Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle for Independence

Topics: Indian independence movement, India, Indian National Army Pages: 38 (12526 words) Published: November 26, 2010
Subhas Chandra Bose and India's Struggle for Independence

By Andrew Montgomery

When one thinks of the Indian independence movement in the 1930s and early 1940s, two figures most readily come to mind: Mahatma Gandhi, the immensely popular and "saintly" frail pacifist, and his highly respected, Fabian Socialist acolyte, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Less familiar to Westerners is Subhas Chandra Bose, a man of com parable stature who admired Gandhi but despaired at his aims and methods, and who became a bitter rival of Nehru. Bose played a very active and prominent role in India's political life during most of the 1930s. For example, he was twice (1938 and 1939) elected Pres ident of the Indian National Congress, the country's most important political force for freedom from the Raj, or British rule.

While his memory is still held in high esteem in India, in the West Bose is much less revered, largely because of his wartime collaboration with the Axis powers. Both before and during the Second World War, Bose worked tirelessly to secure German and Japanese support in freeing his beloved homeland of foreign rule. During the final two years of the war, Bose -- with considerable Japanese backing -- led the forces of the Indian National Army into battle against the British.

Ideology of Fusion

As early as 1930 -- in his inaugural speech as mayor of Calcutta -- the fervent young Bose first expressed his support for a fusion of socialism and fascism: / 1

“... I would say we have here in this policy and program a synthesis of what modern Europe calls Socialism and Fascism. We have here the justice, the equality, the love, which is the basis of Socialism, and combined with that we have the efficiency and the discipline of Fascism as it stands in Europe today.”

In years that followed, the brilliant, eclectic Bengali would occasionally modify this radical doctrine, but would never abandon it entirely. For example, in late 1944 -- almost a decade-and-a-half later -- in a speech to students at Tokyo University, he asserted that India must have a political system "of an authoritarian character. . . To repeat once again, our philosophy should be a synthesis between National Socialism and Communism." / 2

In the wake of the crushing defeat in 1945 of Hitler and Mussolini, "fascism" has arguably been the most despised of all political ideologies. Postwar western society recognizes no fascist heroics, and even considers "fascist" traits -- particularly the authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of leadership, and the positive evaluation of violence and the willingness to use it for political purposes -- to be decidedly unpalatable. In India, though, Bose is regarded as a national hero, in spite of his repeated praise (as will be shown) for autocratic leadership and authoritarian government, and admiration for the European fascist regimes with which he allied himself.

Like the leaders he admired in Italy and Germany, Bose was (and still is) popularly known as Netaji, or "revered leader." "His name," explains Mihir Bose (no relation), one of Subhas' many biographers, "is given [in India] to parks, roads, buildings, sports stadiums, artificial lakes; his statues stand in place of those of discarded British heroes and his photograph adorns thousands of calendars and millions of pan (betel-nut) shops." It is always the same portrait, continues the writer: Bose in his Indian National Army uniform, "exhorting his countrymen forward to one last glorious struggle." / 3

No less a figure than Gandhi paid tribute to Bose's remarkable courage and devotion. Six months after his death in an airplane crash on August 18, 1945, Gandhi declared: "The hypnotism of the Indian National Army has cast its spell upon us. Netaji's name is one to conjure with. His patriotism is second to none. . . His bravery shines through all his actions. He aimed high and failed. But who has not failed." / 4 On another occasion Gandhi eulogized: "Netaji will...
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