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Quest for power exposed

Mahatama’s treatment of Subhas Bose

By 1939, it was not the Great Flip Flop show of the Mahatma but the uncompromising support of Subhas Bose to the cause of Independence that now held sway. Gandhi era that had begun in 1920 was now coming to a close. Hence forth, it was going to be this bright star, Subhas Bose, in the firmament of the Freedom struggle, whose lead the country was going to follow. The Mahatma was soon to find that he had to match the mood of the people set by Bose or risk political oblivion. It is to this fascinating story, we shall now turn.

The last we talked about Bose was that he had been exiled to Europe to recover from the dreaded tuberculosis, that had become his companion in the British prison. He returned in 1936 to become the President of the Congress in 1938. By 1939, he had become a Persona non grata in the very same organisation. What did Subhas Bose do? Did he sell his soul to the devil? Did he betray the cause of Independence? Did he commit a crime? We all know that the worst enemies of Subhas Bose would not dream of levying these allegations. Then what did he do? Why did the full wrath of the Mahatma fall on this immensely popular public hero? If there is one part of the Gandhi era that leaves even the die hard Gandhiji’s followers fumbling for a coherent answer, it is his treatment of Subhas Bose in 1939.

So much so that the much acclaimed film Gandhi sidestepped the issue by pretending that Subhas Bose did not exist. Movies can take these liberties with the facts. We can not. Let us now take a look at this part of the story. This sorry episode shows the Mahatma’s Quest for Power as nothing else does so clearly.

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. The erstwhile comrades in pursuing the cause of Absolute Political Independence were to drift apart irrevocably. In 1934, Bose published his book, “The Indian Struggle, 1920-1934”. During the writing of his book in Germany, he got engaged and married to his secretary Emily. They were to have an only child, a daughter born on 29th November 1942, now a middle aged lady settled in Germany. She was named after the daughter of the famed Italian revolutionary Garibaldi – Anita.

This was then still in future. For the time being, a personal tragedy awaited Subhas. His father died on 2nd December 1934, before the son could reach him. He was allowed to spend a bare seven days with his grieving family in India, bound by all kinds of restrictions before being forced to go back to Europe. In 1935, he kept on meeting prominent people in Europe in his bid to garner support for the Indian cause. He is reported to have met Hitler in this period though this has not been authenticated. The reconstruction of a war torn Germany deeply impressed him but at no stage was he ever enamoured of its Racist ideology. Fascist Duke, the Nazi Fuherer; Subhas Bose would travel to the Devil himself if he could be of any use in freeing India. Before, we turn hyper critical of this, it is worth recalling that as late as 1938, the British themselves were bent on wooing the Germans. How could it be right when the British did this and suddenly become wrong and immoral when done by Subhas Bose, is a puzzle that is best left for the Mahatma and his devoted followers to reconcile.

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.

By now, Subhas had become tired of being in exile. He had been away from his beloved Motherland for long. Right through his stay, the Congress had persistently refused to give him the approval to be considered as its Official Representative. Nor did he have any reservoir of money to back up his activities. He had done what he could in Europe. Now, he announced his intentions of returning to India disregarding the medical opinion to the contrary, for he was still not too well. The announcement threw the Raj in a tizzy. It began to give out that Subhas Bose could not be allowed to return as he was closely allied with the Revolutionaries. Paying no heed to the popular outrage, Subhas was interned on the day that he returned to India – 8th April 1936. He was freed only a year later, on the 17th April 1937.

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.

The first trial of strength took place in Tripuri session of the Congress held between 10th – 12th March. A distraught Subhas Bose was severely ill. His illness was mocked at as an attempt to garner sympathy. The Mahatma shrewdly kept away. He had laid the battle plan. His trusted followers could be counted on to turn the knife in. There was no need for him to dirty his hands. Govind Vallabh Pant moved a resolution expressing confidence in the old Working Committee, the majority of which had resigned at the instance of Gandhiji. The resolution also called for the new Working Committee to be appointed as per the wishes of the Mahatma. This rendered the position of the President of the Congress completely redundant. He was to do the bidding of a man who was not even prepared to be its ordinary member. Subhas camp naturally opposed the move. Subhas Bose was himself so ill that he could not even move from his sick bed that was within meters of the Convention hall, where his capacity to act as the rightful President of the Congress was being undermined. Tempers were frayed and Nehru, who had not yet taken a firm stand one way or the other, found himself heckled as he rose to speak.

An irate Nehru lost his cool and threw his weight against his old comrade. His weight tilted the balance against the absent Subhas and the resolution was carried. The Congress President now found his hands tied by the victorious Mahatma, who was to be satisfied with nothing, less than the resignation of this defiant rebel. He demanded and obtained the scalp of Subhas on 29th April 1939. Within three months, a mortal challenge to the authority of the Mahatma was ruthlessly crushed. So what if the cause of Independence suffered. That was a small matter of no consequence.

Nehru made a vain bid to make amends, when he refused to become member of the new Working Committee appointed by the new President, Rajendra Prasad on 1st May 1939. It was too late. Subhas refused to cow down. His dissent was snuffed out by debarring him from being a member of any elective Congress Committee for three years as from August 1939. It was widely believed that the decision was inspired, not by a sense of justice or discipline but by a personal bias against Subhas Bose, who had shown the impertinence to defy the Mahatma himself. The conduct of Gandhiji in the entire sorry episode is reminiscent of the machinations of a power hungry politician that abound in India today rather than that of a Mahatma guiding the destiny of a nation through moral principle of Non Violence. It is this shameful behaviour that contributed in no small measure to the sorry state that the Mahatma found himself towards the end of his life. As Ambedkar said on 24th June 1945:

“ As a matter of fact the Hindus should cogitate over the question and ask: why no community trusts Mr. Gandhi although he has been saying he is a friend of the Muslims, Sikhs, and the Scheduled Castes and what is the reason for this distrust? In my judgement, there can not be a greater tragedy for a leader to be distrusted by everybody as Mr. Gandhi is today.”

Gandhiji had won the battle to unseat Subhas Bose. In the process, he lost the War to win the minds of people. The Gandhi era truly ended, the day Subhas Bose was made to resign. The tide of events in the affairs of human beings were not going to wait for the machinations of a Mahatma to end. On 3rd September 1939, the World War II began. India found itself battling against Germany for a cause that had nothing to do with its own interests. It is in this War that she was to be bled white. It is in this War, that Bharat was to lose another 5 million of its people to pangs of hunger. It is this War that was to make the British bankrupt. It is this War that finally left the British with no other alternative but to quit the country. The torch of the Freedom Struggle lit by Tilak and carried through the thick and thin by Savarkar, Subhas Bose and innumerable other patriots had already sapped the vitality of the Raj. The Jackboots of the Gestapo delivered the final kick.

The manner in which the British quit the Empire, taking care of all their vital interests deserves a detailed study. Not merely to marvel at the way they turned a necessity into a virtue and earned undeserved kudos. More importantly, it is this study that can perhaps throw up an antidote to the poison that has seeped into our body polity. A poison that is holding us back from attaining our rightful place in the league of nations. A place worthy of our great ancestors. When I say We, I mean all the inhabitants of the erstwhile Undivided Bharat.

However, before we can discover the Antidote, we must painfully come to terms at the manner in which the Great Dream of Independence was betrayed between 1939-47. Permit me to say that this we will cover in another book – Abhimanyu Betrayed

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.

The Government of India is under an order of the Division Bench of the High Court at Mumbai to dispose off a representation demanding this, by a reasoned order within six weeks, which ended in February 2005. The Court repeated its order on April 20, 2005. For more than two years, the Government refuses to utter a word in this regard preferring to commit Contempt of the Court rather than abide by its order ? And even the Highest Court in the Country has refused to take cognizance of the defiance by the Government of the orders of the Court ??

The case now rests in the Court of the People