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Prasanta Ray

Biography of a Text

Studies in Gandhism by Nirmal Kumar Bose (1901-1972) had an interesting biography: it

underwent three editions: in 19401, in 19472 and in 19623. Going by chapter titles, readers can

Bose, Nirmal Kumar, Studies in Gandhism, Calcutta: Indian Associated Publishing Co. Ltd., 1940. It had 112

pages. The chapters included: The Case for an Intellectual Movement to Support Gandhism, The Philosophy and

Technique of Satyagraha, Is Satyagraha Played out?, Satyagraha: a Dead Weapon by V.G. Kulkarni, Our

Differences, Interview with Gandhi, Gandhiji on Machines, Gandhi on Industrialization and Machines, Gandhi on

Riches and Rich Men, Gandhi on the State, Gandhi’s Contributions on Indian Social Ideas, The Nature of Gandhi’s

Idealism, The Quintessence of Gandhism, Gandhi and Lenin – all together 14 chapters of uneven sizes. In course of

the exposition on the 1962 third edition, its contents will be evident to the readers of this Introduction.
Marked as Second Edition, it was published by the same publisher but evidently enlarged by the author because it

was spread over 358 pages. The chapters included: Introduction to Gandhism, The New System of Production,

Swaraj and the State, The Theory of Trusteeship, Satyagraha: Its Meaning and Method, The Constructive

Programme and Civil Disobedience, An Interview with Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi and the Indian National Congress,

Is Satyagraha Played Out?, Satyagraha: a Dead Weapon by V.G. Kulkarni, Our Differences, Quintessence of

Gandhism, Gandhi and Lenin. The text is available at


The author was the publisher of the third edition. That it had 360 pages would mean that there was no significant

revision of the second edition. According to the bibliography of writings on Gandhi by Ananda M Pandiri, it was re-

published after Bose’s death in 1972 by Navjiban Trust, Ahmedabad, with 326 pages. But there is an interesting

claim made by Navjiban Trust regarding what it claims to be the fourth edition it published in 2012. ‘Shri N.K. Bose

delivered into our hands the manuscript of Studies in Gandhism sometime in August 1969. Owing to the pressure of

work in our Press we could not take up the work earlier as desired […] This is the fourth revised edition of Studies

in Gandhism.’ https://www.amazon.com/Studies-Gandhism-Nirmal-Kumar-Bose/dp/8172292090 accessed on

notice some revisions between the 1940 and 1962 editions. In the Preface to the third edition,

Bose observed: ‘On each occasion, it has been completely revised, or even altered in parts. So

that, although there is a continuity in name, each edition has become a new book.’ Lest any

critique would be formulated, he wrote in the same Preface: ‘as ideas change with events, and

new judgments may also be formed in consonance with them.’4 The Table on Hint of

30.1018. See Pandiri, Ananda M, A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography on Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 2:

Books and Pamphlets About Gandhi, London: Praeger, 2007: 62-63.Between 1940 (first edition of the Studies) and

1962 (its third edition) Bose wrote: Varnashrama According to Gandhi, Calcutta: Navavidhan Press, 1935, 9 pages;

Gandhiji’s Theory of Trusteeship, Calcutta: Bangiya Pradeshik Chhatra Samaj, 1945, 34 pages; Introduction to

Gandhism, Calcutta: Bangiya Pradeshik Chhatra Samaj, 1946, 16 pages; ‘Gandhism: An Analysis’ in Sigh, Iqbal

and Rao, Raja, eds., Whither India, Baroda: Padmaja Publications, 1948: 23-58 (Three sections on ‘Philosophy and

Technique of Satyagraha’, ‘Gandhiji’s Contribution to Indian Social Ideas, and ‘The Nature of Gandhi’s Idealism’);

Satya and Ahimsa: Mahatma Gandhi’s Interpretation, Calcutta: World Pacifist Meeting Pamphlet 4, 1949, 37 pages;

and, My Days with Gandhi, Calcutta: Nishana, 1953. But he wrote and talked on Gandhi till 1969, the year in which

he delivered twelve Gandhi Memorial lectures between December 16, 1969, and January 11, 1970, on various

aspects of Gandhian philosophy which were published in Bose, Nirmal Kumar. Gandhism and Modern India.

Gauhati: University of Gauhati, 1970. A few of the speech topics were: The Personality of Mahatma Gandhi;

Economic and Social Conditions in India; Gandhiji in South Africa; Gandhi in India 1915–1918; The Non-Co-

Operation Movement and After; Gandhism and Democracy; and Gandhism after Gandhi. .See Pandiri, Ananda M,

2007: 62-63.

In his brief Preface to the second edition, Bose asserted that the book was ‘entirely revised, and practically

rewritten’. Gandhi wrote in similar vein about his own writings: ‘I would like to say to the diligent reader of my

writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In

my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. […] when anybody finds any

inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the

later of the two on the same subject.’, Gandhi, M. K, Harijan, 29 -4-'33: 2. ‘….Gandhiji’s ideas on machinery and

Intertexuality tries to make a graphic representation – though based on the titles of the essays –

of the themes expounded in the three volumes. A comparative reading reveals the persistence of

the Gandhian template, naturally – despite new themes being introduced in the second and third

editions. Remarkably, the last essay in all the editions is on Gandhi and Lenin, the text kept

unchanged throughout. The other constant is the essay, An Interview with Gandhi, placed at the

middle or thereabout of each volume. An author usually has considerations for re-sequencing

papers in successive editions. Nirmal Kumar Bose has not given any clue about that. But despite

the suggestion of being lost in revision, the Gandhian arguments and Bose’s observations on

them circulate in the three editions. The essays in Studies are in English; may be for the English-

knowing Bengali middle class bhadralok. Some of the essays were published in highly respected

The Viswabharati Quarterly, The Modern Review, and the Forward.

Before his Studies, his Selections from Gandhi was published in 1934.5 It was enlarged to

include Gandhi’s writings up to 1942, as Gandhi (1869-1948) himself indicated in his Foreword

in 1947.6 He appreciated the ‘thoroughness’ in Bose’s work. Nirmal Kumar Bose wrote the

industrialization, his opinion on caste with regard to the regulation of occupation, or even interdining and

intermarriage; the opinion about landowning classes, his views on the functions of the state, all showed a

considerable amount of change from, say, 1909 when he wrote his Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule and 1925 or

1931 and even 1947.’ Bose, Nirmal Kumar, Gandhism and Modern India: Gandhi Memorial Lectures, 1969,

Gauhati: University of Gauhati, 1970: 99.

Bose, Nirmal Kumar, Selections form Gandhi, Calcutta: Navavidhan Publication Committee, 1934. The second

edition was published in 1960. It is claimed by Nabu Press, which re-printed it in 2011, with 344 pages, that the

volume was written before 1927.

Published by Navjivan Trust in 1960. It was also published by Navjivan Press, Ahmedabad in 1948. The title page

mentioned print of 5000 copies, which suggests its estimate of the probable size of readership.

volumes to a plan. ‘Many years ago, I planned to write four books on Gandhi. The first was to be

a book of collections from his English writings which would serve as an epitome of his thoughts

on various subjects; the second was to give an outline of his economic and political ideas, while

tracing their evolution; the third, on his personality and on the actual manner of his execution of

ideas into practice, and the fourth, a critical account of the various satyagraha movements which

have occurred, from time to time, on the Indian soil.’ 7 He could not write the fourth. But hinted

at intertextuality in the Preface to the third edition in 1962, but not in the two earlier editions:

‘…while reading the present book, it would be useful to refer to Selections from Gandhi and My

Days with Gandhi as frequently as possible’.8 Gandhi wrote: ‘The earliest and most elaborate

attempt was made by the late Amulakhrai9 in Gujarati. […] The volumes being in Gujarati never

attracted much attention. Such is our disregard of our own languages.’ 10 He, however, did not

express similar public regret regarding Bose’s Selections from Gandhi. It is interesting also that

it was not translated in Bengali while his Hindu Samajer Garan (1949, in Bengali) was translated

Bose, Nishana, Calcutta, 1953: iii.
In all the three editions Bose himself mentioned in parentheses, references to Gandhi’s writings, books as well as

journal articles.
Amulakhrai, Nagindas, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi: February-June, 1926, Publications Division,

Government of India, 1968. It reproduces 691 writings, mostly letters.

Foreword (1947) by Gandhi in Nirmal Kumar Bose, Selections from Gandhi (1934) reprinted by Orient Longman,


in English by his student, Professor A. Béteille in 1976.11 Bose, however, wrote in Bengali also

on Gandhian thought and activities.12

Hint of Intertexuality

Gandhi’s Interventions
Essays // Events
1940 First Edition, 1947 Second 1962 Third 1934 Selections 1960 1953 My Days
Studies in Edition, Edition, from Gandhi Selections with Gandhi
Gandhism Studies in Studies in from Gandhi
Gandhism Gandhism
The Case for an Introduction to Introduction to Introduction in God Introduction
Intellectual Gandhism Gandhism Gandhi’s Own
Movement to Words
Support Gandhism
The Philosophy and The New System Economics of Introduction Discipline for The First
Technique of of Production Non-violence the Interview
Satyagraha Realization of
Is Satyagraha Swaraj and the Swaraj and the God Fundamental At Delang in
Played out? State State Beliefs and Orissa
Satyagraha: a Dead The Theory of The Theory of Discipline for Gospel of The Interview
Weapon by V.G. Trusteeship Trusteeship the Realization Work in Sodpur in
Kulkarni of Truth 1945
Our Differences Satyagraha: Its An Interview Fundamental Industrial Congress
Meaning and with Mahatma Beliefs and Organization : Workers’
Method Gandhi Ideas Old and New Meeting in
Sodpur in 1946
Interview with The Constructive Conflict and Its Gospel of Work The Gandhiji’s
Gandhi Programme and Resolution in Distribution of Arrival in
Civil Hindu Wealth Sodpur in 1946
Disobedience Civilization
Gandhiji on An Interview Meaning and Industrial A Chapter on Happenings in
Machines with Mahatma Method of Organization : Class War Bihar
Gandhi Satyagraha Old and New
Gandhi on Gandhi and the Gandhi and The Distribution The Congress On the Way to
Industrialization Indian National Indian Politics of Wealth in Relation to Noakhali
and Machines Congress the Classes
and the

Bose, Nirmal Kumar, The Structure of Hindu Society, New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1975.
Many of Bose’s writings, in both Bengali and English, were reprinted in the original or in revised version in

journals. See Ray, Shyamal Kumar, ‘Bibliography of Nirmal Kumar Bose’ in Bhattacharya, R. K and Sarkar,

Jayanta, eds., Passage through Indian Civilization: N. K Bose’s Thought and Work, Kolkata: Anthropological

Survey of India, 2002: 206-266.

Hint of Intertexuality
[in continuation of the previous page]

1940 First 1947 Second 1962 Third 1934 1960 1953 My Days
Edition , Studies Edition Edition Selections Selections with Gandhi
in Gandhism Studies in Studies in from Gandhi from Gandhi
Gandhism Gandhism
Gandhi on Riches Is Satyagraha Gandhi and A Chapter on Political Self- Circumspection
and Rich Men Played Out? Lenin Class War Government and a Call for
Gandhi on the Satyagraha: a The Congress in India's The Daily Round
State Dead Weapon by Relation to the Freedom :
V.G. Kulkarni Classes Ways and
and the Masses Means
Gandhi’s Our Differences Political Self- Duty in the Days Full of
Contributions on Government Midst of World Darkness
Indian Social Ideas Wars
The Nature of The India's Freedom Gandhi’s A Friend’s
Gandhi’s Idealism Quintessence of : Ways and Leadership in Parting
Gandhism Means the National
The Quintessence Gandhi and Duty in the When Freedom The Pilgrimage
of Gandhism Lenin Midst of World Came
Gandhi and Lenin Satyagraha Satyagraha Internal Strain

The Life of the The Life of the The First

Satyagrahi Satyagrahi Fortnight in
Religion and Religion and Till We Meet
Morals Morals Again
Women's Women's An Excursion in
Problems Problems Psychology
On Education Dark Clouds
over Bengal
On Education Miscellaneous Darker Clouds
over India
Miscellaneous On a Visit to
Bengal’s Capital
Crisis in Non-
Bengal Calling
Building up Free
The Fast

Composition: Prasanta Ray

The Selections was not just by way of a reader-friendly compilation. It intended to project the

quintessence of Gandhi’s enunciation of his life-view. ‘His writings […] do not exactly give a

correct representation of what he actually is, but what he has always tried to be. It is a record of

ideals and aspirations, and of criticism of events and situations in the light of those ideals. By

their very nature, they reflect the difficulties which have confronted him from time to time; and

also how he has been able to meet them, more or less, successfully in the course of life's

experiments.’13 [Bose’s italics] The pedagogic implication went beyond the need for clarity and

contextuality of Gandhi’s writings. Bose was convinced that the reader ‘will be able to gather

whatever help he can in the pursuit of his own ideal’. A life led by ideals and engaged in

consonant action was what Gandhi lived for.

To accurately reconstruct Gandhi in thought and action for the benefit of the readers and

followers, Bose chose to sequence Gandhi’s thoughts in the Selections not according to the order

of time. He situated excerpts in a progression from Gandhi’s faith in God and his spirituality to

the requisite discipline; from his ‘views on various philosophical, social and political questions’

to ‘production and distribution of wealth’ and directions of ‘desirable transformation’; from his

‘political idealism’ to a miscellany of issues of religion, marriage, women, education art, music,

Swadeshi, management of public institutions etc. Bose graphically located the concentric layers

of Gandhi’s unitary personality.

My Days with Gandhi, which Bose wants us to refer to make more sense of the Studies, is

altogether a different exploration, not through intellection of Gandhi’s writings but through

empathy – sometimes challenged by moral difference, sometimes enabled by compassion --

Preface to 1934 and 1960 editions.

because Bose was capable both a critical and an intimate reading of Gandhi desperate to resolve

contradictions in his situations both in the personal and in the public domain. This is what Bose

ended with: ‘This is the story which is related in the following pages: the tragedy of a great soul,

how it hungered for the company of men and kept itself tied to their common joys and sorrows,

of his daily ministration on behalf of love and mutual understanding between warring human

communities, of his intense effort to discover a new way of winning freedom through which

even the lowliest could vindicate their will in a just cause, of his great solitude on the deprivation

of organizational support, and finally of his emergence into greater power through martyrdom

when the body was shed and he became the embodiment of an Idea.’ 14 Thus the ‘the three books

will collectively serve to present a more or less integrated picture of Gandhi as a man and of his

ideas’.15 Bose wrote a fourth book, Gandhism and Modern India, though not the one he

intended.16 It is interesting that the book opens – in fact, a series of lectures -- with a chapter on

‘The Personality of Mahatma Gandhi’, unlike in the three editions of the Studies; but like My

Days with Gandhi. This could be because for Gandhi self was the primary site of rectification,

and he granted agency to a self under continuous scrutiny as it entered into dialectics with the

order of society, economy and polity. The book ends with a chapter on ‘Gandhism after Gandhi’

– again unlike the three editions of the Studies. The chapters in between reproduced much of the

data and analysis in these three editions. If one may say so, compared to My Days with Gandhi,

Gandhism and Modern India is inclined more towards an essayist’s coherence rather than

Bose, 1953: 8.
Ibid.: 3.
Bose, 1970.

reportage of a chronicler. Common between the two is adherence to the time line. The Studies is

thematically organized.

About the Selections and Studies, Bose did not have any anxiety regarding the acceptability of

his representation of Gandhian thought, which he expressed regarding the third book, My Days

with Gandhi. It is an attempt to reconstruct his behaviour both in his personal space and in the

public sphere, despite sparing no pains in order to make the study as objective as possible.’

‘Many may not perhaps agree with the analysis presented here or on the emphasis laid upon

different aspects of Gandhi's life or thoughts […].17 There is no such anxiety about Gandhism

and Modern India.

The Biographer and the Biographee

Nirmal Kumar Bose’s days of Gandhi began much earlier than his close association with him as

his Secretary and interpreter. His days began much before, when he immersed himself in

Gandhi’s writings. Obviously, being with him closely almost every day between end-1946 and

1948 or more specifically, ‘five month's lonely but very intimate association’18, gave him

empathetic insight into Gandhi’s personality.19 One wonders whether Bose was aware that, as he

Bose, 1953: iv.
Bose’s chapter on ‘The Personality of Gandhi’ was based on his intimate yet critical understanding of his

personality through his close association with Gandhi in ‘the most critical, and certainly the most dramatic, phase of

Gandhi's great and eventful life’. As if Bose had to wait till the time till then. Naturally, this could not to be a part of

the Studies. The manuscript of My Days with Gandhi was completed by 1950. It also offers an understanding based

on proximity. But the 1970 rendering focused on the quality of his relationship with ordinary individuals whom he

granted audience almost every day.

wrote about Gandhi, he was also writing his own autobiography, at least an important section of


Gandhi set rather tough conditions for the role to be taken by Bose: ‘I want you if you can and

will to be with me wherever I go and stay while I am in Bengal. The idea is that I should be

alone only with you as my companion and interpreter. This you should do only if you can sever

your connection with the University and would care to risk death, starvation etc.’ 20

negotiated with Gandhi on his tenure with the university. In fact, Bose acquired enough trust to

pose very disturbing questions to him in times of intimacy and exclusivity like taking care of his

bath, massaging and shaving. ‘During bath, I said to Gandhiji, ' You have drawn me into your

company and given me many liberties. If you pardon me, may I ask you a question?’ He was

allowed.21 Apart from such intimate moments, Bose came to know about Gandhi’s agonizing

moments in course of ’purely official and businesslike’ transactions, like, his mutterings, Kya

karun Kya karun? [What shall I do, What shall I do?]22 That drew him closer to Gandhi. ‘I have

seen you lose temper and become sentimental at times; and have felt drawn closer to you on that

account. If you had been completely free from all weaknesses, I would have perhaps revered you

from a distance but would never have felt drawn close to you as I do today.’23That was towards

the end of 1946. But, on the other hand, Bose never gave up his personal positions and practices.

On the question of joining the morning prayer, Bose was categorical: ‘Personally, I have never

Bose, 1953: 49.
Ibid.: 116. The question related to what appeared to Bose to be a slap given to Sushila Nayyar by Gandhi on

December 17, 1946. For details see: 109, 116-117.

Ibid.: 100.
Ibid.: 132.

prayed; […] If I am therefore alone with you […], some arrangement has to be made for the

community prayer, for I would be useless for that purpose.’24

Bose would easily place his expectation from him. ‘I have observed that you try to defend your

close associates in discussions regarding them, rather than place the cause of reality above

everything else. It is perfectly natural for a man to place his loyalty to comrades above many

other things, but then I expected more than a gentleman's behaviour from you.’25 To Gandhi’s

question in 1946 whether he did not at all believe in God, Bose explained his position thus: ‘I

confessed that the problem whether God existed or not, or what was the primal cause of the

Universe, had never seriously come into my life. I did not concern myself with the question of

such ultimates.’ ‘I said, “Yes, as a scientist, I do believe in truth. For, in the laboratory or in our

scientific investigation, we undoubtedly try to discover the truth by observation and experiment.

Unless we believe that there is something worth striving for, why should we engage in the chase

at all? Truth may be like a carrot dangling before a donkey's nose, but it is there all the same.”’26

His early readings must have convinced him that God was central in Gandhi’s world-view. As an

authentic intellectual biographer, Bose had made its first mention in the first chapter in his

Selections (1934, 1948, 1960) because the ‘foundation of Gandhiji's life is formed by his living

and growing faith in God’.27 Bose set his task unambiguously: ‘We can only bear testimony to

what we have witnessed; and, in a spirit of utter truthfulness, describe it with the utmost fidelity

possible. Perhaps we may be pardoned if we put our own construction upon events; but then the

facts and the opinions must be clearly distinguishable from one another; so that when our age has

Ibid.: 51.
Letter to Gandhi, March, 1947. Ibid.: 180.
Ibid.: 56- 57.
Bose, Nirmal Kumar, Selections from Gandhi, Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1948: v.

passed away and many of the values for which we stand have been relegated to the lumber heap

of history, men may have the means of knowing all that is possible about a man who once stood

towering like a mountain above those who lived beside him.’28

Bose’s Studies (1940) is multi-faceted intellectual biography of the principles and practices of a

man he revered; since context of time and place rightly entered into the analysis, implicit in the

Studies is the narrative of Gandhi’s time – unlike the pronounced historical character of My Days

with Gandhi.29 By the time Bose set up on the task of writing the Studies, he had already an

anthological representation of Gandhi’s ideas in the Selections (1934). The same year the latter

text was published, which must be the culmination of his reading of Gandhi’s works since his

college days (1921-1924) – particularly after 193230, was the year Bose met Gandhi. He was

already drawn in the nationalist movement and acquainted with Gandhi’s ideas on social

transformation of India.31 By his age of 29 years, Bose had read Gandhi’s important writings that

must have included An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiment with Truth.32

The anthologist (the Selections) and the essayist (the Studies) in Bose combined with his

Gandhian social activism in Khadi Sangha (Village Industries Centre) and Sikshaagar, an adult

Bose, 1953: 190.
It may be worthwhile to note that Bose himself was in a way writing about his perception of his own time,

particularly 1930s and 1940s, in his Paribrajaker Diary (Diary of a Wanderer), 2nd ed., Calcutta: Indian Association

Publishing Co., Ltd., 1945. The first edition was in 1940.

Bose, 1953: 22.
Béteille, Andre, ‘Nirmal Kumar Bose: An Obituary’, Sociological Bulletin, vol. 22 (1), 1973.
Gandhi, M. K, An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiment with Truth, 2 vols. 1927, 1929, 2nd re-revised

edition in 1939. Bose possibly read English translation published in installments in Young India between 1925 and


literacy centre, for the scheduled castes at Bolpur, Birbhum, in 1930. Such activism was towards

resolving a spiritual restlessness born of a feeling that his scientific pursuits did not have ‘some

use in society’.33 However, disheartened by too much dependence on him on the part of his co-

workers disabling the principle of self-rule, Bose devised a plan for the people to take over. But

his subsequent political involvement sensitized him about a ‘new opportunity and a task’ of

‘distributing socially useful fruits of intellectual labour to my neighbours.’ Pure scientific

research gained ‘a new significance […] in conformity with my newly developed sense of social


His political work included joining Salt Satyagraha Movement, for which Bose was arrested and

jailed at Suri and Dum Dum Central Jail in 1930-32. But he became disillusioned about politics.

He wrote: ‘My primary interest in life has always been Science. But political conflicts have also

drawn me in, now and then, even when there was no compulsion in it, as in the case of

satyagraha. But having been in the thick of it, I often observed that the interest of many workers

in satyagraha was not very deep.’35This was in 1935. Gandhi had similar misgivings.36

This was when he turned to ‘the propagation of the ideas for which Gandhi seemed to stand’,

after disengaging from ‘either political or constructive activity.’37 He wrote to Gandhi on

Bose, Nirmal Kumar, Studies in Gandhism, Calcutta: Nirmal Kumar Bose, 1962: 11.
Bose, 1953: 15.
‘I should not care to know what happens after I am gone, but I do wish that your organization may never be a

stagnant pool but an ever growing tree.’ ‘There is always the fear of self-righteousness possessing us, the -fear of

arrogating to ourselves a superiority we do not possess.’ ‘Introduction in Gandhiji’s own words’, Bose, Nirmal

Kumar, Selections from Gandhi, 1934: xi, xii.

Bose, 1953: 15.

December 3, 1945: ‘I have specially taken up the task of reading all your writings carefully, and

explaining your teachings through books and articles in English and Bengali. This in itself is a

fairly heavy task and I devote all possible time to it, for it gives me a sense of social

fulfilment.’38Gandhi granted Bose what suited his professional temperament. ‘By profession and

inclination, I am a scientist; and many years of my life have been spent in fundamental scientific

research. That is my first love.’39 He needed ‘detachment’, and Gandhi conceded it.’ Elsewhere,

Bose revealed Gandhi’s terms, namely, that Bose could continue with his scientific vocation

provided Bose would be prepared to ‘satisfy not more than [his] natural wants and spend the rest

of the earnings for society which is its rightful owner’.40

The first face-to-face meeting between them two took place in November 9 and 10, 1934, when

Bose took an interview of Gandhi.41It is unlikely that Bose did not have any clue to probable

answers to the questions he posed to Gandhi. Did he want to be definite about Gandhi’s mind?

Gandhi’s answers to his question are undoubtedly important. But if, for once, we take the

questions out, we have some idea of Bose’s critical mind. The terseness of his questions and

brief answers by Gandhi indicates that there was no prolonged discussion, except in the case of

the third question mentioned below. The questions were about choice regarding the appropriate

Ibid: 22.
Ibid: 21-22.
Bose, 1962: 18.
First published in The Modern Review in 1935 after Gandhi’s examination, then reproduced with some notes in

Studies in Gandhism (1940), re-printed in the third revised edition published by the author himself in 1962, and

briefly referred to in My Days with Gandhi (1953): 12. It was probably reproduced in the second revised edition in

1947. This article is based on the third revised edition. A Bengali version was published in festival number of Desh

in 1934, reproduced in Paribrajaker Diary, Calcutta: Shri Narendranath Chattopadhyay, 2nd ed., 1945: 130-137.

path of social transformation in India and the possible agency of the state, not the colonial state

though. The mention of the constraining socio-temporal context which lent urgency to the

imperative of correct choice was integral to the questions. Central to this was people’s unconcern

about the need to join hands to resist encroachment of their rights by those who ‘control the

money-resources of the village’. The village society was the recurrent referent in the questions.

The questions were: the first: ‘Should khadi be merely that sort of humanitarian work or should

we use it chiefly as an instrument of political education?’42 The second: ‘Could we not start

small battles on local and specific issues against capitalism in the villages and use them as a

means of strengthening the people about a sense of cooperation among them in preference to the

khadi method?’43 The third: ‘Is love or non-violence compatible with possession or exploitation

in any shape or form? [If not] …would you advocate the maintenance of private ownership of

land as an unavoidable evil which will continue so long as individuals are not ripe or educated

enough to do without it? […] would it not be better to own all the land through the state and

place the State under the control of the masses?’44 Gandhi’s answers to this set of questions led

to three more exact questions from Bose: ‘If you say that private possession is incompatible with

non-violence, why do you put up with it?’ ‘Why then not have state ownership in place of private

ownership and thus minimize violence? ‘[…] do you not think that the State would be justified in

taking away those things from him [an unworthy trustee] with the minimum use of violence?’

‘[…] shall we take it that the fundamental difference between you and the Socialists is that you

believe that men live more by self-direction or will than by habit [while they believe to the

Bose, 1962 : 61
Ibid,: 63.
Ibid,: 64.

contrary], that being the reason why you strive for self-correction …?’ ‘Would it not be better

[…] to trust some organization to effect the necessary changes in man rather than depend upon

the casual advent of men like yourself? ‘What then, Sir, is your ideal social order?’45 The

interview was a planned one with the written questions being handed over to Gandhi. It must

mean that these questions agitated Bose for quite some time, and probably revealed Bose’s

impatience on the issue of urgent social transformation.

He had his second opportunity to observe him closely and talk to him was when Gandhi came to

Calcutta on December 2, 1945.46 On December 4 the same year, Bose had his ‘second interview

with Gandhiji’, which was at Gandhi’s initiative because he wanted to convey to Bose his idea

on how best to understand him. There was almost no question from Bose, and hardly any

conversation. The argumentative Bose as in the first interview was absent; in fact, he was

overwhelmed by Gandhi’s observations. He re-called: ‘The interview thus became one of the

most treasured experiences of my life. It is astonishing how he said that, a man is best

represented, not by the highest flights of thought which he reaches at rare moments, but by the

actual measure of the ideals which he is able to weave into the texture of his daily life.’ 47The

following is one part of Gandhi’s observations in course of the interview as reported by Bose:

Ibid.: 65-67.
The subsequent interviews came when the first edition of the Studies was already published. The relevance of the

later interviews for this paper lies in the fact that his experience and understanding of Gandhi was over when the

second edition came out, which bears no trace of his experiences of Gandhi narrated in My Days with Gandhi. Bose,

1953: 23-24.
Bose, 1953:24.

‘Gandhiji: ‘You not only make a collection of my writings but also try to interpret them. For

this, it is necessary that one should actually see me at work and not merely gather from my

writings. If you remain with me and also travel with me, you may observe many things which

will help you to understand me better.’48‘It is thus necessary for a man who wishes to understand

an idea, to know also how it actual1y works out in practice.’49 ‘So you must not only observe me

at work, but also see the institutions and men through whom I am working. See them when I am

there and also when I am away, and try to find out how the ideal actually works out in

practice.’50‘So you see why I am anxious that anyone who really wants to understand an ideal,

should also observe how it actually works out in life.’51

Bose had a third opportunity to pose questions, not exactly personally, to Gandhi when he was

instructed to organize varied questions, many among more than ‘seven hundred Congress

workers and journalists’ in Bengal had in mind during a Congress workers’ meeting in Sodpur,

Bengal, on January 5 and 6, 1946. The first: ‘In many parts of Bengal, the cultivators are

Muslims and the proprietors Hindus. Recently in some places, the Muslim tillers have refused to

till the land under Hindu owners. What should the Hindu owners do under the circumstances?’52

Gandhi’s answer in strictly personal capacity as a satyagrahi was: ‘the real cleavage […] was not

communal but economic’. According to Gandhi, ‘The only rightful owner of the land was he

who tilled it. The present proprietors were morally entitled to hold land only if they became

trustees for it. If the cultivators of the fields of a proprietor, who had become a trustee, refused to

Ibid.: 24.
Ibid.: 25.

till the land for him, he would not sue them or seek otherwise to coerce them. He would leave

them alone and try to earn his livelihood independently by his honest industry. If he has been

discharging his function as trustee honestly, they would come to him before long in contrition

and seek his guidance and help. For, he would use his privilege, not to fill his pockets by the

exploitation of the labourers, but teach the latter co-operation and organization so as to increase

their produce and generally ameliorate their condition. This would mean that the proprietor must

himself become a cultivator ‘par excellence.’’53 For his children to inherit the land, they must

also become worthy trustees.54

Gandhi’s exposition ‘did not seem to be satisfactory to’ Bose. Unhappy with Gandhi’s resolution

of the issue of economic cleavage, he wrote what he thought to be ‘a long and perhaps a pedantic

letter’ on January 7, 1946.55 In it Bose raised questions, particularly because Gandhi spoke of

‘confiscation without compensation if it came in conflict with the interests of the nation’ in 1931

1934, and 1937, whether he was against inheritance. He thought that Gandhi’s idea on

trusteeship as re-produced above ‘hardly touched’ private ownership. His principal questions

were: First: Given Gandhi’s position that ‘the only heir of a trustee is the public’, ‘why should

not the property pass on to the community on the death of the man [the trustee]?’ Second: [Is

not] ‘the final extinction of private property […] the natural corollary of non-violence and the

Ibid.: 26.
Ibid.: 27.
Ibid.: 27-30.

theory of trusteeship?’ Then dismissed as confused, Bose found Gandhi’s fuller response later in

February 1947.56

‘Q. Is it possible to defend by means of non-violence anything which can only be gained through


A. It followed from what he [Gandhi] had said […] that what was gained by violence could not

only not be defended by non-violence, but the latter required the abandonment of ill-gotten gains.

Q. Is the accumulation of capital possible except through violence whether open or tacit?

A. Such accumulation by private persons was impossible except through violent means, but

accumulation by the State in a non-violent society was not only possible, it was desirable and


Q. Whether a man accumulates material or moral wealth he does so only through the help or co-

operation of other members of society. Has he then the moral right to use any of it mainly for

personal advantage?

A. The answer was an emphatic No.’

The three opportunities for Bose to converse with Gandhi helped him bring out Gandhi’s

essential positions on social and political issues. Needless to say, this combined with Bose’s

observations of Gandhi’s political actions. In the dialectics between the two thinkers, both were

steadfast in intellectual and personal honesty, even in their skeptical moments. The Studies, the

Selections and My Days with Gandhi bear testimony to this.

In his dated entries for February 1947, Bose did not identify which of the many conversations in this time

provided the answer to the questions stated above. The one quoted above fits the Bose’s enquiries underlying these

questions. It is very likely the questions were not posed to Gandhi by Bose himself.

The Text: Studies in Gandhism

Discerning continuities and discontinuities in the chapters through editions of the Selections and

Studies is not an easy task. This is because leaving out a chapter of an earlier edition does not

mean the theme was taken out from designs to represent Gandhi, the thinker. Its principal

arguments are incorporated in articles on proximate issues. Only chapters on Satyagraha,

Interview with Gandhism and Lenin and Gandhi are constants in all the three editions of the

Studies, the latter two remaining unchanged in course of editions.

Introduction to Gandhism

Introduction to Gandhism57 replaced ‘The Case for an Intellectual Movement in Support of

Gandhi’ in the first edition of Studies in Gandhism.58 The latter was by way of foregrounding

vichara, ‘intellectual approach’ or the ‘analytical insight in life’, so vital to prevent ‘living

principles [of Gandhian movement] degenerate into a formal deadness of habit’. 59 ‘Pride may

invade our path, and so many dullness of thought and of action. It is intellect alone which can

rescue us from such a situation.’60 So Bose felt the urgency of an intellectual movement in

support of Gandhi. Given his professed commitment to objectivity as a scientist, vichara was a

prerequisite of determined ‘analyses of the root cause of everything’.61

Bose, 1962: 1-17. Bose’s Selections from Gandhi, (1934) had ‘Introduction in Gandhi’s Own Words’ which was

not reproduced in the second edition in 1960. Six brief excerpts from Gandhi’s writings composed a small chapter.

Bose, 1940: 1-5.
Ibid.: 1.
Ibid.: 5.
Ibid.: 5.

The only connect between ‘The Case for an Intellectual Movement in Support of Gandhi’ in the

1940 Studies and the ‘Introduction to Gandhism’ (1947, 1962) was alerting the readers about a

place for Bose’s ‘personal belief’ [about what is to be done to prevent compromising Gandhism]

(1940) and his ‘personal observations by way of comment or criticism’ in his exposition on

Gandhism (1947, 1962).

A preoccupation with Marxism encloses the Studies (1947, 1962) as it opened with a comparison

between the Marxian and the Gandhian philosophies of history in the ‘Introduction’ and ended

with a full though brief essay on ‘Lenin and Gandhi’. Bose admitted to ‘a partial extent’ ‘the

soundness [of the Marxian] criticism’ that ‘the importance’ assigned to leadership [in Gandhian

thought] was ‘overdone’ [because dialectical evolution of material conditions would lead to the

emancipation of labouring humanity, and eventually to progress]. But, for lack of adequate

evidence, Bose could not ‘unfortunately subscribe to the Marxian faith that freedom is the goal

towards which History is inevitably leading mankind, or that progress is itself an undeniable

causal law.’62 For the same reason, Bose found it difficult to accept the Gandhian belief in the

‘operation of a Higher Law which rules the destiny of mankind’. He wrote: ‘But personally, let

me confess, I have not yet come across any dependable evidence which justifies such a belief.

For me, the existence of a Higher Purpose has neither been proved nor disapproved… I shall

prefer to continue to believe that the observed progress in human history … has been brought

about by the operation of intelligent sympathy.’ But he was sure that he did not have definite

answers to many questions this would provoke.63 His use of expressions like ‘a partial extent’ –

Bose, 1962: 3.
Bose, 1962: 4.

not only in this piece of writing -- was to create spaces of ambiguity to accommodate his doubts

and disagreements on Marxian political and moral positions; not so much for his categorical

disagreement with Marxism, say on the insignificant role of the individual (passive and

conservative out of ‘inner acquiescence’) in relation to culture, and with regard to revolution

(determined by objective conditions rather than by determined role of a satyagrahi). The

Gandhian position which Bose shared offered greater and positive agency to the individual with

regard to his task in social transformation, compared to ‘undue depreciation of the individual’s

role in history’ in Marxism. Gandhi’s plan of ‘bringing about social change not through coercion

[as Marxian state machinery would] but by conversion’ towards ‘a basic change in the present

mental organization of mankind’ made a ‘deep appeal’ to Bose. That conversion included willing

self-transformation towards living not by ‘self-interest or the immediate interest of the herd’ but

by the interests of the ‘suffering humanity, ‘conversion of all men into toilers’ in a new mode of

production securing distribution of ‘the wealth of mankind equitably, if not equally’, conversion

of rulers into willing agents of help to their ‘erstwhile victims’ build up ‘a new social and

economic [‘a non-violent economy’] order based on justice, equality and freedom’, and

conversion of ‘narrow nationalism’ into commitment to share India’s ‘resources in common with

the rest of the mankind’. For Gandhi, Bose located, the fundamental question was: ‘How is the

power to shape social destiny going to be transferred from the privileged classes to the toiling

millions?’ Bose found in Gandhi’s philosophy and programme of transformation the possibility

of enduring progress. ‘I believe it would be worthwhile to give it a fair trial on a large scale in a

world living under the dark shadow of war.’64

Bose, 1962: 8.

Economics of Non-violence

The apprehension of a war in 1938, which might not be the last one, made Gandhi think about

alternative ways of conflict resolution. Working out economics of non-violence became his

task.65 A non-violent economics would be an economy without exploitation to be set up in two

steps: first, propagation of the ideal, then, creation of an exploitation-free economy. The first step

involved voluntary abandonment of ‘ill-gotten gains’ that would thereby resolve the issue of

inheriting from the past an economy marked by ‘inequality and class differences’. This would

place a community on a moral plane hopefully enabling it ‘to succeed in its moral appeal to an

aggressor or opponent through war-like non-violence.’ Gandhi thought Indian people’s tradition

of austerity would help him motivate them in joining ‘a new religious struggle’, namely, practice

of ‘privation and suffering in pursuance of the non-violent ideal so that the ‘lowly’ could be

emancipated and inherit the earth.’66 Resistance of the privileged would make the second task

difficult to attain. Gandhi thought that creation of voluntary organizations and education would

take care of that. The economy of non-violence would entail creation of a decentralized economy

in which ‘both production and consumption [would] be as close as to one another as possible’.

Machinery which could be ‘utilized without loss of freedom’ would be welcome.

These Gandhian ideas on viability of a new economy of non-violence were underscored by his

fundamental position that ‘unless something had been gained by non-violence, it could not be

defended by that technique’. Capitalism entailed ‘private persons [accumulating capital] only by

‘Economics of Non-violence’, Bose, 1962: 19-37.
Bose, 1962: 21.

taking recourse to violence, whether open or tacit’, its implication being that a capitalist structure

could not be defended by means of non-violent method.’67

Swaraj and the State

Given the transient character of success through violence, non-violence alone would secure

deliverance the masses aspired for. Enduring deliverance from capital could come only through

the masses’ voluntary adoption of ‘contentment and simplicity’ within the frame of a new

outlook which precluded ‘multiplicity of material wants’. ‘We shall cease to think of getting

what we can but we shall decline to receive what all cannot get.’68 This would stipulate ‘a juster

distribution of products of labour’. That would be the cornerstone of a new order, Swaraj or self-

rule, which was not ‘mere political freedom’, and could be attained through non-violence only –

not by violence.69Real Swaraj would not be the result of ‘the acquisition of authority by the few

but by the acquisition of the capacity of all to resist authority when it is abused.’ That too must

be through non-violent non-cooperation. A minimal state with least governing of people would

be the ideal arrangement despite its implicit anarchist potentiality. In fact, as Gandhi envisaged,

the withering away of the state would begin immediately right after transition to statehood rather

than after violent elimination of all opposition through the instrumentality of the state.

Bose, 20-21.

‘Swaraj and the State’, Bose, 1962: 38-45. The italics was placed by Bose probably to highlight what appeared to

him to be significant, and in the present case, agreeable to him, too.

Ibid., 40-41.

The Theory of Trusteeship

Gandhi valued voluntary or willing acts by individuals who would be stakeholders in the creation

of new order of non-violent non-cooperation and of reconstruction of self and society. Under the

purview of such a normative framework were the ‘monied men, speculators, scrip-holders,

landholders, factory owners and the like’ – those who lived ‘on the blood of the masses’.70

Gandhi wanted them to voluntarily give up their ‘millions’ when ‘millions of their kith and kin

[were] starving’. With regard to intellectuals -- litterateurs and scientists – Gandhi wanted

everybody to engage in bread labour and earn only the ‘same wage for an honest day’s work’. If

they would earn more, then ‘the bulk of his greater earnings must be used for the good of the

State…’ Like his other projects of value-driven transformation, Gandhi had reservations about

these also. ‘Indian society may not ever reach the goal but it was the duty of every Indian to set

his sail towards that goal and no other if India was to be a happy land.’ He was convinced that

‘when the ignorant and famishing millions became awake’ unless ‘the capitalist class (…)

read[s] the sign of the times and revise[s] their notions of God-given right to all they possess’. 71

Economic equality was for Gandhi the ‘master key to non-violent independence’. Though he

knew that ‘the entire social order has to be reconstituted’, he thought any individual could start

the process of transformation; in fact, he set the agenda for an individual initiative.72 Gandhi was

against use of violence to dispossess the rich of their possessions. ‘I expect to convert the

zamindars and other capitalists by the non-violent method, and therefore there is for me nothing

‘The Theory of Trusteeship’, Bose, 1962: 46-60.
Ibid.: 48.
Ibid.: 49.

like an inevitability of class conflict.’73 Non-cooperation of cultivators and if they ‘intelligently

combine’, would be enough to ‘sterilize’ the ‘zamindary evil’. For Gandhi, it would ‘be no less a

form of class war than its violent manifestation’. Satyagraha, the principal means to establish

economic equality, was not ‘war’. However, if the rich would hold on to their possessions and

fruits of their talents, and not act as a ‘trustee for the poor’, ‘we shall have to deprive them of

their possessions through the State with the minimum exercise of violence’. But by virtue of ‘a

complete reorientation of life’s values in a new direction’, ‘all men will live as servants of the


An Interview with Mahatma Gandhi

An Interview with Mahatma Gandhi was singularly focused on materialist issues which

demanded immediate rather than eventual solutions. It was addressed to the desirability of ‘local

and specific issues against capitalism, ‘maintenance of private ownership of land and factories’,

and the state as ‘violence in concentrated and organised form’.74 Gandhi’s answers were less

philosophical / ethical compared to his ‘answers’ Bose constructed in the Studies, on the basis of

his idea of how Gandhi would answer.75

The draft report of the 1934 interview was ‘submitted to Gandhiji for correction, and he sent it

back in the following shape for publication …’76 This was the standard practice for all reports. It

could be Gandhi’s caution about possible negative impact of a misrepresentation of his ideas and

Ibid.: 51.
For details read the discussion of the essay An Interview with Gandhi above as well as chapter 5 in the Studies

(1960). The essay is not taken up for a detailed discussion because it has been done already.
These ‘answers’ are without quotation marks. See page 314 in the Studies.
Bose, 1962:61.

observations in the public domain. Or, was it something else also for reports drafted by Bose?

Gandhi must have sensed that Bose was a brilliant academic man with a scientific temper. He

might have trusted Bose’s capacity to objectivity. Did he? Gandhi’s reaction to Bose’s long letter

in January 1947 on a contentious issue was that there was ‘some confusion in [Bose’s] mind’.77

On his comparison of his report with the one by Sushila Nayyar on the same set of Gandhi’s

public speeches, Bose pointed out to Gandhi that ‘mine contains a little of my own thoughts as

well.’ Gandhiji observed, ‘Yes, I have had the same feeling about your report.’78

Conflict and its Resolution in Hindu Civilization and Meaning and Method of Satyagraha

Before ‘all men will live as servants of the community’, till that point would be reached, the

necessity of peaceful resolution of conflict between disputants would continue. Gandhi was ‘the

first man in modern India to adapt a technique considered valid for religious life to the

circumstances of what is considered to be the secular sphere of our life’. 79 The technique,

satyagraha, was rooted in Hindu civilization.80 ‘Eagerness’ for or ‘insistence’ on truth was an

Bose, 1953: 27.
Ibid.: 45.
‘Conflict and its Resolution in Hindu Civilization’, Bose, 1962: 69-115. This essay (Chapter Six), unlike the

previous ones, carries a bibliography and is in the nature of a historical narrative rather than an ethical thesis.
Bose discussed in some detail the working of traditional institutions in settlement of disputes and making of

peace, like panchayat prior to the beginning of western domination. Much of this exposition was based on analysis

of Hindu scripts, commentaries on them and works by western and Indian scholars. A turn to harsher punishment

meted out to offenders by panchayat in British India was located by Bose through an analysis of 1911 Census of

India. The tradition set up by ‘the protestant forms of Hinduism’ was also mentioned. Bose referred to this

civilizational heritage to highlight Gandhian distinctiveness.

acknowledgement of a state of ‘plurality of truth’, in which a satyagrahi was committed to

undertake tapasya or self-suffering as he would engage non-violently with a different truth held

by another person. Gandhi was definite that would also lead to recognition of one’s erroneous

understanding if there would be, any as well truth on the other side. This was the traditional and

religious way conflict resolution in ancient India. ‘Gandhi’s genius lay, firstly, in extending its

application from exclusively religious to secular spheres of life, and secondly, in converting

satyagraha from a private and personal instrument into a large-scale collective enterprise for the

people of India.’81 But the possibility of people’s failure to ‘remain restrained in the face of

repression’ or ‘their demoralization and collapse after an initial exercise of non-violent

resistance’ was real. Even Gandhi’s ‘extraordinary watchfulness’ was not sufficient because of ‘a

loss of initiative [‘on the part of lesser leaders’], a progressive decrease in critical thinking and a

greater concentration of authority, even though the authority was of a moral kind’. May be, Bose

conjectured, people’s acceptance of the rule of elders in joint family and panchayat made them

accustomed to authoritarian rule. Only decentralization of authority could ensure people’s

alertness to the demands of non-violent engagement with the authorities, which included

cooperation among themselves. Economic equality and village Swaraj were its necessary

preconditions. As to the possibility of engaging capitalism in the villages as a means of

Bose, Nirmal Kumar, 1962: 89. In a first significant reference to Gandhi’s biographical experience, Bose

proposed: ‘It is quite possible that, in the last analysis, this opinion of Gandhi [‘the tradition of peace, or of love and

self-suffering for its sake, was more characteristic of women than of men’] came from the deep [boyhood]

influence’ of his mother.81 Ibid. Bose directed us to read My Days with Gandhi: 189-207. Bose followed up with

narrative of application of satyagraha in India in early twentieth century India, particularly Vaikam Satyagraha

(1924), Salt Satyagraha (1930). Ibid., 80-101.

strengthening the people or bringing about a sense of co-operation among them’, Gandhi’s

answer was in the negative.82 A nation practicing Swaraj would be equally under obligation of

abstinence in its use of ‘the natural resources lying within its accidental geographical boundary’

for the sake of humanity. Otherwise, despite material wealth, the moral stature of mankind would

be low. The way out, for Gandhi, was ‘experiment with some brave new way of settling disputes

like satyagraha’. Indian civilization was in a better position to undertake it. In the chapter on

‘Meaning and Method of Satyagraha’, Bose re-composed Gandhi’s observations on satyagraha in

the form of an agenda.83

Gandhi and Indian Politics

In the penultimate essay Bose turns to a history of Gandhi’s political practice in pursuit of his

‘ideas on specific economic and political question’ between 1917 and 1947.84 As to

organizations vital for execution of every political programme, Gandhi would initially depend on

existing organizations rather than proceed to create new ones. However, he would try to bring

about organizational changes to make the existing ones more committed and efficient. As much

crucial was ‘internal purification’ to rectify ‘the weakness within [of people] which made […]

subjugation possible’, ‘as a part of setting one’s own house in order. Along with these two

framing Gandhian political activism, a third factor was Gandhi’s traits, particularly his

‘obstinacy’. He was ‘indeed hard to be convinced’. But that made him very focused as he

detailed the execution of a contested programme.

For a larger discussion on this see pages 15-16 of this paper, and Bose’s paper ‘Conflict and its Resolution in

Hindu Civilization’, now being discussed.

‘Meaning and Method of Satyagraha’ in Bose, 1962: 116-125.
‘Gandhi and Indian Politics’, Bose, 1962: 126-309.

His ‘amazing’ ‘understanding of or influence upon the masses’, ‘petered out rapidly as an active

force in the political field’ soon after his death.85 Bose commented: ‘This Gandhian phase in

Indian politics has left a thin sediment behind, consisting partly of ideology, and partly of a high

moral standard demanded in political behaviour. But one can hardly foretell if the ideas or

morals which he represented and tried to popularize by practical steps will sprout up once more

in the soil of India, or in some other part of the world where conditions may be more


The ‘political climate’ in India in which Gandhi found himself from the end of 1915, was

nationalism as India’s ‘new religion’, Muslim self-perception as ‘a community of rulers’ and

acceptance of separateness by the Muslims and the Hindus alike, relative political insignificance

of caste and class, and militant nationalism.87

The Servants of India Society in Poona (1905) was Gandhi’s first choice of an appropriate

organization for his ‘chief task’, namely, ‘’the collective organization of the working people in

terms of non-violence’ – an organization he did not eventually join. The next was All- India

Home Rule League (1917), where differences developed with some leading members. Gandhi’s

Bose explained Gandhi’s approach thus: ‘Gandhiji never appealed to the sentiments of the masses in a collective

way as if they were an amorphous crowd subject to sentimental appeals only, whether the sentiments were set to

high key or low. He talked to them in a manner as if one person were talking to another person. He tried to rouse the

personal sense of responsibility of each man separately, and he did succeed through his extremely rational

arguments….’ Bose, 1970: 3.

Bose, 1962:128.
Ibid., 128-132.

association with the Indian National Congress (1885) began in 1901, which later became ‘one of

the principal organizations’ for him.

Gandhi in his ideas and activities was ‘inclined in certain particular ways […] [which] gave a

personal character to much that he tried to do, while it also cast its shadow upon those who

worked with him, and brought about a modification in the character of the institutions through

which he worked.’88An interesting example of this and obviously of collective non-violence was

Champaran (Bihar, April, 1917).89 His ‘solitary satyagraha’, ‘open defiance…quiet courage and

determination’, became infectious among indigo-ryots. He also ‘set his opponents at ease’. He

wrote: ‘In consultation with my co-workers I had decided nothing should be done in the name of

Congress. What we wanted was work and not name, substance and not shadow. For the name of

the Congress was a bête noir of the Government and their controllers – the planters.’90 In Kheda

or Kaira (Gujrat, April, 1918), it was collective non-violent peasant resistance.91 In

Ahmedabad,92 it was again ‘the adoration of the leader as a person’ which resolved labour unrest

(February 1918), but also produced ‘a possible drift towards concentration of moral authority’.

That posed threats to ‘progressive involvement of the masses’. With apology, Bose observed that

‘the organization of collective non-violence becomes a complicated and delicate process’, with

the possibility that a movement could ‘slide into impatient outbursts of violence’.

Ibid.: 126.
For Bose’s reconstruction Ibid.: 136-138.
Bose, 1962: 138.
Bose, 1962, Ibid.: 138-140.
Ibid.: 140-143.

Giving leadership to mass non-violent resistance presupposed a careful study of the situation and

Gandhi preferred to ‘operate on a ground where there was already a strong sense of “felt

wrong”’.93 The Rawlatt Satyagraha on April 6, 1919, provoked by the repressive Rawlatt Act

(1919), death and humiliation in Punjab drawing men into protest on April 13, 1919, and

Khilafat ‘wrongs’ and Gandhi’s strategic support to the Mussalmans in 1921, were cases which

worked on a sense of being wronged. But a sense of wrong would not be sufficient for Gandhi;

hence his ‘extensive lecture tours’ and use of two weekly newspapers, Young India and

Navajivan. Riding on general loyalty Gandhi proposed a programme of protest.94

‘Spectacular hartals’, voluntary cessation of normal business, and ‘frenzied mob-outbursts’—all

pointing to the rise of the masses, initiated the non-cooperation movement of 1921-1922.95 But

all the social strata did not respond to Gandhi’s civil disobedience and Government’s response to

it. There was marked difference between the Muslims and the Hindus. ‘In contrast to Muslims,

who were […] drifting towards a form of cultural nationalism, the Hindus tended to become less

and less ‘nationalistic’ in one sense…[T]he Hindu population…tended to become more and more

democratic in orientation, and perhaps also more secular […] than before’.96 The educated

middle class reacted against ‘blind obedience to authority usurp[ing] the position of reason’,

‘hatred against the West …under the garb of patriotism’, and the possibility of destruction of all

the gains of science and of representative government. Bose recounted the critique: ‘The Gandhi

movement will no doubly collapse by internal disruption as it is composed of various elements,

Ibid.: 144-148.
Ibid.: 149.
Ibid.: 151-155.

96 Ibid.: 157.

drawn from Tolstoy, Lenin, communism, socialism. Rigid Brahmanism, militant

Mahomedanism97 mutually repellant and explosive when they come into contact with one

another and already producing the natural terrible results’.98The third division was between those

in favour of changes in the Gandhian ‘Constructive Programme’ (the Swarajya Party/Swaraj

Party) and the other who wanted to carry on along the Gandhian path despite ‘lack of popular

enthusiasm’ – the ‘no-changers’. Gandhi did not use the respect he enjoyed to clinch his position

within Congress because that’ might cause injury to the national organization itself’.99Gandhi

decided to remove himself ‘out of the way’ and to marshal the non-violent economic strength of

the masses’ ‘in so far as educated Indians will permit [him] to do so’. That was 1924. He stuck to

this even in times of the rise of Leftism and Trade Unionism since 1921, and between 1928 and

1929 when trade disputes became frequent.

Militant nationalism was a major development in 1930s, and Gandhi considered it to be a

challenge to his non-violence. The challenge was ‘transmuting this undisciplined life-destroying

latent energy into disciplined life-saving energy whose use ensures absolute success’. For this, to

him, civil disobedience was ‘a sovereign remedy’.100The successful breach of Salt Law on March

12, 1930, continuing up to January, 1930, was a beginning of that.

Persistent difference between him and intellectual Congress men created conditions for Gandhi’s

withdrawal from Congress politics in September, 1934. The point of difference was on the use of

civil disobedience, which for many in the Congress was a technique of ‘anyhow bringing British

Ibid.: 158.
Ibid.: 160-161, 163, 171-172.
Ibid.: 180.

rule to end’ — but ‘only one of [Gandhi’s] minor objectives; for him, a process for ‘organization

of the masses into power’. Gandhi made a firm statement on the use of satyagraha: ‘I must

advice all Congressmen to suspend Civil Resistance for Swaraj as distinguished from specific

grievances. They should leave it to me alone. It should be resumed by others in my lifetime only

under my direction, unless one arises claiming to know the science better than I do and inspires

confidence.’101 However, he could not completely disengage from Congress politics. He

communicated to people through meetings and writings about his position on elections following

1935 reforms, the issue of convening a Constituent Assembly, and the pre-requisites of ‘office –

acceptance’ after the elections in which Congress did well.

He still believed in the possibility of preparing the ‘ground for Swaraj through governmental

machinery’. He wanted Congress to run the state without the use of police and the military,

relying instead on ‘a large band of volunteers professing non-violence of the ‘true’ type’ to cope

with emergent conflicts; to free itself from Red Tape; and, to remove untouchability, work for

communal unity, reform prisons, universalize education etc.

In the light of this Gandhian agenda, Bose examined the problems faced by Congress in office:

some ‘due to relations with the British Government, some due to forces operating in the country.

but outside Congress control, and some […] completely of internal origin’.102The elucidation by

Bose involved continuous reference to contemporary history. Bose made an eventual reflection:

‘These were the exciting times as well as painful times: exciting because Europe was caught in

Ibid.: 184.
Ibid.: 190-225. The problems listed by Bose were: Maintenance of peace and tranquility, Land reform and

zemindars, Labour and peasant organization, Agitation in the states, Problem of universal education, ‘Nationalism’

of the Muslim League, Protection of provincials, National planning, and Internal conflicts.

the maelstrom of another world war, and painful because the cleavage in the Congress leadership

frequently began to slide down from political to personal levels.’ 103 Gandhi’s satyagraha was at

the center differences within the party: for Subhas Chandra Bose with his ‘socialistic

nationalism’, it was ‘a means of limited potentiality; for Nehru with ‘socialistic’ or ‘republican’

political sympathies, it was ‘a “decent” means’ but with ‘unclear’ political implications; and, for

his ‘sundry assortment of co-workers’, ‘a means of political action’ but with unacceptable

economic stipulation. The divisions became accentuated with India’s involvement in the second

world war. Bose brought out the complex relationship between the war, Congress and

Gandhi.104Among the various issues and engagements was the 1942 Quit-India movement.

‘Gandhi […] gave expression for the first time, to the demand for British withdrawal as an

immediate necessity’. On the possibility of worse anarchy, Gandhi observed: ‘That is the

consideration which has weighed with me all these 22 years. I waited and waited until the

country should develop the non-violent strength necessary to throw off the foreign yoke. But my

attitude has now undergone a change. […] If I continue to wait I might have to wait till

doomsday. […] I must ask the people to resist the slavery. […] I have faith that out of that

anarchy may arise pure non-violence’.105 With their leaders in Congress imprisoned, the unarmed

masses became rebellious, displaying unprecedented heroism and Gandhian restraint at the same

time. ‘It was Gandhi and Gandhi everywhere.’ The masses returned to the streets in the wake of

the I.N.A trial between November 1945 and February 1946 – but without the necessary


Ibid.: 224.
Ibid.: 225-243.
Ibid.: 235.

Gandhi expressed his resentment to the British government ‘coquetting now with the Congress,

now with the League’ towards formation of an interim government as a part of the Cabinet

Mission Proposal on transfer of power in 1946. He was unhappy also with regard to the idea of a

Constituent Assembly for India because it contained ‘the seeds of separatism’. Muslim League,

however, thought that ‘the basis and the foundations of Pakistan [were] inherent in the Mission’s

plan’. The League eventually rejected the proposal citing ‘intransigence of Congress’ and ‘the

breach of faith […] by the British Government’. ‘Direct Action’ began in Calcutta on August 16,

1946. Bose graphically recounted the event, and also revealed Gandhi’s mind when he rushed to

similarly afflicted Noakhali.106 Gandhi said: ‘My own doctrine was failing. I don’t want to die a

failure but as a successful man. But it may be that I may die a failure.’

On the issue of division of India, Congress by-passed Gandhi’s opinion, He was alone ‘to defend

the citadel’. Congress laid aside non-violence as instrument of collective action but at the same

time could not do without his compassion. Gandhi eventually decided to ‘wait patiently’ for

conditions favourable to mass movement to develop ‘out of the increasing disappointment’ of the

masses on non-fulfilment of their major problems. Disillusioned, Gandhi said: ‘I thought that our

struggle was based on non-violence, whereas in reality it was not more than passive resistance

which essentially is a weapon of the weak. It leads naturally to armed resistance whenever


Independence dawned, laying aside Gandhi’s principle and practice of non-violence.’ Gandhi

alone ploughed his lonely furrow. His faith seemed brighter than ever.’ In fact he sat down to

another indefinite fast when Calcutta was ‘on the verge of a recrudescence of communal riots’,

Ibid.: 261-265.
Ibid.: 293.

shortly after August 15, 1947. ‘And in a few days’ time, strange things began to happen. Leaders

belonging to all communities stirred themselves, and peace was eventually restored.’

But Gandhi himself became an object of violence on January 20, 1947, because of an impression

that he was ‘more solicitous of the welfare of Muslims, for which he was even prepared to

sacrifice legitimate Hindu interest’. ‘[E]very moment of the last ten days since the bomb had

been thrown was spent in the reorganization of his faith.’ Tagore’s Ekla chalo re! Pilgrim! dare

to walk alone, was the only source of his ‘spiritual solace’. On the 30th he was shot dead.

‘[P]erhaps it was the height of tragedy when his erstwhile companions so arranged that his

mortal remains should be carried in a gun-carriage over which military bombers hovered and

dipped low in ostentatious salute’.108

Gandhi and Lenin

‘Written in gaol in 1932’, Gandhi and Lenin is the revised and corrected article, first published

as Gandhi: The man of religion in 1933.109 Apparently, it was written to highlight the Gandhian

path through a contrast with Lenin’s methods. Fundamentally, the difference, as Bose

understood, was due to ‘their inner convictions and attitudes’.110 Transferring the power of the

state from the hands of the exploiters to the exploited through a revolution, recasting entirely

property relations through dictatorship of the proletariat, and subsequent political education to

Ibid.: 303.

Voice of youth, July 28, 1933, reprinted after revision and correction, under the title, ‘Gandhi and Lenin” in 1935

in Visva Bharati Quarterly, 1:1, 43-48. Reproduced in all three editions without any revision. Bose, 1962: 310-316.

See also Bhattacharya, and Sarkar, eds., 2002.

Bose, 1962.Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from the essay.

reshape ‘men’s outlook on life’, would be the means to ensure that all ‘men gain the opportunity

of free and full exercise of their talents’. Gandhi placed singular emphasis on transformation of

individual human character through a combination of ‘constructive economic and social

programme’ and ‘non-violent non-cooperation’. Satyagrahi’s task would be to ‘convert either

individuals or communities’ ‘into the ideal of common possession and of trusteeship’. Gandhi

believed that the secret of such radical transformation was ‘to love the oppressors of mankind as

oneself, even [when] we are opposing them by militant non-cooperation in order to end the

system which has so far been built upon injustice’. Gandhi ‘leaves to the keeping of God’ the

results of what Bose perceived as the ‘terribly difficult adventure to which Gandhi invites us’.

Gandhi wanted individuals to adhere consistently to the means of ‘Work and Love’ to secure

‘universal good and […] complete human brotherhood’ all in the name of God. In fact, the

prospect of individual ‘salvation’, without which there could not be any ‘true happiness’,

depended on ‘worship of God with knowledge and understanding’.111 This was Gandhi’s advice

to ‘us’, the ‘weak’ who would never be admitted ‘into [God’s] […] designs of the future’. But

Bose pointed out: ‘Secretly, to the chosen few who can bear it, he [Gandhi] whispers a less

luring truth. To them Gandhi says that the promise of the dawn is but the bait with which God

tempts His creatures to action, along paths which He chooses. And if He so wills, He may sweep

aside all our hopes and joys and hurl us into the depths of unutterable misery.’ Bose was definite

that ‘men follow him [Gandhi] in thousands even when he calls upon them to proceed the portals

of death’, because they were drawn by ‘the character and personality of the man in which his

philosophy has clothed itself’, ‘rather than any direct appeal which lies in that philosophy’.

Bose, Nirmal Kumar, Studies in Gandhism, Calcutta: Indian Associated Publishing, Co., Ltd, 1940: 1-2.

Towards the end of his analysis, Bose brought back Lenin, to observe that Gandhi along with

him was the ‘living testimony to the might of the human spirit’. Bose’s expressions like ‘terribly

difficult adventure’, ‘weak as we are’ and ‘indeed terrible words’ in an otherwise unambiguously

adulatory exposition on Gandhi in Gandhi and Lenin112 were probably by way of dialogic

writing Bose crafted to bring out Gandhi’s essentialist life-view. The ‘fairly long’ interview with

Gandhi (1934) was dialogic in both form and intent. Despite being a discussion on Lenin, the

representative Marxist categories like alienation, class, class struggle and capitalism were not

pivotal in the Studies. One wonders whether Bose read S.A Dange’s Gandhi vs. Lenin. He was

also a participant in the debate in contemporary Bengal on Marxism and the Russian experiment,

and 113 though perceived by some as a ‘left leaning Anthropologist’114 a critic of both.115

Nirmal Kumar Bose ended with an optimistic note typical of the Gandhian vision of future of

mankind. ‘Perhaps non-violence which thus became enshrined by his martyrdom into a seed, will

one day spring into life once more, when, not individuals like Socrates and Gandhi would be its

lonely representatives, but when it will spring into life in the garden of million souls, and offer

solace and strength to a restless, unhappy, and frightened family of man.’116In a later text, Bose

‘Gandhi and Lenin’, Bose, 1962: 310-316.
Dange, S. A, Gandhi vs. Lenin, Bombay: Liberty Literature Co., 1921: 23-39. Digital Library of India Item

2015.180443 https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.180443 Accessed on 7.11.18.

Gandhi, Raj Mohan, Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire, New: Penguin Books, 2007:

Bhattacharyay, Sabyasachi, The Defining Moments in Bengal: 1920-1947, New Delhi: Oxford University Press,

2014: 146-217.
Bose, Nirmal Kumar, 1962: 303.

moved from this metaphysical transcription of the distinctively Gandhian optimism to a

sociological one: ‘In moments of deeper crisis, when the simple people of the world, those who

labour and wish to leave in peace, may find one day in the methods of Gandhi, a way of asserting

their own dignity and of the establishment of peace, Justice and Equality for which all the world


Bose, Nirmal Kumar, Gandhism and Modern India: Gandhi Memorial Lectures, 1969, Gauhati: University of

Gauhati, 1970: 117-118.