Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

Netaji’s relationship with Nehru, Gandhi and the Congress


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: INA Mutiny, INC and Bose

Mains level: Netaji and his contribution in immediate freedom attainment

In public discourse, the popular imagination of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose is increasing all across the length and breadth of our country these days.

Back in 2016, when there was ruckus over de-classification of some files associated with Netaji, a question too appeared in UPSC CSE Mains:


Q. Highlight the differences in the approach of Subhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi in the struggle for freedom.


We can expect a repetition again considering the scale of ongoing debate around Netaji and the vitality of his INA leading to immediate withdrawal of British rulers from India.

Also read:

Celebration of Parakram Diwas


The Bose-Gandhi rivalry is frequently understood as the biggest dichotomy of the Indian nationalist movement.

Bose: A complex character of freedom movement

  • Bose was a complex character. His complexity comes alive when one realizes his disagreement with the Congress leadership, when Bose took over the Indian National Army (INA).
  • He constituted four regiments, three of which were named after Gandhi, Nehru and Maulana Azad.
  • He had profound respect for his colleagues.
  • In 1943, while Gandhi was in jail, Bose on the former’s birthday gave a moving address over the Azad Hind Radio where he referred to Gandhi as ‘father of the nation’.
  • This was probably the first time this epithet was used for Gandhi, and soon it became ubiquitous.

Bose and his association with INC

  • Bose was a key member and a frontline leader of the Indian National Congress.
  • He plunged into the anti-colonial movement under Gandhi’s leadership in 1921 and rose to be the president of the Congress in 1938 and 39.
  • There were certain differences of opinion with the Gandhian high command in 1939, but he remained true to the Congress ideal of freedom.

Joining the Indian National Congress

  • On July 16, 1921, Bose had returned to Bombay from London where he had gone on his father’s insistence to prepare for the Indian Civil Services examination.
  • Despite qualifying for the services he had refused to take up the opportunity.
  • Such was Bose’s zeal to join the freedom struggle that on the very afternoon he arrived in India he went to meet Gandhi at Mani Bhawan.

Relations with the mainstream leaders

(A) Bose vs. Gandhi

  • Bose wanted to know how the different aspects of the movement were going to culminate in the non-payment of taxes, the last stage of the campaign.
  • Secondly, he wanted to know how the non-payment of taxes would eventually force the British to leave and thirdly how Gandhi could promise Swaraj in one year.
  • On Gandhi’s advice Bose moved to Calcutta, where he worked closely with the lawyer and Congress leader C R Das.
  • As president of the Congress, his first disagreement with Gandhi happened in December 1938 when Bose was eager to form a coalition government in Bengal along with the Krishak Praja Party.
  • The following year, Bose was hopeful for re-election as Congress president. A second term was very rare and Gandhi was pretty much against the idea of re-electing Bose.
  • Bose found support from the younger and left leaning members of the Congress and also from the literary giant Rabindranath Tagore.
  • Tagore had personally written to Gandhi requesting a second term for Bose. However, Bose was aggrieved to know that Gandhi saw this as a ‘personal defeat’.

(B) Bose vs. Nehru

  • Both leaders were of same age, similar political leanings and often finding themselves frustrated by Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence.
  • However, while Nehru was starry-eyed in his reverence for Gandhi, Bose though immensely respectful of Gandhi, found his political strategies to be ambiguous.
  • Bose and Nehru had been in prison at that time and both expressed disappointment and anger over unilateral withdrawal of non-cooperation movement over Chauri Chaura incident.
  • Both were left-leaning radical men, unswerving in their commitment to ‘purna swaraj’ and to the forming of a socialist state in independent India.
  • When Bose sought the support of the Nazi government in Germany, he found himself ideologically at the farthest end to Nehru’s views.

(C) Bose vs. Patel

  • In response to Bose’s re-election, several members of the Congress Working Committee resigned including Vallabhbhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad.
  • Patel had an old rivalry with Bose, which was both personal and political.
  • Their relationship had deteriorated rapidly with the death of Patel’s elder brother Vithalbhai in 1933.
  • Bose had been very close to Vithalbhai and had nursed him during his last days.
  • In his will, Vithalbhai had left a substantial portion of his property to Bose.
  • Vallabhbhai had cast aspersions on the authenticity of the will and a long legal battle had followed culminating in the victory of Patel.

As Congress president

  • In February 1938 Bose had taken over as president of the Congress and the next two years would be defining in creating his political profile as a Congressman and in drawing the rift with Gandhi and Nehru.
  • At the Haripura session of the Congress, Bose made his presidential address, which is known to be the lengthiest and most important speech he ever made to the party.
  • He made it clear that he stood for unqualified Swaraj.
  • However, it needs to be noted that nowhere in the speech did Bose suggest any criticism or deviation from Gandhi’s methods.

Resignation from INC

  • On April 29, 1939 Bose resigned from his post as president of the Congress Party.
  • In a statement to the press, he mentioned the efforts he had made to find a common ground with Gandhi.
  • These having failed, he felt his presidency may be a sort of obstacle or handicap in the path of the Congress as it sought to reconcile its two wings.

Life after leaving Congress

(A) World War II

  • In September 1939 German tanks invaded Poland, marking the beginning of the Second World War.
  • The war was to have a most significant impact in the history of modern India.
  • Bose was a special invitee in the three-day meeting of the Congress Working Committee from September 9 to decide India’s position on the war.
  • For Bose, the war served as a golden opportunity for India to launch a civil disobedience movement in order to win independence.
  • For Bose the stance taken by the resolution to support British was completely unacceptable.
  • Nehru had nothing but hatred towards Fascism and Nazism and sought for some concessions from the British government to fight Mussolini and Hitler.

(B) Escape to Germany

  • Bose organized mass protests in Calcutta for the removal of the Holwell monument that stood in Dalhousie Square as a memorial to those who died in the Black Hole of Calcutta.
  • He was arrested by the British government for the protests, but was released soon after he went into a seven-day hunger strike.
  • Bose’s arrest and the subsequent release set the scene for him to escape to Germany via Afghanistan and the Soviet Union.

After Netaji’s demise ( rather disappearance)

  • It is also worth noting that at the end of the Second World War, Nehru put on his barrister’s gown and joined the defense team for the INA prisoners at the time of the Red Fort trials.
  • In the several speeches of Nehru after Bose’s death, the former referred to Netaji in the most affectionate way.
  • In August 1947, in his first speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Nehru mentioned only two people by name and were Gandhi and Bose. It was quite a warm reference.


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