top of page

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, leadership traits, daily routine

Ayer also gives a description of the domestic life of Netaji in Singapore, his traits and his daily routine in his book "Unto Him a Witness". Netaji used to stay in a seaside Bungalow. "Usually, he was a late riser, because he invariably retired very late, and then read political and religious books in bed till the early hours of the morning. He rose any minute after six but never later than seven in the morning, had his bath and always breakfasted in his bed-cum-office room by 8-00 a.m. The breakfast consisted of a couple of half-boiled eggs and two or three cups of tea, which he enjoyed at all hours, between morning and evening. Colonel Raju, his personal physician, who was also staying on the same floor, in the room opposite to mine (Ayer's), used to say how difficult he found it to "manage" Netaji. " Always excess," Raju used to say", implying of his habits to munch extra supari or smoke excessively or play many rounds of badminton. A few mornings he took some Ayurvedic medicine with honey. Ayer continues,  "If after breakfast, no callers were expected, Netaji would drive first to the IIL Headquarters and carry on till about 11-00 a.m. or midday, then drop in at the Supreme Command Headquarters for an hour or so ; in between, tea would be sent for and he would gulp down several cups of it at both places. It was not unusual for him to forget all about his Iunch; not so his personal staff. But he was always thoughtful and considerate; and insisted on their taking tea too whenever he had it. But then. Colonel Raju and A.D.Cs. Rawat and Shamshere Singh would rather have a morsel of rice and curry than pots of tea. Back home about 2-00 p.m. Netaji and Staff would sit down for a rather late lunch." The lunch was inevitably simple - Plain boiled rice, thin dal, plain-cooked vegetables, a saucer of dahi (curds) and a banana, ending up with a cup of good coffee. Kali was his loyal and faithful table boy in lunch table and never would one day pass when Netaji would not be cracking a joke with Kali on the prices of the banana.  Kundan Singh was his faithful valet.

Writes Ayer in "Unto Him a Witness", "At any meal, particularly if he had a number of guests, Netaji had something very interesting and amusing to say about food. He avoided serious talk as far as possible. He wanted his guests, who sometimes included very junior INA officers or IIL, officials, to feel quite at home at table with him. Netaji used to crack jokes and laugh a lot even during hard times. He never showed his disappointment with debacles.

After lunch, he would go and sit in the drawing room to have another smoke to be followed by forty winks of sleep, if nobody had come to lunch or was waiting downstairs by appointment. In any event callers would begin coming from 3-00 p.m. onwards and the interviews would go on non-stop till nearly dusk. Then Netaji would send word to us in our rooms to get ready for badminton, and we would play till it was absolutely impossible to see the shuttlecock in the dark.

After a bath, Netaji would come down for dinner about 8-00 p.m. This was a more leisurely meal which Netaji would eat very well and enjoy every morsel of. At least two helpings if fish was really good, plenty of pooris with dal, followed by a plateful of rice with curry, one more helping of rice if the curry was very good, followed by some sweets.

Coffee would go round. Then we could tell how soon or late Netaji wished to go to bed that night. If he ordered more coffee to be sent up to his room sometime after dinner, then it was to be practically an all-night affair going through important papers, taking important decisions, writing letters.

When he was free for a while in the evening and did not fancy badminton, he would go found the grounds of the house and visit his pets—two monkeys, two goats, two rabbits, three or four ducks and geese, and a tonga pony.

One of the monkeys was named Ramu and the other Sita. He was very fond of Ramu, and Ramu was equally fond of Netaji.

The other pets really belonged to Colonel Raju who started collecting the menagerie patiently. Having seen them during his walk round the house for a few days, Netaji started liking them too. He would go to each of them and feed them with his own hand." Netajji however disliked cats and Abid Hasan had a few such pets who used to loiter around.

Ayer also recalls Netaji's penchant for making fun of even extremely difficult and troublesome situations. One night in April 1945 – Major Swami and Ayer was called to his room, and he said to them, "Italy gone, then Germany, then Japan. Which other world power shall we turn to next ? What about turning to Russia ? " He was also amused by the constant anti Bose propaganda of the BBC and the All India Radio (AIR). Ayer narrates one more incident, "Netaji always had a hearty laugh against himself whenever he heard the AIR say: " Subhas Bose will now think up some ingenious excuse for his failure to bring about a revolution inside India, and he will go on bluffing the Japanese." It would so happen that some high-ranking Japanese would be sitting with Netaji at that very moment."

Ayer also recalled another vital aspect of Netaji, of on the previous night of forming the Provisional Government of Azad Hind, he wrote pages after pages of his speech and gave them for typing to Ayer. Ayer writes, "What amazed me was that he never even once wanted to see any of the earlier pages that he had written. How he could remember every word that he had written in the preceding pages, how he could remember' the sequence, the paragraphs. In the entire script there was not one word corrected or scored out, and the punctuation was complete. That he wrote out the whole proclamation sheet after sheet, without a break and at one sitting was some measure of Netaji's clear thinking, remarkable memory and grasp and facile pen ! The entire historic proclamation was written with the ease with which a brief letter could be penned."

Ayer summed up Netaji's characteristics as, "Probably the most outstanding and admirable aspect of Netaji, the fighter, was his capacity to go on fighting—and fighting—in the face of defeats and disappointments." He gave examples after examples of the indomitable spirit of Netaji. After the desertion of the five officers of the INA to the British Army, Netaji was disappointed. He also sprained his hip during an exercise and was bed ridden for about a week. Once he got a little better, he called for a meeting of about thousand men of INA and spoke for about four hours to them on the betrayal. He asked the men to shoot any officer betraying them, ordered for the celebration of anti-traitor's day and turned the whole incident around in such a way that the morale of the troops, instead of going down, went up a few notches. After the vicious carpet bombing of the hospital in Myang on 10th February 1945, Netaji, still recovering from the hip muscle sprain, on hearing the news, immediately sent his adjutants Major Rawat and Major Swami, to check the condition of the patients and the staff. The hospital was completely burnt by using incendiary bombs. A large number of patients had been killed on the spot, and most of the rest had sustained severe burns and were transferred to the General Hospital. Netaji, despite doctor's advice and at great risk to his own health, went to the General Hospital to check the condition of his soldiers, talk to them personally and attend to their needs, two or three times a day.

Ayer thought that the "title of Supreme Commander, if it truly fitted any commander on the battlefields of Europe or Asia, fitted Netaji most superbly. He looked supreme, every inch of him." He used to address his soldiers as "sathiyon aur doston", literally comrades and friends. He mesmerized his soldiers by his own personality, charm, magnanimity and personal warmth. He told them to stay out of the battlefield if they had even the slightest doubt for the cause that they were fighting for or if they were afraid. His men knew that he meant every word that he spoke. He was sincere and for the first time they had a leader, the Supreme Commander, who was so frank and brutally honest with them so as to offer nothing but hunger, death and deprivation in return for their service. Probably this motivated his retreating Azad Hind men to live on absolutely nothing but jungle grass, and yet not even thinking of deserting or surrendering to the enemy. Often most unexpectedly he would drive into one of the camps of his soldiers and would walk into the kitchen, taste the food, assess the hygienic condition, and go to the dining hall to sit with the men on the ground and eat with them, as one of them. His men, most naturally, appreciated these gestures. He had a flair for the details. He knew the exact quantity of the rations for each and every item served to his soldiers and thus ensured complete accountability.

Netaji was also an ideal for the Asian leaders in his matter of dealing with Japanese leadership. Dr. Jose Laurel (President of the Philippines) and Dr. Ba Maw (Head of the State, Independent Burma), were both appreciative of the way Netaji handled his Japanese counterparts. He stood firm on the matters of principles. The Japanese highest leadership was appreciative of him and understood him, but not so the lesser leaders in South East Asia and in the Tokyo Head Quarters.

Netaji also had to tread very cautiously on the issue of carrying out his Government on the soil of independent Burma as there were risks of frictions. Even though Adipadi Ba Maw was favourably disposed towards his leadership, in later days that relationship was strained on account of several factors. The Azad Hind Government was solely responsible for the Indians on the Burmese soil. The Provisional Government had to recruit, carry out demonstrations and parades, celebrations, events, collect money and materials, but had to be careful of not breaking any sovereign rights of the Burmese. During the wartime, while the entire Burma was suffering from acute shortage of essential materials, the relative affluence of Azad Hind functionaries and people must have alienated a section of the locals. Also the Burmese Government had a precarious financial condition while Azad Hind Government could collect enough money from the Indians living in Burma to carry out their functions. Dr. Ba Maw was very sensitive on this aspect of violation of sovereign rights and reacted to even minor transgressions. There were also mischief mongers who worked for endangering the relationship between the Azad Hind and the Burmese Governments. Sixteen fateful months of Indo-Burman collaboration on the soil of Free Burma, started off in an atmosphere of cordiality. Netaji and Dr. Ba Maw exchanged courtesies, and put the leading members of their Governments and armies in touch with each other so as to ensure the smooth achievement of practical day-to-day co-operation between the two Organisations. However as days went by, "Total Mobilization" by Azad Hind government ensured free flow of resources and relative prosperity of the people under the Provisional Government and people began comparing between the dynamism of Netaji as against that of Ba Maw whose own people were suffering much from the absence of resources. Ayer writes in Unto Him a Witness, "Great warmth and cordiality marked the relations between General Aung San and Thakin Nu on the one hand and Netaji on the other. They made no secret of their admiration for the Indian patriot who was marshaling a liberation army against heavy odds, and whom they wished all luck. Netaji loved them both very deeply and held them up to the INA as models of resurgent youth reaching the top of the ladder in the National Administration."

Netaji had demonstrated his organizational and leadership quality by developing a well functioning Government within an astonishingly short period of time. He had a grasp for the details and could discuss on any topic that would be relevant for the Government and people, including manufacturing of essential items, and at the same time he could formulate lofty visions for his Army, Government and free India. Ayer sums it up, "With equal ease, he could discuss with Tojo the transfer of Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the Free India Government; and with his own Divisional Commander, the operations going on, on the eight sectors of the Burma-India front; with Dr. Ba Maw the highly complicated political situation in Burma ; with Wang Ching Wei, the intricate problems of Nanking vis-a-vis Chungking; with President Jose de Laurel of the Philippines, the Filipinos' differences with the Japanese ; and with the tonga driver in the League Headquarters the price of gram and grass for the horse. No detail was too small for him, and no man was too unimportant. He had a place in his head few every matter and a place in his heart for every man." The concept and the formulation of the Rani of Jhansi brigade itself was a testimony to the farsightedness. The brigade, which freed up the women and put them on equal pedestal to their brothers, set a shining example to all South East Asian women to demand equal and fair treatment. It brought a cultural and social revolution among Indians and South East Asians. The patriotism, courage and self reliance that fired these girls, inspired others as well and therefore it was little surprising that Azad Hind forces never suffered from lack of volunteers, particularly from that of the youth. The Bal Senas was another revolutionary concept whereby young boys and girls between ages of nine and fourteen were given military training. One of them, Indira, daughter of Mr. P.G Nair, was much liked by Netaji and had entertained the soldiers in the camps by her music and dances. After the fall of Mandalay, the intrepid Bal Sena volunteers openly flouted the order of the British Government of banning greetings of "Jai Hind" and slogans of "Netaji ki Jai". They simply shouted the slogans publicly and bolted, without giving any opportunity of ever getting caught.

G.S Dhillon remembered how Netaji treated Shaukat Malik, who in an inebriated state in a state banquet to honour INA victory in Manipur, in presence of dignitaries like Dr. Ba Maw, had exclaimed, "Netaji, Netaji my foot. I hoisted the Tri Color in Moirang." In the morning when Shaukat Malik had come to his senses he was extremely repentant. He met Netaji in the latter's residence, and requested Netaji to punish him severely. Netaji merely gave him an affectionate pat and approved him two week's of paid leave to Bangkok to recover from the trauma of the battles. Shaukat narrated the incident to G.S Dhillon and expressed his love and admiration for Netaji.

Pabitramohan Roy in his diary mentions that "Netaji never belittled himself before the Japanese. He did not tolerate slightest disrespect towards the Indians. He said that India would never be free if the Japanese were considered greater than the Indians."

Ayer mentions emphatically, "It was his intense spiritual faith that gave him poise, tranquility, quiet strength, infectious self-confidence, tolerance, charitability, natural humility and, most important of all, a touching and overpowering spirit of humanity." " Sannyasi (ascetic) was writ large on his forehead even when the Supreme Commander's cap rested majestically." Ayer states, and this is corroborated by the reminiscences of Swami Bhaswarananda, president of the Ramakrishna Mission Singapore during that period, that while in Singapore, many nights after dinner, Netaji used to send his car to the Ramakrishna Mission to fetch Swami Bhaswarananda or his associate Brahmachari Kailasam and spend time with them in spiritual talks before retiring to his study after midnight. Or late at night he used to drive to Ramakrishna Mission, went to the temple, changed his attire into a silk dhoti and shut himself up in the prayer room with his rosary, and spent a couple of hours in meditation. His tiny little leather bag contained a Bhagavat Gita and a copy of the Chandi (the glory of the Goddess Durga in Bengali), his small rosary of beads (tulsi) and his reading glasses. According to Bhaswarananda, he first met Netaji after Vijaya Dashami in 1943 (sacred day of the end of the ten day worship of the Goddess Durga) when he was called in his residence in the evening. Netaji had respectfully touched his feet and invited him for a dinner. After that they had regular spiritual discussions. Netaji had an intimate relationship with Ramakrishna Order. He was inspired by the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna, the saint of the nineteenth century Bengal, and  his chief disciple Swami Vivekananda, the founder of the Order. He was known to Swami Brahmananda, the first President of the Order and a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, whom he met in the Varanasi Sevashrama. In 1938, Swami Abhedananda, another direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, had called upon him, embraced him and blessed him to become victorious. Swami Bhaswarananda remembers that the night before he left Singapore forever, Netaji came to the temple of Sri Ramakrishna and meditated for a long time. It is little known to the world at large that Subhas Bose had been initiated in Kriyayoga by Barada Charan Majumdar, a master Yogi.

Netaji's intimate friend Dilip Kumar Roy, saw the mystic and the Yogi in him. He said that in the great turbulent life full of work, this spiritual nature of Subhas was possibly hidden. In a letter to his friend Dilip, Subhas had admitted that he believed in the power of the mantra after reading the Tantrik philosophy, and was fascinated by the tranquil Yogi Shiva as well as the mother Goddess Kali. Dilip had correctly summed up that Subhas could never be a hypocrite. When Subhas said that he would not accept defeat under any circumstance, it was not an empty boast. He could not and would not compromise on the matters of principles. Subhas never wanted to impose himself or his opinions on others. He did not want to administer or tried to rule over people. He respected every person and gave enough freedom to everybody. He believed in righteousness and his heart was full of kindness and empathy. Therefore he never thought that only his opinions would matter over that of the others.

His erstwhile colleague and admirer Hari Vishnu Kamath had said in his reminiscences, "From his early boyhood when Subhas Chandra Bose journeyed alone to the Himalayas in search of personal salvation, up to the years of his mature manhood when he traveled to distant lands in search of national salvation, his life was all of one pattern: the life of a Grand Rebel whom the pathetic subjection of this ancient land turned into an uncompromising political revolutionary. He was not a mere political; he regarded his life as a complete dedication to a sublime Cause rooted in spiritual reality."

Subhas Chandra Bose renounced his life and material desires for the cause of Indian Independence. As Sri Krishna pointed out in Gita - "Yah tu karma phala tyagi sah tyagi iti abhidhiyate."  - One who gives up all fruits of his actions (and not actions per se) is regarded as a renunciate. That definition aptly fits Subhas Chandra Bose. That was his real nature and character, his uniqueness among all political leaders and revolutionaries of the world. His fight for freedom was the yearning of the human soul for the eternal freedom from the bondage of the world and to go back to its source of Infinite Bliss, the fountain of joy. Like a true leader he taught his country that freedom comes at a price and that freedom is eternal which comes in exchange for the supreme sacrifice of all that is held dear in the materialistic world. He was a sannyasi first and a leader next.

Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, the great scholar, who was in Presidency when Subhas was studying there, noted that Subhas was misunderstood by great many people including patriots when he proposed the Roman script as the national script of India in place of the Devnagari. In fact it was Prof. Chatterjee who had introduced Subhas to the relevance of the Roman script in Indian context. He opined that Subhas's support of the Roman script knowing fully well the popular sentiment against the foreign alphabet, "demonstrates some noteworthy traits in Subhas's character - his openness to ideas, his prompt advocacy of what he thought was right, and his solicitude for the unity and the welfare of his people."

Years later Dr. Ba Maw told the following. "I often have my mystical moments", Bose once told me, "when I would like to give up everything and spend my life in prayer and meditation. But I must wait till India is liberated." Again, when someone laughingly asked him when he intended to get married, he laughed back and replied, "As soon as India is free." (extract from

Fujiwara's first impressions about Bose was, "He was effusive in his greetings as if he was welcoming an old friend. In his appearance I saw the nobleness of a philosopher, a steely will, a passionate fighting spirit, and great wisdom and refinement. In first glance he appeared to me a man of extra ordinary ability." Netaji extended greetings with Kunomara first and then he walked towards Fujiwara and shook his hands firmly. "As he gave me a cordial look of profound appreciation and his voice spoke my name, I felt his warmth running through my body like an electric wave. He embraced me and invited me to sit on a sofa as if he would carry me there. My old INA officers gathering around us watched me with deep emotion."

Prem Kumar Sahgal was impressed by Netaji's infinite knowledge of the military affairs, despite he being a civilian and not an army man. Sahgal also recalled Netaji's courtesy that he extended to all and sundry. His lovable manners made everybody feel at home. He had a frank and informal way of dealing with people. Netaji had an absolute faith in the final victory of India. Whenever he spoke about India he would become extremely sentimental. Sahgal remembered that in a meeting with German and Japanese military attaches, everybody listened to Netaji and his interpretation of the war with rapt attention. They were hypnotized by Bose's masterly analysis of the military affairs.

G. S Dhillon recollected how Netaji had worked for hours together without any sleep and would still be able to display superhuman ability and zeal.

Sahgal also recollected that when Netaji began to speak on 21st October, 1943, words did not come out. Instead tears started flowing from his eyes. Sahgal said that it was the most touching scene that he had ever seen in his life. Netaji behaved in the kindest and most brotherly way to any woman. He would immediately attend to any woman who would come to meet him. He had a loving and affectionate nature with children, he loved playing with them. This is also corroborated by the reminiscences of the nephews and nieces of Netaji.

 I assure you that I shall be with you in darkness and in sunshine, in sorrow and in joy, in suffering and in victory

bottom of page