Subhas Chandra Bose (23 January 1897 – unknown) also known as Netaji (Bengali/Oriya/Hindi): “Respected Leader”), was one of the most prominent Indian nationalist leaders who attempted to gain India’s independence from British rule by force during the waning years of World War II with the help of the Axis powers.
Bose, who had been ousted from the Indian National Congress in 1939 following differences with the more conservative high command, and subsequently placed under house arrest by the British, escaped from India in early 1941. He turned to the Axis powers for help in gaining India’s independence by force. With Japanese support, he organised the Indian National Army (INA), composed largely of Indian soldiers of the British Indian army who had been captured in the Battle of Singapore by the Japanese. As the war turned against them, the Japanese came to support a number of countries to form provisional governments in the captured regions, including those in Burma, the Philippines and Vietnam, and in addition, the Provisional Government of Azad Hind, presided by Bose. Bose’s effort, however, was short lived; in 1945 the British army first halted and then reversed the Japanese U Go offensive, beginning the successful part of the Burma Campaign. The INA was driven down the Malay Peninsula, and surrendered with the recapture of Singapore. It was reported that Bose died soon thereafter from third degree burns received after attempting to escape in an overloaded Japanese plane which crashed in Taiwan, which is disputed. The trials of the INA soldiers at Red Fort, Delhi, in late 1945 caused huge public response in India.
Clement Attlee, the British Prime Minister during whose rule India became independent, mentioned that INA activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (which weakened the Indian Army – the very foundation of the British Empire in India) and the Royal Indian Navy mutiny in 1946 were major reasons that made the British realise that they were no longer in a position to rule India.
Subhas Chandra Bose was born in a Bengali Hindu, Kayastha family on 23 January 1897 in Cuttack, Odisha, then a part of Bengal Presidency, to Janakinath Bose, an advocate and Prabhavati Devi. His parents’ ancestral house was at Kodalia village (near Baruipur; now known as Shubhashgram, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal). He was the ninth child of a total of fourteen siblings. He studied at Stewart School, Cuttack, an Anglo school, until the seventh standard and then shifted to Ravenshaw Collegiate School. After securing the second position in the matriculation examination of Calcutta province in 1911, 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 Scottish Church College under University of Calcutta and passed his B.A. in 1918 in philosophy. Subhas Chandra Bose left India in 1919 for Great Britain with a promise to his father that he would appear in the Indian Civil Services Examination (ICS). 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. He resigned from the civil service job and returned to India. 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.
Indian National Congress
In 1927, after being released from prison, 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 to become Mayor of Calcutta in 1930. During the mid-1930s Bose travel-led in Europe, visiting Indian students and European politicians, including Benito Mussolini. He observed party organisation 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 (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.
Bose advocated complete unconditional independence for India, whereas the All-India Congress Committee wanted it in phases, through Dominion status. Finally at the historic Lahore Congress convention, the Congress adopted Purna Swaraj (complete independence) as its motto. Gandhi was given rousing receptions wherever he went after Gandhi-Irwin pact. Subhas Chandra Bose, travelling with Gandhi in these endeavours, later wrote that the great enthusiasm he saw among the people enthused him tremendously and that he doubted if any other leader anywhere in the world received such a reception as Gandhi did during these travels across the country. He was imprisoned and expelled from India. Defying the ban, he came back to India and was imprisoned again.
Bose was elected president of the Indian National Congress for two consecutive terms, but had to resign from the post following ideological conflicts with Mohandas K. Gandhi and after openly attacking the Congress’ foreign and internal policies. Bose believed that Gandhi’s tactics of non-violence would never be sufficient to secure India’s independence, and advocated violent resistance. He established a separate political party, the All India Forward Bloc and continued to call for the full and immediate independence of India from British rule. He was imprisoned by the British authorities eleven times.
His stance did not change with the outbreak of the Second World War, which he saw as an opportunity to take advantage of British weakness. At the outset of the war, he left India, travelling to the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, seeking an alliance with each of them to attack the British government in India. With Imperial Japanese assistance, he re-organised and later led the Azad Hind Fauj or Indian National Army (INA), formed with Indian prisoners-of-war and plantation workers from British Malaya, Singapore, and other parts of Southeast Asia, against British forces. With Japanese monetary, political, diplomatic and military assistance, he formed the Azad Hind Government in exile, and regrouped and led the Indian National Army in failed military campaigns against the allies at Imphal and in Burma.
His political views and the alliances he made with Nazi and other militarist regimes at war with Britain have been the cause of arguments among historians and politicians, with some accusing him of fascist sympathies, while others in India have been more sympathetic towards the realpolitik that guided his social and political choices.
Subhas Chandra Bose believed that the Bhagavad Gita was a great source of inspiration for the struggle against the British. Swami Vivekananda’s teachings on universalism, his nationalist thoughts and his emphasis on social service and reform had all inspired Subhas Chandra Bose from his very young days. The fresh interpretation of the India’s ancient scriptures had appealed immensely to him. Many scholars believe that Hindu spirituality formed the essential part of his political and social thought throughout his adult life, although there was no sense of bigotry or orthodoxy in it. Subhas who called himself a socialist, believed that socialism in India owed its origins to Swami Vivekananda. As historian Leonard Gordon explains “Inner religious explorations continued to be a part of his adult life. This set him apart from the slowly growing number of atheistic socialists and communists who dotted the Indian landscape.”.
Bose’s correspondence (prior to 1939) reflects his deep disapproval of the racist practices of, and annulment of democratic institutions in Nazi Germany: “Today I regret that I have to return to India with the conviction that the new nationalism of Germany is not only narrow and selfish but arrogant”. However, he expressed admiration for the authoritarian methods (though not the racial ideologies) which he saw in Italy and Germany during the 1930s, and thought they could be used in building an independent India.
Bose had clearly expressed his belief that democracy was the best option for India. The pro-Bose thinkers believe that his authoritarian control of the Azad Hind was based on political pragmatism and a post-colonial doctrine rather than any anti-democratic belief. However, during the war (and possibly as early as the 1930s), Bose seems to have decided that no democratic system could be adequate to overcome India’s poverty and social inequalities, and he wrote that a socialist state similar to that of Soviet Russia (which he had also seen and admired) would be needed for the process of national re-building. Accordingly, some suggest that Bose’s alliance with the Axis during the war was based on more than just pragmatism, and that Bose was a militant nationalist, though not a Nazi nor a Fascist, for he supported empowerment of women, secularism and other liberal ideas; alternatively, others consider he might have been using populist methods of mobilisation common to many post-colonial leaders.
His most famous quote/slogan was “Give me blood and I will give you freedom”. Another famous quote was Dilli Chalo (“On to Delhi)!” This was the call he used to give the INA armies to motivate them. Jai Hind, or, “Glory to India!” was another slogan used by him and later adopted by the Government of India and the Indian Armed Forces. Another slogan coined by him was “Ittefaq, Etemad, Qurbani” (Urdu for “Unity, Agreement, Sacrifice”). INA also used the slogan Inquilab Zindabad, which was coined by Maulana Hasrat Mohani.
On 23 August 2007, Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe visited the Subhas Chandra Bose memorial hall in Kolkata. Abe said to Bose’s family “The Japanese are deeply moved by Bose’s strong will to have led the Indian independence movement from British rule. Netaji is a much respected name in Japan.
The following words are inscribed on a brass shield in front of the chair.
“Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in order to free India from the shackles of British imperialism organized the Azad Hind Government from outside the country on October 21, 1943. Netaji set up the Provisional Government of Independent India (Azad Hind) and transferred its headquarter at Rangoon on January 7, 1944. On the 5th April, 1944, the “Azad Hind Bank” was inaugurated at Rangoon. It was on this occasion that Netaji used this chair for the first time. Later the chair was kept at the residence of Netaji at 51, University Avenue, Rangoon, where the office of the Azad Hind Government was also housed. Afterwards,at the time of leaving Burma, the Britishers handed over the chair to the family of Mr.A.T.Ahuja, the well known business man of Rangoon. The chair was officially handed over to the Government of India in January 1979. It was brought to Calcutta on the 17th July, 1980. It has now been ceremonially installed at the Red Fort on July 7, 1981.”
Death on 18 August 1945
In the consensus of scholarly opinion, Subhash Chandra Bose’s death occurred from third-degree burns on 18 August 1945 after his overloaded Japanese plane crashed in Japanese-ruled Formosa (now Taiwan). However, many among his supporters, especially in Bengal, refused at the time, and have refused since, to believe either the fact or the circumstances of his death. Conspiracy theories appeared within hours of his death and have thereafter had a long shelf life, keeping alive various martial myths about Bose.
In Taihoku, at around 2:30 PM as the bomber with Bose on board was leaving the standard path taken by aircraft during take-off, the passengers inside heard a loud sound, similar to an engine backfiring. The mechanics on the tarmac saw something fall out of the plane. It was the portside engine, or a part of it, and the propeller. The plane swung wildly to the right and plummeted, crashing, breaking into two, and exploding into flames. Inside, the chief pilot, copilot and Lieutenant-General Tsunamasa Shidei, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Japanese Kwantung Army, who was to have made the negotiations for Bose with the Soviet army in Manchuria, were instantly killed. Bose’s assistant Habibur Rahman was stunned, passing out briefly, and Bose, although conscious and not fatally hurt, was soaked in gasoline. When Rahman came to, he and Bose attempted to leave by the rear door, but found it blocked by the luggage. They then decided to run through the flames and exit from the front. The ground staff, now approaching the plane, saw two people staggering towards them, one of whom had become a human torch. The human torch turned out to be Bose, whose gasoline-soaked clothes had instantly ignited. Rahman and a few others managed to smother the flames, but also noticed that Bose’s face and head appeared badly burned. According to Joyce Chapman Lebra, “A truck which served as ambulance rushed Bose and the other passengers to the Nanmon Military Hospital south of Taihoku.” The airport personnel called Dr. Taneyoshi Yoshimi, the surgeon-in-charge at the hospital at around 3 PM. Bose was conscious and mostly coherent when they reached the hospital, and for some time thereafter. Bose was naked, except for a blanket wrapped around him, and Dr. Yoshimi immediately saw evidence of third-degree burns on many parts of the body, especially on his chest, doubting very much that he would live. Dr. Yoshimi promptly began to treat Bose and was assisted by Dr. Tsuruta. According to historian Leonard A. Gordon, who interviewed all the hospital personnel later,
A disinfectant, Rivamol, was put over most of his body and then a white ointment was applied and he was bandaged over most of his body. Dr. Yoshimi gave Bose four injections of Vita Camphor and two of Digitamine for his weakened heart. These were given about every 30 minutes. Since his body had lost fluids quickly upon being burnt, he was also given Ringer solution intravenously. A third doctor, Dr. Ishii gave him a blood transfusion. An orderly, Kazuo Mitsui, an army private, was in the room and several nurses were also assisting. Bose still had a clear head which Dr. Yoshimi found remarkable for someone with such severe injuries.
Soon, in spite of the treatment, Bose went into a coma. A few hours later, between 9 and 10 PM (local time) on Saturday 18 August 1945, Subhas Chandra Bose, aged 48, was dead.
Bose’s body was cremated in the main Taihoku crematorium two days later, 20 August 1945. On 23 August 1945, the Japanese news agency Do Trzei announced the death of Bose and Shidea. On 7 September a Japanese officer, Lieutenant Tatsuo Hayashida, carried Bose’s ashes to Tokyo, and the following morning they were handed to the president of the Tokyo Indian Independence League, Rama Murti. On 14 September a memorial service was held for Bose in Tokyo and a few days later the ashes were turned over to the priest of the Renkōji Temple of Nichiren Buddhism in Tokyo. There they have remained ever since.
Among the INA personnel, there was widespread disbelief, shock, and trauma. Most affected were the young Tamil Indians from Malaya and Singapore, both men and women, who comprised the bulk of the civilians who had enlisted in the INA. The professional soldiers in the INA, most of whom were Punjabis, faced an uncertain future, with many fatalistically expecting reprisals from the British. In India the Indian National Congress’s official line was succinctly expressed in a letter Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi wrote to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. Said Gandhi, “Subhas Bose has died well. He was undoubtedly a patriot, though misguided.” Many congressmen had not forgiven Bose for quarrelling with Gandhi and for collaborating with what they considered was Japanese fascism. The Indian soldiers in the British Indian army, some two and a half million of whom had fought during the Second World War, were conflicted about the INA. Some saw the INA as traitors and wanted them punished; others felt more sympathetic. The British Raj, though never seriously threatened by the INA, tried 300 INA officers for treason in the INA trials, but eventually backtracked.