Subhas Chandra Bose in Germany. (Wikimedia Commons)
Snapshot
  • Subhas Chandra Bose solicited the support of Axis powers for the liberation of India, but distanced himself from their policies, as opposed to the Marxists, who collaborated with the genocidal policies of the British.

    On the 75th anniversary of Azad Hind government, let us look into who the supporters and betrayers of Netaji Bose were.

When Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945?) was fighting for Indian independence taking enormous risks, there were forces in India that supported him and, even when they differed with his unhesitating decision to get Nazi help, silently watched him. Then there were forces that openly opposed him, belittled his efforts and, worse, even betrayed him to the British. So, on the 75th anniversary of Azad Hind government, let us look into who the supporters and betrayers of Netaji Bose were.

Rash Behari Bose (1886-1945), a great Indian revolutionary and an exile in Japan from 1916, was an advocate of pan-Asianism. He saw in Japan an opportunity to liberate Asian nations from colonialism. At the same time, he was not very comfortable with Japan’s imperialist plans. Though in the course of the Second World War he would become silent and focus only on the liberation of India, as early as 1934 he had warned Japan not to antagonise the United States (US) and (then non-Communist) China as well as Soviet Union. He warned, “An American Japanese War will weaken these two great powers who are serious rivals of Great Britain. Those Americans and Japanese who are real patriots should do their best to promote American-Japanese friendship.

Rash Behari Bose also toured Thailand and created a network base there for patriotic Indians. Bose created Indian Independence League (IIL) in Bangkok and its branches were established in Malaya. After Singapore fell to the Japanese, the Indian National Army (INA) was formed by Rash Behari Bose. This organisation was handed over to Netaji Bose by Rash Behari.

(L) Rash Behari Bose. (R) An aged Rash Behari Bose inspects INA, which he handed over to Netaji. (L) Rash Behari Bose. (R) An aged Rash Behari Bose inspects INA, which he handed over to Netaji.

In this mission, the role of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar cannot be understated. Rash Behari Bose and Savarkar had established connections through the Hindu Mahasabha, whose Japanese branch was headed by Rash Behari Bose. It was Savarkar who told Bose to go abroad and fight from there. At the same time, he was encouraging Indian youth to enlist in the army and get war training. It was on 21 June 1940, Bose met Savarkar. The latter advised Bose to leave India, organise the Indian soldiers in Europe and attack as soon as Japan declared war on Britain. (S N Sen, History of the Freedom Movement in India (1857-1947). In July 1940 Bose was arrested. Then in January 1941 he escaped and left India. when Bose decided to take advantage of the War and international situation to make a bid for India's freedom, Savarkar and Rash Behari Bose became important allies in this mission.

Bose and Savarkar: Savarkar’s vision of India’s liberation bore fruit through the self-sacrificing mission of Netaji Bose.  Bose and Savarkar: Savarkar’s vision of India’s liberation bore fruit through the self-sacrificing mission of Netaji Bose. 

The acknowledgement of the role of Savarkar came from Bose himself. Azad Hind Radio broadcast on the night of 25 June 1944 praised Savarkar thus:

When due to misguided political whims and lack of vision, almost all the leaders of Congress party have been decrying all the soldiers in Indian Army as mercenaries, it is heartening to know that Veer Savarkar is fearlessly exhorting the youths of India to enlist in armed forces. These enlisted youths themselves provide us with trained men and soldiers for our Indian National Army.

Another important supporter of Bose’s mission was Anushilan Samiti. This was the Bengali revolutionary organisation which had its roots in the philosophies of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. Even when in later days they had the influence of the Russian revolution, they had kept their national identity and independence intact. After meeting Savarkar, Bose decided to move abroad, Anushilan Samiti swung into action. Dr Manju Gopal Mukherjee writes:

Anushilan helped Bose in this mission. Contact was made with Savarkar and Rash Behari Bose. Tridib Chaudhury of Anushilan went for a survey to the North West Frontier Province to obtain the assistance of the hilly tribes and ascertain the possibility of Bose’s escape along this route.
‘Subhas Chandra and the Revolutionaries’ in Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Indian Freedom Struggle: Subhas Chandra Bose: His Ideas and Vision’ ed. Ratna Ghosh, 2006

Incidentally, one of the former members of the Samiti was a Nagpur doctor, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. Both Hitavada (23 June 1940) and Modern Review, an English magazine, reported the visit of Netaji Bose to Dr Hedgewar the day before the latter’s death: “Dr Hedgewar died in Nagpur of high blood pressure at the age of 51 only. Just one day before his death Subhas Chandra Bose went to see him.”

Anushilan Samiti insignia ‘<i>janani janmabhoomischa swargadapi gariyasi</i>’ attributed to Rama: Mother and Motherland are greater than the heavens. Martyr Bhaga Jatin and Dr Hedgewar were some of the Samiti members. Anushilan Samiti insignia ‘janani janmabhoomischa swargadapi gariyasi’ attributed to Rama: Mother and Motherland are greater than the heavens. Martyr Bhaga Jatin and Dr Hedgewar were some of the Samiti members.

However, there existed one ideological dispensation which was guided solely by the directions given by their extra-territorial masters. When Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru opposed the Nazis and were confused regarding what stand they should take with respect to using the situation arising out of the Second World War, they were not guided by their allegiance to some extra-territorial fatherland. When Savarkar and B R Ambedkar took the decision that Indian youths should use the opportunity provided by the War and get into military, they were guided by their perception of what was good for the nation. They saw in the War the possibility to Indianise the British Indian army like never before and saw that it would serve India well after the British left. Their vision stands justified by history.

Unlike these leaders, the communists saw the War only through their colonialism of the mind – Marxism. When Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) and Stalin were at peace with Hitler, the War was for them an imperial one waged by capitalist imperialist forces and hence they were opposed to the British and the War. When Nazis attacked Soviet Union, overnight the war became 'People's War'. They started maligning the national leaders and India’s freedom movement.

Cartoons demeaning Netaji Bose: <i>People’s War</i>, 26 September 1943; Courtesy: Arun Shourie’s  <i>The Only Fatherland</i>  (1991) Cartoons demeaning Netaji Bose: People’s War, 26 September 1943; Courtesy: Arun Shourie’s The Only Fatherland (1991)
<i>People’s War</i>, 13 September 1942; Courtesy: Arun Shourie’s <i>The Only Fatherland</i> (1991) People’s War, 13 September 1942; Courtesy: Arun Shourie’s The Only Fatherland (1991)

The cartoons made by talented propaganda artists dehumanised Bose. They showed him as a midget led by the Japanese and a submissive kitten held by the Nazis for amusement. Marxists also did not hesitate to use explicit racism. In a cartoon, they showed Netaji as a mask for the cruel face of a Japanese war monster. While the masked face of Netaji is shown as fair and white, the cruel face of Japanese was shown all black and dark.

<i>People’s War</i>, 8 August 1942; Courtesy: Arun Shourie’s <i>The Only Fatherland</i> (1991) People’s War, 8 August 1942; Courtesy: Arun Shourie’s The Only Fatherland (1991)

Through People's War magazine, the CPI launched a vulgar campaign against Netaji Bose, calling him “the running dog of Japanese Fascism”. They did not hesitate to indulge in character assassination. They wrote authoritatively that Bose was living a luxurious life in a Rangoon villa with the corrupt money supplied to him by the Axis powers. They even claimed to know the name of the bank that supplied money for the luxurious life of Bose – South Regions Development Bank. On its 10 January 1943 issue, the magazine thundered that if “Bose's mercenary army of liberation, of rapine and plunder ... dare rests its foot on Indian soil to enact acts of pillage and robbery" then it would “feel the wrath and indignation of our people”.

The unkindest cut of all was the depiction of Bose as falling with the Japanese bomb on the people of India who were being ravished by famine. The cartoon was published in 1942. That was the year Sir John Herbert was ordering the removal of excess of rice from the Bengali districts within 24 hours and the officials reported the destruction of thousands of tonnes of rice. British soldiers occupied Bengali villages. They beat the men and raped women. In one village (Masuria) 46 women were raped by the British soldiers while confiscating and destroying the food grains. Churchill’s ‘secret war’ on Hindus, the Bengal Famine, had begun. Millions of Bengalis, both Hindus and Muslims, would be left dead when Churchill’s ‘Holocaust’ would end.

Historian James Hartfield writes:

But Indians fiercely resisted the British-backed authorities’ attempts to requistion rice for famine relief. They set up their own Relief Committees like those run by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who called on cultivators not to sell to government agents saying ‘the bureaucracy has taken away the food for the army and for exports’. Subhas Chandra Bose, with the support of the Burman leader Ba Maw, offered to give Bengal Burmese rice - that was only days away across the border — through the Red Cross. Indeed Bose’s supporters in India were already active in Mukherjee’s Relief Committees distributing rice which the British were trying to grab for themselves. The British authorities dismissed Bose’s offer out of hand, preferring to see India starve than British rule exposed.
James Heartfield, Unpatriotic History of the Second World War (2012)

The Marxists not only supported the British during the Bengal Famine. They also started a communal propaganda against the Hindus in Bengal in support of the British. Comrade P C Joshi, singled out Mookerjee in his attacks: “Dr Shyamaprosad gives the lead, the Hindu hoarders pay the cash and call the tune, the Fifth Column gives the cadres. It is a strange combination of the factionalist, the profiteer and the traitor.” And who were the Fifth Column? “The forward bloc and Anuseelan Samithi”. Yet People’s War would publish a cartoon depicting Bose killing the famine-starved Indian children.

<i>People’s War</i>, 21 November 1942; Courtesy: Arun Shourie’s  <i>The Only Fatherland</i> (1991) People’s War, 21 November 1942; Courtesy: Arun Shourie’s The Only Fatherland (1991)

But the Marxist betrayal and backstabbing of Bose went beyond the propaganda. There was a communist Indian who acted as a nationalist colleague of Bose, hiding his real ideological affiliation. His treachery caused heavy damage to the plans of Bose. Historian Romain Hayes writes:

Bose’s instructions reflected his firm conviction that it was only a matter of time before the Axis attacked India and a revolution broke out. As events proved Bose was actually not off the mark when it came to predicting an explosive situation in India, one bordering on revolution. Bose’s instruction might have created serious problems for the British had not Talwar passed them on to Soviet intelligence. [...] Ignorant that Bhagat Ram Talwar was a communist, Bose never suspected that he was a Soviet agent as well. Not only did he expose Bose’s plans to the Soviets who took particular delight in sabotaging them, but he also gathered as much intelligence as he could from the German and Italian legations in Kabul regarding Axis plans, information which ended up in both Moscow and London.
Romain Hayes, Bose in Nazi Germany, Random House, 2011

Thus, by sabotaging the plans of Bose and also by indulging in a maligning campaign against him, the Marxists actively collaborated with the genocidal policies of British.

Let us just consider the difference. Subhas Bose, even while using the Indian prisoners of war from the Nazis, never accepted the racist theories of Nazis and opposed them despite his vulnerable position. Historian Dr Daniel Bruckenhaus writes:

Between 1933 and 1936, Subhas Chandra Bose, the former general secretary of the Indian National Congress (INC) and mayor of Calcutta, undertook a campaign to protect the Indians in Germany from racial discrimination. On several visits to Germany, Bose met with employees of the German Foreign Office in order to lobby for Indian interests. Because of his high standing in India, and his excellent communication network with political allies there, Bose was able to put considerable pressure on the German government through reporting back to Indian readers whatever he learned in Germany.
Policing Transnational Protest: Liberal Imperialism and the Surveillance of Anticolonialists in Europe, 1905-1945, Oxford University Press, 2017

In 1936, when Hitler made some disparaging remarks against Indians, Netaji did not hesitate to condemn him with the harshest words:

During the last few weeks my mind has been greatly disturbed at the insulting remarks made by the German Fuehrer about the Indian people. This is not the first time that India has been insulted by the outstanding leaders of Nazi Germany. It is quite clear that Germany today is determined to curry favour with England by insulting India. I can have no objections if the Germans desire to lick the boots of the Britishers, but if they think that ... an insult hurled at India will be quietly pocketed by us, they are sadly mistaken. I am glad to find indications that public opinion in India has already been aroused on this question and I hope that we shall be able to demonstrate that the Indian people can no longer be insulted with impunity.
Mihir Bose, Raj, Secrets, Revolution: A Life of Subhas Chandra Bose, 2004

Bose also advocated that Indian students should boycott German products and hurt Germany economically. While he considered the race theories of Germany their internal matter, he made it clear that as far as he was concerned, he considered the race theory as having no scientific basis. He understood “no matter how much scientific reason we might offer against it”, the Nazis would not give up their race theory. But he warned them that they should not provoke Indians with their race theory and while he did not want them to write in favour of Indians in German press, he demanded that they should not “write against India”.

The last-known photograph of Bose&nbsp; The last-known photograph of Bose 

At the same time, he exercised caution to distance himself from the Axis powers and reiterated that his collaboration with them was only strictly limited to their help in Indian independence. In his broadcast dated 17 June 1942, he said that the internal policies of Germany or Italy or Japan did not concern “us”. While standing for “full collaboration with the Tripartite Powers in the external sphere ... I shall never tolerate any interference in the internal policy of Free Indian State”, he declared. More importantly, he pointed out:

...so far as socio economic problems are concerned no one should make the mistake of concluding that external collaboration with the Tripartite Powers meant acceptance of their domination or even of their ideology in internal affairs.
Azad Hind: Writings and Speeches, 1941-1943, Orient Blackswan, 2002

One should note that Bose was not aware of the Holocaust and yet he distanced himself from the race policies and theories of Nazis. Soliciting the support of Axis powers for the liberation of India never meant acceptance of their race theories and genocidal policies.

As against this, the Marxists completely collaborated with the genocidal policies of the British, particularly in the context of the Bengal Famine. They did not hesitate to backstab Bose and thwart his plans. They betrayed India’s cause because of their ideological fanaticism and other vested interests like the support they enjoyed from the British. As late as 2016, the leftist magazines used the works of the propaganda artists who supported the British and denigrated Bose — this time to denigrate Syama Prasad Mookerjee (see the Swarajya response to leftist calumny here).

So, on this 121st birth anniversary of Subhas Bose, let us remember as a nation his great sacrifices, the people and forces which stood with him in his selfless war for liberating India, and let us also not forget those forces which betrayed the cause of India’s freedom by stabbing Bose in his back.

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