By Amit Roy
THE British apparently had a plan to assassinate Indian nationalist leader Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose during the Second World War, according to his 78-year-old daughter Anita Bose, who has given an interview to mark her father’s birth anniversary.
Anita said: “By chance a document turned up in connection with a totally different kind of research – some research concerning Turkey. And somebody found a document which stated that they (the British) had thought he [Bose] would be passing through Turkey and wanted to have him assassinated there.
“He was probably one of the best (most) hated people for the British rulers. It’s not surprising that they were not very fond of him because he was a very uncompromising opponent to His Majesty, to paraphrase the title of a book.”
Nor was that the only occasion when there were fears that the British would have been more than happy to get rid of him. Adolf Hitler would not make a commitment to supporting Indian independence – as Bose wanted.
The meeting between the two men was not a success, Anita said. Her father had the courage to point out there were sections in Hitler’s Mein Kampf that he found objectionable and “asked him to change some of the passages. Hitler was a racist – I am glad Germany did not win the war. Nazi Germany didn’t support the Indian independence movement wholeheartedly, let’s put it that way.”
However, Hitler, who saw Indian support might be an advantage in his war against the Allies, was willing to “host” Bose. He agreed to help Bose leave Germany in 1943, and secure the latter’s safe passage to the Far East.
Anita said the Germans chose a submarine because they thought a plane carrying Bose might be shot down by the British. “It was exceedingly perilous at the time. In fact, first they (the Germans) thought of getting him to south-east Asia by plane. But then there was concern that this plan had been leaked to the British.
“The submarine which took him to near Madagascar was a very new, modern development at the time. Normally, it would have been very difficult to cover these distances in a submarine – and in a war theatre, on top of that. In fact, I met one of the petty officers of that submarine later. And he talked about his very perilous journey with regard to British ships and storms in the area. It certainly was not a comfortable and easy journey in a submarine at that time.”
Anita, who lives in Germany with her fellow economist husband, Prof Martin Pfaff, was in conversation on Zoom with Lalit Mohan Joshi, director of the South Asian Cinema Foundation, with nearly 100 people from across the Indian diaspora joining in.
India has just started year-long celebration to honour Bose, whose 125th birth anniversary will fall on January 23 next year.
Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee do not see eye to eye politically since the Indian prime minister’s Bharatiya Janata Party and the West Bengal chief minister’s Trinamool Congress are at daggers drawn. Nevertheless they recently shared a platform at the Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata to pay tribute to Bose’s fearless contribution to the freedom struggle.
Bose, who was born into a large Bengali family of 14 brothers and sisters on January 23, 1897, was twice elected president of the Indian National Congress. He died of third-degree burns after a plane crash in Japanese-controlled Formosa (now Taiwan) on August 18, 1945. He was cremated, but his ashes remain at the Renko-ji Temple in Tokyo.
He had much in common with India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, but they parted company on whether to seek the backing of the Axis Powers led by Hitler in India’s independence struggle.
Bose, who took command of the Indian National Army, would not rule out the use of military means to get rid of the British, but violence was a tactic implacably opposed by Mahatma Gandhi.
Bose’s life has become mired in myth and mystery, but in Bengal he remains a hero to many, more popular to them than even Gandhi or Nehru.
During a trip to Germany in 1937, Bose met and subsequently married an Austrian woman, Emilie Schenkl, in a Hindu ceremony. Anita, born in Vienna on November 29, 1942, visited India for the first time as an 18-year-old in 1960, when she was given an ecstatic welcome as her father’s daughter. Although she was only a few months old when her father saw her for the last time, and two when he died, Anita remembers the stories that her mother told her. She has become the principal keeper of Bose’s fame.
Anita and her husband have three children and five grandchildren, who have also become part of the bigger Bose story.
Had Bose lived, he would have sided with Gandhi in opposing Partition and fought, above all, for a secular India, his daughter believes.
Her father, Anita said, “had great respect for him (Gandhi). But he did not agree with the Mahatma on the political strategy of complete non-violence. In some ways, Pandit Nehru and my father had similar ideas. They were both leftist. They were both, for those days, modern – and had more socialist ideas. They were more secular – they had the idea of India as a modern and secular country.
“The idea of modern was not precisely what Gandhi had in mind. But it is my impression that Gandhi, even though at the time he did not formally hold an office in the Congress party, in essence dictated what was to be done.”
For Nehru and Gandhi, “any compromise with the Axis Powers was not acceptable. In Gandhi’s case, he did not approve of the idea of trying to gain independence by military means.
“That section of the Congress and Gandhi, as far as I know, were more accommodating towards the British at the beginning of the Second World War, because of opposition to the Germans and later on, the Japanese. They said, ‘Well, let’s support the war, provided the British grant independence to India after they are victorious.’
“But the idea of compromising with the British was unacceptable for my father.”
No Indian government has made a real attempt to secure the return of Bose’s ashes. Anita said: “It would be very nice if we could bring the remains back to India in the course of this year. I personally would welcome closure on the issue.”