Bose in Congress

A leftist, and a fiercely secular Bose was ideologically and personally very close to Nehru. It was the right wing of Congress he had more issues with.

Bose in Congress

Early days

Bose was born into a prosperous Bengali family in India, in 1897. Coming from an educated and privileged background, like Nehru, he too had studied in Cambridge, and had the opportunity to pursue a comfortable life, with a career in the Indian civil service (ICS).

Instead, Bose resigned from ICS, and joined the Indian National Congress in 1921. After the death of his mentor CR Das in 1925, Bose became the most popular leader of Bengal.

Bose was imprisoned in Mandalay during 1924-27, and contracted Tuberculosis during it. He was released on health grounds. 

In 1927, at the age of 30, he became general secretary of the Congress party. In late December 1928, Bose organised the Annual Meeting of the Congress in Calcutta. His most memorable role was as General Officer Commanding (GOC) Bengal Volunteer Corps. Author Nirad Chaudhuri wrote about the meeting:

Bose organized a volunteer corps in uniform, its officers being even provided with steel-cut epaulettes … his uniform was made by a firm of British tailors in Calcutta, Harman’s.


Mahatma Gandhi being a sincere pacifist vowed to non-violence, did not like the strutting, clicking of boots, and saluting, and he afterwards described the Calcutta session of the Congress as a Bertram Mills circus, which caused a great deal of indignation among the Bengalis.

Nevertheless, by the late 1920s, Bose and Nehru, two “Young Turks” had become youth icons.
One such young man, Bhagat Singh, wrote an article in July 1928 titled “Naye netaon ke alag-alag vichaar” (‘Varied thoughts of new leaders’, in Hindi) in which he compared Nehru and Bose and hailed them as great patriots and rising stars of the freedom movement. Although Bhagat Singh asked the youth of Punjab to follow Nehru, his article is a reliable indicator of growing charisma of both Nehru and Bose.

Relationship with Nehru

As a leftist himself, Bose was not only politically, ideologically close to Jawaharlal Nehru, but he also had a very good personal relationship with the Nehru family. He had great reverence for Motilal Nehru – a close associate of his mentor CR Das. Both Jawaharlal Nehru and Bose were modernists who had similar views on women’s empowerment and industrialisation of India.
Bose had faced several health issues with his fight against Tuberculosis. He was sent to a sanatorium at Bhowali in UP. As his condition worsened, the British offered to release him, provided he proceeded straight to Europe. Bose stayed in Vienna during 1933-36.
During the 1930’s, while Jawaharlal was in prison  in India, Subhas travelled from Vienna to Badenweiler to be with Kamala Nehru, who was also suffering from TB.  He remained there till Jawaharlal arrived after being released from prison.  When Kamala Nehru died, Subhas was there to help Jawaharlal and his daughter Indira (then 19) with the funeral arrangements. When Jawaharlal told Subhas that he was intending to set  up a foreign affairs department in the Congress, the latter was pleased since it was entirely in consonance with his views. [1]
Subhas returned to India in May 1936 and was soon arrested. Jawaharlal Nehru, who was the Congress President, gave a country-wide call to observe May 10, 1936 to put pressure on the British authorities to release him. Jawaharlal’s second consecutive term was  coming to end in 1937 and a suitable successor had to be found.  As the masses were solidly behind Bose, Gandhiji with his foresight, decided to back the candidature of Bose.  Though the rightist lobby led by Sardar Patel opposed him tooth and nail, the Mahatma supported hi and declared that
“there really was no one other than Subhas who deserved to become the “Rashtrapati”
Although Bose reassured Gandhians that he firmly believed in encouraging cottage industries, he was inclined, like Nehru, to embrace the idea of heavy industrialisation. Jawaharlal was away to Europe in 1938 but Bose wanted him back to take over as the Chairman of the National Planning Committee he proposed to set up for socio-economic reconstruction of the country when it became free.   He wrote to Nehru:
“You cannot imagine how I missed you all these months. Several problems will await solution till you are back. I hope you will accept the Chairmanship of the Planning Committee.”

Like Nehru, Bose was also fiercely secular in his outlook. In his book The Indian Struggle (first published in 1935), he sharply criticised the Hindu Mahasabha. Bose writes that [2]

‘the Hindu Mahasabha, like its Moslem counterpart, consisted not only of erstwhile Nationalists, but also of a large number of men who were afraid of participating in a political movement and wanted a safer platform for themselves’.
The charge was justified; for, unlike Bose, Nehru, Gandhi and Patel, each of whom spent many years in prison, the Hindutvawadis of the 1930s and 1940s chose not to challenge the British in any way.
During the presidency of 1939, the first thing that Bose did was to ban the dual membership of Congress and Mahasabha/Muslim League. He wrote an editorial in his forward bloc weekly on May 4, 1940 under the title of “Congress and Communal Organizations“.
‘That was a long time ago when prominent leaders of the congress could be members of the communal organisations like Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League. But in recent times, the circumstances have changed. These communal organisations have become more communal than before. As a reaction to this, the Indian National Congress has put into its constitution a clause to the effect that no member of a communal organisation like Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League can be a member of an elective committee of Congress.’

Dispute with Sardar Patel

While Bose was ideologically opposed to the “rightist” Vallabhbhai Patel, [3] he was personally and politically close to the latter’s elder brother Vithalbhai Patel.  Vithalbhai and Bose had met in a sanatorium in Vienna where both were convalescing in 1933.  When Gandhiji suspended the civil disobedience movement, they issued a strong worded joint statement, the Patel-Bose manifesto, calling for a new radical leadership of the Independence movement. (Vienna, May 1933):
“The time has therefore come for a radical reorganisation of the Congress on a new principle and new method — noncooperation will have to be changed into a more militant one.”
Vithalbhai had become so fond of Bose that he willed a portion of his fortune to him to be spent for the “political uplift of India and for publicity work on behalf of India’s cause in other countries”, just before his death in Oct 1933. But the will was challenged by Vithalbhai’s brother, Vallabhbhai Patel, and after a bitter court case, Bose didn’t receive a penny.

Out of Congress

At the 51st session of the Congress party at Haripura in 1938, Bose made sure that his entrance as the new Congress President would be spectacular. Escorted by 51 girls in saffron saris (the number corresponding with the number of the Congress session), he was seated in an ancient chariot drawn by 51 white bullocks, and taken on a two hour procession through 51 specially-constructed gates, accompanied by 51 brass bands. [4]
When Bose’s first term as Congress President came to an end, his re-election was opposed by the right wing of the Congress comprising Patel, Rajaji, Rajendra Prasad and Gobind Ballabh Pant. This pitted Patabhi Sitaramayya of Andhra against Bose.  In a keenly fought contest, Bose polled 1,580 votes against 1,375 of Sitaramayya.  The re-election of Bose was a big blow to the right-wing of the Congress led by Sardar Patel who had earlier stated that
“Subhas’s re-election is held to be harmful to country’s cause.”
Gandhi had backed Sitaramayya too and admitted to his defeat but, with his characteristic humility, added:
“After all, Subhas babu is not an enemy of his country. He has suffered for it.”
The differences with the Congress Working Committee and the President came to the fore with a resolution by Gobind Ballabh Pant, and eventually, Bose resigned from the Congress presidency on 29th April 1939. Two months later, he formed his own leftist party, The forward Bloc.

Some Popular myths

Nehru was anti-Bose

It is clear to see from the history above that Netaji was ideologically, and even personally closer to Nehru than many other leaders of Congress such as Sardar Patel. In fact, Netaji named the four brigades of INA as Nehru, Azad, Gandhi and Subhas.

Also, Nehru was a part of the team defending the 3 INA officers in the red fort trials.

As noted earlier, they were both very secular in their outlook. Bose chose ‘Jana Gana Mana’ as the anthem of the Provisional Government of Free India and rejected another candidate ‘Vande Mataram’ on the ground that the former was more secular. Similarly he preferred ‘Jai Hind’ for the salute. Later Nehru and his cabinet adopted most of these symbols for independent India.

There is a widespread photoshop hoax about a letter sent from Nehru to Attlee. On the day many of the Bose files were declassified, several right wing aligned journalists and Zee News were spreading variations of this letter this on social media. [5]


The source of this is supposedly from a testimony of a stenographer (Jain) to the GD Khosla commission investigating Netaji’s disappearance. However, GD Khosla commission investigated the claims about Nehru in great detail  and after examining all correspondence, news items, and other testimonies, came to the conclusions that [6]

5.4 ..But we find no evidence whatsoever of any hostility, recrimination or vindictiveness on the part of Nehru.


5.9 There is not the slightest evidence to indicate any feeling of hostility on the part of Nehru towards Bose

Similar attempts are also made by those seeking to undermine Mahatma Gandhi’s contribution to the Indian freedom, cooking up stories and conspiracy theories of various types.

Gandhi was responsible for Bose’s exit from Congress

This allegation tries to blame Gandhi personal dislike for Bose’s exit from Congress.

During the late 30’s-40s Congress was composed of both right wing and left wing leaders, sticking together under the leadership of Gandhi. It was the 3 Ps – Patel, Pant and Prasad, who represented the right wing. Nehru was a leftist, Bose even more so.

As noted above, soon after his exit from Congress, Bose formed the Forward Bloc in April 1939. A few months later, in August 1939 he launched a paper of the same name. In the first edition of his paper by the same name, in a lead article titled “Why Forward Bloc” Bose himself blamed the Right Wing of the congress for his untenable position as Congress president. Another lead article “Our critics” reiterates the same point two weeks later.

The growth and development of the Congress has taken place as the result of an inner urge which is primarily responsible for the birth of the Forward Bloc. Neither personal factors nor accidental circumstances can account for this new phenomenon in Indian politics.
Between 1936 and 1938 the Left Wing of the Congress has grown and developed as a result of co-operation with the Right. In September, 1938, the cry was first raised on behalf of the Right that co-operation with the Left was no longer possible and that the Left was becoming too noisy and troublesome to collaborate with. This new cry ultimately reached climax in 1939, when the Right Wing deliberately decided to end co-operation with the Left. What else is the deeper significance of the present-day insistence of the Rightists on a homogeneous Cabinet or Working Committee?
The time has therefore come for the Left Wing to differentiate itself from the Right and proceed to consolidate itself. When this is done, the Left will secure a majority within the Congress and then proceed to resume the struggle for independence in the name of the Indian National Congress. This is the task of the Left Wing today. To fulfil this task the Forward Bloc has come into existence.

The correspondence between Gandhi and Bose during the period after the re-election as president shows that Bose’s main problem was the CWC composition, and GB Pant’s resistance in letting the president have a dominant say about it.

We can certainly say that Gandhi did not take Bose’s side. Afterall, he had opposed the Bose re-election too. However, his biggest opponents, as Bose himself spells out, was not Gandhi, but the right wing of congress.

Soon after his departure, Bose also wrote to Nehru that he expected more open support from him and was disappointed that it didn’t come. Later Bose lamented that

“it will be tragic for me if I succeed in winning the confidence of other people but failed to win the confidence of India’s greatest man (Gandhi).”

It is worth pointing out that even the other leftists in he congress, like Congress Socialist Party (CSP), the socialist caucus of Congress led by JP Narayan also remained neutral in this conflict overall. According to Bose himself, the Pant resolution would have been defeated if the CSP had opposed it in the open session. J.P. Narayan stated that although the CSP was essentially supporting Bose’s leadership, they were not willing to risk the unity of the Congress.

Bose deplored Gandhi’s pacifism; Gandhi disagreed with Bose’s confrontations with the Raj, including the violent revolutionary actions of the Bengal Volunteers. However, they still had a degree of mutual respect for each other. On July 6, 1944 in his speech broadcast by Azad Hind Radio from Singapore, Bose began by seeking blessings from Gandhi for the war he was fighting. It was he who, for the first time, addressed Gandhi as the ‘Father of the Nation’.


Davar, Praveen. 2016. The other side of Subhash Chandra Bose. Business Standard, February 18.
Bose, Subhas Chandra. 1935. The Indian Struggle. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Guha, Ramachandra. 2015. The forgotten rivalry between Patel and Bose . Hindustan Times, April 25.
Montgomery, Andrew. 1994. Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle for Independence. Journal of Historical Research 14: 9–22.
Pandey, Rahul. 2016. They Had Their Differences, But Also Much Respect for Each Other.
Khosla, GD. 1970. Commission of Inquiry into the Disappearance of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS.
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