Subhash Chandra Bose and Jawaharlal Nehru- Two sides of the same coin


Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Sociology, Philosophy) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph. D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

Eight years younger than Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose was un-

doubtedly a bright star in the Indian firmament in the first half of the

present century. As dedicated as Nehru and as egoistic as V. K. Krishna

Menon, Bose was a complicated person, a born fighter and a born

loser. As early as 1929 Bose held the view that Gandhi’s personality

would triumph over Nehru’s personal views.

Due to his burning zeal for national freedom and his single-minded-

ness of purpose, Bose developed a one-track mind. To him the enemy

of his enemy was automatically his friend. He did not subscribe to

the view that the devil one as preferably to the devil one knew

not. That explains his refusal to say anything against Nazi Germany,

Fascist Italy and Japan which had an inglorious imperialist record.

While Nehru refused to meet Mussolini, Bose was ready and eager to

co-operate with him, Hitler and militarist Japan. In spite of his long

stay in Europe as an exile and otherwise, Bose’s understanding of

international affairs remained astonishingly poor, or perhaps he did

not want to understand anything which was not in line with his pre-

conceived notions. While his dedication to the country was total, Bose

had on commitment to anything wider than nationalism— not even to


For his re-election as President of the Indian National Congress in

1939 Bose went to the extent of inducing Rabindranath Tagore to

lobby for him. Bose was never assailed by thoughts of “means and

ends.” In fact he did not have such thoughts. Bose’s approach to

Tagore was repugnant to Nehru. After his re-election in the teeth of

Gandhi’s opposition, Bose felt that he was on the crest of a wave. He

hastily proclaimed a confrontation between the “Right” and the

“Left.” He grossly under-estimated the indispensablitiy and the in-

herent strength of Gandhi in the situation that prevailed in India at

that time. Bose’s judgment and sense of timing left much to be dwired.

This ultimately led to Bose’s resignation from the Congress President-

ship. He got himself isolated and ostracised, and formed a new party—

the Forward Bloc. Bose, who had earlier accused Nehru of lacking

revolutionary perspective” and stamina to establish an organization

and form cadres, proved himself no better. Bose eventually reduced

himself as a symbol of Bengal, and ultimately exiled himself from the


About the circumstances which led to the resignation of Bose

from the Presidentship of the Congress at Tripuri, Professor Hiren

Mookerjee, in his book The Gentle Colossuse, has recorded that

history might have been different and brighter if Nehru and Bose had,

at this stage, together led left-wing forces. I do not khow if it would

have been brighter; but certainly it would have been different — the

national cause would have been weakened at a crucial stage and the

British would have been the gainers in the process.

When the Second World War was declared, Nehru happened to be

in China A little before that Gandhi visited Madras. As I was in

Madras then, I attended the public meeting at the Marina beach. The

crowed was large. Soon after the declaration of the war, Bose came to

Madras and addressed apublic meeting at the same place. It was known

earlier that Bose would be attacking Gandhi and the Old Guard as well

as Nehru. I attended the meeting which was much larger than the one

addressed by Gandhi. Some time later Nehru also came. I attended

his meeting too which was held at the same beach. The attendance at

Nehru’s meeting was infinitely larger than the previous two meetings,

Nehru had always been the most popular national leader in the south —

more popular then Gandhi himself.

Subhas Chandra Bose was free from communalism and obscurantism.

He was a truly liberated person who possessed many of the qualities

needed in a great leader of a vast country with its infinite variety, reli-

gious and linguistic

Soon after Bose arrived in Berlin during the war, he enquired about

the whereabouts of A.C.N. Nambiar whom he had known earlier in Europe

as a revolutionary. Bose narrated to him the circumstances under which

he escaped from India. He made it clear that his only aim was the freedom

of India. He said that whatever happened,

the British Empire in India was finished. If the allies won, then Nehru

would be there in India, and he would make a good Prime Minister; if

the axis powers won, he (Bose) would be there. Bose considered him-

self and Nehru as two peas in the same pod. He asked Nambiar to work

with him. Nambiar explained to Bose that he had a horror of the Nazi

regime and all it stood for and expressed his unwillingness to stay in

Germany, Bose ultimately persuaded a reluctant Nambiar to stay and

help him.

During the spring of 1942 Nehru declared that the Congress would

continue its policy of non-embarrassment to the British and that war

production should not be impeded.  Bose said ‘ Jawaharlal is a fool’. He is

unnecessarily antagonising the Japanese and the Germans. The Japanese will

wreak vengeance on him when they come to this country. It is wiser

for him to keep silent if he cannot actually speak well of the Japanese.

I want to tell those who give me this advice that Jawaharlal is not the

man who will keep quiet when he ought to speak. On the other hand,

I can only reject such advice, which is essentially based on fear, with


At a press conference in Delhi on 12 April 1942, Nehru went to the

extent of declaring that he would even oppose Subhas Chandra Bose

and the Indian troops he had assembled from the prisoners of war with

the Japanese because Nehru considered this army as on more than “a

dummy force under Japanese control.”

At this stage both Maulana Azad and Gandhi restrained Nehru. At

the meetings of the Congress Working Committee that followed Nehru

rejected two drafts of a resolution by Gandhi. Ultimately it was Nehru’s

draft which was adopted.

At a press conference on 12 April 1942, Nehru said “it is a hate-

ful notion that after five years of war, China should be defeated; it is

a hateful notion that Russia, which represents certain human values,

which means a great deal to human civilization, should be defeated.

But, ultimately, naturally I have to judge every question from the Indian

view-point. If India perishes, I must say— selfishly if you like to call it

— it does not do me any good if other nations survived/’

Early in June 1942 Nehru told the U.P. Congress Committee: “Per-

sonally I am so sick of slavery that I am even prepared to take the risk

of anarchy.” Nehru was moving nearer to Gandhi in the crisis which

culminated in the Quite India movement of 1942.

When the news of Subhas Chandra Bose’ death in an aircraft

accident in 1945 reached him, Nehru paid tribute to his comrade in the

freedom struggle with tears rolling down his cheeks.

The twenty thousand and odd officers and men of Subhas Bose’s

Indian National Army found themselves as prisoners of war again

— this time under the British who held them guilty of treason in

having broken their oath and gone over to the enemy. The Govern-

ment of India decided to stage a public trial of three INA ofiicers — a

senseless decision of an alien government which was about to disappear.

To the British they were traitors, but to the people of India they were

the opposite of traitors. The British soon discovered that the country

was deeply stirred; that all the major political parties, including the

Muslim League, were ranged on the side of the INA; and, what was

worse, the lower ranks of serving soldiers were so touched as to pose

a threat to the stability of the Indian Army. Nehru’s attitude towards

the INA was one of human sympathy. The most unsympathetic and

uncompromisingly hostile body of men towards the INA comprised

the senior Indian officers of the Indian army from Cariappa down-

wards. This led Nehru to conclude that at no time was it possible to

reinduct and reintegrate the officers and men of the INA in the

regular Indian army.

Nehru organized the defense of the INA personnel and raised funds

for their relief and rehabilitation. Part of these funds was ear- marked

for Bose’s daughter and her Austrian mother. After the national

government came into existence the INA men were paid such pension

and other benefits as were due to them for the period of their service

in the Indian army.

Events have proved the correctness of Nehru’s assessments and the

wisdom of his stand on national and international issues from 1937 on-

wards. Subhas Chandra Bose emerged, no doubt, as a great patriot

with indomitable courage; but he was destined to fail. As in the case of

the lives of many illustrious men there was an element of tragedy in the

destiny of Bose. Future generations will remember Subhas Chandra

Bose as India’s tragic hero of the twentieth century.



M O MATHAI  – M.O. Mathai (1909–1981) was the Private Secretary to India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.



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