Patriot of patriots
On the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary, recounting Netaji’s work with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation — experiences that would later shape him as a leader
To Mahatma Gandhi, he was "Patriot of Patriots", to many, like the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee, he was most instrumental in making the British think about quitting India. Historians like Ramesh Majumdar considered his role nothing less than that of the Indian National Congress in paving the way to India's independence. The very name of Subhas Chandra Bose figures in our minds the image of a rebel, perhaps of the likes of Garibaldi, undaunted in his attempt to liberate his motherland from the fetters of foreign bondage. But along with the great revolutionist that he was, Subhas Chandra Bose had also displayed rare qualities as an administrator and an organiser. These outstanding tenets of his administrative abilities fostered the implementation of policies and measures which were not only beneficial during his time but are also equally applicable even today, on the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
"In a place like the corporation, the moral effect is the whole effect", this belief of Subhas Chandra Bose, the young Chief Executive Officer of the then Calcutta Municipal Corporation was the lodestar that guided his functioning in the Corporation. On April 14, 1924, when Subhas Chandra Bose stepped into his role at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation as CEO, he was barely 27 years old. He was the worthy lieutenant of his political mentor and the then Mayor of Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Desbandhu Chittaranjan Das. Subhas Chandra Bose's stint with Calcutta Municipal Corporation was not a bed of roses. Within six months of assuming his office, he was sent to prison in October 1924. He was released in 1927 and immediately he was elected councillor. Subhas Chandra Bose was elected Mayor of the Corporation in 1930. Even afterwards, he was able to remain in key positions in the Corporation, either by serving as a councillor or as an alderman until the end of 1940. Throughout his involvement with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, Subhas Chandra Bose exhibited his skill as an innovator, introducing new things. Such was his zeal that the alien British power got afraid of his growing influence on the city administration
and even thought about their loosening grip on Calcutta. Thus they made a ploy to arrest him. As the CEO. Subhas Chandra Bose schemed about a municipal gazette of the Corporation and eventually inducted Amal Home as the editor of the Calcutta Municipal Gazette. This was a big move as the Gazette has truly been serving as the link between the mass and the affairs of the Corporation.
Subhas Chandra Bose regarded civic work as a national responsibility. It was the period of formative years in the history of the Corporation when the young Subhas took the affairs in his hands. Under the 'Calcutta Municipal Act' of 1923, all authority was conferred upon the elected representatives. It was like a city parliament where authority and power were cast upon the ruling party. Amidst this, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das and Subhas Chandra Bose took up the cudgel of ensuring convenience to the people by sustaining constructive work. Subhas Chandra Bose's abiding interest in the city's welfare never got diminished even during imprisonment in faraway Burma. In the words of Suhrawardy, "We had an officer appointed as our Chief Executive Officer after considerable delay, an officer in whom we have absolute and perfect confidence, whom we recognised as one of the most capable men in whose hands we entrust the administration of the city." No wonder that the love and esteem with which the people of the city held him, navigated his path of success of being elected to the Bengal Legislative Council, though he was then a state prisoner in Mandalay Jail.
Subhas Chandra Bose was elected to the post of the Mayor of Calcutta Municipal Corporation in August 1930, when he was still in prison, in the vacancy caused by Jatindra Mohan Sengupta. But what he had meant to do and could have done as CEO of the Corporation was not for the Mayor to continue on the same lines. But even then he had a vision and that was to turn people's institutions like the Corporation into agencies through which the great national movement of liberation could work. With this great ideal before him, he was to an extent successful in bringing together the two major parties of the Corporation — the Congress and the Muslim League. He also coordinated amongst the many divergent forces so that Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das's initiatives with the Corporation attain success. The key areas of thrust were – free primary education; free medical relief for the poor; purer and cheaper food and milk supply; better supply of drinking water; more hygienic conditions of living including sanitation in the slum areas; improved transport facilities and greater efficiency of Administration at a cheaper cost. All these areas of focus are timeless because they are always contemporary in terms of refined civic living. They are still pursued even today.
In a letter dated November 11, 1925, Subhas Chandra Bose sent a message from Mandalay in which he hinted at the problems that the Calcutta Municipal Gazette should discuss. There were fourteen points out of which the more prominent ones were drainage and Bidyadhari street lighting, re-organisation of motor vehicles department and municipal railways; prevention of epidemics and an infectious diseases hospital in Calcutta, the brothel question, city–planning and development committee. He also advocated for the provision of reservation for the minorities. This is a reflection of a mind that realised the importance of the development of common standards of living, particularly for the distressed class. As Ashutosh Mukherjee used his academic administrative position to engender common privilege, Subhas Chandra Bose utilised his civic administrative authority for the benevolence of the masses. This dedication, was in the broader sense, a frame of nationalism, inciting the desire for freedom.
As an administrator, Subhas Chandra Bose enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the annals of Calcutta Municipal Corporation. In reply to his letter of resignation in 1930, from the post of an elected representative from ward IX, the Mayor requested withdrawal of resignation. Subhas Chandra Bose never fell for position and power. His only intention was achieving freedom for his motherland. In his address to the aldermen and councillors, he expressed what he sought- "We want a radical change of the present form of administration and, so, as I am concerned, I am prepared to confess that the dream that I have in my mind is that of a free India with a social order based on the universal principles of justice, equality and love''. Here we have the mind of an individual who looked upon civic freedom with the vision of a national internationalist. It would certainly not be a hyperbole to surmise that the experiences of Subhas Chandra Bose as an organiser and administrator in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation eventually shaped the leader who went to form the first Indian National Army, thereby elevating him from Subhas Chandra Bose to Netaji.
The writer is an educator from Kolkata. Views expressed are personal