Subhas Chandra Bose 23 January 1897 – 18 August 1945), was an Indian nationalist whose defiant patriotism made him a hero in India, but whose attempt during World War II to rid India of British rule with the help of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan left a troubled legacy. The honorific Netaji, (Hindustani: “Respected Leader”), first applied in early 1942 to Bose in Germany by the Indian soldiers of the Indische Legion and by the German and Indian officials in the Special Bureau for India in Berlin, was later used throughout India.
Earlier, Bose had been a leader of the younger, radical, wing of the Indian National Congress in the late 1920s and 1930s, rising to become Congress President in 1938 and 1939. However, he was ousted from Congress leadership positions in 1939 following differences with Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress high command. He was subsequently placed under house arrest by the British before escaping from India in 1940.
Bose arrived in Germany in April 1941, where the leadership offered unexpected, if sometimes ambivalent, sympathy for the cause of India’s independence, contrasting starkly with its attitudes towards other colonised peoples and ethnic communities.In November 1941, with German funds, a Free India Centre was set up in Berlin, and soon a Free India Radio, on which Bose broadcast nightly. A 3,000-strong Free India Legion, comprising Indians captured by Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps, was also formed to aid in a possible future German land invasion of India. By spring 1942, in light of Japanese victories in southeast Asia and changing German priorities, a German invasion of India became untenable, and Bose became keen to move to southeast Asia. Adolf Hitler, during his only meeting with Bose in late May 1942, suggested the same, and offered to arrange for a submarine. During this time Bose also became a father; his wife, or companion Emilie Schenkl, whom he had met in 1934, gave birth to a baby girl in November 1942. Identifying strongly with the Axis powers, and no longer apologetically, Bose boarded a German submarine in February 1943. In Madagascar, he was transferred to a Japanese submarine from which he disembarked in Japanese-held Sumatra in May 1943.
With Japanese support, Bose revamped the Indian National Army (INA), then composed of Indian soldiers of the British Indian army who had been captured in the Battle of Singapore. To these, after Bose’s arrival, were added enlisting Indian civilians in Malaya and Singapore. The Japanese had come to support a number of puppet and provisional governments in the captured regions, such as those in Burma, the Philippines and Manchukuo. Before long the Provisional Government of Free India, presided by Bose, was formed in the Japanese-occupied Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Bose had great drive and charisma—creating popular Indian slogans, such as “Jai Hind,”—and the INA under Bose was a model of diversity by region, ethnicity, religion, and even gender. However, Bose was regarded by the Japanese as being militarily unskilled, and his military effort was short lived. In late 1944 and early 1945 the British Indian Army first halted and then devastatingly reversed the Japanese attack on India. Almost half the Japanese forces and fully half the participating INA contingent were killed. The INA was driven down the Malay Peninsula, and surrendered with the recapture of Singapore. Bose had earlier chosen not to surrender with his forces or with the Japanese, but rather to escape to Manchuria with a view to seeking a future in the Soviet Union which he believed to be turning anti-British. He died from third degree burns received when his plane crashed in Taiwan. Some Indians, however, did not believe that the crash had occurred, with many among them, especially in Bengal, believing that Bose would return to gain India’s independence.
Indian National Congress, the main instrument of Indian nationalism, praised Bose’s patriotism but distanced itself from his tactics and ideology, especially his collaboration with Fascism.The British Raj, though never seriously threatened by the INA, charged 300 INA officers with treason in the INA trials, but eventually backtracked in the face both of popular sentiment and of its own end.
Early life: 1897–1921
Subhas Chandra Bose was born on 23 January 1897 (at 12.10 pm) in Cuttack, Orissa Division, Bengal Province, to Prabhavati Devi and Janakinath Bose, an advocate. He was the ninth in a family of 14 children.
He was admitted to the Protestant European School, like his brothers and sisters, in January 1902. He continued his studies at this school which was run by the Baptist Mission up to 1909 and then shifted to the Ravenshaw Collegiate School. The day Subhas was admitted to this school, Beni Madhab Das, the headmaster, understood how brilliant and scintillating his genius was. After securing the second position in the matriculation examination in 1913, he got admitted to the Presidency College where he studied briefly.
With Indian National Congress: 1921–1932
He started the newspaper Swaraj and took charge of publicity for the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee. His mentor was Chittaranjan Das who was a spokesman for aggressive nationalism in Bengal. In the year 1923, Bose was elected the President of All India Youth Congress and also the Secretary of Bengal State Congress. He was also editor of the newspaper “Forward”, founded by Chittaranjan Das. Bose worked as the CEO of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation for Das when the latter was elected mayor of Calcutta in 1924. In a roundup of nationalists in 1925, Bose was arrested and sent to prison in Mandalay, where he contracted tuberculosis.
With Indian National Congress 1937–1940
He stood for unqualified Swaraj (self-governance), including the use of force against the British. This meant a confrontation with Mohandas Gandhi, who in fact opposed Bose’s presidency, splitting the Indian National Congress party. Bose attempted to maintain unity, but Gandhi advised Bose to form his own cabinet. The rift also divided Bose and Nehru. Bose appeared at the 1939 Congress meeting on a stretcher. He was elected president again over Gandhi’s preferred candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya. U. Muthuramalingam Thevar strongly supported Bose in the intra-Congress dispute. Thevar mobilised all south India votes for Bose. However, due to the manoeuvrings of the Gandhi-led clique in the Congress Working Committee, Bose found himself forced to resign from the Congress presidency.
In Nazi Germany: 1941–1943
Bose’s arrest and subsequent release set the scene for his escape to Germany, via Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. A few days before his escape, he sought solitude and, on this pretext, avoided meeting British guards and grew a beard on the night of his escape. He dressed as a Pathan to avoid being identified. Bose escaped from under British surveillance at his house in Calcutta on 19 January 1941, accompanied by his nephew Sisir K. Bose in a car that is now on display at his Calcutta home.
In Japanese-occupied Asia 1943–1945
The Indian National Army (INA) was the brainchild of Japanese Major (and post-war Lieutenant-General) Iwaichi Fujiwara, head the Japanese intelligence unit Fujiwara Kikan and had its origins, first in the meetings between Fujiwara and the president of the Bangkok chapter of the Indian Independence League, Pritam Singh Dhillon, and then, through Pritam Singh’s network, in the recruitment by Fujiwara of a captured British Indian army captain, Mohan Singh on the western Malayan peninsula in December 1941; Fujiwara’s mission was “to raise an army which would fight alongside the Japanese army.” After the initial proposal by Fujiwara the Indian National Army was formed as a result of discussion between Fujiwara and Mohan Singh in the second half of December 1941, and the name chosen jointly by them in the first week of January 1942.
Death on 18 August 1945
In the consensus of scholarly opinion, Subhas Chandra Bose’s death occurred from third-degree burns on 18 August 1945 after his overloaded Japanese plane crashed in Japanese-occupied Formosa (now Taiwan). However, many among his supporters, especially in Bengal, refused at the time, and have refused since, to believe either the fact or the circumstances of his death. Conspiracy theories appeared within hours of his death and have thereafter had a long shelf life, keeping alive various martial myths about Bose.
Bose advocated complete unconditional independence for India, whereas the All-India Congress Committee wanted it in phases, through Dominion status. Finally at the historic Lahore Congress convention, the Congress adopted Purna Swaraj (complete independence) as its motto. Gandhi was given rousing receptions wherever he went after Gandhi-Irwin pact. Subhas Chandra Bose, travelling with Gandhi in these endeavors, later wrote that the great enthusiasm he saw among the people enthused him tremendously and that he doubted if any other leader anywhere in the world received such a reception as Gandhi did during these travels across the country. He was imprisoned and expelled from India. Defying the ban, he came back to India and was imprisoned again.
On 23 August 2007, Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe visited the Subhas Chandra Bose memorial hall in Kolkata. Abe said to Bose’s family “The Japanese are deeply moved by Bose’s strong will to have led the Indian independence movement from British rule. Netaji is a much respected name in Japan.
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