Remembering Bose: When He Defeated Gandhi’s Candidate For Congress President

Today is Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary. A day that ought to be one of jubilation for he was instrumental in ensuring India freedom from the British. His exploits with the INA, the subsequent trials of INA officers by the British, and the ensuing mutinies in the forces which happened because Netaji had managed to fuel the fire of patriotism in Indian uniformed men who were fighting for the British together led to India getting Independence. The then British Prime Minister Clement Attlee later acknowledged that the British had left India because of Bose and the INA.

This article speaks of Bose’s astounding popularity. In 1939, World War II had commenced and the Allies were witnessing desperate times with America still not showing any signs of entering the war and Nazi Germany invading Poland in alliance with the Soviet Union. Britain saw that Germany would next look west at France and other smaller nations and if France wasn’t able to stem Germany’s blitzkrieg then Britain would be its next target. They were indeed troubled times for Britain. 

Bose saw this and he wanted to take full advantage of it. Instead of helping the British in the war, he wanted to create an uprising from within India. This would’ve trapped the imperialists on two fronts and it would’ve become nearly impossible for it to handle two major conflicts/revolts simultaneously. Neither Gandhi nor other big leaders of the Congress were in favour of this.

Bose felt that he had to take matters into his own hands, and so, he called for re-election for the post of the Congress president in 1939.  He was pitted against Gandhi’s candidate. Without a doubt Gandhi was the most popular Indian all over the world, and his candidate winning the election wouldn’t have been of any surprise. But it was Bose who emerged victorious! One can imagine how loved and respected he was to have triumphed over a candidate who was backed and supported by Gandhi.

What happened thereon wasn’t good. Gandhi said he took the defeat as a personal one and suggested he might retire. Bose said that he hadn’t opposed Gandhi but the Working Committee wouldn’t take it so. Gandhi didn’t attend the next Congress assembly and Bose was seriously ill. Despite the ill-health he placed a resolution that demanded self-determination for India within six months. But the resolution was defeated. Bose was forced to accept a hostile motion binding him to seek Gandhi’s approval for the Working Committee and programme.

Bose then urged Gandhi to not let Congress disintegrate and asserted that the hostile motion was unconstitutional. But Gandhi was adamant and didn’t agree to any modifications to the motion. The differences between the views of Gandhi and Bose had become irreconcilable. Gandhi suggested Bose should formulate a policy, nominate a Cabinet, and present them for approval to the Congress. Bose knew that Congress would never choose him over Gandhi. And so, he resigned at the end of April..

Over the coming years he took an immensely bolder approach to having India gain its Independence from the British and in this pursuit he formed the INA. 

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was a legend. Bold, adventurous, farsighted. An administrator par excellence. To organise and run an army from scratch in a foreign land with minuscule resources is no kid’s work. Probably no one in the entire Congress, not even Sardar Patel, had the skills to administer a people through laws and policies like Netaji did. (This was aptly evident when both Sardar Patel and Nehru went to Mountbatten to seek his help in quelling the riots post Partition.)

His death remains a mystery. But my personal opinion is this – Netaji was the greatest Prime Minister India never had. 

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