When Seshadri Chari, then the editor of nationalist periodical Organiser, asked Sita Ram Goel, a prominent right-wing intellectual best known as the chronicler of destroyed Hindu temples, to write an article on the occasion of the birth centenary of Subhas Chandra Bose in 1997, he refused. When Chari requested Goel for an article on the occasion of the birth centenary of Subhas Chandra Bose in 1997, the Hindutva historian wrote back…
“I never fancied Shri Subhash [sic] Chandra Bose as a national hero, or a thinker (political or otherwise), or even as a patriot in the proper sense,” he wrote to Chari.
None of the grounds on which Goel went on to tramp Bose was original. They have been repeated ad nauseam by his critics — left, right and centre — at least for the past eight decades. They keep surfacing now and then, despite largely being without substance, especially in various social media forums. It would not only be apt to have a relook at these assertions at the occasion of Bose’s 118th birth anniversary, but it would also throw some light on how Goel dealt with historical material.
The key points in Goel’s letters are given in bold, italics below.
The word ‘Netaji’ is particularly distasteful to me as it is a literal translation of “Der Fuehrer”, the designation of Hitler whom I have always despised as a monstrous criminal and a mass murderer like Lenin and Stalin.Sita Ram Goel
Goel was certainly not the first to infer this mindless equivalence between ‘Netaji’ and ‘Der Führer’. Others have added ‘Il Duce’ to the list too. What this assertion ignores is the basic fact that Bose was the leader of the Azad Hind movement. When he reached Germany in 1941, there was no organisation waiting for him to provide a launching pad. He built the movement brick by brick, negotiating with — and convincing — an indifferent and shrewd German Government with its own agenda, and by organising the Indian community.
It seemed rather bad taste to call him Mr Bose or Bose Sahib, for undoubtedly he represented to us something more than just another Indian. In India people used to call him Rashtrapati, which sounded too formal and at any rate it was mouthful. He was to us, as he was to millions of Indians, a leader, a Neta, so it seemed quite natural that we should call him so.Sita Ram Goel
It was a time when prominent Indian leaders were accorded epithets — Bal Gangadhar Tilak was Lokmanya, Surendranath Banerjee was Rashtraguru, CR Das was Deshbandhu, Vallabhbhai Patel was Sardar, Gandhi was Mahatma. Tagore had anointed Bose as Deshnayak. He had also been the Rashtrapati (which did not obviously mean the president of the country). If these epithets were a matter of routine in the freedom struggle, a title for the leader of a movement in foreign soil was a necessity. As Girija Mookerjee, Bose’s associate in Germany explained,
An American historian demonstrated a better understanding of the context and nuances of the term. As Peter Ward Fay explained in his The Forgotten Army:
Neta means ‘leader.’ Whether it further translates “the leader” is moot and in the end unanswerable, there being no articles as such in Hindi. What is not arguable is the force of the syllable ji. It softens what it is appended to or what it precedes…How, then, are we to translate Netaji, how express the mingled affection and respect that ji contributes? Perhaps it is wisest simply to employ the term.Peter Ward Fay
The title travelled with Bose to south-east Asia and stuck to him. It was not without reason that even his political opponents started addressing him so. To Gandhi, Patel and Nehru too, Subhas became Netaji. In February 1946, Gandhi wrote in Harijan,
Netaji’s name is one to conjure with us.
Even many amongst the Indian communists who had routinely lampooned him during the war accepted Netaji (though belatedly and not entirely honestly).
Bose is not a patriot for me because his ruling passion was not love of India’s cultural patrimony but a blind hatred of the British.
An astoundingly absurd claim such as this can be taken care of by simply asking one to read a biography of Bose. If Goel was not convinced of Bose’s patriotism, writing in 1997, one can only ascribe it to his rabid dislike for Bose — so rabid as to stop him from familiarising himself with the basics of Bose’s life and work. A good starting point would have been the letters written by a young Subhas to his best childhood friend Hemanta Sarkar, to his mother and elder brother Sarat.
The ‘hatred for British’ being a strong motive is a myth created by the British politicians and the bureaucracy during the freedom movement when Bose emerged as a thorn in their flesh. Given the nature of treatment he received from British administrators starting from 1924 to 1941, such hatred — even if it had existed — would be perfectly understandable, and perhaps justifiable. It adds to his credit that he never allowed racial hatred to be a factor in his struggle. He made it a point to stress it in many of his speeches that there was no ill will on his part towards England or the British. If he was taking an extremist position, it was only to attain freedom for the country. As one of his closest friends Dilip Kumar Roy has testified in his accounts, that on the contrary, Subhas had great admiration for many a British quality. Even when Subhas was exhorting Indians to fight against the British rule, he was advising them to admire and acquire characteristics which had helped them influence the world.
To take, therefore, political propaganda as a matter of faith only reflects intellectual destitution and a dogmatic mindset unable to look beyond one’s set of beliefs.
Nor is he a thinker by himself because his recipe for India’s salvation was a synthesis of Fascism and Communism. I wonder how he came to perceive the two totalitarian ideologies as different. Moreover, he believed that India needed an authoritarian regime for at least twenty years, most probably under himself.
So, according to Goel, all Bose could think of in the name of political philosophy was a synthesis of fascism and communism. This assertion stems probably from The Indian Struggle, where Bose wrote in 1934:
Considering everything, one is inclined to hold that the next phase in world-history will produce a synthesis between Communism and Fascism. And will it be a surprise if that synthesis is produced in India? … That synthesis is called by the writer ‘Samyavada’ — an Indian word, which means literally ‘the doctrine of synthesis or equality’. It will be India’s task to work out this synthesis.
The party, which Bose envisaged would emerge out of the situation then, would “stand for a Federal Government”, but would “believe in a strong Central Government with dictatorial powers for some years to come, in order to put India on her feet.” It would “not stand for a democracy in the Mid-Victorian sense of the term, but will believe in government by a strong party bound together by military discipline, as the only means of holding India together and preventing chaos, when Indians are free and are thrown entirely on their own resources.” It would seek to build a new social structure on the basis of village communities of the past, abolish landlordism and introduce a uniform land-tenure system.
When Rajani Palme Dutt asked him three years later to explain what he meant, Bose clarified his position:
My political ideas have developed further since I wrote my book three years ago. What I really meant was that we in India wanted our national freedom, and having won it, we wanted to move in the direction of Socialism. This is what I meant when I referred to ‘a synthesis between Communism and Fascism’. Perhaps the expression I used was not a happy one. But I should like to point out that when I was writing the book, Fascism had not started on its imperialist expedition, and it appeared to me merely an aggressive form of nationalism.
In one of the last speeches, at the Tokyo Imperial University, in November 1944, where he outlined in some detail his vision for a free India, he talked about a synthesis again. This time, it was a synthesis between National Socialism and Communism. To differentiate between the two, his proposed system from the National Socialism (or Nazism) of Hitler’s Germany, he clearly pointed out:
What we in India would like to have is a progressive system which will fulfil the social needs of the whole people and will be based on national sentiment…This is something which has not been achieved by the National Socialists in Germany today.
No doubt Bose wanted to see a strong, even dictatorial, state during the phase of reconstruction to overcome the myriads of problems that we foresaw would plague a newly independent country. But did he see himself as a dictator? Bose himself certainly did not. At a press conference in June 1942 he stated his position clearly:
I regard myself as a servant of the Indian nation and my present task is to lead the fight for India’s independence. But as soon as India is free, it will be the duty of the Indian people to decide what form of Government they desire and who should guide the future Indian state. I certainly have my own ideas regarding post war reconstruction in Free India, but it will be for Free India to decide upon them. (India in Axis Strategy, Milan Hauner)
Bose’s ideology wasn’t bound by any ‘ism.’ It was complex, multi-layered and evolving. To pass a hasty judgement based on incomplete reading and poor understanding of a complex personality such as Bose can only be the result of mental laziness or dominance of a preconceived notion.
I cannot accept him as a national hero because he did not believe in our people’s capacity to achieve freedom from foreign rule, and looked towards Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and Tojo’s Japan for effecting India’s liberation. This attitude places him squarely in the company of Shah Waliullah who invited Ahmad Shah Abdali for restoring Muslim rule. Waliullah’s lead in looking at the Pathans as liberators of India was followed later on by M.N. Roy, Raja MahendraPratap, and many others who joined hands with the most fanatic mullahs during the Khilafat agitation. We have to thank our stars that all these ‘heroes’ failed, and India escaped disaster.
An attempt to establish equivalence between Bose and Shah Waliullah can emerge only from a pervasive paranoia. It is difficult to comprehend how the basic differences eluded Goel. Waliullah’s invitation to Ahmad Shah Abdali to revive the political fortunes of Muslims in India was driven by sectarianism and communal interest. It would be clear to even a school student that Bose neither ‘invited’ any power to invade India, nor “looked towards Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and Tojo’s Japan for effecting India’s liberation.” What he wanted, and what he did was to obtain the assistance of the countries fighting against Britain in order to demolish the British rule. For this, he raised armies, set up a ‘Free India Government’, and broadcast radio programmes. The idea was to raise the level of the struggle within the country so that when an army of Indians reached the frontier there would be a mass uprising within the country. Determined not to be dependent on Japanese money, he raised the Azad Hind Bank and tried to repay loans to the Japanese and the German Governments to the extent possible under the circumstances. Far from what Goel claims, Bose always insisted on the movement being led by Indians, with the role of the forces of countries assisting him remaining just that — of assisting.
Muslims had been demanding for a long time that India should not be called ‘Hindustan’ but ‘Hind’ à la the Arab and Turk invaders. It was Bose who implemented the Muslim demand when he named his army as “Azad Hind Fauj”, and coined ‘Jai Hind’as the national slogan. He had no use for Vandemataram, which had been our national slogan till that time. It was not an accident that Pandit Nehru plumped for ‘Jai Hind’ as soon he heard it, and started shouting it from every platform. He heartily endorsed the word ‘Hind’ in his book, The Discovery of India, and disowned Vandemataram.
Finally, Goel sheds all pretension of historical evaluation of Bose. As the above scrutiny of his hollow assertions show, his real problem lies with the fact that Bose was not a rabid sectarian. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Opposition by fanatic Hindu communalists to Bose and his mentor CR Das date back to 1923 when Das announced the Hindu-Muslim Bengal Pact. For any narrow-minded religious fanatic, it would indeed be difficult to understand that Das and Bose were working to attain freedom for the country as much as they were to build India. Not a Hindu Rashtra. The Provisional Government of Free India and the Indian National Army were the culmination of Bose’s idea of national integration.
All this does not imply in any way that they negated the Hindu past or tradition of the land. On the contrary! Das was a devout Vaishnava. Bose consistently spoke and wrote about grounding any future political system in the learnings from the past. In his private life, he was an intensely spiritual person. Both refused to think or act in sectarian terms.
As Abid Hassan, the man behind coining the slogan of Jai Hind, later recalled, the slogan and salutation was selected after trying various options. And there was no communal conspiracy in that. Hassan had also proposed ‘Hello’ as the salutation only to be turned down by Bose. The most important factor that worked in favour of Jai Hind was its simplicity. It was much easier to say Jai Hind, than to say ‘Hindustan ki Jai’.
Mahatma Gandhi too had objected to Vandemataram being replaced by Jai Hind, but his objection was not based on sectarian considerations. He argued that Vandemataram had been used since the inception of the Congress, and hence Jai Hind as a greeting should be used only after one has said Vandemataram.
The marching song of the ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ was set to the tune of a song in the film ‘Sikandar’ produced by Sohrab Modi. It did not occur to Bose that Alexander was an invader, and that national tunes of a far superior kind were available in plenty and to spare. He simply did not have any national consciousness whatsoever.
Too bad that instead of wasting his time on escaping from India, travelling to Berlin through hostile terrains and trying to organise the freedom movement abroad, Bose did not spend his time more fruitfully in watching Sikander, which was released in 1941. He should have done that. It would have proved that he had some national consciousness. Whatever!
Those who would like to verify whether “Qadam qadam badhaye ja” was set to the tune of “Zindagi hai pyar se” can compare the two on You Tube.
The former is available at
… and the latter at
(the song starts at 25:40).
One could have stopped here. But Goel’s past presents some thorny issues.
In 1955, a book of his was published by the Society for Defence of Freedom in Asia. Believe it or not, the name of the book was Netaji and the CPI. One can’t be blamed for rubbing eyes in disbelief. Netaji? Yes. Netaji, the same title that smells of ‘Der Führer’.
Four decades before trashing Netaji, he had dedicated himself to protect the name of, wait, “one of the most illustrious sons of Mother India” from the heinous attacks of the Communist Party of India!
One can only wonder as to what turned Goel from ruthlessly exposing CPI’s “slander against Netaji” to himself slandering Netaji. What did Netaji do to so displease him in these four decades?