Opinion: What made Netaji Subhas Bose an exemplary leader

Written By: Sumit Mukerji
Kalyani, West Bengal, India Updated: Feb 12, 2018, 11:56 AM(IST)

Soldiers of INA viewed Netaji not only with awestruck admiration and magnetic fascination but also treated him as one who was near and dear to them and whom they could give anything he asked for. Photograph:( Others )

When Subhas Chandra Bose emerged as Netaji or supreme commander of the Azad Hind Fouz, the people of East Asia gave him not only their spontaneous allegiance but also something which few military leaders ever get from the people, that is, love. To many of them, he seemed to be God incarnate. They viewed him not only with awestruck admiration and magnetic fascination but also treated him as one who was near and dear to them and whom they could give anything he asked for. 


Mr Vaswani, a Sindhi businessman from the Philippines, who was the President of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines has testified that before seeing Netaji they were motivated only by pecuniary considerations but his magical personality aroused them from their self-centered torpor and they supplied not only funds to Netaji but 50 businessmen came forward to join the Azad Hind Fouz.  


Vaswani found Netaji to be an inspired man, a patriot of patriots. And Vaswani was not the only one. A sugar merchant handed over the key of his factory to Netaji. 


From the diary of Asha San of  Rani of Jhansi Regiment, dated October 24, 1943, it is known that the contributions to the Azad Hind fund were absolutely voluntary and never extorted by coercion. Sacrifice for Mother India and Netaji were the only feelings of the common people. An old man stood in front of Netaji and said ‘I have given my wife, son and property to you. Now give me and my wife some chance to work for you.’ They were immediately employed in one of the Azad Hind camps.  


There is another touching story of a decrepit beggar woman contributing three rupees to Netaji in a huge gathering at Rangoon for donations to the National Bank established there by the Provisional Government of the Azad Hind Fouz. Netaji accepted it with tears in his eyes, realising that the poor woman would perhaps have to starve the next day and yet he felt duty-bound to honour her nationalism which was no less than that of others who contributed larger amounts. 


When Netaji addressed a public meeting at Singapore on July 9, 1943, people listened to him in the midst of torrential rain and it was here that he greeted the congregation with his famous incantation 'Jai Hind'. Lacs of Malayan dollars flowed into the fund of the Indian National Army(INA) and women happily parted with their jewelry.  


How did he achieve such allegiance without an iota of coercion? Asha San in her diary of June 27, 1943, attributes this to his power of mesmerizing people and penetrating into the innermost recesses of their heart which Hitler, Mussolini, Sukarno and others could never do. The fact of the matter is that Subhas Chandra Bose led from the front through personal example. 


The seeds of a born leader were planted in the character of Subhas in his early days.  He was rusticated from Presidency College for the assault on Prof. Oaten though there was no proof that he hit him.  Had he divulged the names of the culprits before the Enquiry Committee he would have been exonerated but he refused to do so and chose to carry to the Cross of Christ himself. Would any student leader of today jeopardize personal career like this? 


From the testimony of Kalicharan Ghosh, it is known that during the flood relief campaign in North Bengal in 1922, Subhas used to lead from the front and visit the most perilous places himself first before asking others. His leg was full of blisters. The noted writer Narayan Ganguly has testified that during the flood in North Bengal in 1931, Subhas noted that most volunteers hesitated to wade with sacks of rice in knee-deep water. Seeing that, he instantly picked up a sack on his shoulders and stepped into the water.  Others followed him immediately.  When he was the Chief Executive Officer of Calcutta Corporation, Subhas himself started to clean the garbage at the Sealdah junction with a spade in his hand. Soon a crowd gathered round him and joined in his work and Calcutta became free from garbage in three days. This exemplary leadership was best manifested in the INA phase. 


During the retreat of the INA, Netaji walked on foot with his soldiers for 10 miles from the Sitang river and refused to accept any special arrangement and took whatever food the soldiers were given as testified by S.A Ayer in his book 'Unto Him a Witness'. 


When Janki Thevar asked him to open his boots and take rest during the retreat on April 29, 1945, his entire leg was found to be full of blisters with which he walked mile after mile, refusing angrily to travel by motor when his comrades were straggling on foot. 


From the testimony of Shaz Nawaz Khan in 'My Memories of INA and its Netaji' has stated that he won the hearts of the people of East Asia by sharing their pains and sorrows. He left no stone unturned to ensure the comfort of the soldiers by personally inspecting kitchens and hospitals. He issued strict instructions that he would take the same food that was cooked for the soldiers. 


From the testimony of Satyendra Nath Bose, it is known that Netaji regularly visited the wounded soldiers at the Burma State Hospital and to them he seemed just like God. B. G Kaul in 'The Untold Story' has recalled that a soldier who had promised Netaji that he would set his foot on Indian soil kept his word but was mortally wounded during the Burma campaign. Before breathing his last he told his senior officer ‘Tell Netaji I have kept my word.’ Kaul related this story to Jawaharlal Nehru who was visibly moved by it.  


Netaji was probably the only leader in the world who was adored, revered and loved because he could cement an indissoluble spiritual bond of kinship with his fellowmen. 


(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)  

Sumit Mukerji

Sumit Mukerji is professor of Political Science and Director, Centre for Studies on Bengali Diaspora at University of Kalyani.
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