Gandhi and Nehru – from the vantage point of two revolutionaries,  Rashbehari and Subhas

A contrast in study of how Gandhi and Nehru approached freedom for India from the Boses

A contrast in study of how Gandhi and Nehru approached freedom for India from the Boses
A contrast in study of how Gandhi and Nehru approached freedom for India from the Boses

How Subhas Bose reacted to the proposal of partition – co-authored by Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh and Dikgaj


In a prequel [15], we have shown that the two  Boses had a meeting of minds before ever sharing the same physical space. Between themselves, they were ideological kindred souls,  but  harbored   grave ideological differences with the contemporary mainstream political leaders like Gandhi.  They differed with him  not only  on the path to freedom, but  surprisingly enough, on what the concept represented. But it is of course possible to admire an individual while disagreeing with his views, we therefore seek to find out how the duo rated other mainstream leaders. Delving into little known correspondences between the duo, their letters to close family,  and reminiscences of their comrades, we show that they diverged somewhat  on their tactics on the contemporary mainstream political leaders like Gandhi and Nehru.  Having never met them in person, due to his long exile, Rashbehari may have nursed rosy illusions about them, while close contact of about two decades enabled Subhas to see through their compromises. The former would be amenable to accepting Gandhi as at least a figurehead of the freedom movement he was presiding on, but the latter would resolutely oppose the same. Rashbehari seemed to have disliked Nehru, and had mildly criticized him, but would not hesitate to quote him as needed,  Subhas  was in contrast more forthcoming in opposition. We get to the specifics now.

Nehru is fanatically anti-Axis and he is much worse than Gandhi. Azad is a blind follower of Gandhi now.

In his public discourses, Rashbehari was nothing but laudatory  on Gandhi  [11] and Jawaharlal Nehru. For example, in his Presidential address at the Bangkok Conference in June, 1942, he deferred to the duo as: “Let us rise and act so that the great preparations that Mahatma Gandhi has made during the last more than two decades, may bear fruit and our children in future may think of us with pride and respect as the members of a free nation…..Let us not forget the words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru when he said :- Success often comes to those who dare and act, it seldom goes to cowards.” pp. 138-139, [7] .  At the time, though, the Japanese still hoped to be able to use Gandhi or Nehru for their politics, as ambassador Oshima explained a few months later pp. 134-135, [12]. So, the accolades Rashbehari showered were possibly part of the war strategy of Japan.

We learn about Rashbehari’s private discourses on the duo from Nedyam Raghavan, who had closely interacted with him in 1942:  “As to our leaders, Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and others, he [Rashbehari]  displayed great respect and regard. He seemed to feel, however that being within India their fight for freedom had necessarily to be limited and circumscribed.” p. 438, [10]. M. Sivaram, who was appointed as the spokesman of Indian Independence League, by  Rashbehari in 1942, has recalled his personal interactions with Rashbehari: “At times, we tried to draw him out. We wanted to hear from himself, some of his exploits in the game of bomb-throwing. But the old war horse, even when he was in a reminiscent mood, would not tell any story about himself. He talked, instead, of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and others-”men who have shown us the way.”“ Loc. 792-796, [8]

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]B[/dropcap]ut, again let us bear in mind, both Raghavan and Sivaram were staunch believers of the Congress creed. Sivaram also idolized Gandhi and possibly Nehru. On 10th March, 1942, when leaders of the Indian community met in Singapore,  Raghavan as Chairman  of the meeting had them that “no method which did not get the approval of the Indian National Congress would succeed. If the Indians in the Far East went against the opinion of the Congress, they would run the risk of being taken to have gone against the wishes of the people of India…” p. 36, [3]. When in 1944 Subhas had ordered that the Provisional Government of Azad Hind oppose a compromise that Gandhi appeared to seek with Jinnah and the British through the Shimla Conference, Sivaram as the spokesman of the Azad Hind government had refused to comply, pondering as: “ But, I asked myself, had I joined the movement for the privilege of denouncing some of the greatest sons of India – men idolized and adored by millions of my countrymen?”  Loc 2233 [8] While Subhas was criticizing Gandhi, the “compromise-mongers and Pakistanists”, defying his orders, his spokesman paid high tributes to Gandhi. Sivaram justified the non-compliance as “I merely conformed to the position that the Indian independence movement in East Asia was subordinate to the Indian National Congress and its leaders. If Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress had decided to reach an agreement with Britain regarding the political future of India, and if that settlement was good enough for the 400 million people in the homeland, it should be good enough for the handful of overseas Indians in South-east Asia”  Loc. 2208-2215 [8] Subhas issued the order that “Go all-out against Gandhi-Jinnah meeting and all compromise moves. Gandhi’s only hope to come to a compromise with Britain is by concluding an agreement with Jinnah on the Pakistan question. But the policy of the Muslim League is entirely pro-British and, therefore, the Gandhi-Jinnah negotiations must be prevented.” Loc. 2237 [8] Sivaram made a case for defying the order, arguing that  “it would be suicidal for the Indian Independence movement in East Asia if it forfeited the sympathy of the Indian National Congress and its leaders.” Loc. 2244-2247, [8]. He  stressed that “Indians in East Asia would cut a ridiculous figure in the eyes of Indians inside India if they started what looked like a vicious campaign against Gandhi and Jinnah and against an agreement between the Congress and the Muslim League”, and such a  propaganda “would jar in the ears of Indians, especially as it would mean the open defiance of virtually all India.” Loc. 2247 [8]. He wrote to Subhas: “After going all-out against both the Congress and the Muslim League, and against every leader that really matters in Indian politics, we shall be virtually friendless. We cannot claim a hearing in India, we cannot hope to win any support of the Indian people, if by a violent campaign on an uncertain issue, we alienate ourselves from the most powerful and most influential elements in the country. After defying some of the foremost figures in the Congress, we cannot claim to be the true voice of Indian nationalism. …I, therefore, submit that the line of propaganda suggested in the instructions from Burma may have the effect of burning our boat at both ends.” Loc. 2251-2254, [8]  He subsequently  submitted his resignation Loc. 2304 [8]

We will shortly see that Rashbehari was a master of guile, so was his posture intended to win over the men who placed the Congress and its leaders above the Indian independence movement in East Asia? Incidentally, the CSDIC (I) report on the interrogation of Anand  Mohan Sahay says that Rash Behari and his associates “were  not very friendly to H/1459 [Sahay] because he was the official representative of Congress which, because of the well-known leanings of its leader Nehru, they suspected of socialism”. p. 393, [13] Under the given circumstances the CSDIC (I) report provided by British intelligence agency will be more reliable than stated positions. And, we have already seen that Sahay has reported that in late 1920s  Rashbehari had no illusions on the prospects of   Gandhi’s non-violent non-cooperation and was opposed to forming Congress branches in Japan.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]W[/dropcap]here Rashbehari and Subhas certainly differed was on their tactics on Gandhi and Congress. The former would be amenable to accepting Gandhi as at least a figurehead of the freedom movement he was presiding on, but the latter would put his foot down. Rashbehari had suggested to Subhas, in a conversation over telephone on 3rd July, from Bangkok to Berlin, to acknowledge Gandhi as supreme leader in India’s freedom struggle in the East. That was likely a part of Japanese war strategy, as mentioned before. Next day, the Bangkok papers reported in bold letters that the two Boses had agreed to acknowledge the Mahatma as the spiritual head.  Subhas, however, was alarmed that his namesake believed and claimed a complete agreement with him on incorporating Gandhi.  He therefore wanted to send a telegram to Bangkok, suggesting combining all Indian nationalists of the world in  one organisation.  Ribbentrop, however, forbade him to do so as it would have contradicted Japanese opinions too much  pp. 134-135 [12]. Therefore, on 11 July, 1942, Subhas wrote  from Germany  to  RashBehari as follows pp. 284-286, [9]: “Regarding Mahatma Gandhi, I am sorry to say I cannot agree with you. Gandhi’s epoch in India’s history came to an end in 1939. He has imparted political consciousness to the Indian masses and he built up an All-India political organization. But he stands pledged to non-violence and passive resistance. With such methods you can never expel the British from India and can never win independence. Therefore, Gandhi, while talking of independence, always keeps the door open for a compromise with the British. Since Gandhi wants a compromise with England, he will never become pro-Axis. Only those who are prepared for a complete break with England, can adopt a pro-Axis policy.

The correct strategy for India now is: (1) Alliance with all powers hostile (2) Launching of a revolution now in India, when British power is collapsing (3) Seeking such military aid from outside as is necessary

I have worked under Mahatma Gandhi for 20 years and I know him thoroughly. I do not underestimate his strength and influence, nor do I overestimate it. During these 20 years, I have sometimes fought Gandhi successfully and defeated him. In September, 1939, he declared for cooperation with England and it was our propaganda that forced him to change his attitude. In April, 1940, the Forward Bloc first started passive resistance to cooperation with Britain’s war and Gandhi was thereafter compelled to do so in November, 1940. Gandhi today is no longer a dynamic and revolutionary figure. Only pressure of public opinion can now make him act and we have to influence public opinion through our own propaganda. The recent demand of Gandhi that the Anglo-Americans should leave India, was only the result of our propaganda. But we must always remember that there is a limit to the extent to which Gandhi could be forced to change – for instance: (1) Gandhi will never advocate the use of arms (2) Gandhi will never become pro-Axis in his policy.

Nobody has done more harm to me personally and to our cause in this crisis (politicking against him at Tripuri) than Pandit Nehru… he was with the Old Guard at Tripuri. His open propaganda against me has done me more harm than the activities of the 12 stalwarts. What a pity!
– Subhas Chandra Bose

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]C[/dropcap]onsequently, there is no room for cooperation with Gandhi. Every show of strength and defiance that Gandhi puts up, is always followed by an attempt at a compromise. Hence we now see that Gandhi is again working for a compromise with the British Government. It would be a fatal mistake to lionize Gandhi or to praise him too much. This will strengthen Gandhi’s position and show that we lack self-confidence. The correct tactic will consist in strengthening the position of our followers in the country. Please do not think that the Congress means Gandhi. The Congress means Gandhi-wing and  Forward Bloc. Gandhi may command a majority within the Congress Party, but the Forward Bloc has a large following in the country. This following of ours has been built up after years of hard labour and sacrifice – and neither the British Government nor Mahatma Gandhi can destroy it. The following will stand by us under all circumstances. It will take up arms at right moment and it openly advocates a pro-Axis policy. To expect that Gandhi will come over to our point of view is only an idle dream. Consequently, to strengthen Gandhi’s position by praising him too much, amounts to weakening our own following and committing political suicide. You may occasionally pay a compliment to Gandhi as a political manoeuvre, but you should always remember that Gandhi will never come over to your side.

Nehru is fanatically anti-Axis and he is much worse than Gandhi. Azad is a blind follower of Gandhi now.”

Incidentally, it is commonly believed  that Subhas had named Indian National Army brigades after Gandhi, Nehru and Azad [2], but these nomenclatures were the contributions of his predecessor G.O.C. Mohan Singh and were announced on 1st September, 1942, while Rashbehari was the President of the IIL p. 136, [4]. Subhas just continued with the names when he assumed charge eight months after. Only a few years back, he had  shared with his nephew Amiya Nath Bose, on 17th April, 1939, what he really thought of Nehru: “Nobody has done more harm to me personally and to our cause in this crisis (politicking against him at Tripuri) than Pandit Nehru… he was with the Old Guard at Tripuri. His open propaganda against me has done me more harm than the activities of the 12 stalwarts. What a pity!” p. 289, [1]  While he led the Free India Provisional Government (FIPG), in Rangoon,  in his chats with the leaders of FIPG, Subhas always suggested that neither Gandhi nor Nehru would fight for the independence of India and both were working for some sort of compromise Loc. 2959, [14]

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]R[/dropcap]ashbehari rarely took a public stance against the stalwarts of the Congress like Gandhi and Nehru, but Subhas did so repeatedly. The only instance that we could find for Rashbehari is in November, 1938, after Jawaharlal Nehru assumed a rabid anti-Japanese stance. He issued a manifesto which said, “For the last few years, especially after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese conflict, it has almost become a fashion for some of the Congress leaders to attack and condemn and abuse the Fascist countries indiscriminately. They do not know what harm they do to the cause of Indian freedom by their unwise action. The other day Pandit Nehru during the course of his tour in Europe did irretrievable damage to the cause of India by his wild utterances against the totalitarian states. His was a most unwise action and it only served to create more enemies for India.” p. 149 [6]

In a formal statement, issued to the press, Netaji Subhas condemned Mahatma Gandhi and Rajagopalachari as defeatists who were trying to compromise with the British…

As for Subhas, we only present one of the last few instances of his opposition to Congress stalwarts. The spokesman of  his Provisional Government of Azad Hind, M. Sivaram has recalled  one such instance:  “It seemed that there was only one aspect of the situation [in 1944, fall]  that upset Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose during those difficult days. …Gandhiji had started correspondence with the British Viceroy. He had met Jayakar, a moderate in Indian politics who had always advocated a compromise settlement with Britain on the issue of national independence. And a meeting had been fixed between Mahatma Gandhi and the Muslim League leader, Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah….Subhas Bose did not believe that he or his party owed any allegiance to the Indian National Congress. He frankly confessed that he had no confidence in the political policies of Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the Congress Party. According to Netaji Subhas, Mahatma Gandhi was no fighter. Gandhi was so staunch in his creed of non-violence that he would rather compromise with the British than wage an open struggle for India’s freedom. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, according to Subhas Chandra Bose, would fight if he could, but he was so rabidly anti-Axis that he, too, would compromise with the British, rather than join the Axis camp in India’s struggle. The Congress President, Maulana Azad, was a mere figurehead, Netaji Bose claimed. He would follow the wishes of Gandhiji who was really the “dictator” of the Congress. ….Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was convinced that Mahatma Gandhi was working for a compromise with the British Government. Orders were sent out to the rear quarters in Singapore and other Free India broadcasting centers to oppose the “compromise move” initiated by Gandhiji. Subhas himself broadcast from Rangoon a personal message to the Mahatma appealing to him to “stay away from the trap set by the wily British.”  …..Subhas Chandra Bose, however, seemed obsessed with the idea that any political move by Mahatma Gandhi would be the prelude to a compromise with Britain. At his conference with Japanese press correspondents, who were eager to get authoritative interpretation of the news from India, Subhas declared that the situation was fraught with serious possibilities, that Mahatma Gandhi had obviously decided to call off the anti-British movement inside India and that it was extremely important that the compromise moves must be foiled. The Rangoon Radio, run by the Provisional Government of Free India, featured this anti-compromise campaign with a great deal of criticism of Mahatma Gandhi’s moves….Then came the news of the Gandhi-Jinnah meeting and Mr. C. Rajagopalachari’s Pakistan formula. And Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose launched an all-out campaign against “compromise-mongers and Pakistanists.” In a formal statement, issued to the press, Netaji Subhas condemned Mahatma Gandhi and Rajagopalachari as defeatists who were trying to compromise with the British, after first compromising with Jinnah on the Pakistan issue. He declared that Gandhi would be betraying the Indian nation and leading the Congress to an ignominious surrender to British imperialism  Loc 2158-2218 [8]

The statement brought Subhas into conflict with the Japanese, but he did not retreat despite operating under their military control:  “With due courtesy, they [Japanese]  pointed out that it was not fair on the part of Subhas to carry his quarrel with the leaders of the Indian National Congress into the Indian Independence movement in East Asia, in which the Japanese were his partners. They said that, though the statement contained Subhas Bose’s views, it had to be broadcast from Japanese-controlled radio stations and therefore, they had to consider it most carefully before releasing it. Netaji Bose reacted sharply. He told the Japanese that he needed no advice from them in regard to whatever he wanted to tell his country-men. As a leader with considerable following in India, it was his duty to advise and guide them and his statement on the Gandhi-Jinnah talks was meant for that. The squabble went on for nearly a week and, finally, Netaji Bose won. The Japanese agreed to the release of his statement but the censors deleted the name of Mahatma Gandhi in several paragraphs. Wherever Subhas had referred to “Mahatma Gandhi and some elderly leaders” as the compromise-mongers, the censored version merely mentioned “some elderly leaders” in the role of compromise-mongers. The Free India broadcasting stations put out the text in full, while the Japanese-operated stations ignored the statement and the newspapers were allowed to carry only a tightly censored version.”  Loc. 2218-2229 [8]

(Netaji Collected Works, edited by Sisir and Sugata Bose, have not included the statement that Sivaram has pointed to, one wonders how many such omissions the compilation is guilty of. It includes a much more generic statement on 12th September, 1944, in which Subhas has said: “You are all aware that Gandhiji and Mr. Jinnah are discussing the Hindu-Muslim question in Bombay and that Gandhiji is prepared to come to an agreement with the League even if it means conceding the League demand of Pakistan…..It is clear that Gandhiji and other Congress leaders wish to compromise with Britain after settling with the League. We must act instantly, if we are to prevent this. We Indians in East Asia are fighting for a free and united India….Friends, we have resolved to create a united and free India; therefore, we shall oppose all attempts to divide her and cut her up into bits. Ireland and Palestine have taught us a lesson. We have realized that to divide a country will ruin her economically, culturally and politically. America could not have risen to her present greatness had the American Pakistanists been allowed their own way. …..I vehemently oppose the Pakistan scheme for the vivisection of our motherland…..All the same, I cannot but feel sorry to see that even some of the Congressmen have been taken by it. These dupes believe that the Allies are well on the way to victory, and are, therefore, anxious to come to a compromise with British imperialism. ….As long as the Congress and Muslim League are separated, there will be no compromise with the British. That is why the Congressmen who want to come to a compromise with Britain have decided to swallow the bitter pill of Pakistan….The League will never fight the British as we do. All that it wants is the division of India into Hindu and Muslim States….There should be no compromise with Britain. Our divine motherland shall not be cut up.”  pp. 266-268, [16] )

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he reader is now left in no illusion about Subhas’ views on Gandhi, Nehru, etc. Subhas could accurately assess their dishonesty, ideological bankruptcy, and proclivity to compromise,   though following his own advice, he may occasionally have  paid  compliments to them as political manoeuvres. But he opposed them with all his might whenever he believed that they  harmed India’s interests, which their connivance with  partition was.

Since Rashbehari had left India in 1915,  the year in which Gandhi had returned to India, and which was several years before Jawaharlal Nehru joined Indian politics, he could only form his views about the duo by reading those of their public statements that reached Japan. Thereby, he had likely formed a rather generous view of them, and  he would certainly not spend his political capital to oppose them although he clearly fundamentally disagreed with their methods.


[1] Subhas Chandra Bose, Congress President, Speeches, Articles, and Letters January 1938-May 1939 , Collected Works of Netaji, Vol. 9, edited by Sisir Kumar Bose and Sugato Bose

[2] Subhas Chandra Bose had named INA brigades after Nehru, Gandhi not Savarkar

[3] Kesar Singh Giani “Indian Independence Movement in East Asia”

[4] Mohan Singh, “Soldier’s Contribution to Indian Independence”

[5] T. R. Sareen, “Indian National Army – A documentary study,” Volume 4,   1944-45

[6] Uma Mukherjee, “Two Great Indian Revolutionaries – Rash Behari Bose and Jyotindra Nath Mukherjee”

[7] T. R. Sareen, “Indian National Army – A documentary study,” Volume 1,   1941-42

[8] M. Sivaram “The Road to Delhi”

[9] T. R. Sareen “Subhas Chandra Bose and Nazi Germany” , German Foreign Office Records No. 350084-85.

[10] Rash Behari Basu – His Struggle for India’s Independence, Editor in chief, Radhanath Rath, Editor Sabitri Prasanna Chatterjee, Biplabi Mahanayak Rash Behari Basu Smarak Samiti

[11] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Jeck Joy, Dikgaj, “Rashbehari Bose: India’s Messenger in Japan”

[12] Jan Kuhlmann, “Netaji in Europe”

[13] T. R. Sareen, “Indian National Army – A documentary study,” Volume 5,   1944-45

[14]  Joyce Lebra “Indian National Army and Japan”

[15] Saswati Sarkar, Shanmukh, Dikgaj, “Two Revolutionaries – Rashbehari and Subhas, A Meeting of Minds, Part I”

Saswati Sarkar is a professor in the electrical and systems engineering department of the University of Pennsylvania. She authors articles on socio-politics and history of India. Her articles on topics other than those related to her professional expertise are expressed in personal capacity.

Shanmukh is an engineering academic in North America, focussing on time frequency analysis, medical image analysis & computer vision.His hobby interests include modern Indian history, Sanskrit and demographics.

Dikgaj is an academic mathematician with research interests in game theory, computer science and quantitative applications in humanities, and blogs on history of subcontinent and politics of religion, imperialism, current affairs.


  1. Excellent write up n research. Unfortunate that after centuries of foreign invasions n rule, Bharat was ruined by nehru and gandhi. Own citizens. Keep up the great work.

  2. Feeling comes to mind that were Nehru and Gandhi really Freedom Fighters or agents of British as their actions always were in demoralising and weakening True Freedom Fighters and helping invader British?


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