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.
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.
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.
His nationalistic temperament came to light when he was expelled for assaulting Professor Oaten for the latter’s anti-India comments. He later joined the Scottish Church College at the University of Calcutta and passed his B.A. in 1918 in philosophy. Bose left India in 1919 for England with a promise to his father that he would appear in the Indian Civil Services (ICS) examination. He went to study in Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and matriculated on 19 November 1919. He came fourth in the ICS examination and was selected, but he did not want to work under an alien government which would mean serving the British. As he stood on the verge of taking the plunge by resigning from the Indian Civil Service in 1921, he wrote to his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose: “Only on the soil of sacrifice and suffering can we raise our national edifice.”
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.
In 1927, after being released from prison, Bose became general secretary of the Congress party and worked with Jawaharlal Nehru for independence. In late December 1928, Bose organised the Annual Meeting of the Indian National Congress in Calcutta.His most memorable role was as General Officer Commanding (GOC) Congress Volunteer Corps.Author Nirad Chaudhuri wrote about the meeting:
Bose organized a volunteer corps in uniform, its officers being even provided with steel-cut epaulettes … his uniform was made by a firm of British tailors in Calcutta, Harman’s. A telegram addressed to him as GOC was delivered to the British General in Fort William and was the subject of a good deal of malicious gossip in the (British Indian) press. Mahatma Gandhi being a sincere pacifist vowed to non-violence, did not like the strutting, clicking of boots, and saluting, and he afterwards described the Calcutta session of the Congress as a Bertram Mills circus, which caused a great deal of indignation among the Bengalis.
A little later, Bose was again arrested and jailed for civil disobedience; this time he emerged to become Mayor of Calcutta in 1930. During the mid-1930s Bose travelled in Europe, visiting Indian students and European politicians, including Benito Mussolini. He observed party organisation and saw communism and fascism in action. In this period, he also researched and wrote the first part of his book The Indian Struggle, which covered the country’s independence movement in the years 1920–1934. Although it was published in London in 1935, the British government banned the book in the colony out of fears that it would encourage unrest. By 1938 Bose had become a leader of national stature and agreed to accept nomination as Congress President.
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. On 22 June 1939 Bose organised the All India Forward Bloc a faction within the Indian National Congress, aimed at consolidating the political left, but its main strength was in his home state, Bengal. U Muthuramalingam Thevar, who was a staunch supporter of Bose from the beginning, joined the Forward Bloc. When Bose visited Madurai on 6 September, Thevar organised a massive rally as his reception. When Subash Chandra Bose was heading to Madurai, on an invitation of Muthuramalinga Thevar to amass support for the Forward Bloc, he passed through Madras and spent three days at Gandhi Peak. His correspondence reveals that despite his clear dislike for British subjugation, he was deeply impressed by their methodical and systematic approach and their steadfastly disciplinarian outlook towards life. In England, he exchanged ideas on the future of India with British Labour Party leaders and political thinkers like Lord Halifax, George Lansbury, Clement Attlee, Arthur Greenwood, Harold Laski, J.B.S. Haldane, Ivor Jennings, G.D.H. Cole, Gilbert Murray and Sir Stafford Cripps. He came to believe that an independent India needed socialist authoritarianism, on the lines of Turkey’s Kemal Atatürk, for at least two decades. For politically reasons Bose was refused permission by the British authorities to meet Atatürk at Ankara. During his sojourn in England Bose tried to schedule appointments but only the Labour Party and Liberal politicians agreed to meet with him. Conservative Party officials refused to meet him or show him courtesy because he was a politician coming from a colony. In the 1930s leading figures in the Conservative Party had opposed even Dominion status for India. It was during the Labour Party government of 1945–1951, with Attlee as the Prime Minister, that India gained independence. On the outbreak of war, Bose advocated a campaign of mass civil disobedience to protest against Viceroy Lord Linlithgow’s decision to declare war on India’s behalf without consulting the Congress leadership. Having failed to persuade Gandhi of the necessity of this, Bose organised mass protests in Calcutta calling for the ‘Holwell Monument’ commemorating the Black Hole of Calcutta, which then stood at the corner of Dalhousie Square, to be removed. He was thrown in jail by the British, but was released following a seven-day hunger strike. Bose’s house in Calcutta was kept under surveillance by the CID.
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. Late night 16 January 1941, the night of his escape, he dressed as a Pathan (brown long coat, a black fez-type coat and broad pyjamas) to avoid being identified. Bose escaped from under British surveillance from his Elgin Road house in Calcutta about 01:25AM on 17 January 1941, accompanied by his nephew Sisir Kumar Bose in a German-made Wanderer W24 Sedan car, which would take him to Gomoh Railway Station in then state of Bihar, India. The car (Registration No. BLA 7169) was bought by Subhash Chandra Bose’s elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose in 1937. The car is now on display at his Elgin Road home in Calcutta, India.
He journeyed to Peshawar with the help of the Abwehr, where he was met by Akbar Shah, Mohammed Shah and Bhagat Ram Talwar. Bose was taken to the home of Abad Khan, a trusted friend of Akbar Shah’s. On 26 January 1941, Bose began his journey to reach Russia through British India’s North West frontier with Afghanistan. For this reason, he enlisted the help of Mian Akbar Shah, then a Forward Bloc leader in the North-West Frontier Province. Shah had been out of India en route to the Soviet Union, and suggested a novel disguise for Bose to assume. Since Bose could not speak one word of Pashto, it would make him an easy target of Pashto speakers working for the British. For this reason, Shah suggested that Bose act deaf and dumb, and let his beard grow to mimic those of the tribesmen. Bose’s guide Bhagat Ram Talwar, unknown to him, was a Soviet agent.
Supporters of the Aga Khan III helped him across the border into Afghanistan where he was met by an Abwehr unit posing as a party of road construction engineers from the Organization Todt who then aided his passage across Afghanistan via Kabul to the border with Soviet Russia. After assuming the guise of a Pashtun insurance agent (“Ziaudddin”) to reach Afghanistan, Bose changed his guise and travelled to Moscow on the Italian passport of an Italian nobleman “Count Orlando Mazzotta”. From Moscow, he reached Rome, and from there he travelled to Germany.Once in Russia the NKVD transported Bose to Moscow where he hoped that Russia’s traditional enmity to British rule in India would result in support for his plans for a popular rising in India. However, Bose found the Soviets’ response disappointing and was rapidly passed over to the German Ambassador in Moscow, Count von der Schulenburg. He had Bose flown on to Berlin in a special courier aircraft at the beginning of April where he was to receive a more favourable hearing from Joachim von Ribbentrop and the Foreign Ministry officials at the Wilhelmstrasse.
In Germany, he was attached to the Special Bureau for India under Adam von Trott zu Solz which was responsible for broadcasting on the German-sponsored Azad Hind Radio. He founded the Free India Center in Berlin, and created the Indian Legion (consisting of some 4500 soldiers) out of Indian prisoners of war who had previously fought for the British in North Africa prior to their capture by Axis forces. The Indian Legion was attached to the Wehrmacht, and later transferred to the Waffen SS. Its members swore the following allegiance to Hitler and Bose: “I swear by God this holy oath that I will obey the leader of the German race and state, Adolf Hitler, as the commander of the German armed forces in the fight for India, whose leader is Subhas Chandra Bose”. This oath clearly abrogates control of the Indian legion to the German armed forces whilst stating Bose’s overall leadership of India. He was also, however, prepared to envisage an invasion of India via the USSR by Nazi troops, spearheaded by the Azad Hind Legion; many have questioned his judgment here, as it seems unlikely that the Germans could have been easily persuaded to leave after such an invasion, which might also have resulted in an Axis victory in the War.
In all, 3,000 Indian prisoners of war signed up for the Free India Legion. But instead of being delighted, Bose was worried. A left-wing admirer of Russia, he was devastated when Hitler’s tanks rolled across the Soviet border. Matters were worsened by the fact that the now-retreating German army would be in no position to offer him help in driving the British from India. When he met Hitler in May 1942, his suspicions were confirmed, and he came to believe that the Nazi leader was more interested in using his men to win propaganda victories than military ones. So, in February 1943, Bose turned his back on his legionnaires and slipped secretly away aboard a submarine bound for Japan. This left the men he had recruited leaderless and demoralised in Germany.
Bose lived in Berlin from 1941 until 1943. During his earlier visit to Germany in 1934, he had met Emilie Schenkl, the daughter of an Austrian veterinarian whom he married in 1937. Their daughter is Anita Bose Pfaff.Bose’s party, the Forward Bloc, has contested this fact.
In 1943, after being disillusioned that Germany could be of any help in gaining India’s independence, he left for Japan. He travelled with the German submarine U-180 around the Cape of Good Hope to the southeast of Madagascar, where he was transferred to the I-29 for the rest of the journey to Imperial Japan. This was the only civilian transfer between two submarines of two different navies in World War II.
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.
This was along the concept of—and with support of—what was then known as the Indian Independence League, headed by expatriate nationalist leader Rash Behari Bose. The first INA was however disbanded in December 1942 after disagreements between the Hikari Kikan and Mohan Singh, who came to believe that the Japanese High Command was using the INA as a mere pawn and propaganda tool. Mohan Singh was taken into custody and the troops returned to the prisoner-of-war camp. However, the idea of an independence army was revived with the arrival of Subhas Chandra Bose in the Far East in 1943. In July, at a meeting in Singapore, Rash Behari Bose handed over control of the organisation to Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose was able to reorganise the fledgling army and organise massive support among the expatriate Indian population in south-east Asia, who lent their support by both enlisting in the Indian National Army, as well as financially in response to Bose’s calls for sacrifice for the independence cause. INA had a separate women’s unit, the Rani of Jhansi Regiment (named after Rani Lakshmi Bai) headed by Capt. Lakshmi Swaminathan, which is seen as a first of its kind in Asia.
Even when faced with military reverses, Bose was able to maintain support for the Azad Hind movement. Spoken as a part of a motivational speech for the Indian National Army at a rally of Indians in Burma on 4 July 1944, Bose’s most famous quote was “Give me blood, and I shall give you freedom!” In this, he urged the people of India to join him in his fight against the British Raj. Spoken in Hindi, Bose’s words are highly evocative. The troops of the INA were under the aegis of a provisional government, the Azad Hind Government, which came to produce its own currency, postage stamps, court and civil code, and was recognised by nine Axis states—Germany, Japan, Italy, the Independent State of Croatia, Wang Jingwei regime in Nanjing, China, a provisional government of Burma, Manchukuo and Japanese-controlled Philippines. Recent researches have shown that the USSR too had diplomatic contact with the “Provisional Government of Free India”. Of those countries, five were authorities established under Axis occupation. This government participated in the so-called Greater East Asia Conference as an observer in November 1943.subhash bose