Subhash Bose and Gandhi: Clash of Ideologies
Subhash Bose and Gandhi: Clash of Ideologies

If we glimpse into the history of freedom struggle for independence of any country and the making of a democratic nation, we might more often notice that the historians generally associate one single individual as an architect of political liberation of a country and credit him for the re-establishment of modernized social standards like Garibaldi for the making of Italy, George Washington for American liberty and similarly, Gandhi for the creation of Independent India and consequently, the historiographer preferably chronicle the freedom struggle for independence predominantly from the standpoint of these stunning figures that not only undermines the contributions of other revolutionary icons involved in the nationalist movement but also submerge them in the multilayered narrative.

Like Bhagat Singh and Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Subhas Chandra Bose is one of the revolutionary figure whose political outlook has remained largely unexplored and his contributions relatively unanticipated for a long time and therefore, the present article wishes to shed light on the political doctrines and opinions of strategist Subhas Chandra Bose and saintly Gandhi so to discern their political conflicts with each other and their clash for the political emancipation of Indians during Second World War.


Growing up during the times of the upsurge of revolutionary and radical ideologies in India, Subhas Chandra Bose was psychologically impacted with the extremist nationalist struggle for swarajya and had developed a deep interest in the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna. After the completion of graduation in Philosophy from the University of Calcutta, he moved to Europe for pursuing his further education and through his analytical skills, he managed to score the fourth rank in Indian Civil Services Examination in 1920. However, his inner-self opposed him to work under the European Empire considering the hardships of his people under colonial rule and he left the job in 1921 and returned to India.

Back in India on 16 March 1921, Bose started actively participating in Indian politics and by 1921, he started writing the newspaper “Swaraj” under the guidance of Chittaranjan Das. He was arrested for six months the same year for taking part in Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement. By 1924, he emerged as the notable political figure to masses as he was appointed as the CEO of Calcutta Municipal Corporation in Bengal but in 1925, he was arrested again and sent to Mandalay jail in Burma by the government on mere suspicion of his involvement with some secret revolutionary bodies. 

Later after his release from detention in 1927, he became General Secretary of Congress Party and here, he came in contact with Mr Nehru with whom he stressed on militant action for uprooting imperialism from India. Along with Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose raised agitational voice against Nehru Report that sought for dominion status from the colonial government because he wanted “complete-independence” of India and therefore, he also endorsed his declaration of “Poorna-Swaraj” during Lahore Session of Indian National Congress.

By 1930, Bose was re-arrested and imprisoned for his participation in Salt Satyagraha, Civil Disobedience Movement and his resistance to Gandhi-Irwin Pact 1931 but he was later released earlier due to his ill health. For medical checkup, Bose had to travel to Europe again and during this period of rest, he researched on the first part of his book entitled-“The Indian Struggle” which was eventually banned by colonial government because it could re-create political chaos in the country but his re-assessment of Indian struggle re-shaped his political outlook. He came back to India in 1936 but was re-arrested for one year.


Subhash Bose and Gandhi (IANS Infographics)
Subhash Bose and Gandhi (IANS Infographics)

It is quite noticeable that Subhas Chandra Bose who had returned India in 1936 was ideologically more-mature than one who went Europe in the 1930s. By 1937, Bose became extremely critical of Gandhian philosophical doctrine of non-violence and satyagraha and he now not only believed in direct violent confrontational action against colonialism but also in a recreation of a classless and socialist nation. According to Subhas Chandra Bose, the Indian National Congress should function for accomplishing the following objective:

“Indian National Congress should be organized on the broadest anti-imperialist front with the two-fold objective of winning political freedom and the establishment of a socialist regime.” 

By February 1938, Subhas Bose managed to assume the Presidentship of Indian National Congress in Haripura, Gujarat. With firm conviction, Bose set-up the National Planning Committee for the economic growth of the country but it was based on the western concept of industrialization that brought him in ideological conflict with Gandhi. For Bose, “Industrialization” under state-ownership and state-control is an inalienable step towards the economic progress of India and a solution to large-magnitude unemployment of country while for Gandhi, “Westernized Industrialization” is based on the concept of economic-inequality that develops greed and lust for money in masses and therefore, he sanctioned the Ruralisation of Indian economy based on agriculture without state-interruption.

In Tripuri Session of Indian National Congress, Bose was re-elected as the President of INC even though Gandhi was against his Presidenship and he had suggested the name of Dr. Pattabhai Sittaramaya on his behalf but the fate was in favor of Bose. Gandhi declared- “… I am glad of his (Subhash’s) victory….and since I was instrumental in inducing Dr. Pattabhi not to withdraw his name after Maulana Azad Sahib done so, the defeat is more mine than his….”. This session was the ultimate conclusion of Gandhi-Subhash ideological rift which climaxed into their different ways for achieving Swaraj.


According to historians, there was a two-fold Indian reaction to British Imperialism during the Second World War- firstly, the origination and magnification of non-violent Quit India Movement under Gandhi within India due to wartime inflation, food shortage and colonial insensitivity and secondly, the revolutionary political developments outside India where the radicals like Subhas Chandra Bose were allying with international superiorities like Japan to completely eradicate Britain from India. But which method of the freedom struggle for complete-independence hastened decolonization in India and guaranteed political emancipation to Indians is still questionable.


Gandhian Quit India Movement

During the Second World War, within the timeline of 1939-1942, Britain had excruciatingly exploited the indigenous resources and national exchequer of India to such an extent that by 1942, there was a drastic shortage of essential food items like salt, rice etc. and the wartime inflation was another point of disaffection for all. Not only the weakening economy was a problem but also the possibility of imminent Japan invasions on India who had already occupied South-East Asia during the global confrontation was on peak.

With the failure of Cripps Mission, the prolonged anger intensified between Britain and India so much so that Gandhi gave the call for “Do or Die” and launched Quit India Movement in Bombay Session of All-India Congress Committee on 8 August 1942 for eradicating imperialism and fascism from India but the colonial government had taken the backbone out of this movement in early hours by arresting 60000 national and local Congress leaders and expected its decline. The resolution of this movement is underlined below:

The committee, therefore, resolves to sanction for the vindication of India’s inalienable right to freedom and independence, the starting of a mass struggle on non-violent lines on the widest possible scale, so that the country might utilize all the non-violent strength it has gathered during the last 22 years of peaceful struggle…they [the people] must remember that non-violence is the basis of the movement.

Like always, public response from women, students, peasants and workers were commendable to this movement but Muslim League, Communists, Hindu Mahasabha and Princely states etc. remained untouched to it and like always, the government severely repressed the masses who had harmed the symbols of colonization and they authoritatively illegalized CWC and Provincial Congress under Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908. For peacefully counter-agitating against the violence of colonizers, Gandhi started his fast in February 1943. Amidst this political friction against imperialism, what paralyzed the masses in Bengal, even more, was the devastating famine that according to estimates, resulted in around 2.1 to 3 million deaths from starvation, malaria, malnutrition and deficiency of adequate health-care facilities. 


Due to ideological contention with Gandhi in Tripuri Session of Indian National Congress 1939, Subhas Chandra Bose resigned from Congress in April 1939 but his nationalistic fervour was irresistible and being a leftist who wanted direct confrontational mass action against colonialism, he laid the first stone of All-India Forward Bloc on 22 June 1939 for radically agitating against the imperialist powers in India. In collaboration with Kisan Sabha, Bose’s Forward Bloc conducted an “Anti-Compromise Conference” at Ramgarh in March 1940 for igniting the public to revoke complete support from the colonials during Second World-War and oppose their repressive policies for the exploitation of indigenous resources on expansive scale possible but by July of the year, he was arrested.

Behind the bars at such a critical time for Indian independence, Bose had to emotionally appeal to the imperial government by undertaking a 17-day long hunger strike for liberation but he managed to compel the government to shift him to his house in Calcutta in December 1940 under the surveillance of CID officers. Despite too much of restrictions, Bose disguised as Pathan succeeded in engineering a dramatic escape from his house and from there, he transited to Germany through Afghanistan and Soviet Union.

[ HISTORY OF AZAD HIND FAUZ: Credit to The Quint]

In Nazi Germany, Bose founded ‘Free-India Legion’ in Berlin with the help of Adolf Hitler where he prepared the Indian ex-prisoners who had been captured by Axis forces for his mission of freeing India and additionally, he also started to broadcast the German-sponsored nightly “Free India Radio”, also called “Azad Hind Radio” for arousing patriotism and nationalism amongst masses. He respectfully came to be known as “Netaji” in Germany and there, he also gave the slogan of “Jai Hind.” However, after the meeting with Hitler in late 1942, he realized the repercussions of seeking assistance from Germany and therefore, he travelled towards Imperial Japan in submarines in February 1943.

After a three-month expedition with a halt at Singapore, Bose reached Japan where he met Hideki Tojo, the Japanese Prime Minister in May 1943 and thereafter, he re-travelled to Singapore where he regularly broadcasted to ignite public for agitating against British colonialism in India. On 4 July 1943, Bose assumed the leadership of Indian National Army and Indian Independence League that had been previously performing under the supervision of expatriate nationalist Rash Behari Bose and his involvement re-energized the prisoners of wars who had been included in the army.

Initially, the first Indian National Army was formed by Mohan Singh, an Indian Army officer in 1941 but due to disagreements with Japan military over its objectives in Japan’s war in Asia, the army was disbanded but in 1943, Subhas Chandra Bose strategically reorganized and revived the nationalist spirit in Southeast Asia particularly in Malaya and Burma with his heart-shaking slogan: ‘Give me blood! I will give you freedom.’ Bose catalogued the regiments of INA after Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad, Rani Laxmibai and him; and declared a full-fledged armed revolution with Japanese forces against Britain during the Second World War. 

On 6 November 1943, Andaman and Nicobar islands were given to INA and renamed as Shaheed Dweep i.e. “Martyr Island” and Swaraj Dweep i.e. “Independence Island” respectively and by January 1944, the headquarters of INA were shifted to Rangoon, Burma.

With indomitable courage and the amplified slogans of “Dilli Chalo” on their lips, the Indian National Army reached Indian mainland on 18 March 1944 by crossing the borders of Burma and on 14 April 1944, Colonel Malik unfurled the INA flag in Moirang, Manipur with equal nationalistic zeal and strong slogans of “Netaji Zindabad” and “Jai Hind”. However, INA progressed at the initial stages with unstoppable mileage but with the defeat of Japanese in the Battle of Kohima and Battle of Imphal, INA fell and surrendered on 15 August 1945.

Three days after the collapse of INA, Subhas Chandra Bose was reported to be dead in the plane crash in Taiwan which was, however, still not confirmed and remained a lingering mystery to historians.

Although commemorated for its unparalleled muscle strength, Bose’s Indian National Army had consistently been denied the status of “freedom-fighter” by Government of India which can be attributed to the fact that INA’s contributions remained submerged but fortunately, the dignity for them still exists in every Indian heart as manifested by countrymen all over India on 21 October 2018 at the 75th Anniversary of Foundation of Azad Hind Government. On this day, the honourable Prime Minister of India Mr Narendra Modi unfurled the national flag to reminisce the forgettable struggle of unforgettable heroes.


Historians hold diametrically opposite opinions on the impacts of Subhash Bose’s INA and Gandhi’s Quit India Movement, some assert that Gandhi’s movement was so unprecedented that it terrorized the colonials to a degree that clenching governance anymore after the global confrontation was almost inconceivable to them while others claim that it was Subhas Bose’s INA that played such effective role while Gandhi’s movement had petered off much earlier. The third group of historians states that the Second World War had economically devastated Britain to such a magnitude that self-reconstruction had become a priority to them and therefore, they extricated the colonies from their restraint.

To conclude the article, I wish to provide the following excerpt from Ramesh Majumdar’s “A History of Bengal” that highlights the conversation between Lord Atlee, Prime Minister of Britain who granted Indian Independence and Chief Justice P.B. Chakroborty for looking into the impact of Subhas Chandra Bose’s struggle in compelling colonizers to quit India even though he died earlier on 18 August 1945.

My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s Quit India Movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947, no such compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave then? In his reply, Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji. Toward the end, I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic tone as he slowly chewed the word- ” m-i-n-i-m-a-l.”


Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter