Today is the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. We Indians do not hear much about this real hero of India’s freedom struggle, who traveled to various countries to muster support for Indian independence. While Gandhi, Nehru and other Congress leaders were meek and passive in their approach, Netaji was bold and aggressive. He believed, and rightly so, that freedom is never given, it has to be taken by force. During the period between the two World Wars, the Congress was dominated by people who were weak and unable to stand up to the British. They believed India would get freedom by begging or appealing to the so-called “sense of fair play” of the British.
Gandhi supported Nehru more than anybody else and enabled him to control the Indian National Congress. The result was that where we should have opposed the British, we collaborated with them in their war efforts by sending the Indian army to fight a war that had nothing to do with India. The result was more than a million Indian soldiers perished in the war.
When India finally achieved independence, Nehru became India’s first prime minister. He gave India three gifts that still haunt the Indian government and public, seventy-five years after independence.
The first gift is the unsettled situation of Kashmir. At the time of independence, Pakistan sent its army into Kashmir and forcibly grabbed a huge chunk of the state of Kashmir in spite of the Maharaja of Kashmir having signed the instrument of accession for India. India could have easily sent its own forces to Kashmir which would have driven off the invading Pakistani forces. Instead, Nehru did not agree to do that and appealed to the United Nations for help. The UN proposed a ceasefire, which left almost half of Kashmir in the hands of Pakistanis. It also gave an excuse to Pakistan to insist on implementing the 75-year old UN resolution no. 242.
The second major blunder that Nehru made was to refuse an offer from the American Secretary of State at the time, John Foster Dulles, to give India a permanent seat in the Security Council which Nehru declined, in view of his belief in non-alignment. Now, we have been asking for a permanent seat for the last fifty years, and nobody is listening.
The third grave mistake of Nehru was in not pushing the outgoing British administration to settle the border with China. This has resulted in China claiming thousands of square miles of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh, Bhutan, Sikkim, Tibet, and elsewhere, resulting in violent clashes between the Chinese and Indian forces. Had Subhas Chandra Bose been at the helm of Congress in place of Nehru who had been forcibly installed at the insistence of Gandhi, things may have been different. Ordinary folks believe in the leaders whom they choose. But leaders can also be smart and hide their true persona at the time of election. By the time people can begin to see through their game, it is usually too late.
It is good to live in a democracy, but democracy is not a bulwark against stupidity. The American people elected Donald Trump with great fanfare, without realizing what a big fool he was. Similarly, the British conservatives elected Boris Johnson, a clone of Trump, but he also turned out to be a fool. Not only did he not comply with Covid regulations, he held an all-night drinking party at 10 Downing Street, and that too on the night before the funeral of Prince Phillip. Our erstwhile Indian prime minister Narasimha Rao, with years of foreign policy experience, became the only world leader to give recognition to the brief military takeover of govt. in Russia in 1991. Two days later, when Yeltsin retook the reigns of government, after standing on top of a military tank, the Indian govt. had to withdraw its recognition. It was the most embarrassing 𝙛𝙖𝙪𝙭 𝙥𝙖𝙨 in the history of international relations.
Thinking about these three great leaders of the world’s greatest democracies, I am inclined to agree with the poet, Alexander Pope, who said, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”