India’s Destiny: Roles of Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

By: Ashok Kumar Panda, Senior Advocate &

Aniruddha Purushotham, Advocate

Introduction

The object of this thesis is to decipher and analyse India’s destiny, in the context of the struggle for freedom, in the first half of the twentieth century. The roles and mission of Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar are central to our understanding of the developments, political and social, which culminated in India attaining political freedom in 1947. All these stalwarts have made their singular marks on the political map of India and our history during this period cannot be construed without a proper understanding of their role and their personal motivations. For these are the men who helped in shaping India’s destiny. Each one of them sublimated their personal suffering and humiliation in taking the country forward in its struggle against British Colonialism.

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi, who grew up as an admirer of British culture and education had his first brush with colonial power in South Africa, when he was thrown out the first-class coach because of the colour of his skin. That was the moment, when Gandhi’s soul was awakened and he made it his life’s mission to espouse the cause of emancipation and struggle against British tyranny. The life story of Mahatma Gandhi is that of gradual awakening of his self on various issues such as Indian independence, emancipation of castes, democracy at the grassroot level.

Gandhi’s concept of Swaraj was also marked by a process of evolution. Immediately coming back from South Africa, and travelling the country as a commoner, Gandhi developed ‘Hind Swaraj’, which he wrote in 1908. Gandhi’s ‘Hind Swaraj’ is the central doctrine of his political philosophy which is based on moral and ethical considerations. It can be called as ‘Gandhi’s Gita’. The ‘Hind Swaraj’ epitomized his political roadmap of India.

Gandhi throughout his political career stood by the basic concepts of Hind Swaraj, being liberation of the individual from State, Caste and Religion. He always emphasized on grassroot democracy, satyagraha and non-violence, absence of exploitation prevalent in Industrial economies. The focus of Hind Swaraj was liberation from the British colonialism, which was gradual in character. Initially he advocated home rule, a kind of autonomy for India within the British Dominion and gradually it developed into the concept of complete independence from British rule (purnaswaraj).

Gandhi authored this work in a span of ten days, on his voyage back to London from South Africa. His motive behind this piece is drawn from his interactions with nationalists who perpetuated the Indian Cause from England by promoting armed struggle to attain independence. Dismayed by their faltered philosophy, he felt duty bound to promulgate his philosophy, which he believed would yield the right results, without the need of a sacrificial lamb.

Gandhi’s ideas on Satyagraha and nonviolence developed in response to and in contradistinction from the concept of armed struggle being advocated by the Nationalists, including Sri Aurobindo, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Gandhi’s idea on the emancipation of the Dalits, known at that time as the Depressed Classes, also developed gradually and mainly in response to the demands of the Dalits, under the leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar for proportional representation.

Gandhi himself has responded that ‘Hind Swaraj’ was written ‘in answer to the Indian School of Violence and its prototype in South Africa’.

Gandhi developed his argument of Swaraj by distinguishing how sections and classes of society have propagated a misconstrued and misaligned version of Swaraj. He demonstrated marks of admiration to his gurus, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Dadabhai Naoroji, who pioneered the movement, and laid the roots of Indian Nationalism. He felt duty bound to develop the concept of Swaraj based upon the foundations laid by them. Other contemporary leaders had confined the idea of Swaraj in a singular domain of autonomy and tax. In response, he observed that a mere racial change of leadership would not attain Swaraj. Simultaneously, he maintained his disdain for the Extremists’ beliefs and ideals.

It was at this juncture that Gandhi observed that this mode would result in a mere replacement of Englishstan, but not an establishment of Swaraj, in its true sense.

On the other, Gandhi was distressed by the self-serving agenda of the elite and intellectual class of Indian society who formed the support base of Indian National Congress. These personalities, eminent in their fields, could not connect with the Indian masses. The emerging middle class could not resonate with poorer sections of Indian society as common ground of communication like language, etc. was missing between them. The misery of the poorer sections, the peasants, the artisans, the workers, were not reflected in the programs of the Indian National Congress.

It was a mix of these undercurrents which signified conflicts and disunity among various sections and classes of Indian society, for which India could not tide over the British Rule. With fundamentally weak and precarious convictions prevailing in the Indian National Congress, Gandhi knew that he had to be that institution of change, aligning the misaligned, converting the conceited and gearing the people of India towards achieving India’s ordained destiny.

It was Gandhi, with his deeper understanding of the soul of India, that is the peasants in the villages, was able to chalk out programs of mass actions like the Champaran Satyagraha in Bihar and the Dandi March, or Salt Satyagraha. Gandhi by galvanizing the popular anger after the Jallianwala Massacre, was able to give a new direction to the struggle against British Colonial powers. He was able to instil a cause and sense of purpose in the hearts of the common man. He gave hope for hopeless and empowered the meek and the damned to boldly stand for their rights and face all consequences emanating from the wrath of the Colonial Powers.

His angst was best demonstrated by his comment, “The English have not taken India; we have given it to them. They are not in India because of their strength, but because we keep them”.

Gandhi understood and sympathised with the popular meaning of ‘Swaraj’, which meant self-government for the common man. However, he believed that his calling was to shape and take India beyond that. For him, the popular conception of Swaraj was just a small part of fulfilling his grand design of Swaraj.

It is at this stage, pertinent to understand Gandhi’s Swaraj, as he himself put it:

…if we become free, India is free. And in this thought you have a definition of Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves. It is, therefore the palm of our hands. Do not consider this Swaraj to be like a dream. Here there is no idea of sitting still. The Swaraj that I wish to picture before you and me is such that, after we have once realized it, we will endeavour to the end of our lifetime to persuade others to do likewise. But such Swaraj has to be experienced.”

Critical analysis of this definition reveals two distinct components in truly achieving self-rule. The first integral part is learning to rule the self. That is to say, learning to control the body and the mind. It is the active cognitive capability of ruling the self. To be the master of one’s own destiny. Once the individual attains this ability, he is said to be free, and to have attained Swaraj. Gandhi believed that the internal Swaraj would inevitably result in Native Rule as well. Thus, he did not distinguish between self-government and self-rule. For him, the former is a fallout of the latter.

Despite this dream-like, near illusionary concept of Swaraj, Gandhi remained a realist. He understood and voiced the difficulties of attaining this Swaraj. He became a moral compass for others to follow. He motivated his fellow-men to draw upon their internal strength and fight against the heaviest of odds.

He described India’s freedom as being directly proportional to an Indian’s inward freedom. Gandhi was one of the few who truly understood the value of the word ‘Swaraj’. He knew that it is sacred. Sadly, after his demise, this word has become corrupted by political propaganda, widely misquoted and misinterpreted. For Swaraj is not freedom from all restraint. Rather, Swaraj is for the individual to practice self-restraint. The true meaning of Swaraj, as conceptualized in the Vedas was not axiomatic to the popular belief of freedom at the time. However, it is axiomatic to the true meaning of independence, for which Gandhi devoted his life.

Gandhi did not elaborate on the mechanics of attaining true Swaraj in his works. However, he demonstrated it in his life. He was man whose thought directly correlated with his action. Perhaps it was deliberate, so that we, as a later generation, may understand his vision for what it was, than by inferring gestures and developing conjectures. Thus, it becomes easier to understand his vision for man by harmoniously analysing his work and his life.

Now we can dissect the plethora of ‘Swaraj’ into manageable components. At the first instance, Gandhi envisioned intellectual freedom. He believed himself to be a propagator of the cause, because at the root, Indian society needed to release itself from the chains on the mind. The impact of this revolutionary change is now embedded permanently in the Preamble as well as the fundamental rights guaranteed by The Constitution of India.

The next step on the ladder is the gate of restraint, change and adaption. The common Indian had been successfully adapting from one rule to the next, from the Mughal Empire to the British Command. Gandhi propagated that society was aligned predominantly to maladaptation. Self-knowledge actuates into situationally appropriate action. There is a clear nexus with the mind and the body. A man, having realized self-awareness, would naturally act in a manner to protect his cause and being. It was the failure of this coordination, that Gandhi knew the violent resistance to be a futile cause.

At the top of the three-tier pyramid of self-rule, stands the freedom to live alongside and along-with the community. For Gandhi, this reflected the traditional village life. His core ideology stood that this communal living is optimal at a small-scale. A smaller commune divides responsibility and self-governance in clear and equitable terms. As the community grows larger, the web grows intricate and the power concentrates, therein depriving the individual in following his self-rule. For the three-tier pyramid to function and attain ‘Swaraj’, the society must be small and close-knit. The individual must be able establish the strong bonds of trust and faith in others. He must believe that the next man is just as capable to control his own mind and body as he himself is. It is this belief, for which Gandhi advocated for Panchayat Raj.

The closest India came in achieving this ideal was during the lifetime of Gandhi himself. After his demise, society contracted towards institutional power and central control, as would be clear from the Constituent Assembly Debates, wherein there was no sympathy for the concept of decentralization of power. The experience of partition propelled the founding fathers to move towards centralization of power and negation of Gram Swaraj.

The weak and the disorganized once again became subject to exploitation. The rich and educated reinstituted their self-serving mission, in complete disregard to social values and development.

A David and Goliath analogy can be perhaps drawn to Swaraj. Swaraj, epitomized as David in the age-old tale, and the idea of domination and exploitation of man by man be characterized as Goliath. This highlights that Swaraj is an active process, and it faces a constant battle against base human tendencies laid in the seven cardinal sins.

That is why Gandhi knew that the struggle for Swaraj is not a sprint, but a marathon. The individual must carefully tread the path towards Swaraj. As one gets closer to it, the opposing scale of reward burdens down heavily. To placate this argument in more coherent terms; as the individual crosses the tiers of Swaraj, he develops his mind, body and soul. He gets farther ahead than others when measured by social indicators. At such stage, the opportunity and reward to change and deviate away from Swaraj is great. If he does, the individual may be socially and economically rewarded.

When a child is born, he has no awareness apart from minimal instinctive reflex. Without care and attention, the child will ultimately slip away from this realm. As he grows, his mind expands. He sees, he observes and he learns. He begins to develop an awareness to his surroundings. As he moves to adolescence, he begins to acquire the skills for basic productivity and societal contribution. This is where the average Indian stagnates. As the man becomes educated, he inches towards Swaraj. As he begins to develop the discipline, restraint and capability of self-governance, he transcends the limits of the average Indian man. His understanding of his self and surroundings allow him to become an asset to the society. But to reach the end of the path, he must remain true to the cause.

Without enlightenment and moral values, it is easy to give up this righteous cause and exploit his talent and development for personal gain. That is what vitiates the development of the man as a social being. The monumental leaders and visionaries who give up the cause half way, cause more damage and deter society as a whole from developing. This was Gandhi’s fear. This fear, may perhaps be a reality, considering the dark days of modern Indian history. The cult of blind hero-worship and dynastic politics running through political parties all across country are clear indicators of the threat to the concept of Swaraj.

On the road to Swaraj, Gandhi believed that Gramswaraj and Panchayati Raj were integral, only through which the final tier of the pyramid of Swaraj could be attained. It was part of his political roadmap for India, and he believed it necessary for the continued sustenance of Indian culture, heritage and freedom.

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, was a man, who in his own right was one of the most powerful thinkers in shaping and moulding India’s struggle for ‘Swaraj’. The Swaraj that Gandhi envisioned did not find support with Dr. Ambedkar, since Dr. Ambedkar was first-hand cognizant of harsh realities in our deeply hierarchical Hindu society. The reality in village community life is marked by great disparities in terms of caste and status. The consequence of which was that the lower caste individual was permanently stunted in realizing his natural potentials. At the time when Gandhi was emphasizing on the political elements of Swaraj, Dr. Ambedkar with his experience drawn from his western education and the bitter experience as a lower caste individual, emerged as a strong protagonist for social justice and abolition of the caste system in the Hindu society. By emphasizing the prevalence of Hierarchical tyranny in our Hindu culture and society, Dr. Ambedkar sensitized the leaders of the freedom struggle to bring about the institutional changes.

In his crusade for social justice, Dr. Ambedkar was also greatly supported by the contemporary social movements in the western and southern parts of India, which challenged the upper caste hegemony. Dr. Ambedkar realized that caste was the sole factor in determining the status of any individual in Hindu society and no individual could outgrow the constraints dictated by the caste hierarchy. With all his laurels that he earned with his western education, Dr. Ambedkar found that even he could not outgrow the stigma of caste. Throughout his life, he strove for individual excellence and found that there was no salvation for him within the Hindu caste hierarchy.

At the fag-end of his life, he became convince and embraced Buddhism as the last bastion of hope. Dr. Ambedkar’s contribution for asserting the dignity of the Dalit community and finding an appropriate place for them in the Indian power structure is a testament to his legacy. Because of his consistent struggle in espousing the cause of social justice, the ruling elite in the Indian State also felt compelled to address the cause of social justice. The ground reality of electoral politics also compelled all political parties to give due weightage to the ideas behind social justice. Dr. Ambedkar was a voice for the muted.

At the same time, it would be a great folly to confine Dr. Ambedkar’s role only as a crusader for Dalit identity. His contribution in developing the political thoughts on freedom, democracy, rationality and scientific temper was second to none in his time. His contribution as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constituent Assembly and his subsequent role as the first Union Law Minister in independent India are significant marks made on the pages of Indian history.

Dr. Ambedkar was a principal enactor of the basic tenets of Gandhi’s philosophical Swaraj. He broke the chains on his mind, attained intellectual freedom, understood the plight of the Indian man, and worked towards the institutional change of society. He, like Gandhi, promulgated the non-violent movement. He substituted the mindless violent outbursts of the Indian man, with the concrete educational upliftment. He believed that if the common man stood as an intellectual equal to the British Ruler, then no Indian would remain under the thumb of the British Raj. He was also a propagator of Swaraj in its true Vedic sense, which was affirmed by his dedication to the Buddhist ideas of salvation.

These two men, both having attained Swaraj in their own right, became central forces of power and might. However, these two mighty men had philosophically opposite thought, especially and most pertinently, in the political arena.

The politico-philosophical thought of Gandhi is best characterized as rooted to ancient Indian civilization. He believed in returning to a traditional lifestyle, like that of a self-sustaining commune. He did not believe or have a desire for rapid economic development. He was a man who derived satisfaction from the simple things in life. Dr. Ambedkar, on the other hand, was a man of progressive thought, who believed in rationality and the development scientific temper. He was a strong advocate for economic progress and wanted to rival the British in their own game.

These distinctive personalities are not surprising, when one understands the background of the lives of these eminent luminaries. Gandhi was an upper caste man, who came from a well-educated and prosperous family. He followed in the footsteps of his father who was a Diwan in different Princely States in Gujarat. He acquired knowledge and was well on his way towards becoming another self-serving individual of the time. It is his experience in South Africa, that changed his attitude. The first-hand discrimination he faced, coupled with the experiences of discrimination and injustice South African Indians faced, propelled the Gandhi’s ideological change.

Dr. Ambedkar, on the other hand, was a man who came from the lowest strata in the Hindu Society. He lived a life of struggle, and had to fight every inch of the way to get where he stood at his prime. Issues such as discrimination, oppression and subjugation was part and parcel of his life. Hence, his philosophy was aligned towards growth, upliftment and progress. He believed that India had to keep moving ahead, change its attitude and modernize, otherwise, no matter who rules, the innate hate prevalent in the society would never abate.

Thus, Panchayat Raj became a key theme of ideological dispute between these two men. Dr. Ambedkar’s critical view towards Panchayat Raj was cemented with his first-hand experience. He believed that if society splinters into small groups of self-rule, the people will regress to traditional beliefs of caste hierarchy, and subjugate the lower castes into a menial life with no scope for educational, mental and economic progress.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose joined the Indian freedom struggle as a political apprentice of the Lion of Bengal, C.R. Das. With his firm determination to be a part of the struggle for Indian independence, he resigned from the coveted Indian Civil Services, causing great agony to his father, an advocate, who keenly looked forward to a successful career for his son. Netaji was born and spent his formative years in Cuttack. For his education, he moved to Calcutta where he jumped into the Students’ Movement, which were oriented against the policies of discrimination prevalent in the Universities. After returning from England, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose emerged as a fiery agitator and leader and was groomed by C.R. Das. He was later elected as the mayor of Calcutta and the led the Bengal Congress and subsequently was elected as president of the Indian National Congress twice.

In public memory, Netaji is known for his fierce struggle in attaining independence by putting his life on the line on countless occasions. Very few know about his commitment for economic ideas on socialism and planned economy. When Shaheed Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad were leading the freedom movement by espousing armed struggle against the British Regime, Netaji together with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and other radicals came out in support of the struggles of these young fighters, both inside the jail and in the Courtrooms. The comrades of Shaheed Bhagat Singh resorted to repeated Hunger Strikes during their trial proceedings to protest the inhuman treatment of political prisoners. On one occasion, a veteran revolutionary, Jatindra Nath Das (not to be confused with Bagha Jatin, the legendary patriot) continued his hunger strike for 63 days and laid down his life for the cause. Netaji’s rallied public support for these great martyrs. Durgha Bhabi led the procession, bringing the deceased from Lahore to Calcutta by train. Large masses attended the funeral procession from Howrah Railway Station to the Cremation Ground. Netaji received the coffin and led the procession from Howrah Station onwards. Netaji’s public support of these young patriots, led to the radicalization of Indian National Congress in demanding complete Independence (Purnaswaraj). The trial and hanging of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his comrades galvanized the young population in the country towards freedom.

Netaji violently disagreed from Mahatma Gandhi on the path to be followed in attaining Indian independence. Whereas, Mahatma Gandhi was firmly in support of non-violent struggle, Netaji did not believe that India could attain independence only by non-violent means. At the time when Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru were averse to the idea of embarrassing the British Empire in its fight during the second world war, Netaji advocated an all-out struggle against the British Empire, for which he escaped from house arrest at a great risk to his life. His escape to freedom from the British regime inspired the young Indians united them, irrespective caste, creed and religion. Netaji’s daring creation of the Indian National Army and his leadership for organizing an armed onslaught against the British Empire inspired and galvanized the entire nation to rise against the Colonial Rule.

It may perhaps be said that Netaji was the best implementer of Swaraj. He was truly a man of action, while at the same time, not necessarily fitting within Gandhi’s vision and scope of Swaraj.

However, his nature and character highlights that Swaraj is not necessarily within a strictly defined limit and boundary. The essence of Swaraj may be canvassed by a variety of actions and causes.

Non-violent resistance is one form and cause through which Swaraj flows. Netaji has exhibited another form, through pure willpower, dedication and unhinged fearlessness. It is only when the man achieves such confidence over himself; frees himself and his mind from the mortal and menial societal restraints, that he can carry out such great feats. His actions are truly remarkable.

While Gandhi was one man who society moved for, Netaji was one man who could move society itself. It is of metaphorical significance that the first piece of Indian soil that Netaji liberated from British rule, was a penal colony. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, were a largely overlooked part of the Indian map. For the British, it was nothing more than a penal colony, a prison stronghold of sorts. Challengers to the British Crown were sent to these islands to suffer the rest of their lives in iron destitute.

The Andaman prison was an allegory to Indians under British rule. Therefore, it is symbolic, that the man of iron will, led a detachment of an Indian National Army to clinch control over the islands. This victory, sent a shockwave of pride, self-belief and courage through the spines of every Indian man. It surged confidence in every man. It showed that the people of the nation are capable of achieving anything. The island of oppression stood to become the beacon of liberation.

As the tales of Netaji’s ventures and conquests spread throughout India, he came to be seen as a superhero of sorts. He was described as a force to be reckoned with.

Not only had Netaji liberated this island from British control, but he came about to release the political prisoners as well as expand his small but strong army. In the classical sense, Netaji can be associated as the harbinger of Swaraj. He acted as a guardian, as a shield to protect those who lacked the physical drive, determination and will to stand for themselves.

Connecting these dots to Gandhi’s Swaraj, Netaji was the man who protected and paved the way for Gandhi to spread his message.

For India to develop and gain Independence, she had to show a flair in all elements. If India was led only by Gandhi, a man promoting the non-violent cause and passive resistance, India as a nation could be labelled as weak. The ultimate result of independence would have taken much longer than it really did. Because, India, while being passively resistant, would not be considered a threat. The British would continue going on their way, mildly decreasing their exploitation of India.

India, to reach Swaraj, needed a catalyst. It needed an active participant in the cause who could markedly display and demonstrate results. It needed an image that the resistance is not merely philosophical and theoretical. It had to demonstrate that it could set targets, show bravery, and forcefully achieve their goals.

That was the role of Netaji. Without him, the passive resistance may have continued without concrete result, and gradually the fire of resistance would brim down and extinguish. It was the valour of Netaji that fanned the flame of the Indian spirit.

Concluding Remarks

These three unique individuals, all having attained Swaraj on a personal level, became a tri-tonal force that propelled India to her independence. Gandhi, with his revolutionary insight, philosophy and the passive resistant cause, drew in the support of the masses. Dr. Ambedkar, with his intellect, education and knowledge, uplifted the masses of the illiterate and stagnating Indian population to strive and seek education, so that they may contend as intellectual equals against the British. Finally, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, whose valiant acts of heroism inspired hope, demonstrated result and showcased India as an immense force.

Without these three great patriots, the shape of India, her independence and the development of society would have been significantly hindered. These men brought into the country the monumental change, not just at an individual level, but they changed the overall mindset of society and their expectations. They were truly the heroes of the modern world.

The difficult and dark phases of their lives became pivotal for them to evolve in thought. They were the men who were far ahead in terms of their era. They were all defiant to the British Colonial Regime, and most importantly, they never lost hope, despite the massive challenge they undertook, dedicated and sacrificed their lives for.

[Note: emails – Ashok Kumar Panda, Senior Advocate (sr_adv_akpanda@yahoo.co.in) Aniruddha Purushotham, Advocate (aniruddha.purushotham@gmail.com)]

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. IPC
    Apr 29, 2017 @ 09:49:23

    Destiny of India! What a wonderful subject to ponder over today, with its relevance for modern India of 2017!! When we make historical analysis of the ‘Destiny of India’ in the vision of Mahatma (that means, a great soul) Gandhi, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, we must find its (analysis) utility for guiding our ‘present’ to shape our ‘future’. If we sum up the respective vision of these three great Indians, we may perhaps say: Gandhi had a vision of free India as a great spiritual leader of the world with a unique political system of ‘Swaraj’ where the weak, meak and down-trodden would be the most powerful decision-maker and not the rich, moneyed and elite class of people. Dr. Ambedkar had a vision of free India as a nation where her (nation’s) greatest evil of social heirarchy simply based on the chance of one’s birth would be perfectly eradicated. Ambedkar had no apathy to things spiritual (much contrary to leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru) in his vision. Historical records bear that Ambedkar did not agree with Karl Marx’s vision of human society and that he was ardent follower of Buddha. Subhash Chandra Bose’s vision of free India was: India, a nation that would be self-relient, discplined, militarily strong and spiritual one in the widest sense. Bose had a sympathy with a universal kind of spiritualism, unlike Nehru – a person who felt himself intrigued at Gandhi’s ‘inner calls’ to suddenly start or end his public movements. What do we get out of this analysis of these three past leaders’ visions of an eventual free India? What can this conclusion help us in taking our decisions today in 2017? The commonality among these three is: India needs to be the spiritual guide of the humanity; India needs to devise by utilizing its innovative genious a unique socio-economic system where the weak and the meak would be empowered to control the vice of money and wealth; India needs to be strong – strong in economy, strong in military, a nation with iron-disciple; India, a forward looking nation with scientific temper, technology giant, with a humane outlook towards the humanity.

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