Frankness hurts but is almost always desirable: Nehru in 1939 letter to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose 

We bring to our readers excerpts from a long letter written by Jawaharlal Nehru in response to an equally long letter written to him by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose

Jawaharlal Nehru (Social Media)
Jawaharlal Nehru (Social Media)

NH Web Desk

On 18 August, we observed Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s 75th death anniversary. To mark the occasion, we bring to our readers excerpts from a long letter written by Jawaharlal Nehru in reply to an equally long letter written to him by Subhas Bose, in which the latter is sharply critical of Nehru’s stand during the Tripuri Crisis, when Bose resigned as President of the Congress due to serious differences with Gandh iji and other leaders. The correspondence is an example of how political differences were handled by the leaders of the freedom struggle with courtesy and humility, while maintaining mutual respect and personal ties.

My dear Subhas,

Your long letter of the 28th March has only just reached me and I hasten to reply. First of all, I should like to say how glad I am that you have written to me fully and frankly and made it clear to me how you feel about me and about various incidents. Frankness hurts often enough, but it is almost always desirable, especially between those who have to work together…

Your letter is essentially an indictment of my conduct and an investigation into my failings. It is, as you will well realise, a difficult and embarrassing task to have to reply to such an indictment. But so far as the failings are concerned, or many of them at any rate, I have little to say. I plead guilty to them, well realising that I have the misfortune to possess them.

May I also say that I entirely appreciate the truth of your remark that ever since you came out of internment in 1937, you treated me with the utmost regard and consideration, in private as well as in public life? I am grateful to you for this.

Personally, I have always had, and still have, regard and affection for you, though sometimes I did not like at all what you did or how you did it. To some extent, I suppose, we are temperamentally different and our approach to life and its problems is not the same….

May I explain a little further what has troubled my mind very greatly during the past two months or so? I was against your standing for election for two major reasons: it meant under the circumstances a break with Gandhiji and I did not want this to take place. (Why this should have necessarily happened I need not go into. I felt that it would happen.) It would mean also, I thought, a setback for the real left. The left was not strong enough to shoulder the burden by itself and when a real contest came in the Congress, it would lose and then there would be a reaction against it.

I thought it probable that you would win the election as against Pattabhi, but I doubted very much whether you could carry the Congress with you in a clear contest with what is called Gandhism. Even if by any chance you secured a majority in the Congress, this would not represent a strong enough backing in the country without Gandhiji and effective work, and even more so preparation for a struggle, would be very difficult. There were so many disruptive tendencies already existing in the country and instead of controlling them, we would add to them. All this meant weakening our national movement just when strength was necessary…

Am I a socialist or an individualist? Is there a necessary contradiction in the two terms? Are we all such integrated human beings that we can define ourselves precisely in a word or a phrase? I suppose I am temperamentally and by training an individualist, and intellectually a socialist, whatever all this might mean. I hope that socialism does not kill or suppress individuality;

Let us leave it at this that I am an unsatisfactory human being who is dissatisfied with himself and the world, and whom the petty world he lives in does not particularly like.

As you have observed, I talk rather a lot and write even more. I shall leave it at that for the present. But I would add that while I champion lost causes frequently and condemn countries like Germany and Italy, I do not think I have ever given a certificate of good conduct to British and French imperialism…

Letter dated Allahabad, 3 April 1939, reproduced in Jawaharlal Nehru Selected Works, First Series, Volume 9, pp 534-549.

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)

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