Inclusive India

Celebrate Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his idea of secular socialist India

eNewsroom Exclusive: Netaji's relationship with minorities, particularly Muslims remained remarkable and the Muslims too dedicated their lives for the mission that he embarked upon. It needs to be understood as to why Azad Hind Fauz got such a huge response from the Muslims. This, despite the fact that he was a devout Hindu who regularly read holy Gita and offered prayers daily. It explains the fact that it is not necessary for a deeply religious person to hate people from other religions. Bose’s idea of India had people from all communities and in his inclusive vision freedom to follow your faith and pursue your religious identity was unambiguously explained. Author Vidya Bhusan Rawat's book, Netaji, INA and India's Freedom Movement will be out anytime during this year

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s 127th birth anniversary is being celebrated all over the country. Interestingly, much like Baba Saheb Ambedkar and Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Subhas Chandra Bose is now one of the most widely accepted and popular icons of India. But, it is important to understand Netaji’s idea of India and what it stood for so that his legacy is not appropriated for those who don’t really follow his thoughts. Netaji’s sacrifice for the nation remains unmatched and we all revere that but it is equally important to understand what is his idea of India. While no one doubts Netaji’s patriotism, it’s time to move beyond simply questioning it and instead focus on his vision for India and his fight against British colonialism, who he considered the enemy number one.

A devout Hindu, Netaji’s political action reflects his deep understanding of India’s diversity and its importance for future. He became part of Congress party and dissociated with it later to decide his own path to free India. There is no doubt that he had differences with Congress party leaders, on the issue of strategy to be adopted in fighting for India independence and what should be its political agenda thereafter. Despite those differences with Congress leaders, on the issue of strategy, Netaji was deeply respectful to both Gandhi and Nehru. 

Netaji’s effort to garner support from Japan and Germany for India’s freedom may look uncomfortable to many but the fact is for him it was freedom which was important for India and hence he was ready to speak to and ally with any one for that. It is also a well-documented fact that Indians living in South East Asia were also looking to the countries like Japan and Germany for support and Netaji realised that a huge number of Indians wanted to contribute to India’s freedom but it was not possible without taking support of the rival forces of the British empire. He knew the world power would not go against Great Britain and it was only Japan and Germany who were ready to do so. Netaji was collaborating for India’s freedom but never compromised with Hitler as he had the strength of conviction to speak truth to power. He said, ‘But I would like to say this before I leave Europe that I am still prepared to work for an understanding between Germany and India. This understanding must be consistent with our national self-respect. When we are fighting the greatest Empire in the world for our freedom and for our rights and when we are confident of our ultimate success, we cannot brook any insult from any other nation or any attack on our race or culture’.

It can be said without any doubt that love for the motherland took him to alien land and sought support from axis powers. It is also a reality that a movement in support of India’s freedom movement had already started in these countries but the nationalists Indians were looking to connect with Indian soldiers of the British Indian army and sowing the seeds of dissent among them. 

There, he formed a government in exile and then rebuilt the Indian National Army or Azad Hind Fauz. A cursory look at the leadership of INA would suggest how Indians of different faiths looked upon Netaji as their hope. A huge number of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus among others became part of INA and dedicated their lives for the nation. There was a time when soldiers of the Indian army would be put in differently based on their caste and religious identities. 

On October 21, 1943 Netaji formed the Provisional Government of Free India. The composition of the government was like this:

Subhas Chandra Bose (Head of the State, Prime Minister and Minister for War and Foreign Affairs), Capt Mrs Lakshmi (Women’s Organisation), SA Ayer (Publicity and Propaganda), Lt Col AC Chatterji (Finance).

netaji subhas chandra bose secular india Muslims INA
Netaji meeting INA officers Courtesy: The Forgotten Army Documentary/Doordarshan

Representatives of the Armed Forces:

Lt Col Aziz Ahmed, Lt Col NS Bhagat, Lt Col JK Bhonsle, Lt Col Gulzara Singh, Lt Col MZ Kiani, Lt Col AD Loganadan, Lt Col Ehsan Qadir, Lt Col Shahnawaz, AM Sahay, Secretary (with ministerial rank), Rash Behari Bose (Supreme Adviser).

Imagine those were the times with extremely limited resources without any media and information available, a man thinking about India in such a wide term who his government looks so diverse and complete. Compare it with today’s time when the diversity is shrinking on a daily basis at every level.

Netaji had made it very clear as to why he went out of India to unite Indians and seek support from the axis powers. He might have certain differences with Gandhi ji and other Congress leaders but he was not attempting to create a rival power group of the Congress party which was leading the independence movement back home. His aim is to purely strengthen it by supplementing other efforts in it. Explaining this in a meeting he said, ‘I came to the conclusion that all the efforts we could put forward inside India would not be sufficient to expel the British from our country. If the struggle at home had sufficed to achieve liberty for our people, I would not have been so foolish to undertake this unnecessary risk and hazard. 

Netaji knew it well that it would be extremely difficult for India to achieve its freedom without the unity of all the faiths and his effort were reflected in the INA. Azad Hind Fauz’s language was Hindustani as Netaji always felt that lingua franca for India could be Hindustani written in roman script as there is not a big difference between Hindi and Urdu. Like Gandhi and Nehru, he wanted the language of communication to be Hindustani, a mix of Hindi, Urdu and other colloquial words, idioms from different languages and dialects which are commonly used and understood. 

Azad Hind Fauz had not only a battalion in the name of Gandhi but also of Nehru, Maulana Azad and Rani Lakshmi Bai. The Indian army has now ventured to make women part of its structure in combat zones but Netaji had deep trust in them long back when the role of women was so domesticated and confined at homes. It can be purely termed as a revolutionary step. Captain Lakshmi Sehgal was chief of his women’s wing. 

netaji subhas chandra bose idea of secular india Muslims INA
Shah Nawaz Khan | Courtesy: Facebook/Muslims of India page

Subhas Chandra Bose remains an icon of a pluralistic secular socialist India. A man who made Col Shahnawaz Khan his deputy in the Azad Hind Fauz, who brought women in his forces, who believed in India’s pluralist traditions can’t be a model for those who want to impose ‘oneness’ on us as per their ideological suitability. He remained loyal to the idealism of Congress party and Gandhi ji till the end of his life. In an editorial in Azad Hind on Gandhiji’s mission, Netaji wrote, 

India is fortunate indeed in that Mahatma Gandhi, our great leader in the fight for India’s freedom, is as active on his 76th birthday as he was nearly 30 years ago when he took over the leadership of the Indian freedom movement. In a sense, Gandhi ji is more active than ever before because in the past few months he has succeeded in striking severe blows upon British power and influence in India. In a tribute to Gandhiji, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose has said, Gandhiji’s services to the cause of India’s freedom are unique and unparalleled. No single man could have achieved more in one single lifetime under similar circumstances. 

Since the 1920s the Indian people have learnt two things from Mahatma Gandhi which are the indispensable preconditions for the attainment of independence. They have, first of all, learnt, national self-respect and self-confidence as a result of which revolutionary fervour is now burning in their heart. Secondly, they have now got a countrywide organisation which reaches the remotest villages of India. Now that the message of liberty has permeated the hearts of all Indians and they have got a countrywide political organisation representing the whole nation – the stage is all set for the final struggle ‘for liberty’, the last war of independence. 

When Gandhiji commended his non-cooperation programme to the Indian nation at the annual session of the Congress at Nagpur in December 1920, he said, ‘If India had the sword today, she would have drawn the sword.’ That was in 1920 but now in 1944 things have changed and changed most fortunately in India’s favour. The Azad Hind Fauz, a powerful army of liberation, has already engaged the British tyrant and has dealt him devastating blows. And Gandhiji too has consolidated revolutionary forces inside India. Today these twin forces of revolution and liberation are dealing sledge hammer blows on the British imperialist edifice. The edifice is already tottering and the final collapse is only a ‘creation’ of time. 

This editorial at the official organ of Azad Hind Sarkar reflects how Netaji always perceived the INA as part of the popular movement for India’s freedom led by Mahatma Gandhi and Congress Party. 

Historical figures should be analysed, critiqued, and re-evaluated without creating a mystical halo around them. India must disband the official secret act and all the files of the government must be made public after 30 years and there should not be any politics behind it. We should allow historians, political scientists of all varieties to analyse them but not play dirty with their decisions and actions. Throwing muds at historical figures through rumours and planted stories must stop henceforth in the greater interest of the nation and society.

None is suggesting that there was no difference between the leaders which is natural given the diversity of region, languages, caste and class nature but they were together in one common factor and that was India’s freedom as well as the idea of an inclusive India. Subhas Chandra Bose’s idealism of socialism and secularism are important for India. 

A lot can be said about Subhas Chandra Bose but none can question his patriotism and secularist ideals which speak about an inclusive India. His relationship with minorities, particularly Muslims remained remarkable and the Muslims too dedicated their lives for the mission that he embarked upon. It needs to be understood as to why Azad Hind Fauz got such a huge response from the Muslims. This, despite the fact that Subhas Chandra Bose was a devout Hindu who regularly read holy Gita and offered prayers daily. It explains the fact that it is not necessary for a deeply religious person to hate people from other religions. Subhas Chandra Bose’s idea of India had people from all communities and in his inclusive vision freedom to follow your faith and pursue your religious identity was unambiguously explained. Addressing students in Tokyo University in November 1944, he spoke about it.

‘The Government of Free India must have an absolutely neutral and impartial attitude towards all religions and leave it to the choice of every individual to profess or follow a particular religious faith’.

Netaji was well versed with history and historical facts about the relationship between Hindus and Muslims. He was aware of the fact that the British are trying to create a divide between them so that the freedom movement is derailed. There were already forces among the Muslims as well as Hindus that the British were trying to induce so that the talk about complete freedom is lost somewhere. In his autobiography, Indian Struggle, he writes, ‘India is geographically, historically, culturally, politically, and economically indivisible unit. Secondly, in most parts of India, Hindus and Muslims are so mixed up that it is not possible to separate them.’

Today, it is more important for all of us to rededicate our lives for the ideals that Netaji Subas spoke about. It is sad that many of the secularists termed his action as supporting Fascist in Germany and Japan which is completely wrong as I mentioned here in the beginning. Netaji had the conviction to speak up in front of Hitler and refuse his suggestion. There is no need to create a myth around any leader whether Netaji or Gandhiji as their life and ideals are well known. We need to speak from their ideological perspective. Netaji’s effort to get support from axis power was merely to make India independent as he felt the British and Americans were too powerful and that India needed to seek international support from the rival forces. It is also a fact that Netaji wanted to go to the Soviet Union via Afghanistan but due to failure of the people who promised him to take there, he had no other option but to go to Japan which provided him necessary support. 

Netaji remained dedicated to secularism, social justice and socialism and his autobiography and various speeches and writings as President of Indian National Congress and later in the formation of Forward Block as well as Prime Minister of Provisional government of India, are proof of his deep rooted conviction in inclusive politics. Most of his associates and keen supporters in the Indian National Army and in the government were actually from outside Bengal. Muslims, Sikhs, Tamils, Christians, Hindus all were united in their effort. 

Once, he was invited to participate in a festive celebration in a temple in Singapore. Netaji went there along with his close associate Major Abid Hasan Safrani where the organisers resented Abid Hassan’ presence but Netaji was extremely unhappy and scolded and refused to enter the temple unless Abid was allowed inside it. 

India today needs to not just salute Netaji’s valiant sacrifice for our nation but more importantly remember his secular socialist idealism as that is the only way out for our progress and strength.


eNewsroom has done a podcast with the author please listen to it here.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The author is an activist and is currently working on Impact of Ganga and its tributaries in the Himalayas and the plains of India

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