Bose is being shown as counter to Gandhi. He would have rejected the idea – Deccan Herald

An empty canopy 150 metres from India Gate now has a statue of Subhas Chandra Bose, perhaps the most romanticised figure of the freedom movement. The canopy wasn’t always empty. From 1939 to 1968, it had an imposing marble statue of King George V, the British monarch under whose reign the capital of ‘New Delhi’ was built.
Choosing to put Bose in a place where Mahatma Gandhi’s statue was once proposed to be put is eventually to have Bose serve as a counter to Gandhi. But it is not borne out by history. Harvard historian and Bose’s biographer Sugata Bose has unequivocally stated that “the differences between Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose are highly exaggerated. The parting that took place in 1939 was a temporary one and if we study the relationship between Gandhi and Netaji, we will find that it was one that was marked by deep mutual love, affection and respect.” Even while resigning as Congress president, Bose opposed the right-wing supporters of Gandhi in the Congress hierarchy but never indulged in any personal criticism of Gandhi. In fact, his statement said, “It will always be my aim and object to try and win his confidence, for the simple reason that it will be a tragic thing for me if I succeed in winning the confidence of other people but fail to win the confidence of India’s greatest man.”
It was Bose who first gave Gandhi the honorific of ‘Father of the Nation’ in his address on Singapore Radio on July 6, 1944. In his Azad Hind Radio message from Berlin on Gandhi’s birthday in 1943, Bose said, “The service which Mahatma Gandhi has rendered to India and to the cause of India’s freedom is so unique and unparalleled that his name will be written in gold in our national history for all times.” Bose named one of the INA’s four regiments ‘Gandhi Brigade’, and a new book on Netaji by Krishna Bose has pictures of the official events of the Azad Hind Sarkar in South-East Asia with huge pictures of Gandhi as the backdrop.
Gandhi reciprocated in equal measure. When American journalist Louis Fischer asked him what he thought of Bose seeking help from Germany during WWII, Gandhi replied, “Bose is a patriot among patriots.” He was a regular visitor to the prisons in Delhi where INA soldiers were kept by the British, telling them “aap to humare apne afsar hain.”
Equally vicious is the propaganda about Nehru and Bose. They were close friends and on the progressive side of the Congress party. Bose looked after Nehru’s wife Kamala when she was recuperating at a sanatorium in Europe while Nehru was imprisoned in India. Nehru always stayed at Sarat Bose’s house when he was in Calcutta. When Bose asked Nehru to head the National Planning Committee in 1938, Nehru was reluctant to take it up because he was too busy to do justice to the work. Nehru yielded when Rabindranath Tagore told him “there are only two modernists in the High Command — you and Subhas Babu”, and since Bose was Congress president, there was nobody else besides Nehru to head the NPC.
Bose named another INA regiment the ‘Nehru Brigade’; Nehru donned his lawyer’s robes after 30 years to defend INA soldiers during the British court-martials. On August 16, 1947, Nehru’s first Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort was the fulfilment of Bose’s call of Dilli Chalo and to hoist the flag at the Red Fort. After crediting Gandhiji and calling on people to remember those who had made sacrifices for the cause of independence, Nehru’s wistful words were, “It is needless for me to name all of them, but I cannot help mentioning Subhas Chandra Bose…He hoisted this flag in foreign countries and when the day came for hoisting it on the Red Fort, he was not to see his dream fulfilled. This should have been the day of his return…”
At the head of Azad Hind Sarkar, the flag Bose hoisted was the flag of the Congress – the tricolour with a charkha. The national anthem adopted was the Jana Gana Mana which was later translated into Hindustani. Bose was an ardent secularist who believed in India’s composite culture. Most of his closest associates in the INA were Muslims. He refused to visit a temple in Singapore that discriminated on caste. He was in favour of Hindustani written in Roman script as the language for India. In his speech, PM Modi said that independent India did not follow the path shown by Bose. Netaji’s ideas may not have been followed fully in independent India, but his positions are certainly heretical for those currently ruling India.
His speeches from Germany after Congress announced the Quit India movement are full of warnings to the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha, both of which he despised. When the Azad Hind Sarkar ruled Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Bose unfurled the flag there, there was no mention of Savarkar. While Bose was not enamoured of Hitler and used him only to further the cause of India’s freedom, the Hindutva forces idolised Hitler and Nazi ideology but were loyal to the British.
Bose was no Savarkar. But the significance of his statue at India Gate is linked to this most prominent ideologue of Hindutva. Savarkar’s principal conclusion, as per Vinayak Chaturvedi’s new book, was that “Hindus had not only existed in a state of war in the past, but they also needed to embrace permanent war as part of their future” for “Hindus understand themselves as Hindus through acts of violence”. This is meant to replace Gandhi’s non-violence as the dominant belief in today’s India. Bose, in his military uniform, becomes a useful tool for propagation of that ominous idea. But it is an idea Bose vehemently opposed in his lifetime.
The symbolism of the empty canopy, where Bose now stands, was meant to represent independent India. A place, empty because loyalty was owed to no one individual, and an impermanence because power is transient in a democracy: our leaders are not monarchs but vanquished regularly at the hustings. The seeds of another symbol are perhaps being sown, with the statue of a political leader in military uniform, at the heart of the country’s power centre. Bose is being mischaracterised as a personal enemy of Gandhi and Nehru, and the idea of India they embodied. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
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