A patriotic philosopher
The patriotism that thrived in the heart of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was driven by a profound socialistic philosophy based on a pluralistic vision
We Indians are very enthusiastic about celebrating dates and birthdays, even though we do not attempt to assess the person in his true merit. To celebrate January 23 is not just to celebrate the birthday of a great patriot; it is also time to acknowledge the multifarious contributions that the great soul has made towards the social and economic vision and mission for the people of his beloved motherland. Even after 125 years of his birth, whenever we think about him, his image flashes across our minds as that of a great crusader against the inhumanity of British imperialism. No doubt he was a patriot of patriots. But this great revolutionist had a profound philosophical insight which was a constant source of impetus to the intellect of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. His sense of patriotism was driven by his vision of social philosophy. His belief in the deliverance of the human spirit made him uncompromising against the exploitation and suppression of human beings. Even as a leader of the Indian National Movement, he took a keen interest in matters like the socio-economic development of the common lot. The same individual who could undertake a daring submarine journey had also engineered reservations for minorities in the employment circuit of Calcutta Municipal Corporation.
In the philosophical ambit of Netaji, seeking independence for his motherland was not the only objective; he wanted the holistic development of India. In his own words, “I am opposed to Hitlerism, whether in India, within the Congress or any other country, but it appears to me that socialism is the only alternative to Hitlerism.’’ Netaji was inclined towards socialism; he along with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru epitomised socialist representation within the then Indian National Congress, guided by the discourse of socialism.
Netaji started planning for social reconstruction which he believed would have paramount importance once India achieved independence. This philosophy of reformism led him to initiate the formation of a Planning Committee for the first time in the history of India after he became Congress President in 1938. Pandit Nehru was made the chairman of the committee. No wonder that Pandit Nehru was influenced by Netaji when the Planning Commission was formed in independent India and the concept of Five-Year plans were rolled out. He understood that no economic development could happen by ignoring the social sector of economics. His psycho-social attitude rested on the pillars of growth and distributive justice. In today’s India where around 20 per cent of the population is poor according to the poverty index, any kind of economic planning should direct towards enabling the gains of development to reach the lowest rung of the economic ladder. This is exactly what Netaji opined for – gradual democratisation of industrial and agricultural production and consequent distribution. This philosophy of economics holds good not only in India but even in other third-world countries.
Subhas Chandra Bose looked upon civic freedom from the perspective of national internationalism. Being highly aware of the developments of events around him, Netaji figured his social philosophy on contemporary history also. He knew about the spread of communism but was not so keen about fostering it in India’s political fate. The great advocate for freedom that he was, Netaji longed for the human spirit free from the toils of social and political bondage. Hence, he endeavoured for civil rights. During his stint in the administration of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, first as chief executive officer and then as the mayor, Subhas Bose steered policies that ensured the social rights of the people. He had the philosophical disposition of social benevolence which he felt would kindle the flames of political rights within the mass. Hence, his fourteen-point agenda for improving the living standard of the people in Calcutta was in the broader sense an image of nationalism inciting a desire for freedom.
As a thinker, he avoided orthodoxy in religion. He was devoid of communalism and encouraged the idea of universal brotherhood. He was antagonistic to an archaic social system based on divisions on the basis of religious or geographical barriers. This philosophy culminated when he headed the INA consisting of individuals of multiple religions and nationalities. Netaji was greatly influenced by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda. He was gifted with a profound sense of secularism. In his own views, religion is a private affair, it cannot be made an affair of the state. He wanted the Government of free India not to interfere with the religious beliefs and practices of the people. He was Hegelian in his aspiration for a social order where contradiction can be subdued by assimilation. Swami Vivekananda’s clarion call to consider all Indians as brothers reverberated in the thoughts of Netaji. It provided him with the very bedrock of nationalism. Similarly, he felt the moving impact of Shri Aurobindo’s concept of spiritual nationality. Like Shri Aurobindo, Netaji also adheres to the notion that political freedom cannot come without social and economic freedom. The problems of poverty and unemployment, illiteracy and disease, taxation and debt that affected all communities stirred the thoughts of Netaji. He longed for a remedy. To combat the evils of communalism so cleverly engendered by the British, Netaji suggested rationality and scientific temperament. The INA became a melting pot for all sections of society. It was truly cosmopolitan in nature. It was Netaji’s pluralism that set forth in the formation of such an army that still stands as an example of multi-ethnicity.
Though serious conflict arose in opinion with Gandhiji, Netaji was not altogether opposed to the Gandhian doctrine of social emancipation of the underprivileged. He spoke in favour of women's emancipation as well. He was correct to diagnose that illiteracy and economic dependence were the root causes of the serfdom of women. As the secretary of the famous Durga Puja organised by Simla Byayam Samity in Calcutta, Netaji made arrangements so that ladies could come and visit the puja site. It was the first of its kind in then Calcutta. Since he was emphatic on the character-building of individuals, he prioritised education which would arouse the soul and awaken the spirit by boosting morality, freedom of thought and confidence.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose exemplified this philosophy of revolution for total liberation. He was truly, as Pandit Lal Bahadur Shastri said, ‘A beacon of light’.
The writer is an educator from Kolkata. Views expressed are personal