Systematic attempt was made to reduce Subhas to merely a Bengal hero: Netaji’s grandnephew

“Rose early but found Prabha still suffering. A son was born at midday…” reads a brief entry in Janakinath’s diary dated 23 January 1897. The newborn, the ninth child of Janakinath Bose and Prabhabati Devi was named Subhas.

Janakinath was then practising law in Cuttack, in the state of Orissa. He headed a large extended family, in which, Subhas was to later recall in his autobiography An Indian Pilgrim, he felt “like a thoroughly insignificant being. My parents awed me to a degree”. It is now 121 years since the birth of Subhas Chandra Bose, and 73 years since his last known journey out of South East Asia, reportedly to the Soviet Union, in mid-August 1945.

On 23 January every year Subhas’ birth anniversary is celebrated across India. Speeches extolling Bose’s charisma and personality, his unique contributions towards Indian independence continue to be made, and stirring national songs continue to be sung in his honour. On this day, in addition to institutionally sponsored events, spontaneous remembrance ceremonies organized by neighbourhood and citizens’ groups also take place. This is a unique feature associated only with Subhas’ birth anniversary which reflects the depth of people’s veneration for him after more than half a century of his disappearance.

This, in a sense, is a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to liberating India from British colonial rule and had the vision to make Free India one of the leading nations in the world. But, 23 January will pass and Bose will again be relegated to the pages of history. Though deified by many, his ideology and mission are forgotten or are not even known by the younger generations of Indians.

From his entry into the Indian political movement in the early 1920s, throughout his prison years and bouts of serious illnesses, Subhas had developed his thoughts on social, political and economic issues which then formed the basis of his ideology. His famous address as the President of the 51st Session of the Indian National Congress at Haripura in 1938 contains the crux of his political and economic thinking and plans. Is it widely known that it was in Haripura that Subhas launched the very first Planning Commission for India? In all his key addresses in India and abroad, in articles published in various journals, Subhas articulated his vision for Free India. In his view, the most important problems to be addressed in independent India were that of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy, challenges which have still not been met today after 60 years of independence.

Together with the celebratory functions, a more fitting tribute to Subhas’ memory will be to effectively propagate his vision and ideology which will in turn promote a better understanding of the history and politics of India, and also inspire the present generation of Indians to shape India on the basis of the high moral values and principles that Subhas stood for and practised all his life. Subhas’ works should be part of school and university curricula. Research institutes, including the Netaji Subhas Foundation, Kolkata and London, should actively encourage and support national and international scholars to reassess Subhas’ role in the Indian independence movement, and also his contemporary relevance. A deeper study of his works will show that many of his social and economic plans still remain valid under present-day conditions.

In the current Indian situation where there is a bankruptcy of leadership, ideas, commitment and action, Subhas’ message, through his writings, speeches and commentaries may help to resurrect the failing morale of those who are working to bring positive change in this country.

Above all, Subhas’ life-long emphasis on the importance of communal harmony and unity among peoples, irrespective of birth, caste, creed and religion, has not only remained relevant, in fact, it has even gained a sense of urgency. In a world torn by ethnic, tribal, religious and regional conflicts, Bose’s unqualified rejection of bigotry of any kind from the very outset of his entry into the Indian political scene, and his repeated call for unity among all the peoples of India, famously reflected in the motto of his Indian National Army – Unity, Faith and Sacrifice, can help to create the only secure foundation of contemporary India. Conscious of the grave danger that communalism posed to a country such as India, where people of many faiths were inextricably mixed together over centuries, Subhas had, again and again, warned against the virus of religious bigotry entering the fabric of politics. In referring to what should be the attitude towards religion and caste, Subhas had declared “…the Government of Free India must have an absolutely neutral and impartial attitude toward all religions and leave it to the choice of every individual to profess or follow a particular religious faith” (The Fundamental Problems of India, address at Tokyo University, November 1944).

Subhas’ legacy will be better served if he is brought alive through his works. However, there is another reality. During the time of the British Raj, Subhas as their ‘enemy no. 1′ was blacked out and his book ‘The Indian Struggle’, banned in India. This is understandable and could have been expected from a colonial power determined to hold on to India and ready to suppress any threat to their rule. It is therefore particularly ironic that after the government of free India came to power, a systematic attempt was made by forces in the new administration to reduce Subhas to merely a Bengal hero, who though deemed idealistic was seen to be misled, and had made the terrible mistake of finally discarding Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent way to independence.

It is only because Subhas had entered the minds and hearts of the Indian people, and of the peoples of Asia, that all attempts at diminishing his stature and role in Indian and global politics have not fully succeeded. The role of the first government of independent India under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in this process of suppression and distortion cannot be ignored nor denied. Historians have noted that Nehru had always perceived Subhas as his main rival, and his own statements bear evidence to that fact. Subhas himself had once written that “nobody has done more harm to me personally and to our cause in this crisis than Pandit Nehru (letter to his nephew Amiya Nath Bose, 17 April 1939). As more evidence begins to emerge it will be possible to make an objective and proper assessment of the role and personalities of our leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and others.

When in August 1945 Subhas disappeared, his beloved elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose was in prison. Sarat and Subhas had shared an extraordinary relationship as brothers. Their close personal and emotional bond was enriched and deepened by their shared social and political ideology and goals. After Sarat was released in September 1945, he immediately resumed his campaign for a free and united India. He also decided to acquire the Bose ancestral house on Elgin Road in Calcutta to establish an institution for the study and propagation of Subhas’ ideology.

Soon after, in 1946, Sarat inaugurated ‘Netaji Bhawan’ at their ancestral house and laid the foundations for a Netaji museum and research centre in the name of his brother, who was by then popularly known as Netaji (our leader). It was Sarat’s wish that the Bose house should also be used for public and charitable purposes. The Azad Hind Ambulance Service which he set up provided much needed medical and social services in the city, especially during the dark days of communal strife.

These were tumultuous times for Bengal and India as a whole. A new alternative was beginning to emerge in Bengal’s political firmament. Sarat Bose was seen to carry the torch forward. He became the undisputed leader of the Congress Party in West Bengal. He was then elected leader of the Congress Party in the Central Legislative Assembly and became the Leader of the Opposition. Sarat’s membership of the Interim Government was, however, short-lived. He left the Interim Cabinet and the Congress Party refusing to agree to the partition of India on communal lines.

Within a few short years, a greater tragedy was to strike. On 20 February 1950, the very morning Sarat was to make an urgent appeal to the people of the two Bengals to reunite, he suddenly passed away. In an attempt to keep alive the Bose legacy and to give it a concrete shape, the close followers of the Bose Brothers, supported by Sarat’s family, set up The Sarat Bose Academy at Netaji Bhawan in 1952. It gathered within its fold eminent historians, lawyers, journalists and other committed voluntary workers. It also attracted interested persons from overseas. The Academy launched an ambitious programme to develop Netaji Bhawan as a centre of excellence for research and exchange on both national and international affairs. It also aimed to function as a centre for the promotion of arts, music and languages, while continuing to provide other public services. It was to be the main archive for the works of Sarat and Subhas and for all types of documents and records related to them.

The major objective of collecting key documents as well as photos and films on the life and activities of Subhas Chandra Bose began in earnest. Amiya Nath Bose, General Secretary of the Sarat Bose Academy, who took up his father Sarat’s mantle, engaged himself fully in this task. He collected a substantial amount of materials, including primary documents, newspaper clippings, journals, films and other source materials on Netaji’s activities both in India and abroad. All of these materials were deposited at the Netaji Museum and archives to be made available “… to students and scholars for the study of and research about the life and work of Netaji …”. The Sarat Bose Academy began publication of Subhas and Sarat’s works and set up a comprehensive photographic exhibition portraying the life and work of the Bose Brothers.

By the late 1950s, significant progress had been made in the collection of materials for the Netaji Museum and its archives, and it was concluded that it would be appropriate to create a separate body ‘to undertake a systematic study of Netaji’s life and mission’.

This led ultimately to the creation of the Netaji Research Bureau in 1957 under the chairmanship of the well-known journalist Satya Ranjan Bakshi and Sisir Kumar Bose (a son of Sarat Bose) as General Secretary. Thus, Netaji Bhawan, with its three main organs, namely, the Sarat Bose Academy, the Netaji Research Bureau and the Azad Hind Ambulance Service, was designed to act as the lead institution to uphold and promote the Bose Brothers’ legacy and to work towards realising their cherished goals.

However, here again, the forces bent upon destroying the Bose legacy went to work. Gradually the Netaji Research Bureau came under the direct influence of the Nehru dynasty dominated Central Government. The Sarat Bose Academy moved out of Netaji Bhawan. Netaji Research Bureau became the only organ to remain under the directorship of Sisir Bose.

Since its inception until now, over a period of 61 years, the Netaji Research Bureau has accomplished one of its basic goals and has published, in 12 volumes, almost all of the writings, speeches, letters of Subhas, the bulk of which was originally collected under the auspices of The Sarat Bose Academy. Reportedly Netaji Research Bureau has obtained substantial funding from the Central Government to carry out its work. But judged against its own objectives, and what was envisaged by its founders, the work of Netaji Research Bureau may be said to have been limited. Netaji’s own works are not widely available, and conditions of access to the archives at Netaji Bhawan are obscure. Was there a price to pay for support from those who have an interest in keeping the Bose Brother’s legacy in check?

In view of the current realities of India today, those who believe in Subhas’ ideology and its relevance in contemporary India, must take the initiative to revive, disseminate and act on the basis of that ideology. Such initiatives are already being taken by certain civil society and media groups both in India and abroad. A major website is being launched by ‘The Bose Legacy’ ( ) which will be an online archive for all of Subhas’ works, a database of bibliographies and of scholars. It will also contain photographs and audio-visual materials. The overall objective is to provide access to relevant materials to all those who wish to study the life, activities and ideology of Subhas, and also to those who wish to define their actions in terms of Bose’s vision of India and the world.

(References are taken from the writings of Amiya Nath Bose & Madhuri Bose.)

(The author is grandnephew of Subhas Chandra Bose)