“My mental attitude towards Muslims, in general, was largely, though unconsciously, influenced by my early contacts. The quarter in which we lived was predominantly Muslim, and our neighbours were mostly Muslims.” This is what Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose wrote in his incomplete autobiography, An Indian Pilgrim.
Bose never believed that Hindus and Muslims are any different as citizens of India. He believed in the syncretic culture and always argued that the Hindu-Muslim animosity was a result of British policies. In the same autobiography, he noted, “the distinction between Hindu and Muslim of which we hear so much nowadays is largely an artificial creation, a kind of Catholic—Protestant controversy in Ireland, in which our present-day rulers have had a hand.
Netaji meeting with Foreign delegates
History will bear me out when I say that it is a misnomer to talk of Muslim rule when describing the political order in India before the advent of the British. Whether we talk of the Moghul Emperors at Delhi, or of the Muslim Kings of Bengal, we shall find that in either case the administration was run by Hindus and Muslims together.”
The ideas developed by Bose were not taught to him by books but were developed through lived experiences. He lived in an area where Muslims lived around him. For those Muslims, his father was a father figure. Bose recalled, “We took part in their festivals, like the Moharrum, for instance, and enjoyed their akhara. Among our servants were Muslims who were as devoted to us as the others. At school, I had Muslim teachers and Muslim classmates with whom my relations - as also the relations of other students - were perfectly cordial. I cannot remember ever to have looked upon Muslims as different from ourselves in any way, except that they go to pray in a mosque.”
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose meeting with Foreign counterparts
It is not a surprise that Bose never nursed any communal feelings, though he was a deeply religious man himself. He believed that being a patriot or a traitor has nothing to do with religious belief. In several of his speeches and writings, he pointed out that Nawab Siraj ud Daula was a Muslim whose loyal commander was a Hindu while Muslim ministers defected to the English side at the battle of Plassey. Similarly, he invoked Bahadur Shah Zafar and Tipu Sultan several times.
He adopted the springing tiger of Tipu Sultan on the flag and gave a call for march unto Delhi at the tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar in Burma (now Myanmar). On 26 September 1943, Bose paid tribute to Bahadur Shah in a ceremony at his tomb. On the occasion, he pledged for the freedom of India “before a sacred memorial, before the mortal remains of the last fighter of India’s freedom, the man who was emperor among men and at the same time, a man among emperors…… We Indians regardless of religious faiths, cherish the memory of Bahadur Shah not because he was the man who gave the clarion call to his countrymen to fight the enemy from without, but because he was the man under whose flag fought Indians from all provinces, Indians professing different religious faiths.”
Portrait of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose
When the whole nation was disguised by the British in the name of democratic parity and Congress also accepted Muslim League as the legitimate voice of Muslims, Bose had different views. On the eve of the Simla Conference, in a radio broadcast, he cautioned the Indian leadership that by protesting against the equal quota of Muslims in the Executive Council they were getting themselves into a trap laid by the British.
Bose said, “our objection should not be to Muslims getting a majority of seats on the Executive Council. The moot question is what type of Muslims will come into the Executive Council. If we have Muslims of the type of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Asaf Ali, and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, the destiny of India will be safe. And I believe that it is only right to give all the freedom to such patriots. There is no difference between a patriotic Hindu and a patriotic Muslim.” He understood that idea was not to give Muslims representation but to increase the number of their sympathizers of the Muslim League and also to further the Hindu-Muslim divide in India.
Bose’s idea of India had Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, Christians, etc. as its equal citizen where the only difference is their commitment to the nation.