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Bapu vs Netaji, a needless row

By Tushar Gandhi

Once again, a rivalry from the past has been raked up and a controversy created to serve political purposes in the present. Lacking its own historic icons, the BJP has been desperate to appropriate them from elsewhere. The Congress, out of its misplaced loyalties and lethargies, has neglected many of its erstwhile heroes making it all the more easy for others to hijack their legacies.

First, it was Sardar Patel, and the Patel-Nehru rivalry allowed the BJP an opportunity to take potshots at not only Jawaharlal Nehru, but his descendants as well. And since Mahatma Gandhi was seen to have sided with Panditji, though the target was Nehru, ricochets were purposely intended to hit Bapu as well.

The same was true for Bhagat Singh. With detractors citing history depicted in Bollywood films on the young freedom fighter as factual and authentic, Bapu is accused of having betrayed and actually got a true patriot killed.

Now, a controversy has erupted over Nehru snooping on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his family. Allegations have been made about Nehru, Maulana Azad and Bapu making a pact with the British to hand over Netaji as soon as he entered India, and Netaji being ‘ta­ken care of by’ Nehru’s ‘fr­iend’ Stalin, to snuff out the challenger to the first prime minister’s crown.

I do not intend to put forth a defence of Bapu, he did side with Sardar Patel and Pandit Nehru in their stand against Netaji. He did agree with the decision to oust Netaji from the Congress Working Committee. But he did not conspire to get rid of Netaji. He loved Subhash Chandra Bose too much to wish him any harm. Below are two examples of Bapu’s love and respect for Netaji. First, a letter that he wrote from Allahabad on November 23, 1939.

“My dear Subhas,

It is only today that I find a moment to acknowledge your letter and wire. As you know, I attend the Working Committee only when required and deal with only those matters that are referred to me. But having received a letter, I read it to them and told them that if they had no confidence in the present Bengal Provincial Congress Committee and had sufficient reason for it, I agreed with you that they should dissolve it. Any piecemeal measure would fail and only cause irritation.

But I confess that your letter has appeared to me to be a challenge. You have evidently no confidence in the Working Committee. You regard its ban on you as a vendetta. As you know, I am party to the ban which was voted unanimously. Who is to decide between you and the Working Committee? You have never submitted to the ban.

As to action by the Working Committee, I dissent from you. Your way is not mine. For the time being you are my lost sheep. Some day (sic) I shall find you returning to the fold, if I am right and my love is pure.

Ever yours,


(From the manuscript of Mhadev Desai’s Diary. Courtesy: Narayan Desai).

Here’s the second example from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol 70, of Bapu’s speech at evening prayers in New Delhi on January 23, 1948:

“Brothers and sisters,

I have many things to say today. I shall try to deal with as many as I can. Today is Subhas Babu’s birthday. I have told you I cannot remember anyone’s birthday or death anniversary. Someone reminded me of Subhas Babu’s birthday.

Subhas Babu was a votary of violence while I am a devotee of ahimsa. But what does it matter? I know that the most important thing is that we should learn from other people’s virtues....We should be like the swan and take the milk of virtue. Man has virtues as well as vices. We should emulate him in his virtues and forget his deficiencies.

Subhas was a great patriot. He laid down his life for the country. He was not by nature a fighter but he became commander of an army and took up arms against a great empire. The soldiers of that army included hindus, muslims, parsis and christians. He never considered himself only a Bengali. He had no use for parochialism or caste distinctions. In his eyes all were Indians and servants of India. He treated all alike. It never occurred to him that since he was the commander he deserved more and others less. Let us therefore in remembering Subhas think of his great virtues and purge our hearts of malice.

Once a friend who was an eminent advocate asked me to define hinduism. I told him I was neither a lawyer like him nor a religious leader and was really unable to define hinduism, but I would suggest that a hindu was one who had equal respect for all religions. Subhas had equal respect for all religions and he easily won every heart. It is good to remember such things on this occasion.”

Both the letter and the speech are examples of the fact that although there were major differences of ideology and methods, there was mutual love and respect between Bapu and Netaji both. Clearly, the conspiracies are manufactured and propagated with malicious intent.

(The writer is founder-president, Mahatma Gandhi Foundation)

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