixture of both. It may be written in Dev Nagari or Persian script….It was opposed by others. Prominent among whom were Shri Purushottam Das Tandon, Ravishankar Shukla, Seth Govind Das, Ghanshyam Singh Gupta and Bal Krishna Sharma Navin ‘’ (Loc. 12887, Kindle edition [2]). We do not have any account of Gandhi’s right hand men, Vallabhbhai Patel or C. Rajagopalachari, opposing the adoption of Hindustani. Quite to the contrary, as premier of Madras Presidency in1938-39, C. Rajagopalachari introduced "Hindi, or Hindustani, as C.R. preferred to call it’’ p. 185, Rajaji – A Life by Rajmohan Gandhi, in standards six to eight in 125 schools. "Students could choose either the Nagari or the Urdu script.’’ p. 186, Rajaji — A Life. Violent anti-Hindustani agitation broke out. C. R turned to Section 7 of the Criminal law amendment act, ``offences under which were non-bailable and which the Raj had used to combat Congress’s picketing of cloths and toddy shops.’’ p. 186,Rajaji — A Life  `` By the end of January 1939, 683 persons in all, of whom 36 were women, had been convicted, for terms ranging from six weeks to a year, as a result of the anti-Hindustani agitation, including 173 prosecuted for their activity in front of the Premier’s house.’’ p. 188, Rajaji — A Life (C. M. Annadurai was arrested as part of this agitation). Satyamurti and Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, the philosopher educator, urged C. R. to make Hindustani an optional subject or to provide a conscience clause giving parents the right to withdraw their children from Hindustani classes, and Gandhi supported the suggestion. Claiming, however, that no parent had asked for such a right, C. R. turned down the idea….Bombay followed the Southern lead and introduced Hindustani, and Vallabhbhai Patel came out in support of C. R.’s policy..’’ p. 188, Rajaji — A Life

Next, around the time of independence, a Constituent Assembly was formed to prepare the constitution of India. ``The Rules Committee of the Constituent Assembly had prepared a rule (Rule 29) which laid down that in the Assembly business shall be transacted in Hindustani (Hindi or Urdu) or English…with the permission of the President, a member may address the House in his mother-tongue.’’ The Fundamental Right sub-committee had prepared a draft in which the official language was to be Hindustani, written at the option of the citizen either in the Devanagari or the Persian script. The Constituent Assembly had a membership of 298 (after partition) out of which 208 belonged to the Congress. Before a proposal or a draft was brought before the Constituent Assembly it was discussed in the Congress Parliamentary Party. On the 16th July 1947 the Congress Legislative Party discussed which should be the official language – Hindi or Hindustani. Supporters of Hindustani included Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and Patel. But when votes were cast 63 were in favour of Hindi and 32 for Hindustani. For Devanagari script 63 were in favour and 18 against. The result of this voting was reflected in the draft Constitution. In February 1948 when the draft Constitution was circulated it contained the word Hindi and not Hindustani (Hindi or Urdu).’’ Loc. 12900-12912, Kindle edition.

It is worthwhile to note that Patel supported Rajagopalachari in enforcing Hindustani against Gandhi’s will. About a decade later, Patel supported Hindustani as national language even when Gandhi was rendered irrelevant in Indian politics. The irrelevance of Gandhi during that time has been testified to by Ram Manohar Lohia, who has described how both Nehru and Patel could insult Gandhi in the meeting of the Congress Working Committee that accepted partition- ``Messrs Nehru and Patel were offensively aggressive to Gandhiji at this meeting. I had a few sharp exchanges with both of them some of which I shall relate. What appeared to be astonishing then as now, though I can today understand it somewhat better, was the exceedingly rough behaviour of these two chosen disciples towards their master. There was something psychopathic about it. They seemed to have set their heart on something and, whenever they scented that Gandhiji was preparing to obstruct them, they barked violently. pp. 21, 24, Ram Manohar Lohia – Guilty Men of India’s Partition. It may also be pointed out that Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the man who went on to become the first president of India, began the freedom session at 11 pm on 14 August 1947 addressing the Constituent Assembly and the nation in Hindustani p. 137, Pilgrimage to Freedom. So, Patel supported Hindustani and Dr. Rajendra Prasad used it on a momentous occasion, of their own volition and even after they witnessed how India was partitioned in part due to partition. Equally true, in 1943, Bose also adopted Hindustani per his own judgement as head of the provisional Azad Hind government (though the complete consequences of Muslim separatism were not known to any one at that point). So, on this count, Bose would be as much guilty of appeasement of Muslims or Islamophilia, if that is what adoption of Hindustani meant, as Patel, Rajagopalachari Rajendra Prasad were (Gandhi and Nehru have often been charged of appeasing Muslims, and rightly so, in many different contexts, but Patel, Rajendra Prasad and C. Rajagopalachari are often hailed as Hindu heroes by several advocates of Hindutva).

We now cite a few Hindu nationalists who liberally used Urdu in their public discourses. Lala Hardayal who was a committed Hindu nationalist had named the revolutionary party he formed in USA in 1913 as the Ghadar Party. Ghadar is an Urdu word (just as Azad Hind Fauj is) derived from Arabic, which means ``revolt’’ or ``rebellion’’. Lala Hardayal’s speeches, which galvanized thousands of Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab to join in the Ghadar revolution, had a generous dose of Urdu words. Incidentally, the Arya Samajis from Punjab, who sought to convert Muslims to Hinduism, also wrote in Urdu, usually in Persian script. Bhai Parmanand, the famous Arya Samaji, revolutionary and later, Hindu Mahasabha ideologue and leader, wrote `Tarikh-i-Hind’, a call for revolution, as part of the wider Ghadar revolt, against the British during World War 1, in Urdu. Finally, Pandit Lekh Ram, a committed Arya Samaji (who was murdered by Muslim fundamentalists for being the same), also wrote in Urdu, in Persian script. All his works are in Urdu and the original consolidation of his works was published in Urdu `Kulyaat-e-Arya Musafir’ by Mahashay Keeshav Dev. He wrote in Urdu his challenge to the Ahmediya leader and founder and criticised Mirza Ahmed’s `Baraheen-e-Ahmediya’ in his own book `Takzeeb-e-Baraheen-e-Ahmediya’. His book exposing the Ahmediyas `Khubt-e-Ahmediya’ was also written in Urdu. Bose actually advocated Hindustani in Roman rather than Persian script, so he should perhaps be accused of Christianophilia or Anglophilia, in the same vein.

Next, Bose is accused of Muslim appeasement as he allied with Muslim League in forming the operational body in Calcutta Corporations, post elections, in 1939-40. The demography of Calcutta ensured that Muslim league would get a sizeable chunk of seats in any such election, and no single-party government could be formed. Post election, Bose initiated communication with Hindu Mahasabha led by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee (in Bengal), but the talks failed after making significant progress. It is at that point he allied with Muslim League. Within a few years, in early 1940s, Hindu Mahasabha allied with Muslim League to form Provincial Governments in Sind, Bengal (with KPP or Krishak Praja Party led by Fazlul Haq which was essentially a Muslim Party by then and had severely discriminated against Hindus) and NWFP provinces - again the reservation and separate electorate accorded to Muslims by virtue of the Communal Award, which Bose had opposed, had ensured that no government could be formed without Muslim Parties (then Muslim League or KPP) in these provinces. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee of Hindu Mahasabha became a minister in Fazlul Haq’s government in Bengal, and Savarkar praised the alliance in all three places citing the necessity of practical politics. In the December 1942 session in Kanpur, Savarkar defended the coalition with the Muslim League, saying, ``in practical politics also, the Mahasabha knows that it must advance through reasonable compromises. Witness the fact that only recently in Sind, the Sind Hindu Sabha on invitation had taken the responsibility of joining with the League itself in running the coalition government. The case of Bengal is well known. Wild Leaguers whom even the Congress with all its submissiveness could not placate grew quite reasonably compromising and sociable as soon as they came in contact with the Hindu Mahasabha and the Coalition Government, under the premiership of Mr Fazlul Huq and the able lead of our esteemed Mahasabha leader Dr Syama Prasad Mookerji, functioned successfully for a year or so to the benefit of both the communities.’’ p. 213, Religious Dimensions of Indian Nationalism: A Study of RSS. So, if Bose can be charged of Muslim appeasement, Islamophilia because of his alliance with Muslim League, the same allegation ought to apply to the two doyens of Hindu Mahasabha, namely, Savarkar and Mookerjee.

A portrait of Tipu Sultan. Getty images

A portrait of Tipu Sultan. Getty images

Finally, it is often suggested, as evidence of Bose’s Islamophilia/Muslim appeasement that Bose had adopted tiger as the emblem of INA and as the national animal of India, motivated by Tipu Sultan’s choice of tiger as his emblem. It is a fact that a springing tiger was the emblem of INA, it is also a fact that tiger was the emblem of Tipu, but we are yet to come across any primary source (statements, speeches, writings of Bose) that testify to the motivation. It is important to note that the springing tiger chosen by Bose differed quite a bit from the tiger emblem chosen by Tipu, which displays a tiger devouring a European, prone on the ground [8]. Last, but not the least, India has been one of the ancient homes of tiger, long before the existence of Tipu Sultan, and the Royal Bengal tiger species is endemic to India. Tiger had symbolized strength, ferocity and raw courage in Indic consciousness. The Pandava brother Bhima have repeatedly been referred to as``tiger among men’’ in Ved Vyasa’s Mahabharata. Similarly, Bharata is routinely referred to as `tiger among men’ in many places in the Ramayana. It is unclear why we ought not attribute Bose’s choice of tiger to his Indic civilizational consciousness and his admiration for valour. Disowning tiger as Islamophilia, given Tipu’s choice is therefore quite akin to rejecting the ancient Hindu symbol of Swastika owing to the association with Hitler.

As a clinching evidence of Bose’s Islamophilia, it is said that he had not reached out to South Indians despite a large number of followers there. If the choice of Bose’s adoption of Hindustani as national language, is considered an evidence that Bose discriminated against his Tamil following, far worse evidence of such discrimination exists against C. Rajagopalachari who despite being a Tamil himself, had imposed Hindustani, through application of brute force, on a populace that revolted against. In contrast, there is no record of any resentment against Bose, on linguistic grounds, anywhere, perhaps because he accorded significant import to Tamil in the daily operations of his government. It is a matter of record that during the momentous occasion of the proclamation of the Provisional government of free India, led by Bose, the proclamation was read out in Hindustani by Mr AN Sahay, in Tamil by Mr. Chidambaram, in English by Bose himself p. 117, Writings and Speeches 1943-1945, Chalo Delhi. Also, the central office of the provisional government published its newspapers, bulletins, etc. in Romanized Hindustani, Tamil and English. The medium of instruction in the teachers’ training schools maintained by the provisional government was Tamil or Bengali or Hindustani, according to the mother tongue of the students. South Indians held important positions in Bose’s provisional government: Ramamurthy, was the head of Indian Independence League (IIL) in Tokyo, and SA Ayer served as the Propaganda Minister of the Provisional Government of Free India, A. C. N. Nambiar was a close friend and colleague of Bose and served as his official representative in Germany and a minister of state in his provisional government.

Truth be told, Subhas Chandra Bose has as much or greater hold on Tamil imagination, as anywhere else, including the state he is ethnically associated with. As an article published in Swarajya Magazine has noted, ``Tamil Nadu constantly strives to maintain a sense of cultural separateness from the national narrative. An impressive array of local icons dot the Tamil socio-political landscape. Some of them are even celebrated in response to what is seen as hegemonic attempt to foist pan Indian heroes. However, there is one icon of Indian history who has dominated Tamil imagination as well as anyone from the state– Subhas Chandra Bose… In the cinema-crazy state, fascination with Bose has been a recurring theme in many Tamil Movies. In the popular 1996 film, Indian, Kamal Haasan played two characters. One of them was of an old man who was a member of the Indian National Army and was enraged at the corruption in independent India. Seemingly inspired by the ideals of Bose he goes on to brutally eliminate petty and corrupt officials. In another Tamil Movie called Thevar Magan, copious adulatory references are made about Bose and how the Mukkalothar caste mobilized in his response to this call…..In a society that prides itself as rooted in a valorous and militaristic past, the fascination with Subhas Chandra Bose is easily understandable.’’(Subhas Chandra Bose in Tamil Imagination, Swarajya Mag). Clearly, Tamils nowhere felt that Subhas Bose was not reaching out to them.

Bose’s connection with Tamils started early, right when Bose struck out on his own in Indian politics. After C R Das’ death, Bose was closely associated with former Congress President, Srinivasa Iyengar of the Madras Presidency. Bose had strongly denounced the latter’s mal-treatment by Gandhi: ``When the time came for electing the working Committee for the coming year (after the Lahore Congress in 1930) , the Mahatma came forward with a list of fifteen names, from which the names of Mr. Srinivasa Iyengar, the writer, and other Left Wingers have been deliberately omitted. There was a strong feeling in the All-India Congress Committee that at least the names of Mr. Iyengar and the writer should be retained. But the Mahatma would not listen. He said openly that he wanted a committee that would be completely of one mind and he wanted his list to be passed in its entirety. Once again it became a question of confidence in the Mahatma and as the House did not want to repudiate him, it had no option but to give in to his demand’’ p. 194, The Indian Struggle (1920-1942). ``After the Lahore Congress, Mr. Srinivasa Iyengar had retired from public activity. Along with other Left Wing leaders, he had been treated shabbily by the President of the Lahore Congress and by the Mahatma, who was instrumental in excluding him from the Working Committee, though he was the most outstanding leader from Madras and was an ex-President of the Congress. This insult he had taken to heart so much that he vowed he would have nothing to do with the Congress so long as Mahatma Gandhi remained the leader.’’ p. 224, The Indian Struggle (1920-1942).

But, ``If there was one individual instrumental in establishing Bose’s strong presence in Tamil imagination, it has got to be Muthuramalinga Thevar….Muthuramalinga Thevar was a powerful leader from the Maravar community and a close confidante of Bose. He played an instrumental role in mobilizing huge support for INA and was one of the founding pillars of Forward Bloc. He followed Bose out of Congress and started the Tamil Nadu wing of Forward Bloc….He started a Tamil Weekly Nethaji and gave a clarion call to the members of his community to join the INA. He fought for the denotification of ‘Criminal Tribes Act’ which stigmatised the Mukkulathor’ complex of castes -Thevars, Kallars and the Maravars. When the ‘Brahminised leadership’ of Madras Congress did not show sufficient wherewithal to oppose British attempts to disenfranchise militaristic castes, Thevar began to disengage with it and found common ground with Bose….Across southern Tamil Nadu, Bose continues to prominently feature in Thevar iconography. As part of the new wave of competitive caste belligerence, observance of the birth and death anniversary of caste icons has gained renewed vigour in the state. One such occasion is Thevar Jayanthi. During this day, entire state is plastered with posters of Muthuramalinga Thevar along with Bose clad in his military attire’’ (Subhas Chandra Bose in Tamil Imagination, Swarajya Mag)

Next, Bose had founded a woman-only regiment in INA, Rani Jhansi regiment, one of the first of its kind in the world [11]. It was dominated by Tamil women [11]. Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan, who Bose later appointed as minister for women’s affairs led the regiment p. 497, [10]. Janaky Thevar and Rasammah Bhupalan `` were members of Rani Jhansi Regiment of the Indian National Army and later went on to play a part in the Malayasian independence movement…..As a 14 year old, Janaky Thevar once attended a rally of Bose and was so enthralled by his idealism that she handed over her expensive diamond earring to INA as a part of fund raising drive. Despite her father’s strident opposition, she signed up with INA and rose up in the ranks to become the second commander of Rani Jhansi Brigade.’’

As Leonard Gordon has noted, "Several of the outstanding recruits of the Rani of Jhansi Regiment, who went on to exceptional careers of service after the war, mentioned that Bose acted ``fatherly’’ towards them, and was immensely concerned for their welfare. The man who could not watch his own daughter grow up because of the circumstances of war told the Ranis that he was their ``mother and father.’’ He wrote to one girl of sixteen, `If you want to live, live for others.’ She applied this lesson to her life and became one of the most noted secondary school principals in her country. To another girl of sixteen, who later became the organizer of girl guides of her country, he wrote, `I hope the confidence I’ve placed in you will take you far.’ Whether it was Bose’s confidence or simply their own abilities that took them far; I cannot say. But the powerful impact of Bose on these unusual women-witnessed decades later – is unmistakable.’’ p. 497, Brothers Against the Raj – Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose. Why the young Tamil women of INA connected to Bose so well, can be best understood by reviewing his interactions with them, when the chips were down. INA was in retreat in 1945. ``Several hundred (of the Ranis) had to be sent back to Malaya and Singapore at about this moment. They were scheduled to leave by train, but then the trains were full. They were stranded. Bose was angry and insistent: he would not leave without them. In the end, Bose and his party retreated with the Ranis. It was an arduous and dangerous trip. Allied fighters controlled the air and the Allied forces were pressing ahead rapidly behind them. Initially at least, they had lorries to take them, but when several of these ceased to function, they had to walk. Bose, the solicituous father throughout, trekked along with them. All the walkers developed blisters including the commander-in-chief in his high, tight boots. At the waw river there was a terrible traffic snarl of retreating men, women, and vehicles and the Ranis had to wade across through neck-deep water. They plunged in; they got across. As they walked along the road, they were strafed. Bose again exposed himself, refusing to take cover. He told one of the young women, `Don’t worry, the Britishers will never take me, dead or alive.’ After reaching Moulmein, the party rested briefly and then were put aboard trains for Bangkok. Bose gave a final talk to the group of ranis before they left, telling them that they had set a fine example and braved all dangers like seasoned soldiers. During the retreat several had been killed. The rest returned from Bangkok to their families. Bose made a powerful impression upon them that has lasted with many of them through their whole lives’’ pp. 535-536, Brothers Against the Raj – Biography of Indian Nationalists, Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose.

In Part 2: The why of myths: Poor scholarship, bias and politicisation of history

 

First Published On : Feb 6, 2016 09:20 IST

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