Nehru and Bose: Parallel lives is an unique book for there has rarely been such an extensive comparative analysis between the two personalities who dominated the national scene and politics of congress for almost two decades starting from the 1920s till 1940s. What strikes you the most while reading the book is the author’s lack of bias and the civility of his language, the book is devoid of aggressive positioning on the perception of two personalities and has always tried to give the benefit of the doubt to them whenever they were perceivably at wrong.
Beginning with childhood influences for the two leaders, the book offers a latent connection for what transpired later in the lives for both of them. While reading the book, one could perceive the culmination of Subhash’s life as military commander and a strong willed, never bowing leader. For him the conviction to serve the motherland came through reading and discovering Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Aurobindo in his youth. His enthusiasm for anything and everything militaristic is vividly described in the book as his experiences in serving and training for India’s Territorial Army and attempts to join the 49th Bengalees and thereafter to join the University Officers Training Corps while in Cambridge. As for Nehru, he often came across in an unintentional manner as an accidental leader, not meritorious unlike Subhash who came fourth in Imperial Civil Services after studying for merely 8-9 months and being less reflective and convicted in his childhood than Subhash, leaving for example, the Home Rule league as his enthusiasm fizzled out. He described himself as ‘a bit of a prig’ until he plunged himself into congress upon his return.
Returning to India from England, the first meeting of both the leaders with Gandhi was perhaps a prophecy on their relationship with him. While Nehru found his ‘distant and different and apolitical’ which quickly morphed into starry-eyed reverence, for Subhash the first meeting left him, ‘depressed and disappointed’ for the lack of clarity in Gandhi’s thoughts and vision. He found a better mentor in C.R Das until his untimely death in 1935. He was convinced as was C.R Das that a historic opportunity was lost when Gandhi rejected a proposal of round table conference for discussing the future of India in 1922 in exchange for withdrawal of call for boycotting the visit of Prince of Wales to India.
The first opportunity for them to collaborate came upon Nehru and Bose’s conviction for demanding complete independence for Indian instead of milder approach of dominion status by Gandhi led congress and the two established the Indian Independence League. Though the collaboration was limited, as Nehru could never break away from Gandhi with whom he saw his destiny intertwined, Bose on the other hand was always ready to push for his demands even if it meant confronting Gandhi. This is reflected in the fact that Nehru diluted his stance momentarily when Gandhi wanted to publish their rather harsh correspondence on the issue for the fear of public breakup between the two. Bose on the other hand moved an amendment to Gandhi’s resolution for dominion status and was dejected when Gandhi ensured that it gets defeated by pledging to retire in case the amendment was passed.
In a lot of ways, the book tries to establish commonalities between the two whilst providing the reasons the absence of either of them acknowledging it. Both were committed socialists, both respected and admired Gandhi, both were committed to the cause of complete independence yet Bose couldn’t reproach himself with Nehru’s insistence on being bound by Gandhian boundaries. The Gandhi-Irwin pact and Nehru’s inability to strongly oppose such a pact disappointed Bose, who made his discontentment public. The closest they came supporting each other was the time of Nehru’s elevation as the Congress president in 1936. Nehru had a tough time dealing with a right oriented working committee consisting of Patel, Rajaji and Prasad. The only socialist comrade he could rely upon was Bose yet he being in captivity restricted his support for Nehru. When Bose became the president in 1939 the same working committee made it impossible for him to function, but Nehru remained elusive and never gave a conclusive stance in support of either faction. The only villain post 1939, if there has to be one, was Gandhi. For the first time, the man of truth and ahimsa was petty for not being able to restrain Bose for becoming the president of Congress and thereafter ensuring that he doesn’t get a working committee to function with. The move engineered slowly a complete departure of Bose from Congress, he initially formed a forward bloc within congress but when its formation was restricted, Bose left the organisation for good. The lives of the two leaders took unusual turns thereafter, Bose made his heric escape to Berlin and thereafter to Singapore to lead the inspiring and almost unimaginable Indian National Army, while Nehru was on his way to head the interim government of India as the prime minister in 1946.
The book is divided into 7 crucial phases of life of the two leaders and is written with convincing background research. Rudrangshu Mukherjee has offered an unparallel insight into the lives and relationship of the two leaders and rightly proved that ‘their lives could have no tyrst’. With just under 250 pages, the book is marvellous read for anyone seeking a better understanding of the two leaders and their relationship with each other.