Subhash Chandra Bose : A Discredited Icon

Who was responsible for freedom of India? Was it non-cooperation movement of Indian National Congress or armed struggle of Indian National Army? Our history books certainly tell us supremacy of nonviolent noncooperation movement over armed struggle. We would never know the exact reason behind British deciding to leave India, unless British decide to tell us. There could be several possibilities:

  • Non-cooperation movement made British look like a tyrant in front of the world. 
  • US put pressure on the British to quit India. 
  • Armed struggle of INA and subsequent naval mutiny made a cash strapped British government to rethink their India strategy. 
  • Both non violent and armed movements contributed to British decision. 

Indian history books relegate role of armed movements in Indian freedom struggle to a position that is inferior to non violent movement. Contribution of many architects of armed movement in Indian freedom struggle, including that of Subhash Chandra Bose, has been down played. It has come to light that government of India had spied on family members of Subhash Chandra and according to some reports  government of India informed British about whereabouts of Netaji.

In the month of Sep, 2015, Mamata Banerjee lead Trina Mool Congress government of West Bengal declassified and opened for public view secret files on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. The matter came into public domain in April 20, 2015 issue of India Today. Both documents clearly prove that successive governments in independent India had spied on family members of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Subhash Chandra Bose was a freedom fighter. He fled to Germany and later to Japan to form an army of Indian that will fight for liberation of India – the Indian National Army. With the support of Japanese, INA had marched into Kohima in Nagaland. INA was defeated by British. Netaji was believed to have died in plane crash. However, subsequent research and declassified files have challenged this assumption.

Many articles and opinions have appeared that attempted to discredit efforts of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army. Some called :
  • Subhash Chandra Bose a misguided patriot (Prof. Mridula Banerjee Jawaharlal Nehru University published in India Today of April, 20, 2015);
  • Subhash Chandra Bose a lackey of Japan (Markandey Katju, Retired Judge of Supreme Court published in his blog space);
  •  Preet K. S. Bedi, CEO, Percept Pictures Company, in an article published in Daily posed the question “How much a hero Subash Chandra Bose?” 
  • Subhash Chandra Bose wanted ruthless dictatorship for twenty year, wrote Mani Mugdha Sharma of Times of India. According to the author, Subhash Bose was a lover of Nazi-ism, he loved military pageantry and fashioned himself in the image of Hitler.  
  • Aakar Patel wrote a sarcastic piece in the Times of India blog titles, “Is our revered Netaji the same person who was enamoured by Hitler?” Mr. Patel even ridiculed Netaji’s leadership, lack of military training, and how poorly trained INA was. According to Aakar Patel, most of the INA was relieved to be captured by the British army.
  • Huffington Post in an article even questioned, “Did Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose marry a second time?” According to the article, Netaji had another daughter with a Czech woman. This may dilute aura around Netaji. Because, according to his supporters, Netaji had dedicated his life to freedom.
Intention of this article is not to question wisdom and alternative viewpoints on Netaji Bose. We all see things through prism of our ideologies. My intent is to put forward an alternate point of view on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.  

  • One may not agree with Netaji Bose’s methods, but to doubt his stature as a leader can be utterly naive. Subhash Bose had only ambition that was freedom of India. He understood that ideologically, he would not gel with leadership of Congress party under Gandhi ji. Even after defeating Pattavi Sitaramayya in Congress party election, Subhash Bose could not become Congress president in 1939 because Gandhi ji threatened to resign proclaiming “Sitaramayya’s defeat is my defeat”. Winning an election against candidate backed by Gandhi ji, showed persuasive power of Subhash Chandra Bose on one hand, and also the authoritarian tendency of “my way or highway” in the Congress party, that is still prevalent today.
  • Netaji had taken on the British when they were at the peak of their prowess. It is said the the vast British empire spread from north to south, “Sun never used to set”. To elude such a power and reach Europe shows determination and commitment of Netaji to the cause of Indian freedom.
  • Subhash Chandra felt only way he could take on British was by forming alliance with anti British forces. He wanted backing of Russia. When Russia did not help him, Netaji went to Germany and later Japan. It is true, Germany and Japan had done a lot of atrocities. Germans on Jews, and Japan on people of China, Korea and South East Asia. But Netaji had no choice, to be able to achieve his goal, he had to form alliance with countries that were willing to help him free India. International politics does not run on morality but on national interest. For Netaji  there was nothing more pressing interest than freedom of India so he did what he had to do. Consider the following points:
    • One cannot stop working because of the fear of dirtying his hands. For Netaji, atrocities committed by Axis powers were professional hazards that he had to endure. 
    • Was British atrocity towards Indians or American treatment of Blacks any less horrible? 
    • Did Russia, who allied with Britain and America in the war against Germany, not murder close to a million of her own citizens? 
    • Did independent India not lean towards USSR despite knowing its human rights record? Did India not form alliance with USSR during 1971 war with Pakistan? 
    • Did India not keep quiet during Soviet occupation of Afghanistan? 
    • China under Mao Tse Tung had purged nearly a million people in China. If moral position is so strong, why Britain, France and America not sever business ties with China?
  •  If Netaji was as ordinary as it is made out to be, why did prisnors of war in South East Asia and many common Indians in the region trusted him? Netaji Bose did not offer them any hope of money, or position. He simply asked for supreme sacrifice from every Indian by asking them to “Give me blood, I shall give you freedom”. In the Indian National Army, all Indians – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christians, fought with unwavering loyalty towards motherland. This may speak a lot about leadership of the man.                                                                                                                                        
  • People ask what did Subhas Bose achieve, he had only formed a ragtag army that was more than happy to surrender to British? One needs to ask back the question what did the Indians give to Subhash Bose? He took risk, he showed initiative, he persuaded people to join his army. People trusted  Netaji with their life and savings. Netaji did not betray that dream. He formed an army with the people that he had. Remember, these were the same people fighting for British. 
  • It is easy for us to ridicule Netaji’s army fatigue his lack of army training. Gandhi ji was also ridiculed by British and called half naked lunatic fakir. So we should not go by what people say about Indian icons, let alone by those who have very little contribution to Indian freedom movement. We cannot, however, downplay  Netaji’s zeal, we cannot belittle his passion to see a free India. 
  • One can also question Netaji’s marital status and his commitment to Indian freedom movement. Did Netaji got married twice? I do not know, and family of Netaji has also not confirmed about his second wife. Did marriage belittle Netaji’s contribution to freedom movement? I do not think so. Many leaders of Indian movement were married. Moreover, some even had extra-marital affairs. Abundant information available in public domain about romance of a prime minister with wife of British governor of India.
I think many different ideas have contributed towards freedom of India. Now that we are a free society today, we should not give primacy to one set of idea alone. We must celebrate all ideas equally and tell stories of their leadership, their sacrifice and their contribution. At the end of the day, everyone is a brave son of India, everyone of them had a dream to get out of foreign subjugation of India.

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