“One individual may die for an idea, but that idea will, after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives.”

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

History books sit on the bookshelves of dusty libraries. Folklore is passed down by word of mouth through the generations. Yet, so many chapters of human history remain a mystery. We leave this world with work unfinished. Our stories untold, our victories unsung, our heroic efforts forgotten. Over the past two years, I have often wondered–what happens to the soul when it leaves the world with unfulfilled wishes?

One can never truly know. I do, however, believe that anyone who has loved deeply carries that love with them into the next realm. Bonds of love do not perish with death. They live on.

Some people fight for their loved ones. Others fight for their country, whilst few have the courage to stand tall and fight for their ideals. Any soul that has fought valiantly, ceaselessly and tirelessly for a dream will never stop fighting. One of those heroic souls is the late Netaji.

Subhas Chandra Bose was the most celebrated freedom fighter and charismatic influencer of the youth in India during the freedom struggle. His patriotism and obdurate refusal to stop till he achieved his desired goals has made him a patriotic hero. Due to his nationalistic temperament and leadership capabilities, Mahatma Gandhi was the first to address him as Netaji Respected Leader. Netaji was also the first to accost Gandhiji with the title ‘Father of the Nation’.

Netaji’s Leadership Vision

Netaji was inspired by the Western World and their systems of governance while studying at Cambridge University. He was particularly impressed by Russia’s declaration as the world’s first Socialist Republic. It was the power of the common people that made it possible. Netaji felt only the countries that awaken the power of the people are the ones that can truly progress. His ideology supported the empowerment of women, secularism and other liberal ideas.

Although Bose clearly expressed his belief that democracy was the best option for India, he decided that no democratic system could adequately overcome India’s poverty and social inequalities. At his very core, Netaji believed in the power of the people. In pre-independence India, Netaji had two main priorities: the spread of education to the masses and the empowerment of labourers. He believed that it is through the common people that progress will come to India.

Netaji didn’t believe in making any compromises and wanted no negotiations. He wanted Purna Swaraj Complete Independence–and not simply the transfer of power as dominion status. He longed to free his Motherland from imperialism. As a democratic socialist, he wanted India to be a “reign of perfect equality, social, economic and political”. He wanted to bestow the freedom of expression and rights upon his countrymen. He wanted to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, between the social classes, and between the capitalists and labourers. He wanted equality for all.

“Give me blood and I will give you freedom.”

—Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Gallons of blood were shed but the path to freedom remains a tumultuous one. Seventy years after India’s Independence, new and unforeseen leadership challenges remain. India must now work even harder to realise the freedom that Netaji wished for his countrymen. Indians celebrate Netaji’s glories, but the nation’s work is far from complete.

Netaji was hell-bent on removing the unequal division of wealth, the caste system and all social impediments that divided Indians. But the India of today espouses a brand of ethnic nationalism that Netaji would never endorse.

We are Indians

India is a pluralistic, multilingual and multiethnic society. The nation is home to some 447 native languages and is the world’s most populous democracy. Between 1951 to 2011, the literacy rate increased significantly from 16.6% to 74%. Modern India is a fast-growing major economy, a hub for IT services and is home to an expanding middle class.

Despite the economic strides India has made, the country remains divided. In recent years, India has become so divisive that Bose would feel his work is still incomplete. If he ever steps into its soil, he would at once begin to protest. He would not rest till he has banished all the communal riots, honour killings, casteism and religious intolerance that has plagued India since independence. The country for which Netaji laid down his life is still struggling on the path to equality.

Did Indian nationalism only exist when the British were in the country? After they left, the country was divided into Hindus and Muslims. And perhaps after the current proposed establishment of the Hindu Rastra Land of the Hindus, we might find a way to divide ourselves even further. The never-ending riots between religious communities, the injustice meted out to the poor, the lack of proper education, the extreme desire to proclaim India as the ‘Abode of the Hindus’—is an impediment in the path to Netaji’s call for equality.

Bose was opposed to the theory of racial superiority. In the Azad Hind Fauz, there were no Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Sikhs—there were only Indians.


Netaji believed that the anti-imperialist struggle had to rise above all sectional considerations of class and creed. He always emphasised on alleviating the sufferings of the people. He wanted to escalate and strengthen the struggle by rallying all the victims of imperialist rule. He wished to mitigate the pains of the toiling people. His firm conviction was that the progress of the country is wedded to the progress of the masses. Throughout his life, he only struggled to work towards their welfare.

Bose believed in unity. Given India’s ethnic and linguistic diversity, unity is undoubtedly an enormous undertaking for any leader. The challenges that India faces are unique to the subcontinent. But if Netaji were still alive, he would be fighting. And just like him, Indians have to continue fighting. It will take generations for Netaji’s dream for India to be realised.

For unity to take root, we cannot stand divided on the basis of religion. Netaji’s ideology of brotherhood seems to have lost its power. What appears to prevail is the rivalry between the Hindus and Muslims. Sadly enough, the authorities are secretly encouraging it, instead of promoting secularism.

The nation’s leaders have been accused of suppressing dissent through state machinery. Instead of striving for justice, the administration tends to suppress the ones who dare to raise their voice against any corrupt practice. Moreover, government officials continuously bend over backwards to satiate the interests of the capitalists and industrialists.

However, as literacy continues to grow and people continue to educate themselves, slowly and surely India will begin to outgrow the shackles of its past and emerge into a new future. The path ahead may not be an easy one–but India is a rich civilisation with a long history and the nation will continue to reinvent itself.

Today, India still grapples with severe intolerance and communal tensions. During the recent Ayodhya Dispute and the Kashmir Unrest, embracing Netaji’s ideology could have been the much-needed call of the hour. India still needs his ideology of patriotism, unity, secularism and freedom of expression. India needs her Netaji to give her people the courage to stand up and protest against the injustices and fight for their rights.

Netaji wanted to snatch away independence instead of waiting for the British to drop freedom in his lap. He initiated non-cooperation movements, rallied common people and led the troops for the Indian National Army. A brilliant military strategist, he was keen on making the British feel completely ineffective, forcing them to surrender.  

Perhaps Bose was right in his belief that freedom is never given, but forcefully taken. In the aftermath of independence, India has to continue to fight to actualise the freedom that Netaji fought for.

Pyrrhic Victory

Churchill once famously stated that history is written by the victors. Our textbooks are written by those who are privileged to write them. Some believe that Indians have been taught incorrect history. On the surface it may seem that the man who was the true liberator of India has been forgotten.

Perhaps Bose’s ideology is not something that we learn in the scheduled halls. It is something that we need to discover through intelligent study, close observation and continuous application in the widest field among the masses. Netaji was a true nationalist and a great secularist. He stood against the British rule and opposed their policies and decisions. He always sided with the peasants and tried to free them from the fetters of imperialism. He deeply admired his country’s culture and traditions. He was a valiant leader with unmatched patriotism for India.

Bose wasn’t one to mince words but the one who would stand up and resist. The real Netaji was the one who said, “Yeh zindagi hai quam ki, tu quam pe lutaye ja…This life belongs to the Nation; lay it down for our Motherland.”

The Future

Over the past few years, research has been carried out to uncover the truth behind Netaji’s sudden disappearance; his death still the biggest mystery waiting to be uncovered. No one knows if he really died in the plane crash on his way to Japan. There have been several appeals to the government to build a statue of Netaji at India Gate. Some even want to declare Bose’s birthday as Patriot’s Day as a tribute to the patriotic hero. These symbolic gestures are perhaps an indication that the mindset of modern Indians is changing.

These events indicate that history itself is not a frozen subject that concerns itself only with the past–but a matter that can be revisited when the time is right. Some Indians do want to rewrite the history of its freedom struggle and honour theforgotten herowith the respect that he deserves. On the surface, it may seem that the real Netaji was forgotten the day he left the country and never returned–but the past, much like the future, remains a mystery.

Although India has made significant strides since independence, the nation still struggles with the evils of poverty, inequality, illiteracy and unemployment. The fight is far from over. If Netaji was around, he would still be fighting tirelessly. His work would not end with his death. It would incarnate itself in a thousand lives.

Netaji never wanted anything for himself. He only dreamt for the welfare of his countrymen. More than anything, Bose wanted unity and equality for his Motherland. Building his statue or celebrating his birth anniversary isn’t enough to pay tribute to this great personality. Upholding the spirit of unity in diversity and the cry for equality will be our real tribute to Netaji.

During this fortnight of Shradh, let us all come together to remember the great patriot who dedicated his life for his beloved Motherland. Let us embrace our differences and strive towards creating the India of all our dreams.

This post is co-authored by Dipa Sanatani and Sanchari Das

4 thoughts on “Netaji’s Path to Freedom | Remembering India’s Respected Leader

  1. We honour pacifists and we demonise people who had the strength to fight for themselves and their convictions. The world does not always give people a choice. If not for Netaji’s decision to make tough choices, where would India be today? I think we should honour people who have the guts to fight for what is right. They lay down their life on the line. War is not always evil, but sometimes necessary.

    1. War is never easy. Difficult choices need to be made for our survival.

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