Subhas Chandra Bose

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Subhas Chandra Bose

Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945) was one of India's great nationalist leaders of the first half of the 20th century. He led the revolutionary Indian National Army during World War II.

Subhas Chandra Bose was born on Jan. 23, 1897, at Cuttack, Orissa, the ninth child of a lawyer of Kayasth caste. He attended a private school for European and Anglo-Indian boys run by the Baptist Mission and later a preparatory school. He was religious and spent much time in meditation.

At college in Calcutta, Bose became politically and socially aware. British insults to Indians in public places were offensive to him. He was personally implicated in an incident involving an English professor who had manhandled some students, and as a result Bose left the college.

Bose matriculated at Cambridge, and his high score on civil service exams meant an almost automatic appointment. He then took his first conscious step as a revolutionary and resigned the appointment on the premise that the "best way to end a government is to withdraw from it." At the time, Indian nationalists were suffering shock and indignation because of the Amritsar massacre and the repressive Rowlatt legislation of 1919. Returning to India, Bose wrote for the newspaper Swaraj and took charge of publicity for the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee. His mentor was C. R. Das, spokesman for the aggressive nationalism of Bengal. Bose worked for Das when the latter was elected mayor of Calcutta in 1924. In a roundup of terrorists in 1925, Bose was arrested and sent to prison in Mandalay, where he contracted tuberculosis.

Bose in National Politics

Released from prison 2 years later, Bose became general secretary of the Congress party and worked with Jawaharlal Nehru for independence. Again Bose was arrested and jailed for civil disobedience; this time he emerged mayor of Calcutta. During the mid-1930s Bose traveled in Europe for his health, visiting Indian students and European politicians, including Hitler in 1936. He observed party organization and saw communism and fascism in action.

By 1938 Bose had become a leader of national stature and agreed to accept nomination as Congress president. He stood for unqualified swaraj (independence), including the use of force against the British. This meant a confrontation with Mohandas Gandhi, who in fact opposed Bose's presidency, splitting the 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. Though he was elected president again, this time differences with Gandhi led to Bose's resignation. "I am an extremist, " Bose once said, and his uncompromising stand finally cut him off from the mainstream of Indian nationalism.

Bose then organized the Forward Bloc with the aim of consolidating the political left, but its main strength was in his home state, Bengal. He envisioned a strong state, a synthesis of fascism and communism.

When war erupted in Europe, Bose was again imprisoned for civil disobedience and put under house arrest to await trial. He escaped and made his way to Berlin by way of Peshawar and Afghanistan. In Europe, Bose sought help from Hitler and Mussolini for the liberation of India. He made propaganda broadcasts to England and India. He got Nazi permission to organize the Indian Legion of prisoners of war from Africa, but the legion remained basically German in training and command. Bose felt the need for stronger steps, and he turned to the Japanese embassy in Berlin, which finally made arrangements for Bose to go to Asia. Bose's impressive appearance and charisma attracted women admirers, including his Viennese secretary, whom he secretly married and by whom he had a daughter. It was also in Germany that Bose acquired his popular name, "Netaji, " an equivalent of "führer."

Indian National Army

Arriving in Tokyo in May 1943, Bose attracted the attention of the Japanese high command, including Hideki Tojo, Japan's premier. The intelligence section of Japanese headquarters had already cooperated in founding an Indian National Army (INA) in Southeast Asia. Bose was flown to Singapore and became commander of the INA and head of the Free India provisional government. The INA included both Indian prisoners of war from Singapore and Indian civilians in Southeast Asia. Its strength grew to 50, 000. The INA fought Allied forces in 1944 inside the borders of India at Imphal and in Burma. For Bose any means and any ally were acceptable in the struggle to liberate India. By the end of World War II none of Bose's Axis allies had helped decisively, and Bose then turned to the Soviet Union. On Aug. 18, 1945, Bose was en route to the Soviet Union in a Japanese plane when it crashed in Taipeh, burning him fatally.

Three officers of the INA were tried after the war in Delhi; the trial attracted so much popular sympathy (including statements by Nehru and Gandhi that the men were great patriots) that the British decision to withdraw from India followed. Bose indirectly and posthumously achieved his goal of Indian independence.

Further Reading

Of the numerous biographies of Bose, Hugh Toye, The Springing Tiger: A Study of a Revolutionary (1959), is one of the best. Also useful is Subbier Appadurai Ayer, Unto Him a Witness (1951). Other biographies by Indian authors are Probhash Chandra Roy, Subhas Chandra (1929); Uttam Chand, When Bose Was Ziauddin (1946); Jitendra Nath Ghosh, Netaji Subhas Chandra: Political Philosophy of Netaji, History of Azad Hind Government, I. N. A. and International Law (1929); Durlab Singh, The Rebel President (7th ed. 1946); Anthony Elenjimittam, The Hero of Hindustan (1947); Shri Ram Sharma, Netaji, His Life and Work (1948); and Dilip Kumar Roy, Netaji, the Man: Reminiscences (rev. ed. 1966).

Additional Sources

Patil, V. S., Subhas Chandra Bose, his contribution to Indian nationalism, New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1988.

Gordon, Leonard A., Brothers against the Raj: a biography of Indian nationalists Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose, New York: Columbia University Press, 1990. □