‘Gandhiji called Netaji the prince among patriots'

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's views on secularism were different from the ‘secular uniformity' that Jawaharlal Nehru believed in. He believed that acknowledging the differences among various religious groups would bring about a higher state of harmony, his grand-nephew and historian Sugata Bose said here on Monday.

Mr. Bose was speaking at a function organised by Penguin Books India and Madras Book Club in association with The Aspen Institute, where his book His Majesty's Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose, India's Struggle Against Empire was launched.

The occasion naturally gave rise to several questions about Subhas Chandra Bose, his ‘rift' with Mahatma Gandhi, his alliance with Japan and his supposed espousal of authoritarian rule.

Answering a question from the audience on Gandhiji's famed remark that Pattabhi Sitaramayya's defeat (at the hands of Netaji in the election for the presidency of the Indian National Congress in 1939) was his own defeat, Mr. Bose said the significance of this ‘rift' was often exaggerated. Netaji's own reply, Mr. Bose pointed out, was that it would be a greater tragedy if he was accepted by the nation's people but not by its greatest man.

According to the author, Gandhiji always referred to him as ‘Netaji' and was proud of his achievements, especially in bringing about religious harmony. “He called him the prince among patriots,” Mr. Bose said.

He described as a ‘tragedy' the fact that Gandhiji was ultimately a lone figure walking in Naokhali, the scene of Partition riots, in 1947. “Had Netaji come back after they had parted ways in 1939, the saint and the warrior both would have done their best to prevent the tragedy of the Partition that shook the subcontinent.”

On his advocacy of authoritarian rule, Mr. Bose said he had suggested this only for a few years to bring about reforms. He saw India as an independent, federal republic. “India today needs the legacy of both Gandhiji and Bose. The younger generation has a lot to learn from his achievements, ideals and even from his flaws and failures.”

Subhas Chandra Bose, he said, wanted to eschew violence as a strategic necessity. But when the war clouds loomed, he had written to Tagore, “We have subjective reactions, but what do we do as a nation? If Britain enters the war, citing self-determination of the Poles as the reason, it will be just on her lips. It is fine to criticise him, but he should be judged by the same standards as Franklin Roosevelt, who shook hands with Stalin in 1943,” he said.

The former West Bengal Governor, Gopal Krishna Gandhi set the tone for the discussion by referring to the array of possibilities that centred on Netaji's life, his equation with Gandhiji and Nehru, his vision for the nation and the controversies around his death.

“Time is linear, clocks are round. Let me take the risk of stirring the clock of the world anticlockwise…” so started Mr. Gopalakrishna Gandhi. “If he furled his pride, couldn't he have unfurled a flag? Would he have as many followers as he had friends? And would he have been a democrat, a militarist, a dictator or a transformist peacemaker? History does not have answers, nor does it listen to questions.”

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