Remembering Netaji: An Embattled Legacy
“Forget not that the greatest curse for a man is to remain a slave. Forget not that the grossest crime is to compromise with injustice and wrong. Remember the eternal law – you must give life if you want to get it. And remember that the highest virtue is to battle against inequity, no matter what the cost may be.’
– Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as he commenced his fast unto death on 29th November 1940.
The Embattled Legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose
by SB Veda with inputs from staff
CALCUTTA – Seventy years ago, today, the sometime scattered gaze of history lost track of a man. He was a would-be liberator whose dream remained, enduring even as he vanished. Whether he died or whether his exit was a careful premeditation and collaboration is a subject about which many have opinions but which none have settled definitively. What is clear though is that India would surely not have gained independence in 1947 were it not for his daring efforts and great sacrifices.
This man was Subhas Chandra Bose, son of a prominent government official in British India, the ninth child of thirteen children, born three years before the turn of the twentieth century in Cuttack (present day Odisha) then part of the Bengal Presidency. He was an uncommonly bright and gifted student, educated in English but was influenced by Indian philosophy. As a youth, he sought a spiritual path, contemplating becoming a Sanyasin, later volunteering to serve the victims of flooding and other hardships. By the time he was a young man, he had decided to serve his fellow Indians, the most pressing cause at hand being attaining liberation from the British Empire.
The highlights of his life story are by now well known: getting a 1st class first at Cambridge; standing 4rth in the ICS exams but declining a post in the Imperial government in India; entering the freedom movement including his election and re-election as Congress leader in 1938/39 only to be crushed by the right-wing Gandhian political machine; his daring escape from house arrest through Afghanistan and the USSR to Berlin in 1941; his founding of the Free India Centre and the Indian Legion composed of POWs in Germany; his perilous trip to Japan around the horn of Africa in two submarines; his leadership of the Indian National Army in Asia and founding of the Provisional Government of India; the defeat of his forces at Burma and Imphal; and finally, his disappearance on August 18th, 1945, apparently killed in a plane crash.
Many Indians feel an attachment to him as though they had known him in some way. Still, much about who he was, what motivated him, his perception of the world around it, remains clouded in misconception and obfuscation. The post-independence All-India Congress Party government first led by his onetime friend and later bitter rival, Jawaharlal Nehru (later by his descendants) endeavored to remove from the annals of history, his contribution to the Indian freedom movement. Revisionist views of him – even by some of his own relatives – cast him as an arrogant fascist, an opportunist, and a foolish military leader. These are all false notions, of course, but a thorough reading of history, beginning with Bose’s own writings and speeches are in order to refute such spurious claims.
Unfortunately, the ideology of his political opponents in the Congress Party became so entrenched in Indian academia, the school system, and media, that the legacy of this remarkable and gifted Indian revolutionary has become endangered in the 21st century.
MYTHS ABOUT SUBHAS CHANDRA BOSE
The Fascist Claim
The fascist label was first popularized by the British and it was conveniently adopted by Jawaharlal Nehru and his sycophants. The much publicized photo of his handshake with Hitler played into this notion, and the image was projected widely to infer that the two were like-minded and in step with one another. In fact, he had a single interview with the German dictator, this over a year after he allowed to enter Germany and accorded a diplomatic status. Hitler was not keen on meeting Bose, and it was something of a diplomatic disaster when they finally did meet. Bose was unable to contain his criticisms of the racist policies of the Third Reich, and Hitler, though promising to remove racist material from his manifesto, Mein Kampf, was not personally receptive to the Indian leader, though he was convinced by others in the Reich that the relationship would prove useful. Bose was submarine-bound to Japan, soon afterwards.
Bose had been viewed by the Germans with suspicion even before he entered Berlin in 1941. His views were left leaning, and he had admired the Marxists in the USSR. A German diplomat in Afghanistan named Pilger secured permission for him to enter Berlin but Bose was intent on going to Moscow, and remained in Kabul to his peril, waiting for a decision from the Soviets. Interestingly, Pilger had been briefed on Bose’s desire to go the to the Soviet Union but he left this detail out in his report to Berlin. The Soviets granted him a transit visa, deliberating at length on whether he should be allowed to stay, ultimately declining Bose’s request.
Professor of history, Diethelm Weidermann explains in his book, Bose’s Passage, that the Soviet Union was actually Bose’s desired goal. He argued that geography and the reputation of the USSR as an anti-imperialist power made her the “ideal partner” for Bose. And, the Soviets already had solid support among various parties in India who were feeding them with information, though this was perhaps something short of a fifth column. Moscow then had not universally been favorable to all communists in India as many had been indoctrinated by the Communist Party of Great Britain. The Soviets found it rather incredulous that Bose could manage to escape from British house arrest when he was being watched by 10-12 British security agents, and were perhaps understandably concerned that Bose might therefore be working secretly for the British.
Renowned Russian / international relations scholar and Bose archivist, Professor (ret.) Purabi Roy of Jadavpur University concurs. In her book, The Search for Netaji: New Findings, she writes that Bose was stigmatized as a Fascist due to his choice to go to Germany. “so, the question may arise, why he did not go straight to Germany after reaching Kabul instead of waiting there for two months. As per the documents during this period, he waited for the Soviet Government’s final decision about his entry into the country. Wheras the Soviet authorities took a long time to decide before granting him a transit visa for th USSR. This gave Bose an opportunity to spend at least nine days in that counry from March 21-31, 1941.”
She goes on to write that while in Germany, his idea about the formation of the Indian Legion was formulated with the help of four committed communists, namely A.C.N Nmbiar, J.K. Banerjee, Pramode Ranjan Sen Gupta and Habibur Rahman of which at least two were hardcore committed anti-fascists.
A reading of Bose’s writings and speeches as well as the documents of the Germans, reveals that he admired the discipline apparent in fascists states – in fact, such discipline was also evident in the resoluteness of the British, which he also admired – but, significantly, he decried their methods (and this point is often conveniently overlooked by his detractors). In the early ’30s, Bose’s views were well known to the Germans. He was talking and writing about his own brand of Indian Socialism, stating: “Marxian (sic) principles when applied to Russia and Russian conditions gave rise to Bolshevism; similarly, socialism when applied to India and Indian conditions will develop a new form or type of socialism, which we may hail as Indian Socialism.”
It is worth noting that the fascism to which he referred was of that practiced by Mussolini and not Hitler’s variety. He had visited Italy in the ’30s and was treated well by the regime there. Absent were the racialist theories, which would motivate the Germans to commit unspeakable crimes against humanity to millions of Jews and Gypsies as well as to perceived threats in the form of academics, dissidents and feminists.
Indian Socialism, Bose argued would take elements from European communism and fascism without employing their brutal methods, while remaining committed to equality and a democratic principles. Much has been made of Bose’s musings on the potential role of authoritarian government in independent India. He believed that during the early years of independent India, strong leadership would be called upon to take the difficult perhaps unpopular decisions and implement central planning. He called his political philosophy, Samyavada. The main tenets of philosophy were read out in a speech, which Bose wrote for the 3rd Indian Political Conference in London (he was president in absentia due to his assumption that while in exile from the empire, he was not allowed to enter Britain); his exposition was thereafter known as The London Thesis.
In a statement to the press before he set sail for Europe in the ’30s, Bose gave a preview of The London Thesis, asserting that, “During the twentieth century, Russia enriched the culture and civilization of the world through her achievement of the proletarian revolution, proletarian government and proletarian culture. The next remarkable contribution to the culture and civilization of the world, India will be called upon to make.” He added: “With regard to the methods and tactics employed by the Bolsheviks in Russia, may I say that they will not necessarily suit Indian conditions. Complete independence shall be based on socialistic ideals of equality of men. Russia has accepted one view, Italy another, and India would have her own interpretation of equality and the democratic state.” Such words sound awfully weak-kneed for a fascist.
There is no small measure of irony in his own experience with democracy, being elected twice as Congress president only to be thwarted by Gandhi’s dictatorial maneuverings. Lack of adherence to democratic principles by the Congress high command is what forced him to resign as president in 1939. If he had become disillusioned with democracy, it would have been in witness of its impotence before a dictatorial power in 1939 for which he suffered greatly (however well-intentioned or apparently principled that power might have seemed to Gandhians since).
A year earlier, an optimistic Bose had addressed the Congress general assembly as 51st president in Haripura, Gujarat. He described how the Congress party might take power after independence and what kind of government should be in place: “|The (Congress) Party would have to take over power, assume responsibility for administration, and put through its programme of reconstruction. Only those who have won power can handle it properly.” His biographer, retired Colonel Hugh Toye, a British Intelligence officer assigned to monitor Bose, commented in this book, Subhas Chandra Bose The Springing Tiger, that Bose’s words were far from authoritarian: “it would not be fascism, opposition parties would not be banned and the structure of Congress would remain democratic.”
Bose argued for participation in the government by historically marginalized groups. In 1929, speaking to the Hooghly District Students’ Conference, he called upon the young to be inclusive of those in whose name few had historically shed tears: “In our country there are three large groups lying absolutely dormant: women, the so-called depressed classes, and the labouring masses. Let us go to them and say: You also are human beings and shall obtain the fullest rights of men. So arise, awake…and snatch your legitimate rights!” Though his idealism may have dimmed due to Real Politik both at home and abroad, his ardor for social justice and belief in empowering the masses remained.
The Germans regarded him as a communist with views indicative of what they considered to be an unhealthy predilection towards egalitarian ideals, no matter how much he talked up the virtues of strong autocratic regimes in the presence of officials of such countries. He ultimately fell out with the Nazis and left for Asia.
Military Missteps, Foolhardy Bravado?
After the fascist label failed to gain traction, the British and later the Indian intelligentsia were determined to cast him as an inept military leader simply because the INA and Japanese, vastly outnumbered and outgunned, despite fighting with determination and valor, lost two key battles: Rangoon and Imphal. They further inferred that the nature of his relationship with the Japanese military was less than subordinate by referring to him with the pejorative, ‘Tojo’s Dog’.
Contrary to this view, Bose had insisted that the INA be an independent national army, which would be headed by him, and the command and control would flow from him – and not any Japanese general. The Japanese military commander, General Tojo complied with this demand. Naturally, they were dependent on the Japanese for equipment and supplies but these were paid for and the salaries of troops were paid out of the Provisional Government of India Bank (contributions obtained from Indian expats – a war-chest amounting to some Rs. 15 Cores of cash and properties as well as at least 80kg of gold). Bose knew that if the INA was monetarily dependent on the Japanese, they would become subservient, so he raised a huge war chest which was used to keep the INA independent and under his control. (What happened to the INA war chest remains a mystery.)
As for the battles – the British, who had lost considerable prestige in retreating from Malaya and elsewhere in the Asian theater, were determined when facing the INA. The British Museum recently called the victories at Imphal and Rangoon the most important battles in British history. This demonstrates how significant a threat they calculated the INA had posed, and how committed the British were to defend Indian territory and take back Rangoon in 1945. Despite the loss of the battle, the INA did manage to plant the flag of Free India, the Azad Hind Fauj, in Indian soil in Imphal. The INA was given charge of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which was taken by the Japanese in 1942.
Unfortunately, Bose was betrayed by spies who were passing information on to the British. The British knew where to strike in Rangoon; they could anticipate the surge in Imphal. It is known from declassified British documents that there were at least two agents (and were likely many more as desertions occurred) who passed on key information including about strength of numbers, equipment, supplies, and more importantly, formations and plans. If Bose had a major weakness as a military leader, it was that he was too trusting. Traitors from the INA betrayed him both in his midst and long after he had exited the scene. (We will be running a story on Independence era espionage covering the spying angle in more detail.)
More than winning battles, however, Bose was visionary in his thinking about the impact of the battles on the collective psyche of Indians: the winning of hearts and minds. A student of psychology at Cambridge, Bose understood the value of propaganda, how it is critical to frame the narrative in the minds of people in order to change the course of history. The INA trials that ensued, electrified the nation, touching off a series of naval mutinies. It is not widely known or publicized that naval units in key ports like Bombay, Calcutta, Vishakhapatanam, and Karachi, mutinied. Of 80 units, only 10 had failed to revolt. The British government was terribly alarmed at this development.
Bose was not so misguided or delusional as to think that some 40-50,000 men, even with the support of the Japanese, could defeat the mighty Imperial Indian Army. That said, he correctly judged that the British kept the Indian people in their grip with the might of her armed forces which was composed mainly of Indians. If one chipped away at the loyalty of the the rank and file, one could also chip away at British rule. He aimed to get the Indian Army to switch sides as he entered India with the INA. And, his radio broadcasts, the INA propaganda, and the trials had begun to achieve this. The fear of an all out general revolt in the armed forces compelled British Prime Minister Clement Atlee and his cabinet to take steps to sit down and negotiate terms with the Congress, Muslim league et al, in 1946.
So, it can be argued that Bose’s strategy worked in the end. He may have lost battles but he had won hearts and minds, something even global superpowers in the 21st Century with the most devastating weaponry at their command, have failed to do time and again.
Marginal Contribution to the Freedom Movement
That Bose had a minimal contribution to the freedom movement is perhaps one of the most bizarre myths about his life, and strangely, it has been propagated by the very government that benefited from his sacrifices: the Government of India. In 2007, a Delhi-based Indian citizen Mr. Debashish Bhattacharya filed a Right to Information (RTI) request, which contained five questions on what role Bose had in the freedom movement. Astoundingly, S.K. Malhotra, Deputy Secretary in the Home Ministry sent a written reply to the query, which stated: “The information on points in your letter is not available in the records.”
As absurd as the Indian government response might seem, it is indicative of the revisionist approach to history taken by Congress governments and its sycophants, which paints a portrait that a simple man wearing a loin cloth, who spent most days behind a spinning wheel, brought down the British Empire without so much as making a fist. This is a pleasant fantasy, and one many saw unfold on screen in Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning film, ‘Gandhi’ – but there is little truth in it. The truth is something that has been slowly wiped away from the record.
In fact, when Bose entered Indian politics, Gandhi was the leader of the right wing faction of the Congress Party who believed in attaining dominion status (not independence, mind you) in measured constitutional steps. The British devolved power to the Congress and Muslim league, and they were permitted to participate in governance under the overall authority of the British Empire.
Bose had ‘made his bones’ during the civil disobedience campaigns in the 1920s, and had been jailed multiple times, becoming very ill. There is an account of the British deliberately exposing him and other freedom fighters to the Tuberculosis pathogen – and early form of biological warfare.
Afterwards, he emerged as one of leading lights of the progressive wing of the Congress Party. He captured the imagination of the leftists of Congress by advocating mass civil disobedience campaigns in 1938, ’39 and ’40. In fact, he had characterized Gandhi’s constitutional approach as one of compromise, which would never bring about full independence. And, the Congress-wallahs had become used to the perks of the limited power granted to them by the British.
In his biography of Bose, Toye summarized aptly the political stagnancy of 1939, “The Congress ministries had enjoyed the taste of power, and the High Command, lording it over them, had become complacent; there was even a feeling (in the Congress High Command) that the federal provisions of the 1935 Act might be more palatable than they looked.”
Faced with this complacency, Bose advocated civil disobedience on a mass scale and the removal of the British by any means. The platform won him re-election as Congress president in 1939 against a candidate proposed by Gandhi. In the last ever election for president of the Congress party, Bose, the anti-establishment candidate, won by a modest but decisive margin.
Congress remained divided, though. And faced with both a battle with British and the establishment of his own party, he became debilitated. His health suffered considerably, addressing the assembly from a stretcher; the ensuing acceptance speech was curt and without vigor, though the resolution he proposed was bold: demanding self-determination for India within six months under threat of massive civil disobedience.
Gandhi, who regarded Bose’s re-election as a personal defeat chose not to attend the assembly. He would undermine Bose’s authority at every opportunity.
Then followed numerous fruitless overtures by Bose to Gandhi in which he argued the case for civil disobedience. Gandhi was unmoved, stating that civil disobedience in the political climate that had elected Bose would end in “anarchy and red ruin.” This demonstrates Gandhi’s aversion to leftist politics and that his willingness to halt the progress of the freedom movement unless he could control it, including its leaders. The Congress working committee, which was loyal to Gandhi passed a resolution, which essentially gave Gandhi a veto over Bose’s major decision including choosing his team. It became clear that they meant to make him a puppet with Gandhi pulling the strings.
Bose was undeterred. He resigned as President and formed his own party called The Forward Bloc. Within three months, he was calling for country wide demonstrations in defiance of Gandhi’s dictat to stand down. This resulted in a three year suspension from Congress. He scoffed at the punishment, ‘Is that all?’ he is reported to have said upon being informed.
Gandhi and his rightist followers remained entrenched, that is until they heard Bose’s voice over the airwaves from Berlin. The following year, the Quit India movement, representing the kind of civil disobedience that Bose had been advocating all along (and which Gandhi had been against) was put into action. The reporting of the New York Times and other papers made it seem like Gandhi had invented the concept. The reality is had Bose not advocated so hard for complete independence through a popular civil disobedience movement and then demonstrated his determination by escaping the custody of the British and reaching Berlin to take the help of foreign powers during a time of global conflict, the Quit India movement would never have gotten off the ground. Simply put, Bose’s actions had upped the stakes, dramatically.
Despite Gandhi’s late but spirited awakening, the Quit India movement had mixed results at best. The immediate impact was encouraging: a massive set of disruptions of work across the length and breadth of India in key spheres of British influence. The Dominos started to fall as city after city and people after people set about expressing their discontent. But the activity had strayed from the path of non-violence or Satyagraha even before the Chauri Chaura police station immolation. There were rampant attacks on a huge numbers of Government offices and all signs of Government authority. And, physical attacks on Europeans including accosting of women occurred as did rampant vandalism and looting. In the first week, 250 railway stations were destroyed or damaged, 500 post offices and 150 police stations were attacked. Gandhi’s movement devolved into the very anarchy about which he had warned Bose (absent the ‘red ruin’; Gandhi had industrialists like G.D. Birla behind him). In 1946, the movement was halted ostensibly due to the Chauri Chaura incident but by then the INA trials had shifted the paradigm of the British government.
In 1946, the nation became consumed by trials of three INA generals – a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh, which gave the people something to rally around and united the major religious groups against the British. Nehru (not averse to a good show) even donned his dusty legal gown, and engaged in the theatre of pretending to represent the accused. By then, it was clear that the Quit India movement had been overshadowed by the destabilizing impact of the trials, for the army of Bose had captured the imagination of the public and this was affecting the loyalty of the armed forces.
Sir Stafford Cripps said as much during the House of Commons debate in Britain on Indian independence: “…The Indian Army in India is not obeying the British officers…In these conditions if we have to rule India for a long time, we have to keep a permanent British army for a long time in a vast country of four hundred millions. We have no such army….”
Clement Atlee’s words also shatter the myth on the efficacy of the Quit India movement. Chief Justice P.B. Chakrabarty of the High Court, Calcutta, who had also served as the acting Governor of West Bengal in India, disclosed the following in a letter addressed to the publisher of Dr. R.C. Majumdar’s book A History of Bengal. The Chief Justice wrote: “My direct question to him (Atlee) was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji (Bose). Toward the end of our discussion I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, ‘m-i-n-i-m-a-l!’
The Legacy of Subhas Chandra Bose
Leaving out the obvious, meaning the fall of the British Empire in South Asia, Bose left an indelible impact in Indian life in many ways for which he is certainly given less than his due of credit:
The national anthem was first played in Berlin by Bose at an event of the Free India Committee, and the slogan ‘Jai Hind’ was coined by Bose.
The Forward Bloc
His party, the Forward Bloc continues to play a role in the politics of India and West Bengal in particular. When the left parties attacked him in the popular way, calling him a fascist, sadly, many members of own party failed to speak up for him much less mount a full-fledged defence.
The Planning Commission
The Central Planning Commission was his brainchild. He constituted a National Planning Committee under the aegis of the Congress in December 1938 and, as President of Congress, appointed Jawaharlal Nehru as its Chairman. As freedom dawned, in pursuance of the Haripura resolution, an Advisory Planning Board was set up by the Nehru-led interim Government in 1946. In 1952, the Planning Commission came into being. Sadly, neither in 1946, nor in 1952, did anyone recall the role of Bose.
Bose was committed to the concept that religion should not play a role in politics and that people of different religions could co-exist in India harmoniously. The INA had no splits among communal lines and worked as a cohesive unit. Shah Nawaz Khan, one of the generals tried at the Red Fort INA trials, said of Bose, ” for Subhas there were no religious or provincial differences. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh soldiers in the Indian National Army were made to realise that they were sons of the same motherland.”
Bose’s commitment to a pluralistic India went further. As a protege of CR Das and a Marxist, he saw the problems of Muslims and other disadvantaged groups in India as primarily economic ones, and felt that with elevation to positions of power, the economic disparities would diminish. Also with access to education and basic amenities denied them under the British all groups would be able to participate more fully in the life and affairs of the state.
Revisionist historians say that Bose had been inspired by Vinayak (Vir) Damadar Savarker of the Hindu Mahasabha, and was therefore a Hindu chauvinist. This is patently false. Just as he tried to get the Muslim League on his side, he had talks with Savarker. Other than Savarker’s claim that the INA was h is idea, there is no evidence to suggest Bose was influenced by the architect of Hindutva.
The Emancipation of Women
Most know about the Rhani of Jansi regiment of the INA in which female volunteers were trained to fight on the battlefield but his views on women and efforts to emancipate them are definitely lesser known.
Bose correctly attributed the marginalized position of women in society as stemming from a lack of access to education and economic dependence upon men. He spoke advocated a thorough education for women that included: literacy; physical and vocational education; or training on light Cottage Industries. He was a supporter of widow remarriage and abolition of Purdah system.
When Bose was advocating in impassioned speeches all over India for the emancipation of women, feminist movements began to gather momentum. The National Council of Women in India formed in 1925 and began to co-ordinate the work of Provincial Women’s Council and other societies with the objectives of women’s advancement and welfare. They also networked with international movements.
Gandhi had been known for utilizing women in the his Satyagraha campaigns but he envisioned the role of women to be limited. This perhaps stemmed from his use of the Goddess Sita as a role-mdoel (the ideal wife of Lord Rama whom many feminists criticize as a symbol of subservience). Bose also used Hindu imagery to formulate his position on women. But being influenced by the mysticism of Ramakrishna and teachings of Vivekananda, he turned to the mother Goddesses Durga and Kali (regarded as symbols of power) to frame his view of women. Consequently, Bose defined no such limitations, and this enabled him to envision a martial force composed of women to fight alongside the men.
In their paper, ‘Nationalism and Feminism in Late Colonial India: The Rani of Jhansi Regiment’, Carol Hills and Daniel Silverman analysed both the Rani of Jhansi Regiment and Bose’s commitment to feminism. Based on the accounts of how the regiment was treated, the lack of distinction from the men, and accounts of women in the regiment, the authors concluded that Bose’s contribution to feminism was profound and forward-looking: “Bose’s ideas and actions regarding women’s roles in the national freedom movement were strongly feminist in nature and revolutionary in their expression…His was not an effort to impute to women powers or abilities he did not already believe them to possess by their very nature. He acted rather to release that power seeing the mobilization of women’s inherent strength as a prerequisite for Indian independence.”
Captain Lakshmi Swaminathan, the leader of the regiment and head of the Department of Women of the Provisional Government of India said that in peacetime, Bose’s vision was to use the department to advance the rights of women. Moreover, he had made it clear to her that the regiment was not a propaganda tool. “He wanted a group of women he could depend on to fight bravely and competently,” Swaminathan has stated. She went on to comment on their full immersion into military activities, a traditionally male-dominated area: ‘I suppose we all forgot our sex…we fired, refilled and fired again, endlessly…” Could women in the armed forced of the Republic of India say the same?
Egalitarianism and Social Reform
Bose envisioned a free India in which all peoples could enjoy equal rights, substantially equivalent economic benefits, and equal social status. He wanted to change society so the privileges of birth would be gone, there being no distinction between man or woman based on the accident of their parentage, caste or creed.
In his presidential address at the Maharashtra Provincial Conference held at Poone on May 3, 1928, he said, “If you want to make India really great we must build up a political democracy on the pedestal of a democratic society. Privileges based on birth, caste or creed should go, and equal opportunities should be thrown to all irrespective of caste, creed or religion.”
At the Students Conference held at Lahore in October, 1929, he expounded his concept of freedom which he wanted for India in his presidential address: “This freedom implies not only emancipation from political bondage but also equal distribution of wealth, abolition of caste barriers and social inequalities and destruction of communalism and religious intolerance.”
Though he came from a prominent family that had owned substantial property, he wanted the privileges of landlords, capitalists and higher classes – his peers, in society to be minimized. He said, “Free India will not be a land of capitalists, landlords and castes. Free India will be a social and political democracy…a reign of perfect equality, social, economic and political reign.”
The land reforms pursued by socialist state governments such as the left parties of West Bengal can be said to reflect the spirit of his views. Surely his views influenced the polity of his successors in the Forward Bloc and other left parties. The land reform movement saw substantial amounts of land redistributed to those who toiled on it fundamentally changing the prospects of those newly landed labour classes.
Before there was any notion of a Pravasi Bharati Divas, publications like India Abroad or Global Calcuttan Magazine for that matter, there was the Free India Committee in Germany, The India-Irish Independence League in Ireland, the newspaper, Indelibre in France, and many more organizations. More than any other Indian leader, Bose realized that advocacy in foreign lands can achieve political ends, domestically. From his exile in the 1930s to his escape in the ’40s, Bose raised money and garnered support not only from foreigners but also from ex-patriot Indians. He recognized that in the Diaspora lay an embedded attachment to the Motherland, and this could be cultivated to bring about a sea of social and political change.
To this day, Bose is revered in many lands from Chile to Japan. But his own words in founding the Indian-Central European Society say it all: “Today, once again India wants to resume intimate contact with the outside world, she desires direct intercourse, both cultural and commercial. With this twofold object of developing cultural and commercial relations between India and Central Europe, this Society has been founded.”
His engagement in various countries raised the profile of India in the World, and brought to a public on the brink of global conflict, the plight of an ancient and dignified people desiring to free itself shackles of imperialism.
Into oblivion: August 18, 1945
It is purported that Bose died in a plane crash in Formosa (present day Taiwan), that he was cremated and his ashes were taken to a Buddhist Temple in Japan, the upkeep of which is paid annually by the Indian Government. Nehru and other Indian politicians have paid homage to this Temple and the current President of India, Sri Pranab Mukherjee has made efforts to arrange the ashes to be brought to India.
Three commissions of inquiry looked into his death. Two concluded that he had died in a crash but these have been questioned as being biased. The government of the day, which ratified the first commission, ignored the dissenting report of one of the commissioners. The second – a one man commission ignored much of the testimony presented. The most recent inquiry headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Manoj Mukherjee concluded that no plane crash took place.
The majority of the members of the Bose family believe for various reasons that Bose did not die in a plane crash, that it was a ruse to obscure his carefully planned exit to the Soviet Union – and that somehow he was not able to return to India. The skepticism and refusal of the governments of India and West Bengal to declassify over a hundred files on the crash and what happened to Bose have spurred on a popular movement to uncover the truth.
We will be interviewing members of the Bose family as well as Bose researchers on the mystery and efforts to uncover what happened.
Whether or not the truth is known in time, it is incumbent upon every Indian and person of Indian origin to learn about this great leader so they may pass on to future generations the full story of the freedom fighters’ road to Delhi. Only in this way will the full legacy of the Indian freedom movement find fulfillment.