Lodi Garden never fails to amaze you with its exuberant greenery in the heart of Delhi; a more scenic and striking place couldn't have been better for our first book discussion on Nehru and Bose: Parallel Lives by Rudrangshu Mukherjee. Salil Misra, Professor of History at Ambedkar University Delhi graciously agreed to be our discussant. He started with giving a brief synopsis of the book and tracking the parallel lives of these two dauntless nationalists from the point of their return home, through their unfruitful struggles to radicalise the Congress, to their final parting of ways in the late 1930s on the issue of Bose's offset victory as president of that umbrella nationalist body. In between these two personalities, fell the shadow of Gandhi in India, and of Mussolini and Hitler in Europe, and a militarised Japan to our east. The Mahatma played an important role in both of their lives and he's considered the reason behind their decision to go their separate ways.
The book is an exceptional piece of work and is a remarkably readable for the non-fiction genre. Professor Salil also praised the book for portraying the lives of both Nehru and Bose in a non-partisan manner. Normally, during comparisons, the author's previous notions cloud the events but this book especially is considered notably fair. Both Nehru and Bose were the product of their times but both of them played such a significant role that they affected their times. The discussion moved on to the conspiracy surrounding Subhash's death. Professor Salil explained that during World War II, a large number of Indians were recruited to fight the Axis powers but many of them were captured and kept in Japan. There was a looming question of what might be done with them and a decision was arrived that they'll be released but made to fight from the other side. This was called the Indian National Army and their main aim was to free India from the British rule. Before they even reached India, Bose was killed after his overloaded Japanese plane crashed. Many conspiracy theories had come up as lack of evidence created many speculations but the book takes care of all of them. Another question that was raised was how important a role did INA play in the decision of British to leave India. The answer to that was not much. The British left India because its pillars collapsed. The British had created a support system and they ruled India with the support of its citizens. Gandhi primarily focused on withdrawing that support. By 1945, this became a reality. The Army went soft, the policemen became lenient and in many instances the Services began to help people rather than attack them. Secondly, new superpowers were slowly emerging and changing the dynamics of the world. England realised that they will win the War but will be reduced to a secondary power and as a result will have to slowly give up its colonies. Thirdly, Quit India which was a civil disobedience movement launched during the Second World War became a major factor for British to leave India. Another important point that was raised was that did Gandhi not like Subhash Chandra Bose. This was answered by explaining that Mahatma Gandhi was a pan India leader. He had employed 'agents' across states who would keep him updated. In Bengal, Bose was asked to report but Gandhi did not really trust him. He believed that Bose was not capable enough to take care of Bengal. It is true that there were serious differences between Gandhi and Bose but they were not rivals. Gandhi referred to him as his 'prodigal son' and it was Bose who coined the term 'Father of the Nation'. For instance, when Bose became General of the INA, he gave very clear instructions to the Army that he's only temporarily leading them and as soon as they reach Delhi, they only follow Gandhi's mandates. The main difference between Nehru and Bose with respect to Gandhi was that if Nehru differed in opinion with the Mahatma, he never spoke about it in public whereas Bose was very vocal about his thoughts.
This is the first of the discussions by Delhi Heritage Walks’ Book Club. Each month we will invite a scholar to discuss a book on history at a venue which is relevant to the theme. Through this initiative we hope to reach out to a wider audience which is non-academic but interested in history, to discuss issues of contemporary relevance and share the pleasures and frustrations of a historian’s work. This would be a great opportunity to engage with scholars, expand your understanding of history, share your opinion, and of course, make friends!
(posted by Medhavi Hassija, team member, Delhi Heritage Walks)