Subhash Chandra Bose (January 23, 1897-August 18, 1945) also known as Netaji, was a prominent leader of the Indian independence movement against British colonial rule. Bose helped to organize and later led the Indian National Army, put together with Indian prisoners-of-war and plantation workers from Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia.
“Give me blood and I shall give you freedom” was one of the most popular statements made by him, whereby he urges the people of India to join him in his freedom movement.
Subhash Chandra Bose was born to an affluent Bengali family in Cuttack, Orissa. His father, Janakinath Bose, was a public prosecutor who believed in orthodox nationalism and later became a member of the Bengal Legislative Council. With eight brothers and six sisters, Bose’s family was large, but disciplined. He loved to read and was fascinated with religion, discipline, and self-control. As a youth, he did social service and after reading Vivekananda’s writings, “selfless service” became the motto guiding his life.
Recognizing his son’s intellect, Bose’s father was determined that Bose should become a high-ranking civil servant. He attended the Protestant European School and the Ravenshaw Collegiate School in Cuttack and later graduated with honours from the Scottish Church College, Calcutta. He was placed second in his university examinations and participated as a member of the India Defence Corps, then a newly-formed military training unit at the University of Calcutta. Afterwards he travelled to England and attended Fitzwilliam Hall at the University of Cambridge.
In 1920, Bose took the Indian Civil Service entrance examination and was ranked second. However, he resigned from the prestigious Indian Civil Service in April 1921 despite his high ranking in the merit list, and went ahead to join the freedom movement. After returning to India, he joined the Congress party and was particularly active in its youth wing. Bose’s ideas did not match with that of Gandhi’s belief in non-violence. So he returned to Kolkata to work under Chittaranjan Das, the Bengali freedom fighter and co-founder (with Motilal Nehru) of the Swarajya (Self Rule) Party. In 1921, Bose organised a boycott of the celebrations to mark the Prince of Wales’ visit to India. This led to his being imprisoned. In April 1924, Bose was elected the Chief Executive Officer of the newly constituted Calcutta Corporation. Later, in October that year, Bose was arrested as a suspected terrorist. First, he was in Alipore jail and later he was exiled to Mandalay in Burma.
In June 1925, Bose was deeply struck by the sudden loss of his mentor Chittaranjan Das. At the end of 1926 he was nominated in absentia, as a candidate for the Bengal Legislative Assembly. On May 16, 1927 he was released from jail due to ill-health. The two years in Mandalay increased his confidence and strength. By December 1927, Bose with Jawaharlal Nehru became the the General Secretary of the Congress. On January 23, 1930, Bose was once again arrested for leading an “Independence” procession. After being released from jail on September 25, he was elected as the Mayor of the City of Calcutta. He was incarcerated eleven times by the British over a span of twenty years, either in India or in Rangoon. He spent many years in various capacities as the Chief Executive Officer of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (where Chittaranjan Das had previously been Mayor), and later as Mayor himself. With Jawaharlal Nehru he was one of the radical Left wing leaders of the Congress Party. He was exiled from India, during the mid 1930s to Europe, where he stated India’s cause for self-rule before gatherings and conferences (like the Second Communist International). After his father’s death the British authorities allowed him to land at Calcutta’s airport only for the religious rites, which would be followed by his swift departure. During this time he traveled extensively in India and in Europe before stating his political opposition to Gandhi. He became the president of the Haripura Indian National Congress in 1938, against Gandhi’s wishes. He was elected for a second term in 1939 in Tripura Congress Session; Gandhi had supported Pattabhi Sitaramayya and commented “Pattavi’s defeat is my defeat” after learning the election results. Although Bose won the election, Gandhi’s continued opposition led to the resignation of the Working Committee. In the face of this gesture of no-confidence Bose himself resigned. Bose then formed an independent party, the All India Forward Bloc.
Actions during the Second World War
Bose advocated the approach that the political instability at war-time Britain should be taken advantage of-rather than simply wait for the British to grant political “Home Rule” after the end of the war (which was the view of Gandhi, Nehru and a section of the Congress leadership) at the time. In this he was influenced by the examples of Italian statesmen Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini. During his stay in Europe from 1933 to 1936, he met several European leaders and thinkers, including Benito Mussolini, Eduard Benes, Karl Seitz, Eamon De Valera, Romain Rolland, and Alfred Rosenberg. He came to believe that India could achieve political freedom only if it had political, military and diplomatic support from outside and that an independent nation necessitated the creation of a national army. His correspondence reveals that despite his sheer dislike for British subjugation, he was deeply impressed by their methodical and systematic approach and their steadfastedly disciplinarian outlook towards life. In England, he exchanged ideas with British Labour Party leaders and political thinkers on the future of India. He came to accept the view that a free India needed Socialist authoritarianism, on the lines of Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk for at least two decades.
At the start of World War II, Bose escaped his incarceration at home by taking the guise of a Pathan insurance agent ("Ziaudddin") to Afghanistan and from there to Moscow with the passport of an Italian nobleman “Count Orlando Mazzotta". From Moscow he reached Rome and from there he traveled to Germany where he instituted the Special Bureau for India under Adam von Trott zu Solz, broadcasting on the German-sponsored Azad Hind Radio. He founded the Free India Centre in Berlin and created the Indian Legion (consisting of some 4500 soldiers) out of Indian prisoners of war who had previously fought for the British in North Africa, but had capitulated to Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The Azad Hind legion was attached to the Waffen SS, and they swore their allegiance to Hitler and Bose for the independence of India.
Bose was deeply dissapointed with Hitler when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and decided to leave Nazi Germany. Besides, Hitler had shown little interest for the cause of Indian independence. He travelled by submarine around the Cape of Good Hope to Imperial Japan, which helped him to raise his army in Singapore. This was the only civilian-transfer across two different submarines of two different navies in World War II.
The Indian National Army (INA) consisted of some 85,000 regular troops, a separate women’s army unit named after Rani Lakshmi Bai (in a regular army, the women’s army unit was the first of its kind in Asia), who gave her life in the First War of Independence in 1857. These were under the aegis of a provisional government, with its own currency, court and civil code, named the “Provisional Government of Free India” (or the Arzi Hukumate Azad Hind) and recognised by nine Axis states: Germany, Japan, Italy, Croatia, Nationalist China, Siam, Burma, Manchukuo and the Philippines. This government had participated as a delegate or observer in the so-called Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
En route to India, some of Bose’s troops assisted in the Japanese victory over the British in the battles of Arakan and Meiktila, along with the Burmese National Army led by Ba Maw and Aung San. The Provisional Government and the INA were established in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, part of the British Indian Empire. On Indian mainland, the Indian Tricolor was raised for the first time in the town in Moirang, in Manipur, in northeastern India. The other towns of Kohima and Imphal, were placed under siege by divisions of the Japanese, the Burmese and the Gandhi and Nehru Brigades of I.N.A.. At the time of the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, during which millions died of starvation, Bose had offered (through radio) Burmese rice to the victims of the famine. The British authorities in India (and in the UK) refused the offer.
When the Japanese were defeated at the battles of Kohima and Imphal, the Provisional Government’s aim of establishing a base in mainland India was lost forever and the INA was forced to pull-back along with the defeated Japanese Imperial Army. Japan’s surrender after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also led to the eventual surrender of the Indian National Army.
Even though Bose and Gandhi had differing ideologies, the latter called Bose the “Patriot of Patriots” (Bose had called Gandhi “Father of the Nation"). He has been given belated recognition in India, and especially in West Bengal; Calcutta’s civil airport and a university have been named after him. Many of the symbols of the Bose’s provisional government, which were also associated with the Congress, have been adopted in independent India: Rabindranath Tagore’s “Jana Gana Mana", which was the national song of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind is independent India’s National Anthem, and the tricolour as India’s national flag.
His alliance with the Axis continues to be controversial; many in India consider him a hero for his forceful stance against oppressive British imperialism. In working with the Japanese he was however fighting his own countrymen, who defended India within the unpoliticised volunteer British Indian Army against the Japanese invasion.
At the time of the start of the Second World War, great divisions existed in the Indian independence movement about whether to exploit the weakness of the British to achieve independence. Some felt that any distinctions between the political allegiances and ideologies of the warring factions of Europe were inconsequential in the face of the possibility of Indian independence, and that it was hypocritical of the British to condemn pro-democracy Indians for allying themselves with anti-democratic Axis forces when the British themselves showed so little respect for democracy or democratic reforms in India. Others felt that it was inappropriate to seek concessions when Britain itself was in peril, and found their distaste for Nazi Germany outweighed their concerns about Independence.
Bose, in particular, was accused of ‘collaborating’ with the Axis; he counter-attacked the allegation criticising the British campaign during World War-II, saying that while Britain was fighting for the freedom of the European nations under Nazi control, it did not grant its own colonies, including India their rightful independence. It may be observed that along with Nehru, Bose had organized and led protest marches against the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and of China itself in 1938, when he was Congress president. During that period, Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek was feted in India and medical aid and food supplies were sent to Chinese areas which suffered the worst brunt of Japanese imperialism. That he eventually abandoned his political stance (which initially was that of Gandhi and Nehru) reflects his deep discontent with the nature of the British rule, and a growing belief that the formation of an Indian free state was nowhere on the British political roadmap. At the Tripura Congress session, he made his views quite explicit: Britain had forced a war on India, without bothering to consult Indians.
It is interesting to note that Bose’s earlier correspondences (prior to 1939) reflect his deep disapproval of the racist practices of and annulment of democratic institutions in Nazi Germany. Though Bose did ally himself with the Axis powers, there is little to suggest he shared any of their doctrines of racial superiority; instead it appears he was motivated to join them largely out of political pragmatism.
Re-evaluation of Netaji
The INA is fondly remembered by some Japanese and Indian historians who see Japanese efforts to support Bose as supporting the view that it was fighting a war on behalf of the oppressed peoples of Asia, in addition, the INA is seen by some as an organisation devoid of the divisive energies of parochialism that have since plagued India.
Gandhi called Bose the “Patriot of Patriots” (Bose had called Gandhi “Father of the Nation"). Bose’s portrait is also hung in the Indian Parliament and a statue has been erected in front of the West Bengal Legislative Assembly.
Bose was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award in 1992, but it was later withdrawn in response to a Supreme Court of India directive following a Public Interest Litigation filed in the Court against the “posthumous” nature of the award. The Award Committee could not give conclusive evidence of Bose’s death and thus it invalidated the “posthumous” award.
Bose is supposed to have died in a plane crash over Taiwan while flying to Tokyo. However, his body was never recovered, and conspiracy theories concerning his possible survival abound. One such claims that Bose actually died in Siberia, while in Soviet captivity. Mr. Harin Shah, an Indian journalist, visited Taipei and was shown a plane crash site (supposedly of Bose’s plane).
However, the Taiwan Government told an Indian journalist investigating into Bose’s death that Bose could not have died in a plane crash in the country, stating that there “were no plane crashes at Taipei between 14 August and 20 September 1945.”
Despite this testimony three separate Indian government investigations have concluded that Bose died in the plane crash, although a fourth one-man board convened in 1999, the Mukherjee Commission, will not issue its conclusions until 14 May 2005.
In May 2005, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero, was released. It was directed by Shyam Benegal.