Thursday, March 5, 2009

Subhas Chandra Bose - the forgotten hero

Here is another excerpt from the review of Majumdar's book.

"Historically speaking, the most important fact to emerge from a restudy of the Indian Freedom Movement is the following: it was Subhas Bose, rather than Gandhi or his associates, who contributed the most to India's freedom in 1947. This represents a radical change of perspective but rests on unimpeachable authority. In the Introduction, I had noted that in the second edition of his Voume III, Majumdar produced startling new evidence that confirmed his earlier claim that Subhas Bose's contribution to Indian independence in 1947 was probably greater than Gandhi's. We shall be looking at Bose's leadership of the INA and its campaigns later in the article, but first a look at the evidence Mujumdar referred to. It comes from no less a person than Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister who took the decision to grant independence to India. Since this is of fundamental importance, it is worth placing it on record. The full details can be found in Majumdar, Volume III pages 609 -10.

When B.P. Chakravarti was acting as Governor of West Bengal, Lord Attlee visited India and stayed as his guest for three days at the Raj Bhavan. Chakravarti asked Attlee about the real grounds for granting independence to India. Specifically, his question was, when the Quit India movement lay in ruins years before 1947 where was the need for the British to leave in such a hurry. Attlee's response is most illuminating and important for history. Here is the Governor's account of what Attlee told him:

In reply Attlee cited several reasons, the most important were the activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose which weakened the very foundation of the attachment of the Indian land and naval forces to the British Government. Towards the end, I asked Lord Attlee about the extent to which the British decision to quit India was influenced by Gandhi's activities. On hearing this question Attlee's lips widened in a smile of disdain and he uttered, slowly, putting emphasis on each single letter - "mi-ni-mal.""

Bose's life and his interactions with Gandhi is also well illustrated in this book,

"On 9th May 1933, the political elite in the Congress was deeply perturbed by the stinging rebuttal of the very efficacy of the Gandhiji's style of leadership. The criticism cut to the wound for it came from Vitthalbahi Patel, the elder brother of Sardar Patel, a close associate of Gandhiji and himself a veteran of the freedom struggle. Subhas Bose had co-signed the letter debunking Gandhiji's claims that Independence could be obtained by Change of Heart of the British. With both these leaders convalescing in Europe, there was little that the Congress leadership could do but to gnaw its teeth in frustration. By 22nd October 1933, Vitthalbhai Patel had passed away, leaving Subhas Bose alone to face the pain of exile. In December, Bose attended a function of the Italian Oriental Institute. Mussolini took keen interest in this young foe of the British. Subhas Bose was keen to enlist as many allies as possible in fight against the British Imperialism, which to him was inherently evil for the Indian people. Three meetings took place between them. In his trip to Europe, Jawahar Lal Nehru refused to meet the Italian dictator. He refused to sully his sensibilities by meeting a man he abhorred even if he could be of some help in the cause of Independence.
Only those like Gandhiji, who were content to live in the make believe world of the utility of the British rule for India, could afford to put their personal preferences before the interests of the nation. The divergence in the ways of Jawahar Lal Nehru and Subhas Bose was to become more and more pronounced as the time went by.

Ideological differences apart, Subhas Bose remained emotionally close to Nehru. He was in Badenwayer looking after the ailing Kamala Nehru, who was in her last leg of the journey on earth. He was at hand to console the distraught Nehru and his daughter Indira at the untimely death of this brave lady on 28th February 1936.
A free tiger, Subhas came to haunt not only the Raj but also the Congress. Gandhiji had renounced his membership of the Congress in 1934 itself but, remained its 'Permanent Super President'. Nothing of note happened without his approval. Subhas had to be tamed. What could be better than to make him the President of the Congress so that the 'Permanent Super President', could keep a close watch on his activities. The man who was not considered worthy of being even a member of the Working Committee in Lahore and Karachi, a man who was denied the privilege of being considered its representative in Europe, was now suddenly became fit to be its President. On 19th February 1938, he came to be anointed as the President under the watchful eyes of the Mahatma in Haripur.
Gandhiji's hope that Subhas would mellow under the weight of the throne was soon belied. The tiger would not be caged but began to roar as few Congress Presidents had even dreamt of before. The cause of Absolute Political Independence received a big boost after a long time. The War clouds in the skies of Europe could be seen by all. This was not an opportunity to be missed. Subhas Bose was soon in touch with Italy and Germany through their diplomats in India reviving his contacts made while in Europe. The moralist Mahatma was appalled. The new Congress President moved fast to appoint a national Planning Committee for industrialization of the country. The Mahatma's dream of a self reliant village republic came to be formally abandoned by the Congress. Worse was to follow. Ras Bihari Bose, the famed revolutionary in exile in Japan since the late 1910s, was in touch with the Congress President advising him to make the Congress give up the notion of attaining Independence solely through the moral force of Non Violence.
The last straw for the Mahatma must have come when Subhas Bose had no hesitation in meeting Savarkar, the arch rival of the Mahatma since the days of India House in 1905. He had been released after 27 years of confinement, on 10th May 1937 and had become the President of Hindu Maha Sabha on 30th December 1937. Fortunately, a photograph of the meeting has survived to authenticate the event.
The Mahatma well realized that Subhas Bose was made of sterner stuff than Nehru, who could be emotionally blackmailed, into doing things that he did not intellectually agree with. This was one President, who could not be tolerated. As his term came to an end, Gandhiji made it clear that he did not favour his reelection. There was nothing in the Congress constitution or history, which made a reelection bid by an incumbent Congress President immoral. A bid that was not supported by the Mahatma was, however, unheard of since the dawn of The Gandhi era in 1920. Subhas Bose would not be deterred by the open opposition of the Mahatma. In the election that was held on 29th January 1939, he trounced the Mahatma's candidate, Pattabhi Sitaramayya by 95 votes. Nehru remained neutral in the contest. Gandhiji proved to be a very poor loser. The naked Quest for Power came to the fore. An atmosphere of intrigue, deception and Machiavellian cunning came to envelop the Congress for the noble aim of hobbling its own democratically elected President. The battle for unseating of Subhas Bose was fought with a ferociousness worthy of nobler causes such as throwing the British out of India.
Gandhiji fired the first salvo and drafted a resignation letter for the Congress Working Committee members to sign. 12 out of 15 toed the line. A reluctant Nehru was compelled to fall in line. In an attempt to defuse the atmosphere, Subhas Bose went to meet Gandhiji on 15th February 1939. The insulted Mahatma refused to yield. Subhas had the audacity to challenge his might. He had to be taught a lesson."

"One final comment – faced with this mountain of evidence it is clear that for all his Greatness, there is little doubt that Gandhiji also committed many blunders which has cost the nation dearly. Contribution to the cause of Independence has come from many sources – that were either indifferent to the casue of Absolute Non Violence preached by Gandhiji or even hostile to the ideology. Yet no one can deny that they sacrificed their all for the Nation.
Should the photographs of such leaders like Lokmanya Tilak, Savarkar, Bhagat Singh, Subhas Chandra Bose, Babasaheb Amedkar, amongst others, then not also grace the currency note along with that of Gandhiji? If their portraits are good enough for the Walls of the Parliament then why not also on the Currency Notes."

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