The Man Who Shook The Empire
By Aditya Kiran Nag
Subhash Chandra Bose was born on 23rd January, 1897 in a well to do famliy in Odia bazaar, Cuttack. He was among eight sons and six daughters of Prabhati and Janakinath Bose. The story of Subhash Chandra Bose cannot be contained in one article. He has achieved and done things which people like Ian Fleming(the creator of James Bond) only can think of. From, escaping house arrest in Calcutta and surfacing in Kabul to meeting leaders of the Axis powers during World War 2 to drumming up support for the cause of Indian Independence and his raising the Azad Hind Fauj (A fighting force of Indian men who had volunteered to fight for the freedom of India) not once but twice- the story appears to have been lifted out of the fictional world of Superman. Popularly known as ‘Netaji’ his childhood in Cuttack was heavily influenced by his father Janakinath who got him admitted into the Protestant European School run by a Baptist Mission (now known as Stewart School, Cuttack) Netaji’s father Mr. Janakinath who was an influential and a successful lawyer, had deep respect for the Indian Independence movement and in accordance to that he shifted young Subhash to Ravenshaw Collegiate School where he was spotted by educationist Beni Madhab Das who saw immense potential in the brilliant and scintillating young Subhash. Soon after, Subhash joined the Presidency college in Calcutta. It is here that he was influenced by the writings and works of Swami Vivekananda and Rama Krishna Paramhans and theologians of the Brahmo Samaj. It is here in the city of Calcutta, the socalled jewel in the crown of British India that he saw the real face of racism. British India crushed dissent with an iron hand. His nationalistic temperament came to light when he was expelled for assaulting Professor Oaten (who had manhandled some Indian students) for the latter’s racist and anti-indian comments. He was expelled although he appealed that he only witnessed the assault and did not actually participate in it. Later he joined the Scottish Church College at the University of Calcutta and passed his B.A. in 1918 in philosophy. Bose left India in 1919 for England with a promise to his father that he would appear in the Indian Civil Services (ICS) examination. He went to study in Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and matriculated on 19 November 1919. Just as World War I came to an end.He stood fourth in the ICS (Indian Civil Service) examination and was selected, but he was not happy, he hated what he saw evil golem… that was the British Empire. As he stood on the verge of taking the plunge by resigning from the Indian Civil Service in 1921, he wrote to his elder brother Sarat Chandra Bose: “Only on the soil of sacrifice and suffering can we raise our national edifice.” He resigned from his civil service job on 23 April 1921 and returned to India. Upon coming back to India, Subhash Chandra Bose
started a newspaper called ‘Swaraj’ under the mentorship of Chittaranjan Das and also became the editor of the daily ‘Forward’ later changed to ‘Liberty’ and was also responsible for publishing material for the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee. Under the guidance of Chittranjan Das, Subhash joined the Congress Party. Elections were soon held in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and soon Chittranjan Das became its first mayor and Subash Chandra Bose a CEO in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. The British as was the general practice back then, had already been maintaining a file on Subhash. In a roundup of nationalists in 1925, Bose was arrested and sent to prison in Mandalay in Burma, where he contracted tuberculosis. This was not the first time he visited Burma but we will go into that a little later. He was released in 1927 and came back much stronger after his internment at the dreaded Mandalay prison. He soon revived his contacts in the Congress Party and became a General Secretary of the Congress Party and was seen working closely with a fellow English educated young Jawaharlal Nehru. Prison changes a man, it gives you a perspective of things which can’t be gained by being a law abiding citizen. Subhash formed the Congress Volunteer Corps and became its General Officer Commanding. It galvanized the state Congress unit and brought in a fresh wave of youth in a post World War I era. These changes were welcomed by the youth who happily started to fill in the ranks which was not liked by the moderates in the Congress party who thought that only non-violence and political agitation can bring about freedom to India. The idea of a vigilante group running a parallel chain of command also made the Army Officers of the British India extremely uncomfortable.As observed by Author Nirad C. Chaudhuri (a contemporary of Bose)- ‘Bose organized a volunteer corps in uniform, its officers being even provided with steelcut epaulettes … his uniform was made by a firm of British tailors in Calcutta, Harman’s. A telegram addressed to him as GOC was delivered to the British General in Fort William which was the subject of a good deal of malicious gossip in the (British Indian) press. Mahatma Gandhi being a sincere pacifist vowed to non-violence, did not like the strutting, clicking of boots, and saluting, and he afterwards described the Calcutta session of the Congress as a Bertram Mills circus, which caused a great deal of indignation among the Bengalis.’In the backdrop of the Salt Satyagraha Movement Subhash again was jailed by the British. In the mid 1930’s as the world was going through an upheaval of social change so was Subhash too. His health, mind and heart all would change in a matter of a few years. He travelled to Europe where he wrote the first part of his book ‘Indian Struggle.’ He spent a lot of time in Europe travelling and meeting people in various countries. Subhash bore witness to the rise of Fascism, Nazism and also was fascinated by the rise of Communism. He met and exchanged letters with many leaders of Europe including those of the Labour party in England. It is here that Subhash suffered another bout of illness and our Cuttack lad fell in love with Emilie Schenkl. His stint in Europe caused immense stir in India too. Subhash Chandra Bose was a popular leader now with international support favouring a free India and that fetched him the post of Congress President in the year 1939. As World War II broke out Subhash was convinced that the Congress party must change its approach and demand self rule or ‘Swaraj’, like his earlier decision during his tenure in the Bengal Congress. The radical idea proposed by Bose polarized many leaders of the Congress and other parties who thought that going against the British and demanding Self Rule was a wrong decision that too in a time when Europe was on the brink of war. On 22nd June 1939 Bose organised the All India Forward Bloc, a faction within the Indian National Congress, aimed at consolidating the political left, with its main strength in his home state, which by then had become the separate states of Odisha and Bengal. U Muthuramalingam Thevar, who was a staunch supporter of Bose from the beginning, joined the Forward Bloc. When Bose visited Madurai on 6th September, Thevar organised a massive rally at his reception. During this time his correspondence reveals that despite his clear dislike of British subjugation, he was deeply impressed by their methodical and systematic approach and their steadfastly disciplinarian outlook towards life. Bose advocated a campaign of mass civil disobedience to protest against Viceroy Lord Linlithgow’s decision to declare war on India’s behalf without consulting the Congress leadership. Bose organised mass protests in Calcutta calling for the ‘Holwell Monument’ commemorating the Black Hole of Calcutta, which then stood at the corner of Dalhousie Square, to be removed and started stirring up nationalistic sentiments. He was thrown in jail by the British, but was released following a sevenday hunger strike. Bose’s house in Calcutta was kept under surveillance by the CID and he was kept under house arrest.On the night of 16th January 1941, the night of his escape, he dressed as a Pathan, to avoid being identified. Bose escaped British survilliance from his Elgin Road house in Calcutta at about 01:25AM on 17th January 1941, accompanied by his nephew Sisir Kumar Bose in a German-made Wanderer W24 Sedan car, which would take him to Gomoh Railway Station in the state of Bihar. From here with the help of the Abwehr(German Intelligence) he reached Peshawar from where with the help of Aga Khan’s supporters he managed to cross into Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan and Aga Khan’s supporters hid him from the prying eyes of British and Allied Intelligence and issued a fake Italian passport bearing the name ‘Count Orlando Mazzota.’ Under this name he entered into Soviet Russia which at that point of time was neutral to Germany. While in Moscow he tried posturing and maneuvering with the Russians to help him realize his dream of free India. The Soviets weren’t that keen and promptly passed him on to the Germans via Count Von Der Schulenburg. It is here in Germany where Bose met Hitler and later on Mussolini and took command of the Indische Legion or famously known as the ‘Azad Hind Fauj’ raised by the German Army. The unit comprised mostly Indian POW’s who were caught by Germans and surprisingly were treated well. During the mid 1940’s the German position started to weaken.The Bliztkrieg of Germany was slowing down. Changes in fortune also changed German position on Bose. He was urged that he should leave for Japan and secure the Indian POW’s from the fall of Singapore who numbered to around 40,00 fighting men. Bose jumped at the idea and with the aid of German and Japanese submarines managed to reach Japan. On 21st October 1943 Bose announced the formation of Arzi Hukumate- Azad Hind (the Provisional Government of Free India). Under Bose’s leadership, the INA drew ex-prisoners and thousands of civilian volunteers from the Indian expatriate population in Malaya (present-day Malaysia) and Burma. This new fighting force majorly equipped and trained by Japanese and former British Officers fought along with the Imperial Japanese Army against the British and Commonwealth forces in the campaigns in Burma, in Imphal and at Kohima, and later against the successful Burma Campaign of the Allies.It is during this campaign and against a formidable enemy Netaji Subash Chandra Bose addressed a rally in central Burma and said the following words ‘Tum Mujhe Khoon Do, Main Tumhe Azadi Doonga.’ (Give me blood and I shall give you freedom) Contemporary to popular belief the Azad Hind Fauj or the Indian National Army was not a ragtag bunch of men. The army was one of the most disciplined and organized fighting forces in the sub-continent with each division equally made of people from various backgrounds and of many religions. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were equally placed and there wasn’t any discrimination against them unlike in the British Army where there were different kitchens for soldiers according to their religion. It is here that we should mention that the Azad Hind Fauj also had a strong women’s divisions. Women were expected to fight just like men. This separate all-female unit was also created under Lakshmi Sahgal. Named Jhansi ki Rani Regiment after the legendary rebel Queen Lakshmibai of the 1857 rebellion. It drew female civilian volunteers from Malaya and Burma. By the end of 1945 the tide had turned against the Axis powers. The empire of Japan was crumbling fast. Every day the Japanese forces would lose swathes of territory to the oncoming British andCommonwealth forces. Under this background the last remaining troops were cut-off and isolated and after Rangoon fell to the British the Indian National Army also surrendered. Sometime during this moment Netaji and a few of his followers made their way to Singapore. On May 8th 1945 Germany surrendered and it was VE Day. But Netaji did not relinquish, even after losing the bulk of his force he was determined to fight. During the first two weeks of August 1945, events began to unfold rapidly. With the British threatening to invade Malaya and with daily American aerial bombings, Bose’s presence in Singapore became riskier by the day. His chief of staff J. R. Bhonsle suggested that he prepare to leave Singapore. On 3rd August 1945, Bose received a cable from General Isoda of the Imperial Japanese Army advising him to urgently evacuate to Saigon in Japanese-controlled French Indochina(Vietnam). On 10th August, Bose learnt that the Soviet Union had entered the pacific theatre of war and invaded Manchuria while at the same time he heard about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Finally, on 16th August, after being informed of the unconditional surrender of Japan, Bose decided to leave for Saigon along with a handful of his aides.From here on it gets murky, Subhash Chandra Bose reportedly died mysteriously in a place crash on 18th August 1945. On 17th August he had issued a final order of the day, dissolving the INA with the words, ‘The roads to Delhi are many and Delhi still remains our goal.’ He then flew out to China via French Indo-China. He boarded an aircraft on the 17th August from Singapore with the following flight plane – Singapore- Bangkok- Saigon- Da Nang- Taipei- Dalian(where he was supposed to get down) and finally to Tokyo. Mind you dear readers all these territories were held by the Japanese at this point of time but were susceptible to air raids. His aircraft a Mitsubishi KI-21 heavy bomber was detailed to arrive at Tokyo. The aircraft was by many accounts overloaded right from the start. Sometime around noon on 18th August,1945 the aircraft reached Taipei, Taihoku airport but soon after take off at around 2:30pm the aircraft crashed. His body was severly burnt and he soon slipped into a coma. He probably died on the same day between 9pm and 10pm. His body was promptly cremated and his ashes turned over to the Renkoji temple in Tokyo where they have been since then. Soon after his death many stories started doing the rounds. From him being assassinated by the MI-5 or American special forces, to being sent into a Gulag, Soviet Russia or that he spent his last days in Uttar Pradesh as ‘Gumnami Baba.’ Many such theories spanning many countries and continents still do the rounds. Netaji’s death will always remain a mystery to future generations. But what this Cuttack lad did for the independence of the country can never be summed up. He shall always be a source of great pride to Odia’s and people of the world in general for his views. Probably with an active and able Bose in the new independent India things would have been different.From his early life as a civil servant in Cuttack to raising and leading an army against the British and showing the world that India is not a sleeping giant but a leaping tiger who should not messed with. Netaji is the epitome of how a common man can change the course of history. On a closing note Here is a little trivia for our readers: Do you know that the term ‘Jai Hindustan ki Jai’ was coined by a secretary of Netaji called Abid Hasan of the Indian National Army while still in Germany. It was later shortened by Netaji to ‘Jai Hind’ as a substitute of greeting/ acknowledgement unlike ‘Jai Ramji ki’ or ‘Allah Hafiz’ in the new secular Indian National Army. Surprisingly it worked so well that “Jai Hind” soon went beyond its original brief to become a rallying cry of the Indian National Army. Later, of course, it would be adopted as the national slogan when, at the time of Independence, Jawaharlal Nehru raised it, stirringly, at the Red Fort. It’s still used as a greeting amongst members of the armed forces even till date. Probably Netaji’s legacy in many ways has outlived his body and maybe we had better put the debate as to what happened on that fateful day on 18th August 1945 to rest like Netaji’s soul..