Was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose misunderstood?

Shefali Saxena Tuesday 18th January 2022 16:41 EST

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's daughter Anita Bose-Pfaff has slammed the controversy over the rejection of West Bengal's Republic Day tableau based on her father and his Indian National Army. The Central government in India has rejected West Bengal's tableau for the Republic Day parade themed on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army. 

 In an exclusive interview with Asian Voice ahead of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s 125th birth anniversary on January 23, Sumantra Bose addressed some crucial questions about Netaji. Sumantra Bose, a political scientist and Netaji’s grand-nephew, is the Director of the Netaji Research Bureau at Kolkata's Netaji Bhawan (netaji.org), formerly the Bose's family ancestral house.


Was Netaji the most misunderstood leader in Indian politics? 

It depends on what you mean by 'misunderstood'. Netaji had been a full-time freedom fighter for almost twenty years when he had a rift with Gandhiji in 1939. Gandhiji was reluctant to let Subhas have a second term as President of the Indian National Congress. Subhas then took on Gandhiji's preferred candidate in a contested election and won the presidency, much to Gandhiji's chagrin. The Gandhi-Bose rift was not however any 'misunderstanding'. Gandhiji and his acolytes in the Congress leadership were not comfortable with Subhas's modernist, left-wing views, and also disagreed with Subhas's desire to launch an all-out mass struggle against the Raj–though Gandhi came around on the latter point three years later, when he launched the Quit India movement in 1942. Then again, Bose was vilified for decades by British colonialists not reconciled to the loss of the jewel in the crown of their empire, India, because he had sought help from the Axis in World War II. Bose was not alone in doing this by any means – many anti-colonial revolutionaries across Asia and the Middle East also sought help from the Axis in their struggle against British, French and Dutch imperialisms. Bose was vilified because those nostalgic for Great Britain's lost empire understood very well that the Indian National Army--recruited mainly from former British-Indian Army soldiers--and the Azad Hind movement had delivered a fatal blow to any prospects of Britain retaining India as its colony after the war. 


Do you think he got his due recognition beyond Bengal? 

It depends on what you mean by 'recognition'. It is true that Netaji was largely airbrushed out of the official narrative of the freedom struggle for at least four decades after Independence. But the more he was airbrushed out of the official narrative, the more his stature and legend grew in the popular imagination, across the length and breadth of India. Today, Netaji is not only revered throughout India, he is deeply respected in Bangladesh and even Pakistan, as well as Sri Lanka (among the Tamils).


What is his relevance today as we grapple with multiple issues across the globe?

Netaji stands as an eternal symbol of the struggle of oppressed peoples for liberty and justice. In October 1990, Nelson Mandela visited India after his release from 27 years in prison. At a mass rally in Kolkata's Eden Gardens stadium, Mandela hailed Netaji in glowing terms and said that Netaji had been a hero of his ever since his youth. In January 1972, days after his return to liberated Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman sent an audio message on the occasion of Netaji's 75th birth anniversary to the Netaji Research Bureau at Kolkata's Netaji Bhawan. In the message, the founding leader of Bangladesh said that "Netaji's example of courage and sacrifice in the cause of freedom will, for eternity, be an inspiration to the struggle of all freedom-seeking peoples of this world. He is immortal. He lives on, like the flaming sun that illuminates the world. Joy Bangla!" (translated from the Bengali text of the message).


If Netaji were alive today, what would he have done differently?

If Netaji were alive today, he would do everything in his power to confront and defeat the attempt by fake Indian nationalists, whose forebears played no role in the freedom struggle, to destroy India's democratic and secular character. Jai Hind!



Bengal Heritage Foundation (BHF)  is holding a virtual member meeting on the 23rd of Jan to discuss “Netaji: The Forgotten Hero” - where experts like Sarit Bose, will talk about the importance of Netaji Subhas Chandra and how it has impacted the course of Indian history.


In his personal opinion, Suranjan Som, President BHF, said, “I don't think Netaji has been misunderstood. Netaji's strategic thinking was way ahead of his time, compared to anything else other leaders were doing to achieve Indian independence. I will not go into a debate of who was right and who was wrong (topic for another day). Subhas Ji was the only individual who not only dreamt of freeing India by military might but also achieved it to a large degree. If you are aware that a large part of the Empire's army was made up of Indian soldiers. 


“It was only a matter of time to switch their allegiance to their motherland. Very few of us know that on 21st October 1943, Bose announced the formation of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India), with himself as the Head of State, Prime Minister and Minister of War. So in effect, he was the first Prime Minister of Free India.


“Why is all of this important for us sitting in London. I think Britain holds the key to a lot of classified information, probably even more than India, Japan or Russia. If the members of the diaspora are interested in researching that, there is a job at hand for us to do trawling through the National Archives and requesting the custodians of classified material for disclosure. Alternatively, one day, when these things will be too old to be relevant, most of it will be released in the public domain anyway.”

comments powered by Disqus

to the free, weekly Asian Voice email newsletter