Bose at Haripura

Netaji, Bose

Subhas Chandra Bose. (File Photo: IANS)

I am not so presumptuous as to think for one moment that I am in anyway worthy of that great honour. I regard it as a mark of your generosity and as a tribute to the youths of our country, but for whose cumulative contribution to our national struggle, we would not be where we are today.

It was the 51st session of the Congress at Haripura, a small village near Bardoli in Surat district of Gujarat, from 19 to 22 February 1938 when Subhas Chandra Bose paid his tribute to the youths of our country with those words. January is a month dedicated to Bose, with celebrations marking Netajis birth anniversary. We acknowledge him as an icon of the youth and his popularity has not dimmed with the passage of time.

Few would be aware of the insight into global history which Bose provided in the Haripura presidential address. The address, historians have noted, is the lengthiest and most important speech he gave during his lifetime to a truly national audience.


Bose began by taking a birds-eye view of the entire panorama of human history, the first thing that strikes us is the rise and fall of empires. In the East as well as in the West, empires have invariably gone through a process of expansion and after reaching the zenith of prosperity, have gradually shrunk into insignificance and sometimes death.

The Roman empire of the ancient times and the Turkish and Austro-Hungarian empires of the modern period are striking examples of this law. The empires in India ~ the Maurya, the Gupta and the Mogul empires ~ are no exceptions to this rule, he commented. In the face of these objective facts of history, can anyone be so bold as to maintain that there is in store a different fate for the British Empire?

That empire stands today at one of the crossroads of history. It will either go the way of other empires or it must transform itself into a federation of free nations. Either course is open to it. The Czarist Empire collapsed in 1917 but of its debris sprang the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. There is still time for Great Britain to take a leaf out of Russian history.

He boldly questioned: Will she do so?” Bose does not mince his words, nor does he sugar-coat his analysis of the British Empire and its imperialistic policies highly detrimental and ruinous for Indias economy at every level. He said, The British Empire is a hybrid phenomenon in politics. It is a peculiar combination of self-governing countries, partially self-governing dependencies and autocratically-governed colonies.

Constitutional device and human ingenuity may bolster up this combination for a while, but not for everapart from external pressure, the empire is sure to break down under its own strain. But can the British empire transform itself into a federation of free nations with one bold sweep? It is for the British people to answer this question.

He spelt out his perspective, One thing, however, is certain. This transformation will be possible only if the British people become free in their own homes ~ only if Great Britain becomes a socialist state. There is an inseparable connection between the capitalist ruling classes in Great Britain and the colonies abroad.

His appeal for socialism was at the core of the address, also at the heart of his political ideology. He quoted V I Lenin, the Russian leader, saying, As Lenin pointed out long ago, reaction in Great Britain is strengthened and fed by the enslavement of a number of nations.

The British aristocracy and bourgeoisie exist primarily because there are colonies and overseas dependencies to exploit. The emancipation of the latter will undoubtedly strike at the very existence of the capitalist ruling classes in Great Britain and precipitate the establishment of a socialist regime in that country. Bose, like Jawaharlal Nehru, his close ally, had a much wider global view of politics.

On socialism in Great Britain, he said, it should be clear that a socialist order in Great Britain is impossible of achievement without the liquidation of colonialism we, who are fighting for the political freedom of India and other enslaved countries of the British empire, are incidentally fighting for the economic emancipation of the British people as well. In Haripura, the military strategist in Bose emerges strong and clear.

In many ways, he was spelling out the future strategy. The British empire at the present moment is suffering from strain in the extreme West, there is Ireland and in the extreme East, India. In the middle lies Palestine with the adjoining countries of Egypt and Iraq. Outside the empire, there is the pressure exerted by Italy in the Mediterranean and Japan in the Far East, both of these countries being militant, aggressive and imperialist. Against this background of unrest stands Soviet Russia, whose very existence strikes terror into the heart of the ruling classes in every imperialist state.

How long can the British Empire withstand the cumulative effect of this pressure and strain?” He put his finger on the pulse of changes occurring in modern warfare, commenting, Today, Britain can hardly call herself the Mistress of the Seas. Her phenomenal rise in the 18th and 19th centuries was the result of her sea power. Her decline as an empire in the twentieth century will be the outcome of the emergence of a new factor in world history ~ Air Force.

It was due to this new factor, Air Force, that an impudent Italy could successfully challenge a fully mobilised British Navy in the Mediterranean. The Battle of Britain was years away but Bose knew the vulnerabilities of the islandnation. He said, Britain can rearm on land, sea and air up to the utmost limitAir force as a powerful element in modern warfare has come to stay.

Distances have been obliterated and despite all anti-aircraft defences, London lies at the mercy of any bombing squadron from a continental centre. In short, air force has destroyed the insularity of Great Britain and rudely disturbed the balance of power in world politics. The clay feet of a gigantic empire now stand exposed as these have never been before.

Bose is conscious that in this interplay of world forces India emerges much stronger than she has ever been before. He said, Ours is a vast country with a population of 350 million. Our vastness in area and in population has hitherto been a source of weakness. It is today a source of strength if we can only stand united and boldly face our rulers India is one and the hopes and aspirations of the people of British India and of the Indian states are identical.

Our goal is that of an Independent India and in my view that goal can be attained only through a federal republic in which the provinces and the states will be willing partners. The most natural reaction on reading Boses address is to echo his eternal slogan: Jai Hind.