New Delhi, Oct. 3: If Subhas Chandra Bose was alive during Independence, and, going a little further, if he had become India’s first Prime Minister, what would he have done' It’s a question that Anton Pelinka does not toss aside as naive, romantic, hypothetical or plain inane but answers patiently.
“I doubt Bose could have prevented Partition. Bose partisans will agree he would have opposed it but I doubt anyone could have opposed Partition, which was a pre-condition of Independence. India didn’t have much of a chance otherwise,” says Pelinka, Bose’s Austrian biographer.
Pelinka, a professor of political science at the Innsbruck University and director of the Institute of Conflict Research in Vienna, was in the capital to release his book, Democracy Indian Style: Subhas Chandra Bose and the Creation of India’s Political Culture. The book, he says, balances chapters that explain Bose’s life and career with those that describe and analyse the Indian political system. Bose is used as a link between the two strands.
Explaining why Bose would have accepted Partition, Pelinka says: “He had the ability to adapt, he was pragmatic.” However, the writer was less sure if Bose would have gone for the Westminster parliamentary model incorporating elements of US-type federalism as it exists in India.
“Confronted with potentially centrifugal forces of different religions and languages, he would have opted for an enlightened dictatorship. If I can draw out a bit, he would have behaved like Nehru who was a democrat and a secularist. Bose was a secularist and because he was secular, he would have turned a democrat because Indian democracy implies certain elements which make the difference between the Congress and the BJP less different. You have to fulfil certain demands to govern,” Pelinka says.
He believes that Bose had little in common with the BJP’s philosophy and ideology, although the party has appropriated him into its pantheon of political icons.
“If Bose were alive, he would have been in agreement with post-Nehruvian foreign policy. A strong India, a nuclear India was certainly not (Mohandas) Gandhi’s vision nor perhaps Nehru’s but it is Bose’s India. India should be exactly like how the world powers behave. But only in that respect.
“Like Gandhi, Netaji thought of giving visible preferential treatment to minorities. As head of a government in exile and leader of the Indian National Army, he envisaged a language merging Urdu and Hindi but he did not favour Hindi. So Hindi and Hindu-based nationalism cannot claim Bose. Of his three army commanders, one was Muslim, one Sikh and one Hindu. His message was to give Muslims and Sikhs a niche,” says Pelinka.
The biographer felt Bose would have agreed with affirmative action for historically under-privileged sections.
But he also stresses that his biography — which is not “traditional” — brings out the several contradictions in Bose’s political beliefs, the main being how he was the leader of the Congress’ Left wing and an ally of the Nazis. “In the 30s, liberal democracy was on the retreat. Bose thought liberal democracies in France and Britain were on the losing side of history but he was wrong.”
This was because unlike Nehru, who was influenced by Fabian Socialism, Pelinka thinks Bose did not make a distinction between European fascism and British imperialism.
The biography is set between 1933 and 1936 when Bose used Vienna as the headquarters for his European network. It was released by former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral on Tuesday.
“There were two important inputs in the Vienna period. He openly challenged Gandhi and the non-violence doctrine. Gandhi was a successful leader but he was aging. A younger generation was set to take over the Indian National Congress and it was visible in Vienna that Bose was not Gandhi’s follower,” Pelinka says.