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Relevance of Netaji for 21st century leaders

Updated: Sep 24, 2022

When an entire country and generation after generation gets inspired by one man even after 70 years of his death, you got to believe that he was a great leader, and so he was. Netaji which in English translates to a Leader was the title earned by Subhash Chandra Bose, the title which his followers always added with love and respect before they even take his name. Not even Gandhi or Nehru earned this title from their followers, such was the greatness of this man. Even former British PM Clement Atlee who signed the Indian Independence act later on when he visited India in 1956 has stated that it was primarily Bose and INA rebellion that forced British to leave India and that Gandhi’s role was less significant. This was also the statement of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar in 1955 BBC interview. Politicians, British, History and historians did not do justice to Bose’s life however as in India we say “Satya mev jayate” (Truth alone triumphs), today everyone recognizes the contribution of Bose in India’s independence struggle despite all conspiracy theories.

Today in 2021, we do not have Netaji among us physically but he continues to live in every nationalist Indian’s heart, what he did for his motherland has made him immortal. It is more important now that we remember and celebrate this man’s achievements since we are in desperate need of great leadership in 21st century in every sector. So what can we learn from Netaji, well frankly speaking a lot and frankly speaking the list is too long even to implement in a single life time. However let me give it a humble and respectful try to even summarize a few which leaders can learn from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

Vision – Right from his Calcutta Presidency college days Bose had a clear vision in mind, Drive British away and win freedom for India and till his death he never deviated from that vision and every decision he took was a result of his vision. He was jailed 11 times and tortured by British for his vision, he left coveted Indian Civil Service job (where he ranked 4th) to return to India to fight for India’s independence for his vision, he won and then left National congress president position just because that position was not helping him to advance his vision as congress wanted to follow the Gandhi way & Bose was not on the same page with Gandhi regarding the strategy to achieve independence, he risked his life and fled to Germany to build a global alliance against the British for his vision, he even shook hands with the infamous Hitler knowing fully well that he is siding with the evil but again just for his vision. He could have taken it easy, he could have lived a happy luxurious life having a prestigious ICS job and also later on being congress President, perhaps could have officially become India’s first PM instead of Nehru however he sacrificed everything since for him India’s independence was life and death. Does modern day leaders have this level of commitment for their vision and company ( It is another thing that most of them does not even have a worthy purpose to run business ). Will a CEO sacrifice his own salary, wealth or even a profitable deal to see his company progress towards its vision without deviation or lets say save employees during a recession ? The answer is No most of the times and that is why no one will think about or remember the leader once he is gone and till the time he is there, he will be hated or feared.

Courage – If you even think of Subhash Chandra Bose then the first word that will always will come in your mind is courage. At the age of 16 Netaji got his admission in Presidency College Calcutta. A British professor named Mr. Oaten used to treat Indian students very poorly at college, being a racist he used to even beat Indian students. No one till now did anything against that since India was under British rule and British atrocities were well known by all in those days. Bose showed courage to complain against Oaten to college principal and he did not stop there, he even demanded apology from professor Oaten. On not receiving apology Bose called for a student strike and it made headlines in newspaper, finally the professor Oaten had to apologise. Bose kept raising his voice against racism and even was a leader for the student council. As per Bose, a sin of bearing or compromising with a crime is far greater than the sin of doing a crime. For all his national activities he was expelled from Presidency college in 1916. To fulfil his father’s wish Bose went to London to study for Indian Civil Service ( ICS ) and he cleared it with flying colours only to leave the prestigious job and come back to India in 1921 to fight for freedom. During the time of world war 2, Bose wanted to take help of Global alliances to free India, a move no one will even dare to imagine since that meant that he had to go to Germany and shake hands with the infamous Hitler and take help of German and Japan to build Indian national army ( Azad Hind Fauj ) to attack and weaken British in India. But we are talking about Bose, he did exactly that. As per Bose, if he needs to shake hands with the devil to see India free so he will. Now you need to understand the courage at display here, even for a Prime Minister of a strong country meeting Hitler in his own den was a nightmare but for a freedom fighter of a poor enslaved country India under mighty British rule not only thought but executed a plan of building a Global alliance by shaking hands and convincing Hitler and then Japan to help India, was not an act for the weak heart. Bose later on built his army and attacked British troops in the eastern India in 1944 and unfurled Indian tricolor flag at Manipur. Many consider that incident as our true independence day and Netaji as our first Prime Minister of India. Compare his courage to modern day CEOs, they do not have to sacrifice their own lives nor they have to go to a war but there are many forms of courage so how many CEOs will have the guts to abandon a successful product since he believes in something better and so he plunges company into temporary loss for future gains, how many leaders will even think of getting into an unknown industry when rest are waiting for others to take the risks first. How many leaders will have the courage to say no to a customer just on grounds of values or morals or ethics or vision? How many leaders will provide an increment in employee’s salary during recession rather than doing layoffs to preserve wealth? We know the answer.

Influence – There are too many instances to cover the power of influence Bose exhibited in his lifetime. To site important few, when Lord Irwin (Governor General & Viceroy of India from 1926 to 1931) proposed Gandhi for a Dominion status for India, Gandhi & Nehru thought of that gesture as sincere however Bose did not agree, he wanted complete independence from British and so even though Gandhi & Nehru were much bigger in stature as political figure of India Bose was successful in convincing them to go for Purna Swaraj (Complete independence). Another story of his influence over the masses can be seen in 1939.

By 1939 Bose became more influential than Gandhi, so even though Gandhi campaigned for Sita Ramayya for Congress presidential election (to make sure Bose loses) Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose still won and became congress President. Clearly shows that people favoured Bose because his intent and his work both matched. He walked the talk. Another story of influence was how he convinced Hitler to support India and later on made Japan (German’s ally) to provide some 4000 Indian POW (British used Indians in their army in World War 2) which Bose later on used to built his own army “ The Azad Hind Fauj “ ( Indian National Army) His influence over Hitler was so much that though Netaji left Germany for Japan soon after to raise the more famous Indian National Army in Singapore, the Germans kept to their side of the deal, even in the face of a losing war. Once again I have to say there are too many to cover.

Now let me ask a valid question here, how many leaders of country or leaders of an organizations have this kind of influence over their people, friends, customers & employees ? I left the shareholders aside since you cannot influence shareholders for long since they will dump your shares as soon as you go down or someone better comes up, their loyalty will be with money and not with you mostly.

Emotional Intelligence – Bose was the first Indian to rank as a topper in ICS, he ranked 4th and those days the top spot belonged to only British. Not only that, Bose took only 7 months to prepare and clear the ICS which otherwise was a 4 years curriculum. So obviously that was a Breaking News of that time and Indians back in India started talking about this man. As we know the vision and purpose of Bose was too clear for him to lead a comfortable life under the umbrella of ICS, he left his job in 1921 and set sail to India. When his ship arrived at Mumbai he was shocked to see thousands of people who came to receive him and some just to see this man. Bose sensed that moment that if this small sacrifice can unite and inspire so many people then if he works hard he an inspire the whole country to rally against the British. The rest of his journey to enter politics and congress is history. That’s strong EQ at play. Another incident was when he met Hitler in Berlin in 1942, Bose studied about Hitler long back, so he knew a Dictator’s mindset. He praised Hitler with phrases like “Old revolutionary “ , then he used Hitler’s anger against the British to showcase British as a common enemy of India and Germany, at the same time Bose was also quick to ask Hitler to modify or take out the derogatory comments he made about Indians in his book “ Mein Kampf “ knowing fully well that it might irate the Fuhrer however the way he reasoned it showcases both his wit and EQ. Bose said that Hitler’s comment on Indians not only was not correct but might be used by British to instigate Indians against Germans as well. Bose knew that the strong and powerful can only exercise forgiveness and mercy to the weak but never respect weakness, so he had to point this one out since he was troubled by that line for years and by stating his dislike openly on Hitler’s face will send the right signal to the Fuhrer that Bose is a strong, fearless leader. Another incident was when Hitler reached Japan with the help of Germans and met Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. He once again displayed his emotional intelligence by talking about Asians and Buddhism connect between India & Japan and convinced Tojo to help India. However Bose’s greatest chapter for me in terms of displaying Emotional Intelligence was to form the Indian National Army. Those days during world war 2 British used Indians to fight war for them, 90% of British Army consisted of Indians, an approximate size of 2.5 million Indian men fought for British and about 85000 lost their lives. This current day we cannot even imagine that you can use another’s country’s men as slaves to fight war for your country’s benefit. Bose always knew that Gandhi’s path of peace is good for peaceful times but when entire world is in a chaos no one will even listen to the weak. He knew he had to raise an army even if peace had to be achieved. Only the strong can preach and establish peace, no one listens to the weak talking about peace. Bose realized that the slavery mindset of Indians has sipped in deep and infected all men, Indians took service in British Army as a prestigious job rather than insult.

Bose used the spirit of Nationalism to awake the sleeping patriots in them. When he was in Japan and he knew Japan was planning to attack Singapore ( Which was under British army control ) and he knew that out 85000 British troops around 45000 of them were Indians so this was a golden opportunity for him to influence Indians. The only way you can awake someone sleeping is inner implosion of shame and guilt. He asked Tojo to drop pamphlets along with bombs in which there was writing in Hindi, Tamil, English and other Indian languages stating “How long will you do slavery for British army”. It worked like magic and started rebellion within British army and Singapore lost to Japan. Japan was very happy and rewarded Bose with Indian war prisoners using which Bose created Indian National Army.

Later on in 1944 at Burma at INA rally Bose gave the speech that made him immortal, like all great leaders of the world who could deliver a vision in clear and simple terms that appeals to all, Bose uttered those words, ”Give me blood and I will give you Freedom”. This inspired not only INA to invade India and liberate Moirang at Manipur and hoist the Indian National Flag but also later on when Netaji died in a plane crash caused revolts in the Indian Royal Navy and Army which helped the cause for Indian Independence greatly. Compare the levels of EQ to today’s leaders and CEOs, there are very few who could exhibit high level of EQ these days and those who have are making the headlines.

Diversity – Even the western world and strong countries like Japan, Italy, Russia and Germany of that time suffered from male chauvinism, leave alone the weaker enslaved countries. Bose was a different metal. He was a devout Hindu and follower of Dharma, in Indian tradition the queens not only needs to be beautiful but also needs to be brave to wield the sword to protect Dharma and soil. India is filled with stories of brave queens who fought war fearlessly and gave their lives. In his speech, Why I left Home and Homeland, he said, “I want also a unit of brave Indian women to form a ‘Death-defying Regiment’ who will wield the sword, which the brave Rani of Jhansi wielded in India’s First War of Independence in 1857.” He was responsible to bring in women in INA and create the first women regiment which was the first women regiment of the world named “ Rani of Jhansi Regiment”.

Under the command of Captain Lakshmi Sahgal, the RJR was known for attracting members of all ages and from different backgrounds, giving women the outlet to come out of their homes and fight for their nation. Bose also had men from different regions and religions to join his INA, whether its Hindu, Sikhs, Muslims, tamilians, Bengalis, Biharis, Marathas etc he treated them all equally and like brother in arms. It’s a pity that CEOs today are trying to enforce diversity in organization and putting women as heads of departments as they have failed to build a naturally diverse culture within organization for so many years. When Bose wanted to create women regiment he faced strong resistance and harsh criticism from every towers even from within India, he was laughed at but he didn’t budge, our CEOs however did budge for so long due to peer pressure maybe or something else, they lacked courage to against the wind long back, what they are doing now on so called “ diversity push” is moving with the flow which is easy and easy is not leadership.

The danger of enforcing diversity in an organization whether it’s a gender or race, is that when you have a suitable candidate who should become a head of department or to get hired for any position on basis of merit and capability alone, in case he or she has a rival from a diverse or minor group then chances are that merit and capability can be sacrificed just to advance cause of Diversity. That kind of forced diversity does no good to any organization or country. Diversity should not be driven, it should be in the DNA of any culture.

Empathy – Bose cultivated a brotherhood feeling in the INA. His commitment to the safety of the members of the women’s regiment and the INA was paramount. During enemy’s aerial bombardment and machine-gun assault, Netaji refused to take shelter until the last of his volunteers had taken refuge. At the end of the war, when the Japanese offered him a car but did not arrange transport for his soldiers, Netaji refused to travel alone. He marched from Rangoon (Yangon) to Bangkok through the jungles for three weeks with his soldiers, braving the enemy’s assault. His empathy towards his combatants greatly impressed everyone, including the Japanese authorities.

When the war was over, Bose quickly disbanded the women’s regiment and sent the girls back home before the enemy could discover their identity. He did this to protect their honor. Empathy must be practiced and not spoken about. It is a daily drill. Empathy is really a rare quality seen in business Leaders these days, it is difficult to practice empathy if you are far away from people or you are leading too many people. That is why empathy must be practiced in hierarchies, CEOs must be empathetic towards his immediate subordinates and they must do the same to their subordinates and it should continue passing down till the last chain of employees are reached. Remember Netaji not only stood on a stage and gave directions and speeches, he rubbed his shoulders with his fellow soldiers, that’s how respect is earned and feeling of trust develops.


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