Narayana Murthy and the Netaji Bose fixation

PRITHVI DATTA CHANDRA SHOBHI writes: Cutting across all ideological colours, many of us seem to enjoy playing an occasional game of counterfactual fantasy.

It’s called, “If only we had the right leader!

Socialists, for example, like to fantasise on how India would have turned out had Jayaprakash Narayan been Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s choice, first to assist him in creating a new India and thereafter to succeed him as the undisputed leader of India.

What inspires such fantasising is not only JP’s impeccable moral core but also his leadership for nearly two decades of the socialist faction within the Indian National Congress, which enabled him to build a stronger left-centre alliance by bringing in stalwarts such as Ram Manohar Lohia and Acharya Narendra Dev into a governing coalition.

Admittedly, JP, Lohia and Narendra Dev were Nehru’s ideological cohorts rather than any of his cabinet colleagues. At the heart of this fantasy is also the fondest hope that such a move would have eliminated the need for Indira Gandhi to have entered into politics.

Many to the right of the socialists fantasise how India could have overcome many of our security and development related issues, if only Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had led India instead of Nehru after India attained independence in 1947.

To these, Subhash Chandra Bose would have been even better.

I am a professional student of history and yet, many a times, I do not understand this never-ending ‘man-crush’ on Subhash Chandra Bose.

On Sunday, Bose’s 114th birthday, our beloved Infosys chief mentor, N.R. Narayana Murthy, delivering the annual Netaji oration “If only Netaji had participated in post-independence nation building” in Calcutta, suggested that Netaji Bose could have taken ‘India past China’.

The Economic Times quotes Murthy as saying the following:

# “I believe India would have been a powerful exporter much before China if only Netaji had a frontseat in our policy making along with (Jawaharlal) Nehru… India would have seized the opportunity the world offered and would have become the second most powerful economy in the world…

# “Netaji was one of the most courageous leaders in India. Netaji was a real bold Indian leader who could have stood up to anyone… courage is one attribute which is more important in leadership than any other quality…

# “India would have embraced modern methods of scientific agriculture and made us food surplus year on year. India would have embraced industrialisation better and become more export oriented than relying on import substitution which has led to all kinds of problems.”

# “He would have continued and perhaps would have accelerated our efforts to control population through fair and transparent method.”

There’s no denying that the muscular, aggressive centre-right nationalism of Netaji Bose will always be appealing to some. Bose also famously differed with Gandhi throughout the 1930s, and that too makes him an attractive character for the Gandhi–haters amongst us.

His prison break, and the subsequent travels all over the world in search of allies and arms to fight against British imperialism is an absolutely romantic story, although one could say there is nothing romantic about joining hands with Nazis and Fascists, even if it is to liberate one’s homeland.

Still, I don’t get the love for Bose.

Narayana Murthy seems to believe that the courage displayed by Netaji Bose is an indicator of leadership qualities, and more importantly, the kind of public policy he would have advocated.

How could we surmise, as Murthy does, that had Netaji been part of the post-independent leadership, India would have benefited “in areas like economic progress, population control and adopting modern agricultural methods”?

Here is the danger in the kind of lazy thinking Murthy seems to be indulging in: that we reduce all the great problems faced by humanity—be it poverty and hunger, sickness and general well being, inequality and oppression—to the absence of the right kind of leadership.

Our corporate titans, in India and in the west, are often guilty of exaggerating the role of leadership. All that is required is the right, aggressive, problem-solving leader and humanity would be better off!

Our politicians too seek to cash in on the Netaji. Karnataka’s beleaguered chief minister, B.S.Yediyurappa found time to promise a one crore rupee grant so that a book on the Netaji could be written and distributed to the school children of Karnataka.

Now, this is something which the historian in me finds worthy of backing. Only if I were to get the contract to write and publish the book. And why not? I am a credentialed historian and very, very eager to serve my State.

Photograph: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on the cover of Time magazine in 1938

Also read: Narayana Murthy to revive Swatantra Party?

CHURUMURI POLL: Is it all over for socialism?

The sad truth is Netaji Bose would be 109 years old today

More demcoratic India gets, less the Congress does

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26 Responses to “Narayana Murthy and the Netaji Bose fixation”

  1. Vinay Says:

    I agree that one cannot hold the “leaders” responsible for everything good and bad that happens. The “fixation for Netaji” as the author puts it, is just another manifestation of the typical Indian tendency to blame the “bloody paaaaliticians” for every single ill that the country faces. It’s actually a South Asian tendency, not just Indian.

    That said, it is true that the foundations of any nation are very important. The leader(s) at the time of the birth of a new nation do have a greater than usual impact on the course that nation takes. It we’d had a leader who favoured liberal economic policy and capitalism instead of setting the foundations for a socialist state, we would have certainly been much better off!

  2. Deepak Says:

    Funny piece. Obviously the author belongs to the ‘We love Nehru-Ghandi parivar’ club. It is easy for an arm-chair socialist to decry nationalism. On what basis does he question NRN? Has he studied Bose’s policies? Does he know something about what Bose would have done on the economic front? If yes, he should share with us, if no, he should not write rubbish.
    BTW : Not just Bose, anyone as PM would have been better, rather than the accursed parivar. But I guess it is too late to talk about this….

  3. Faldo Says:

    PDCS is perfectly right in that we sometimes (over)fantasise over how a particular leader would have waved a magic wand to solve various ills. This kind of hero worship is very common in our subcontinent as Vinay rightly put it.
    To an extent, it could be due to the fact that in the early years of post-independenct India, most of the prominent personalities who had led the freedom struggle and commanded considerable influence over the masses across regions, were no longer on the scene barring Nehru. This meant that was hardly anyone who could vet major policy decisions taken during the period.

  4. mysore peshva Says:

    i don’t get the author’s point… if indulging counterfactual fantasies is a smart way to engage with the community, why is it problematic?

  5. Naveen Says:

    Though I agree with the author most of the time, in this case he is way off Look at countries like Singapore, China. Does the author suggest that we are well off than these countries for our ‘mature’ / ‘better’ leadership, In spite of towering personalities who were at the helm of the affairs or framework we have.
    In accomplishments Bose would have delivered for sure much more that what has been said – Confidence in the people

  6. B. S. Sridhar Says:

    “Satta hasuvige haalu jaasti”. Revisionist history, especially involving charismatic leaders such as Netaji and JFK, has many wondering about the possibilities. Objective analysis of the departed heros reveal that they were mortals and like many other leaders had their feet of clay. Everyone is entitled to their own fantasies.

    The article does make many good points about limited nature of the ideal leadership conceptualized by Narayana Murthy, and people of his ilk. The most charitable explanation I have is that Mr. Murthy was playing to the gallery. a quality I find reprehensible coming from a man of integrity.

    The biggest beef I have against Netaji is his myopia and unprincipled alliance with the Nazis and the Fascist Japan. No. They were not merely alliances of convenience. Netaji was an authoritarian at heart, and he bought into the allure of “trains running on time”, whatever the cost in terms of freedom of expression and freedom of association.

    As a student and a researcher of transformational leadership, let me aver, that the true litmus test of transformational leadership lies in follower empowerment. Does the leader make himself/herself unnecessary by empowering the followers? If you apply this test to Mr. Murthy and Infosys, I see him as a true transformational leader. Both Nilkeni and later with others in charge, Infosys has forged ahead, thanks to empowerment that was built into the organizational DNA by Narayan Murthy and others.

    Therefore, it is a disappointment that Mr. Murthy now bemoans Netaji’s absence from the politics of free India. Had Netaji been a true transformational leader, trust me, Froward Bloc would have produced many great leaders. We cannot even name just one.

    Netaji fantasy has played its course. It is essentially a Bengali, and to some extent a fascination for the fringe elements in the rest of the country. After several commissions, formed at great expense, have ruled on his death, there are still some kooks waiting for the return of the messiah who would have been 126 years old. Even Netaji’s daughter, Anita Bose Pfaff, has suggested that it is time to move on. No ppoint in wasting time by dwelling on “could have”, “would have”, and “should have”.

  7. Kannadiga Techie Says:

    Narayanamurthy and his infosys is taking high paid american jobs. In the name of outsourcing his company is misusing H1B visas. IT coolies work like slaves in Infosys and Narayanamurthy pays pennies for them.

    Infosys = IT doddi
    Infosys = IT coolie shop

  8. manivannan Says:

    Talking of ‘ifs & buts’ is primarily a waste of time, a luxury, which all can’t afford. But, there is an issue, which needs to be discussed.

    Do leaders influence the society greatly? Yes, they do. They do more than we realize. Human activity depends on motivation. Motivation is majorly influenced by leaders.

    Indeed, one of the main problem in India is the absence of acceptable, great leaders. leaders emerge easily, and get accepted easily during troubled times.

    During peace-time, the acceptability of a leader is difficult. More so in a country, fragmented both horizontally and vertically.

    Lets hope we get good leaders, who will be accepted by the whole country. Difficult task. Only difficult times may throw such leaders.

  9. Doddi Buddishi Says:

    Saar BS!

    All these empowerment, leadership cheddi and similar power words are the latest buzz words. Back in the 1920s and 1930s this phraseology made no sense. Ditto with you being “a student and a researcher of transformational leadership…” could well be Nithyananda being a “student and a researcher of transformational entertainment”, if you get my drift. I don’t think SC Bose was trying to win by psychoanalysis of the opposition; he merely went by basics: your enemy is my friend. Sure the Nazis were fascists so were the Brits but they took care in rewriting the rules in a subtle way in trying not to have too many political prisoners. If you reflect on this British way of “transformational leadership” you will note quickly that they were effing well deeply into Fascism ‘Walmart’ style only they gave it many fancy names as a form of governance.

    I am in fact pleased to know the ole NRN still retains some ideas of his own and for whatever its worth he is only saying may be India should have had better leadership through the decades following independence.

  10. chris Says:

    NRN thought that by praising Nehru he would get a ticket from Congress to be the President of India. That diid not happen. Now, he is changing his tactics by latching on to praising Bose. Is BJP listening? Is this another form of greed and corrupt mind?

  11. Lavanya Says:

    If one is in power, then attached to it is responsibility. And the fundamental necessity to be a leader in authority is to have good foresightedness. Bose was the only one who had it. It is definitely not an easy task to build an army of tens of thousands against the Imperial rule! There are witnesses in Singapore, who hosted a war with British have heard conversations from the same British fearing INA – and they claim India won Independence because of Bose and not Gandhi-Nehru. Had Gandhi not been assassinated and died a natural death, his name would be amongst those of second tier freedom fighters like Malaviya etc., such was the image of Gandhi that Indians were left with after partition. And coming to getting support from Nazis – Bose never endorsed fascism as far as my knowledge goes.
    Of course, you cannot tell if a decision is right or not immediately. Years have to pass to analyze the possible outcomes had the other path be chosen! & Mr. Murthy is absolutely right in his observation.

  12. Sanjeeva Says:

    Manivannan Sir, you are bang right. Sridhar Sir, Musing about the probabilities, possibilities cannot be termed as fantasizing. Satta hasuvige…. or T.P.Kailasam’s quote: ‘namma chikkappanige meese iddidre, atte anta karitidde’ does not apply here. There are lakhs in our country who indulge in idealistic and harmless “I wish…..”. What is the problem if such analysis can little ease our frustrations! If Patel, C.R., Netaji, J.P. and other few were in the right place at right time, definitely, the country’s fate would have been different. Even now there is sizeable wishing for a leader like Lee Quan Que ……

  13. Deepak Says:

    @ Kannadiga Techie,

    ———Narayanamurthy and his infosys is taking high paid american jobs. In the name of outsourcing his company is misusing H1B visas———

    R u concerned about jobs in India or jobloss for US citizens?

    ——-coolies work like slaves in Infosys and Narayanamurthy pays pennies for them.

    Infosys = IT doddi
    Infosys = IT coolie shop————–

    Millions of people are getting jobs in IT sector because of companies like Infy. Imagine if we didnt had any such Employers, what would be our status now? Our only hope was some Govt sectors which is suffering from Quota system. Yes in IT sector ppl are treated as coolies, but they have are paid for that. Can u ever imagine a normal lower middle class graduate who is economically not stable getting a Govt job in India without bribing? Atleast his/her situation is getting improved. Dont think evrything in India in a negative mind.

  14. B. S. Sridhar Says:

    I should inform you, Doddi Buddishi, that I engage in discussion only with those who have the humility and an open mind to recognize that cynical diatribe is no substitute for informed, respectful exchange of ideas.

  15. Nastika Says:

    “If “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas?”

    If India had aligned with SCB, after the war, allies would have imposed such santions that our country would have been worse off than British rule.

    Coming back to NRN, if both both Netaji & Pandithji were running for PM post in 1947~1950 times, Pandithji would have won hands down (like Pandithji won against Rajaji). I don’t see the point going back to history.

    Again its debatable & just speculation what would have happened if Rajaji or Netaji were PM.

  16. Vishal Says:

    This article does not go further than just mocking what NRN has said. Sure, he is delving into the genre of alternate history with this version of if-this-had-happened narrative. But what is wrong in speculating?

    >>Here is the danger in the kind of lazy thinking Murthy seems to be indulging in: that we reduce all the great problems faced by humanity—be it poverty and hunger, sickness and general well being, inequality and oppression—to the absence of the right kind of leadership.
    >>Our corporate titans, in India and in the west, are often guilty of exaggerating the role of leadership. All that is required is the right, aggressive, problem-solving leader and humanity would be better off!

    I think the author is hugely understating the importance of good leadership – surprising for a man with good credentials in history. There are many examples across the world, where good leadership has indeed transformed its nation. China could not have been the power it is today had Deng Xiaoping not dismantled their socialist economy. India did this under PVN and we began to grow at a faster rate.
    Good leadership can indeed change the fortunes of a country. Whether NRN was right or not can be debated. But that does not mean that he should not speak his mind.

  17. Doddi Buddi Says:

    Saar BS!

    If you have any humility you would henceforth forthwith stop dropping meaningless phraseology on the poor likes of us. If you have any mind at all you will have acknowledged that British were ‘soft’ Fascists. Sadly, you don’t seem to have the required attributes to engage in a meaningful debate. QED.



    A slight correction on TP Kailasm’s quote. It should be, “Nagatthege meese bandre chikkappa antha kareebahaudu!”

  18. Faldo Says:

    @Nastika – Agree with what you said about ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.

    However, with regard to your statement about Panditji winning hands down I would suggest that you check again. In 1946-47, 13 of the 16 CWCs proposed Patel’s name for Congress President/PM but he stepped down in favor of Nehru on Gandhiji’s request. Earlier, in 1938-39 Bose won the Presidentship of the Congress twice against Gandhi’s and Nehru’s candidates but had to resign as they would not accept him. So while Nehru might have been favored against Rajaji, one can’t be sure what would have happened had there been a contest against other widely accepted leaders. Not worth speculating :)

  19. Deepak Says:

    Pardon for digressing, but the chain reminds me of that great orator Navjot Siddhu who said “Ifs and buts and pots and pans – If my aunt had a beard, she would be my uncle” :)

  20. dodo Says:

    @BS. Shridhar

    I completely agree with your critical views on Netaji’s seeking support from Hitler and Japan of ’40s. That is a very valid reason to not to support SC Bose’s leadership.

    But what is this:

    “Had Netaji been a true transformational leader, trust me, Froward Bloc would have produced many great leaders. We cannot even name just one.”

    If you really thought even a second before writhing this sentence, then I must say this is Sophistry at its best ( or worst). Netaji Formed Forward Bloc in May, 1939 . Remember, he was severely ill at that time- he attended the 1939 congress meeting on stretcher( where he won the presidential election, later to be outmaneouvered by Gandhi).

    After that he was in house arrest -from which he escaped in January, 1941 .In between, in around six months when he was free, he mobilized support for Forward Block across India, went to Europe, sought out appointment with Ataturk( which later was blocked by UK), was put in a jail, did a hunger strike, tried to persuade Gandhi to start a Civil Disobedience movement by taking advantage of the war. All this he was doing when he was as old as Baba currently is, but did not have the posse of TV-aunties singing paeans.

    I, as a student an researcher of common sense, wonder where was the time to develop “transformational leadership”?

  21. twistleton Says:

    Thank you PDCS!

    Sridhar – pretty succinct.

    As Mani says there is no unifying cause today to throw up a great leader be it SCB or MKG. With the British we lost the one thing that bound us together.

    After Independence the hastily slapped together coalitions burst at the seams and threw our differences into painfully sharp relief.

  22. Nastika Says:

    @Faldo, thanks for the info.
    With the hindsight of what happened between 1950 ~ 1991, I wish Patel was PM of India. But with Nehru in the frame, that wouldn’t have happened.

  23. Anand Says:

    I am not condoning Nazism and Fascism, but what about the British colonizing the sub-continent while oppressing its people and draining its wealth for two centuries? How about their colonizing and naming entire countries after individuals?

    The other European countries do not have a great track record either; can we condone the destruction of cultures and civilizations in entire continents like South America and Africa?

    Why can’t we discuss Netaji’s desire to bring freedom to us in this context?

    Narayan Murthy is one of the leaders of the economic transformation, and in the process has helped thousands of ordinary Indians, all the while remaining a decent man. Why can’t this “professional student of history” offer a counter argument/describe alternate scenarios to what Murthy said instead of berating him? Lazy thinking indeed!

    If the author “does not get the love for Bose”, leave it. It is not as if anyone will still love you back. I, like many Indians respect Netaji for his ideals and sacrifices for my country, keep your “man-crushes” to yourself.

    Also, I have nothing to do with the software industry or Murthy.

  24. Not A Witty Nick Says:

    How did I miss this!?

    What’s with this Urban Dictionary masturbation? Link to a couple of definitions at and you become cool!

    I admire Subhas Chandra Bose for his leadership and organisational skills!

    He was a man who excelled supposedly the most difficult competitive exam of his time, to prove his competency and chucked it as he did not want to serve the British.

    Bose tried to work the popular and democratic way but Gandhi with his opaque and authoritarian ideas about leading the movement replaced him with a stooge.

    Only a leader like him could convince the hard loyal Indian Sepoys to shift their loyalties to Indian National Army instead of the Raj. Sepoys, that too comprising mostly Sikhs and Gorkhas!

    The bloody State(which we’ve elected) can’t deal with a demand for separate statehood for Gorkhas that they literally get their leaders stabbed in the back, and you speak about Bose! If the Gorkhas are to form a new ultra group, it is India and her army who is going to be the biggest loser.

    Bose getting help from Germans and Japanese was a strategic necessity, read his published letters!

    I bet, you are one of those naive people who believe that India achieved independence only through the non-violent movement, Britain’s economic health and US’ rising influence over the world, all don’t count.

    PS: WTH was not reported widely?

  25. saikat Says:

    What would happen if netaji would return is a matter of speculation….but from circumstancial evidence and historical facts the ideology of netaji was much advanced than any other leader that time..and he was the most popular leader in india who even defeated gandhiji in election…Alas! US got atom bombs that time…othewise the course of history would be totally different….the basic principle of revolution..”if regiment do not revolt…change in power would be a dream”….netaji understood and applied this

  26. Joydeep Bhattacharya Says:

    First of all, like many, i also could not understand the ‘Actual motive’ of the author. either he/she is not qualified enough to talk on personalities like NRNM/Netaji SCB or as a part of “Nehru-Gandhi family loyal” it was his/her duty to flow wrong propaganda to further confuse the countrymen(specially cyber youths of India). Few observation of mine – bear me if i say something what you don’t like :)
    1> Indias were ever confused and divided since islamic invation time. British took its highest advantage.

    2> Gandhi was a person with good soul, but was highly egoistic. time to time, he supported his pet(Nehru) w.r.t Subhas/Patel/Rajaji/etc- for some ‘unclear’ reason!! this unclarity makes my all respect towards this old freedom beggar – very very low. i am sure, he understood his fault, but it was too late and again his deep ego could not allow him to speak the ‘truth’.Alas!!

    3> like many, modern india know(from there history book) – Ahimsa gave them freedom…so is the mindset got prepared inside, that we got this freedom with a beggarship. How can we expect right and thoughtful comment from our modern youths? may it be on SCb/NRNM/nehru who ever. Netaji’s way of getting freedom whould have been give the new born Indian Nationa strong backbone with a head-of-height. SO was Netaji required….

    4> who are saying – Netaji’s unaccepatable alliance with Nazi/fascist etc or Netaji was myopic, bloody get your data correct. read all works of Netaji, all letters of his personal life even you will understand what type of person he was and as leader. you are comparing a LION with a DOG. How good English people’s ideology when they come, reign half of the world, loot for 200 years and then made their ‘beautiful’ London, still they are Progressive!! How funny… don’t need to be researcher of History or transformational leadership :) it was simply enimy’s enimy theory.

    5> and regarding no further leader from Forwardblock etc….Brothers, Netaji never got time to create his political party keeping a dream to run family business!! before that, he left india, formed 40000 odd army, faught back, snached soil of india(may be very less part)- that’s LIONship….people of this country have to have a Man-crush on him. Like many others, Mr. Narayanmurti also shared his romance to this great leader. where is the trouble?SO was Netaji required….

    6> On the otherhand, this time, Nehru was doing love affair with Lady M’tbatten…whose husband was the chief care taker of british rule in india. and Nehru is the chief of india’s freedom struggle. How funny!! How recless!! how abusive towards his own nation!! and more over(insightfully) how good pact/relation inbetween them!! India got it’s freedom as a part of a got up game , instead of a thorough struggle through Mr. Bose. SO was Netaji required….

    7> Narayanmurthi had set an example to modern India, how we can approach to the world with our skill set with a head-of-height and gather respect from the world. Infy made us feel that taste again after a long past during 1945. IT industry infact, gave us this oportunity. Now don’t say it was Rajiv Gandhi’s great leadership to bring telecom and IT revolution in India!!! :) :) I have full support to NRNM’s view.

    8> I just got astonished !! – how Mr NRNM got this ‘courage’ at this age of him, to say the ‘truth’ such bevemently?? i am sure he is not doing so for making BJP happy, because BJP is also against of Netaji(again for some ‘unclear’ reason!!). I just want to congratulate Mr. Murthy for this statement.

    9> for other readers – i hate to give some cyber smart name of mine, not even partial/abbeviated name….i know many of you may give me ‘Gali’, after all we all are coutrymen, dare to bear your tough words…come on!

    if time permits – read this too –

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