Some friends were recently wondering how Subhas Chandra Bose would have responded to Jehad. No different from the other secularists, when we said, it seemed to have offended or shocked them. Shocking obviously, since such is now the image of Subhas Bose in the Hindu psyche, which is best represented on the popular calendar art where he is seen rubbing shoulders with Shivaji and Pratap, sometimes like them riding a horse and carrying a sword or performing utsarga in front of Bhawani or Bharat Mata. The BJP-minded ones go so far as to even claim Bose as an icon of Hindutva, placing him alongside Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Savarkar. A couple of years back in a political campaign, L K Advani made, to use the words of Kanchan Gupta, an “audacious attempt to co-opt Subhas Chandra Bose in the pantheon of proponents of Hindutva”. Of course if they can dress up Jinnah as a secular icon, then Bose can rather easily take their Hindutva garb, the shift seems only logical.
Subhas Bose, no doubt, had a thorough Hindu outlook in life and was a religious Hindu, as is evident in his unfinished autobiography. Not only does he speak therein of his spiritual quests, but interestingly at one place also recounts an encounter with a Jesuit priest whom he convinced of superiority of Shankara’s philosophy over Christian dogma. At another point he says that later in his life when he failed to agree with or follow the concepts of Shankara, then rather than becoming hostile to Hindu thought or considering a non-Hindu philosophy, he sought and followed the other options available within Hindu dharma. To the impact of Aurobindo on his early life also he openly admits. Towards his last days in Singapore and Burma it is said that he would often go to the temples wearing traditional Hindu attire and spend hours in meditation at night. It is also said that he used to carry a pocketbook edition of bhagavadgita in the chest of his uniform during the day and while sleeping keep it under his pillow. In support of an armed struggle opposed to unconditional Ahimsa, he used to seek sanction from Mahabharata and his argument against Gandhian non-violence was basic, “How can we possibly accept Ahimsa as an inflexible principle of action, when Sri Krishna himself exhorted Arjuna not to run away from a righteous war, a dharma-yuddha?” It is also said by some who knew him, that like Tilak he also used to worship Kali or Bhawani before launching a major political campaign to gain divine blessing and strength.
All of this seems true enough, and would widely separate Bose from the garden variety of Nehruvian Secularists and Marxists who are, by design, hostile to the Hindu dharma without many exceptions.
And still, when it came to understanding Islam and its objectives, as a thinker and as a leader, it must be said that Bose was not very different from the other Marxist-Secularists. Bose is really an uncomforting case in point, that even deeply religious Hindus, of excellent intellectual gifts, untiring patriotism and great leadership acumen, can remain utterly gullible to the Islamic propaganda and keep causing self-injury to the nation. Bose remained deluded throughout his life when it came to understanding Islam, its goals & objectives and its history, and particularly its encounter with India. Laden with deluded understanding of Islam, great men only cause greater harm.
His beliefs in secularism were no different from the Gandhi variety and can be summed up as follows: a) without Moslem approval neither can Swaraj be won, and what is more, nor was it worth winning without their support; b) the onus of Hindu-Moslem unity lied on the shoulders of the Hindus alone, and the Hindus should be willing to make unlimited and extreme sacrifices to that end; c) only by adjusting to the Moslem sensibilities and removing their ‘misgivings’ was it possible to achieve that unity; and therefore d) appeasing Moslems should be made a core and visible part of any program, which is what he conscientiously belaboured to do throughout his political career. In his hostility to Hindutva also he was quite virulent just like the other Marxist-secularists.
Imprint of the above is visible throughout his career, from the 1920s when he started as a Bengal congressman under Deshbandhu’s wings, to 1930s when he rose to the central Congress as the Leftist rallying point and was elected its President for two consecutive terms, to the 1940s’ Azad Hind Fauj campaign and the events leading to the partition.
Subhas Bose began his career in the 1920s under the wings of Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, the rising star in Bengal Congress, since Gandhi’s coup d’état at the center. As Gandhi’s deputy, the first significant program of Deshbandhu was his over-enthusiastic campaign for the holy cause of Khilafat. Most of the important leaders within Congress like Pandit Malaviya, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lajpat Rai, and Sardar Patel were clearly and rightly opposed to making Khilafat as a Congress program. Deshbandhu Das took it upon himself to open direct personal communications with them to garner their support to Khilafat. Malaviya refused to relent till the end, but Lajpat Rai finally acquiesced on the logic that if Britain came into possession or control of larger Moslem domains, it would only mean more Moslem influence on British policies, more moslem recruitment in armed forces, and undue pressure on India and Hindus.
Visionary Bipin Chandra Pal was opposed to congress taking up Khilafat. He later recorded in his Memories of My Life and Times, how he dreaded the “virus of pan-Islamism among the Indian Moslems” which Khilafat would invariably affect. In his 1921 presidential address, which was to be his last, Bipin Chandra Pal warned Gandhi against preferring hocus-pocus emotionalism over hard reasoning with his acidic speech, “you want to do magic while I try to give you logic.” (Bipin Chandra lived for another decade, but the rise in Central politics of Gandhi, and in Bengal of Deshbandhu Das and Bose brothers, practically elbowed out this visionary Hindu and hardliner of Lal-Bal-Pal fame, out of politics. He left Congress at this time, and died in 1932 in condition of abject poverty, refusing to accept help from his wealthy comrade Lajpat Rai. A true genius, one only needs to read his works to understand the depth of his understanding of Moslem question. It was the leaders like Pal and Lajpat Rai who could have won an Akhanda Swaraj, if such a thing was ever possible. It was largely under Pal’s influential leadership that Bengali Hindus defeated the Bengal partition of 1905. And today, while Bose brothers and Chittaranjan Das share between themselves a majority of prominent landmarks, roads, and establishments of Bengal to their name, Bipin Chandra Pal seems to have been almost deleted from the Bengali memory. We shall try to dedicate a separate exploration of Pal’s thought and work later. For now, let us return to Khilafat, Deshabandhu, and his deputy Subhas Bose.)
In justification of the rationale of generally aligning with the pan-Islamists, and using Islamic sentiments in Congress policy, Subhas Bose later wrote, “…Moplah Rebellion in Malabar in South India intensified the crisis… Afghanistan had entered into a treaty with Mustafa Kamal Pasha and this was followed by a treaty between Persia and Soviet Russia. In Egypt the nationalist Wafd Party of Syed Zaghlul Pasha was strong and active. Thus it was apparent that the entire Moslem world was combining against Great Britain and this had an inevitable reaction on Moslems of India…Government would be eager to compromise with Congress.”
While Khilafat movement failed, what it did achieve for the Moslems especially in Bengal was to only prove ruinous for the Hindus and India in the coming times. Muslim League, although born in Dhaka in 1906, did not have much of an organization nor support among Moslem masses in Bengal. Through the Khilafat agitation and over-enthusiastic support to it by Congress, there emerged a wide and deep fundamentalist Moslem organization across the state, same as all across India. It also created a renewed and distinctly radicalized Islamist consciousness among the younger Mohammedans — it would be this generation of Bengali Moslems incubated in the 1920s Khilafat Movement which in a couple of decades launched the Direct Action for Pakistan.
All these pro-Khilafatist Congress leaders in their fanciful secularist confusion utterly failed to recognize that underneath the Khilafat sentiment of Indian Moslems, there was absolutely no motivation for India’s own sake, but simply the emotional pan-Islam zeal which was in reality directly opposed to the wellbeing of India and could not have reconciled with the Indian Nationalism.
Subhas Bose was not against the principle of taking up Khilafat agitation, even in hindsight he only went so far as to regret its operating format. He wrote, “The real mistake in my opinion did not lie in connecting the Khilafat issue with the other national issues, but in allowing the Khilafat Committee to be set up as an independent organisation throughout the country, quite apart from the Indian National Congress…. If no separate Khilafat Committees had been organised and all Khilafatist Moslems had been persuaded to join the ranks of the Indian National Congress, they would probably have been absorbed by the latter when the Khilafat issue became a dead one.” And again at another place, “…the introduction of the Khilafat question into Indian politics was unfortunate. As has already been pointed out, if the Khilafatist Moslems had not started a separate organisation but had joined the Indian National Congress, the consequences would not have been so undesirable.”
Bose is only trying to put the blame somewhere else, to avoid recognizing the fundamentalism and separatism that is inherent in the Moslem psyche, behaviour, and creed. Because, at least in context of Bengal, right before Bose’s eyes, the above suggested line of his is what Bengal Congress under Deshbandhu had taken, that is to induct Khilafatist Moslems within the rank and file of Congress.
In name of Khilafat recruitment, Congress brought to its leadership positions within Bengal, such Moslems as Abdullahahel Baqi of Dinajpur, Muniruzzaman Islamabadi of Chitagong, Mawlana Akram Khan of 24-Parghanas, Shamsuddin Ahmed of Kushthia, and Ashrafuddin Ahmed Chowdhury of Tippera, some of which were quite openly fanatic. Most of these men would later wreck havoc on the Hindus, although Deshbandhu Das did not live to see it and Bose would not acknowledge it. Some of these like Mawlana Akram Khan were staunch Islamists and emerged as hardliners within the reinvigorated Muslim League in Bengal; he would later be instrumental in the making of (East) Pakistan.
Deshbandhu Das and Subhas Bose cultivated and helped Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy launch himself as a prominent politician of Bengal. Suhrawardy was the Secretary of the Khilafat Committee for a long time and along with the others he joined the Swaraj party bloc of Congress, by initiative of Deshbandhu. They jointly shared power in Calcutta Municipal Corporation after winning the elections of 1924, with Deshbandhu becaming the Mayor, Suhrawardy the Deputy-Mayor, and Bose the Chief Executive Officer. Soon, within a couple of years, like most other Moslems who had joined Congress during the Khilafat, Suhrawardy ditched it to pursue an illustrious career as a distinguished Muslim Leaguer. It would be under his watch as the Prime Minister of Bengal that the Direct Action in 1946 bathed Calcutta in blood; he would later become the fifth Prime Minister of the yet undivided Pakistan. But already in 1926 he was showing his colours when he stood by and defended the Muslim rioters who were arrested during the great Calcutta riot of that year, including personally intervening to secure bail of a notorious goon named Mina Peshawari, murderer of several Hindu slum-dwellers. Even after seeing the behavior of his enlightened Moslem colleagues, Bose would never realize the hoax of the so called ‘progressive Moslems’. He continued to persevere under this confusion till the end of his INA days when he would give leadership positions within Azad Hind Fauj to many such people who would later jump at the first opportunity and show their true Islamist colours. Secularists must be either extremely poor judges of characters, or bad learners from experience, or just way too optimistic.
Deshbandhu Das around this time made with the moderate Moslem leaders like Hakim Ajmal Khan what is known as the Bengal Hindu-Muslim Pact of 1923, which besides other things, for the first time anywhere in India, committed to providing reservations in the government jobs on a communal basis. In Bengal as many as 55% to 60% public jobs were agreed to be reserved for the Moslem candidates alone. This Bengal Pact although rejected by the national body of Congress in Kakinada that year from being adopted as an India-wide program, still established a policy direction in Congress for the time to come. Subhas Bose, a part of this program as a lieutenant of Chittaranjan Das, records, “Deshabandhu had drawn up an agreement between Hindus and Moslems, covering religious as well as political questions, but it had been rejected by the Coconada Congress in December 1923, on the ground that it conceded too much to the Moslems… There was a stormy debate and the political opponents of the Deshabandhu, joined by some reactionary Hindus, put up a formidable opposition.”
Lala Lajpat Rai was totally opposed to such a line. Having studied Islam in detail, he was convinced of the futility, and really the danger, of such policies being pursued by Bengal Congress. Around these days, in a secret letter to Deshbandhu Das, Lalaji wrote categorically, “I have devoted most of my time during the last six months to the study of Muslim history and Muslim Law and I am inclined to think that Hindu-Muslim unity is neither possible nor practicable… Assuming and admitting the sincerity of the Mohammedan leaders in the Non-Co-operation Movement, I think their religion provides an effective bar to anything of the kind. There is no finer Mohammedan than Hakim [Ajmal Khan] Sahab, but can any Muslim leader override the Koran? I can only hope that my reading of the Islamic Law is incorrect and nothing would relieve me more than to be convinced that it is so… I do honestly and sincerely believe in the necessity and desirability of Hindu-Muslim unity. I am also fully prepared to trust the Muslim leaders, but what about the injunctions of the Koran and the Hadis? The leaders cannot override them!” (A. Ghosh, Making of the Muslim Psyche, 1986)
Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the literary genius and arguably the Father of the modern Indian Novel, also tried to talk sense to C R Das, his close friend. Like Lajpat Rai, Sarat Chandra was an astute student of the Moslem situation. He had recently toured the rural Bengal especially in the East where Hindus were a minority, and seen the pattern of behavior of the Moslems there. He rightly felt that far from bringing about any Hindu-Moslem unity, such placatory gestures of “sacrifice” were a slippery slope and would only make Moslem bullies see “success” of their hardened attitude and demand more and more until there was nothing left. Anxious that these policies would only bring disaster upon the Hindus in Bengal and for whole of India, he took up the issue with C R Das, who himself being an accomplished Bengali poet shared a cordial friendship of long standing with him. But Sarat Chandra’s discussions with C R Das proved futile. In a discussion Deshbandhu Das simply told Sarat Chandra that since Moslems were soon going to replace Hindus from power anyway by their demographics, it was a fait accompli, better would be for the Hindus to accept the fate and let it happen peacefully! (We shall return to Sarat Chandra again in a while)
Like Subhas Bose, Deshbandhu Das was a very religious Hindu in his personal life; his mansion in Calcutta always resounding with Kirtans of vaishnava mandali in which he used to actively participate. As a spiritual retreat, in the June of 1923, C R Das travelled to Pondicherry to briefly stay with Shri Aurobindo whom as his attorney he had eloquently and successfully defended in the Alipore Bombing case about fifteen years back. Aurobindo also tried to enlighten Deshbandhu Das about futility of his policy of making the so called Hindu Moslem unity as a prerequisite for the national movement. Das held on to his opinion and went on to say so much that unless the so called communal questions were settled, in his view he would not even like the British to leave! (So records a letter of Shri Aurobindo to Mother that month.)
But such ideology within Bengal Congress only got amplified with Subhas Bose and his elder brother Sarat Bose after the death of C R Das in 1925.
As the CEO of Calcutta Corporation, Subhas Bose outdid C R Das, who had only proposed 55% communal reservation that too in Moslem-majority districts which Calcutta was not. Subhas Bose appointed in Calcutta Corporation, 25 Mohammedans out of 33 vacant posts, not on the grounds of any merit, but for their creed. He said, “In (the) past Hindus have enjoyed what maybe regarded monopoly in matters of appointments. The claims of Mohammedans, Christains and Depressed Classes have to be favourably considered, though it is sure to give rise to a certain amount of heart-burning among the Hindu candidates.” So he left 8 seats for these Hindus of both “depressed class” and otherwise, and the Anglo-Indians.
There is another less known episode that begs recalling from these same years when Subhas Bose was the CEO of Calcutta Corporation and Deshbandhu Das the Mayor, and Bengal Congress comfortably in their control. There is a shrine of Tarakeshwar Mahadev at Serampur, not far from Calcutta, which is one of the most popular temples in Bengal. The shrine had enjoyed patronage and endowments from the local Hindu Jamindars and Rajas for at least the last three or four hundred years, and was headed by the traditional Giris, one of the ten dashanamis. Sometime around these days allegations were made of financial impropriety against Satis Chandra Giri, the reigning Mahant of the shrine. Deshbandhu C R Das got involved and launched a movement of agitation what Congressmen called as Tarakeshwar Satyagraha. Under his leadership, hundreds of Congress volunteers from Calcutta dawned upon the shrine and started doing blockade, dharna and arrests. In face of such ugly protests that went on for many weeks, Satis Giri retired, giving charge to his disciple Prabhat Giri. Deshbandhu also got the shrine to agree to come under a management board which would abide to Congress decisions, would disclose to them its financials, and agree to spend parts of its endowment and donations to secular causes of “various nation-building activities.”
Subhas Bose, who was an observer and a participant of these activities, wrote: “As in the case of other holy shrines, there was considerable property attached to the temple… there were allegations against the Mohunt of Tarakeswar with regard to his personal character and to his administration of the endowed property.… pressure was brought to bear on the Bengal Congress Committee…. Deshbandhu launched a movement for taking peaceful possession of the temple and the attached property, with a view to placing them under the administration of a public committee.…”
The temple remained in physical control of these Congress-satyagrahis until a third party of Hindus in Bengal, particularly the managers of the other temples under a body they formed called Bangal Brahman Sabha, filed a litigation against them in the Calcutta court. After a year of the heated legal battle, the Court finally decided in Sabha’s favour, asking congress workers to vacate the temple possession and hand it over to the Sabha and the new Mahant. But even now the Satyagrahis were in the attitude to defy the court order and continue their “satyagraha”. Gandhi had since beginning not liked this program and had even brought it up in a meeting with C R Das in Darjeeling that year. Finally he had to intervene and publish a signed appeal in Amrit Bazar Patrika on July 9, 1925 to call off the agitation and hand over the temple control. The then Bengal Governer wrote about this Tarakeshwar Satyagraha as ‘Hoax of a Movement’.
Bengal Congress gave it up but not without passing a resolution condemning the court order and the Bengal Brahman Sabha. Some years later, Congress minister Taraknath Mukherjee of Fazlul Haque government got a legislation passed in Bengal Assembly called the ‘Tarakeswar Temple Bill of 1941’, which explicitly set aside the earlier court verdict, and placed the temple management and its property under a public committee with government oversight, along with the provision to spend the excess temple funds for miscellaneous “social purposes”. The whole episode tells us something about the eagerness of those who call themselves secular to meddle in the temple management and its funds, then just like now.
All through, while the Bengal Congress was busy making the Muslim appeasement policies, the Bengal and especially the eastern Moslem-dominated rural parts continued to be rocked by riots. Many stories of atrocities, pillage, rape and temple-desecrations used to reach Calcutta. Major riots broke out in Calcutta itself in 1926, with prminent Moslems like Suhrawardy openly supporting the rioters as mentioned before, and it was in its wake that the 1926 session of Congress took place.
Krishnanagar Session of Bengal Congress in 1926 must have been a historic moment in a unique sense. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay attended it as an observer, and presented a paper in Bangla on the Hindu-Moslem communal issue entitled ‘Bortoman Hindu-Musalman Somosya’. Backing up by sound arguments he made a strong pitch to Congress leaders that the unity of Hindus and Moslems was impractical in the ways they were trying, and the history of Islam in India does not support it. He argued that instead of pursuing the mirage of Hindu-Muslim unity, what was pertinent and more desired at the time, was unity within the Hindu community by putting to end the curse of treating a section of the Hindus as low castes. Said Sarat Chandra, “If we go by the lessons of history we have to accept that the goal of Hindu-Muslim unity is a mirage. When Muslims first entered India, they looted the country, destroyed the temples, broke the idols, raped the women and heaped innumerable indignities on the people of this country. Today it appears that such noxious behaviour has entered the bone-marrow of Muslims. Unity can be achieved among equals. In view of the big gap between the cultural level of Hindus and Muslims which can hardly be bridged, I am of the view that Hindu-Muslim unity which could not be achieved during the last thousand years will not materialise during the ensuing thousand years. If we are to drive away the English from India depending upon this elusive capital of Hindu-Muslim unity, I would rather advise its postponement.”
But Sarat Chandra would not have impressed Subhas Bose, who was at this time imprisoned in Burma, and his lessons in history were very different. Subhas Bose wrote, “…the distinction between Hindu and Muslim of which we hear so much nowadays is largely an artificial creation, a kind of Catholic-Protestant controversy in Ireland, in which our present-day rulers have had a hand. History will bear me out when I say that it is a misnomer to talk of Muslim rule when describing the political order in India prior to the advent of the British. Whether we talk of the Moghul Emperors at Delhi, or of the Muslim Kings of Bengal, we shall find that in either case the administration was run by Hindus and Muslims together, many of the prominent Cabinet Ministers and Generals being Hindus. Further, the consolidation of the Moghul Empire in India was effected with the help of Hindu commanders-in-chief.”
So, blame the British, blame the Hindu, blame everyone but the Moslems and the fundamental separatism that is inherent in Islam. At least Moslems had no such fancy ideas about the pre-British era being a Hindu-Moslem joint rule, and were clear that it was a Dar-ul-Islam-i-Hind which British and before them Marathas had subjugated, and which must be restored back by either driving away or supporting the British. As to the Hindu Generals in the Moghal Army, obviousely we dont expect Bose to have come across the Moslem historians like Badayuni and Mulla Shirin who gleefully explain the concept of how “Hindus (were made to) bear the sword of Islam”. One only wishes Bose had taken the benefit of consulting Jadunath Sarkar’s volumes on Awrangzib, Mughal era, and Shivaji, which were published only a few years back and might have given him better insights in Hindu-Muslim History.
Continued in the next post…