Bose, Subhash Chandra

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BOSE, SUBHASH CHANDRA (1897–1945), Bengali political leader. Hailed as Netaji (Leader) of the Indian National Army he founded, with Japanese support, during World War II, Bose is considered by many to be India's greatest Bengali leader. Born in Cuttack, Orissa, brilliant Bose entered Calcutta's Presidency College at the age of sixteen, launching his revolutionary career by leading a student protest against a racist English teacher. Bose was suspended as a result, but he was able to complete his education a year later in Bengal's Scottish Churches College. In l919 his successful father sent young Bose off to London, where he learned enough Latin to pass the Indian Civil Service examinations, shortly before Mahatma Gandhi launched his first satyagraha (nonviolent resistance) movement against the British Raj. Bose decided then to abandon his ambition of joining the British Service, sailing home instead to join Gandhi's revolutionary opposition to British rule. He met with Gandhi in Bombay, but found him too nebulous about the goals of his movement, and too worried about avoiding all violence in the national protest he led in 1921.

Bose returned to Calcutta, where he organized a student boycott against the Prince of Wales in 1921, and worked under Bengal's great "nation-unifier," Deshabandhu Chitta Ranjan Das, who became his political guru. When Das was elected as Calcutta's mayor, he appointed Bose to serve as his chief executive officer, and together they began work to clean up the slum districts of that "City of Dreadful Night," as Rudyard Kipling called it. Bose, however, was accused of "aiding terrorists" by the British and was shipped off to Mandalay prison for three years. After 1927, he returned to Calcutta a popular hero, elected to preside over Bengal's Provincial Congress Committee. A decade later, Bose was elected president of the Indian National Congress, which met in 1938 in the village of Haripura. Mahatma Gandhi, along with a majority of more conservative members of the Congress Working Committee, had expected Bose to step down after his presidential year ended, but fiery Bose wanted another year in office, urged by many of his devoted Bengali supporters to contest the National Congress elections held in Tripura in 1939. It was the first contested election since the Congress was created in 1885, and Bose won, despite Gandhi's silent disfavor and the open opposition of his Working Committee, which immediately resigned. Bose was then obliged to step down, his health failing him in the aftermath of that exhausting struggle.

Bose had lived for several years in western Europe during the early 1930s, and was attracted to the ideals of socialism and communism. He later preferred fascism and Nazism, which he thought he could humanize with an admixture of Indian philosophy, then introduce to India as a potent form of national Indian socialism, first forcing the British out, then eliminating poverty and the inequities of caste and class. His Forward Bloc Party, which he started with his brother Sarat Bose after leaving the Congress, was very popular in Bengal, but when World War II started, the Bose brothers were placed under house arrest in Calcutta. Subhash escaped, however, moving by night across North India to Afghanistan. He managed to fly to Berlin, met Adolf Hitler, and adopted as his title Netaji, "Leader," hoping someday to become India's "Führer." He broadcast daily appeals to India in Bengali and Hindi, urging those who heard him to rebel against "British tyranny," insisting that the Axis powers were winning the war and that the Allies would soon be routed.

After Singapore fell to the Japanese, the British Indian army of some 60,000 troops surrendering without a fight early in 1942, the Nazis decided that Bose would be much more useful to them there than he was in Germany. He was sent by submarine in the spring of 1943 from Hamburg, around the Cape of Good Hope, to Singapore, and when he arrived was given command by the Japanese of all Indian troops willing to join his Indian National Army (INA). In October 1943, Netaji inaugurated his Provisional Government of Azad (Free) India, leading his army on its epic march up the Malay peninsula and Burma to Rangoon, where they began their advance toward eastern India, his battle cry taken from the 1857 Sepoy Mutineers: "Chalo Delhi!" (Let's Go to Delhi!). Bose and his INA reached the outskirts of Manipur's capital, Imphal, in May 1944. Had heavy monsoon rains not bogged them down long enough for British and American planes to fly in troops and arms, forcing them back, Bose might have reached Bengal, where Netaji would have been welcomed as his nation's savior. Instead he marched back to Saigon, flying off to Taiwan (Formosa) on the last, overloaded plane to escape the Allied army that recaptured Burma and Malaya and routed the INA in May 1945. His plane crash-landed and burned, and Bose died in a Taiwan hospital. His ashes were taken to Japan.

So many Bengalis and ardent Indian patriots believed, however, in the myth of Subhash Chandra Bose's "immortality," refusing to think of him as dead, that as late as 1957 the government of India sent a special deputation of members of Parliament to Japan to examine his ashes, reporting that they were in fact those of Netaji Bose.

Stanley Wolpert

See alsoCongress Party ; Das, Chitta Ranjan ; Gandhi, Mahatma M. K.


Bose, Subhas Chandra. The Indian Struggle, 1920–1942. Bombay and New York: Asia Publishing House, 1964.

——. An Indian Pilgrim: An Unfinished Autobiography, translated and edited by Sisir Kumar Bose and Sugata Bose. Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Bright, Jagat S. Subhas Bose and His Ideas. Lahore: Indian Printing Works, 1946.

Getz, Marshall J. Subhas Chandra Bose. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2002.

Gordon, Leonard A. Bengal: The Nationalist Movement, 1876–1940. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.

——. Brothers against the Raj: A Biography of Indian Nationalists Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Roy, Dilip Kumar. The Subhash I Knew. Bombay: Nalanda, 1946.

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