Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing the Rajya Sabha on Monday, 8 February, referred to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as the “first prime minister of the first government of the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army).”
Soon after, BJP leader Kapil Mishra in a tweet misquoted the Prime Minister as saying that “Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, was the first Prime Minister of India,” a claim which was then reiterated by right-wing propaganda website OpIndia and subsequently picked by several social media users.
This comes as the incumbent Trinamool Congress (TMC) government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal continue to spar over Netaji’s legacy with Assembly elections round the corner.
The Provisional Government of Azad Hind
While it is well-documented that India’s first prime minister was Jawaharlal Nehru, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on 21 October 1943 announced the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India) in Singapore, with himself as the Head of State, Prime Minister and Minister of War.
A provisional government is an interim government set-up to manage political transitions, especially in case of the formation of new nations or following the collapse of the previous governing administration.
A report by The Wire, dated 21 October 2020 mentions that the Provisional Government of Free India (PGFI) operated out of Singapore and had its own currency, court, civil code, and national anthem ‘Subh Sukh Chain’.
“The PGFI was recognised by nine Axis-aligned countries: Japan, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Burma, Thailand, Philippines, Manchukuo (Manchuria), and the Republic of China (Wang Jingwei regime). It received a note of congratulations from the Prime Minister of Ireland, Eamon de Valera,” the report states.
Was Provisional Government of Azad Hind the First Government of India in Exile?
No. The first Indian government in exile was formed in 1915 by Mahendra Pratap and Maulana Barkatullah, who served as its President and Prime Minister respectively. The government was formally called ‘Hukumat-i-Moktar-i-Hind’.
This report by Outlook from 2018 details how Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh — prince of the native state of Hathras and alumnus of the Aligarh Muslim University — travelled far and wide, from Berlin to Istanbul and Moscow, enlisting support for India’s freedom.
Clearly, Bose wasn’t India’s first head of state even if we consider the governments formed in exile, pre-Independence.
‘Bose Never Called Himself the Prime Minister of India’
We spoke to author and senior columnist Sudheendra Kulkarni who said that the statements on social media calling Bose the first prime minister of India are a part of the concerted efforts by the BJP to distort the history of India’s freedom movement.
“The BJP for long has been trying to co-opt many leaders of India’s freedom movement, except Jawaharlal Nehru. They have managed to successfully co-opt Sardar Patel to a great extent and have sidelined Mahatma Gandhi reducing him to a brand ambassador of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan,” Kulkarni said.
“Netaji Bose is another personality from freedom movement who they are trying to co-opt. Bose never called himself the Prime Minister of India and even though he formed the government of free India in exile in Singapore, he made it very clear that after India gains independence, the Congress will decide the nature of the government of real free India.”Sudheendra Kulkarni, Author & Columnist
The provisional government set up by Subhash Chandra Bose played a crucial role in India’s freedom struggle by enabling negotiations with the Japanese and mobilisation of support for India in east Asia. However, it was by no stretch the first such attempt at gaining international support and Bose was definitely not the “first prime minister of India.”