Bose was the only nationalist leader who dared to dream of expelling the British from Indian soil through armed struggle
Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in Singapore on July 2, 1943. Already hailed as “Netaji”, the great leader, the Indian National Army which came under his command rapidly expanded to a strength of over 40,000 men . They included prisoners of war from the fallen British army and local recruits. Meanwhile, the membership of the Indian Independence League had grown to over 300,000.
Bose felt the timing was right. On October 21, 1943, only three and a half months after landing in Singapore, Bose proclaimed the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India). It was an impressive ceremony at the Cathay Building, with himself as Head of State, Prime Minister and Minister of War.
Moreover, this government was not only recognized by several nations, but liberated the first piece of Indian soil in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands from British colonial rule. It was a credible emerging state, with its own bank and a fledgling government in exile.
Bose’s speech on the occasion was memorable. It still fills us with awe and wonder at his audacity and audacity: “In the name of God, in the name of past generations who have welded the Indian people into one nation, and in the name of the dead heroes who bequeathed for we a tradition of heroism and self-sacrifice, we call on the people of india to rally around our banner and strike for freedom for india. We call on them to launch the final struggle against the British and their allies in India and to continue this struggle with bravery and perseverance and complete faith in final victory until the enemy is expelled from Indian soil and the people Indian become a free nation again. .”
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It was a major act in all respects, but especially for a people as colonized and dominated as the Indians. Bose was the only nationalist leader who dared to dream of expelling the British from Indian soil through armed struggle.
In India, however, his alliance with the Japanese was not viewed favorably by most leaders of the time, including Gandhi and Nehru. His alliance with the Germans after his flight from India was criticized even by Sri Aurobindo. Nevertheless, Bose has become a hero, even a cult figure in India. His images, in full military dress, will be part of the art of the Indian calendar for decades to come.
In some of these depictions he was seen with Gandhi, Nehru and the other rulers in the same posters and paintings. In the minds of the masses, there was no conflict between revolutionaries and pacifist freedom fighters. All were sons and daughters of Mother India, fighting for her freedom. In a sense, it is this composite narrative that the current regime is also trying to revive, even though some have accused it of legacy raiding and poaching.
Had the INA not lost to the British Indian Army on India’s northeast front, one can only wonder what course history might have taken. Defeating the British and reconquering India by force of arms would certainly have given the Indians another self-confidence. A strongman in charge of business in Delhi and the militarily defeated and expelled British could also have prevented the partition of India.
The INA and Bose’s Provisional Government were models of communal friendship, a fact that Gandhi also recognized and praised. But the INA lost. None of their comrades and comrades who faced them on the British side defected, as expected. Instead, after its collapse, INA soldiers again became prisoners of war, tried for treason. The INA trail, organized inside Fort Rouge, captured the national imagination.
INA soldiers became national heroes, supported by Congress and Gandhi. Nehru himself donned his unused lawyer’s robes to defend them. Although the defense lost, however, the days of British power in India were numbered. The sentences against the Bose soldiers could never be carried out.
Bose’s slogan “Dilli Chalo” had an ironic fulfillment. His army had not stormed Delhi as victors but had been brought there as captives. Yet history had the last word. Although Bose was feared dead in a plane crash and the INA defeated, his soldiers were freed. India itself was soon free, just over two years after the end of World War II. The granite statue of Netaji, which will soon be installed in the canopy near India Gate, finally brings home one of the greatest heroes and freedom fighters.
More relevant, to this day, than Bose’s alliance with the Japanese imperialists or the fate of his failed mission, is what we might call his “ocean vision.”
Conceived on the other side of the Indian Ocean, Bose’s idea of Azad Doe or “Free India” was mostly influenced by the last three years of his life that he spent in Singapore, for which all his previous life can be seen as preparation.
What was impossible to conceive of in India, Britain or Berlin, the heartland of the Axis powers, seemed almost within reach of the maritime city of Singapore. Bose actually believed that he could liberate India and go on to form a benevolent authoritarian socialist republic. Some of this idealism even survived the setbacks and defeats in northeast India and Burma and the long retreat away from India’s borders into as yet unclaimed Southeast Asia.
The photo of Bose in military uniform, a favorite pin-up among patriotic families, also led to the cult of Bose as a forgotten but real hero of India’s War of Independence, unlike the non-violent Mahatma Gandhi. No wonder it’s a statue inspired by this very image of Bose that will find its way to India Gate. Gandhian nonviolence, though overwhelmingly the dominant and official narrative, could not erase its violent sibling; the nation’s psyche had a place of honor for both.
India’s valiant but abortive armed struggle against British imperialism was finally recognized in the national narrative.
This is the last part of the three-part series “Giving Netaji his due”.
The author is a professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. The opinions expressed are personal.
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