Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose remains one of the greatest patriots and statesmen of India. While his military venture against the mighty British empire still evokes uninhibited admiration for him, very little attention has been given to his idea about the kind of State he would have liked to see in independent India.
In his biography of Netaji, Sugata Bose, the Harvard professor and grandnephew of Subhas Chandra Bose, briefly raised this issue. He pointed out that after assessing both communism and fascism, Netaji announced that he was “inclined to hold that the next phase of world history will produce a synthesis between Communism and Fascism.” He observed that Subhas Chandra Bose went on to list a series of ‘quite convincing’ reasons why “Communism will not be adopted in India”. (His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle Against Empire; pp 98).
The historian also wrote: “He did, on at least three occasions, speak of the need for a period of authoritarianism after independence, to effect the dramatic social and economic transformation he envisioned for India. The empowerment of women, peasants, workers, and the subordinate castes had always figured prominently on his political agenda.” (His Majesty’s Opponent; pp 325).
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A mixture of fascism and communism
The very idea of synthesis of fascism and communism, which, according to Bose, would be the bedrock of his vision of State, needs some examination. Bose had indeed gone back to this issue at length on several occasions, such as in his magnum opus The Indian Struggle, and in his speeches and articles he wrote in the 1930s and early 1940s, while pursuing his political activities in Europe.
In dealing with the question of accepting or rejecting the idea of communism and fascism, Bose quoted from Jawaharlal Nehru’s press statement on 18 December 1933: “There is no middle road between Fascism and Communism. One has to choose between the two and I chose the Communist ideal. In regard to the methods and approach to this ideal, I may not agree with everything that the orthodox communists have done, …But, I do think that the basic ideology of Communism and its scientific interpretation of history is sound.” Bose considered this view as “fundamentally wrong.” Drawing from his training in philosophy in college days, what Sugata Bose thought was a mechanistic application of Hegelian dialectics, Bose felt that there could be a third alternative possible, a synthesis of the two: communism and fascism. (A Glimpse of the Future, The Indian Struggle 1920-1942, pp.313, compiled by the Netaji Research Bureau, Calcutta, Asia Publishing House, 1964).
What is interesting to note is that Bose had discussed the merits and demerits of both fascism and Communism, but never contrasted these two with parliamentary democracy. Rather, we find him to be sarcastic about democracy (Mid-Victorian!) and rejecting the idea forthwith. In a letter written in March 1935, sitting in Vienna, Bose observed, “Russia today is ruled by a party—not by a parliament elected on the basis of adult suffrage-but that party claims to act on behalf of the people. Similarly, in Italy and also in Germany, a party has usurped all political power…claim to represent the people. In Spain, on the contrary, when the Socialists were in power, they experimented in mid-Victorian democracy. As a magnanimous gesture of good will …vote to all adult women, without stopping to think what would be the effect to that measure. The enfranchised women gave their votes to the Catholic and Right-wing parties in overwhelming numbers …Socialists were soon swept out of power. No better example of ‘political hara-kiri’ can be found in recent history.”
Bose further reminded us that Russia was not the only country where mid-Victorian parliamentary methods had to be done away, Nazis in Germany and fascists in Italy did the same (Congress Socialist Party, The Indian Struggle, pp. 384-385). Though he did not say in so many words, one can detect some positive appreciation by Bose of the way Russia, Italy and Germany had done away with parliamentary democracy. Bose’s apathy of parliamentary democracy went to such an extent that he had not spared Gandhi for the latter’s espousement of ‘Swaraj’, “..whenever he has expounded the contents of Swaraj, he has spoken in the language of Mid-Victorian Parliamentary Democracy…” (A Glimpse of the Future, The Indian Struggle, pp 316).
Bose’s ‘mechanistic’ attempt to synthesise fascism and communism sounds troublesome. In the name of doing a Hegelian synthesis, he simply jotted down some common traits of fascism and Communism: “Both believe in the Supremacy of the State over the individual, but denounce parliamentary democracy. Both believe in party rule, in dictatorship of the party and in the ruthless suppression of all dissenting minorities. Both believe in a planned industrial reorganization of the country” and then declared that these would form the basis of the new synthesis. He then went on to give it a name — ‘Samyavada’, and he explained that it was “an Indian word, which means literally the doctrine of synthesis of equality.” (A Glimpse of the Future, The Indian Struggle, pp 314).
Bose was a firm believer in the Axis power’s victory in the war and was hoping that with the defeat of Britain, India would be in a position to drive out the British empire. Bose drew a picture that was interesting but unrealistic. In the medieval period, the Chinese empire used to claim themselves as Middle Kingdom, thus implying their superior role as the centre of civilisation. Perhaps taking cue from that, Bose argued that India had a position between the East and the West and inferred that “it is natural that in future India should have the closest relations with the Tripartite Powers (Italy and Germany in the West, and Japan in the East) who are now fighting India’s enemy.” (A Glimpse of the Future, The Indian Struggle, pp 458) Also, he realised that “independent India would need help from abroad for speedy industrialization as well as for the organization of her Army, Navy and Air Force…The tripartite Powers can render valuable assistance.” (A Glimpse of the Future, The Indian Struggle, pp 459)
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The State Bose wanted
Bose had given a brief outline of the kind of State he had in mind for independent India and also the kind of Party needed to run that State. In 1935, Bose wrote an article where he visualised a period when the Congress would be ‘somewhat unsettled’ and a new party should emerge. He gave a brief 10-point outline of the Party and State wherein he said the new Party “will believe in a strong central government with dictatorial powers for some years to come, in order to put India on her feet… It will not stand for a democracy in the Mid-Victorian sense of the term, but will believe in a government by a strong party bound together by military discipline.” (A Glimpse of the Future, The Indian Struggle, pp 311-312).
“Without such a government, order and public security cannot be safeguarded. Behind this government will stand a well organised, disciplined all-India Party, which will be the chief instrument for maintaining national unity.” (Free India and Her Problems, article by Bose first published in Wille und Macht, 1942). Bose tried to assure us that when the new regime was stabilised and the state machinery began to function smoothly, power would be decentralised and the provincial governments would be given more responsibility. Ironically, Bose’s assurance of loosening the grip over state apparatus in future has resonated with the standard promises given by many a military dictator once they usurped power in their respective countries in the post-colonial era.
Earlier, by issuing a statement from Geneva in February 1935, Bose reiterated his idea to have a strong central government and a strong disciplined Party. However, an important departure was that he also said that the party should “aim at a really democratic state in which all be equal and in which there would be no problem of minorities.” He would also like to call this party “Samyavadi Sangha”. (Our Internal and External Policy, The Indian Struggle, pp 383) Perhaps that was the only occasion when he spoke about democracy in a positive manner.
However, on 10 June 1933, a few days after he arrived in Europe for medical treatment, Bose had addressed the 3rd Indian Political Conference in London, wherein he had stressed the need to form a new party, one may be tempted to call it, based on the line of Bolshevik principles. He gave a call for a party of “Freedom intoxicated” full-time workers who would be maintained by the party. In 1902, Lenin wrote his famous polemical book What is to Be done? In which he stressed the need for professional revolutionaries. His famous saying was “Give us an organization of revolutionaries, and we will overturn Russia”.
Three decades later, Bose echoed Lenin. Also, it seems he was heavily influenced by the idea and practice of dictatorship in both fascism and Communism (dictatorship of proletariat) and hatred for democratic traditions, supremacy of State over individual members of the society and hegemony of the ruling party. There are other contradictions too. Sugata Bose pointed out: “He had boldly condemned the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, but had remained silent about Germany’s domestic policies.” In a key broadcast on 17 June 1942, Bose defended his position by saying: “In this fateful hour in India’s history, it would be a grievous mistake to be carried away by ideological consideration alone. The internal politics of Germany or Italy or Japan do not concern us—they are the concerns of those countries. (Sugata Bose, His Majesty’s Opponent, pp 221) Romain Hayes, an Austrian historian, commented along the same line and added that for Bose “Only independence was what mattered.” (Romain Hayes, Bose in Nazi Germany, pp. 120).
Contrast this with what Bose had said on another occasion: “Whenever the question of India is brought up before a World Congress or a World Conference the usual plea raised by the protagonists of Great Britain is that India is a domestic question so far as the British Empire is concerned. This is a position which Indians should refuse to accept any longer.” (Presidential address to the 3rd Indian Political Conference held in London, 10 June 1933).
Referring to an article written by Bose (‘Free India and her problems’ in NCW/11, no.30), Hayes summed up Bose’s vision of the State thus: “Although Bose tried to be as restrained as possible, his article was particularly revealing. It combined a peculiar blend of nationalist and socialist ideology, using a democratic facade, to mask its authoritarian character.” (Romain Hayes, Bose in Nazi Germany, Random House India).
Leonard Gordon pondered over this question but refrained from passing any judgement. Instead, he mentioned A.M. Nair, a close associate of Rashbehari Bose in Japan, saying that the most critical of the East Asian Indian scholars “who liked Rashbehari Bose, called Bose a ‘fascist’. Others have given a different picture.” (Leonard Gordon, Brothers Against the Raj, pp.322). The Indian public is yet to pass any judgement.
The author is a journalist and political analyst. Views are personal.