Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wept when he heard the news of the plane crash that “killed” Subhas Chandra Bose, a socialist friend with whom he had fallen out towards the end of the freedom movement, historian Rudrangshu Mukherjee recalled on Monday.
Amid a swirling controversy over reports that the Nehru government kept tabs on the Bose family for 20 years, Mukherjee and other historians said the two stalwarts shared a close bond despite the general perception that they were implacable opponents.
Bose’s relatives allege Nehru ordered the spying, fearing he would return and take over India’s leadership. Netaji reportedly died in an air crash in Taiwan on August 18, 1945, at the age of 48, but this has been disputed.
“The Nehru-Bose relationship was comradely and warm. They together built the youth leagues around the ideas of socialism and complete independence in the late 1920s,” said historian Mridula Mukherjee.
But cracks appeared after Bose, then president of the Indian National Congress, defeated Mahatma Gandhi’s candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya in the 1939 Tripuri session. Gandhi offered to part ways rather than endorse Bose’s working committee citing deep ideological disagreements.
Bose chose to step down and move out.
“Nehru was the only one in the Congress interceding with Gandhi on behalf of Bose, hoping Bose would not leave the Congress. But Bose left with the impression that Nehru could have done more,” said Rudrangshu Mukherjee, whose book Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives explores the crests and troughs in the friendship.
“Bose wrote to a friend that Nehru’s head was with socialism but his heart was with Gandhi,” he said. “He did not appreciate the Gandhi-Nehru personal bond.”
Mukherjee said the real breach came when Bose went over to the Axis powers, Germany and Japan. “Nehru could not accept this as he was committed to anti-fascism. He became deeply critical of Bose.”
Their relationship was very complex. “Bose called his brigades Gandhi Brigade and Nehru Brigade. He also called Gandhi Father of the Nation,” Mukherjee said. He sees “postmortem reconciliation” after the air crash. “Nehru was impressed by Bose’s heroism and secularism. He referred to Bose as Netaji.”