• Monday, October 03, 2022


‘Reassessing Bose’s legacy must include younger generation of Asians’

Suhas Khale.

By: Radhakrishna N S

By Suhas Khale

WHY are we talking about Sub­has Chandra Bose on his 124th birth anniversary?

British war-time leader Sir Winston Churchill once fa­mously said history was going to be kind to him as he was go­ing to write it.

After the Second World War, history was written by British and Indian supporters of the Congress party who fought with the Allies. In the process, they marginalised and distorted the role of Bose in the struggle for the Indian independence. He was presented as a fascist and a troublemaker, but what is the relevance of Bose’s vision today?

Bose was a charismatic and inspiring leader in India’s free­dom movement. He was a man way ahead of his time. His views were formed and tem­pered by his struggle for inde­pendence at home and his in­teractions with Irish and La­bour party politicians.

Detractors portrayed Bose as a pro-fascist leader who fought with the Japanese and against the British during the Second World War. Others saw him as a nationalist leader who led the INA (Indian National Army) and fought a war of independence.

What is not known is that Bose was a visionary, a demo­crat, an economic planner, an administrator – a man with a clear concept of equal opportu­nities for all irrespective of caste, religion, gender. He was a pragmatist who practised what he preached.

In a speech at the Maharash­tra Provincial Conference in Poona (now Pune) on May 3, 1928, Bose described his vision of a free India where “privileges based on birth, creed and caste should go and equal opportuni­ties should be thrown open to all irrespective of creed, caste and privilege”.

He had considered the many problems an independent India could face, and given the coun­try’s multilingual society, had even thought of a common lan­guage and script.

Secularism was the basic te­net of his philosophy. He was a socialist who wanted to trans­form the country into a modern and secular nation-state through political, economic and cultural reforms. He was committed to equality for all; he ate at the canteen with all the INA members – men and women, including dalits (then called untouchables) Muslims, Sikhs, among others.

Born in 1897 in Cuttack in the eastern state of Orissa, he grew up under the strict super­vision of his lawyer father. While at university in Calcutta (now Kolkata), he saw the mis­ery of underprivileged people and inspired by the teachings of Ramkrishna Paramhans and Swami Vivekanand, he put pa­triotism before personal gain.

Despite passing the Indian Civil Service exam (he was ranked fourth) at Cambridge, he resigned from the highly coveted service and devoted his life to freeing India from British rule. In 1921 he returned to In­dia from England and focused on the role of the youth in India in the struggle for independence.

Bose’s talents as an able or­ganiser, a rousing speaker and an astute observer were soon noticed by the Indian National Congress leadership, and he rose to become its president in 1938. His speeches and writings of the pre-war period clearly show him as a leading statesman.

Mahatma Gandhi and Bose were both committed to India’s freedom, but the latter, while respecting Gandhi, had a differ­ent approach. Bose was impris­oned by the British a few times, but escaped via Afghanistan and Italy to Germany. He asked for help from the Germans to fight against the British and set up an office in Berlin. He recruited civilians and Indian prison­ers in German prisons to his cause. He was opposed to fascism and totalitarianism, but sought help to fight British forces.

He famously met Hitler in Berlin, but disagreed with his views on Mein Kampf and rac­ism and hence failed to get any help. However, some German officers helped Bose to escape via a German U-boat and Japa­nese I-29 submarine. An associ­ate in the Mozambique channel helped Bose to get to Madagas­car. On May 6, 1943, he met his old Japanese friend Colonel Ya­mar and then on June 10, he met Hideki Tojo, the Japanese leader who agreed to help him to oust the British from India.

The INA was created by Rash Bihari Bose, another Indian liv­ing in Japan. Bose took over the INA, which was dominated by the Japanese at the time, on Ju­ly 5, 1943. He moved it under Indian command and restruc­tured it with Indians of differ­ent religions, castes and per­suasions. He also recruited women and created a female regiment called Rani Jhansi Brigade. He came up with the slogan Chalo Delhi (march to Delhi) and declared a provi­sional government for Azad Hind (Free India). The INA fought against British forces and the flag of India was placed on the Andaman and Nicobar islands on April 14, 1944.

However, around this time the Americans entered the Sec­ond World War and the INA’s advance was halted, with many casualties. Bose was in Singa­pore on August 16, 1945, when Japan surrendered. He realised he needed to change strategy and was probably thinking of flying to Russia. But a 97-2 bomber plane carrying him and a close associate Habibur Rehman crashed. Bose suffered severe burns and died on Au­gust 18, 1945. His death is still contested by some supporters who believe he escaped, and to them, this is still a mystery.

Twenty years ago, few people even in India were willing to celebrate Bose’s birth anniver­sary or talk about his contribu­tion. It saddens me that today some politicians in India gener­ally, and in West Bengal in par­ticular, claim to be his followers. Statues are erected in his name, Parakram Diwas or Deshprem Diwas is pronounced, portraits unveiled, commemorative stamps and coins launched, meetings held with slogans, all to honour his memory. Howev­er, violence takes place in the name of political loyalties.

Some 74 years after indepen­dence, despite economic devel­opment and growth in India, poverty and illiteracy levels are high. To fight the impact of glo­balisation and domination of multinationals, India must be­come not only an economic power, but also work towards creating a just and humane so­ciety. Equality of opportunity for all must be at the centre of gov­ernance. Bose practised this. He never wanted the country to eu­logise him, but to try and build a secular, strong India of his vision.

We set up the Netaji Subhas Foundation in 2000 to highlight his contribution to the Indian independence struggle, correct inaccuracies and promote his vision which remains relevant today. There is a need to re-evaluate Bose’s contribution to India as well as south Asia, and to involve the younger genera­tion of Asians in Europe as well as others in this reassessment.

A key backer of this project was writer, historian and so­cialist Pradip Bose, the nephew of Bose. At the time (in the UK), the general opinion was that Bose supported fascism. We ap­proached his daughter, Anita, and she agreed to be the chief guest. The launch in London was a success. Over 20 years we had meetings, films, pro­grammes, speakers who dis­cussed the relevance and ideol­ogy of Bose. The foundation was dissolved last year.

Suhas Khale founded the Net­aji Subhas Foundation in 2000 and ran it for 20 years.

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